Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Greeting, which Became the Village

Jayakumar, a resident of Kothavadi, a village near Kinathukadavu, regularly offers food to a mother and her child. But to the surprise of everyone, the duo is not alive today and they just stand as images on a hero stone near his house today.

Pointing at the hero stone, Jayakumar says:

“The woman, whom the people of Kothavadi call as Ottalamman, one day appeared in my dream and asked me food for her child”

Ever since the dream, Jayakumar has been performing Pooja for the memorial and ‘offering’ food to the duo. The hero stone, which portrays the mother and child, also contains the images of two bulls being in the posture of hitting the woman with their horns.

According to an oral tradition in Kothavadi, the hero stone was erected in memory of a woman from a Boyer community, who was killed by the bulls while grazing them on the meadow. With Ottar meaning members of the Boyer community, the villagers say that the female deity has been suitably named as Ottalamman. However, another tale prevalent in the village maintains that the hero stone was erected to honour a pregnant woman, who died after the attack of a bull while she was on the way to a farmland, carrying lunch to her husband.

Ancient Tamils of the Kongu region followed the tradition of erecting hero stones in memory of the warriors, who were killed in the battle for redeeming their village’s cattle from an enemy troop. Such memorials were also set up to honour the village guards, who met their end by fighting against tigers. Being suitably called as Pulikuththi Kall, the memorials can still be seen in the localities like Irugur and Pattanam on the outskirts of Coimbatore.

But, it is interesting that such ‘hero stones’ were also erected in memory of women.

“In ancient Kongunadu people erected ‘hero stones’ for women, who ended their lives by jumping into their husbands’ funeral pyre. Reminding the cruel practice called Sati, the memorials were called Maasatikals. Moreover, hero stones were also erected to honour the women, who met their doom in pregnancy. And such a memorial is the Ottalamman’s” Explains epigraphist D.Sundaram, who dates the hero stone to a period between 16th and 19th century.

The village Kothavadi got its name after the Chera king Ravi Kothai. Explaining the etymology behind the name, a resident of Kothavadi informs that the people’s greeting the king as ‘Kothai Vaazhi’ (May you prosper, King Kothai) has got corrupted to Kothavadi! 

However, the people will be glad, if their hamlet is renamed as ‘Annadurai Vaazhi’, since Mayilsamy Annadurai, the project director of Chandrayan, is the native of Kothavadi!  

 Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Friday, 16 January 2015

An Art Critic, Poet and Film Maker

 Photo S.Kamalakannan
The first pieces of art, which Monikhaa an art critic, poet and documentary film maker, came across in her life, were the pencil sketches of yesteryear actors Gemini Ganesan, Lakshmi, Bharathi and so on, as her mother, who was an art teacher, drew them.

“I still remember the images drawn by my mother Kamala, which looked like vintage black and white photos” she recalls.
An Assistant professor in the Department of Visual Communications, Avinashilingam Deemed University for Women, Monikhaa is also a passionate writer. Her monthly column Naveenathuvam – Kizhakkum Merkkum (Modernism – East and West) appeared for around two years in Theeranathi, a literary magazine of the popular Tamil periodical Kumudham. Besides, she has penned a book of Tamil poems Thikku Thulaithozhiththal (Losing directions) and made a documentary film Azhagin Elimai on noted Tamil writer R.Chudamani 
Sharing her early day interests in art, Monikhaa reminisces:   

“The first pieces of art, which held me spellbound, were the illustrations by artist Maniam for the celebrated Tamil novel Ponniyin Selvan. Done by using the India Ink, Maniam’s appropriate and lively illustrations for the scenes in the historical novel would be so realistic”

Involved in drawing similar realistic images on one morning, Monikhaa even forgot that the day was her English examination and had to rush to school being late.

“But, I had always been a class topper in all my academic studies” she informs.  

Despite a native of Pollachi, Monikhaa had her studies in Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai and Maharaja Sayajirao University of Barado, where she bagged a gold medal for academic excellence.   
Also spending around ten years in New York, Monikhaa says that her days in the US provided her an opportunity to study the original paintings of popular artists like Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci

“While in India people show little concern for art, I was surprised to come across that each art work exhibited at the museums in New York is accompanied with its detailed background”

Substantiating her point that most in the country hardly show any interest in revisiting the past, Monikhaa, a passionate lover of antiquities, recalls how the illiterate people in Chennai used to call a museum in Egmore as ‘Seththa College’ or ‘The College for the dead’ ! 
The art critic, who presented her research papers in the symposia conducted at various places in India and abroad, says that she has a great flair for studying Jain art.
Recalling the records found in various pieces of literature on the Shaivite king Koon Pandiyan’s impaling a total of 8000 Tamil Jains in Madurai, Monikhaa even explains the cruel scene from the picture of a sculpture. 

“Though much in Tamil literature including the masterpieces like Silapathikaram, Neelakesi and  Soolamani were the contributions by Jain scholars, it is sad that even in museums the statuettes of Jain Tirtankaras are not given importance on par with the Chola bronzes” she rues.  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Ayirai Malai, Aivar Malai, Ayyar Malai!

The cave, where once the Jain monks stayed atop the hill Aivar Malai near Palani, is now a shelter for bats, snakes and other venomous reptiles. As few people dare to enter the cave, it is difficult, even to the locals, to say definitely where the path inside the cave leads to. However, the bas-reliefs of the Tirtankaras and the stone inscriptions found on the face of the cave throw light on the popularity of Jain culture in the Kongu region around 12 centuries ago.  

Despite the hill being called ‘Aivar Malai’ it is a corruption of ‘Ayirai Malai’ as this was how it is mentioned in Pathitru Paththu, a compilation of poems sung on Chera kings of the Sangam period. Moreover, a stone inscription found on the mountain also mentions the hill as ‘Ayirai Malai’

While praising the Chera king Palyaanai Chelkezhu Kuttuvan, Sangam age Tamil poet Paalai Gauthamanar, admires him as ‘The monarch of Ayirai Hill’ and informs that the king also worshipped Ayirai, the female deity, after whom the hill was named.  The Tamil lexicon of the University of Madras also informs that Ayirai Malai is the name of a hill in the Chera country, nine miles west of Palani, now called Aivar-malai
Though the hill contains the bas-reliefs of as many as 16 Tirtankaras, locals call them as Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva - the Pancha Pandavas or the five sons in Mahabharatha! They also say that the hill was named as ‘Aivar Malai’ since it was once a hideout for the ‘five’ Pandavas!

But, the stone inscriptions in ancient Tamil Vattezhuththu found below the bas-reliefs call the Tirtankaras as ‘Ayirai Malai Thevars’. With the Tamil expression ‘Palli’ itself meaning a Jain school, the mention of certain places as ‘Sri Vadapalli’ and ‘Sri Ayyapalli’ throws light on the existence of Jain schools around the hill. Moreover, the inscriptions have also recorded the names of certain Jain school students who made the bas-reliefs. Interestingly, the mention of a female Jain school student as ‘Avvananthi Kurathiyaar’ and her woman teacher as ‘Pattini Kurathiyaar’ throws light on the excellence of Jain Tamil women in education.  

A mountain spring at Aivar Malai
Emerging against the Vedic religion’s barbaric practices of sacrificing animals in Yagnas and discriminating people based on birth, Jainism became popular in the country including the Kongu region. But, unable to bear its fame, Shaivism, a Hindu sect, shrouded the Jain history in its Puranas and incorporated even the Jain Tirtankaras as Hindu deities.

Similarly, it was easy for Hinduism to associate Ayirai Malai with Pancha Pandavas by cleverly using the place name’s corruption from ‘Ayirai Malai’ to ‘Aivar Malai’ Perhaps, in future it may even be called as ‘Ayyar Malai’ after a new tale that Brahmins  meditated on the hill !  

Source- Aivar Malai – Epigraphist D.Sundaram 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: