Advertisement
Friday, Dec 03, 2021
Outlook.com
Tamil Nadu/Temple Singer

Shakti Sings For Shiva: The Woman Hymn Singer In Tamil Nadu Temples

The voice of a woman ‘Odhuvaar’ resonates from a Tamil Nadu temple

Shakti Sings For Shiva: The Woman Hymn Singer In Tamil Nadu Temples
Lord’s Singer |
Shakti Sings For Shiva: The Woman Hymn Singer In Tamil Nadu Temples
outlookindia.com
2021-09-03T15:05:35+05:30

The ringing, mellifluous voice of a woman reverberates from the corridors of Sri Thenupureeswarar Temple at Madambakkam near Chennai. It is reciting verses from Tamil religious scriptures Thevaram and Thiruvasagam in praise of Lord Shiva—verses that have hitherto been the sole preserve of male singers known as ‘Odhuvaars’ at this Chola-era temple.

Listening to those verses being sung by a woman ‘Odhuvaar’ (meaning someone who chants) comes as a surprise to many devotees who returned to the temple after a long lockdown-induced gap. That voice belongs to Suhanjana Gopinath, the only woman Odhuvaar to have been appointed recently by the Tamil Nadu government.

“I’ve been religious from my younger days and was transfixed by the lyrical beauty of Thevaram and Thiruvasagam and the way it was sung by the Odhuvaars in Shiva temples that I used to visit with my parents. I joined an institute in Karur to formally learn Thirumurai (the traditional compendium of Tamil songs/hymns devoted to Shiva) to learn to sing them in properly,” she recalls. She went on to teach religious hymns in schools attached to a trust, sharpening her skills even while passing on the knowledge to younger generations.

When Suhanjana saw the state government advertisement for priests and Odhuvaars to be appointed at its temples, she applied. “My husband Gopinath and his parents were truly supportive as they did not want my talent and years of learning to go to waste. I applied for the existing vacancy in this temple and got selected after an interview where I was asked questions about these scripts and demonstrated my singing as well,” points out Suhanjana.

“I was transfixed by the lyrical beauty of Thevaram and Thiruvasagam and joined an institute in Karur to formally learn Thirumurai,” says Suhanjana.

Not only was she selected to the Sri Thenupureeswarar temple near her house, but she even received the appointment order from chief minister M.K. Stalin. Mother of a one-year-old girl, Suhanjana, 30, gets to sing twice a day after the main puja. On her first day, as she prepared to sing as the official Odh­uvaar, the head priest took a garland from the idol of the deity and put it around her neck, before asking her to recite a hymn from Thevaram.

Unlike the archakas (temple priests), who usually are Brahmins, Odhuvaars, like many of the Tamil sages who were devotees of god Shiva, belong to different castes. Suhanjana, however, is not the first woman Odhuvaar. The credit goes to S. Angayarkanni, a woman from a Scheduled Caste, who was appointed in 2006 at a Shiva temple in Tiruchy district. However, she had to quit after getting married and moved out of the district. Suhanjana faces no such predicament as her husband and in-laws have assured that her tryst with god at the temple will go on uninterrupted.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Shakti Sings for Shiva")


By G.C. Shekhar in Chennai

Advertisement

Outlook Newsletters

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Read More from Outlook

Shaheen Bagh, CAA, Farmers’ Protest: Hip-Hop Is The Voice Of Dissent In India

Shaheen Bagh, CAA, Farmers’ Protest: Hip-Hop Is The Voice Of Dissent In India

Young, brash and little-known artistes are using hip-hop as an outlet to speak up and speak out.

World Disability Day: Visually Impaired Girls In Himachal Use Education To Dispel Darkness

World Disability Day: Visually Impaired Girls In Himachal Use Education To Dispel Darkness

Umang Foundation in Himachal Pradesh has helped many blind and visually impaired persons achieve their dreams by giving them access to higher education.

IND Vs GER, Junior Hockey WC, Live: India Eye Final

IND Vs GER, Junior Hockey WC, Live: India Eye Final

India are the defending champions and beat Belgium in the quarterfinals. Get live scores and updates of IND vs GER, Hockey Men's Junior World Cup 2021 semifinal being played in Bhubaneswar.

Kashmir: Ghulam Nabi Azad Emerges As Key Player In J&K With Or Without Congress

Kashmir: Ghulam Nabi Azad Emerges As Key Player In J&K With Or Without Congress

Crowds at Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's recent rallies show that he will be a key player in elections in Jammu and Kashmir, when they happen.

Advertisement