Monday, December 14, 2009

A Trip To Kanyakumari

The peninsular tip is called in Tamil the 'Kumari Munai', for those from outside the Cape. This is a place that sees Indians from every state, many of them have their own eating places. On the road from Nagercoil there were far too many posters. The Deputy Chief Minister and son of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi M K Stalin was making a visit to the district. And the grace of the ancient Tamil culture shows up, what to others can be a phony show. Not in Tamilandu, some time back visiting Madurai where an imminent visit of J Jayalalitha, matinee idol turned former Chief Minister, was scheduled the road sides were all filled with the letters ‘Amma’, mother, what the people in Tamilandu call her with affection.

Superlatives can be sky high when people are honored, MGR, the other matinee hero of Tamil politics was called ‘Makkal Thilagam’ and Jayalalitha is ‘Idaya Daivam’, goddess of the heart. Karunanidhi is ‘Kalaignar’. The newspapers come out with far too many supplements and the roads are full of hoardings. To be a politician in Tamilnadu is a matter envied by other state politicians. Just across the borders in Kerala a politician needs police top take them around as they can be attacked. Leave alone honored. There is a reason in Tamilnadu with all its natural adversities the politicians mean business. Where else in India can one see free televisions for the poor, rice at two rupees a kilogram, free sarees, free bicycles for all school going girls, so on the welfare state runs.

The state administration is fully geared up for new innovations and the state government employees in Tamilnadu are perhaps the most committed in the country. That is said from experience, having been a Consultant to the state’s rural development department. You see staff members at Collectorates working late in to the night, on their own, if you ask they tell that there is work to be finished. No wonder most of the projects that are announced get implemented with meticulous care. In fact the funds allotted by the government of India get fully utilized, unlike most other states, and the beurocrats ask for more. Unspent money from others reach the people, instead of getting wasted. And in governance Karunanidhi is literally with Karuna. The best officers are posted in key areas and given complete freedom, the system works.

At Nagercoil, where the abode of the serpent god is, hence called Nager-coil, one can see a neem tree at the city centre, the place is called Veppumoodu. It has a history, there is a statue of K Kamaraj the erstwhile national politician from Tamilnadu, under the tree and this has come as a saving grace for the tree. Whenever the public works guys came to fell the tree for road widening the people opposed it. Huge crowds, mainly from among the majority Nadar community, came on the roads. Matters often got out of hand and the authorities gave up the plan, the tree stands in all majesty at the city centre. Not many trees had this security and they have fallen for wider roads. One can see the fortune tellers, whose parrot tells anyone’s future for a mere Rs. 5/, sits peacefully waiting for clients on the road sides. It is another common scene in Tamilnadu and it is indeed a people concerned about the future.

When Gods Go on Holiday

Come Navaratri it is revelry time for the Goddess. Across India this festival is celebrated and in places like Gujarat and Bengal the whole region reverberates with dance and music. For Gujarat the place comes alive with gaiety and in the unending sessions at night the girls in their best attire dance in ecstasy. In the South too these are days of celebration and in Kerala this is the time when young children are initiated to their first lessons of learning. People shut down all activities and worship their tools, books for the scholars, weapons for the warriors, for farmers their agricultural implements and tools.

And in the south there is a colorful procession that goes from Kanyakumari to Thiruvananthapuram and back. This is the Navaratri procession where Lord Muruka accompanied by Goddesses Saraswathi and Monnooti Nanka, from various places in Kanyakumari district, make a trip to Thiruvananhapuram in full regalia. Lord Muruka comes from Velimalai Kumaraswamy temple, Saraswathy from Padmanabhapuram Palace temple and Munnooti Nanka from Sucheendram temple, all taken to Thiruvananthapuram. That is by foot and they travel almost 80 Km. It was a grand festival of the extreme south when people celebrated across the road, recently less as new generations are more and more alienated, also different other religions have become more wide spread. These are customs that need to be honored, what keeps the cultural identity. Sacred reminders of India's legendary past, pre-colonial bounty..

Complete with elephants, police gun salutes and protocol officers the trip covers the long distance taking two days to reach either way. The local people call it a trip by the ‘Marumakan’ (nephew) to see the ‘Mamanar’ (uncle), that is Murukan going to see Lord Padmanabha at Thiruvananthapuram. The famous Padmanabha Swamy Temple premises see great rejoicing and music concerts are the major event. Once in the city the Lord and the two Goddesses stay at three different places, Goddess Saraswathy at the Kuthiramalika Palace, Lord Muruka at Chenthitta and Munnooti Nanka at the Aryasala Goddess Temples.

With a member of the Travancore royal family escorting with the ‘Udaval’, or ritual sword, kept high, accompanied by police, officers and a large number of people the procession halts at two places midway, at Kuzhithurai Siva temple and Neyyattinakara Sreekrishnaswamy temple. When the procession reaches Kaliakkavilai the border town between Kerala and Tamilnadu the Kerala officers and the Ministers receive the procession, seen off by the respective Tamilnadu counterparts. There is a ritual gun salute and a police band. For the South, particularly Tamilnadu and Kerala, these are Muruga territory, and these are the unseen rulers, coming.

On the sides of the National Highway people wait in their hundreds to welcome the Gods with lighted lamps, fruits and flowers. The flower bedecked carriers and palanquins carried by selected persons, are rained with flowers by various people, mainly the flower merchants. At Kuzhithurai one can see huge flower beds, ‘pookkalams’, arranged which are several metres long. It is a curious scene and people stand and watch this centuries old ritual of Kerala and Tamlandu. This procession, it is believed, started after the Travancore kingdom shifted capital to Thiruvananthapuram few centuries back, from Kalkkulam, in Kanyakumari, later Padmanabhapuram. But till the linguistic reorganization of states Kanyakumari was in Kerala, the Tamil speakers, though Malayalam is not much different, opting to join Tamilnadu at the time. How it became an inter state festival.

The Saraswathy idol, kept at the Padmanabhapuram palace, erstwhile capital of Travancore, is believed to be the one worshipped by legendary Kambar, who wrote Kamba Ramayanam. This is the worship of ‘Vidya’, knowledge, and the Hindu pantheon gives great importance to Jnanamarga in life. The Navaratri procession continues unabated through centuries and it is an occasion when the Gods come to the people, normally it is the other way round. Many of these ancient rituals of extreme south date back to the era of Chera kings, one from the main kingdoms called Mooventhar, Chera, Chola and Pandya that ruled the Southern peninsula. Travancore royal family is believed to be of Chera descend, many present day leading Hindu communities in the south consider themselves descended from the three. Myths and beliefs are beyond logic and these festivals keep the unending chain of culture through generations.   

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009