A Glimpse of the Past- Dakshinachitra

Faint notes of ‘Saamajavaragamana’ struck me, when I stood at the reception of Dakshinachitra to buy an entry pass. This krithi in Hindolam is by Saint Sri Thyagaraja, who lived in the 18th century A.D. The fragrance of agarbaththis wafted through the air, bringing with it the scent of Arali (Nerium) flowers. All these eased me up for a laid-back walk inside Dakshinachitra.

Dakshinachitra is nothing like a conventional museum. The absence of glass-covered artefacts and long corridors can confuse anybody. Reconstructed traditional houses from the four south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh find their places here. Dakshinachitra is a walk through the memory lanes of our ancestors and the lives they lived.

Checking my pass in, I crossed over a small archway, to see the vast expanse of land. Huge canopies lined up along stony pathways. A tiny market made its presence felt, thanks to the bling that were up for sale.

All the old houses that are replicated in Dakshinachitra are bought from the contractors who are assigned to demolish them by their owners.  More often than not, the owners want a modern house in the places of these old houses and hence sell them off.

We do extensive research on the background of the house and its people and try our best to recreate it here,” says Sharath Nambiar, Deputy Director of Dakshinachitra.

My favourite was the Chuttillu House, which sadly is placed at the fag end of the trail. Found in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, the structure in Dakshinachitra was specifically from Yelamanchilli, Vishakapatnam district. These houses are made of mud and circular. They have thatched roof that extends until the ground, in order to drain off the water, from the incessant rains that the storms bring. These roofs are built at an angle of at least 45 degrees to drain the rainwater away. The round shape of the building is to combat the raging winds, which are usual in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh.

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The Chettiar house from Tamil Nadu was another memorable piece.

The term ‘Chettinad’ denotes the region Pudukottai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Trade was their main occupation and it reflected in their lavish lifestyle. Polished wooden interiors, which kept the temperature inside the house in check and a collection of expensive articles that were given as gifts during their weddings vouched for the prosperity of the Chettiars.

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A typical Chettiar house has a long thinnai , which is the porch at the entrance of the house and an inner open-roof courtyard in the middle of the house. The thinnai is for the men and outsiders to meet and talk while the courtyard is for events that are more intimate. It is the sacred space and is designated only for family members.

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The Syrian Christian house is characterised by the woodwork, mostly with timber and jackfruit wood, the well in the kitchen and long verandahs. The polished, dark brown wooden walls were attractive and gave a rich texture.

IMG_20171026_114309These houses had huge granaries too, which were built immediately at the entrance. The Syrian Christians used to pray in front of their granaries and hence their houses were built to store huge quantities of food grains. Their settlements were concentrated in the districts of Kottayam, Kollam and Aluva, mainly in the valley of the river Pamba.

Karnataka is a state, whose history is rich. From the mountainous regions of Coorg and Talacauveri to the heritage of Hampi, it has it all. The exhibit of the Chikmagalur house told the story of its original inhabitant, a Muslim trader named M.A.Ismail. The house’s special feature was the patterns in the doorways and windows made of fine limestone. Houses in Chikmagalur are built with varying grades of limestone, found in abundance in Karnataka. The most coarse grade would go to building the base of the building while the finest will be made as floral patterns over doorways.

Chikmagalur was populated by Muslim traders, credited for bringing the art of perfume oil extraction from Arabia.

On my way out, I stop by Nambiar’s office to ask about the loud voices that sang the basic notes of Carnatic music all along.

“We work with a lot of folk performers and expose them to various other styles of dance and theatre,” he says.

Dakshinachitra is also planning to hold thematic exhibitions and environment awareness programs to school students who visit the place. I take a quick walk inside the craft shop and being broke, started on my way back home, with loads of memories and pages of heavy notes.

*Dakshinachitra is located on the East Coast Road (ECR), very close to MGM and is well connected by bus.

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When Statues tell Stories

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a walk along the statues in the Marina, as a part of an event. It was conducted by the Storytelling Institute on account of Madras Day. This is the advantage if you are a media student. You get to know a lot of events and somehow gather the energy to be present and see what happens there.

So the walk was planned along six statues, starting with the Kannagi statue and going up to the Avvaiyar statue. Here I shall try to document the background of each statue, with a mix of narrative from the walk and also a little from me.

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Kannagi Statue

Kannagi’s is a fascinating story. In those days, Tamil Nadu was ruled by different kingdoms and each kingdom had its own symbols of identification.

This piece of trivia was told to me by one of the Tamil teachers who taught me- Chola kingdom had anklets that had Rubies in them, while the Pandiyas down South had anklets with pearls in them. This was also an aspect of identity for the people back then it seems.

It was the time when Kovalan, Kannagi’s husband had come back to her. He was in an illicit affair with Madhavi earlier and he had realised his mistake. Once back with Kannagi, they sought to begin a new life and devoid of money, Kannagi gave him one of her anklets and told him to sell it. Kovalan set out with the jewel and was arrested by the soldiers of the Pandiya king, in Madurai. Their Queen’s anklet was missing and since Kannagi’s anklet looked very similar to the missing anklet, they arrested him and brought him to the king. The king, after taking a look at the anklet, confiscated it and ordered Kovalan to be killed as a punishment for theft. Thus Kovalan was killed. This news reached Kannagi and she was angry. She was sure that her husband was no thief and she set out to seek justice from the Pandiya king himself. She goes to his court and argued that the king had made a mistake in killing Kovalan. She said that her anklet had rubies in them, while the Queen’s anklets had pearls. She threw the anklet she had onto the floor and rubies scattered from it. She asked for her other anklet from the king and threw that open too, in front of the entire courtroom. It broke and rubies came out of them too, thus proving that the king had erred in executing Kovalan.

Distraught at the injustice meted out to her, with untied hair and eyes burning with fury, she cursed the then prosperous city of Madurai and reduced it to ashes. Worshipped as a deity in some parts of Tamil Nadu, she is the heroine of the Tamil epic- Silappathikaram, which means the tale of the anklet.

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Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Born in 1897 and raised in Calcutta,  his father was a famous lawyer.  He was sent to England to study.  In England, he passed the Indian Civil Services Exam. The Jallianwalabagh massacre made him quit Civil Services training in England and in 1921 he came back to India.

It was then that he met Mahatma Gandhi, and joined the Indian National Congress.  He was arrested and jailed by the British so many times.  And for what?  Only for saying that his people should be free.  Eventually, he fell apart from Gandhi altogether.  He could not accept Gandhi’s insistence on nonviolence.

Gandhi wanted to change human beings. Bose just wanted to free India.

In 1941, when Germany went to war with England, he went to Germany (by way of Afghanistan). He broadcasted anti-British radio programs from Berlin. He accepted support from both Germany and Japan for he believed that an ‘enemy of my enemy, can be his friend’.

In July 1943, he went to Singapore.  There he organised the Indian National Army.  In March 1944, they crossed the Burma border and stood on Indian soil.  However, when Japan and Germany eventually lost World War II, the Indian National Army had to retreat too.  Then, in 1945, it was reported that he was killed in an air crash over Taiwan.

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Tiruvalluvar

One of the most important literary figures of the world, his work, Tirukkural encompasses everything that is required for a balanced and good life on earth. The book, also known as the Ulaga Podhumarai, has 1330 couplets, with chapters on justice, relationships, conduct, and governance.

வள்ளுவன் தன்னை உலகினுக்கே – தந்து
வான்புகழ் கொண்ட தமிழ்நாடு

sang the legendary poet, Bharathiyar. (By giving the world, Valluvar, Tamilnadu attained eternal glory).

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G.U.Pope

He was born in 1820, on an island off the East coast of Canada. His family migrated to England when he was small. He traveled to South India in 1839, to spread the word of Jesus Christ.

G.U.Pope was a good student of languages, and in time became a scholar of Tamil, Sanskrit, and Telugu. He started a number of schools, and in these schools, he taught Latin, English, Hebrew, Mathematics, and Philosophy.

He decided to translate the Tirukkural, and completed the project in 1886.  Then, in 1900, he completed the translation of the Tiruvaasagam (“Sacred Utterance”).  This is a volume of hymns composed by the ninth century Shaivite Bhakti poet, Manikkavaasagar.  Tiruvaasagam is the eighth volume of the Tirumurai, the sacred anthology of Tamil Shaivite Siddhanta.

The main message of the Tiruvaasagam is that the body is temporary and we should not spend a lot of time and energy pursuing worldly comforts. Those are among the root causes of pain and sorrow.  Rather, one should pray to leave the body and attain liberation (moksha). The soul should have control over the body and not the other way round. It also said that the ultimate aim in one’s life is to reach Lord Shiva’s feet or, in Christian terms, to be in the presence of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Bharathidaasan

A rationalist poet, he adopted his name owing to his admiration of Bharathiyar. His poems are based on social issues and in a way contributed to the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu. His missions in life were to promote his mother-tongue, Thamizh, to change the idiosyncrasies arising from old traditions, and to use new formats to convey revolutionary ideas.

His poems reflect the society of his days and also echo a tune of morality and upright behaviour. He stressed the importance of being honest and also socially responsible. One of his poems that I still remember learning in my high school is this one:

“தன்பெண்டு தன்பிள்ளை சோறு வீடு 
சம்பாத்தியம் இவையுண்டு தானுண் டென்போன் 
சின்னதொரு கடுகுபோல் உள்ளம் கொண்டோன் 
தெருவார்க்கும் பயனற்ற சிறிய வீணன்“

The one who stays content with the welfare of his wife,

kids, food and wealth,

is the one who is of a heart that is as big as a mustard seed,

useless to anybody else.

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Avvaiyar

Avvaiyar lived in the ancient Sangam Age, over two thousand years ago.  She loved to write poetry. She wrote poems about nature, people, the universe etc. In those days, a woman writing poems was not encouraged. But she knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. She did not want to spend all her time taking care of children and a husband.  So she prayed,

“Please let me be bent, please let me be broken, please let me look in such a way so that no man would want to marry me.” 

The most important women poet of Tamil Nadu, she gave the world, Aathichoodi, which teaches moral lessons to children in a sentence. Each sentence is a story. Her friendship with Adhiyaman and her story about a Jamun tree are well known. Popular culture shows her as the one who sings songs in praise of Lord Muruga and Lord Ganesha.

*Some of the above content is hereby credited to Story Telling Institute and is used with their permission *

 

Autorickshaw Atrocities

To people like me from Chennai,  Auto is not just a word.  It’s an emotion.  A complex emotion that often brims with the feel that can seldom be described with words.  I am sure every one of us would have had at least  one encounter with these magic vehicles.  

Ask any random foreigner, who has crisscrossed the length and breadth of our colorful country and I bet they would definitely describe taking a ride in the auto( or being take a ride for, by the auto annas) as a life altering experience, so much that we feel Bodhi tree is nowhere close to this.  

Auto rickshaws are the next thing that is eternal and omniscient only to cockroaches.  The street junction, the most expensive shopping mall entrance, railway stations, colleges, hospitals you name it and there will be a small humble auto stand.  

Now, being aware of the auto tales down south and may be Mumbai, I shall try to explain the charm of the multifaceted community.  

TAMILNADU

In Tamilnadu, the first step in hiring an auto would be to haggle.  No left, no right,  straight 50% cut on the quoted amount.  It is a known secret that auto wallas fleece people and generally quote the price of the auto along with the fare for the trip.  Auto meters are non existent.  Share autos exist, which are essentially ‘auto pooling’  services.

Also, try to strike up a conversation with the auto wallas and I swear it will be an awesome experience.  

BANGALORE

This IT Hub has many autos and thankfully I found them to be more reasonable (cost wise),  when compared to Tamilnadu.  Meter concept exists and so do prepaid autos.  

Actually it is one of those cities that has a very strong network of prepaid autos which hasn’t died out yet.  

With friendly face and a few ‘boss’, ‘guru’ and some cute kannada words thrown here and there, you can be rest assured for a safe ride back home.  

MUMBAI

This is probably the only place where autos ply strictly by meter.  The possibility of hiring an auto to travel, is another issue of its own. 

In Mumbai, you don’t hire an auto, you tag along the auto, going where the auto walla wants to go.  

With high rates of rejection, Mumbaikars need to be really lucky to score one with the auto wallas.  Seems like an awesome practise to score girls too, just in case.  
With many options like ‘Namma auto’ and ‘Ola auto’, it has become a competitive arena, where reasonability wins.  Despite all the shortcomings, auto rickshaws are an integral part of our daily lives and an essential part of the Indian identity.  Don’t you think so too? 
This post is a part of the A to Z challenge 2017.