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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kodunthirapalli Agraharam during Navaratri

During Navaratri Celebrations we visited Kodunthirapalli Agraharam in near Pallakad. The Agraharam is a small cluster of houses where primarily Brahmins reside.There was a Peria Gramam (big village) and a Chinna Gramam (small village) adjacent to each other.The ancestors of the Kodunthirapully Agraharam believed to be had migrated from a village Anbil situated nearby Srirangam in Trichy district and settled down here about in 750 years back. The Agraharam was beautifully festooned and reflected a festive and friendly atmosphere. We saw a caparisoned elephant and a pandi melam performance was in progress with traditional musical instruments.If you wish to listen to the Pandi Melam you can log onto: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandi_Melam. We also witnessed elephant feeding at the end of the performance.
We also visited the temples here and worshiped the deities.We had sumptuous traditional Kerala Sadya (feast) served on banana leaf which we had to eat squatting on the floor. It was a day well spent.
Caparisoned Elephant
Elephant Feeding
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Pandi Melam Performance
The Agraharam festooned with colored paper
A Kathakali Pose

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize for Yousufzai Malala - Pakistani Teenager

Did Nobel Awards Committee do the right thing by awarding Nobel Peace Prize to the teenager Yousufzai Malala. No doubt Malala is an incredibly brave Pakistani teenager,is pleasant looking,huge enthusiasm writ all over her baby face,prodigiously talented,intelligent & articulate who speaks her mind loudly and clearly for the cause of young girls in Pakistan and the world over. She has become an overnight sensation & celebrity and is invited by many forums to speak her mind and interviewed by many television channels. She is truly an inspiration to young girls world over. She has has been feted and wined and dined by Presidents and Prime Ministers of several countries.She certainly deserves accolades and many an award. But to be awarded a Nobel Prize ? Has she done enough to deserve this signal honour at this stage and this young age? She is till a young teenage school girl surprisingly mature for her age and has miles to go before she achieves anything substantial. I really cannot see Malala and Mother Theresa on the same pedestal at least not yet.
Looks like the decision to award her a Nobel Peace Prize is more of a diplomatic and political over reach by the Nobel Committee - more of a publicity stunt and a shoddy attempt to shore up their flagging popularity and importance.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai

Swami Saranam: A group of around 40 of us, mostly friends & relatives, largely drawn from Coimbatore, Bangalore,Mumbai,Chennai & Cochin decided to set off to Sabarimalai, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, between 18-20 September'2014.We congregated at Cochin on 18 th evening at the Brahmana Samooham Madom Sastha Temple. Male devotees proceeding to Sabarimalai are called Ayyappans and ladies are known as Maligapurams.While men of all ages are permitted, women in the age group of 10-50 are barred. Our group included 6 Kanni Maligapurams (women) above the age of 50 who were making their maiden trip.There were also a couple of young kids - a young boy (kochu manikandan) and a small girl (kochu maligapuram).All devotees wear either black or saffron color to distinguish them as Ayyappa devotees.
The proceedings began with an invocation to Lord Ayyappa, followed by deeparathanai and then the wearing of the holy malai or necklace made of beads or rudrakshams. The kettu narai was an elaborate ritual involving filling of ghee into coconuts and filling rice into the irumudi pai (bag).This was accompanied by singing of bhajans and chanting of Saranam Ayyappa. After Kettunarai we  had prasadam (wheat rava uppama and ghee payasam) and then boarded a luxury bus, placed our Irumudi bags and hand bags on the overhead rack and settled down for a 5 hour journey.We departed around 10.30 pm and reached Pamba early next morning at 3.45 am.After disembarking from the bus and carrying our  Irumudi bags on our heads we trudged down a steep curved slope crossed the small bridge across the Pamba river and arrived at the base camp.We entered one of the several thatched restaurants, left our belongings there for safe keeping and helped ourselves to steaming hot chai. The next hour and a half was spent on early morning ablutions (there are paid toilets where we shell out Rs.5 per person) including a refreshing dip in the Pamba .The flow was quiet and water was icy cool and and we felt invigorated and energized and ready to continue our journey on foot.
At exactly 5.30 am we began our steep climb up the Neelimalai. We worshipped at Pamba Ganapathy, Sri Rama, Hanuman and Shakti temples.We carried Irumudi bags on our heads and walked barefoot over unhewn granite steps and over steep kaccha undulating winding paths containing jagged stones and boulders.We chanted"Kallum Mullum Kalukku Metthai". The air is cool and pleasant and we were surrounded by low lying clouds. As we proceed the climb becomes more arduous and we start feeling ponderous.We cross Appachi Medu and Sabari Peedum which is the highest point of Neelimalai. Sometime during the climb the day breaks and the glorious golden morning rays of the sun start peeping out..The continuous chanting of Saranam Ayyappa and singing of Bhajans makes us forget our hardship,shake off our heaviness and we are able to negotiate the precipitous climb with consummate ease.After Sabari Peedum the climb eases out a bit and path becomes more comfortable. From this point there are two routes - The normal one via Cheri Ana Vattom & Vali Ana Vattom. Kanni Ayyappans normally take the second route via Sarankuthiyal and since our group had a few Kanni Ayyapans & Maligapurams we went via Sarankuthiyal.. This trek is slightly longer and takes us through  verdant lush greenery and dense forest. For the first time devotees, Sarankuthiyal is considered very sacred. They bring with them the wooden arrows and place them in a small sanctum built for this purpose.
A 20 minute walk from Sarankuthiyal takes us to Sabarimalai. We join the queue of devotees and chanting Saranam Ayyappa reach the lower reach of Sannidhanam. Here we break our first coconut and climb the 18-AM Padi or the sacred and holy 18 steps.Bare legged police persons wearing malas are deployed on the steps to help devotees climb the steep steps.Ropes are also provided on either side for the devotees to hang on and pull themselves up. And lo and behold we are at the Sannidhanam. We see a big throng of devotees jostling and pushing and chanting Saranam Ayyappa. We climb an over bridge which takes us around the sanctum sanctorum and we descend again to worship at Lord Ayyappas Sanctum.The chanting reaches a crescendo and climax. We now get darshan of Lord Ayyappa. There is a feeling of joy and ecstasy, peace and serenity,devotion, tranquillity,enlightenment and fulfilment.We are transported to a high spiritual level where we can think only of Lord Ayyappa. For a short while we transcend to Swargaloka.
We are allowed to glimpse the Lord for a short period before we are gently shooed away by security guards becuse of the surging crowds.Then we walk around the sanctum and see the beautiful guilded Vimanams of Lord Ayyappa and Lord Ganapathy.We circumambulate the sanctums collect prasadam and then laze around basking in the pleasant sunshine for a while before repairing to our reserved accommodation comprising a large room with several dozen "pullu pai's".The cooks who had travelled with us had reached an hour earlier to prepare breakfast,We were served steaming hot uppuma/coffee. We rested our wearied bodies a bit while preparations were afoot for the Ashthabhishekam. The ingredients were getting readied in various containers-ghee,milk,panneer,kumkumam, chandanam,honey,bhasmam, panchamritham. Then a small group proceeded for the Ashta Abhishekam. We could watch the proceedings from close quarters without being pushed or jostled around.The spectacle amazed,awed and inspired us.We went back to our room for some rest followed by a round of bhajans while smaller groups were busy sorting out large bundles of flowers and separating the kambu(stalk).This was a jolly entertaining session.We had a great lunch on banana leaves including paal payasam(milk kheer). We slept soundly for a couple of hours.Evening 6.30 we proceeded to the Maligapuram Sannithi to offer prayers as well as participate in a Bhagavati Seva which was attended by the Mel Shanthi there.At 8.00 pm we proceeded again to Lord Ayyappa sanctum for Pushpa Abhishekam each one of us carrying a basket of flowers. One again we are dumbstruck,entranced and spellbound. I cannot find sufficient words to describe our feelings.
Then it was back to the room to pack our belongings have quick round of tiffin and begin the downward trek back to Pampa. Enroute we break our second coconut and pray to Vavara Swamy a Muslim deity closely associated with Sabarimalai pilgrimage. If we found the climb up was arduous the climb down was even trickier. The rocks and steps were slimy and slippery due to heavy rain that had occurred earlier.We had to exercise extra caution to avoid stumbling down.We finally reached Pampa after a 2 1/2 hour walk and climbed wearily back into our bus around 12.00 mid-night. By 4.30 am we were back in Kochi Brahmana Sabha. The temple doors had just opened and we witnessed Deeparathanai and removed our holy malais.

As I write this blog I recall the quintessential features of this Sabarimalai trip - The precipitous climb up and down the Neelimalai hills, the ubiquitous chanting of "Saranam Ayyappa" that resonates and reverberates all around us and the sea of devotees all wearing black or saffron garbs and carrying Irumudi Pais and the amazing spellbinding darshan of Lord Ayyappa. God willing I shall make this trip again and again. Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa.
Kettu Narai in progress at Brahmana Samooham
Pouring of ghee into the coconut
Ingredients that go into the Irumudi Bag
Singing of Bhajans by devotees
Keetu Narai completed - all Irumudi Bags are numbered for identification. The sealed can contains milk for the Astabhishekam 
Devotees happily consuming prasadam before the departure for Pampa
The trek through Sarankuthiyal route - lush greenery all around
A devotee placing wooden arrow at Sarankuthiyal
Some devotees posing at Sarankuthiyal carrying Irumudi bags on their heads
The Holy Steps or 18 am Padi through which all devotees climb towards Sannithanam
The gilded Dwaja Sthambam or Flag Staff at the entrance to the sanctum of Lord Ayyappa
A view of 18 am padi flanked by sanctums of Karuppanna Swamy and Kochu Kaduthu Swamy 
Ingredients kept ready for Ashtabhishekam
Flowers and Thulasi leaves being sorted out by devotees
The Maligapuram sanctum
These `Velans' drum and chant 'Kesadipadam' to alleviate`Sani Dosham' (evil Influence of Planet Saturn)
Bhagavathi Seva - pardon the poor image quality.Flash was not permitted during the puja.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Maa Durga and her retinue

The pics above and below were clicked last evening at Coimbatore on Vijaya Dashmi Day where a troupe representing Durga Maa and her retinue of hunters,drummers & dancers were seen gallivanting on T.V.Swamy Road (opp.Nilgiris Supermarket) dancing with gay abandon and readily posing for pictures. Maa Durga is another form of Sakthi the consort of Lord Siva who has taken this demonic form to destroy all evil forces on earth. Durga Puja or Kali Puja is celebrated in a big way across India during the Navaratri Festival.
Maa Durga
Maa Durga
Dancers
Drummers
Hunters in colorful attire