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LegaCity - The making of 'Sri Vasavi Vijayam'

By Rajesh Govindarajulu

Feb 26, 2019

Sri Vasavi Kannika Parameswari is the tutelary deity of a sect of Telugu speaking merchants living all over South India. The deity had incarnated in the mercantile community in the eleventh century in Penugonda ( West Godavari District ) to Kusumamba and Kusuma Shreshti. 

The traders who follow this deity have always lived all over the peninsula for centuries. The members of this group used to build a choultry with an inbuilt shrine for Vasavi. They used to live around these choultries which doubled up as community centres. 

The establishment of the Vijayanagar empire furthered the oppourtunities for these enterprising traders and they moved over to Coimbatore due to the presence of the fort and the military garrison. Eventually a choultry was established by these merchants on Vysial Street. The current temple of Goddess Vasavi is on the same place. This deity is counted among the 'Nine Sisters of Coimbatore'. 

The merchants were conversant in all the peninsular languages and they added to the commercial flavor of Coimbatore. Changes that took place in the last quarter of the twentieth century in Coimbatore ushered in oppourtunities. This encouraged the youngsters of the time to move over to Coimbatore. P.A.Raju Chettiar ( 1895 - 1984 ) was among those who sought Coimbatore as early as 1912. 

Coimbatore impelled him to establish a jewellery store and a number of ventures over the years. Thereafter he became one among the people of Coimbatore. The progressive jeweler began participating in public life as early as 1923 by founding the Coimbatore Arya Vysya Nagai Vyaparigal Mahasabhai. The objective of this organization was to celebrate Vasavi Jayanthi, Adi Velli, Mahashivarathri etc., in a big way besides addressing the issues of the jewelers. Other forms of inclusive charity was also part of the agenda. 

Success brought in a lot of recognition and P.A.Raju Chettiar became a Municipal Councilor during the tenure of Diwan Bahadur C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar. The jeweler felt that a lot of charity could be done along with his clansmen in the country. A number of progressive joined him and they founded the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha those days. 

The goal was to build a school and college in each and every district of the Madras Presidency. P.A.Raju Chettiar and his friends wanted to provide low cost education on a non profit basis to the people of the Presidency. M.V.Gopal Chettiar of Salem, S.V.Nagasubramaniam Chettiar (Arian Soap Company - Coimbatore, was the Treasurer) and a number of well meaning people were part of this establishment. Eventually many schools were built all over the Presidency in the name of Goddess Vasavi Kannika Parameswari. Quite a few colleges came up too. The dream of the founders of the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha got fulfilled. 

Nearly eighty years ago, the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha decided to make available to story of Goddess Vasavi in Tamil for the benefit of the residents of the Tamil speaking part of the Presidency. The Secretary M.V.Gopal placed an advertisement in the newspapers in order to collect the 'content' for the book on Goddess Vasavi. While participating in the North Arcot Zilla Arya Vysya Mahasabhai meeting, M.V.Gopal (Secretary) got the chance to meet the bright and talented poet cum author Anathur K.Venkataraman. 

He invited the young Venkataraman to Salem and was lucky to also meet up with Ubayabhasha Praveena Grandi Venkatagopal Chettiar of Coimbatore who had just completed his Hindupur Yatra. The three of them got together and decided on the contents based on the material that was accumulated. This accumulation had been possible because of the good response to the information seeking advertisement released by the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha. 

The book was written after going through the contents found in the Sri Kannika Puranam, Vysya Dharma Prakasikha, Vysya Dharma Deepika among a number books connected with history. The well researched book was finally published under the aegis of the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha in the year 1943. 

M.V.Gopal has acknowledged the financial support of P.A.Raju Chettiar and his friends from Coimbatore while thanking Justice K. Sundaram Chettiar, Retired Judge of the High Court for giving a qualitative foreword. The role of T.V.Radhakrishnan Chettiar of Gopal Press (Udumalpet) is duly recognized for this magnum opus which covers the story of Goddess Vasavi in about 500 pages was printed in Udumalpet under his supervision. 

Grandi Venkatagopal Chettiar (Coimbatore), M.V.Gopal (Salem) and K.Venkataraman (Anathur) were the three scholars who had authored the book that was priced at Rs.7-0-0. The noble goals of the founders impelled a number of people to indulge in a lot of charity. 

This was required in a big way for our country was in an impoverished condition under its colonial masters. The book contains a Sri Vasavi Ashtottara Sathanamavali which originally found in Kannada but transliterated into Tamil by Advocate S.Krishna Rao of Udumalpet. 

Goddess Vasavi Kannikaparameswari had incarnated at a time when Vimaladitya (husband of Siriyai Kundavai - daughter of Raja Raja Chola was in harness at Vengi) He had wished to marry Goddess Vasavi by force and thanks to her sage counsel, her clansmen stood against this in a united manner. 

The Goddess and members belonging to her community entered the sacred fire lit in Penugonda . It was her grace that they did not feel the difficulty and they reached a better place. On learning about this incident, the times of Vimaladitya came to an end. Goddess Vasavi Kannika Parameswari, the incarnation of Sakthi was deified in the Nagareshwara Temple in Penugonda due to the efforts of Raja Raja Narendra, the son of Vimaladitya and grandson of Raja Raja Chola. 

He was to married Ammangadevi, the daughter of his maternal uncle Rajendra Chola. Kulottunga Chola, the son of Raja Raja Narendra and Ammangadevi became the Chola Emperor in the year 1070. Since the mercantile community who worshipped Goddess Vasavi were closely associated with the Eastern Chalukyas who were part of the Chola family, they were ever present in all parts of the peninsula. 

It was time when these merchants contributed to the prosperity of our country and we must remember that our economy was the second largest in the world during those years of plenty. Subsequently Virupaksha, the brother of Goddess Vasavi had become the head of this mercantile group which added values and wealth to the country. 

The book contains references which speaks volumes about the research done by the authors. Retired District Collector T.Bhagavantham Guptha's essay on the 'History of Vishnuvardhana Rulers', The work of Andhra Vidya Vachaspathi, Sahitya Saraswathi, Sathavadhani Doma Venkataswamy Guptha has been gratefully acknowledged. The devotees of Goddess Vasavi were always involved in the nurturing of cows for it was part of their culture. 

It is pertinent to talk about the incident which led M.V.Gopal of Salem to choose Anathur K.Venkataraman for this work. Venkataraman had rendered the prayer song at the second annual meeting of the North Arcot Arya Vysya Mahasabhai in chaste Tamil and this impressed M.V.Gopal instantly. He wanted to know the name of the composer and the humble Venkataraman stated that it was his own composition. 

The Tamil skills and humility of K Venkataraman (son of Kesavan and Mahalakshmi) greatly impressed everyone concerned. On completion of this book the young K. Venkataraman came to known as Vysya Bharathi, Balakavi and he wrote 17 books and 5000 songs in Tamil during his later days. 

The book became an instant success and the picture of Goddess Vasavi Kannika Parameswari sketched by P.Gurursamy of Palani added value to the same. The authors used to meet often and spend time together in order to complete the book on an auspicious moment. 

Vatsala Shankar of Nanjundapuram, Coimbatore wrote an abridged version of 'Sri Vasavi Vijayam' during the year 2007 and the same was published due to interest of her son Sanjai Shankar. The 32 page book by Vatsala Shankar is also a marvelous piece of work. A reprint of the original would be welcome once more.

 A lot of support was given by the people of Coimbatore during the time when the team of three were working on the book 'Sri Vasavi Vijayam'. 

'Sri Vasavi Vijayam' continues to be a devotional classic that was born due to the efforts of P.A.Raju Chettiar and his team of office bearers who were at the helm of the Dakshina Kanda Arya Vysya Mahasabha. The society of the times recognized P.A.Raju Chettiar and his contribution by honouring him with the title 'Vysya Bhushanam'. 

The magnum opus had paved the way for much more to come from the extremely talented Anathur K.Venkaraman.

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