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 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: 

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: 

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.