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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Uzhavar Sandai

1 April'07 :
The concept of Uzhavar Sandai or Farmers Market in Tamilnadu was introduced in the year 2000 during the DMK Government. Today Tamilnadu has over 140 Uzhavar Sandais of which 3 are in Coimbatore. This morning we decided to drive to the R.S.Puram Uzhavar Sandai located near the Forest College. We reached around 7 am after a 20 minute drive and the place was already quite crowded and there was frenzied activity. It was good to see that a large number of city folk have chosen to come to Uzhavar Sandai and encourage the farmers. They could very well have gone to any of the several modern and far more convenient & air-conditioned "Pazhamuthir Soolais" (that have cropped up all over Coimbatore) where you can move comfortably around well stocked aisles with push carts and buy vegetables/fruits at reasonable prices.
The parking lot was chock a block with cars hence I had to park on the road. The complex is very spacious and is managed by officers of Agriculture & Horticulture Depts. These officials visit nearby farms (radius of 25 Kms ) and encourage the farmers to bring their produce to the market. The farmers have to register and identity cards are issued. Free transport is arranged by the Dept to nearby locations. The stalls/space is rent free and is allocated on a first come first serve basis. Weighing balances are issued free on on request and returnable at close of business. The primary objective of this concept is to bring farmers directly in contact with consumers and eliminate the mafia midlemen totally. Thus the farmers get to retain entire profit without having to part with any commissions. Prices are fixed by the department. Prices of items are centrally displayed on a board in front of the office for the benefit of consumers. Prices are also displayed on a slate in each stall by the farmer . Farmers are not expected to sell at lower or higher prices and in the event of any malpractice the same can be brought to the notice of the officers concerned.
Coimbatore has 3 Uzhavar sandais in all - R.S.Puram, Singanallur & Kurichi. The R.S.Puram unit is ranked no.1 in Tamilnadu in terms of daily turnover @ 50 tons/day. I had carried my camera and was shooting photographs at will. People watched me in amusement. One consumer even asked me if I was a journalist ! The Govt officers with whom I chatted were friendly and enthusiastically shared information. Our next stop was Annapoorna's for steaming South Indian Coffee & dosa/puri. Later in the day attended the first anniversary of the Kumbabhishekam of T.Stanes Pillayar. All the "Who is Who" of T.Stanes were in attendance along with their wives. There was a delicious South Indian feast as usual from Friends Caterers - traditionally served on plaintain leaves. Paladai pradaman, boli and jangiri were the special items.
The grand finale for the day was watching "Jack The Ripper" on History channel-a spine chilling, blood curling, spell binding four hour thriller (in two parts) which has Michael Caine in the lead role as Chief Detective from Scotland Yard. Jack the Ripper killed whores at nocturnal hours on London streets during 1888 and clinically removed their internal organs with the precision of an experienced surgeon. This film is a masterpiece and if you haven't seen it do not miss it next time .

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Maruthamalai Temple

25 Mar'07 :
We had not visited Arulmigu Maruthamalai Subramaniar temple for almost a year. So we decided to drive over there on Sunday morning. The route we followed was the usual - Brooke Bond Rd (HLL has now sold the property and a massive commercial complex is under construction), cut across Mettupalayaam Rd (Mettupalayam is 30 kms from Coimbatore and it is from this point that the climb to Connoor & Ooty begins), get into R.S.Puram, drive past Forest College & Uzhavar Sandai (farmers vegetable market), cut across Thadagam Rd, past the sprawling Tamilnadu Agricultural University campus & Coconut Nursery, then Annalakshmi & Temple of Fine Arts Auditorium, into Vadavalli, past Bharatiar University campus, and finally reach the foothills of Maruthamalai.
Maruthamalai Temple, situated on a hillock, about 12 kms from Coimbatore, is an important temple dedicated to Lord Muruga. The temple gets its name from the Marutha trees in the forests on the hill. The hills also have many medicinal herbs in their forests. The drive up the hills very scenic and once you reach the top you get a birds eye view of Coimbatore. There are a number of u-bends & hair pin bends and you have to be careful as you negotiate the bends uphill. The entry fee for cars is Rs.10/-
The word "Marudhachalapathy" or "Maruthamalai Andavar" means Master of Hills, abounding in Marudha trees. The name has also a legendary origin. A Siddha, overcome by excessive thirst and tiredness, sought shelter under the shade of a Marudha tree and prayed to the mercy of the Lord Muruga for a shower of water, which sprang at once as though by a miracle from beneath the tree! As water gushed out from the roots of the marudha tree, the Siddha leaped in joy, glorifying Muruga as the Lord of "Marudha" and "Jalam" (water) with the passage of time, "Marudhajalapathi" became "Marudhachalapathy.This temple was built about 800 years ago. The temple was renovated recently and Kumbabishekam (consecration) performed. The temple and its surroundings are abuzz with devotees who can be seen trekking the 700-odd steps to the top of the temple, as penance. There are frequent buses from Coimbatore city to Maruthamalai. From the base of the temple local buses ply to the temple.
The "Marudha Thirtam" and the"Pambatti Sunai" are springs on the hills with holy waters for ablution and a dip in them cures a number of diseases for they contain Medicinal Properties.
After parking the car in the uphill parking lot, you walk towards a point where you meet devotees trekking up the walkway. You climb up a few dozen steps and you are up at the Pancha Vriksham - an amazing amalgamation of five different types of trees-Peria Arasu, Chinna Arasu (arasu= peepul), Aal (banyan),Vengai, Kallichi. There is a Ganapathy located at the base of this vriksha. A few more steps and you are on top. A special entry ticket of Rs.10/- allows you to go close to the sanctum of Lord Subramania. The deity is richly covered in silver kavacham and holding a silver Vel. An idol of Pambati Sitthar is at the Lords feet. After watching Arati and receiving Tirtham and prasadam you exit after praying to Ganesha also covered in Silver kavacham.
You go around the outer sanctum and you see Patteswara, Maragadambikai, Sandikeswarar, Varadarajaperumal, and Nava Grahas. Patteswarar sub shrine has Dakshinamurthy, Lingodbhavar & Brahma on the goshtams around the shrine. Around the Mrugar shrine goshtams you can see Nirtha Ganapathi, Sikivahanar, Dandapani, Senani & Durgai. Around the goshtams of Maragadambikai - Iccha Sakti, Gnana Sakti & Kriya Sakti. There is a large granite tiled Mandapam to the East, where devotees can sit down and meditate. There is a Dwaja Sthambam with Peacock in front facing the Lord and Ganesha facing the outside. There is a separate enclosure for housing the Thanga Theru (Golden Chariot).
On the Southern side there is another shrine termed as the Adi Moola Sthanam where the original swayambu stone forms of Murugar, Valli & Devayani are situated. To the West side of the Adi Moola Sthanam there are steps leading down to the cave temple of Pambati Sittar. This shrine has tremendous vibrations and people spend a few moments in meditation in the mandapam in front of this shrine. Sitthar would practice herbal medicine from the herbs available in the hills. He also had power over all the snakes that lived on the hills and controlled them. It is said that if one prayed at the Pambati Sitthar Shrine one can get rid of Naga Dosham. Pambati sitthar used to come up from the cave where he lived, and pay obeisance to Muruga every day. The main shrine to Muruga was consecrated during the lifetime of the Sitthar. Enroute to the cave is a shrine for Saptha Kanyas. There is a beautiful Poovarasu tree near this shrine.
For more details visit the temple website: http://murugan.org/temples/marudhamalai.htm
On our return drive we decided to stop over at the TNAU to take some memorable snaps of the main building and the coconut nursery.The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) came into being on June 1, 1971. However, it had its genesis from establishment of an Agricultural School at Saidapet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, as early as 1868 and it was later relocated at Coimbatore in 1906. Till 1946, the Agricultural College and Research Institute, Coimbatore, was the only Institute for Agricultural Education for the whole of South India. The Centenary year was celebrated last year on a grand scale.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kumarakom

14 March'07 :
Left Kottayam for Kumarakom around noon time a distance of around 20 Kms. The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands in the Vembanad Lake in Kerala. Kumarokom is truly one of the most beautiful places in Kerala nay the whole world. Kumarakom is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is a noted bird sanctuary where many migratory birds visit. The Vembanad Lake is habitat for many marine species and it teems with 'Karimeen' (Pearl Spotted Fish ), shrimp (chemmeen in local language) and prawns. The bird sanctuary which spans 14 acres (57,000 m²), came into existence following preservation efforts from the government. It is a major tourist attraction now.
Kumarakom is not entirely a tourist dependent town but also derives a reasonable income from agriculture. The area is populated by mangrove forests, paddy fields and coconut groves. This rich agricultural environment is mainly irrigated using interspersed waterways and canals. Kumarakom's perfectly balanced tropical climate is conducive to the growth of plants and trees.
There are several tourist resorts to suit every pocket. Some of these also include Ayurvedic massages and treatments. There are several antique shops enroute to attract foreign visitors with a mesmerising range of artefacts.
Kumarakom is better described through a series of photographs rather than through written accounts.
After Kumarakom we crossed a long sea bridge taking us across the still back waters of the Arabian sea and reached Chertalai from where we hit the National Highway - a wide multi lane highway built to international standards. The car suddenly picked up speed after the slow leisurely pace at Kumarakom. We motored along at a fast 90 Kmph crossed Vayalar & Aroor before reaching Vytilla located on the Ernakulam bye pass. We stopped over for a sumptuous meal at "The Sarovaram" a vegetarian Hotel on the highway. After this we drove almost non stop to Coimbatore. We halted briefly at Vadakancherry(mid-way between Trichur & Palakkad) where our driver Ramesh had orders ( from Shobha !) to buy a couple of sharp knives (for the kitchen of course !) for which this town is famous for.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kumaranalloor

Kumaranalloor Devi temple,in Kottayam, is considered as one of the most important Devi temples among the 108 Durgalayas (Devi temples) in Kerala. It is said to be more than 2400 years old. The architecture of the temple is notable for the unique structure of the Nalambalam and Sreekovil both of which have been built in the sreechakra style (ring like object with a handle, which is placed in the right hand of the devi). This kind of architecture is rarely found in temple architecture.
While entering the temple, the temple view presents a divine picture. Getting into the temple through the main gopuram one can see the golden dhwajom and the balickal pura with carvings of many sculptures including those of Ganapathy and Shiva and other saints on pillars. Inside the nalambalam, sreekovil and the main mandapam are surrounded by paths made of carved stones. The temple of Shiva is on the right side of the main sreekovil. Bhadrakali temple is situated on the south of the temple along with the full stretched surrounding path on carved stones for the whole temple.
Mural paintings in Kumaranalloor temple are precious and rare. The outer walls of the sreekovil are decorated with paintings showing the different styles of gods, goddesses, and incidents from great epics like Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Natural colours and medicinal plants were used to colour the murals.
The important festival of the temple is Thrikkarthika celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (November-December). On the Karthika day it is usual to make a nivedyam (offering) in the precincts of the Udayanapuram and Trissur Vadakkunnatha temples. The story goes that the Gods in these two temples, greatly charmed by the beauty of the Devi returning after her Karthika bath. They came out of the temples, got over the compound walls, and stood there looking amorously at the seductive figure of the passing Devi, and the temple priest finally met them on the walls at the southern end of the temples. Thenceforth, during Karthika, puja is performed over the walls of these temples. The display of lights in the evening, called Karthika Vilakku, is the highlight of this celebration.

Legend :
Cheraman Perumal was the ruling emperor of Kerala when the construction of a temple at Udayanapuram to install the idol of goddess durga began; while he commenced the construction of another temple at a place (which is later known as Kumaranalloor) to install the idol of Lord Kumara or Subramanian. Mean while a disturbing incident took place at Meenakshi temple, Madurai in Tamilnadu The gem-studded nose ring of devi was missing. The King ordered to kill the priest of the temple unless he could solve this problem within 41 days. However, the priest was innocent and took refuge at the feet of Devi.
The grief-stricken priest spent his days and nights crying and praying. On the night of the 40th day, he slept at the doorsteps of temple, meditating and contemplating his fate when he had a dream. Devi appeared before him and ordered him to quit the place at once. The bewildered priest had seen a thejas (divine light) moving forward. The thejas led him a long distance and finally reached the place which latter became known as Kumaranalloor. At Kumaranalloor, the temple was under construction to install the idol of lord Subramanian or Kumaran.
The thejas entered into the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple. Moreover, it was at the prathista time that the thejas entered the sreekovil. Then there was an asareeri (an inerporeal and divine voice), ‘kumaranalla ooril', meaning, ‘this place is not for Kumara'. This is, Kumari's or Devi's place. Hence got the name Kumaranalloor.
Cheran Perumal was disappointed and frustrated. He travelled to Udayanapuram to install the idol of Kumara, at the temple, which was under construction.
Later, Perumal returned to Kumaranalloor for the pratishta of Devi's idol. There was an idol lying in water at Vedagiri a near by place. Perumal brought the idol from Vedagiri. Maharshi Parasurama had supposedly made and worshipped the idol in past. At the time of installation, a brahmin sage with matted hair, came and entered the Sreekovil and installed the idol in a second and then vanished. People believe that the brahmin sage was Maharshi Parasurama. The brahmin priest, who followed the thejas from madurai, became the priest of the temple. His residence is known as Madurai Illam. His successors worship the Devi even today.

Vaikkom-Kaduthuruty-Ettumanur

14 March'07 :
Left Ernakulam @ 5.15 am towards Kottayam with a plan to visit the three temples of Vaikkom, Kaduthuruthy & Ettumanoor on the way. Passed a few small towns enroute - saw early morning walkers briskly marching on pavements and temple goers fresh after the morning snanam in veshtis & mundu nerithu and with chandanam & bhasmam applied to their foreheads. At the crack of dawn (6.00 am) I reached Vaikkom Mahadeva kshetram ( 33 kms from Ernakulam) and entered through a side entrance. A large spacious temple with big grounds and a massive vilakkumadam. As I went around I inhaled the fresh air which rejuvenated and energised me. You see a shining gold covered (or is it brass ?) Nandi installed at each corner of the Vilakkumadam. The Devaswom office, the Ottupura & the Kala Kshetram are all located inside. There is also a shrine of Pananchikkal Bhagavathy in the outer prakaram.
The Vaikom Mahadevar temple is one of the most celebrated Shiva temples in South India. Offering of prathal, or food is a form of worship here. In ancient times, feasts used to be cooked and offered to all devoteesVaikom Mahadever is also referred to as Annadaana Prabhu.The Deity: Shiva - Vaikom Mahadevar manifests himself as Dakshinamurthy in the panthirathi pooja in the morning. He is worshipped as Kiraata Murthy during the Uchcha pooja at noon and as Satchitananda in the evening.
Legend has it that Khara (of the Khara Dhooshana demon duo) of Ramayana worshipped Shiva at Chidambaram and obtained from him three Shivalingams and journeyed holding one Shivalingam on each hand and one in his mouth. He sojourned at Vaikom, and set the Shivalingam on the ground and to his dismay realized that it had gotten rooted to the ground. Kharan therefore installed the other two shivalingams at Ettumanur and Kaduthuruthy. He entrusted the Shivalingam at Vaikom to the care of Vyagrapadar. Vaikom therefore acquired the name Vyagrapuri which ultimately became Vaikom for short.
The temple:
The elliptical sanctum here is covered with a copper plated roof crowned with a golden kalasam. The height of the wall of the sanctum is just about a third of that of the roof. The building dates back to the 11th century, and the wooden panels and the murals date back to the 15th and 18th centuries respectively. The mukhamandapam in front of the sanctum houses the nandi. The wall of the inner prakaram is lined with columns of lamps (vilakkumaatam) on a wooden framework. The Dwaja Sthambam rises to a height of 317 feet.
Sree Bali was about to commence. The murthy is carried by hand by a priest who circled the seeveli pura thrice along with other priests and the musicians group. There were a handful of devotees and I was again one amongst them.

Kaduthuruthy : Left Vaikom at 6.40 am & reached Kaduthuruty around 7.10 am - a distance of 19 kms. This is the place where Khara installed the Shivalingam which he had held between his teeth thus the name Kaduthuruthy. This is a relatively smaller temple. The outer prakaram contains the shrines of Vaikatthappan & Ettumanoorappan on either side. It also contains shrines of Nagas, Brahmarakshas, Bhagawathy, Yakshi, and Sastha.

Ettumanoor : My next stop is Ettumanoor which is 16 kms from Kaduthuruthy.The Ettumaanur Mahadevar temple is one of the most celebrated Shiva temples in Kerala. The legendary Khara installed the third Shivalingam at this place. It is believed that visiting these triad of temples in a single day is of great significance. Legend also has it that Khara installed an image of Krishna in the north western corner of this temple.
There are several other legends associated with this shrine. Legend has it that Shiva created a deer and set it to play in an island; when Parasurama reclaimed land from the sea, this island is said to have become part of what is Kerala now. The isle of the deer is referred to as Harinadweepa. The malayalam word for deer is Maan, and hence this place came to be known as Maanoor.
The temple: The west facing temple here has a circular sanctum covered with a conical copper plated roof crowned with a kalasam. The mukhamandapam in front of the temple bears two images of Nandi, one of stone and another of metal. Although there is no shrine to Parvati, the rear of the sanctum is revered as Parvati's shrine.
A rectangular circumambulatory passage surrounds the sanctum. The sanctum bears wood carvings of superior workmanship portraying legends from the Ramayana and the Bhagavata puranam.
Also of great workmanship are the murals on the western entrance to the temple; mention must be made of the painting of the dance of Shiva.
There are also shrines to Saasta, Ganapati and Dakshinamurthy in the temple. At the entrance to the temple is a large metal lamp; visitors make offerings of oil and the soot that collects from the burning of the oil is believed to have medicinal value.
The temple tank semi circular and there are separate entrances for men & women at the bething ghat. The water is clean and crystal clear.
I reached Kottayam had a nei roast & coffee at Suryas & left for the lawyers office where I had an appointment. Amazingly I reached his office at 9.00 am sharp and as I was getting down from the car the lawyer also reached. I mentioned to him about my trip to the three temples and the blessings I was carrying from Mahadeva for success in the arbitration case. He suggested that I should also visit Kumaranallur Kshetram which is managed by a group of Namboodiris who were his clients. Before I knew it he had picked up the phone and fixed up a visit for me. As the temple nadai closed at 11 am I had to proceed there directly from the lawyers office.

Tripunithura

Reached Purnatriyesa temple just before 8.00 pm. It was 15 minutes away from Chottanikkara. At the entry point to the main Gopuram stood a large peepul tree. It was dark inside the puratthe balivattom as all the oil lamps on the vilakkumadam had extinguished. There are several peepul trees inside the campus. I went around and reached the approach to the inner sanctum which was brightly lit by oil lamps as well as fluorescent lights. The approach corridor stood on six thick magnificent pillars with a hanging lamp (suspended from the ceiling) besides each pillar.
I was a little late and entry into the Antara Hara (inner sanctum) was already closed and Sree Bali (seeveli) was about to commence. This is a Vishnu temple in the Avatar of Shri Krishna. Only a few dozen people were present. A musical group was playing a variety of instruments. The instruments traditionally used in Kerala Temples includes nadaswaram, kombu, chendai, kuzhal, elathavalam (cymbals), chengalam, maddalam, sanku etc. A large male elephant (a tusker) was brought near the Dwaja Sthambam. The musical group emerged from inside and the Chief priest followed carrying the utsava murthy draped in a red silk cloth. The elephant was made to kneel down on its front legs (by the mahout) to allow the priest to mount with the deity. Then the Sree Bali commenced. A group of priests holding oil lamps, oil torches, balls of rice & holy water went ahead preceded by the musicians and followed by the chief priest atop elephant and the mahout besides the elephant. The small crowd of devotees followed behind chanting "Hare Rama Hare Rama-Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna -Krishna Krishna Hare Hare". I was one amongst this crowd. After completing 3 rounds of the seeveli pura the priest dismounted and took the murthy back into the sanctum. The temple was closed for the night. The mahout led the elephant outside to a shed to give the tusker his feed and rest for the night.

Chottanikkara

I left Chennai for Ernakulam on 12th night by Allepey express. The train entered Kerala early morning at Olavvakot Junction (Palakkad) and then followed the familiar route I had taken so many times as a child while travelling to home town on railway concession ticket - Ottapalam, Shoranur, Trichur (earlier name Trishivaperur. Kittan athan used to live here) ,Irinjalakuda ( Harikuttan my fathers cousin Kuttapan's son worked here as an English lecturer and later as Professor), Chalakudy ( Chalakudy athai lived here), Karukutty, Angamali (you get down here to go to Kalady the birth place of Hindu saint Adi Sankara), Aluva (we used to alight here to go to Perumbavoor where my grandparents lived), Edapally, Ernakulam Town & Ernakulam junction. Earlier this train was going only upto Cochin but the route has since been extended to Alleppey. Between Trichur & Irinjalakuda you see several tile factories with tall brick chimneys -they are famous for their red colour designer tiles which are cheap but elegant and extensively used for house construction in South India.
I checked into Bharat hotel my usual jaunt and got my regular sea facing room. I could shoot some delectable pictures of the harbour which are shown here. After finishing my official meetings I decided to visit the well known temples of Chottanikara & Tripunithara. My first stop was Chottannikara around 45 minutes drive.
I reached after dusk and the Vilakkumadam was beautifully illuminated. As you go around the puratthe balivattom you see shrines of Sree Moola Sthanam (Pavazhamallithara), Nagas, Jesetha Bhagavathy,Shiva & Ganesha. The Devaswom office is also located inside the campus. Rooms are vailable to devotees on request. A female elephant,Geetha, was tethered near the auditorium chewing on a stack of palm leaves. The entrance corridor to the temple stands on tall pillars with a large brass bell suspended from the ceiling. A large balance also hangs from the ceiling and is used for Thula Bharam. Another brass bell is mounted on a special stand near the Dwaja Sthambam.
Then you enter the sanctum and there is a small queue around the front mandapam. A special puja is in progress and the mandapam is well decorated with flowers and thinly cut palm leaves. People chant Amme Narayana Devi Darayana. The Srikovil door has gold covering and the wall sides are covered in silver - a Sanku & a Chakram on either side.
Chottanikkara enshrines Bhagawati - the mother Goddess, one of the most popular deities in Kerala. Rajarajeswari is the presiding deity here. The image of Bhagawati (Rajarajeswari) is of laterite; untouched by the human sculptor, this image is of irregular shape and is covered with a golden kavacam. The image has four arms. The upper right holds the discus, the left a conch. This deity is worshipped in three different forms - as Saraswati in the morning - draped in white, as Bhadrakali at noon draped in crimson, and as Durga in the evening decked in blue.
Adjacent to this image in the sanctum is an image of Vishnu in granite. Vishnu and Bhagawati together are referred to as Lakshminarayana. The prayers here address the deity as Amme Narayana, Devi Narayana and Lakshmi Narayana. Interestingly, the image here is not fixed to the ground and is mounted on loose sand. Water offered during ablution ceremonies percolates underground. There is also a shrine to Sastha depicting him with his consorts Purna and Pushkala. In front of the shrine are the flagstaff and the bali pitham.
To the south is a platform known as Pavazhamallithara where the deity is believed to have appeared first. To the south west is a shrine to Shiva. To the north east there is a flight of steps leading to the Keezhkaavu, a shrine to Bhadrakali. Enroute you see a counter for Vedi Vazhivadu - I pay Rs.10/- for exploding two country made crackers. The sound is deafening. As you go down the flight of stairs you find the shrine of Sastha to your right and pray there. As you enter Kizhkaavu you go around a large deep tank protected by high brick walls all round. The tank appears in disuse.
In the Keezhkaavu shrine is a paala tree with hundreds of nails driven into its trunk, as a mark of devotees having been exorcised here. Worship here is believed to rid devotees of evil influences, psychological ailments, evil spirits etc. Oil offering is an important Vazhivaadu here.
Much of the structure in this temple is a result of renovation carried out by the government of Cochin, in late 19th century.
Legend has it that a ferocious dacoit by name Kannappan who dominated this area, brought home a cow with the intent of slaughtering it. The cow escaped his butchering knife, and set him running in hot pursuit. His chase in vain, Kannappan returned home to find his beloved daughter playing with the very same cow. Complying with her request, he forsake the idea of killing the cow. His daughter passed away, and this greatly grieved him. Goddess Bhagawati appeared in his dream, and revealed to him that it was she who had come to him in the form of a cow. To his surprise, he saw two images in the cowshed the following day; the images were those of Devi and Vishnu. Kannappan built a humble shrine and worshipped the images in the cowshed. Eventually this shrine fell under repair and was discovered later and sanctified. It then grew into a shrine of the magnitude seen today, over a period of time.
I leave around 7.30 pm before the Sreebali - I want to try and rush to the next temple at Tripunnithira before it closes.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Chennai Nonagenerians




I was in Chennai along with Guhan on 11 & 12 March'07. Here are some memorable photos taken during this trip. Three of the eldest members of the family live in Chennai and all three in their glorious nineties - ankichi periamma (age 92), my father (age 91) and Ambi mama (age 90).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kapad Beach

Left Guruvayoor for Trichur to meet the Branch personnel for a review and then embarked for Calicut via NH 17. Retraced most of the route towards Guruvayoor & continued onwards to Calicut(Kozhikode in vernacular). Crossed Echery, Kunnamangalam, Kadampuzha and Kotakkal before taking a turn into Ferooke and reached Calicut around 3.00 pm and stopped at an air conditioned restaurant for a nice vegetarian thali meal. Next I checked into Hotel Taj Calicut the only 5 star hotel in town,which offers rooms at very reasonable rates. The distance to Calicut is around 135 kms and the journey took approx. 3 hours.
Was informed about an impending all Kerala hartal planned for the next day- in Kerala hartals are a standard feature and at 3-4 hartals are held every month. Hartals are planned for the flimsiest of reasons. Buses, commercial vehicles & autos were expected to be off the road. The hartal turned out to be near total in Calicut and the roads were totally deserted. All commercial establishments and shops had downed their support.I did not risk going out and remained indoors till late after noon. Normalcy appeared to be returning and many vehicles started boldly plying on the roads. I decided it was safe enough to go out and drove off around 4.30 pm evening to Kapad Beach a distance of 19 Kms from Calicut. The drive was smooth as the traffic was still thin. After a river crossing,we turned left off the highway and travelled around 5 kms to reach the beach. This stretch comprised mainly of fishing hamlets and there was lush greenery all around( thickly dotted with coconut palms) so representative of Kerala ! Truly Gods Own Country !
Kapad beach is an important location in History - Vasco de Gama landed here in 1498 thinking he had discovered America. There is a small insignificant monument on the road side to record this historical landing. In fact a monument so shamefully insignificant with such scant and shabby maintenence that Mr.Gama must be turning perpetually in his grave. Kapad beach in itself is a beautiful beach. Many locals and some visitors were enjoying themselves there - some had climbed the rock structure that jutted out into the sea, a few were enjoying a dip in the sea and others wetting their feet against the waves lashing the shore. Some young lads were zooming up and down the beach road in their spanking new 100 cc bikes, others were proudly pillion riding their lady friends. There is a nice resort on the sea shore for those who want to get away for the week end. Fishing is the main source for livelihood in this predominantly Muslim hamlet. Large fishing trawlers and small motorised boats with bright coloured nylon nets are used for fishing.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Guruvayoor Temple

6 March'07 :
I reached Guruvayoor (around 25 kms from Trichur) around 8.00 pm. Enroute you pass the Westfort Hospital and three colossal car showrooms of Toyota, General Motors & Ford & then the Amala Medical College & Hospital. As you enter Guruvayoor you find the town brightly illuminated with strings & necklaces of colour bulbs. You see the Town Municipal Building and the Public Library & Reading Room also similarly lighted. The temple town is celebrating the 10 day Annual "Ulsavam" or festival which commenced on 28 February & will conclude on 9th March. The entire approach corridor to the temple is beautifully decorated with multi coloured paper on the ceiling.
I first went to Koustubam Guest House belonging to the devasthanam (temple) and checked into an A/c room.The room was simple and neat with attached bath but no towels or soap are provided.The tariff is unbelievably low at Rs.500/-. There are two other devasthanam guest houses- Panchajanyam & Srivalsam where you can seek accomodation. I had already mentioned in my blog written in Jan'07 that Krishna Residency is recommended for those who look for multi star comfort. Other good hotels are Vysakh, Supreme & Elite where room tariffs range from Rs.800-1500.
I quickly have a wash, change to my white veshti, remove my shirt & vest, apply chandanam & vibhuti to my forehead and proceed through the long corridor towards the temple. The crowd is relatively thin and there were no long queues as you normally find inspite of the local ulsavam celebrations. On the left I see the auditorium(covered at the top ,open on the sides) where a dance performance was in progress and a small crowd witnessing the same. There are no chairs and people squat on the auditoium floor . Then I enter the temple through an electronic scanner. Cameras, mobile phones etc are not permitted into the temple.
I enter comfortably and can straightaway see Guruvayoorappan gloriously seated in his brightly lit shrine and pay obeisance from near the dwaja sthambam- a tall impressive brass structure. Entry to the inner sanctum (antara haara) is closed as it was time for Seeveli. After praying I go around the temple passing the Thula Bharam counter,Koothambalam, Ayyappan Sannithi, cooking area, money counting room, Anna Prasanam booking counter,the Seevelipura, the prasadam counters, then the Bhagavati Sannithi from where you pray to Mammiyoorappan (no visit to Guruvayoor is considered complete unless you visit Mammiyoor temple) and finally back to the entrance. A new and more spacious enclosure has been built for Thulabharam which is yet to be inaugurated. Meanwhile the crowd density had increased as time for Seeveli was drawing near. It was delightful to see so many ladies elegantly and traditionally dressed in "mundu nerithu" & girls in "pavadai chattai" and their well oiled flowing hair tied simply with a rubber band or coloured ribbon
Cooking was in progress for the next days lunch offering for devotees. Cooking of massive quantites of Nellu was in progress in several large "charakkus" (large circular brass vessels traditionally used in Kerala temples) placed on a simple fire place heated by wood. Other teams of volunteers were busy chopping huge quantities of chakkai and elavan/matthan. The speed and expertise with which this was being done was amazing. When I enquired I was told the menu for next day was "kanji & puzhukku".
There is only a solitary elephant that day for the seeveli (also known as sree bali). The utsava murthy is taken around the temple 3 times atop the elephant, a tusker. Preceding the elephant is the priest sprinkling holy water followed by two assitants one carring a vilakku and another carrying balls of cooked rice which is dropped at the bali peethams. After sreeveli the temple is closed for the night. As I exited from the rear entrance I saw the rest of the tuskers (five of them) suitably chained and quietly and patiently chewing on & enjoying a meal of palm leaves stacked in front of them.
I was back again next morning to have a darshan at 4.30 am. This time the passage to the agathe balivattom is open and chanting "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare" you pray to Guruvayoorappan. After this you go around the Vinayakar Sannithi and then visit the sculpture of Vishnu in Ananthasayanam pose. You collect prasadam from a counter by offerring money. The outer walls of the temple carry beautiful murals reasonably well preserved. The crowd is considerably thinner and the priests do not rush you and I get a peaceful darshan. There were a few devotees doing anga pradarshanam in the outer prakaram. Others were queueing up for Thulabharam where you weigh yourself in a balance against various items like vegetables,bananas,rice,sugar,oil,coins etc. and the same is then given as offerring to the lord. There were also some couples performing Annaprasanam for their children. The solitary tusker was lying down on its side in the seevelipura and was being given a thorough scrubbing by its keeper and hosed down with water probably in preparation for some morning ceremoney which was to follow.

Trichur Vadakumnathar

Left Coimbatore for Trichur by road on 6th afternoon. Reached Trichur around 6.00 pm & straightaway drove to the Vadakumnatha Kshetram centrally located in a large circular maidan atop a small hillock. There is a nice wide driveway, as you enter from the circular road, lined by coconut palms on either side.This is considered amongst the most ancient temples in Kerala. Dress code for men is strict - white dhoti, no footwear & no upper garment. The Moola Sthanam is located outside and there is a nice big peepul tree there- the idol was originally installed here. At the entrance is a tall Deepa Sthambaham with a metallic ladder adjacent to it to enable volunteers to climb up to pour oil & light the deepams. Entry is through the Main gopuram(currently all four gopurams are under renovation) on the West and you find yourself transported into a different world altogether -first you see the large Koothambalam(constructed by the famous carpenter,sculptor & builder Perumthacchan) on the left. You walk past the Vilakku Madam enter an intermediate passage where Nandikeswara (white bull) is installed and through the "chuttamabalam" into the inner sanctum or "agatte balivattom". You visit the circular shrine or Srikovil of Vadakkumnatha Swamy (Siva lingam) beautifully decorated with gold coverings. The idol of consort Parvathy is installed on the rear of the same shrine as Siva & Parvathy are inseparable. Next as per tradition, you visit and pray at the shrines of Ganesha, Sankarnarayana & Rama (the latter two are rectangular shrines) which are all located inside the chuttambalam. The Sree Koil walls are covered with murals or paintings which have considerably faded with the passage of time and require restoration.
Then you come out into the bahya haara (outer sanctum), and walk around the temple and pray at the Sree Koils of Goshala Krishna, Nandikeswara, Parasurama, Simhodara, Vyasa Sila, Vettaikaran,Ayyappan, Samadhi of Adi Sankara with Sanku & Chakram and finally the shrine of Adi Sankara which is covered with paintings on the outer walls depicting the story of his birth and life.
To the north of Simhodara there is a manch from where you face North & worship Kashi Viswanathar. There is another manch located at the South East from where you worship Chidambaranathar towards South East & Kodangallur Bhagawathy towards South. Then you proceed towards Southern Gopuram look towards South West & pray to Koodal Manickam. Next you go to the Manch on South West and pray to Orakathamma towards SW & towards the gopurams of Vadakumnathar, Rama & Sankarnarayana.
As per legend Parasurama, after getting rid of all Kshatriyas on earth,went to Mahendragiri to do penance. On the request of several sages he threw his axe towards the sea. The sea became land as far as the axe fell spanning an area from Gokarna to Kanya Kumari. This area is called Parasurama Kshetram. Then he went to Himalayas did penance again and requested Siva to come to Parasurama Kshetram & stay there. Siva agreed & sent Nandikeswara & Simhodara to select a suitable place for him in Parasurama Kshetram. Thiru Siva Puram was the place they selected which later became Thiru Siva Perur (changed to Trichur during British Rule) . Siva followed Parasurama along with Parvathy and others and when they reached the selected spot Siva disappeared and Parasurama found a linga below a peepul tree and this spot is called the Sree Moola Sthanam. The idol was relocated to its present Srikoil by the ruler of Cochin. This temple is considered to be the oldest in Kerala according to historians more than 4000 years old. Daily abhisekams are customarily done with tender coconut water and ghee. As per legend during the construction of the temple a piece of wood fell on the lingam and blood started gushing out. The devotees were stunned. A devotee by the name Pakkanar sugessted that if Ghee & Tender coconut abhishekam is done the bleeding would stop. When abhishekam was thus done amazingly the bleeding stopped. Thus this abhishekam became a custom.
There are 4 entrances in all but only the entrances at the West & East allow entry of devotees. Unlike Tamilnadu temples the gopurams are smaller with restrained architecture/sculpture so that the grandeur of the temple gopurams are not over shadowed. The temple campus (bahya haara) is rectangular and expansive and houses a large variety of trees, plants & shrubs (of these a majority are Banyan & Peepul trees) overall providing a calm, serene & ethereal atmosphere. This is a place where you can spend many hours in meditation and emerge with great energy of mind and body.