Sunday, 29 June 2014

Glorifying the Valour of Vettuvars

Coimbatoreans in the bygone era were doubtlessly familiar with the legendary story Annanmar Kathai, which was about the Kongu Vellalar twin brothers Ponnar- Shankar. Decades ago, the story was so popular and enacted as Therukoothu ( Street theatre) for several nights in various spots of Coimbatore . Inspired by the tale, even former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi penned it as a novel titled Ponnar Shankar, based on which a Tamil film was made in 2011.
The story, which portrays the battles between the two Kongu clans Vellalars and Vettuvars, is generally considered as a pro- Kongu Vellalar work with its ending in the defeat of Thalayoor Kali, a Vettuvar chieftain. But, it is a surprise that another beautiful piece of literature in praise of the Vettuvars has survived in palm leaves for many hundred years and now come into a book. Kudos to Pulavar Se. Rasu, a popular Kongu historian and Former Head of the Department of Epigraphy and Archeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur, for publishing the short epic Appachimar Kaviyam.

With ancestor worship being a tradition of Tamils before the entry of corporate Hindu religion into the society, the people of the Kongu region built temples for their forefathers and christened their children with names like 'Periyasamy' and 'Chinnasamy' in memory of the Vellalar twins Ponnar and Shankar. Similarly, the Vettuvars too built temples for their ancestors and followed the tradition of worshipping them. And one such temple is the Appichimarmadam at Thingalur in Erode district. Though the shrine is famous for the belief in providing cure to the mentally-ill and exorcising the evil spirits, the principal deity in the temple is none other than the Vettuvar chieftain Periyamarayyan, the hero of the short epic Appachimar Kaviyam.

The story says that Periyamarayyan, who ruled Pillaikarayaatroor, a place in Vaazhavanthinadu, which was one of the 24 divisions of the ancient Kongu region, had four younger brothers and they had 70 children in all. Interestingly, at a later stage, all the 70 got married on the same day after their parents chose 70 respective brides from Odapalli in Poonthurainadu, another division of the Kongu region.
But, soon after the mass wedding, a messenger called on Periyamarayyan and gave him an Olai ( Letter), which was sent by the people of Poonthurainadu, requesting his help to defeat Pothirasan, the ruler of Poovaniyanadu, with whom they were at war in Aalathur.
Accepting the people's request, Periyamarayyan led his army and fought against Pothirasan. In the battle, many were killed from both sides including Periyamarayyan and the 70 bridegrooms. Unable to bear their death, the brides too killed themselves by jumping into the fire, which they set in a large pit.
The short epic Appachimar Kaviyam, which portrays the valour and sacrifice of the Vettuvar clan in a grand poetic language, is an elegant piece of Kongu literature, whose author is unknown. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Lending Ears to the Ancient Bards of Kongunadu

 Like all other poets of the Tamil Sangam age, the ones from the Kongu region too lived in abject poverty and traveled from place to place to seek gifts from various chieftains and kings singing in praise of their valour and philanthropy. However, the bards held their self-respect higher than anything in their lives.
Perunthalai Saathanar, a poet, who is said to have lived at Perunthalayoor near today's Gobichettipalayam in the present Erode district, was a scholar of great fame that he praised even a king who presented few gifts to him. When Moovan, a chieftain of a seashore country failed to present him any gifts, the poet wholeheartedly wished him thus in the 209th song of Puranaanuru, a Sangam period work.

Like a hungry bird that wandered high in the sky
And finding no fruits
In a tree, I am leaving now
Oh ! the king of seashores
May you live long without diseases

Nevertheless, plenty of other kings patronized Perunthalai Saathanaar and presented him valuable gifts. Once the poet had met Kumananan, a Kongu chieftain and popular philanthropist in a forest after his younger brother Elankumanan usurped his throne and sent him into exile. The helpless Kumananan, who did not want the great poet to return home empty-handed, gave his sword and asked him to cut off his head. He told him to do so, for the poet could get at least the reward, which Kumanan carried on his head.

Like Perunthalai Saathanar, plenty of other poets, who lived in the Kongu region, enriched Tamil literature by their valuable contributions.

Interestingly, a woman poet of the Kongu region, had a curious name Anjiathai Mahal Nagayaar, which literally means 'Nagai, the daughter of king Adhiyan's aunt' The 352nd song penned by her in Agananuru describes the picturesque scene of a Kurinji landscape ( Mountainous region), where a monkey stands near a cascade hugging tightly a jack fruit, while a peacock dances in front of it.

Another woman poet of the Kongu region, also had an eccentric name Pey Mahal Elaveyini, which literally means in the contemporary sense as ' Elaveyini, the daughter of Ghost !' However, the words Pey and Bootham, which mean the evil spirits today, were once the names of deities in the Sangam era ! The 11th song penned by the poetess, praises the Chera king Paalai Paadiya Perunkadunko and registers the name of the present day river Amarawathy as Porunai.
While the poets sang in praise of kings, sometimes the kings themselves were poets in Kongunadu. Karuvur Cheraman Saathan, Paalai Paadiya Perunkadunko, Marutham Paadiya Elankadunko and Kanaikaal Irumporai were kings as well as poets.

Source: Kongunadum Thulu Nadum – Mayilai Seeni Venkatasamy. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Reliving the Minutes in Manivannan's Poetry

                                                                                                                      Cultivating country beans 
                                                                                                                                          in Antarctica
And apples at Aandipatti
Is meaningless in agriculture
Fertility of seeds is no matter
But soil should be their native
- A poem by film director Manivannan

 Popular Tamil film director, script writer and actor the late Manivannan, who entered Tamil cinema from his native village Sulur in Coimbatore, was, surprisingly, a poet too. However, the minutes he spent in scribbling short verses here and there on the empty spaces of the books and magazines, which he read, have come to light only after a year from his demise. And marking the film director's first death anniversary, the World Humanity Forum released the booklet of Manivannan's poems titled 'Manithulikal' ( Minutes) here on Sunday.

Receiving the first copy of the book, as Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam President 'Kolathur' Mani released it, film actor Sathyaraj said:

Manivannan is known for his spontaneity in writing dialogues filled with sarcasm. While many other film directors would be ready with the script days before shooting the scenes, Manivannan would be witty enough on some occasions to write the dialogues at the point of shooting”

Sathyaraj also informed that Manivannan was an ardent follower of the ideologies of Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and Karl Marx and an avid reader of literature and politics.

Being a film director, he never had love for awards and honours. When I asked him once whether he sent any of his movies to be selected for national award, he shot back with the question how there would be a national award, since there is no 'nation' for Tamils !” recollected Sathyaraj, another film personality from Coimbatore and a close friend of Manivannan.

Recalling his days of working with him for the films like Mudhal Vasantham, Nooravathu Naal, Jallikattu and Amaithipadai, Sathyaraj noted:

In a period of 17 days, Manivannan shot the box office hit Nooravathu Naal, which made me more popular as a notorious villain in Tamil cinema “

Summing up his speech, he said that Manivannan was primarily a social thinker, who envisioned a superstition-free, socialist society in Tamil Nadu.

Releasing the booklet Manithulikal, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam President, Kolathur Mani pointed out:

A staunch supporter for the uplift of Tamils, Manivannan participated in one of our public meetings, which we conducted in support for the formation of separate Tamil Eezham. The meeting was on the day of his elder sister's demise. However, I remember Manivannan told me that his sister passed away and he wanted to attend our meeting and then go to pay his the last respects to her”

Writer and film critic Pamaran said:

Manivannan used to share with me humorously even the oppressions, which he underwent as an activist in the Marxist-Leninist ( Naxalite) movement before he entered Tamil cinema”

Mekala, Manivannan's younger sister, Veenai Mainthan, one of Manivannan's assistant directors, well-known artist and art director Trotsky Marudhu, film actor Ilavarasu, Poet and Associate Dean ( Research), S. Babu of VIT University, Cinematographer Shankar, 'Comrade' Pandiyan a close friend of Manivannan, after whom he titled one of his films as Thozhar Pandian, short film director and lawyer Sivakumar and Kalai, who worked as an art director in all the films made by Manivannan were among those present in the meeting. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Historical Trip to the Forts of Tamil Nadu

The Kenilworth castle

Cherishing his childhood memories on the marvelous Kenilworth Fort in Hosur, which he had seen as a boy in his hometown, popular Tamil writer and historian Vittal Rao, inquired at the post office where the fort was located when he visited his hometown after several decades. But, the official at the post office, who did not have the faintest idea of it, rather questioned the author whether he knew the door number of the fort!

I was very happy that he did not ask me the mobile phone number of the castle's owner” remarked Vittal Rao, who was in the city on Sunday to share his experiences on the writing of his popular book Thamizhaga Kottaikal ( Forts of Tamil Nadu) at a meeting organized by Aruvi, a city-based forum for art and literature.
Kenilworth Fort was built by Brett, the then British collector of Salem as his fiancee liked to live with him in a castle, which should resemble the Kenilworth Castle of Warwickshire in England. Hence, Brett kick-started and completed his zealous project in the middle of the 19th century” said Vittal Rao.
However, when Vittal Rao located the fort on Bangalore road, it was getting razed down to construct a government office in the place.
An author of many novels, collections of short stories and essays, the 72 year old noted that he penned the book Thamizhaga Kottaikal due to his passion for history, mythology and culture.
I had a fascination for forts even while I was a boy. Moreover, I had great opportunities to visit several spots of historical importance in various districts, as my father, who was in government service, took us to the places wherever he was transferred “ he said.
The author, who defines his book Thaimizhaga Kottaikal as rather a travelogue than a mere collection of essays, informed that he wanted to glimpse the historical spots by taking a trip through the route, on which the English landscape painters Thomas Daniel and his nephew William Daniel had travelled to draw the most famous buildings and sites of India in the later years of 18th century.
I saw the paintings by the Daniels for the first time at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Calcutta in the 1950s. Also, I obtained very rare information on the forts of southern India from the diary of Thomas Daniel, which a friend of mine had treasured. Moreover, the books I went through at the Asiatic Society Library in Calcutta were of great help to me in visiting the forts and writing a book about them” disclosed Vittal Rao.
The author and historian, whose visit includes to various forts like Sangari Durg, Sadras Dutch Fort, Rayakottai, Aattur Fort, Thenkarai Kottai and many more, points out:
The pursuit to know your land's history and researching its past with records and myths keeps you ever young ”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Recollecting the Malgudi Maker's 'Coimbatore Days'

Remembering the popular Indian English writer R.K. Narayan is a pride to the lovers of literature in Coimbatore. Because, it was here the prolific story teller fell in love with a girl!
Narayan felt the experience of 'Love at first sight', when he came across a young girl drawing water from a public tap at Ram Nagar, in Coimbatore in 1933. As seen in many Tamil movies, the young writer, who was staying at his sister's home in Ram Nagar, cultivated a friendship with the girl's father Nageshwara Iyer and disclosed him one day that he wanted to marry his daughter ! And the marriage was held here in 1934.

But, the girl Rajam, who became Narayan's wife, could live with her lovable husband only for about the next five years, as she became a victim of typhoid and breathed her last in 1939. It was also a puzzle why R.K. Narayan named a boy's character in his first novel Swami and Friends as 'Rajam'

In order to share such anecdotes from the life of R.K.Narayan and interact the pleasures of reading his short stories and novels, the Coimbatore Book Club organized a meeting here on Sunday with Shobana Kumar, a city-based Indian English poet, as the guest speaker.
Comparing the similar ideas found in R.K. Narayan's short story Selvi and his famous novel The Guide, Shobana pointed out:

In many aspects, Narayan's short story Selvi and his novel The Guide are similar to each other, though they were published in different periods”
The short story centres round the character Selvi, who is a proponent of Carnatic music from a lower class family in Malgudi, a fictional town in the works of R.K.Narayan. With Mohan, a former Gandhian freedom fighter, becoming Selvi's husband and impresario, the story later takes a turn in Selvi's decision to leave Mohan and renounce the world of fame and glamor after her poor mother's death .

Similarly, the novel The Guide is about Rosie, a Bharatha Natyam dancer and the tourist guide 'Railway' Raju, who is her lover and manager. Resembling the plot of Selvi, Rosie too leaves Raju, but for the reason that Raju loses interest in her art and becomes much interested in making money through her dance performances.
Highlighting the characterization of women in the works of R.K.Narayan, Shobana said:

In the two important works Selvi and The Guide, Narayan attempted to explore the psyche of women, who were under exploitation of men” said Shobana,
But, Chithra Sreenivasan, a member of the audience, chipped in:

R.K. Narayan wrote his works at a time, when the concept of women's emancipation was hardly popular. Nevertheless, his objective was to elevate a commoner to the level of a saint, as seen in the character Raju, who finally becomes an ascetic in the novel The Guide
Coimbatore Book Club' s president M.Vaniya and secretary Jayashree Murthy were among those present in the meeting

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

An Enthralling Trip into the Myths on Sankagiri Fort

Sankagiri Fort

School children are generally enthralled, when their teachers narrate the tales behind European historical landmarks like the London Bridge and Eiffel Tower. But, it is sad that the little ones of the present day Coimbatore are hardly aware of the stories behind the historical sites of their native Kongu region.

As their parents have little time to read the interesting tales in Kongu history and introduce them to their wards, yesteryear popular Tamil stories like Sankagiri Kottai Marmam ( The secrets of Sankagiri Fort) and Kalingarayan Kodai ( Kalingarayan's gift) penned by the versatile scholar M.P. Periyasamy Thooran have lost their popularity.

Periyasamy Thooran

Thooran, a teacher at Sri Ramakrishna Vidhyalaya, Coimbatore, and later the editor-in-chief of the ten volume Tamil Encyclopedia, penned his story Sankagiri Kottai Marmam in 1978. The Macmillan published Tamil fantasy is written in a child centric language and centers round the child characters Thangamani, Kannagi, Sundaram, and Jinka, a pet monkey, as they discover a treasure of gold coins hoarded by Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan at the Sankagiri fort, when it was under his rule. The children do so, when they are on a trip to Sankagiri near Salem in their summer holidays and stay at the home of ' Kannupaatti' one of their grandmothers.

Vittal Rao

The people of the Kongu region called the fort as 'Sankagiri Dhurgam' with 'Dhurgam' meaning a fort. Also, as the peak of the mountain looked like a conch shell, they called the hill as 'Sanga' Giri. However, the British mispronounced it as 'Sankari Drug' and the English landscape painter Thomas Daniel, who drew the picture of the fort in the 18th century, titled it as 'Sankaridroog'.
The fort, where the popular freedom fighter Dheeran Chinnamalai of the Kongu region was hanged to death, was under the British rule after the death of the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan. But, earlier in the 17th century, it was under the Madurai Naickers and later captured by the Mysore Wodeyar king Chikka Deva Raja.

Besides being a strong military base during different dynasties, the Sankagiri fort is known for the myths surrounding the places in it. A tale about a cave on the fort notes that once a Muslim monk by name Sha-Ha-Mardan- Gazi, entered the cave and never returned, but was strangely seen on the same day at another cave near Shivasamudra Falls on the banks of river Cauvery in Karnataka !

The fort, which has many entrances with strange names like Ranamandala Vaasal ( The gate of bloodshed) and Vellaikaaran Vasal ( White man’s gate), contains another entrance named after an agricultural woman's carrying buttermilk to the British soldiers atop the mountain. Interestingly, the entrance is called Morthitti Vasal ( Buttermilk Gate) !

Sources: Sankagiri Kottai Marmam – M.P. Periasamy Thooran, Thamizhaga Kottaikal – Vittal Rao
Link to my article in The New Indian Express :