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: 

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”