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We The People: Tamil Nadu's Unique Temple Where Dolls Greet Visitors Before The Deity

The hundreds of cement dolls outside Azhagu Muthu Ayyanar temple in Cuddalore’s Thenambakkam village are a symbol of devotees' desires and wishes fulfilled.

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We The People: Tamil Nadu's Unique Temple Where Dolls Greet Visitors Before The Deity
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Colourful dolls, hundreds of them, stand solemn around the Azhagu Muthu Ayyanar temple in Cuddalore’s Thenambakkam village.

Made of cement, each doll is the physical representation of a devotee’s desire fulfilled and a prayer answered. And they come in all forms, a police officer, doctor, pilot, lawyer. Some are shaped to resemble an aeroplane, car, bike, camera, a house, even a hand or foot.

The temple itself is surrounded by large swaths of emerald green paddy fields lined by coconut trees. Azhagu Muthu Ayyanar, the village deity sits under a big banyan, stretching his lengthy billhook sword, on whose blade, devotees tie their petitions written on paper.

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“If we have a problem, we appeal to God. When the problem is solved, we offer dolls as a debt of gratitude to God,” said Vimal, one of the devotees who had recently offerred a small baby doll.

"My relatives shamed me and my wife for not being able to bear a child, but after our prayers (here) our long-time desire came true,” he added.

Arularsan,35, from Villupuram district offered a small aeroplane, a year ago, after he landed a job in Bengaluru as a cabin crew member for a top airline company in the country.

“I was jobless for years after completing my education. My mother prayed on my behalf and our wish came true because of Azhagu siddhar (sage),” claims Arularsan.

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Behind the Alaghar temple is the Azhaghar siddhar temple built over a well. Villagers believe that a siddhar appeared in this village around 300 years ago and cured people who were afflicted by several diseases. Later, he is believed to have attained samadhi in the well. A small temple for the siddhar was later built over it.

Once, according to the temple’s caretaker Kumar Poosari, a severely ill person, who according to his doctor had just a few hours to live, was cured by the sage.

“He was brought to this temple at midnight he got his life back,” Poosari claims.

Monday is a busy day at the Alaghar temple. That is when devotees, whose wishes have been fulfilled arrive with their dolls.

Local residents aren’t very sure about the origins of the temple and the unique practice of offering dolls to the deity.

"Nobody knows when the first such statue was offered. But back then, I remember seeing thousands of small clay dolls. They are nowhere to be seen now. Now we find colourful cement idols. Many people come to the temple only to take photos and videos,” Dakshinamurthy,60, a village elder said.

Kumar Poosari also said that some people have problems with thier limbs also visit the temple seeking divine help. “When their limbs are cured, they offer a representation of the limb to the deity. When their wish for a car or house is fulfilled, dolls shaped like them are offered,” he said.

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He also said that once a group of constables from the Cuddalore district were promoted to the rank of sub-inspector. In return, they offered more than 20 small dolls dressed as policemen.

"The temple premises looks as if Tamil Nadu policemen are protecting the temple and it's idols," Poosari quips.

The idols are made by a team led by Shekar, who sells them to devotees for Rs. 3,500 each.

“I am in this business for more than 25 years. We get incentives for each of the dolls we make. In a week we make around 10-15 of them. In all, we have made more than a thousand dolls,” he claimed.

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“We prepare the dolls beforehand, but draw the doll’s eyes right in front the client. When the eyes ‘open’, the colourful dolls come to life. Then we write the name of the person who has purchased it on the back and hand it over,” Shekhar also said.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Dolls of Desire")

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