Monday, 23 December 2013

Writers, Who Penned Kongu’s Fragrance

The fertile Kongu region, whose people were once inseparable from the occupation of agriculture, has gradually lost its cultural identities due to rapid urbanization at the cost of agriculture. And it sad that the region’s rural fragrance with its unique culture can be experienced only from the short stories, novels and poetry penned by the region’s popular writers.

Hence, in order to introduce the realistic lives portrayed in the works of eminent Kongu authors, the Tamil Cultural Centre of Dr. N.G.P Arts and Science College in the city has recently brought out a book Kongu Manam Kamazhum Padaipukal ( The literatures filled with the fragrance of Kongu culture) compiling articles from various research scholars on the works of as many as nine eminent Kongu writers including the yesteryear personalities  R.Shanmuga Sundaram, M.P. Periyasamy Thooran, Era Vadivelan and  Ku. Chinnappa Bharathi.

“The Tamil Cultural Centre is committed to work for the development of Tamil by bringing out such valuable books on the works of Kongu writers” says Dr. Nalla Palanisamy, President of the cultural centre and publisher of Kongu Manam Kamazhum Padaipukal.

The book, which is edited by Sirpi Balasubramaniam, popular Vanambadi poet and P. K. Ponnusamy, Former Vice-chancellor, University of Madras and Madurai Kamaraj University, introduces the Kongu writers with critiques on their respective works.

“Kongunadu was a separate region with its unique tradition and culture, though it was under the rule of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas in different periods. This fact can be understood by reading ancient pieces of Tamil literature including Purananuru, Pathittrupaththu and Thevaram” writes P.K. Ponnusamy in his foreword to the book.

Speaking on the literary glory of Kongunadu, Ponnusamy points out that the land was also the birth place of unique pieces of Tamil literature including Perunkathai by Konguvelir, Thakkai Ramayanam by Emperuman Kavirayar and Ravana Kaviyam by Pulavar Kuzhanthai.
On the trends of writing regional literature, K. Panchangam, eminent literary critic, says:

“R. Shanmugasundaram from Keeranur in the then Coimbatore district pioneered the trend of writing regional fiction in the entire India through his popular novel Nagammal in the early 1940s. Moreover, the trend has gained momentum these days due to extensive globalization, which has created an urge in regional writers to document the disappearing cultural aspects of their respective native lands”

In his article on popular writer and editor of the ten- volume Tamil Encyclopedia M.P. Periyasamy Thooran, Sethupathy, a research scholar, writes:

“Thooran, who was born in 1908 at Manjakaattu Valasu in Erode in the then Coimbatore district, penned plenty of books from short story collections to science fiction, portraying his land and people in a realistic manner”  

Mahudeeswaran, Tamil professor and research scholar, opines on the works of the late poet Vadivelan:

“Vadivelan developed his passion for writing after inspired by the literary activities of his grandfather, who had staged several plays including Vaanaasura Natakam, Ottakootha Natakam and Silapathikara Natakam at his village Perodu near Erode.

The book Kongu Manam Kamazhum Padaipukal also contains articles on the works of contemporary Kongu writers K.Rathnam, Perumal Murugan, C.R. Ravindran, Ma. Natarasan, Suryaganthan, Patchi, Sivakumar and Pazhaman.  


Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Throwing New Light on Bharathi’s Life

A participant in the fancy dress competition at a school, who plays the revolutionary Tamil poet Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi, wearing a white head gear, black coat and white dhoti with a long stick in his hand, may not know the reason for the poet’s covering his neck and chest with white cloth that is visible in a shape of triangle. But, ask Prof. Sethupathy, a well-known researcher into Bharathi’s life and mission, and he will tell you the story behind it.

“A popular photo, which shows Bharathi wearing a white cloth inside his coat, was taken in Madras by his disciple Kanaka Subburathinam alias Bharathidasan. Had Bharathidasan not shot his teacher without the white cloth covering his neck, the country could have understood from his weak emaciated body, the poverty he experienced in his short span of life” informs Sethupathy, a 43 year old researcher.  

Sethupathy, who is a professor of Tamil at Bharathidasan Government College for Women, Puduchery, was in the city recently to address on the poet’s birth anniversary at the literary organizations Tamil Nadu Arts and Literary Forum and Sangamam.

Sethupathi is an author of around 50 books including Bharathi Thedalil Pudhiya Parimanangal and Thamizhil Mahakavi Thondruka, which are research works on Subramaniya Bharathi.

Admiring the literary merits in the devotional writings of the poet, Sethupathy says that Vinayaga Naanmani Malai is Bharathi’s masterly work, in which he describes Lord Ganesha as an embodiment of religious harmony and sees in Him Jehovah, Jesus and Allah.   

“But, Lord Vinayaka, whom Bharathi adores in his Vinayagar Naanmani Malai, is not the present day Ganesha, which has become the symbol of Hindutva politics” underlines Sethupathy.  

Sharing interesting information from the great poet’s life, Sethupathy says that, as many believe, Bharathi was not trampled by an elephant.

“The poet, who was very weak due to abject poverty, died naturally” he informs.

In contrast to the common belief that Bharathi went underground in Pondicherry by boarding a train from Madras, Sethupathi’s discovery throws new light on the poet’s life history.

“Bharathi, who was wanted by the police for his revolutionary activities in Madras, escaped to Pondicherry by boarding a boat at the Buckingam Canal in Madras”

In support of his discovery, the scholar shows evidence from the book Glorious Years by G.K. Damodara Rao, a retired judge and the grandson of Dr. Nanjunda Rao, a medical practitioner and philanthropist, who provided shelter to Bharathi at his home Sasi Vilas in Madras.

“Dr. Nanjunda Rao, who smelled the possible arrest of Bharathi, woke up the poet in the dead of night and made him board a boat at Buckingam Canal and sent him to Pondicherry accompanied by his loyal servant Raman Nair”  

Sethupathy says that Damodara Rao collected this new information from his grandmother Mrs Nanjunda Rao and also confirmed it from Raman Nair, who accompanied Bharathi to Pondicherry in the boat.

B.Meenakshi Sundaram

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:



Sunday, 8 December 2013

Tracing Black Aborigines of Coimbatore

From the suffix ‘Pathi’ in the names of certain villages like Maruthapathi, Appachigoundenpathi, Chinnampathi, Kumittipathi and so on, begins the history of Coimbatore. Though the suffix ‘Pathi’ suggests the meaning of a tribal Irula village, many hardly know that the aborigines of Coimbatore were the Irulas and Koniamman, the sentinel deity of Coimbatore, was once their Goddess with Her name ‘Konamma’

Though the Irulas earlier worshipped their Vanadevathais (Female deities of the wood), they were later incorporated in the Hindu pantheon. Moreover, the Irulas were also made worshippers of Hindu Gods like Shiva and Vishnu.

For instance, the Irula tribe in the forests of the Nilgiris worships Lord Rangasamy at a shrine in Karamadai and Rangasamy peak in the Nilgris. However, legend has it that Lord Rangasamy, who used to live on the plains at Karamadai, came and settled on the peak after a quarrel with His wife! But, the creation of the legend must be to save the hill folk from the toilsome journey from the Nilgiris to Karamadai for attending the annual car festival of the Karamadai  Rangasamy Temple. The Irulas of the Nilgiris, in order to prove the legend, also point out the two footprints of the ‘deity’ on a rock below the Rangasamy peak.  

The shrine on Rangasamy peak, where an Irula man is a hereditary priest, is visited by other tribal groups like Kotas and Kurumbas too on festival days. During the ceremonies held at the shrine, they also follow the priest’s chanting the name of the lord as ‘Govinda! Govinda!’  At a nearby overhanging rock, which is called Kodai- Kall (Umbrella Stone) the Irulas extract a whitish clay for drawing Naamam (A Vaishnavite mark) on their foreheads.  

However, the Irula tribal people earlier worshipped only their Vanadevathais before the Cholas and the later Vijayanagar rulers ‘streamlined’ them by spreading their respective ‘official’ religions Shaivism and Vaishnavism with their aim of extracting the tribe’s forest wealth including pepper and ivory. Further, when the Cholas attempted to clear the forests of Coimbatore and construct Shiva temples there, the Irulas protested against their attempts of deforestation. Nevertheless, the kings convinced the tribe by constructing temples for their deities too. They also ‘appointed’ priests at the temples built for the tribal deities and donated lands to the shrines.                     
Interestingly, as the name ‘Irula’ takes its root from Irul or darkness, it is believed that the people emerged from the dark jungles of Coimbatore. It is also said that they  got their name for their darker complexion in comparison with any other tribes of Coimbatore.  

At a time, when the world mourns the demise of Nelson Mandela, who struggled against apartheid in South Africa, one can recall how the dark- complexioned Irulas would be criticized in an exaggerative statement, which reads thus:      

“Even charcoal would leave a white mark on the skin of Irulas “

Sources: Ithuvo Engal Kovai, Cholan Poorva PattayamBy Kovai Kizhar, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Volume II – By Edgar Thurston

Link to my article in The New Indian Express

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Kongu Scholar, who Crowned Ravana

Poets Valmiki, Tulsidas and Kambar, who glorified the fictitious King Rama in their grand epics, could not have imagined that, one day, a renowned Tamil scholar from Kongunadu would pen a similar grand epic, but in praise of their villain Ravana and making him the hero of his epic.
When Pulavar Kuzhandhai wrote the epic ‘Ravana Kaviyam’ in 1946, the then Congress government, which ruled the Madras state, imposed a ban on it for its pro-Dravidian views. However, when the DMK captured power in Tamil Nadu, the ban was lifted in 1971.
Praising the book and commending Kuzhandhai’s creativity and knowledge in Tamil, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai noted that Ravana Kaviyam, which consists of 3100 songs, was equal in all literary merits in comparison with Kambaramayana, the epic penned by great Tamil poet Kambar. But, he also underlined that Kuzhandai’s epic differed only in the central idea.
A close associate of  Dravidian Movement leaders  like Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and C.N. Annadurai, Kuzhandhai was a staunch atheist, rationalist and great lover of Tamil.
Born at Olavalasu near Erode in the then Coimbatore district in 1906, Kuzhandhai learnt the Tamil alphabets by writing them on a heap of sand at a Thinai Pallikoodam         (Pyol School). He had a passion for composing conventional Tamil poetry even while he was a 10 year old boy. He mastered the elements in Tamil prosody all by himself, as there were few Tamil scholars in his village.  
Pulavar Kuzhandhai, who worked as a Tamil teacher at Bhavani Board High School between 1941 and 1962, is also an author of various other books like Arasiyalarangam, Kamanjari, Nalathambi Sarkarai Thalattu, Velakovil Vazhinadai Sindhu, Thirunana Siledai Venba, Nerunchi Pazham and many more. He also wrote commentaries on Thirukural and Tholkappiyam, besides authoring Tamil grammar books like Yaappathikaram and Thodayathikaram. 
At a time, when a religious political party plays the ‘Rama’ card to grasp power in contemporary politics, it is surprising to know that Kuzhandhai penned a grand epic even several decades ago to register his opposition against the themes in Ramayana, which praised the Aryan practices of sacrificing animals in Yagnas, dividing human beings in the name of four varnas and demeaning the Tamil race as Rakshasas and Asuras.
Glorifying Ravana as a Tamil king, Pulavar Kuzhandhai, in his Ravana Kaviyam, desribes the Aryan settlement in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu, where Saint Vishwamitra performed Yagnas and sacrificed animals in the fire, until the Lankan king Ravana stopped the merciless practice. In contrast to the ideas propagated in
Ramayana, Kuzhandhai justifies Ravana’s abduction of Sita as being only his retaliation for Lakshmana’s severing off Ravana’s sister Surpanaka’s private parts, as she did not yield to Rama’s lust.
Interestingly, Kuzhandhai has made Sita herself explain the virtues of Ravana, as she tells Hanuman that Ravana was ready to let her go, if her husband Rama made an apology to Ravana, realizing his evil deeds.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

In Honour of Kovai's Vanambadi Poets

Dr Manjualadevi addressing at Tamil Nadu Ilakkiya Peravai

At a time when the learned few failed to address social and political issues in their conventional Tamil poetry, it was the Vanambadi poets of Coimbatore, who used their modern verse to boldly address issues from the objective world.

“Despite the pride in calling Coimbatore as The Manchester of South India for its fabulous revenue through numerous textile and spinning mills, the exploitation of labourers at the mills could be one of the reasons for the birth of Vanambadi Poetry Movement here“ said J. Manjula Devi, author of the book Manudam Paadiya Vanambadi

Addressing at the 264th monthly literary meeting of Tamil Nadu Ilakkiya Peravai, on Saturday, Manjula pointed out that the Vanambadi poets, who wrote verses in the early 1970s, dared to question power and capitalism even during the Emergency period.

“Vanambadi poets like Puviarsu, Sirpi, Gnani, Pulavar Aadhi and many others are still active in the world of literature, though they are nearing 80 now” noted Manjula Devi, who researched their lives and mission for her PhD.

“At a time when the contents in classical Tamil literature were confined just to propagate ethics and devotion to God, the revolutionary Vanabadi poets addressed day to day social and political issues in their verse” she averred.

Tracing the history of the modern poetry movement, she noted that poets like Mullai Aadhavan, Agniputran, Gnani, Puviarsu, Pulavar Aadhi and many others drew inspiration from the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal and founded the organization in Coimbatore.

“As how Tamil women could not have obtained liberty from the clutches of the conservative culture, had Periyar E. V. Ramasamy not fought for their rights, Tamil verse could not have been liberated from the learned few, had the Vanambadis not founded their poetry movement here” she compared.

Manjula Devi, who is working as the Headmistress of a primary school at Kallapuram in Udumalpet, is an author of various other books like Paapavin Natchathira Kavithai, a children’s literature, Kannadasanin Kavi Mozhi, a collection of articles on the poetics of popular poet Kannadasan and Nadhikarai Sirpangal, a collection of  Sirpi Balasubramaniam’s verse.  

Citing the famous poems found in Vanambadi magazine, Manjula read out a humorous one penned by eminent Tamil poet Erode Thamizhanban, which was published in one its issues:

The bridegroom, who tied the golden mangalsutra
Around his bride’s neck, knows its value
The bride too knows the auspicious jewel’s worth
But, the one, who knows more about its value
Is the Marwari pawn broker!  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

A Freedom Fighter, Named after his Megaphone

The 97 year old veteran freedom fighter Ramasamy alias ‘Bu. Bu.’ Ramu of Ondipudur is well- known to everyone in the area, as he is seen everyday strolling from his house to the Kamaraj statue on the Trichy main road to have a glance at his departed leader.

“I saw the three leaders Gandhi, Nehru and Kamaraj together at Ondipudur when I was a 13 year old boy. I listened to Gandhi speak for about 20 minutes. T. S. Avinashilingam Chettiar, the then president of the District Congress Committee interpreted Gandhi’s speech in Tamil” recalls Bu. Bu. Ramu.   

Bu. Bu Ramu joined the Congress movement soon after he saw the leaders and first worked as Gram sevak, doing sanitary works and selling Khadar in the villages surrounding Palladam. Later, he became a member of a labour union founded by famous freedom fighter and trade unionist N. G. Ramasamy.    

“The Sessions Court Judge, who was a man from Andhra Pradesh, first referred me as ‘Bu. Bu.’ Ramu, since my job was to announce trade union meetings through a megaphone cycling from street to street in the villages” he recalls.

As Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement with the slogan ‘Do or Die’ in 1942, there were numerous protests throughout the nation to drive away the British. The trade unionists including Bu. Bu Ramu assembled at Kokkali Thottam in Ondipudur for a meeting to chalk out strategies to derail a train carrying explosives at Singanallur Tank. The meeting, which was conducted in the dead of the night on August 11, 1942, was presided over by N. G. Ramasamy.  

“As discussed in the meeting, on the midnight of August 12, 1942, we successfully derailed the goods train, which was carrying explosives to Madras from the cordite factory in Aruvankadu” informs Bu. Bu. Ramu.

Asked about his participation in torching the Sulur Aerodrome, which was another landmark protest in the freedom struggle of Coimbatore, Bu. Bu. Ramu recollects:  

“As we wanted everyone to get out of the Sulur Aerodrome before setting it ablaze, we pelted stones using a Kavan (a sling). However, as many as three British soldiers guarding the aerodrome died in the fire”

Bu. Bu. Ramu was awarded a total of 47 years imprisonment on various charges. However, after spending 3 and half years in Alipore jail, he was released after the interim government formed under C. R Rajagopalachari as Chief Minister of Madras Presidency.

“When I was arrested, the cops at Singanallur police station immersed my hands in water and pierced needle between my nails and flesh forcing me to disclose the names of my comrades. They made me lay nude on the floor and thrashed me from head to toe with their lathis. When I asked for water, they forced me to drink my urine” he signs off.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Reaping Literature in the Agricultural Town

In a society, where all social get-togethers like wedding, house warming and ear-boring ceremonies are conducted on auspicious days, it would be better to conduct literary meetings on inauspicious days to draw a large crowd of audience.

“Today being a Muhurthanaal (Auspicious day) many are absent and sent me SMSs expressing their inability to attend our monthly literary meet” said Poet Amsapriya, editor of the Tamil poetry magazine Punnagai and president of Pollachi Ilakkiya Vattam (Pollachi Literary Circle)
Though the organization’s monthly literary meeting began almost an hour late from the scheduled time at the T.E.L.C Elementary school in the agricultural town on Sunday, the hall gradually filled up, as budding poets and literary enthusiasts occupied their seats.

“I have come here traveling hundreds of km just to meet the literary enthusiasts of Pollachi “said Thanjavur-based eminent Tamil poet Ilakkumi Kumaran Gnanadiraviyam, who was the chief guest on the occasion.

The meeting included sessions like poetry presentation, book reviews and address by the chief guest.

Senthil Kumar, who reviewed Pollachi-based Tamil scholar Su. Dharmarasu’s book Vaazhvil Menmaipera Vallalarin Paadhai (The path shown by Vallalar to progress in life), said:
“Vallalar, the great social reformer who lived in the 19th century, wanted no human being in the world should suffer the pangs of hunger. Hence, he set up a Dharmasala in Vadalur to feed the hungry poor”

While reviewing poet Ilakkumi Kumaran Gnana Diraviyam’s book of poems Alai, Pirithoru Alai, Kadal, Amsapriya, said:
“The poems of Gnanadiraviyam are reflections of man’s life in the contemporary world”

Following the session on book reviews, singer Veerasamy performed a song ‘Uzhaipaal Uyaralaam En Thozha’ (One can progress in life by working hard), which enthralled the audience as he sang it with the accompaniment of music, which he played using a rhythm musical instrument.
In the Kaviarangam (Poetry reading session), Geetha Prakash read out her poem on the title ‘Kisses’

 Kissing is believed to extend one’s life span
Hence, we shared our kisses each other
And won in the kissing contest on International Mothers Day
My little daughter and I”

She said receiving a thunderous applause from the audience.

Expressing sadness over the disappearance of cultural aspects in the traditional Tamil society, poet Ilakkumi Kumaran Gnanadiraviyam said in his special address:

“The advent of privatization and globalization in the society has made the elements of native culture disappear rapidly”

Criticizing the present day youths’ trend of ignoring Tamil language for communication, Gnanadiraviyam rued:

“Students undergoing English medium education are able to say the names of luxury cars and bikes plying on the road. But, it’s a great pity that they are dumbfounded when asked to name even a roadside tree in Tamil”

Link to the news item in The New Indian Express:


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Throwing Light on Kongu’s Ancient Coins

Eminent Numismatist Arumuga Sitaraman says that Tamil, Persian, Telugu and English were the languages in use in the 19th century Madras Presidency.


In modern days, you can certainly come across youths using the word ‘Dubbu’ colloquially meaning money. But, believe it or not, the Telugu term was once a formal expression transliterated into Tamil to mean cash and was even inscribed on the coins issued by the East India Company in the dawn of 19th century.
Throwing light on this and various other aspects on ancient coins, eminent numismatist Arumuga Sitaraman said:  
“The inscription of scripts in Persian,Tamil, Telugu and English on a coin issued by the East India Company, not only mentions the value of it, but also throws light on the life in the 19th century Madras presidency, where the above mentioned four languages were in use”
Addressing on the title ‘Coins in Kongunadu’ at the Vanavarayar Foundation on Friday, Sitaraman displayed a coin, on which a Tamil script read ‘Kambiniyaar Potta Irandarai Dubbu’ (The coin issued by East India Company for a value of two and a half money)
Arumuga Sitaraman, an author of as many as 21 books on numismatics and who has collected and documented nearly 1700 varieties of ancient coins, said:
“Of the total ancient Roman coins discovered in India, almost 80 percent were from Kongunadu”
Pointing out the trade routes existed through the Kongu region and their roles in developing the economy of the three surrounding dynasties of Kongunadu  like Chera, Chola and Pandya, Sitaraman informed that the three rulers were competitive one another to invade the Kongu region.
“An ancient trade route, which connected the east and west seashores, ran through the Palghat Pass in the Kongu region. Hence, trade flourished on this route with foreign countries like Rome and Greece from 1st century B.C to 4th century A.D” said Arumuga Sitaraman.
“The discovery of numerous Roman coins from places like Karur, Vellalore, Sulur and Kodumanal alongside the Palghat Pass in the Kongu region stands witness to the flourishing of trade between Kongunadu and Rome” he added.
“Images like bow and arrow, tiger and fish depicted on the coins, demonstrate their issuance by the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas respectively. Moreover, plenty of Roman coins found in Kongunadu with images of Roman generals like Augustus, Claudius and Nero, stand witness to the trade relationship between ancient Rome and Kongunadu” averred the 45 year old numismatist.      
In his slide show, Sitaraman not only helped the audience identify the punches of pictures like elephant, tiger, crescent moon, tree and fish on the coins, but even deciphered the names of kings and emperors inscribed on them in characters of Tamil Brahmi, a phonetic script, which existed in Tamil Nadu centuries before the Christian era.
While distributing his books on numismatics to the audience, Arumuga Sitaraman even signed his name on the first page of every book using the characters of Tamil Brahmi!

B. Meenakshi Sundaram

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Remembering a Selfless Kongu Chieftain

The Kongu chieftain Kalingarayan, who made a vow that he would not get his beard shaved until the completion of constructing the 56 mile-long canal to link Bhavani and Noyyal rivers, was having a sound sleep at his home. As he was tired after spending twelve full years for the project’s completion, his family barber, who knew his chieftain’s vow, shaved his beard while he was asleep. He also kept a mirror in front of him so that he would see his clean, shaven face as soon as he woke up.

As expected by the barber, Kalingarayan was happy to see his new face in the mirror and lauded the barber asking him what gifts he would like to get from him. However, the barber told him the only gift he wanted was that his name would last long for ever in history along with the name of his chieftain.   

In contrast to the present age, when most politicians show great interest for their wide publicity, Kalingarayan, who ruled the Kongu region 700 years ago, removed his name from the village’s name ‘Kalingarayan Palayam’ and renamed it into ‘Naavidhan Palayam’ rewarding his barber. Interestingly the Tamil Nadu Government has announced a memorial for Kalingarayan at the same place, which is now called ‘Anai Naasuvanmpalayam’

Kalingarayan, whose real name was Lingayyan, was born at Kanakapuram, a hamlet near Perundurai in the present day Erode district. When the Kongu region was under the rule of Veerapandian of the  Kongu Pandya dynasty in 13th century AD, Lingayyan joined as a soldier in the army and later rose to the position of becoming a commander and minister to the Pandya king. After the king conferred him the title ‘Kalingarayan’ and provided him the power to rule the northern part of Kongu region, he de-silted several ponds and lakes and laid new roads in the region. As he constructed the 56 mile-long canal with several curves like the crawling of a snake at elevated places, an oral tradition in the Kongu region maintains that Kalingarayan constructed the canal, as directed by a snake!

Transporting large rocks from Ooraatchi Kottaimalai on Buffalo- drawn carts, the chieftain took 12 full years to complete the construction of the canal and a dam to provide irrigation for over 15,000 acres of land. Though Kalingarayan collected tax naming it as ‘Kalingarayan Viniyogum’ from all classes of the society, he exempted the people from the lower strata from paying the tax.

In an age, when many caste-based political outfits work for the welfare of their respective castes, Kalingarayan, passed an order that the descendants belonging to his sect called ‘Saathanthai Kulam’ from the Kongu Vellalar community, shall not have the right to use the water from the canal!

Compiled by: B. Meenakshi Sundaram
Sources: Pulavar Se. Rasu’s article in Kongu Kalanjiyam – Volume I   

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Reader, Writer and Traveler

Writer S. Ramakrishnan in a chat with me

At a time, when many strive to complete their academic education to seek a secure job and settle ‘peacefully’ in life, it is very strange to know that eminent Tamil writer S.Ramakrishnan discontinued his PhD in English in fear of getting a job for a lucrative salary!

Implying how the mundane life could confine a writer within the bounds of his family and job, S. Ramakrishnan, who was in the city recently, said:

“Had I completed my academic research successfully, I would have lost much in life ending up reading, writing and traveling”.

Ramakrishnan is an author of numerous books, which include novels, collections of short stories, essays, plays, children’s literature and translation works.

Sharing his early literary influences, the writer says that he was brought up between two different intellectual environments at home, which helped him understand both atheism and theism.

“My father, a staunch rationalist and atheist, used to discuss Dravidian ideology and progressive literature with his friends at our home, which was named as Periyar Illam. On the contrary, my mother, an orthodox Shaivite, talked over theology and Bhakthi literature there!” he says.

However, as the destination of both the ideologies is the development of Tamil language and Tamil society, Ramakrishnan’s family environment provided him knowledge in both spheres and ignited his passion for writing in Tamil.

Ramakrishnan, who has earned lakhs of readers through his writing, says that he developed an interest in fiction by reading comics, even while he was a boy in his native village Mallankinaru at Virudhunagar. Moreover, he even made his own hand-written comic books and circulated them at a local library during school vacations.  

“I would also leave a blank page at the end of my comic books to receive feedbacks from the reader” recollects Ramakrishnan.

A script writer for about 15 Tamil films, the author says that writing screenplay is something mechanical, as it is done on compulsion and deadlines.

“But, writing a short story or a novel is left to my choice. I can either continue writing, or even discard, if I don’t like writing it” differentiates Ramakrishnan.

Quoting his favourite authors as Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Willa Cather and Emily Zola in European and American literatures and  Rabindranath Tagore, Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay and many others in Bengali literature, Ramakrisnhan points out that he read modern Tamil literature only after reading the foreign authors.  

“Later, when I wanted to know whether there were any writings in modern Tamil literature similar to ones in Bengali, I found them in the works of Pudhumaipiththan, Thi. Janakiraman and Jayakantan” avers S. Ramakrishnan.

Asked about the popularity of literary activities in Coimbatore, Ramakrishnan informs that Kongu region is the birth place for many philanthropists, who patronized plenty of Pulavars in the Sangam era.  

“ In a world, where writers are hardly given due respect, Coimbatoreans once honoured great Tamil writer Pudhumaipiththan by taking him on the elephant’s back across the city, when he came here to address a literary meeting!”  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Reading Tiruvacagam Everyday for a Year

Prof.I.K Subramanian

The poems in Tiruvacagam are recited daily
In all the great Caiva Temples of South India,
They are on everyone’s lips, and as dear
To the hearts of vast multitudes of excellent people there,
As the Psalms of David are to Jews and Christians

-Rev G.U. Pope, in his preface to his English translation of Tiruvacagam on April 24 1900.

Though several Tamil scholars have written detailed commentaries on the great Tamil Bhakthi literature Tiruvacagam, which was penned by poet Manickavasagar in 8th century AD, the commentaries written by Prof. I. K. Subramanian of Coimbatore for the selected 366 hymns are not only innovative, but meant for reading and enjoying each hymn for a day throughout the year. His book Engumilaathathor Inbam – Naalum Tiruvacagam (The ecstasy, which is unavailable anywhere – Tiruvacagam for everyday) was released in the city on Saturday.  

“I selected a total of 366 hymns from the 656 songs in Tiruvasagam and planned to write commentary for one song everyday to complete the work in a year. As I planned, I have brought it as a book now” said I. K. Subramanian, who is an author of numerous other books and an Assistant Editor of the eleven-volume universal Tamil encyclopedia.

IKS also noted that he has written the commentaries in a simple language to take the essence of the divine literature to the masses.

The 73 year old retired Tamil professor from Government Arts College, Coimbatore, and a homeopathy practitioner underlined that without understanding Science, it is hardly possible to comprehend and enjoy Tamil Bhakthi literature.

“I shed tears while translating a song in Tiruvacagam, in which Manickavasagar breaks down and weeps realizing the labour pain of his mother while delivering him as a child”  I.K.S shared his experiences of writing commentaries on the divine work.

In his special address, ‘Thirumuraimani Pulavar’ Velayuthan said that human beings in the modern age are getting isolated from spirituality due to the serious impact of science and technology.

Pointing out that compassion for human beings, love for nature and devotion to God are the messages in Tiruvacagam, he noted:

“Manickavasagar called the people, who show little compassion for their fellow human beings, as lifeless stones. As called by the savant, most people are caught up in the rat race of modern age and hardly find time to love one another” rued Velayutham.

However, quoting a song from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, IKS answered Velayuthan:

“Tagore, in one of his poems longed that God would better have created him as a stony mountain instead of a human being, so that he could have reclined permanently at the Lord’s feet, extending his arms wide towards the heaven” 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:




Wednesday, 24 July 2013

From Palmyra Tree to Tamil Eezham

Anthropologist, Iconographist, Historian and Well known writer Tho. Pa alias Tho. Paramasivan is a versatile scholar and a follower of Rationalist and founder of the Self respect movement Periyar E V R, Tho. Pa. says that it should be the duty of an atheist to bring to light the history of temples, as they are great power centres and were invaded by one religion from the other.

While many believe that God is immortal, according to Tho Paramasivan, a well-known writer, anthropologist and historian, Gods in plenty ‘were born and they died at last’ in the long course of human history.
Man believed that God only is immortal after his fruitless search for human immortality as learnt from the ancient Babylonian epic Gilgamesh and the poems of Sappho, an ancient Greek poetess. Also, human immortality (in case there is one so), according to ‘Tithonus’ an English poem, by Lord Tennyson, is nothing more than cruelty, as  the poem says that man, being a living object, has to decay and finally seek the liberty from the painful life through death.
But Paramasivan conceptualises the ‘mortal character’ of even Gods, because, as a rationalist and follower of Periyar E V Ramasamy, he believes that man was not created by God, but Gods were created by him.
Paramasivan, in his plenty of writings on the cultural anthropology of Tamil Nadu, has distinguished the worship of what he describes as the “corporate” religious Gods like Shiva, Vishnu and many more from that of different folk deities like Kalan, Sudalaimaadan, Pothiraja, Isakkiyamman and Annanmar of Tamil Nadu.
“Rather than the common worship of Shiva, Thirumal and Ganesha, only the worships of different folk deities at different places reflect the plural character of culture in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the respective folk deities, who are worshipped by different clans and castes, are rich in their respective regional cultures,” adds Paramasivan, who is a former professor of Tamilology at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli.
In Verum Vizhudhum, a documentary screened on Paramasivan in the city on Monday, the 63 year old writer says that his unlettered mother was all his inspiration, as she had narrated him a plenty of tales and provided him much information on indigenous medicine and methods of cultivating crops in traditional agriculture.
“Tho. Pa’s pursuit of knowledge through history, anthropology, archeology and literature is wide and accurate. His observations for history even from a trivial thing would put anyone in surprise” avers A P Mani, who made the documentary on the scholar.
Pointing at the plenty of Palmyra trees in a shot in the documentary, Tho. Pa informs the history of planting thousands of Palmyra trees in Tirunelveli by the Chera king Boodhala Veera Udhayamarthandan, after he conquered the banks of river Tamiraparani in 16th century. Also, Tho. Pa interestingly explains that the Eezhava community in Kerala got their name so, after getting identified with their occupation of climbing the Palmyra tree, whose name is rightly called Eezham in Tamil. Further, the historian points out that Eezhavas are the people, who once came and settled in Kerala from Eezham, an ancient land, whose present name is Sri Lanka! 

B. Meenakshi Sundaram

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Discovering a Deity behind the Devil

In the present context, you make a derogatory remark by calling a stout person with a large pot belly as ‘Boodham’ in Tamil, since the word connotes a demon or a malignant spirit. But believe it or not, people in the ancient Kongu region worshipped the ‘Boodham’ as their deity by constructing temples to it

Ancient literatures in Tamil have references that the Chera King Elancheral Irumporai got  shrines constructed for Boodhams at Vanji Karuvur, the capital of Kongunadu and regularly conducted festivals for the ‘deities’

The 368th song in Puranauru, sung by the poet Madurai Marudhan Elanaganar, contains a mention of a dance performed by the people of Kongunadu, wearing girdles of small bells on their waists at a festival called ‘ Ulli Vizha’ in Vanji Karuvur, the capital of ancient Kongunadu.

Though the word Boodham, later, lost its meaning to an evil angel or a minor deity, who was worshipped by the people of the lower strata, ancient literatures like Silapathikaram, records that there was a very famous temple for Boodham at a junction connecting four roads in Kaveripoompattinam. After the ‘deity’ in the shrine, the junction came to be called as ‘Boodha Sathukkam’ and the Boodham stood guard to Kaveripoompattinam as the city’s sentinel deity.

It is also interesting to note that great many Tamil poets of the Sangam era had names after the deity as Elamboodhanar, Eezhaththu Boodhan Thevanar, Karumpillai Boodhanar, Karuvur Perunchathukka Boodhanar, Kodai Paadiya Perum Boodhanar, Venboodhanar and so on. Certain Azlwars (Saints) in the Vaishnavite religion too had names like Boodhathazhwar and Peayazhwar.

The 371st song in Purananuru, composed by poet Kalladanar, says that a ‘female ghost’ by name Peymakal, wearing garlands of intestines, sang a song in praise of the king Pandiyan Thalayalanganaththu Cheruvendra Nedunchezhiyan. Interestingly, her praise was that he should provide the ghost more dead bodies of his enemies as a ‘sumptuous feast’.

Even today, certain section of the people from rural Coimbatore, believe in the existence of Kollivaai Pisasu, an evil spirit, described as  having a wide-opened mouth, inside which, burnt a ball of fire.

The portrayal of ghosts and devils as female ones is said to have originated from men’s ill treatment of women in their earthly life. The people believed that women, who experienced injustice in their lives, would appear as ghosts after their death, and avenge the men who had treated them in cruel and unfair ways.

Compiled by: B. Meenakshi Sundaram
Source: Kongunadum Thulunadum – Mayilai Seeni Venkatasamy   

Link to my article in The New Indian Express 



Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Portraying Realities of Contemporary Life

With the great writer Ashokamitran
If the 12 year old boy Thyagarajan had not come across a short story in the literary magazine Kalaimagal and enjoyed reading it, he might not have discovered the Ashokamitran in himself.

“The short story Siddhi, which I read and enjoyed in my school days, did not let me sleep for many days” says the 82 year old modern Tamil writer Ashokamitran, whose real name is Thyagarajan,

Ashokamitran remembers that, as a school boy, he was very much interested only in the story and discovered its author after a period of 15 years!

“He was none but the famed Tamil writer Pudhumaipithan” he avers.

Shouldering family responsibilities after the death of his father, Ashokamitran came to Madras in 1952 from his home town Secundrabadh. As S.S Vasan, founder of the Tamil magazine Ananda Vikatan and Gemini Studios, was a friend of his father, he provided Ashokamitran a job as Public Relations Officer in the studio.  

In the beginning, Ashokamitran wrote short stories only in English and got them published in magazines including The Illustrated Weekly of India. Due to his association with the popular Indian English writer R.K Narayan, he was also asked to translate his novel The Guide into Tamil.

“As I was just 31 years old then, I had little confidence in translating R. K. Narayan’s
The Guide. I just attempted translating one or two sentences from the novel and later gave it up” remembers Ashokamitran.

When asked about why he switched over to Tamil literature from being an English writer, the modern writer says:

“Though Tamil literature has wonderful classical pieces, I felt it was lacking the contemporary character. Most Tamil writings of those days were rhetorical and full of exaggerations. Hence I wanted to write something, which should reflect the reality of the contemporary society”

Of his numerous novels and short story collections like Appavin Snekithar, Pathinetaavathu Atchakodu, Manasarovar and Karaintha Nizhalkal, his novel Thaneer discusses not only the acute scarcity of water in Chennai, but with its background, brings to the reader how human relationship survives amidst the people, who are cruel and narrow-minded in the city.

When asked about his early literature friends in Coimbatore, Ashokamitran recalls:

“Marxian literary critic Kovai Gnani used to laud my writings and novelist C.R Ravindran had written many letters to me in those days. Moreover, I remember poet Puviarasu and Dhilipkumar from Coimbatore once jointly edited an English magazine called ‘Word’ and discussed with me the production of one of its issues”

Ashokamitran was in the city recently to receive an award from Kannadasan Ilakkiya Kazhagam.  

On a question regarding contemporary Tamil cinema, Asokamitran wonders why most films of these days are filled with violence. Nevertheless, lauding Tamil actor Dhanush, the octogenarian writer says:

“The young guy is doing well in Tamil movies. I enjoyed one of his movies. I think it is… Poda Podi… sorry… Thiruda Thirudi”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: