Roots – Tamil Nadu, India
By V. Shankar
Every time I visit my family temple – Maha Mariamman – at my native village Semmangudi (a tiny village in erstwhile Tanjore and now Tiruvarur District), my memories always go back to various Tamil temples (Draupati Amman and Mariamman temples) in Mauritius. A few centuries ago, it must have been from these villages in Tiruvarur district that Tamils migrated to Mauritius. My mother always used to talk about goldsmiths travelling often to “Moris” (as they used to say in those days) in the early 1900s. These days, the Theemithi (firewalk), Kavadai festivals that we are so familiar with in Mauritius are becoming very rare in these villages in India. During my days in Mauritius, I must have seen more of them than in my own village in India.
I thought I should share some details about my village temple maintained by our family for generations with readers of the Mauritius Times. I would encourage Mauritians to plan a visit to these places in Tiruvarur District in Tamil Nadu when they are on a visit to Chennai. While we have famous temples like the Tanjore Big Temple and Madurai Meenakshi Amman, there are various smaller temples Mauritians would have never visited.
Traditionally, smaller temples like these are considered family deity by various Tamil families living in India and all over the world. I am sure it must be the same for several Mauritian Tamil families, but who lost touch with their roots back in India over the years due to distance. The first generation families must have suffered due to the fact that they could not travel to India in those days, and this would perhaps explain why the elder Mauritian Tamils (may be the first or second generation) set out to build temples like Tookay, Mariamman in Port Louis, Rose Hill, Terre Rouge and various other locations.
Semmangudi is a tiny village near Kodavasal on the Kumbakonam-Tiruvarur bus route in Tiruvarur district. The temple city Kumbakonam is situated some 300 kms from Chennai city and is surrounded by various temples all built around the 10th century or earlier like the Tanjore Temple.
Semmangudi village has a higher secondary school, which caters also for the educational needs of many surrounding villages. Children from the nearby villages would otherwise have had to commute to Kodavasal or Tiruvarur or not have access to proper education. Our family started the school in the 50s. Semmangudi is also famously known for being the native village of the renowned doyen of Carnatic music, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
Like any other village, Semmangudi village is blessed with three temples, each dedicated to Lord Shiva, Vishnu, and Sri Maha Mariamman respectively. Of the three, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple has a holy history to cherish, which dates to 70 years back. During May-June 1939, when the 68th Pontiff of Kamokodi Mutt, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Sri Kanchi Kamakodi Mutt, was camping in this village, he developed symptoms of measles. The villagers prayed to Sri Maha Mariamman and soon His Holiness got better. That incident served to foster the villagers’ fervour in the all-powerful deity.
We are now involved in the renovation works of the temple; consecration (kumbabhishekam) is likely to be held in August-September 2011. Traditionally, responsibility for maintaining and undertaking the repairs and upkeep of this Sri Maha Mariamman temple has been vested with our family with the help and contribution of the local the villagers. Those desirous of visiting the Temple may contact V. Shankar in Chennai by email:
PS: V. Shankar lived in Mauritius during the early 80s and 90s.
* Published in print edition on 10 June 2011