Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Serving the Abodes of God for 36 Years

Azha.Muthupalaniappan - Picture by A.Raja Chidamparam

Buying a match box is a matter of spending Re.1 today. Moreover, with the invention of lighters to lit cigarettes and gas stoves, match boxes will soon be things of little use. However, in the bygone era, when purchasing a match box was a 'costly affair', people had no other option,but 'borrow' fire from each other to light their traditional ovens.

As a boy, I used to get fire for my cooking mother with a cow dung cake from a neighbouring house “ recalls Azha. Muthupalaniappan, former assistant commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department.

The 65 year ,who has recently penned his book Koyilkalil 36 Aandukal ( My 36 year experience in temples ), says:

You know, whenever a Devadasi ( temple dancer) of the Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple at Srirangam passed away, the fire to cremate her body would be taken from the shrine's madaipalli ( cook-house of a temple). Also the vaaikarisi ( Handful of rice dropped into the dead person's mouth before cremation) and the kodi ( offering of a new cloth to the deceased) were also provided by the temple “

Sharing a tale behind this tradition, Muthupalaniappan informs:

A Devadasi beguiled a man, who had a plan to harm the temple, and she took him to the shrine's gopura and pushed him from the top. It is said that she too jumped from the temple tower and died. From then onwards, as long as the Devadasi system was in vogue in the state, the demise of any temple dancer was honoured with the tradition of the shrine's offering fire for her cremation”

Muthupalaniappan, who is already an author of the books Muthumanithiral and Padithathil Pidithathu, is working as a lawyer in Coimbatore after his retirement. A man with a passion for temple art, sculptures, theology and epigraphy, in his new book Koyilkalil 36 Aandukal, the former assistant commissioner with the H.R.& C.E department has shared his experiences on temple administration.

In the bygone era, temples were administered by teams of elderly people in villages. With the shrines being centres of public gathering, they helped people by providing them education, medical care and even lending money at needs. In short, a temple, in those days, played the role of a school, bank and hospital. Since the shrines had to function permanently with regular poojas and annual festivals, kings and landlords made gifts to them by donating a plenty of agricultural lands, whose revenue facilitated their active functioning. Nevertheless, after the country came under the British rule, The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board was established in order to check the prevalent fraud and malfeasance in Hindu temples. Later, when India became independent, The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board was modified into Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department” details Muthupalaniappan.

For an ardent reader on temples, Muthupalaniappan's book Koyilkalil 36 Aandukal is an interesting work, for it narrates the historical and mythological incidents behind the temples and informs his service to their development. 

Link to a small news item in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/15685905 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Why Gold Plating, Again On Gold ?

'Kalvi Thanthai' ( Father of education), as he is popularly called for his great reforms in education, former Tamil Nadu chief minister K.Kamaraj was remembered on his birth anniversary a few months ago. But, what do you think of the same egalitarian social reformer, as his image appears on the calenders hung in many provision stores, depicting him the representative of a particular community ? Adding insult to injury, the city has also witnessed a flex banner misusing even the eminent linguist and etymologist Devaneya Pavanar as a member of a particular community.

The banner announced the Naatru Nadu Vizha, an annual festival celebrated at Perur to honour the deity Lord Patteeswarar. The celebration is to remember the Supreme God ,who, by taking the incarnation of a farmer, planted saplings in a paddy field on the banks of river Noyyal in Perur.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva or Patteeswarar, a 'friend' of the eighth century devotional Tamil poet Sundarar, was 'helpless', since He had few gifts to present the bard. And, having known that the poet was on the way to meet Him at Perur, the God incarnated himself into a farmer and left the temple to plant saplings on a paddy field surrounded by fragrant creepers.

Speaking its glorious past, the Shiva temple stands on the banks of river Noyyal at Perur. Nevertheless, its deity seems to be 'helpless' even now, like how He was to His friend and poet Sundarar. The Almighty, who caught even the sacred river Ganga on His brow and checked its flow from His matted locks, seems to have done little to protect Noyyal from Karunya University, Chinmaya International School and Isha Yoga Centre, which are blocking the river's waterways.

While industries and dyeing units of Coimbatore and Tirupur discharge their effluents into Noyyal and certain NGOs pretend to restore the polluted river for obtaining domestic and international funds, it is a great pity that the God stands as a mute spectator in His Perur shrine, which is commended as Melai Chidamparam on par with the great Thillai Nataraja Temple.

Unlike the silent Shiva, great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, in his immortal work Thirukural, emphasizes the importance of water by glorifying rain as 'ambrosia', without which, even offerings to God would be hardly possible on earth.

However, the poet and philosopher, who preached equality in birth of all beings, has faced a discrimination from the touch-me-not sadhus at Haridwar in Utharakhand. His 12-ft statue, which was taken to be installed on the banks of the highly polluted Ganges, unbidden, is now lying abandoned wrapped in a plastic sheet.

At a time, when a few political leaders demand the proper installation of Thiruvalluvar's statue on the same river bank, Raja Manickam, one of the Facebook user from Coimbatore, only wonders at the 'crying need' for installing the universal Tamil poet's statue in North India.
Praising a poem by Venil Krishnamoorthy, a Coimbatore-based publisher and poet, on the uninvited act, Raja Manickam left a comment thus:

Thangathirkku Etharkada Varnam? “ ( Why gold plating again on gold ? )

Sources: Kongumandala Sathakam – Karmega Kavingar, Thiruperur Puranam - Kachiyappa Munivar, Noyyal Andrum Indrum – Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion – John Dowson.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sharing Memoirs of His Nondescript Kongu Hamlet

C.Subramaniam, Former Vice - Chancellor, Tamil University, Thanjavur 

In his poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, famed English poet Thomas Gray mourns the death of the common people as he comes across a country churchyard in an evening. Finding no difference between the great and common, Gray even assumes that there might be someone like John Milton, Oliver Cromwell and John Hampden among the dead villagers, whose talents had never been discovered, for they were simply folks of the countryside. From a similar angle as Gray viewed the rustic people, a poet from the Kongu region shares his memoirs on the people of his village people in his book Mamaraththupatti. And the poet is none other C.Subramaniam, former registrar of Bharathiyar University and retired Vice-chancellor of Tamil University, Thanjavur.

The hamlet 'Mamaraththupatti' in the present day Tirupur district is my native. In my book of poems on the same title, I have remembered a few, great people, who have left an indelible mark on me” says C.S, as C.Subramaniam is popularly called in Coimbatore.

While introducing the arid village C.S says:

Despite its name being ' Mamarathupatti' ( A village of mango trees), the village hardly has any trees. And I wonder how it was named so”

But, Sirpi Balasubramaniam, a two-time Sahitya Akademi award winning poet of Coimbatore, who has penned the foreword to the book, assumes the answers for C.S's question.

It is surprising that the village ' Mamarathupatti' has few trees. Still, it could have got the name after a rare event, in which a mango tree must have grown somewhere there! ”

Though the book is about a nondescript hamlet in the Kongu region, Sirpi commends C.S for making it distinctive by introducing its sons of the soil in the background of their anecdotes in his book of poems.

A busy educationist, heading a number of schools and colleges in the city, C.S informs that he could find a little time to write the book while he was at his daughter's home in the US recently.

Writing a book on my native village Mamarathupatti had been my long-time wish. The characters you come across in my book are real men and women of my village, alive or dead today. Their ethical life style,culture and sincerity inspired me to pen the book” says C.S.

The book Mamarathupatti, which has as many as 24 chapters, includes the author's memoirs on a traditional midwife, who helped his mother deliver the child. Interestingly, soon after the baby boy (C.Subramaniam) was born, the birth worker had to attend to another pregnant woman, who delivered a baby girl just after an hour from C.S's birth. And now, the baby-boy and baby-girl are the elderly couple C.Subramaniam and Chellam Subramaniam – the husband and wife, who met the coincidence of sharing their birthday!

Writing a chapter on Periyaa Nadar, a coconut palm climber, C.S recalls:

Periya Nadar would always be bare-chested. If you observed the bruises on his body, you could certainly say the number of trees he climbed. A diehard fan of the Tamil matinee idol and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G Ramachandran, Nadar, one day, watched the evening show of M.G.R's 1955 box office hit Gulebakavali at the touring talkies in the village Arikaran Valasu. The film, which portrays the hero's fight with a tiger, had a different effect on Nadar. As we headed to the same film for the night show, the innocent Periyaa Nadar told us that we would not watch M.G.R's fight with the tiger in the night show. Because, the hero had killed the animal in the evening show itself ! “ 

Link to a small publication of this story in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/15022155 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Introducing the Unorthodox Spiritual World of Siddhas

Ignorant people, who are in the rat race of modern life, can opt out of the meaningless struggle for material, if they read and enjoy a few interesting songs by Pambatti Siddhar, one of the unorthodox saints, who practised a revolutionary form of spirituality against the established religious doctrines in Tamil Nadu. Though most Coimbatoreans have been to the 'Pambatti Siddhar Cave' on Marudhamalai, many know little on his life, contributions and attainment of Samadhi in the cave.

The term 'Siddha' has different synonyms to mean the wisest man, for 'Sidh' means wisdom” explains S. Sethupathi, who has authored the Tamil book Sindhai Kavarntha Siddhar Padalkal ( Inspiring poems of the Siddhas)

An author of over 50 Tamil books, Sethupathi is currently a professor of Tamil in Bharathidasan Government College for Women, Puducherry. His book Sinthai Kavarntha Siddhar Paadalkal is a compilation of poems by as many as 24 Siddhas. Of them, a verse by Pambatti Siddhar parodies the short- lived material pleasures of people.

Eminent poet and bilingual translator M.L Thangappa has rendered the poem into English for Parai, an anthology of Tamil literature edited by modern Tamil poet Pothiyaverpan. It reads thus:

Storeyed mansions
Decorated halls
Fortressed castles and palaces
Do not accompany one
After life is gone.
People who know this
Do not cherish those things
But look upon them with disdain.
Declare this to the world, O snake

Though the world does not know the natural name of the unorthodox saint, it is interesting to note that he got the name ' Pambatti Siddhar', as he could once be a snake charmer by profession. Some other researchers on Siddha literature view it from a different angle and opine that it could be due to the refrain in his poems ' O snake', as, at the end of every stanza, he orders the serpent to take his philosophy to people.

In addition to the poems, Sethupathi has also provided short biographical sketches of the Siddhas as he heard from people and read from legends, for no historical documentation was done on their lives.

Legend has it that Pambatti Siddhar was once a snake charmer. One day, he had gone deep into the woods looking for a king cobra, which had a ruby in it. But, there, he came across a mystic, whose name was Sattai Muni. The mystic, with a tinge of philosophy, asked the snake charmer why he had come in search for the serpent, while it is already within his body ! Then he explained to him that every human body is a forest, inside which a cobra dwells. Its name is Kundalini, the potential power which is believed to lie coiled ( like a snake) at the base of one's spine” says Sethupathi.

It is also believed that Kundalini is awakened through meditation and other yogic exercises for attaining enlightenment.

The snake charmer accepted Sattai Muni as his guru and listened to his 'upathesams'. Then having learned all austerities from him, the snake charmer did penance for years and finally became a 'Siddha'. Hence he came to be called 'Pambatti Siddhar' ” explains Sethupathi. 

Link to a short, edited write-up in The New Indian Express : http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/14922106 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Imbibing Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets in Tamil

 How is the translation of their languages
Arranged with the birds?
- Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

As a boy, Pa.Gunasekar would run errands for the DMK founder C.N.Annadurai, whenever the leader visited Coimbatore. Anna would call the 15 year-old boy and ask him to hire a horse cart,in which he and his party colleague E.V.K.Sampath traveled on the streets of Coimbatore to address public meetings.

An author of as many as 24 books, Gunasekar is 80 years old.
Pa.Gunasekar - Picture shot by A.Raja Chidamparam

We lived just opposite the house of the couple Krishnasamy and Gandhimathi in R.S.Puram. Gandhimathi, a teacher of Mathematics, was the daughter of Kannammal, Periyar E.V.Ramasamy's younger sister. And Krishnasamy was a cousin of E.V.K.Sampath. During those days, I have seen Anna and Sampath stay in their house and go to the Rainbow cinema in an Oldsmobile car to watch English films” recalls Gunasekar.

After enjoying an evening show at Rainbow, the Dravidian stalwarts traveled to 'Chidamparam Poonga' ( V.O.C.Park) in a horse cart and addressed the public meetings there” reminisces Gunasekar, who also penned a book Perarignar Anna Oru Pugazh Gopuram – His memoirs on C.N.Annadurai.

The leader, whom people addressed as 'Tamil Nadu's Bernard Shaw' for his memorable plays, staged many of them including Chandiramohan, Or Iravu, Vandikaran Mahan and Needhi
Devan Mayakkam at the R.S.Puram Boys High School.

In Needhi Devan Mayakkkam, I have seen Anna even donning the role of Ravana, the Lankan Tamil king, who is depicted as a villain in the Ramayana “ remembers Gunasekar.

Though Gunasekar's earlier inspiration was C.N.Annadurai, his world of letters has crossed new horizons and brought valuable pieces of world literature to Tamil.

Gunasekar, who earlier rendered a number of Latin American poems into Tamil and compiled them in his book Kannadigalai Vizhungum Kannnadi ( A mirror that swallows mirrors), has now come out with another work Kaadhal Oru Minnal Por ( Love, a lightning war) – his translation of poems from 100 Love Sonnets, a book written by the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda.

An avid reader of literature, Gunasekar says that his life is synonymous with books.

Whenever I had a compulsion of visiting a relative's home in a distant town, I don't stay there for long hours, but rather go to a nearby library and spend my time there. Even when I visit my son's home in Florida in the US, I take a bus to Orlando to reach a public library . During one such visit to the library, I translated many of the Latin American poems from the books available there” informs Gunasekar.

Evaluating Gunasekar's recent translation of Pablo Neruda, popular Tamil periodical Kumudham has commended him saying that he has honoured Neruda by rendering his verse in a lucid Tamil language.

The art of translating poetry is not a job of looking for equivalent words by browsing through bilingual dictionaries and thesauruses. But it is an art of carefully fetching a poet's emotion from one language to another “ signs off Gunasekar.

Link to the article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/14343410

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Reflecting Social Life of Rural Kongu

Maa.Natarasan - Picture shot by Prakash Chelllamuthu
Kaliammal, a woman from a rural pocket of Coimbatore, was forced to leave the house within days from her husband's death. The man, a musician and harmonium maker, had eked out a living at Kinathukadavu by thatching house roofs many decades ago. And the remaining part of the widow's life was with her another destitute elder sister and an unmarried younger sister, who were taken care of their brother Arumugam, the only male member of the family.

This is a real life incident, which happened in a family at Kinathukadavu many decades ago.

But, a short story penned by Maa.Natarasan, a writer of regional fiction on the rural pockets of Coimbatore, resembles the real life incident in Kaliammal's family.

In any village of Coimbatore, you could see at least five or six such destitute women living in their mother's home. Such incidents stand witness to the prevalence of male domination even in the 21st century.” says Ma. Na, as he is popularly called in the literary circles of Coimbatore.

A former associate professor of Tamil at the CBM College, Kovaipudur, Maa.Na is an author of several books including Oor Kalanjupochu, Kanthaayam, Appathalum Oru Kalyanamum, Kunnam and Mayilai Maadu.

The short story on the title Pirava Puli ( The tamarind that cannot be born), which is found in his recently published book Mayilai Maadu, depicts the dedication of the character Palanisamy in taking care of his two destitute sisters Lakshmi, Sarasa and their respective children. The author has appropriately titled the short story as Pirava Puli - a strange tamarind tree seen at the famous Patteeswarar Temple in Perur. The tree got its name 'Pirava Puli', since its seeds do not produce shoots.

I have compared the selfless Palanisamy with the holy tamarind tree, as he has decided not to marry a woman and beget children by her. Because, he is shouldered with the responsibility for life in taking care of his two destitute sisters and their kids ” says Maa.Na.

On his use of the natural Kongu Tamil phrases like Esili podathe, Paanga Poyittu Vaa, Ikkataala, Akkattala, Appa Suppama and so on in his fiction , Maa.Na says:

In the rural Kongu society, you can come across such words and phrases more from women, since they only have time to chat for long hours ”

The author, whose writings reflect the social life of agricultural families in the Kongu region, informs:

Eking out a living by agriculture is hard not only these days. The bitter truth was felt even during the time of my father, who was a farmer at Mandiripalayam. Hence, he did not want me continue his line, but advised me to study well and grab a 'white collar' job.”

Nevertheless, Maa.Na, despite living in the city, finds more pleasure in visiting his native village quite often and meeting his early day friends and relatives.

What I lost in the alienation from my traditional roots by arriving at the city, I discovered them in R.Shanmugasundaram's novels Nagammal and Poovum Pinjum, as they reflected the rural social life of Kongu region. While I was a youth, I met the great Kongu novelist at 'Chidamparam Poonga ' ( V.O.C park). He was in conversation with Kovai Gnani, a veteran Marxist literary critic of Coimbatore” he recalls. 

Link to the article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/14293522 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Unearthing Local Histories from Temple Myths

Sasikala addressing on Konunattu Sthalapuranangal 
While today there are stringent rules against religious conversion through 'fraudulent' means, centuries ago, conversions of faith were carried out through still more enticing ways. As Buddhism and Jainism dismissed immortality and afterlife in their doctrines, Shaivism, a major branch of Hinduism, used clever strategies to lure people by promising them the impossibilities in life as possible by fabricating them in puranas and ithihasas.

“While Buddhism and Jainism lost popularity among the people for their rational views of life, Shaivism succeeded by creating and spreading unbelievable myths and fables” said G.Sasikala, a resource person in Tamil Virtual Academy and a researcher on temple myths.

Addressing on the topic 'Kongunattu Thalapuranangal' ( Temple myths in Kongunadu) in the monthly lecture series at The Vanavarayar Foundation recently, she compared the two incidents in the lives of Lord Buddha and Sundaramurthy Nayanar, a shaiva bakthi poet.

“ Once, a grieving woman, who lost her only son, came to Lord Buddha and prayed to him to bring her boy back to life. Though Buddha took pity on the poor woman, he wanted to teach her indirectly the fact of death being inevitable to all. He told her that he would resurrect her boy, on condition that she must bring a handful of mustard seeds from a house, in which no one had ever died. As instructed by Him, she visited a number of houses and realised that there could never be one such house on earth. By making her do so, Buddha made her know that none on earth can escape death”

But, Sundaramurthy Nayanar, in his Tevaram narrates an incident that he heard two discordant notes coming from opposite houses – one echoing joy and the other sorrow. The poet learned that two boys of the same age had gone to bathe in a tank, from which a crocodile emerged and devoured one of them. And after three years, the parents of the surviving boy were happily conducting Upanayanam ( Thread ceremony) for their son, while the parents of the dead were wailing over their departed son. Moved by this scene, Sundaramurthy Nayanar sang a pathigam ( poem in praise of a deity consisting generally of ten stanzas ), worshiping Lord Shiva to resurrect the dead boy. As a result, it is said that the crocodile appeared from the surging tank and ejected the boy, which it had swallowed !

“ Thus Shaivism brought the people into its faith by making them believe the impossible as possible”explained Sasikala.

An author of the research books Pullamangai, Thiruchennampoondi and Keeragaloor , Sasikala, however, said that sthala puranas are great resources to know the regional history of places.

Despite myths enveloping such local histories in sthala puranas, a serious researcher on them can separate out the facts “ noted Sasikala.

Muthupalaniappan, former Joint Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, who republished the works Avinashi sthala purana and Thirumuruganpoondi sthala purana, chipped in:

The Thudisai Sthalapurana has documented Sundaramurthy Nayanar's visit to Thudiyalur. As Lord Shiva is believed to have treated the devotional poet with a dish of mouth-watering Murungaikeeerai (cooked leaves of drumstick), the deity came to be called 'Viruntheeswarar'. Moreover the sthala puranas of Thirumurthi temple and Dharapuram temple in the Kongu region, were penned by a barber and the saatrukavi ( A poem in praise) for the works was written by a Muslim, whose profession was fixing laadam ( horse shoe) for oxen”

A Fitting Tribute to His Gravedigger - Comrade

The departed undertaker 'Odum Pillai' Rajendran

Writing obituary is a way to express one's emotional views on someone dear, that bade farewell to the worldly life. But, the recent death of a vettiyaan or undertaker, who had given decent burials to thousands of unclaimed dead bodies, received few obituaries in the city. Nevertheless, P.Shanthakumar, founder of Thozhar Trust, a voluntary organisation, which is committed to give dignified burials to unclaimed dead bodies, pays a tribute on his gravedigger-friend 'Odumpillai' Rajendran of Puliyakulam.

The history of 'Marathon' race, as anyone knows, is from a Greek messenger's act of running a long distance till Athens to announce the joyful news of Persians' defeat in the battle of Marathon. But, the undertaker Rajendran's act was to 'run' to different villages and announce the sad news of one's death in a particular community. He also had to return gasping by the run to bury the dead body. Hence, the man was called 'Odum Pillai', a designation in a particular community in the yesteryear Coimbatore, when the city had little bus facility.
Women involved by Thozhar Trust in burying dead bodies

Admiring the priceless mission of Rajendran, Shanthakumar points out:

A Vettiyaan (undertaker) employed in a corporation cemetery is not given any salary, but just entitled to bury the dead. And his source of income is only the paltry sum provided by the kin of the deceased. Nevertheless, Rajendran would accept any amount of money, whenever we requested him to bury the decomposed, unclaimed dead bodies. Residing with his family members in the corporation cemetery, Puliyakulam, Rajendran was always glad to carry out his priceless mission”

Shanthakumar also recalls that his undertaker-friend had never hesitated to render his service even when Thozhar Trust took around ten to fifteen dead bodies for burial.

Rajendran, who had given dignified burial to as many as 2000 unclaimed dead bodies, was of great support to Thozhar Trust. Whenever I visited his home in the corporation cemetery to give his remuneration, he would tell me that the payment was not so urgent to him. The great man's demise is an irreparable loss to the world of social workers” added Shanthakumar.

Karuppusamy, district coordinator, Thamizhar Urimai Munnani, points out:

The term 'Odum Pillai' was a designation for a man in the Devendrakula Vellalar community. However Rajendran, who rendered his service within the community, later converted it as his occupation”

Echoing Karuppusamy's views, M.Elangovan, a stage drum player and music teacher, says:

In our locality Kuniamuthur, the 'Odum Pillai' would not deliver just the news of death, but also carry messages on marriages and temple festivals. But, in due course, such varied services of him must have branched out from his act of delivering death news. Despite his title 'Odumpillai' he never needed to 'run' and deliver a message on a temple festival. Because, the happy news of a shrine's consecration is not so emergent to be delivered as that of a man's death”

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Muslim, Who Built a Mariamman Temple

At a time, when the city has witnessed a communal unrest following the alleged murder of a Hindu Munnani activist, it is time we looked back the religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims over two centuries ago. Standing testimony to the cordial relationship between the two communities in the yesteryear Coimbatore, there stands a small Hindu temple, which was built by a Muslim in a hamlet near Avinashi in the present day Tirupur district.

The Mariamman Temple built by a Muslim commander in Hyder Ali's army
Members of the Veerarajendran Archeological and Historical Research Centre, a Tirupur-based organisation, came across the temple in a village near Avinashi. The shrine, an abode of the Hindu Goddess Mariamman, stands with a dome on the Gopuram resembling a mosque!

Ravikumar, director of the organisation, says:

Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore kingdom, brought the Kongu region under his control and established a number of colonies for the stay of his army soldiers. And one such colony was 'Ravuthampalayam' near Avinashi, a junction connecting the villages of south and north Kongu regions. It may be noted that Avinashi is located on the road connecting the South Kongu region and Sathyamangalam, through which one can reach Srirangapattinam, the capital of the then Mysore kingdom”

Ravi informs that Hyder also appointed a number of officers to look after the administration of different provinces and villages.

As the residents in Ravuthampalayam say that one such officer and commander of the cavalry was 'Ravuthar'. The Muslim officer secured a place in the hearts of the people by implementing several welfare schemes to them as reduction in tax, security to merchants from highwaymen and so on “ explains Ravi.

But, Ravuthar soon became helpless when his child got afflicted with measles.

Though the disease small pox or chicken pox is rare today, people of the yesteryear Coimbatore referred them to a Goddess and believed it was nothing but the 'arrival' of the deity Mariamman. On coming across a person with the disease, they would say ' Mariyaatha Vanthirukku' ( Goddess Mariamman has come). Nevertheless, the people had their indigenous ‘divine’ methods of treating the patient by making him or her lie on a white cotton dhoti, applying paste of neem leaves on the blisters, feeding with tender coconuts and rock candy made of palmyra sap. Moreover, a string of peeled small onions tied around the patient’s neck, would be the first identity to recognize the 'arrival' of Maariyaatha in him or her!

And Ravuthar too worshiped the Hindu deity Mariamman and treated his child the 'divine' way. As the little one soon recovered from the disease, the Muslim officer thanked the deity and constructed a temple for Her” says Ravi.

He also points out that the people, moved by the Muslim officer's cordial act, named their village after him as ' Ravuthampalayam'

Even today, the people follow the tradition of naming their children as 'Ravuthan' ” informs Ravi.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Portrait of a Forester as a Fiction Writer

Tamil writer Aattanathi with his book 'Naaraai...Naaraai - Photo by A.Raja Chidhaparam

The memorable Tamil poem Naaraai... Naaraai... Sengaal Naaraai...by a poet named 'Sathimuttra Pulavar' of the bygone era, depicts his poverty, as he requests the bird Sengaal Naarai (Pelican ibis) to carry a message to his poor wife. The bard asks the bird to inform her that it had seen him bare-bodied, shivering in a biting cold in the Pandya country one evening. The poet, who hailed from Sathi Muttram near today's Kumbakonam, came to the Pandya country to meet king Maran Vazhuthi, sing paeans on him and receive gifts from him. But, a Tamil short story titled after the song's line Naaraai... Naaraai... depicts a bird-loving pair's care for their feathered friends.

Naaraai... Naaraai..., a new short story collection, has been written by Aattanathi, a city-based retired forest ranger and Tamil fiction writer.

A short story of the same title, which is one among the thirteen in his book, narrates the story of Muthupandi and his wife Vallikannu – the bird-loving pair at the Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary in Tirunelveli district.

When I felt an urge to write a story on the passionate bird lover Muthupandi, I took a trip to Koonthakulam to meet him. As I told the bird-watcher the purpose of my visit, he was so glad and took me to the spots, where I could see hundreds of migratory birds. I followed him even to the nests on the black babul trees at the lake and was amazed to behold the eggs and chicks of different migratory birds. Muthupandi also gave me an account of how he and his wife, despite severe criticism from their kin, cared for their feathered friends. I was moved to tears when the bird-watcher informed me that his wife died after catching bird flu” says Aattanathi, who is also the author of other Tamil books, Vanam, Avala Ival and Pasumai Valayam

When there was little water in the lake, the couple spent their money everyday to buy fish for the hungry birds and nestlings. The villagers laughed at the birdwatcher's wife, when they learned that she pawned her Mangal Sutra to obtain money for buying fish to the birds. Vallikannu's fondness for the chicks is known from a scene in the short story, where she is said of kiss-feeding water to a sick nestling.

I was amazed, when Muthupandi revealed his knowledge on birds by informing me the names of numerous birds as Spotted sandpiper, White stork, Large flamingo, Blue-winged teal and so on. He also detailed me the habits of different migratory birds from different countries” avers Aattanathi, whose natural name is Dhandapani.

Nevertheless, another short story Anbin Vazhiyathu in the book throws light on his artistic skills in fiction, as he follows an innovative method of narrating the plot. The story, which begins from the capture of a 'rogue', 'marauding' elephant to its being converted into a Kumki, is told from the animal's perspective, as the elephant itself is narrating the story !

The writer, who demands justice for the pachyderm, says:

While I was working as a forest ranger, I simply took part in my duties of driving away the wild elephants into the woods. But as a writer, in an age of disturbed man-animal co-existence, I feel that I should do something for the cause of wild animals, whose forest homes are encroached by modern man ”

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/13477740 

Elucidating Ancient Greek Art in Tamil

Gyges watches the unaware nude queen in her royal bedroom - A  painting by William Etty 

In a male-dominated world of a bygone era, stigmatized was a woman, who discovered that a man had spied on her nude body. As she was betrayed so by none other than her husband, she was left with two options – either to kill the man and live with her husband or to kill her husband and live with the man. The ancient Greek tale, which is depicted in a piece of art by the English painter William Etty, throws light on how women were unjustly treated as slaves of man's lust even several centuries ago.
William Etty -the English painter

On a night, Candaules, the king of Lydia in ancient Greece, betrayed his beautiful wife Nyssia, by showing her in nude to his bodyguard Gyges. The king devised a plan that Gyges would hide behind a door in the royal bedroom and watch on the nude, unaware queen while she undresses herself before going to bed.

But, Nyssia soon discovered that she had been betrayed by her husband. The next day she summoned Gyges and left him with two options – Either he should meet the doom for his crime of watching her nude, or kill the king and marry her. And Gyges rather chose the second. Therefore, Nyssia engineered a plan the same way the king did earlier. She told Gyges to hide behind the bed room door and stab the king while he was sleeping” explains Stalin, a retired Assistant Director of All India Radio, in his newly- written book Grekka Kalai Marabu ( The tradition of Greek art).

The tale, which is from the accounts of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus is the root for the psychological term 'Candaulism' which denotes a man's sexual practice of exposing his wife to a peeping Tom.
Stalin with his book Grekka Kalai Marabu 

Led by my passion for Greek history, philosophy and art, I purchased a plenty of books and enjoyed reading them. When I thought their new ideas would interest readers, I decided to write a book on them” says Stalin, who has penned a number of Tamil books on Greek literature and philosophy.
Leda and the Swan

Nevertheless, his new book Grekka Kalai Marabu is the first of its kind in Tamil to depict the world of ancient Greek painters, sculptors and architects. The articles in his work were already serialised in Om Sakthi, a Tamil monthly magazine founded by the late industrialist and philanthropist 'Pollachi' N.Mahalingam

The magazine's editor and popular 'Vanambadi' poet Chidamparanathan of Coimbatore encouraged me to write in the periodical every month, for he felt my write-ups on Greek art would interest many Tamil readers” he informs.

Stalin's book explains a number of pieces in Greek art in the background of interesting tales and mythologies as Echo and Narcissus, Leda and the Swan and Hercules' freeing of Prometheus.

The book has been published by 'Agaram' a Thanjavur-based publishing company, run by Kathirarasan, a son of the late 'Vanambadi' poet Meera, popular for his collection of modern Tamil poems Kanavugal+Karapanaikal= Kakithangal, which appeared in 1971.

Narcissus loves his own image reflected in a stream
The tradition of Greek art dates back to over 2000 years. Though its roots are from Phoenicia, an ancient region corresponding to modern Lebanon, with adjoining parts of modern Syria and Israel, the Greeks later theorized and systematized them” Stalin informs.

In Tamil, there are many books on Greek thinkers and philosophers including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. But, my new work is an attempt to introduce ancient Greek painters, sculptors and architects to Tamil readers” he avers. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/13477294 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Of Humans Turning into Nomads of Water

Photo by A.Raja Chidhamparam

How do you 'hear' the present day life of mankind, which is inextricable from the use of plastic, as plastic disposable cups, plastic water bottles and plastic carry bags? A scene in the modern Tamil play Neer Nadodigal ( Water nomads), written and staged by popular playwright Muruga Boopathy,depicted one such 'sample' of our everyday life, as a 'crowd' of human beings tussle to escape from the clutches of plastic bottles which are thrown aplenty on the dimly-lit drama stage. Matching a traditional solo drum beat, when the crowd treads on the heap of bottles, its raspy noise fills the packed hall and narrates the tragic tale of modern man being caught in the snare of plastic.

Neer Nadodigal, which begins after Mahakavi Subramania Bharathi's lyric Manathil Urudhi Vendum.., portrays in a scene, a girl questioning herself of what her tradition,culture and language are. The scene drops a hint at man's alienation from his roots in a modern world, which is known for its great 'developments' in science and technology.

The modern play depicts a number of such social issues effectively, but not through the stereotyped dialogues. Rather, the drama's devices of communication are the actors' strenuous body language, their grave facial expressions and hot sighs.

A bare-bodied man, who seems to be so strong and ungiving, walks upright on the stage. The people, who are apparently under his totalitarian rule, show resistance to his diktat. And the man, symbolizing a dictatorial state and a strait-laced religion, confronts their revolt. The scene ends in the intensity of the land sandwiching the rule and the ruled.

A girl, who looks like a bird or sometimes an animal or sometimes a tree in the woods, is loved by a man. However, a madding crowd opposes their relation and leaves the helpless couple drench in tears of love.

Reminding a scene from the English movie The Ten Commandments, an exodus of people was in search of a land for their survival. Having lost their cultural identity due to several facets of the modern life including developments in science and technology and wars between nations, the helpless humans espy their matriarch, who, at last, resurrects the 'waste land' called earth by her beautiful music.

Produced by Manal Magudi Nataka Nilam, Neer Nadodikal was performed by a team of students from the Drama Club of PSG College of Arts and Science.

The play, each of whose acts reflecting a concept, left the audience spell bound, as it depicted in a scene that all on earth - plants, birds and humans - take the 'form' of water. In a rain-ravaged flood, humans are seen under the blue waters, lamenting over their crimes of annihilating nature.

Now, water takes the form of a woman and 'flows' on the dais. The 'water-filled' drama stage gleams for a while and disappears in the dark.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Crying Out Loud for the Silent Victims of Injustice


Photo by Prakash Chellamuthu

Have you ever met the legendary Kannagi, who furiously burnt Madurai avenging her husband's unjust execution for a crime that he had not committed? But, Smith, an English surveyor, who later visited the parts of the southern district on an official assignment, met the woman in the woods ! She was nude, had large eyes and seen sitting near a cascade, heaving her hot sighs after weeping aloud for ages. The frightened Englishman, despite leaving the country, says that the woman haunts her wherever he moves on.

On reintroducing such victims of injustice in 'Perungaatru' (Gale), his latest fiction, a book of short stories, Balamurugan, a city-based writer, lawyer and human rights activist, says:

“ The contexts and characters in my short stories, are the ones I have come across in my life. Being indelible in my memories, they urge me to depict their miserable lives in my fiction”

The author informs he discovered in his own short stories that women being prominent of all his characters, as he read his writings again after they came out in a book form.

On one such character, Balamurugan writes:

“ At the end of a short story, I am sure the character Valli was raped and murdered. But, don't ask me who killed her, since you and I too have taken part in that gruesome act ”

Such a blame of Balamurugan is just a hint at the people, who turn a Nelson's eye to any unjust act in a society known for its social and economic discrimination.

For the people, who love reading literature for pleasure, Balamurugan's characters could be strange, since they were silent victims of several political and social issues across the country. And by introducing them to the modern readers, the author has thrown light on how members of the marginalized section become prey to the powerful.

Oru Kadal Iru Karaikal ( One sea and two shores), a short story in his book, takes a reader to the world of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, who suffer untold hardships in their camps.

A person's pain of pains is his survival as a refugee in a foreign land. As part of the fact-finding team of PUCL a few years ago, when I visited the Mandapam camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, I stumbled upon a woman who had a paralysis. I was shocked to hear that she abstained even from drinking water and eating food to prevent herself from urinating and defecating, since she was totally dependent on others even for answering nature's call. And the woman is the one, whom you meet as 'Malar' in Oru Kadal Iru Karaikal” informs Balamurugan

In the short story Inge Sorgam Thuvangukirathu ( Here begins the heaven), Balamurugan narrates the incident of a Kashmiri man, who goes 'missing' one day, and portrays the abuse meted out to the man's aged mother and his wife. The two women seek the help of an association of parents, who similarly 'lost' their children in Kashmir. With certain human rights activists too coming forward to help them, some army men trespass their house, abuse the two women physically and warn them not to have any contacts with the human rights activists.

The Kashmiri old woman's lullaby to her little grandson merged in the murmur of river Jhelum, fell on the mountain tops and spread everywhere. And her 'lost' son could have heard it from somewhere in that cold night” Balamurugan ends the short story.

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/12117250

Friday, 8 July 2016

Looking for the Lost Tirthankara in the Hindu Hill Shrine

The image of a Jain Thirthankara engraved on the large rock, which is believed  to have rolled down from the hill some centuries ago at the Thirumurthi Hills

Buy and offer Neytheepams for the Mummoorthies

Calls out a woman lamp vendor beside the Amanalingeshwarar Temple at Thirumurthi hills. Many devotees purchase the little earthen lamps from her, light and offer them to the Hindu trinity or ''Thir'i'murthies ' Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. But, as most believe, the name 'Thirumurthy Malai' indicates only the mountain of a Jain Tirthankara and not the Hindu trinity.

The Vedic religion followed the tactics of annihilating its rival faiths including Buddhism and Jainism just by incorporating their spiritual tradition into its pantheon. And that was how Lord Buddha, a man who campaigned against the meaningless rituals of Hinduism, was trumped up as the ninth 'avatar' of the Hindu God Vishnu! “ pointed out eminent archeologist R.Poongundran, who is also the former Assistant director of Tamil Nadu Archeology Department.

Leading a team of history enthusiasts to the places Kalandhai, Karapadi, Anaimalai and Thirumurthy Hills in the 'Varalatru Ula' ( Historical trip) organised by The Vanavarayar Foundation recently, the archeologist explained:

Lord Shiva is called ' Amana Lingeshwarar ' only at a few places in the Kongu region including Karapadi and Thirumurthy Hills and nowhere else in Tamil Nadu. With Jainism flourishing in these regions, the monks of the religion, who would stay in caves, wearing no clothes, had been called 'Amanars'. When such spots were later converted into Hindu shrines, the name indicating the nude Jain monks was given even to Lord Shiva, who, at last, came to be called ' Amana Lingeshwarar' “

A carving on a huge rock, which is worshiped by the devotees as 'Mummurthy' or 'Thir'i'murthy' at the hill shrine, is only a Jain Tirthankara and not the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva! Evident to this, ancient Jain literary works in Tamil like Soolamani and Seevaka Cinthamani describe the Jain God Aruhan as ‘Thirumurthi’ “ writes Kovai Kizhar, the first historian of Coimbatore, in his book Kongunadum Samanamum.

The huge rock, on which the carving of a Tirthankara appears slanted, is believed to have rolled down from the hill during a flood some centuries ago. When closely observed, the engraving portrays the Tirthankara with two Samendras( The ones who wave fans to the deity standing with their ‘Samarams’ or Fans on both sides to Him).

R.Jegadisan, a popular epigraphist, who organised the historical trip, said:

The carving of a Tirthankara on the huge rock hints at the fact that certain Jain monks must have lived somewhere in the forests of the hill. However, their spots of stay are yet to be discovered”

However, unaware of this history, Velayudha Pandithar, a Tamil scholar, later wrote a Sthalapurana on Thirumurthy Temple, linking it with a Hindu myth“ informed Poongundran.

Legend has it that the three Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, while visiting Anushya Devi, wife of sage Athari Maharishi, at her home in Thirumurthi Hills, asked her to serve them food without wearing clothes. They asked her to do so only to test her ‘Prativrathayam’ (Devotion to her husband) However, as she prayed to her husband in mind and came unclothed, the Hindu deities got metamorphosed into three innocent babies, whom she breastfed and put them to sleep in cradle. The Sthalapurana states that this was why the place came to be called as Thir’i’murthy Temple (A Shrine of three Hindu Gods)

Link to my article in The New Indian Express http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/11570743

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Meet Prof ' Pe. Murugan', for Writer Perumal Murugan is 'No More'

When Tamil professor and popular writer Perumal Murugan was hounded by Hindutva and caste outfits for his alleged depiction of Kongu women in poor light in his novel Madhorubhagan, his old students, who have high regards for him, were also helpless like him. On a day, when they heard that their 'Ayya' (Tamil professor) had received continuous threats and haunts from his protestors, his students, who were mostly Tamil teachers in different schools and colleges across the state, could hardly do anything to condemn the incident. Nevertheless, recollecting their great teacher's care and affection for them, they have now come out with a book ' Engal Ayya' ( Our Tamil teacher).

It may be noted that Perumal Murugan had to tender an unconditional apology for the 'controversial' content and decide to pulp all his literary works. In his Facebook page, the writer even declared the 'death' of the author ' Perumal Murugan' in him and he would, henceforth, be called only by his natural name ' Pe. Murugan', a mere Tamil teacher.

At this juncture, answering a question on how his students estimated the writer's controversial works and whether they have any idea to bring the writer ' Perumal Murugan' back to life, Velayudham, proprietor of Vijaya Pathipagam, who presided over a symposium on the book at the literary organisation 'Kalam' recently, said:

This symposium is only on 'Pe. Murugan' the Tamil teacher, and not on ' Perumal Murugan', the writer. Let's discuss the latter some time in future “

Admiring 'Engal Ayya', Velayudham informed:

I read the entire book in an over night. 'Pe. Murugan' is a man of simplicity, who was always seen carrying a 'Manjal Pai' ( An ordinary yellow cloth bag) and wearing a pair of ordinary Khadhi chappals. A great teacher, he was of any help to his students, both academically and personally. The book on him should be read by professors of the present day so that they could learn the role of a teacher in shaping a student's personality” added Velayudham.

A Chinnadurai, an old student of 'Pe. Murugan', recalled:

Like his favourite legendary Tamil scholar, U.Ve.Sa alias U.V. Saminatha Iyer, our Ayya too loved the mischief of his students. Though he was a great writer with a number of books to his credit, he never popularized any of his works in class ”

N.Arul Murugan, Chief Educational Officer of Coimbatore District, who was also a student of 'Pe. Murugan', said in his special address:

What we learned from our Ayya was his life, as he lived it the way he taught us”

Manikandan, Sivakumar, Chandran, Savitri, Jayakumar and Ranjan, who were also professor 'Pe. Murugan's students, addressed the symposium. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express : http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/11339763