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: