'AnnadAna Sivan'
(from the book titled Maha PeriyavAL Virundhu by Raa. Ganapathi, pages 83-92)

"The cooked rice (sAdam) would have been gathered into a very huge heap, looking dazzling white like the Himalayas. Even if an elephant drowns in the sAmbAr andA (huge vessel containing sAmbAr), you wouldn't know. It is said that Himalachala Sivan created a huge pit of food for the sake of Gundodaran during the Meenakshi Kalyanam (Shiva's celestial wedding with Meenakshi at Madurai). In the same way, this poor brahmana Sivan did a marvellous and mighty task."

Kanchi Paramacharya was reminiscing about the annadhAnam festivities of Sri Ramaswamy Iyer of Tepperumal Nallur, Tamilnadu, who was more popularly (and appropriately) known as 'Annadhana Sivan'. These food festivities took place in Kumbakonam during the Mahamaham festivals in the years 1921 and 1933, and fed several thousand people.

Since the middle of the eighteenth century until the middle of the twentieth, Kumbakonam was the headquarters of Kanchi Matam. Sivan virtually made the Matam his home from 1916 since his demise in 1939.

Paramacharya continued his reminiscences about the big event thus:

"It was during the 1933 Mahamaham annadhAnam. The wood brought for fuel was a hundred cartloads. For pickles, ten cartloads of the amala fruit ( phyllanthus emblica) were received. He would just smell the vapours of the dishes being cooked and say correctly what needed to be added to a dish. From the vapours of rasam, he would order the amount of coriander yet to be ground and added. Not just a handful of corianders. 'Ground a large pan of coriander and add to the rasam', he would shout to a cook. If a large pan of coriander was to be added more than what has already been done, imagine the quantity of rasam that would have been made. And there ware two cartloads of broomsticks (of the coconut tree) that were used to clean the floor after a dining session.

"However much the number of cooked rice vessels or however long the serial wood furnaces be, they couldn't just meet the amount of rice required. So what he would do is to first cook ten or twenty bags of rice, spread the lots over long mats, cover the steaming, cooked rice (anna pAvadai) with a thin, white cloth and spread bags of raw, uncooked rice over the cloth with the cooked rice under. Then he would cover this uncooked rice with long jute sacks and fold them tightly under the mat. In the next half hour, when the sacks were removed, all the upper layer of uncooked rice would have been cooked, soft like flowers! Such was his technique to speed up the rice-making task.

"Where did he go for all the milk required for curd to serve the multitudes of diners? Sivan had another technique for this requirement. In those days when there were no refrigerators, Sivan had invented his own! Weeks or even months before the samArAdhanA (food festival), Sivan used to go about the task of collecting milk and making curds. He would pack the curd in wooden barrels, seal them with wax and drown the barrels in deep ponds. When the barrels were extracted and opened, the curd would be just like it was formed yesterday! We should say, it was not just the coolness of the pond, but the cool compassion of his mind also that made the task possible."

Though Sivan conducted the festivities on behalf of Kanchi Matam, the 1921 and 1933 MahamahamsamArAdhanAs were eventful in the sense, Paramacharya was not there in Kumbakonam at that time, as he had undertaken the ganga yAtrA (pilgrimage to the banks of Ganga) in the year 1919, which lasted for twenty-one long years. During the Mahamaham of 1933, Paramacharya had camped on the outskrits of Kumbakonam, in Patteesvaram and Tiruvidai Marudhur, en route to Ramesvaram, from where he was to proceed to Varanasi. Observing the tradition, he did not enter the Kumbakonam matam until his yAtrAwas completed. He would go to the Mahamaham pond to take bath or to the temples of Kumbakonam from his camp and return. It was during the year 1933 that the renovation work of the Matam was completed, under the supervision of Sivan.

A speciality about Sivan's annadhAnam festivities was that until the evening of the previous day there were no signs at the place of dining of any activity of food preparation. The articles would start arriving only in the night. In the 1933 festival, it was past midnight and yet not a cartload of articles arrived! Even the fearless taskmaster Sivan started worrying over the actual time left for arranging the things and start cooking to feed a lakh of people on the next morning.

The news reached the camp where Paramacharya was staying. In the next few minutes, the carts started arriving.

The carts that were usually exempted from the traffic regulations during the Mahamaham festival were at that time held up by the traffic police, who were not aware of the relaxation of rules for Sivan's carts. The circle inspector suddenly had a flash at one-thirty at night and proceeded to the scene of holdup. Thereafter, the carts that were parked outside the city moved in, and Paramacharya's blessings saw to it that everything went on well from that time.

A most notable thing about the festivities was that neither the 'Walking Sivan', nor the 'Annadhana Sivan' ever tasted a morsel of the food served! Paramacharya usually took the flattened rice offered to Sri ChandraMauleesvara, even that when he was not on fast. Annadhana Sivan would go a friend's house and take just curd rice, which was his usual, favourite dish, which he took even on normal days after offering it to his ishta devata (personal God) Sri Dakshinamurthi.

Paramacharya said later, that contrary to the popular perception that Sivan did the annadhAnam on behalf of the Kanchi Matam, it was his festivities that restored the financial status of the Matam during those difficult days.