One Munch mala, said a voice beside me as I unbuckled my sandals at the Thekkan Pazhani temple gate. I turned around sharply. A Munch mala? Curious indeed!
I knew people offered flowers, sandal paste, oil or fruits to invoke the Almighty's blessings. But a Munch mala? I soon learnt that at 'Thekkan Pazhani Balasubrahmanya Swami temple', devotees have started a new trend. They offer chocolate bars to the presiding deity in addition to all of the other offerings.
“This is a recent development,” says the main priest Shaji, who has been serving at the temple for more than two decades. “I don't remember when this started, but it kicked off when children started leaving chocolate bars as offering; they believed it would bring them success in examinations. Soon, the grown ups followed, and started arriving with cartons of chocolates in return for fulfiling their wishes."
The chief priest explained this further. “The principal deity in the temple is 'Balamurugan', or Lord Muruga as child – and all children love chocolates”, Shaji smiles.
Earlier, garlands made of lemons were the main offering to the Lord but now the chocolates take precedence. They are offered as garlands, in boxes and individual packs. “People offer a 'para' with chocolates (a para is a weight measure) when their wishes are granted. And there is 'Thulabharam' (where a person is kept on one scale and chocolates in the other) for the little ones. “We give Munch as Prasadam too”, says Shaji.
“However, I will not call this temple the 'Munch Muruga' temple,” says Shaji. He delves into the history of the temple. A devotee from one of the families in the area used to frequent Pazhani. Over the years, he became old and he couldn't travel. The Lord, then appeared in his dreams and told him to build a temple in his hometown. The lamp and the deity, says Shaji, were brought from Pazhani. “This is the only temple in the state that has this divine presence,” he adds.
Lakshmi, a devotee who was listening to the story chips in. “My daughter is a very fair girl, and once we saw some dark spots on her face. She was distraught, and so were we. I told her to pray to the Lord and make an offering. She prayed and cried through the night and promised several packets of Munch as offering at the temple. And the next day when she woke up, there was no blemish on her skin. Lakshmi says, “my daughter went early in the morning, as soon as the shops opened, bought packets of Munch as promised and kept them at the temple. She has never had any issues after that, the proud mother says.
Shaji smiles. This is not the only case, he tells me. There are many like this lady who come here from far and wide. And on an impulse, I bought a bar of Munch and kept it before the Lord, before bowing my head to the supreme presence.