Sunday, April 19, 2009

Temples of Kerala

Temples of Kerala
The so called God’s own country at present is the ribbon like green stretch of land which stretches from Trivandrum to the small town of Kasargode. Legend says that Parasurama gave as gift all the land he conquered from kings , as per the instruction of Lord Rama. Then he found that he did not have any place to live. So he came to place called Gokarna on Western Ghats and threw his axe in to the sea. The land recovered by him from the sea is Kerala. The straight translation of the name is “Garden of coconuts” but some people believe that the name came from Cherala (the garden of Cheras-the first kings of Kerala).
People believe that when Parasurama started living there he could not find any Brahmins among them. So he brought Namboodiris (who are the real Kerala Brahmins), and also consecrated 108 Shiva temples, 108 Bhagawathi temples and 18 Ayyappa temples. The list of such temples as founded by Parasurama is available in few songs.
The first known rulers of Kerala were Cheras and the first known language was Tamil. The first inscriptions were written in archaic scripts called Kolezhuthu and Vettezhthu. One of the greatest among the Chera kings was Cheran Chenguttuvan. His brother Elango wrote a great Tamil book called Silappadikaram. Kannagi was the heroine of the book (She has many temples in Kerala). After the Cheras, Kerala split in to several small principalities constantly at war with each other, for more and more land.
Of course this is a very brief introduction about Kerala. The first temples of Kerala were called Kavu (places of security/protection). Most of them were temples under some forest tree with no buildings and no roof. Similar temples exist all throughout Tamil Nadu. There are a very high percentage of cases; the gods consecrated were Guardian deity of the village (In some cases a hero who defended the village) or Mariamma (the goddess of Pox) and Lord Ganesa. But some how in Kerala most of these Kavus housed the temple of Goddess Parvathi or Kali .Slowly these Kavus became small temples. Side by side large number of Temples mushroomed up for Lord Shiva, and Lord Vishnu and his Avatharas. Unlike Tamil Nadu, though it was a mountainous country, temples devoted to Lord Subrahmanya were extremely few. There are large number of temples for Lord Ayyappa who was a prince of a small princely state called Pandalam and he was considered as an incarnation of Dharma Sastha (The son of Lord Shiva and Vishnu) whose temples were popular in the Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
Unlike temples in Tamil Nadu, most of the temples were not granite structures nor were they gigantic .In fact brick and cut laterite stones were used in building these temples. They were very small. The sanctum sanctorum called the “Sree Kovil” was either square or round. Mostly the roofs were of copper sheets or unbaked clay tiles. They were of the shape of pyramid in case of square temples and cone in case of round temples. Some temples have Kalasam at the end of the roof. A very high majority of temples did not have entrance gopurams or Vimanams over the deity like Tamil Nadu. Such temples are also found in the coastal Karnataka districts. Our building experts are of the opinion that these structures closely resemble the Himalayan temples. The Sree kovil was surrounded by a Prakaram (an enclosed space, sometimes with a small corridor). Just outside the Sree Kovil was the Namaskara Mandapam, which was used by the learned Brahmin males for reciting slokas and Vedas. In most of the cases, there was only one outlet from this enclosed space. On the south western corner normally a kitchen was housed, some temples have sub temples in this first Prakaram itself. Inside the prakaram there are several Bali peedams which represent deities like the Nava Grahas. Out side this Prakaram, there normally is a Dwaja Sthambham (flag pole) and a big Bali peetam (stone for sacrifice), and big temples will have several small sub temples out side the Prakaram. Some temples have a Koothambalam, where religious dramas used to be enacted .The outside walls of the Prakaram are normally fitted with several lamps called Vilakku Madam. The structure with the prakaram and the Sree kovil is called Nalambalam in Kerala. Very few temples have any sculptures. Some temples do have murals and small sculptures carved in wood.
The temple idol is normally made either of stone or wood, though in a very few cases idols are made of Panch aloha also. Unlike Tamil Nadu temples, there is no Uthsava Vigrahams which are taken out of the temples during festivals. Instead of that a Thidambu is taken out. Chariots or floats etc are rarely seen in Kerala. In most of the Kerala temples only One God is there inside the sanctum. For example it is either a Krishna Temple, or Parvathi temple or a Shiva temple.
Abhishekams (anointment) are performed only to the stone or metal statue. In case of wooden statues, the preferred wood was jack tree wood. Abhishekam is not performed for such statues but the statue is coated with saffron mixed in oil, (Chandattam). This ensures a very long life for the wooden statues. The preferred form of worship in Kerala temples is based on Thanthra. The priests who do worship are either Namboodiris (Kerala Brahmins) OR Embranthiris (Kannada Brahmins belonging to coastal Karnataka. They are also called Pothis). Since the worship is centered round Thanthra, and is very much different from the Agama of Tamil Nadu. A thanthri if he comes out of the sanctum has to take bath if he is to re enter it. Tamil iyers are not recruited as priests in Kerala temples. Ofcourse Tamil Iyers have built their own temples in Agraharams where they worship and live. In such temples Tamil iyers are priests. Uthralikkavu near Wadakkancheri is the only Kerala temple where Tamil Iyer is a Thanthri.
Most of the temple were owned by kings or noble families. With the coming of democracy, most of them are under the management of autonomous organizations called Devaswams which are part of the government. Most of these temples had huge landed property but with the enactment of Land Reforms act, most of them became very poor. It is strange but true that only a very, very small percentage of temples are dilapidated or neglected. This is because every temple is visited by the local populance in the morning after bath. The local people consider it their temple and wherever they are, they make it a point to attend the festivals of the temple and contribute to its upkeep. This fact is little strange because the major politicians of Kerala are a party which professedly does not believe in God.
Unlike other states of India, while the worship in the sanctum is done by Namboodiris and Embrandiris, the management is done by a rich land lord assisted by few Hindu castes called Ambalavasis. (People who live in the temples). They are normally strict vegetarians and have different roles to play in the upkeep of a temple. For example, the poduval is in charge of management, The Warrier in charge of looking after the garden of the temple and providing garlands for worship in the temple, the kurukkal in charge of supply of milk to the temple, the Marar is in charge of playing instruments in the temple, the Poduval and Nambeesan in charge of singing in front of the deity and Chakyar in charge of propagating the ancient stories about the temple. Castes with such delineation of responsibilities in temple affairs are not found outside Kerala.
Apart from Agama differences based on the thanthra several aspects of the temple activities are very much different in Kerala. In most of the temples Sribali (Seeveli) is the customary taking out of the Lord round the temple. In poor temples this is done on the head of the priest but in rich temples, this is done on the top of the elephant. Chariots are almost not present in Kerala temples except in those managed by Tamil Brahmins. However the God is taken out of the temple on the top of the elephant to the nearest river. There the deity has the ritual bath (called Arattu in Malayalam). Apart from this, most of the temples have festivals called Poorams and Vela. Both these are festivals held in honour of the deity by the local people. The population is normally divided on the basis of the locality they live and each locality takes a pooram or Vela to the temple. There is virtual competition of each locality to excel other localities. Most of them have seeveli on the top of elephants accompanied by an instrumental group called Pancha Vadhyam. It is not to be noted that the long pipe like Nadaswaram of Tamil Nadu or the Shenai of the other parts are absent from Kerala. In many temples tin the night there is a huge festival of bursting the crackers is one of the rituals done to please the God. In most of the temples of the Goddess, An oracle called Velichappadu exist. During festivals they get occupied by the Goddess and tell prophecy to people.
Another strange practice in Kerala temples is that all males are allowed entry in to the temple only if they do not wear a shirt or a vest .Most of them enter bare chested but those who want are allowed to cover the upper part of the body by a towel. Women have to wear sari, Mundu or Pavadai (petticoat). They are not allowed in side the temple with Chudidhar or jeans. Most of the temples do not allow non Hindus and photography of the idol in the sanctum is strictly prohibited.
Apart from the regular Hindu Gods there are very strange temples in Kerala. For example, there is temple for Snakes, Para Brahmam , the individual brothers of Lord Rama. There is a temple near Kottayam where the Goddess is considered to have periods. In Kodungallor , people believe that the Goddess would only be pleased by singing of very vulgar sexually explicit songs during the Kodungallore Bharani (a major festival).
Yet another interesting aspect of Kerala temple is the Ashta Mangalya Prasnam. This is done whenever the people want to find out the opinion of the God. For example suppose the temple wants to find out whether a new idol can be consecrated or have one more elephant than the usual or want to find out why there was a calamity in the temple, they call a group of very capable astrologers and Ashta Mangalya Prasnam is carried out. Both the people as well as the Devaswoms strictly follow the recommendation of the astrologers.
The temples of Kerala are different and I might have missed many important points. You may find the write up about nearly 64 temples in Kerala by me and my friends in my web site
as well as in under temples

I once again request all of you to contribute a write up about the temple of your village so that others outside Kerala would know about this diversity of spiritual approach of Hindus of Kerala.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Murder seems to be different in different places

Murder seems to be different in different places

Ramesh Chander*

Gregory Fernandes, a Goan, was killed in Britain. He died after he was brutally attacked by a group of about 20 teenagers on October 20, 2007, while their ship was anchored at a British port. While Fernandes died, his shipmate Vinod Pitchilnaviram suffered a broken shoulder. The attack has been termed a racist attack by misguided British youth. Gregory was all of 32 years old. But have you heard of Gregory Fernandes and Vinod Pitchilnaviram? Maybe so…..Maybe not.. Maybe you may not know Gregory by name, and just might have read a passing headline in the Page 6 of an Indian newspaper about a racial attack on an Indian, and the recent criminal proceedings against his perpetrators. Do you know how Gregory looked like? Do you know his parents sufferings? Probably not.

Scarlett Keelling, a British teenager was murdered in Goa in Feb 2008. Have you heard about her? Have you seen her photos? Do you know about her lifestyle, life-history and her mother? The answer to these questions is probably a resounding “Yes!!” and you might even be ready to tell me a Scarlett trivia “But do you know that Scarlett……….”

While the Scarlett Keeling murder created a tsunami in Indian and World press, Gregory Fernandes killing hardly created a ripple. The entire World media went on an overdrive detailing every minor issue, every silly rumor about the Scarlett case. Indian media did not lag far behind, providing wall-to-wall coverage and Indian television channels followed their British counter-parts, providing around-the-clock coverage on Scarleet Keeling case. “Is Goa safe for tourists” screamed the headlines around the world and in India. Did any media in India or abroad raise the question “Is Britan safe for Goans/Indians?” after the Gregory killing. In-fact Floriano Fernandes, father of Gregory said “Even I’ve been in England but it wasn’t like this before. I felt very safe, but now it seems to be a very unsafe place, especially for Indians. How can somebody kill in such a manner?” But probably you wouldn’t have seen this statement by Greogry’s father, because it was hardly played or quoted in the Indian media. But every statement and every movement of Scarlett’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, made for a new headline, a new “Breaking News Story”.

Why the enormous difference in press coverage? It is not a case of “dog biting a man is not news, while man biting a dog is news”. Both a Briton getting killed in Goa and a Goan getting killed in Britain are equally rear/ equally frequent. I don’t buy the P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing) argument either. Most of us don’t even know how Gregory looked like… and I am sure for his family members, Gregory must have been equally beautiful. Perhaps the mystery surrounding Scarlett’s death and her colorful lifestyle might explain some of the differences. But the enormity of the differences can only be explained by the fact that the Indian and Western media thinks it is a far greater tragedy, when there is a death of a Westerner. This case reiterates the point I had made in my earlier article regarding the “value of life”…a Western life is valued more by the global and Indian media, then the life of an Indian.

The British media coverage of Scarlett is understandable, because they value the lives of each and every one of their citizens and a loss of any life of their citizens fills them with sorrow. Whereas Indian media’s coverage of the Scarlett issue and not covering an equally brutal killings of Indians is pathetic. I hope Indian media would emulate their Western counter-parts, not by copying each and every headline from abroad, but by cherishing the lives of Indian citizens. Maybe it is time for us to write to our newspapers and TV channels and tell them to stop showcasing each and every crime and alleged crime made by Indians against Westerners. Or if they want to publish these articles, they should also publish about the crimes and alleged crimes committed by Westerners against Indians.

The crime against Scarlett in Goa was heinous. But so was the crime against Gregory was equally nefarious. An Indian life is no inferior or superior than a Western one.

* Though I have seen this happening over the last seventy years , it is worth high lighting this incident, Raja

Anil Kapoor-the unnecessary circus

Anill Kapoor- the unnecessary circus!

Ramesh Chander*

When Slumdog Millionaire won the Golden Globe awards, the MEP (Most Excited Person) in the room was also the MUP (Most Useless Person) in the movie – Mr. Anil Kapoor. He was jumping around when the movie won the award for “Best ScreenPlay”, had the biggest smile when the movie won “Best Director” and was among the first to run to the stage when the movie won the “Best Motion Picture”. The behavior was repeated in the Oscars. Someone seeing only the award ceremonies, would have assumed that Anil Kapoor had co-directed the movie or at least was the main hero of the movie.

Was Mr Anil Kapoor’s mirth due to his “role” or “excellent acting” in the movie “Slumdog Millonaire”? I thought the slum kids were the real star actors of the movie. They acted their hearts out, were very natural and deserved every praise they got and more. (In my humble opinion they perhaps should have won an Oscar too. ) Mr. Anil Kapoor’s role in the movie was pretty much comparable to Amrish Puri’s role in “Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom” A villainous role that required no special acting skills and mainly involved mumbling “one-liners”. A role that would have been handled by a “guest actor” if this was a Yash Chopra movie.

Was the happiness due to his behind-the-scenes contributions? Did he direct the movie? Did he produce it? Was he write the story? Did he score the music? Did he edit the movie? Was he involved in casting of any other actors? Did he scout the locations? The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO!! His role….. just a small supporting actor. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Was the smile due to some thing that he did that bettered the country? Did he better the plight of the poor in India? No. Did he persuade the director to invest a significant amount of the 300 million dollar the movie earned for betterment of Indian slums. No. Did the movie bring about any revolution in India or move the youth? No. In-fact the Wall Street Jounrnal, the premiere business newspaper in America had an article recently about how “Slumdog Millionaire” was adversely effecting the rapidly developing “Health tourism” in India. More Americans and Europeans, who could have come to India for their health needs, are staying put with Thailand because of the image of India created by this movie. This is inspite of health costs in India being half that of Thailand and Indian doctors better qualified and better skilled than their Thai counter-parts. The very slum dwellers who perhaps could have got small jobs in the “Helath tourism” industry and lifted themselves out of the slums are being effected. Thanks you “Slumdog Millionaire”. Thank you Mr Anil Kapoor.

Now Mr. Kapoor is smiling again, bragging about his role in American serial “24”. For people who are not aware of this serial, it is an American serial where an attack against America (usually by Islamic terrorists) is thwarted by America in 24 hours. This serial had evoked loud protests by the Islamic community for its stereotypical portrayal of brown-skin, “Arab-looking”, Islamic terrorists. In-fact Sendhil Ramamurhty (an Indian- American star in the serial “Heros”) refused a role in “24” because it promotes “brown-skin terrorists” stereotype. Is Anil Kapoor the first Indian to act in American serial? No… Parminder Nagra, Sendhil Ramamurhty and Naveen Andrews play significant starring role in currently running American serials. Is he even the first Indian actor in “24”. No. A bunch of Indian actors have appeared in mainly terrorists role in the serial “24”, most notably Kal Penn (a.ka. Kalpen Modi)

Mr. Anil Kapoor, please stop wagging your tails in front of Westerners, begging for every miniscule praise and every insignificant role. You had a great acting career in Bollywood. Acting in petty and stereotypical roles in Hollywood, will neither increase your reputation nor of the country you supposedly love.

When Slumdog Millionaire won, Anil Kapoor rushed to the stage as if it was his personal achievement. Now a small role in an American serial has the actor smiling and bragging all over again. Did he really do anything significant to justify this?
* This is a blog contributed by my son. I am one who does not see much pictures but I happened to see the awards ceremony.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The feet of Rain by Thanjavur Kavi Rayar

The feet of Rain
Thanjavur Kavi Rayar
(Kalki 5-4-2009 )

Translated in to English


When the rain comes , suddenly with a song,,
You close all the windows of your home speedily,
And you start searching for Umbrellas
Throughout the house, in nooks and corners,
You rush here and there, if you are outside,
For a place where rain’s drizzles will not reach.

Would you do this , if your loving,
Uncles, aunts and cousins come from far off?
Would you not drench yourselves,
In the rain of their love again and again?

Rain is the symbol of the pardon,
Of God for the sins of men

People need not apply rain water and mud,
And dance in the streets , when it rains,
But please understand that the rain drop is not a ghost,
But is the feet of rain.
Hold it on your head like all the plants and trees do ,
And do not forget to get the blessings,
Of the gorgeous and godly feet of rain.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I need the Pied Piper of Hamelin

I need the Pied Piper of Hamelin



I am in search of that Pied piper of Hamelin,
So that he can play his pipe in my country,
And take away to the far , flung oceans,
The politician rats who are bleeding all of us,
So that they become immensely rich,
The merchant rats who by hoarding,
All that we need and make us shed tears of misery,
The government servant rats who to become rich,
Ask and get bribes even for them to smile,
The parent rats who beget pretty kids,
But leave them with an ayah so that they fulfill their dreams,
The husband rats who drink and make merry,
With the hard earned money, only to beat their wives.
The in law rats and other husband rats,
Who drive innocent girls to death , because of avarice for money,
The way side Johnny rats , who think that they are in love,
With every pretty jane that pass through their eyes,
The villain bull rats , who think it as their right,
To rape every woman who is vulnerable,
And the terrorist rats who kill in the name of religion,
But I am not sure , once he puts them all in the sea,
Whether the ocean will become so full,
That all its waters come to the shore.?