Friday 30 November 2012

When Munroe ate Tirupathi prasada

Till the laddus came to be distributed as prasada from the 1940s, the Srinivasa or Balaji Temple of Tirupathi every day distributed a special variety of pongal called Munroe Prabhu Kangalam.
This Munroe was none other than the man who had spoken to Raghavendra Swamy in Mantralaya. How did Munroe’s name come to be associated with a sacred dish of one of the most holy temples of India. Well, there is story behind it.    
The Tirupathi prasada, comprising pongal and vada is famous and it is associated with curing many diseases and debilities. One of the many beneficiaries of this prasada is the British Governor, Sir Thomas Munroe.
Munroe is well-known among the devotes of Raghavendra Swamy as the person who spoke to Rayaru when he visited Mantralaya. The act of Munroe speaking to Rayaru who was sitting in his Brindavana is now part of the Mantralaya folklore.
But, how many know that the same Munroe also visited Tirupathi and he was cured of an ailment only after eating with his bare hands the prasada of Srinivasa.
Munroe was a Scottish soldier and he joined the East India Company. A natural athlete, he was a superb boxer and an all-rounder in sports during his school days in Glascow.
In 1779, he joined the English Army in Madras as an Infantry cadet. He fought in the wars against Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.
After the death of Tipu in 1799, he was from 1800 to 1807 made incharge of the northern districts ceded to the British by the Nizam of Hyderabad.
It was in the northern districts he first introduced the Ryotwari system of land revenue collected from farmers. This system continues even today with several modifications.
He went back to England and returned to Madras in 1814 and was given the special assignment of reforming the police and judicial system of Madras Presidency. In 1820, he was appointed as the Governor of Madras  and it was during this tenure that he visited Tirupathi and had a taste of the prasada.
As Tirupathi came under the Madras Presidency, Munroe was told about the deity of Srinivasa and thousands of people who came to the temple.
Income from temples in those years formed a major part of the revenue for the East India company.  A devout Christian, Munroe closely scrutinised the accounts of temples, including that of Balaji but rarely visited them.
He once went to Tirupathi and decided to look around the temple. As he was inspecting the premises, he found hundreds of clean shaven devotes eating pongal from their bare hands. While children were eating the pongal with relish, the old people were seen squatting on the ground and eating the prasada.
Now here is where there are two versions of what further happened.
This is the first version.
Munroe appeared disgusted by the manner in which the people were eating pongal with their bare hands. He asked the officials to maintain hygyine and directed them to collect all the pongal prasada and throw them out. He lectured to the devotes, telling them they would get diahorrea and cholera if they ate pongal.
The officials accompanying Munroe forced the devotes to throw out the prasada. Munroe went away satisfied that he had put an end to a “dirty” practice, as he called it. The pain increased to such an extent that the remedies that he took on his own did not work.
The administration rushed a number doctors to Munroe but none could cure his stomach pain. Munroe endured sleepless nights and he was reduced to such a state that he was amenable to any suggestion or remedy that would cure him.
A Hindu official in his entrouge suggested that Munroe would be better off if he took some prasada from the Srinivasa temple.
When Munroe demurred, the official bravely remarked that he was suffering as he had forced the devotees to throw away a sacred dish. “Eat it and you will be cured,” he said.  Left with no alternative, Munroe began eating the very pongal which he had ordered to be thrown away.
The first fistful of pongal he ate gave him a strange satisfaction. The more he ate, the less the pain became and by the time he ate the entire pongal, the stomach pain had subsided.’
Munroe realised the enormity of  his wrong order and directed the temple authorities to resume giving prasada to the devotees. He also lifted all the restrictions that he had wanted to impose or imposed on the temple and the distribution of prasada.
He also ordered the revenue authorities of the area to set aside a part of the revenue collected from Kodapaayal village near Tirupathi to be made over to the temple for preparing and distributing the pongal prasada. He also personally created an endowment for the prasada which continues to be placed before the Lord of Seven Hills even today.
This pongal prasada was given to all the devotees who visited Tirupathi tili 1940 when it was replaced by the laddus. Till then the pongal was known as Munroe Prabhu Kangalam.
The incident had a seminal effect on Munroe and his family. They al became ardent devotees of Srinivasa and never missed an opportunity in praising the Lord.
The second version of the story is not so romantic. It says Munro was frequently  suffering from stomach pain and no doctor could cure it or come out with a remedy.
Munroe had several secretaries each of whom were delegated with a specific task. One of his secretary was a Hindu and he suggested to Munro to take a vow that he would visit Tirpuathi if he was cured of the ailment.
Munroe vowed to visit Tirupathi if he was cured. Of course, the stomach ailment went away and a grateful Munroe came down to Tirpuathi from Madras where he was headquartered and prayed to Srinivasa. He also created an endowment in which daily prasada in his name is offered to Srinivasa. The TTD continues this endowment even to this day.
He died of cholera when he was visiting the northern areas of the Madras Presidency. This death, as I see it, could be attributed to his insensitive remark to the devotees that they would die of cholera of they ate pongal.

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