Sunday, 31 August 2014

Roots of Rock Art in Ancient Kongu

An ancient rock painting at Vellarukampalayam

 It is true that every work of art on earth has its origin somewhere in the distant past. And by tracing its roots, one may conclude that art has been inseparable from human life throughout man’s long journey of evolution

“The beautiful sculptures, which we admire at temples today, have their roots from cave paintings belonging to various periods of history” said T.Subramanian, retired Assistant Director, State Department of Archeology.

Kottravai or Kannagi at Marayur?

The archeologist, who addressed on the title Kongunaattu Gukai Oviyangal (Cave paintings in Kongunadu) at the monthly lecture series of The Vanavarar Foundation on Friday, pointed out:

A cave painting at Kovanur

“The cave paintings of Tamil Nadu date back to the Neolithic age and the practice of painting images on rocks continued through Megalithic age and reached the Sangam age”

Pointing out the references on art in the ancient period, Subramanian said that many lyrics from Sangam literature mention the places, where paintings were done, as Chithirakoodam, Chithiramaadam and so on. He also noted that descriptions about how pictures were drawn are detailed in the great Tamil epic Manimekali.

Tracing the discoveries of cave paintings in Kongunadu, Subramanian said:

“The first cave painting discovered in the Kongu region was at Vettaikaran Malai in in Coimbatore

Displaying the picture of the cave painting in his power point show, the archeologist explained:

“The ancient piece of art depicts two men, one seated on the elephant and another on horseback holding a spear in his hand. The painting also shows men dancing in a row holding their hands together. The images drawn on the rock could be implying a fight between two tribes or a hunting scene.”

Displaying another cave painting discovered at Marayur on the way to Munar, Subramanian said:

“The rock art depicts a human being in a standing posture surrounded by a number of deer.  Many archeologists have opined that the human image is none but Kotravai (A Goddess of victory mentioned in the pieces of ancient Tamil literature) as deer was Her Vahanam (Vehicle)”

Nevertheless, Subramanian noted that a popular tale among the tribes of Marayur links the rock art with the events in the great Tamil epic Silapathikaram.

“The tribes at Marayur believe that numerous goldsmiths of Madurai migrated to Munar after Kannagi set the city on fire condemning the Pandya king’s killing of her innocent husband Kovalan. A wicked goldsmith in Madurai, who actually stole the Pandya king’s anklet, charged Kovalan with the theft. With his charge leading to Kovalan’s unjust execution, the tribes at Marayur believe that all other goldsmiths left Madurai and began worshipping Kannagi. Hence, the tribes say that the human being depicted in the rock art is none other than Kannagi drawn by the goldsmiths” 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Remembering Kinathukadavu's Great Elementary School Teacher

Teacher Meenakshi Sundaram

It's me, a little boy, held by my mother

It is true that not all ‘Meenakshi Sundarams’ are as great as ‘Mahavidhwan’ Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, a renowned Tamil scholar in the Thiruvavaduthurai mutt and the teacher of eminent Tamil scholar ‘Thamizh Thatha’ U.V. Swaminatha Iyer. Though the erudition of the Mahavidhwan lay in his skills of composing hundreds of conventional Tamil poems everyday, his student Swaminatha Iyer’s reverence for him is known from the fact that he had never referred his teacher by name on any occasion.

However, there lived another ideal elementary school teacher by name Meenakshi Sundaram at Kinathukadavu, whose name is still pronounced by many of his students for his effective teaching skills and concern for pupils.

One such student of Meenakshi Sundaram is Dr. P. Kuppusamy, an 82 year old eminent lawyer, writer and president of the city’s literary organization Nanneri Kazhagam.

Recalling his student days under the teacher at the Kinathukadavu government middle school, Kuppusamy writes in one of his books that Meenakshi Sundaram was a great teacher, whose effective handling of lessons  helped him understand the nuances in  the classical pieces of Tamil literature.  

My mother M.Saraswathy

“Unlike most teachers of these days, Meenakshi Sundaram had concern for each of his students. Whenever he taught an interesting lesson in the class, he would also ensure whether his pupils had comprehended the lesson well” says Kuppusamy.

Meenakshi Sundaram also helped a brilliant, but an economically poor student Saraswathy by buying her new clothes. The student, who also became a teacher, later expressed her gratitude to Meenakshi Sundaram by christening her son after him.   

Eminent Lawyer Kuppusamy

In contrast to most present day government school teachers, who leave the campus as soon as the bell rings in the evening,  Kuppusamy notes that Meenakshi Sundaram would collect the enthusiastic students and conduct regular free classes in pieces of Tamil literature like Naladiyar, Thevaram and Thiruvasakam even after school hours.

“The 12th song in Naladiyar, taught by Meenakshi Sundaram during one of the evening classes in 1943, has got registered in my mind and I can say it by heart even today” avers Kuppusamy.

The song, which glorifies agriculture being superior to all other occupations, reads thus:

The trees on the river bank
And the people's  prosperous life under a king’s rule
Will perish any day
But, a life earned by ploughing the land
Will persist on the planet forever

With agriculture being  perfect
All other trades are defective in one way or the other

Meenakshi Sundaram’s interpretation of this song from the Tamil classic Naladiyar, is also relevant to the lives of the people in Kinathukadavu, who were all agriculturists those days. Interestingly, With Kinathukadavu being rich in rainfall in the bygone era, the place too got its name after channels (Kadavu) seen connected to the overflowing wells (Kinaru) for discharging

Sources: Maanpamai Neethipathi Avarkale – By Dr. P. Kuppusamy

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

‘Welding’ Self-respect with Life

Photo:Shankar Narayan
 In a society, where women are made to believe that they are weaker sex and cannot perform challenging physical tasks on par with men, here is a lady, a welder by occupation, who expresses her ‘sparks’ of self confidence on standing on one’s own feet in life

The 42 year old Meenakshi alias Meena, who assists her husband Velmurugan in his welding workshop at Ondipudur, informs:

“I studied only up to class V in my native place Madurai. However, I was very much interested in physical work and spent the hours after school hours by weaving chair seats”

Meena, who did not have the faintest idea on welding earlier, says that she learned it from her husband after she settled with him in Coimbatore.

In contrast to the attitude of some irresponsible men, who have little concern for their family members, Meena says:

“It was my husband, who advised me to learn a trade so that I would not be dependent on anyone to earn a living in his absence”

When asked about her difficulties in mastering works in welding, Meena says:

“Earlier, I felt the work was so difficult.  I experienced painful irritation in my eyes, as particles of iron would enter them. Also, due to the inhaling of poisonous gas, I had to spend restless nights after the work”

However, Meena was soon used to the trade and now she is able to do any challenging work hands down.

“Like any other man welders, I can perfectly do works like making large iron gates for houses and factories, angle iron roof trusses, staircase handrails and so on” avers Meena.

She also recalls that she used to cut around 500 kilograms of iron manually everyday by hitting hard on the metal with a sledge hammer, when her workshop had no appropriate technical device for doing so.

Answering to a question on how she is able to play the roles of both a home maker and a working woman, Meena says:

“I find happiness in performing any work to perfection. I wake up at 6 am everyday, prepare food and get my two children ready for school. And after a whole day’s work in the workshop, I return home by 9 pm, prepare dinner and go to bed. This cycle has repeated for the last 16 years in my life”

Nevertheless, due to exigencies of work, Meena even works over night.

Pointing out that self-respect for a woman is as important as her life, Meena underlines:

“I am happy that I have the confidence to earn a living without anyone’s support. In my old age, I should not be dependent on others, you see” winds up the woman welder.  
Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Monday, 4 August 2014

Bringing alive the Kongunadu of 1800 A.D

Life in the present day Coimbatore is, indeed very much expensive. But, believe it or not, over two centuries ago, the price of one goat or 12 measures of rice or a dozen hens was just 80 paise here. Moreover, hundreds of bullock carts laden with tobacco would be seen heading to Malabar. And from there, they would bring plenty of silk, pepper, cardamom, clove and ivory to Coimbatore.            

Numerous books on the history of Coimbatore have recorded such scenes from the city’s glorious past. And in order to bring them to light, Kongu historians Pulavar Se. Rasu and ‘Idaipadi’ Amuthan have recently penned a book in Tamil, highlighting the region’s rare historical facts, which the duo collected from various books, district manuals and gazetteers for years.  

Titled as Kongunadu in 1800 A.D, the book throws light on the social life of the past Kongu region, which the botanist, geographer and physician Francis Buchanan had documented in his report after Lord Wellesley, the British Governor General of India, appointed him to conduct a survey on the Mysore kingdom, following the death of its ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799.

 Buchanan’s report was later published into a book as A Journey from Madras through Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar in three volumes.
'Idaipadi' Amuthan
Pulavar Se.Rasu
“Buchanan’s documentation on the Kongu region is so vast and accurate that it cannot be compared even with those of Marco Polo, Huan-Tsuang and Fa Hien on their travels. Moreover, his survey is broad and deep, as he investigates the different aspects of the land and people like art, culture, literature weather and natural history” avers Amuthan, who is a retired Deputy General Manager (Finance) in the BSNL.

It is surprising to note from the reports of Buchanan, as he says that Coimbatore had only 2000 houses, when he arrived here in 1800 A.D. Visiting the city’s popular temple of Patteeswarar in Perur, Buchanan writes  that the God’s abode was called ‘Melai Chidhamparam’ on par with the popular Siva’s shrine at Chidhamparam near Pondicherry.  Speaking on the women, who were temple dancers, Buchanan writes that most Brahmin men in Coimbatore had the dancer women as their mistresses.

Pulavar Se. Rasu, Former Head of the Department of Epigraphy and Archeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur, says:

“I provided all the valuable works on history including the three volumes of Francis Buchanan’s A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar to Amuthan and suggested him to write a comprehensive book in Tamil. Finally, I cleared all his doubts, particularly place names and proof read the manuscript” adds Rasu, a 75 year old veteran in Kongu history.

Amuthan says that Francis Buchanan, after inspired by the architectural beauty of a palace in Coimbatore, wrote to Fort St. George that it was a jewel of the town and should be protected from ruins. Amuthan also points out that the Mysore ruler Hyder Ali too loved staying in the palace.

However, it is sad to note that the palace ‘Madhe Raja Mahal’ on Raja Street in the city, where a teacher training school was functioning, was demolished recently.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: