Munisekar has always been devout. From the age of nine, he began working at the Sivasubramaniam Kovil of Slave Island – the place of worship closest to where he lived with his parents. Every day after school, Munisekar would go to the Kovil to work and study there. In a few years however he stopped going to school altogether and turned to his faith full time. Now, 33 years later, he is the longest serving and most senior temple assistant at the Kovil.
Over the years, Munisekar has seen the Kovil transform itself from a basic shrine when he first joined, to what it is today – an awe-inspiring place of worship, every last inch of its pyramidal exterior elaborately decorated over with numberless statues of Hindu gods. Of these, the Kovil most often attracts worshippers of the powerful deity known as Murugan or Karthikeya to Hindus and Katharagama Deviyo to Buddhists.
God Murugan is believed to come to the aid of anyone who worships him, should they call on him for help. Munisekar’s faith and devotion to this deity is all encompassing; so much so that those at the Kovil believe that God Murugan possesses his body from time to time. It is for this reason that Munisekar is allowed into the inner sanctum of the Kovil to perform holy duties, in spite of the fact that he is not a Brahmin.
On the inside, the Kovil is not as ornate as its exterior, but as each session begins, sound overtakes sight in terms of sensory stimulation. Strains of the horn-like nadaswaram swell in the air, aided by the clanging of bells and beating of drums, and the rituals of worship begin.
Munisekar feels that of late, the crowds coming to each pooja or session of worship have decreased. He was of the opinion that after hostilities ended in May 2009 and Jaffna finally became accessible to the wider public once again, many Tamils who had sought refuge in Slave Island and larger Colombo during the war had returned to the peninsula, to their homes of decades past.
For Munisekar however, his place of work and worship is also his home: he was given a small space in the rear compound of the Kovil to build a house for his wife of 15 years, two sons and young daughter. As the children play a game of cricket together in the cramped space outside their house, Munisekar tells us that his wish for them – especially his two teenage sons – is to learn music and play their instruments during pooja at the Kovil. Currently, the boys are learning different instruments – one son preferring the Western guitar while the other is learning how to play the more conventional Indian drum, the tabla
A slightly built man with an almost fragile frame, Munisekar believes that his faith keeps him strong. He is not afraid of possession; instead, allowing it to take over his body in a dance-like trance. He foretells future events with the help of the transcendent power he has been given by the gods he has served his whole life. At nighttime, when he hears unexplained sounds within the Kovil he likes to think it is the sound of the gods walking their earthly turf.
Each day he goes about his duties within the Kovil with the utmost concentration, padding reverently around the holy place that has become his home in blue-socked feet. When we asked him if he had ever been lonely, especially as a young child working in the Kovil, he smiled no, telling us that he was never sad, because God Murugan had kept him company all through his life.