Sir Ramaswami Srinivasa Sharma, or Sir R.S. Sharma for short, is an interesting character of the pre-Independence days. Born in 1890 or so, he was from the Tiruvaiyaru region. Being of an ambitious bent of mind, he left the sylvan surroundings of his birthplace and moved to Calcutta where he made a mark as a journalist. He came to be noticed by the British Government for his writing and speaking skills. Thereafter followed a triumphant career in corporate and journalistic circles, with much money being made. He also acted as an agent for princes who fell foul of the Imperial Government. These activities together with the many newspapers and periodicals he routinely represented or owned, made him a powerful figure in Calcutta and Delhi. He was nominated to the Imperial Legislative Council and in 1937, was knighted by King Edward VIII.
Despite his living in the North for long, his heart was in the Thanjavur region and he made plans even in the 1930s to settle there upon retirement. Being a great devotee of Goddess Kali at Dakshineswar, he was attracted by the name of Mavoor, a small village just off Thiruvarur, on the Thiruthuraipoondi road. He interpreted the name to be Ma Oor — the home of the Mother or Ma as Bengalis referred to Kali. There he bought huge tracts of agricultural land and planned his residence alongside. This had all the modcons and luxuries of the time. In addition, it had a library situated in the middle of a pond, accessed by a walkway from his residence. He also built a temple for Kali, in the Bengali style. This was reached by an arched walkway from his library.
A replica of Kolkata Kali
The temple was duly constructed and a replica of the Kali idol at Dakshineswar was installed in it. Worship was conducted exactly as it was in Calcutta. According to the music and dance scholar P.R. Thilagam, Sir Sharma had a unique method of personally propitiating the Goddess. Each morning he would prick his thumb on a thorn, smear the blood from it on a flower, which would then be offered to the Goddess.
The consecration ceremony of the temple witnessed Sir Sharma’s close friend Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar composing seven songs on the Goddess. The first, ‘Vedattinucchiyil, set as a ragamalika in Kedaragowla, Atana, Anandabhairavi and Mohanam, is meant to be sung as a free verse. Of the remaining, five are kritis in the pallavi, anupallavi, charanam format. ‘Mavoor valam peruga’ (Sindhubhairavi/Adi) has been featured often by Sanjay Subrahmanyan and has one charanam while the remaining kritis have four. ‘Mavur valar Maharani’ (Jaunpuri/Adi) was popularised by Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan. Another kriti, also in Jaunpuri/Adi, is ‘Mangalarupiniye.’ ‘Valai manonmani’ is in Natabhairavi/Rupakam, while ‘Annai Makaliyam’ is in Kapi/Adi. The seventh song, ‘Mangalam pongidum,’ is set in Kilikanni format and has five verses, set in Maund/Adi, all sung to the same tune.
The anupallavi of ‘Mavoor valar Maharani’ describes the village in all its glory — birds calling, a tank and river brimming with water, rice grains of the highest variety heaped about and bees buzzing amidst flowers. Even today, Mavoor retains much of this, and is a sight for sore eyes. But alas, Sir Sharma’s beloved tank, the one in the middle of which he built his library, is bone dry. The locals aver that the library building itself collapsed and nobody knows what happened to the books. Across the road from the temple is a pair of massive gates that are locked. These lead to Sir Sharma’s residence, which as per the people around still survives as a ruin.
The temple, however, is in good condition and is in worship. The deity is accessed via a massive door made of ebony. The flooring is of marble while the steps leading to the shrine are of granite. The temple is still painted in the bright colours that Sir Sharma had conceptualised — yellow, green and blue, with the domes in chrome. Given all this and the surrounding greenery, you are transported to Bengal in an instant.
In his time, Sir Sharma’s Goddess heard much music. The library was the venue for concerts by many leading artistes. He employed a set of choristers on a daily basis, who, clad in saffron and wearing pendants bearing the image of the Goddess, sang bhajans each morning. All of that vanished when the seigneur of this realm died in 1957. He had become somewhat disenchanted with the place when he was defeated by R. Venkataraman in the Thanjavur parliamentary constituency elections of 1952. This was despite his enjoying the support of the DMK, the Communists and Periyar E.V. Ramaswami Naciker, who shared the platform with him. Politics make for strange bedfellows.