I originally blogged this in 2013, at least an year before BJP govt of Modi was sworn in after 2014 Lok Sabha elections, so this has nothing to do with current Sabarimala crisis. Reproduced with some ‘edits’
Let us get offended for right reasons. It’s not anyone’s prerogative to harm Mother Nature, and champions of the environmental cause are green warriors, not pseudo liberals.
April 28, 2013
An ardent Hindu, I am still not blind to how environmentally polluting our ways of worship are.
Everytime i light an oil lamp in my Pooja, i think of the billion homes lighting up the traditional diya all over India morning and evening just like me… and of our million temples lighting millions of lamps for their part….
I am worshiper of the sacred Diya myself – the lamp, the DEEP, the DIYA, the JYOTHI SWAROOP, that which dispels darkness which is supposed to be the manifestation of the very ‘light of knowledge’ we seek…
Still how many of us stop to think, how much we are heating up planet Earth with our religious practices that were perhaps once justified but may not be justifiable in present times… how many degrees we keep adding year after year to our annual average temperature without any second thoughts? India has definitely warmed up like never before in last two decades… to which how much exactly is our religious contribution any guess?
I know its next to impossible even for the rational me to stop lighting the ‘diya’ in my home – its unthinkable, inauspicious… Age old custom, its pretty tough to shake off this practice in a day, granted. So i can imagine how others around me must feel like on the issue… and as for our temples that light tens of thousands of lights every single day… what will happen to them without the ‘deep?’
Hinduism without the lit lamps is hard to imagine. The flame, the ‘jyothi’ is the light of our very own lives. Everything for us focuses on ‘light’ – the lamp. After all, our biggest national festival is‘Diwali’ (Deepavali), the festival of lights.The lamps are our identity, like the bindhi (the dot) on our women’s forehead and the sari we drape… How to put off the lamp ever in this nation of ours without a whisper?
So when we have to rethink even about our oil diyas in my opinion, the question of chemical fire crackers does not even arise. A green Diwali and a cleaner chemical-free colourfulHoliare the need of the hour. Immersion of painted Ganeshas (Ganesh Visarjan) and Kalis in our water bodies killing the marine life in the belt also has to be stopped forthwith. Is it anti-Hindu when we sound sane and logical.
One keeps hearing of global warming everywhere, especially in India. In my city, even the lower middle class homes can afford at least a single air-conditioner in harsh summers, so think of how much we are heating up planet earth every summer. Combined with the religious effect, think of the sum total warming up of our immediate ground atmosphere… (Not even taking into account the air pollution owing to vehicular traffic and fuel exhaust here).
So its ridiculous that year after year we must be complaining of erratic monsoons and melting glaciers and deficient rainfall. Try explaining to our masses, the heat that must be generated by a billion lamps through out the country for years, for decades, for centuries and their effect on our environment … but this is one country where reasoning never works!
While i am kind of a believer in most of our rituals (i am not saying they are completely meaningless), which i understand have hidden contexts, I am increasingly concerned about the harm we are doing to our environment with our rituals. The rituals mean more to me for the Sanskrit mantras chanted which are supposed to have neuro linguistic and psycho linguistic benefits. Look at the Yagna here that is using up so much of precious potable water, a scarce product in many arid Indian states that might be reeling under drought wrought in by failed monsoons. (One may come up with argument about bath tubs at homes and hotels).
TheYagnas or the Homas. No Hindu marriage or housewarming or whatever is complete without this great Hindu religious ritual in which fire plays a major role. The holy fire I mean. In our wedding muhurat, the couples have to walk around the holy fire ‘Agni’ for seven times that will be alight for hours as sanskrit mantras are chanted in chorus by priests …. and for most of our ceremonies like death anniversaries, birthdays for children etc, again the homa fires in the homagunda will be lit for hours raising a big smoke… into which we pour everything from ghee (clarified butter), dried twigs, Nava Dhania (the nine food grains like pulses), flowers, fruits, even silk clothes, coins (gold if you can afford)…. because we believe giving the holy fire these things means our offerings will reach the Gods directly though the Agni medium which is one of the purest, and one of the five major natural elements of Earth (the other four being the air, the earth, the water, the sky)
Not denying i have participated in homams in my own family, but even the staunchest believer in me keeps questioning always why should so much be put to wastage by our religious practices. Isn’t there a different way? Can’t our Gods hear our prayers by any other means? Should our Gods have to be essentially bribed this way?!
One of our greatest temple rituals is ‘Abhishegam/Abhishek.’ This means bathing our ‘Murthis’ (idol or vigrahas) with water, curds, honey, milk, panchaamirtham (made out five fruits), etc after application of oil to the dieties. Imagine this done to all Hindu deities through out India in thousands and thousands of temples. After the ‘abhishek’ or’abhishegam’ is complete, we decorate our deities with floral garlands, silk clothes and gold and diamond jewelery. An ‘Archana‘ follows which means invoking the Lord’s and/or His Missus’ names 108 times or so with floral tributes. While i until today revel at the darshan of my Mother Goddess and Her Consort Shiva (and other gods and goddesses as the case may be) in their finest adornments in our temples, i can’t help wondering all that which go waste in the name of these rituals…
Fortunately, a Hindu mind is trained in a way never to get carried over by superficial adornments of our deities that despite all the finery glittering in temples, we are still able to focus on the One Supreme – for in the bright ‘thejas’ face of the Lord and/or His Missus, we see infinite contentment, happiness, well being, prosperity, wisdom, health, all goodness of the world. So that’s one thing that eludes me completely…. that despite my skeptical views on temple rituals, i am unable to draw myself away from all this, that i am drawn like a bee to the nector when the abhishegam and archana are complete and when its moment for the ultimate ‘Darshan.’ …
I have stood in hour long queues for ‘darshans’ so who am I kidding. Yet i wonder, is this the way it is supposed to be, like whether we have reduced it all to one over-powering physical ‘darshan’ – a view of the reigning deity in all His/Her grandeur….
I wonder if its blasphemous to even write like this… but then i am a believer in a forgiving God always, a reasoning God and NEVER IN A PUNISHING GOD. One of the greatest advantages of being a Hindu is, you can be an atheist and still you are a Hindu! The very nature of Hinduism which is all encompassing, permits this!
Quote unquote :
…… No two paths need be alike …… that one is most a Hindu when one is least a Hindu. Hinduism’s propensity to absorb a multitude of thoughts including even atheism makes it, at times, inscrutable to its own followers….
I am not pro-Kumbh and it saddens me terribly to see how we mindlessly pollute the life-giving rivers of our land with our blind beliefs. Respect and reverence shown to our water sources is best illustrated with maintaining the water bodies clean and the water potable and useful for irrigation purposes for which they are meant. Rivers are our lifeline. Millenniums ago, perhaps we could afford the luxury of a Kumbh Mela, but can we in this 21st century wherein future wars are predicted to be fought over water?
I don’t want to add here how some north Indians dispose off their dead in the flowing Ganga. Its too distressing and gory. In our families mostly we cremate the dead. We have completely switched over to electric crematorium at least in cities these days which is a big relief. Even in our death, we seem to add smoke to our clear skies ….because in villages all over India, the dead of this billion strong nation are cremated with fresh wood cut from trees. The wealthier you are, the costlier is the wood for your pyre like the sandalwood.
Having blogged about my disgust on use of elephants in our temples only very recently, i wish to make the point once again:
Elephant habitat has shrunk drastically over years in India. When ‘Ashrams‘ spring up in elephant corridors we do not condemn them because we have the bargaining chip called Tourist Resorts. Finally, we shall wake up when the last Lord Ganesha will vanish for good from our Punya Bhoomi.
After all this i confess, i am a passionate Hindu at heart always….while i believe most of our rituals held some hidden meaning centuries back perhaps, time is now ripe for a revolution to redefine our beliefs in rituals. What is wrong with self-introspection?
I am for aGreen & Eco-friendly Hinduismalways if that can be made possible in my lifetime like a miracle somehow. I deliberately miss lighting my lamp twice a week atleast – my small contribution for a start to keep global warming a bit low. I wish we could be Eco-Friendly Hindus somehow.
There are many ways we south Indians are eco-friendly by culture. In our weddings, we still serve feasts on washed banana leaves and not on plates. The used banana leaves used to be fed to cows in the sheds in olden days. I am not sure how the used banana leaves are disposed off these days.
To a population that reveres nature so much with worshiping the flora of fauna of the universe, why is not there the realization on the flip side of this ancient culture?
Having said all this, would it be ever possible for me to go 100% green with my faith…. i do not want to lie, the transformation will be tough and testy but can be done step by step over a period of time. I wish i get encouragement from family and friends. I wish i could cut down on rituals boldly without being labelled an outcast and keep my faith at heart with just my prayer Mantras …. the Gods i believe in will be more than happier for the new believing me…
Convincing a billion Hindus around the world on the subject is another impossibility. How anyone should go about it is not clear, because like Christianity or Islam, the world’s oldest faith Hinduism does not have a religious book like the Bible or Quran, does not have a governing body like the Church or the Mosque and has no prophets or messengers from God like The Christ or Mohammad and no religious head like the Pope or the Maulvi….,,, Hindu Dharma is a way of life, way of life for over 6,000 years or perhaps older without all these elaborate set-up or disciplinary control… Sanatana Dharma has no founder, no founding date and is no man’s private or personal invention.
My earnest wish is that Hinduism evolves as it has been doing for centuries, for eons, to a greener way of life, less polluting Mother Earth, less harming Mother Nature. I appreciate the freedom my faith allows me to think rationally in all circumstances. At least, ‘a fatwa’ won’t be issued on my head, hopefully! I am today blogging like this because, Hinduism is still the most tolerant practice in the entire world, its all absorbent, most flexible, and grows with every merciless onslaught, much more powerful and stronger than ever before…
This is a country that celebrates vegetarianism where masses still worship ‘The Tulasi’ (basil) as a goddess, who marry the neem tree to the peepal tree who we think are like gods, who never slaughter the cows that walk on our highways, and who worship even inanimate objects like machine tools and musical instruments and books because they are creations anyway! I believe my tribe of like-minded Hindus is an ever-growing one.
LET’S NOT ALLOWHINDUISM TO BE TAKEN HOSTAGE BY EMPTY RITUALS THAT HAVE COME TO CONFINE OUR FAITH, ERODING ESSENTIAL SUBSTANCE OVER PERIOD OF TIME AND OBLITERATING THE TRUE ESSENCE OF DHARMA. HINDUISM IS FAR ABOVE AND MUCH MORE THAN ALL THAT – AN ENIGMA, A PHENOMENAL EXPERIENCE.
Let us allow Sanatana Dharma the vital lung space it deserves to evolve and flourish without our narrow, crooked-minded and low level of thinking.
Every Hindu child in India grows up listening to the heroic and self sacrificing tale of the ethereal beauty Chittore Rani Padmini (Padmaavathi). Of Alauddin Khilji’s avarice, cunning and barbarity. As for me, I had my granny tell me about Padmini a million/billion times perhaps when I was a little girl.
Wonder why the picture drew criticisms for positive portrayal of the historical event. The film also justifies why Sati was indeed practised in India for a few centuries. Notably, it was prevalent in border states of today’s India that were prone to mogul/arab/turk/afghan/mongol invasions.
A typical Sanjay Leela Bansali production, it must have been a grand watch in IMAX cinemas. I must be the last to review the film. Watching pictures at home comes with a cost: missing out scenes thanks to domestic chores. Despite disclaimer, Hindu India knows better. ‘Padmaavat’ also is the costliest celluloid picture to be made in Indian history to date. (Catching up with lost bits in Tamil version, it comes as no surprise that dubbed ones can never come like the originals).
Numbers may vary from 14,000 to 70,000 from account to account – but that many Rajput Hindu women were believed to have jumped into fire igniting themselves, committing mass suicide (Jauhar) (Sati) when Mewar was defeated by the Sultan of Delhi (sic) (cannot even come to terms with actual history that these savages once ran a reign of terror in my Punya Bhoomi Bharat), saving themselves from capture by islamists. The historic Sati was led by the queen Padmavat herself when Maharaja Ratan Singh was defeated in the sly in the battle by Malik Kafur. (Malik Kafur the slave himself was reportedly a bisexual as Khilji was, and was in relationship with Khilji).
If not for Padmavat and her fellow Rajput women (as well as other brave Hindu warrior kings like Chatrapathi Shivaji of the Maratha and Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagara Kingdom), India could be more islamic today and less Hindu in character. Who knows we could have been a sultanate. Hindu kings and warriors who fought by their own ‘dharmic’ traditions saved us from worst fates. Unfortunately and ironically, the native Hindu bravado is played down in Indian history text books and India’s invaders are portrayed the heroes. This is like viewing Hitler and Nazis as heroses and the victimized jews as oppressors. The price one pays for democracy and secularism. Irony is, in India today, if we talk about our traumatic past, we will be accused of hurting the sensitivities of our minorities (who were in all probability force-converted by our invaders at the point of sword).
The one last picturization of the Sati was good enough for me. Salute my Hindu ancestors for their selfless sacrifices and bravery. Hindu dharma forbids backstabbing. War ethics are a separate dharma by themselves. Aliens from Afghanistan unfortunately were less civilized, most brutal as India has witnessed in last 14 traumatic centuries. Hindus are staunch believers in Karma. Karma has been playing out in Af-Pak for decades now, can’t you see. Anything taken from the Hindu – will have to be paid back by tens of hundreds of thousand times with interest. For the simple reason, Hindus do not disturb others on their will.
Bow my head to the queen of Mewar and the bravest Rajputs who resisted surrender and conversion to Islam with their very lives, and defended the Sanatana Dharma until their last breath, owing to whom India today is still majority Hindu!
Dharma won over Adharm in Mewar, even if Khilji’s psychotic army ran over Chittor.
May be the exact sequence of history was not recorded (as it can never be with Period films) and there are naturally quite some artistic exaggerations here and there, but in spite of these superfluous flaws, the picture is extremely well made with attention paid to intricate details – from hand block designed costumes to period jewelry of Rajastan. Filming entirely limited to Rajastan forts. Outstanding cinematography. As I have never been to this part of the country, I have not much knowledge about India’s north west state. Deepika Padukone lived up to her character, doing justice to the role of Chittore Rani Padmini as Padmavat is widely referred to. Good and apt casting with Ranveer Singh playing the bloodcurdling Khilji and Pankaj Kapoor as the dharmic, valiant king of Chittor. Prior to the picture, I was not aware that Rani Padmaavat was Sinhalese. Speaks a lot about marital relations between India and the island nation Sri Lanka over centuries – starting with the times of Ram and Sita and Ravana?
Hurts when old wounds are reopened. MY HEART BLEEDS…Delhiites may be comfortable with forts and mausoleums, but coming from south, most of us like me cannot come to accept India’s turbulent past. Cannot come to terms with the Taj Mahal representing India. If you ask me, we must have Tanjore Brahadeshwara or Madurai Meenakshi or Hampi in Karnataka or the Kailasa temple in Ajanta or the Sun temple of Konark for India’s mascot in our tourism brochures or whatever. It is time to slowly ease out Taj from our conscience and replace it with a monument of our native pride and self-respect.
A symbol of bloody invasion and tyranny and genocide of my own fellow Hindus simply cannot represent my beloved Bharat. BIG NO TO TAJ !
Some great low budget but delightfully watchable Tamil flicks that are running to packed houses, this season:
Checka Chivandha Vaanam (reddish red sky)
Merku Thodarchi Malai (western ghats)
Immaikka Nodigal (the seconds that did not tick)
No hyped Diwali release. No school summer vacation. No big banners either. No superheroes. The one big name is Mani Ratnam (Checka Chivandha Vaanam). Others like Vijay Sethupathi, Sashi Kumar etc., are still legends in the making – outstanding unconventional heroes cum directors. With Siva Karthikeyan, the two truly make up the winning formula for Tamil cinema. Add to them Prasanna and Siddharth and Madhavan (although the latter two share their time with Bollywood). Thanks to these new age heroes, one is taken back to K Balanchander’s times of 1970s (though I was a pre-teen then), when Tamil cinema was all about substance.
For, the strength of Tamil cinema lies in storytelling and wonderful characterization. Story-screenplay-dialogue. Dusky heroes and heroines of native skin script a realistic stage setting for the plots to unfold. Witty and satirist, the films are a fine and hitherto unexplored ground in Indian screen. There have been some in recent past like Jigarthanda, Kidari, Bale Velaiyatheva etc., which were a new genre moving away from outright Kamal Hasan humours like Pammal K Sambandam and Pancha Tantram. Now humour seems to be interwoven in the story. Screenplay-direction merits a thunderous applause. Highlight is, low budget but good content. Commercial success! (Although one cannot underestimate Kamal Hasan socials like Virumaandi or Devar Magan (re-made as Virasat in Hindi starring Anil Kapoor). Only that, what is trending is good, better! A different kind of story telling, a new dimension, a fresh perspective, fascinating imagination.
There have been a couple of ground-breakers like Aruvi (on TRP the television rating points system that drives the media), Kalyana Samayal Saadham (on male impotence) and OK Kanmani (on live-in relationships) (Mani Ratnam), but Thiruttu Payale 2 (the rascal 2) starring Prasanna and Bobby Simha was a tech nail-biter to the finish. Robot (Shankar) with Rajni Kanth could have been the ultimate tech production (with 2.0 trailer now played in cinemas – Diwali release?), but Thiruttu Payale was like math assignment or video game.
Except for U Turn and Chekka Chivandha Vaanam that are racy thrillers, the recent most crop are slow paced (not yet watched all) one believes.
96 Stands out as urban chick yet relaxing like a calm ocean. This is my second Vijay Sethupathi film, first being ‘Rummy’ in tv popular for its number ‘kooda mela kooda vechu.’ One word to describe Vijay is ‘yadhaartham.’ With this he (as well as Sashi Kumar and the tribe) move away from the league of Kamal Hasan, Rajnikanth, Ajith and Vijay who are icons in the film industry mostly thanks to their histrionics (Vikram and Surya only slightly better).
96 is a breather as it flows without a ripple, soothing and unmarred by violence or vulgarity. NO CONFLICT IN THE PICTURE, NO AGITATION OF THE MIND. Over estimation has cost those like Kamal Hasan dearer as we see already with his junk called ‘Vishwaroopam’ series. Sometimes, the pros bite the dust and it takes fresh talent to take the lead. A very neat and easy and uncomplicated script is a huge plus for 96. Trisha is elegant as ever as Janu and Vijay Sethupathi is ‘yadhaartham’ personified. Together they strike an odd but interesting pair. As the drama is day-to-day life of the current Whatsapp generation, it is naturally a runaway hit in both urban and rural centers.
96 reminds me of our school batch 86 (84-86 board batch, 84 – 10th standard and 86 12th standard boards). Only, our school was all-girls school! Reunions are happening ever since Facebook got us connected to our long lost friends. Intelligent of the director to cash in on a contemporary phenomenon.
The subject treated with a delicate direction, kudos! Male virgin at 37 is not strange in Indian/Hindu society. Coming in the heels of Sabarimala, as someone caught between the two worlds of modernity and traditions, I do not know how to react to this in present times. Is it naive of the hero Ram played by Vijay Sethupathi or is this characteristic is what defines the society we live in. Surprisingly, the same India is now hitting headlines in global media for rapes. My nation is a land of contradictions. To come to grips with our inherent nature is our greatest challenge.
Watching 96 was like reading a Mills & Boon paperback to me – used to finish one book per day in back bench in school days. Addicted to TDH – the tall, dark, handsome heroes of M & B women authors! 96 though sees a reversal of roles. Janu (Trisha) is the leading lady – who takes the charge!
Rerecording by Ilayaraja, a musical treat to ears. Unobtrusive (demanded by script of course) unlike today’s loud and brash BGM these days typical with AR Rahman’s.
The review will be incomplete without a mention on budget: only 1 set of clothes for Trisha mostly (total 3), a plain kurta-dupatta suit. Four local locations in all: a hotel in Chennai (Accord), a flat in uptown apartment block in the city, a resort in ECR (East coast road), some traffic scenes/airport/underground Chennai metro rail. Other than that, some shots are filmed in Tanjore streets and a local temple with a distant view of the millennia old Brahadeshwara. Most Tanjore picturization is within the four walls of a matric school. Trying to figure out the budget cost ever since, especially against the super-duper big time bombers like Vishwaroopam! No glamour content, no comedian track, no melodrama, no fist fight or use of abusive language or double meaning dialogue. Touches a chord without making you emotional. Simply beautiful and as I said, ‘yadhaartham.’ Reminds one of ‘Dil ek mandir’ from 1950-60s, made within four hospital walls which was later remade in Tamil as ‘Nenjil or aalayam.’
The after-taste of cinema must be the ‘feel good’ factor. Felt good going to sleep on 96. Fell headlong into a deep and dreamless slumber late last evening, with a smile on my lips even if the film ended on a heavy note. The characters have my respect!
“Sometimes it takes your Heart a little longer to accept
What your Mind already knows….”
Can India risk losing valuable man hours debating issues like Sabarimala. Hindus are the most literate lot in India anyday and this is the case with the best educated in the nation. Alternate views not welcome, dogged and rigid persistence with values of bygone centuries, and dogmas inapplicable and impractical in the modern 21st century not allowed to be questioned. In this environment, how can research ever be conducive in India. What is the value edition of these worthless protest campaigns. How many of those who talk big in social media have actually teenage daughters or daughters who will be ruling the corporate world in near future.
All it takes is, daughters to be born in the family, widows in the family, divorced women in the family, the abused and the bruised – to revise our views on Shastras and Sampradayas.
For instance, how do you define the so-called ‘Karpu’ the supposedly most revered virtue of a Tamil Hindu woman. How do you define the ‘karpu’ of divorcee Hindu women, who may be innocent divorcees. How do you define the karpu of the Hindu women who are taking a second shot at life, remarrying on divorce or widowhood. Don’t these women have karpu.
Karpu made sense for millennia, but has lost relevance ever since women in India are on equal footing with men in every arena of social development. It is not a stigma on women to even cremate the dead these days. Hindu women have come a long way.
This is why I keep out of debates on Karpu or never share in social media anything on karpu. Some of us have friends and relatives who are once or even twice divorced – innocent divorcees. There are children borne out of second marriages. We Hindu women today are violating the most basic shastra-sampradaya called the institution of marriage with the help of law, when it becomes inevitable. Should we even be debating Sabarimala now.
Most Hindus suffer from selective amnesia. Barely a century ago, Hindu women in Kerala mostly went topless. Maximum, a small blouse even some 40-50 years back. How many Kerala Aiyappa bhaktas can allow their women to go topless in present times. Don’t we change with times.
Antagonism to new ideas, unwillingness to give up inexplicable dogmas will forever keep research in unfavourable climate in India. Voice of the dissent is suppressed by mass hysteria movements.More taboos were broken under the British. In Independent India, strangely, it is lot tougher to bring in social reforms. Emotions and prejudice must not be allowed to cloud rationality and judgement.
If 1000 fools jump into a well, should we also jump in without thinking twice. Numbers should not be allowed to deceive our sixth sense of reasoning.
Hindu Dharma is not an organized religion like Christianity or Islam. Sanathana Dharma literally translates to ‘Free Will.’Which is more so reason for us to go flexible and adapt ourselves to changing times and situations.
Either that, or we have to keep our women 24 hours behind doors, not educating them or allowing them to earn a living. That truly is Hindu sampradaya!
Let us women refuse our rightful inheritance as equal legal heirs in landed estates. That is Hindu custom.
Clamping down on progress, ridiculing the logical, and persisting with legalizing and sustaining a totally unacceptable and dated notion, double mind in stepping out of conventional comfort zone will not take India anywhere. I am closing down further topics on Sabarimala because it must not take any more of our time. Sanathana Dharma is not single edition. If you have your version, I hold mine custom-made.
Research necessitates lots of questions to be asked. The old theories have to fall flat at times as new dimensions emerge. That is how world has come this far. From the days of Galileo and Copernicus. Sabarimala is one good reason why Research will always be a casualty in India and why the ‘India growth story’ will never take us beyond TV news bulletins. The tangible realizable development will record ZILCH.
Without unlocking doors, without feeding our curiosity, without questioning, we will forever be the CLERK GRADE. Innovations will be impossible. Are we Indians made-to-order to be subservient. That is why India will produce more Sundar Pitchais and Satya Nadellas but never a single Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.
That the most literates in India are the ones stalling imagination and diversification and growth is the most worrying aspect.
Updated: October 7, 2018
Kerala Court has ruled now that supporting the ideology of a ‘ dreaded world terror organization’ is not illegal. Let us get enraged for right reasons. Let law demarcate the line between what is lawful and what is illegal or criminal. When we lose focus squandering our energy on resources on trivial issues like Sabarimala which are nothing but a phase of evolutio, we will lose perspective and struggle to fight the real battles – as a community, as a nation.
Too much is happening too soon in India. Landmark judgments in quick intervals. As the first batch of verdicts arrive, here is my take on the vital historic benchmarks which will go a long way in characterizing the Indian society as we see it today. The socio-economic impact is bound to leave an imprint on each and every Indian citizen.
THE SABARIMALA CASE
At the outset, I would like to point out that the honourable Supreme Court of India must also make it possible for Muslim women in India to pray as equals in the mosques across the nation by way of a statute.Now that is equitable justice. PIL if any? Or our media houses like the Hindu or the Scroll can take it upon themselves to address the issue next, on warfooting basis. There are soldiers like Shekhar Gupta and others to take forward the agenda. Hopefully, the guys hold ample insurance cover!
We did have our Tripthi Desai who fought for women’s entry to Shani temple who though dropped the matter like hot potato when it came to Sufi shrine. Desai is smart, aware of consequences?
Interesting, the PIL for entry of women into Sabarimala Aiyappa temple was filed by one ‘Naushad Ahmed Khan’ ! It cannot get more macabre than this !
Decoding Sabarimala: Why restrictions on women into Sabarimala:
The Supreme court of India has ruled that, women in their fertile years between 10 and 50 can now go on pilgrimage to the shrine set deep in the jungles of western ghats of Kerala, south India. For centuries, the hill shrine’s doors have remained closed to women for specific reasons. Chief most among them is that the Lord Aiyappan, the presiding deity of the temple, is viewed by His devotees as a living deity. Low profile son of Lord Shiva, Lord Aiyappa is revered for his strict ‘brahmacharya’ (bachelorhood) as he kept away from women all His life, the way legends have it.
Sabarimala is nestled within the thick jungles of Western ghats whose rough and moist terrain even today is infested with a variety of wild life including elephants, tigers and leopards. Very recently the holy river Pamba in Sabarimala was flooded in monsoons and the temple had to close down for an infinite period. A pilgrimage to Sabarimala meant fasting, foregoing footwear, sleeping on floor, donning saffron or blue-black clothes, practising abstinence from all worldly pleasures, and intense Pujas (prayers) for a ‘mandala’ (40 days) and then finally walking on foot to the Hill temple. Of course nowadays, modern means of transport take you almost to the base of Sabarimala. Still, devotees have to climb on bare foot the final 50 km stretch or so uphill in rain or shine carrying their own food, fuel and water and Neivedyam (food offerings for Lord Aiyappa) and other such basic necessities. In olden days, a pilgrimage to Sabarimala did not necessarily guarantee one’s return. Wild elephant/tiger/cheetah attacks have statistically claimed many a casualty as also snake bites. A second reason was attributed to infections and epidemics in the forests during the monsoons flush with Malarial parasites. Thirdly, the mountain terrain was itself uninviting that hiking was perilous with devotees succumbing to heat strokes and/or heart attacks. Therefore, before someone set out on pilgrimage to Sabarimala, a big Puja was always done, with the mother of the pilgrim giving him Vaikkarisi (last rice – like last rites before cremation) before leaving home. Now this custom may sound banal, but not until a century ago. The Vaikkarisi custom still continues to be followed among Aiyappa devotees. Women obviously could have been discouraged from going to Sabarimala for these varied and valid reasons.
Sabarimala is one more milestone for Hindu women:
However Hindu women have crossed many hurdles in the last hundred years that the present Sabarimala seems not to be a daunting task. The very Manusmriti that the puritans swear by is against women’s education and employment and also holding/owning/inheriting of estates by women. Women in some states of India also were forced to commit ‘Sati’ – jumping into the funeral pyres of their husbands for centuries It took someone like Raja Ram Mohan Roy to champion the case against Sati. Every social reform in India is thus hard fought for. There is a crusader behind every legal and just cause.
Hindu women also continued to shave their heads when widowed, donning the saffron or the white robes. Last I saw such a ‘mottai paatti’ was in my school days. Do we women still stick to this cruel and ugly ‘Sampradaya’? No divorce was allowed either in Hindu society. Women got ‘separated’ – never legally. This meant no alimony. A man could marry more than once and could have more than one wife. Every single flaw was rectified in our recent history with the help of litigation only. Divorce is the greatest independence that Hindu women can exercise today against exploitation and abuse. I have friends who have won their freedom with this option which was impossible to gain in my mother’s generation.
Hindu women also now enjoy equal rights to property as men – which had to be legally sanctioned. Hindu practices deny rights to real estate to women. Daughters do not inherit as per Hindu family customs. Once again the courts had to intervene when our own mothers/sisters/wives/daughters had to suffer the injustice.
Every step the Hindu women have put forward has been difficult and uncertain – women in India have not walked over a bed of roses like women in every corner of the globe. What the Suffragettes have gone through to elevate the quality of life for women is a heroic tale of valour and justice. No battle has been easy.And most often, as now in the case of Sabarimala, it is women who are primed against women sadly.
When Hindu women can have access to education and employment and most importantly can attend schools and work during menstruation, one cannot understand the logic in continuing with the ban on women at Sabarimala in this modern age. Back when we were teenagers, at least partial quarantine of girls/women at the times of mensus was strictly followed in an overwhelming majority of Hindu households. Not any more.
Last two decades have seen the emancipation of Indian women to highest degree possible with the advent of the computers – and today India boasts of largest number of commercial pilots in the entire world. We have had a woman prime minister. We do now proudly have a woman for Defence minister. It is absurd and hypocritical that women must continue to be barred from Sabarimala for the only reason they are in their fertile years.
Hindu Dharma has in practice, some weird customs and prejudices against women. Women cannot enter Puja/perform Puja/go to temples during the time of menstruation. Conditioned from birth to adhere to these unwritten norms, most of us women find it difficult to go against these unfair practices. The tide is turning, albeit slowly.
So I can understand the furore the Sabarimala verdict has unleashed in our midst. Quite understandably. Let it be the individual’s choice therefore, to go or not to go to Sabarimala (when a woman is between 10 and 50 years). It is unfortunate that even the very learned Hindu mind cannot distinguish the difference between religiosity-ritualism and the essence of spirituality. Both may be mutually exclusive! Just like most Hindus cannot differentiate between Shastras and Sampradhayas. Shastras may be the fixed code but the Sampradhayas are localized customs changeable from time to time. Shastras hold over eons, not the Sampradhayas which are enforced practices and disciplines.
The courts in India have been interfering in Hindu affairs for long. This may be for good and bad. After all,we had to enact a legislation to allow the Dalits into our temples so the courts have ever since had a defining role to play in the case of Hindu worship as well as it when it comes to Hindu women. However, the same courts seem to be blind to the fate of Indian muslim women. Or is it a deliberate lapse? Who dares to bell the cat???
May be one day not in long future, we may be able to look back at Sabarimala and laugh our hearts out. After all, my mother had attended college in early 1960s. Fifty two years back my mother (who is no more) was not only a working woman, she was also legal heir to landed estate inheriting her parents’ home as their daughter. Hindu women did not decry equal rights to property or right to remarry/divorce or right to education/employment. So why now the hue and cry for Sabarimala.
Hopefully the dust will settle soon in Sabarimala as women and men in India wake up to reality and discovering true spirituality. God really cares whether we are menstruating when in His abode?!
REPEAL : IPC 497 AND IPC 377
The Supreme court also has scraped the Adultery Law and legalized the Same Sex Relationship. Kudos to Indian judiciary!
The decriminalization of Adultery and Homosexual relationships is seeing the social media having a field day with abuses and guffaws traded freely online.
A flurry of activity, as if, if not for IPC 497, every single Indian man/woman would now be engaged in extra-maritals! Section 497 that most of us were blissfully unaware of all these days in its existent form, is now hot topic for debate. Repealing of the Act is ‘believed’ to upset the apple cart of the typical Indian family, with restraints thrown to air. Legal sanction for unholy nexuses !!! Just like America !!!
The other landmark ruling pertains to legalizing the same sex relationships. It takes one single faulty chromosome after all, to determine whether you are a homosexual/lesbian or a heterosexual. The third sex has always irked the conscience of the custodians of morality in Indian society. Never mind, homosexuality is NOT taboo in Hindu dharma.
Why must our judiciary have anything to do with morality and ethics of individuals? The courts business is legality of matters, nothing more. Indian society is now mature enough to appreciate and respect individuals’ space and freedom and conscious choices. The courts can have no more say in our private matters.
AADHAR : REPEAL OF SECTION 57
There is not a single one amongst us who have not had to rush for linking Aadhar (identity) Card with our bank accounts, IT (income tax) Returns filings, PAN, Investments, Insurances, Property documents etc., etc., in the last couple of years. Running from pillar to post to meet deadline after deadline, it comes as relief that Aadhar will now be INCLUSIVE and not exclusiveas it was supposed to be. However, acquiring one’s PAN (personal assessment number) and filing of IT returns make Aadhar reference/identification/authentication mandatory. The catch is there but the relaxation comes as a breather. Exemption is granted for opening bank accounts, acquiring a SIM card, securing school admissions etc. Once again a good judgement which will make Aadhar less rigid and intimidating and more functional and user-friendly.
I have never given much thought to EVR or ‘Periyar’ as Ee Ve Ramaswamy Naicker is remembered by the masses in Tamil Nadu. The ‘Vaikkom Veerar’ was limited to my text book knowledge.
Now and then my mother-in-law would burst, the old man was responsible for mixing ‘Paarpan’ and ‘Parayan’ – mutton and curd rice that did not go together. Like any privileged community, mine was principally opposed to the Dalit entry to Hindu temples with the dawn of India’s independence.
Character assassinated with a vengeance of late, my interest in the ‘Pagutharivaalar’ the reasoning philosopher, perked up very recently. All I had to do was ‘Wiki’ – that made for an interesting read.
But for EVR, I discovered, the dalit community in Tamil Nadu would have entirely mass converted to Christianity or Islam. He was at the threshold to Hindu temple at the defining moment, that was kind of make-or-break moment for India. Shame, we needed a legislation to admit a section of our own people into our supposedly sacred temples who we believed would defile the worshiping places. Social reformers were raising a banner in the north India as well, Ambedkar to be specific.
My own grand mother was bitter with Periyar as he had supposedly garlanded the Ram vigraha with chappals and thrown shoes and stones at Ganesha.
All my spirituality garnered over years can only lead me to believe, how Rama would have accepted the chappals as floral tributesand how Ganesha would have looked at his favourite son fondly for his immense service to humanity and Sanatana Dharma. Hindu Gods DO NOT punish. ‘Makkal thonde Mahadevan thondu.’ One need not have to chant the Vedas or go to temples, one could be as earnest and reasonable and justified as Periyar was. My respects and reverence for this man have since grown manifold. ‘I may not step into temple myself, and I am no believer, but here you go the masses!’ said he to the simple samaritan lowest caste Hindus, throwing open the temple doors to them, showing them the God like never before. Neither did EVR convert to Christianity/Islam nor did he change his name (he was named after Rama). His anger to Hindu Gods was the liberty he took with them, because he was born a Hindu. To me, there can be no better ‘bhakthi’ or devotion to God. Pradosham or Vaikunta Ekadesi, does it really matter if you dare to stop someone from stepping into a temple? How can even God reside in such a hollow/shallow stone structure? Is this what God adds upto? Your Abhishegams and Aaraadhanais ? Your Andhadhis and Aarthis?
I tell myself, the power or the aura of the temples is not because of the chanting of the Vedas or the ‘Achcharam’ – the strict rigours followed. Rather it is because of the footfall and faith of the millions who bear the shame and discrimination, yet who do not give up on God brushing aside the indignity they are subject to.This is why Tirumala-Tirupathi, Guruvayoor, Sabarimala, Arunachaleshwara, Madurai Meenakshi temple, Tanjore Brahadeeshwara, Ranganatha of Trichy are powerful mantra temples for hundreds of/thousand years. It is the devotion of the masses that is responsible for the aura of these peetams, never the ‘achcharam.’
To what lows Hinduism has been reduced to? From accepting and celebrating the nude Aghoris (feasting on the dead dwelling in the cremation ground) as the most spiritual among us, we have come to name-calling a man who wanted to right the wrongful historical injustice prevalent in our society.
EVR must have followed the footsteps of Ramanuja, the only true saint I have come to accept. I have never had much to say on the Shankracharyas. My devotion is towards the likes of Shri Ramana Maharishi and Shri Satya Sai Baba who never divided a community, who never judged one on the basis of birth. Service to mankind to them meant justice and equality over anything. And actual humanitarian service not LECTURES. When I questioned a friend on the same on Maha Periavaya, an ardent devotee of him she admitted, the Periyavaa only belonged to ‘their esteemed community’ and was no Guru to Hindus enmasse. Well, that was what I wanted to know. It was a relief hearing that out.
At the doors of Kailash or Vaikunth, I don’t think any Shankaracharya who did not preach equality among humans would have won an entry. I too recite the Kanakadhara stotram. But everytime I sing it I am dazed that such an enlightened soul still failed to see all human beings as equal and was instrumental in promoting the worst divide among the Hindus. As uncrowned heads of the great Hindu diaspora, the Acharyas could have done a lot more to Sanathana Dharma. Caste system is not prescribed in the Vedas. No Hindu God has ever gone into records saying only a particular community can have access to the sanctum sanctorum of temples or to education. All this is man-made, predictably by the dominating community.
So l shall leave this to the smug self-appointed guardians of Hinduism to decide: whether the man who sent to temple millions of cast-off Hindus would be in the Kailash or the Shankaracharyas who barred millions of HIndus from entering the temple, denying them their worshiping rights. Right to God.
Time and again I am reminded of Sabari who bit into each fruit she gave Lord Rama during his Vanvaas. Ram accepted the bitten fruit with love and gratitude.
Does it really matter to your God whether you recite your sanskrit prayers with ‘enforced achcharams’ or whether you walk into temple in ‘panjakatcham’ or ‘lungi’ ? The peasantry’s best temple attire may be a lungi, but there is this raw bhakthi about them, something that the sophistication of education shall never bestow the elite with. Would God bother who is touching Him/Her. Whether you have had meat or liquor or whether you have smoked. A code of decency is fine but it is this enforced achcharam that makes matters worse. Are Hindu Gods that vain as to accord importance to things as superficial and skin deep and not to the essence of spirituality which is much deep and far and above all that that can be prescribed by the dominants. (I am not mentioning a text book as Hindu Dharma does not have one). I am aware, as a Hindu I can take for granted the Hindu Gods, ridicule/admonish/criticize them – something forbidden to Abrahamists, punishable with death. In that I am proudly a Hindu, despite our fault lines. But then these divisions can be patched. We just needed a social reformer who could knit us together and EVR was one.
Watching the televised Tirumala Tirupathi Brahmotsav, i could not help thinking how the top notch priests who reigned over the Devasthanams happened to believe that a common man either Sudra/Panchama could actually contaminate the sanctity of the holy shrine with their touch/presence. All their spirituality came to naught, this was my thought. It is a sad affair that Hinduism has come to mean only rituals today where spirituality hardly figures.
There is now a story going on in Whatsapp that ‘Thayir Saadham’ (curd rice) is responsible for the IQ of a certain community. How this community which had had exclusive access (call it reservation) to education for over 2000 years still has not ‘progressed’ like the other rice eaters of Asia like the Chinese, Japanese and the Koreans is a billion dollar question. Over-rating is their biggest problem. A similar reservation exists in the Agama temples of Tamil Nadu/India. (Never heard of the Chinese/Koreans/Japanese proclaiming their intellectual genius at the drop of hat as our ‘englightened Tambram bros and sis!’)
Exposed to education for less than 100 years, the downtrodden SC/ST communities have been faring remarkably well, even if there have been ups and downs in the course. Someone was talking of land grabbing by their politician say, T an imaginative figure. Here is a question for thought: every developed city/town in India was centered around a Hindu temple surrounded exclusively by Agraharas. The Bania street and the Sudra streets formed the next circles and of course the Kshatriyas lived in palaces. We needed a Lord Maccaulay to bring in reforms to include the dalit community in schools and our cities. The torch bearers since were EVR and Ambedkar and even Mahatma Gandhi himself. The British allotted the Panchamas (the dalits) agricultural lands which are also now taken over by corporates and the neo rich of India depriving them of their livelihood. Who is grabbing whose land, I would like to know.
Mastering and memorizing the Vedas and other scriptures for centuries, how can a community boast of having carved a niche for themselves in the society, having denied others knowledge and wisdom through history. Theirs’ is ‘cultivated genius’ that cannot take one past the IITs. Which is why the community that pats itself with the success of Sundar Pitchais of the world, has not progressed beyond this degree. This is why India has not seen great inventions and discoveries beyond the touted first six centuries since the birth of Christ. Those who have been in the race for less than 70 years, the other RICE EATERS (!), are fast catching up with those who have had millennia of headstart, beware!
The great temple builders of Tamil Nadu/India similarly buried their architectural acumen unwilling to share the engineering secrets with others. The Kshatriyas failed their subjects losing their kingdoms. The Vysyas fleeced the poor. The Brahmins remained sancto-sanctified within the four temple walls and Gurukulas.
One injustice however cannot be reversed with another injustice as it has happened with Mayawati, ex CM of Uttar Pradesh, for instance. Reservation quotas can be limited to basic language majors at entry level. In the employment scene, the ‘tehsildar’ offices and corporation/municipal offices can be cent percent reserved for the categorized communities. Some departments in state governments like the Electricity and Water distribution can be similarly reserved to varying degrees for SC/STs. Strictly no reservation when it comes to medical/engineering course seats and for science/tech/medical jobs.
Why again reservation must be an issue in India. Coming from a family that has donated valuable real estate during ‘Bhoo dhaan’ movement as late as in 1970s when the Land Ceiling Act came into force, I have first hand information on sacrifice by the landlords for the sake of the nation. The Vysya banks were nationalized in one big sweep by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The princely states of India had had to give up immeasurable wealthy comforts and rich heritage handlooms. Did any of the communities continue to grumble about their sacrifice like the Brahmins do? Do they flee India for greener pastures abroad? Ever heard of May Bank of Malaysia, also founded by a Tamil Chettiar, nationalized by the Malaysian govt one fine day since long? The Chettiars were prime lenders in the south east Asian nation and in neighbouring Singapore. Every single Hindu temple in this part of the world was/is funded and raised and maintained by them. Every single temple in Chennai at least was raised and maintained by the Senguntha Mudaliar community. We never have beaten breasts to proclaim how much we have lost. Much of our landed estate was donated to upkeep of Hindu temples.
Today, reservation is a raging issue in India. I can only say this: so long as we want to cherry-pick schools such as Vidya Mandir, PSBB etc., for our children, (in Chennai, for instance) and we do not want to enroll our kids in corporation schools, we have no moral rights to criticize reservation.An Indian kid is already a winner or loser depending on the school he/she attends. The unbridgeable gap stems as early as when the child is 3 years old. What the expensive elite schooling cannot give the poorest of this nation, Reservation tries to compensate with, addressing the issue of social injustice as fairly as it can.
Recommendations to higher offices and management quotas are equally if not more evil than reservation (as perceived by the forward communities).
You can see no brahmin/mudaliar/pillai/chettiar working as a scavenger or servant or barber etc., in the city/state. No blue collar labourer from this category. This must say something on their elevated status that has come from centuries of good living. This is why they do not need reservations and they will never go beneath their maintained subsistence levels. Whereas, can our housemaid, our milk man, our auto wala, our roadside tailor, our watchman, our day labourer ever hope or dare to dream of reaching our living standards in their/our own life time? Pity, they can never. They can never become our next door neighbours, not in this janam. My maid is my maid because she was born in such and such a family whose first literate is her son who is now studying for a degree? Is it not my duty to ensure that this family sees the light of the day in our own times?
Sorry, this is the God I know, this is the spirituality i have ingrained, and this is the justice that matters to me. If i have to sacrifice whatever for this, I will willingly.
EE VE RAA is a phenomenon that cannot be sullied by character assassinating him with references to his personal life. Are bachelor politicians mere bachelors or true brahmacharis. To put it straight, are they male virgins really? Someone’s private life cannot be matter for political discussion.
Very recently there was blasting of DMK for corruption: very much deserved, no doubt on that.
At the same time, from the Anna flyover to Kathipara flyover, from free medicals to pensions for govt teachers, from every single flyover in the city to landmarks such as Valluvar Kottam and the Anna library, largest in Asia, from the superspeciality hospital (that was originally built as new state secretariat), from laying foundation for Koyambed bus terminal (largest in Indian subcontinent)/fruit-vegetable market to Chennai Metro Rail (both inaugurated by JJ), every single street in the city bears the Karunanidhi name. Jayalalitha’s is inscribed only in the Nehru Stadium and Amma Canteen. Corrupt or whatever, functionality is more important to me over ‘vetti jambam.’ This is not to justify the wide scale corruption prevalent in Tamil Nadu/India. Administration and law and order were best under Jayalalitha Jayaram. I do miss her. But there was a lot she left undone, that she could have accomplished as the state CM that she was for a fourth term (or fifth) when she passed away…
As Kerala reels under unprecedented monsoon flooding that has displaced millions wiping out their homes, with over 88 dams opened up and threatening to burst at seams, I am re-blogging here something I penned over three years back when my hometown Chennai was trounced exactly in a similar manner when we feared, the seas would actually wash out our city. Of course, with due additions and editions.
Kerala reportedly is now hundreds times as worse as Chennai/Tamil Nadu was then. That Kerala is mountainous mostly adds to its woes, triggering landslides everywhere. Whether this disaster is natural or man-made is a billion dollar question. Onto my original post now:
NAVIGATING THE NON EXISTENT WATER BODIES OF CHENNAI
December 17, 2015
“ARJUNA PALGUNA PAARTHA KIRITI SETHUVAHANA….’
would plead my grandmother to the skies, everytime it thundered during monsoons when I was a little girl. It was a fervent appeal to the lords to spare us poor souls from worst fates. The thunder accompanied by lightening so would not strike us down.. Going to beach every other day especially in summers was routine for us back then. And my mother would whisper a silent sloka to the sea god Varuna taking a fistful of salty water to spray on our heads as we girls played with waves washing our feet. Small prayers. But they reveal to me how our parents and grandparents never took nature for granted, how they dreaded the wrath of the five elements that held the power to determine our life and death. It was a time before the landscape of Chennai was to be significantly altered by our realtors. One or two mistakes were since committed here and there perhaps but things were still under control, perfectly manageable.
Folks back home tell me I do not know what I missed. They say I can never even imagine. Over 150 cm rainfall in 48 hours, with reservoirs filling up at lightening speed threatening to breach their bunds and canals and minor river channels criss-crossing the city overflowing into downtown and suburban neighbourhoods all alike, Chennai proved to be sheer hell and nightmarish for residents this Nov 26-27th of 2015 which marked the second and wettest spell of the current North East Monsoon season… The meteorological department did their part, no blame game here. They say, El Nino for the first time has approached the east coast of peninsular India and from hence forth, we shall remain in the eye of the storm for a long time to come….
THE LOST WORLD
Cyclonic storms are not unusual or unheard of in the city where I grew up. The one raging season in my memory was that of the year 1977. They said Madras would be swept under the sea just the way Dhanuskodi, near Rameshwaram, was in the year 1964 in south Tamil Nadu. The storm changed course in the last minute and hit Ongole, 300 km away from Madras, in the Andhra Pradesh sea coast.
The peninsula coastline resounds with tales of tragedy from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian continent, to as for as Odisha. Each year, a different part of the coast may bear the brunt but the story is the same.
Mahabalipuram aka Mamallapuram is a seaside resort town a mere 40 km from Chennai. The Pallava temple architecture and stone sculpture make it a tourist heaven drawing visitors from around the world. The shore temple in Mamallapuram is the 7th one erected by the Pallava king, with 6 already swallowed by the sea.
The shore temple dating back to 9th-10th AD is now a world heritage site preserved with utmost care. Corroded by salty air and threatened by erosion, it will not be a surprise if the waters wash away the final surviving one against all odds. The temple escaped Tsunami in Dec 2004.
Even the famous Kapaleeshwar temple of Mylapore is said to have been taken away by the sea from its previous site and the temple with main Murthis was moved to the present complex only hundred years back.
Kaviripoompattinam aka Poompuharwas the Chola capital during 2nd century BC. It is one more Tamil township taken by the sea.
We come to know of Poompuhar through ancient Sangam Tamil literature dating back by two millennia wherefrom the great literary work called ‘Silapathigaram’ unfolds. Poompuhar was a very busy maritime port of those times. Having read ‘Silapathigaram’ composed before the birth of Christ, as a school girl it always amazed me how very well advanced and civilized ancient Tamils were. The epic is based on a true life incident concerning the king and his ordinary subjects who are delivered a hasty and wrong justice. How the accused man’s wife proves the truth to the king in the court and absolves him off his crime is the crux of the tale. It is this kind of rich and prosperous and knowledgeable society that the ocean waters swept away even 2000 years ago.
Kannagi, the real life heroine of one of greatest Thamizh epics of all times has a statue standing in Marina beach, Chennai, 2000 years after she lived, and thus has become immortal in our minds. None can face up to a woman scorned!
(Dwarka, Krishna’s birthplace, has recently been unearthed from under the sea in Kutch coast.
If verified and proved scientifically by research, Dwarka could pre-date Indus Valley Civilization by thousands of years. It is possible that after the lost world of Dwarka, ancient Indians picked up the pieces yet again from fragments and built the Mohenjadaro and Harappa, starting all over. There are indications that river Saraswathi mentioned in ancient sanskrit texts also vanished with whatever catastrophe sunk Dwarka. Discovery of Dwarka also disproves many myths carefully constructed by western minds about the origins of Hindu religion. Dwarka is ultimate proof that Ram and Krishna are not mythological figures but most ancient Indians who lived in and graced the subcontinent whose children we all are today.)
The last heaviest damage from the sea was inflicted by the Tsunami that struck the southern coast in Dec 2004. Thousands perished – cricket teams of boys and coaches in the Marina beach of Madras having been whisked away in blink of an eye that fateful morning. Devastation was upto Andhra coast. But after what we saw in Indonesia’s Aceh and Thailand and Sri Lanka, the local statistics never mattered to even our Indian media. Entire fishing hamlets were swept off in Kanyakumari district.
Cuddalore is the most cursed town in Tamil Nad. There is not an year when it is not lashed by ferocious monsoons. Kadal = Sea in tamil, very apt name.
It is now once again the turn of Chennai to face the wrath of the sea gods, looks like.
In over 78 years of her life, my mother-in-law says she’s seen nothing like this. My 70 year old aunt confirms the same.
DEBATE IS ON WHETHER MUCH OF CHENNAI’S RECENT MONSOON DISASTERS COULD HAVE BEEN MAN-MADE
Heaviest downpour recorded in any single day in a century no doubt, but the city still has had a good network of waterways like canals and rivers that traditionally and historically emptied vast volumes of rain water from spilling lakes and reservoirs through time-tested routes ino the sea. In recent past, these functional water channels have been hampered and littered with rapid urbanization resulting from hectic pace of industrialization that has not only got our water and land polluted but also choked some crucial bottlenecks whose existence had worked as barrier preventing many a natural calamity from shaking the city.
We can say, a combination of all the three did us in: the heaviest rains recorded in 100 years plus overflowing rivers and canals coupled with opened up lake-reservoirs that were about to breach their banks.
RAIN WATER HARVESTING: A TAMIL TRADITION
Ancient Tamils were good and knowledgeable about irrigation canals. Karikal Chola built the Kallanai, the world’s oldest dam across river Kaveri that stands good until today (with some minor improvisations in the British period).
There was a scientific way our ancestors harvested the rainwaters in.
Now the lowest channels of spillage like ‘Kuttai’ no more exist. Kuttai means a small pond. Where are ponds in the city or in surrounding 100 km radius today. When was the last time we heard of the frog in the pond. In bygone era, rivers swelled during monsoons spilling into lakes. From lakes, the waters were fed into ‘Kanmai’ and other various lower degree holding capacity channels and finally reaching the village ‘kuttai.’ Homes had wells built in to draw waters for domestic use. It was a healthy distribution of water and it helped in preventing drought. Today we have the rainwater harvest system working in converse pattern. The quickest to overflow (if at all they exist) are the ponds or kuttais. From receiving from superior waterbodies, the lower end of irrigation/drain/water storage systems have transformed into primary flooding sources. Wells wherefrom water were drawn has been replaced by tubewells and motors to pump out the ground water.
This is a chief reason for Chennai getting flooded; we could have still withstood the 150 cm rain in 2 days had we had an efficient channel of networking of rain water harvesting and storm water drain system working.
WATERS THAT FEED CHENNAI
In order to understand how the lake-reservoir-river-canal system works in the city and adjoining Thiruvallur and Kanichipuram districts, we have to first understand the complexities involved in rain water spillage and distribution in these parts.
Major feeders to Chennai Metropolitan City:
CHEMBARAMBAKKAM LAKE & RESERVOIR
POONDI LAKE AND RESERVOIR
PUZHAL LAKE AND RESERVOIR
The main lakes/reservoirs supplying water to Madras/Chennai are Chembarambakkam lake and Poondi reservoir. Adyar river has its source near the Chembarambakkam lake while Poondi reservoir spills into the Coovum river. Kosasthalaiyar or Kosasthalai river with other minor tributaries flows into Poondi lake/reservoir Buckingham Canal has its origin in Andhra Pradesh, constructed in the British era. All the 3 waterways viz., Adyar river, Coovum river and Buckingham Canal criss-cross the city to empty finally into the Bay of Bengal.
(Veeranam lake is one more vital source of water supply for Chennai which I am leaving out as it does not fall under the flooding zone of the terrain. Similarly Palar is another major but non-perennial river of Tamil Nadu which also I am skipping. I have seen it only dry but recently even Palar was seen flooding that made the locals rejoice inspite of the damage the monsoons wrecked. Kosasthalai flows through Thiruvallur district that adjoins Chennai. Puzhal in Red Hills is the fourth major water supply for the metro.)
http://www.jollyvideo.com/1154 – this link details the various waterbodies such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs and canal systems of Madras/Chennai city. Excellent educative video.
ANCIENT HUMAN SETTLEMENTS MAINTAINED SAFE DISTANCE FROM WATERBODIES
Man has always lived away from waterbodies, making home in dry patches of land, even if it was to be by river bank or seashore. Low-lying areas were scrupulously avoided. Which is why, the oldest settlements of the city fared well and stood up to the monsoon fury while the latest developments faltered.
Noticeably in the recent drowning of certain residential neighbourhoods in the city, we can observe the following pattern: those along the Coovum were least affected while those close to Adyar river were taken by surprise. Both parts of the city regularly get an average and manageable level of waterlogging in some low-lying pockets but 10-15 feet high levels of water rise is so far unheard of.
I live in a relatively safer zone where surprisingly through all this, there was not a single drop of water stagnating. Same goes to the street I grew up in Mylapore, the oldest part of Chennai. Our 20 feet lane is normally cursed by motorists who get vexed maneuvering their latest sedans, but humble as it is the settlement could be existing for over 300 years who knows. The property has been in my mother’s side family for generations. The foundation stone for the tiled house with trees in the front yard was laid in 1947. Through all the bleak news pouring in, the one about the oldest streets in Mylapore not being water-logged came as a morale-booster.
The main streets of Royapuram near harbour similarly saw very least water related issues.
True when most of the city was inundated in unprecedented floods this Nov-Dec, there were certain parts of even Mylapore and Royapuram that went under. This is because of some new highrises in these areas in these recent years.
So it gets clear how the oldest inhabited areas of Chennai that were planned proper were least affected by the floods. Even if India (including Chennai) may have very poor capacity for sewage treatment with no capacity expansion executed in last many years, life goes on. For a 8-10 million strong city with densest population in congested localities like Mylapore and Royapuram, the grand old parts really pulled it owing to proper streamlining of drainage systems that could be as old as nearly a century.
A SUCCOUR BY WAY OF TEMPLE TANKS
In Mylapore I remember a silk sari showroom (P Maniammal Textiles) being opened in North Mada street in a vacant corner plot, when I was in school. Even at that time the public opinion went that, the concerned square plot had been deliberately left open for generations as it was catchment area for rains in Mylapore that were routed underground to Kapaleeshwar temple tank (reasons being geological). Given that Mylapore is an area of middle-class street/row houses, we can understand the significance behind leaving the source of the temple tank open to skies. How the property changed hands and construction was managed there remained a puzzle. There were fears that water would stagnate in the ‘Mada Veedhis.’ The sari shop closed on making loss and then a bank branch came up there.
I never saw the Mylapore Kapali temple tank go dry in my younger years. But it did for the first time after the opening up of the showroom and even then locals blamed corruption behind the illegal (or otherwise) construction for what they thought until then was ‘impossible.’
Tamil Nadu is a state of ancient temples and Madras is a city of temples. There is no Hindu temple in India that does not stand beside a lake or river or man-made square tanks. In urban areas, it is mostly a constructed tank that harvests rain water as is the case with Kapali temple in Mylapore, Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Marudeeshwar temple in Thiruvanmyu, Kandaswamy temple in Parrys’ just to name a few of the dozens within city limits. The storage in temple tanks was actually meant for ablutions to be carried out by devotees before entering the holy places but it has now been learnt that it helps in recharging groundwater in surrounding areas.Whenever the Mylapore tank holds full capacity water, water-table in Mylapore rises nearly upto the surface. Whenever the tank runs dry, the water-table also considerably falls – sometimes to below 70-80 feet as it did in 2-3 continuous dry seasons when monsoons failed. So there seems to be a direct correlation between tank water storage and ground water content as it has been observed over years.
Although it always pleases devotees to look at lotuses and lilies in the tanks when they are brimming after a productive monsoon, we are also concerned of the imminence of weeding out the undergrowth should the tanks go dry. In Mylapore, there are actually more than 2-3 temple tanks, Kapali temple’s being the largest. The second one is Chitrakulam also close to our house, attached to Kesava Perumal temple. There is a third one within the premises of Madhava Perumal temple, a beautiful one, inaccessible to anyone from the street. This highlights the importance of water storage in our culture in past history.
Likewise every single area/neighbourhood in Chennai has atleast 2-3-4 temple tanks with good holding capacity that have been silently benefiting communities for generations. Even now if the tanks run dry, it is only because the sources to these tanks seem to have been taken over for construction-habitation. Now the tanks have solely become rain-dependent. The empty patches of land that served as catchment areas no more exist.
Penathur Subramanyam Iyer (after whom the 100 year old PS High school was named – which my father attended) seems to be the brain behind the storm water drains of the era in this part of the city.A lawyer by profession, he served as the Commissioner for Mylapore division in the Madras Corporation from 1890 to 1901.
DRY LAKE-BED TO SUBURBAN NEIGHBOURHOOD…
Nungambakkam, the heart of Madras does have a ‘Lake Area‘ by name so it is not a feat guessing how and where Nungambakkam came into existence. Looks like entire Madras was once a city of lakes and small rivers. Unbelievable.
Thygaraya Nagar(shortly referred to as T Nagar) is also one of oldest parts of Madras but then it went under water as well in recent storms, why? All these years I had no idea T Nagar was also originally a lake area.
Similarly Gandhi Nagar, Adyar and Raja Annamalai Puram which are prime residential neighbourhoods are situated perilously close to Adyar river that is on its last leg of journey in meeting with the Bay of Bengal. Near Chennai coast, Coovum river, Buckingham Canal constructed during the British period and the Adyar river form a delta.Adyar creek with its estuary sustains a very sensitive and fragile ecological system which is under dire threat with mounting scale of pollution.
In late 1970s, one of my precious memories is visiting with family, the Anna Nagar Trade Fair. In those days when transport facilities were limited, going upto Anna Nagar by bus was like visiting the next town for those of us Mylaporeans. It was a month long affair that we toured in groups – adults and children together. What is unforgettable until today about Anna Nagar is, how we went boating there unbelievably in Coovum river which was deep and expansive so far as I can recollect. It was the highlight of our picnic.
Soon Anna Nagar, one of the best planned parts of urban development of the city became another core business as well as residence center. The Anna Nagar West Extension area is as such referred to as ‘Rettai Eri’– the twin lake. The SBOA schools sit exactly on lake-bed besides a booming middle-class colony. So one more wetland taken over for human settlement when dry spells of monsoons persisted for 2-3 years together in the past when the waterbodies ran dry.
Even in very recent years there has been the ‘Eri scheme’ in Mogappair, less than 4-6 km from Anna Nagar, touted as the next Anna Nagar. ‘Eri’ means lake which is a dead give away. To begin with, the scheme was mooted by none less than the state government as MIG and LIG housing plots.
ENCROACHMENTS IN COOVUM RIVER & ADYAR RIVER AND BUCKINGHAM CANAL
Back from my workplace in early 1990s, from the 4th floor windows of my office building, I used to look upon on buffaloes immersed in Coovum river in the Ethiraj Salai (not a strange sight in India 😀 ) In fact I wrote a blogpost once on the blissfully ignorant peaceful animal that always used to capture my imagination. All mothers in Chennai also have this habit of calling their thick-skinned sons as ‘Erumai madu’ (buffalo)! There is Coovum flowing through Mylapore as well but over years, encroachments have shrunk the breadth of the river canal. One of the sights I retain from those times upto the ’90s is that of the black beasts enjoying rain or shine neck deep in the waters – which reminds me how much navigable these waterways were once upon a time.
My mother-in-law talks of a time in her childhood when people used to take boats from Chetpet (which lake and river canal are surprisingly preserved to these days) to as far as Mylapore through Egmore. It is only in last 30-40 years that the development has been haphazard with no consideration to the damages inflicted upon ecology and surrounding environments.
This July-August as we were taking the newly laid bridge over the Coovum from Shoban Babu’s house in Nelson Manickam Road, we were exactly discussing about the unauthorized constructions flanking both sides of the waterways. My husband grew up in this area so as an outdoor lad in his younger years and now as an experienced civil and structural engineer, he has a precise idea of how much encroachment has been effected in river/canal embankments in his immediate locality as well as entire city in some 25-30 years. The Ampa Mall and PVR Cinemas had their retaining wall sinking when construction was going on – in the Nelson Manickam Road – P H Road junction. It was set right overnight. It is one more grand violation that has been since regularized by CMDA perhaps which sits right on Coovum.
Even if Coovum is a narrow river, it has never been this much restricted as in recent years that there is a fear that in very near future, it’s flow into the sea could see total curtailment at some traversing point. This could spell nothing short of disaster for the city. Coovum could run dry in summers but it is an important channel to empty storm waters in monsoon times, the lifeline of the city. With Buckingham canal, it forms a critical network carrying sewer (untreated or partially treated) water on release from our treatment plants.
Areas adjoining Coovum saw least damages this year because, Poondi reservoir that is channelized into Coovum river was opened well in time before the second spell of heavy rains started in November end this year. Poondi handled it better than Chemberambakkam. If Poondi had deferred opening up even by a single day, then entire Chennai city could have been swept away by now (including our area) under water.
Underscores, how vital critical thinking and effective administration must be. Lax in either resulted in Chembarambakkam fiasco.
Chembarambakkam lake is perennial source of water supply for Madras (and Veeranam steps in as the second source). Ever since the lake bed went dry, it looked like a jungle had sprung to life in the midst of the lake, with trees growing furiously amid bushes in the vast expanse of the waterbody. Heavy unauthorized encroachments from all sides was hard to miss and the lake itself seemed to have shrunk in size. Clearly the lake was not weeded in time for monsoons just as no other waterbody in the city/state was either. The unpreparedness resulted in lakes and tanks filling up too soon with water overflowing into adjoining neighbourhoods.
CHANGING FACE OF CHENNAI : FROM FERTILE WET LAND TO DRY CONCRETE JUNGLE
Next we come to the other far end of the city, an extension of South Madras – the IT corridor OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road) and its parallel one ECR (East Coast Road) that abuts the sea.
The satellite picture of the same area clearly indicates how the water-retaining areas and water bodies of the region were taken over by multinational IT companies over years whenever monsoons failed and the area went dry. Unauthorized dealings were also systematically regularized by government as the city became a place to reckon with in software industry. Even during normal monsoon spells, the roads here choke completely as the highway storm water drains here are a mess. The 200 ft IT highway OMR has a lower road level, a serious lapse in construction and design of the highway executed at exorbitant costs from tax payer money. Rainwater harvest/storm water draining system has not been fit into most parts of this major arterial road that leads to a super economic zone where billions of dollars are earned for the nation by the techies. The neighbourhood also has been prospering with high-end apartment complexes offering latest lifestyle comforts. But with the failure of the most basic infrastructure such as storm water drains in the connecting nerve highway, the multinational corporations have since come face to face with the dire risk of sinking. Was risk analysis ever done before the estates were acquired for development? Did the civic authorities factor in the once existent water bodies that were plotted out and handed over in silver platter to corporate lobbies.
Siruseri where TCS has its upmarket corporate office is prime agricultural land as well. Right upto Tiruporur, this area has been rural and wet during monsoons. Even as far back as in 1997, the area was heavily inundated in moderate downpours. It was well known that the right hand side of OMR which is the rear of Velacheri/Pallikaranai constituted a low lying area. Pallikaranai Marsh lies right behind, which is a listed avian sanctuary (protected forest reserve) with a variety of winged visitors making it their nestling grounds during breeding season. The Marsh has also shrunk in size most significantly.
More shocking is how part of Pallikarania has also now been turned into dumping yard for the entire city. In pic: the vanishing Pallikaranai Marsh with the highrises in the background with the spoils of the day dumped in mountains.
Untold damage has since been done to the city’s precious waterbodies that have been precious and natural storage points for potable water. Similarly the dry beds of seasonal lakes/tanks/ponds etc., that have been acting as absorbing sponges during flooding monsoons have been turned into concrete jungles. Where is room for flowing water to meander its way through this mess to the Bay of Bengal? The waterways have also been turned into clogged channels for untreated/semi-treated sewage which has wrecked havoc with the aquatic/marine life like fresh water fish in the canals/rivers, sludgy all the way to the sea. H2S-high toxic sewage and filth, froth as the water channels of the city rush to greet the ocean like one long line of slush and ash. How can any healthy eco system survive in such a polluted environ.
Sewage treatment plants in India including Chennai have very limited functional capacity, if at all we have any. Further more they are outdated.
Today the opposition parties of Tamil Nadu are asking for CBI enquiry into why the Chembarambakkam lake was opened up belatedly, without prior notice by midnight. This single lake thus is responsible for bringing down the major part of the city. Inefficiency of the bureaucracy coupled with ignorance is the chief reason.
If we have to start investigating matters, we have to start with Veeranam water pipeline times of Karunanidhi period, beginning with 1968 when he served as PWD minister in the state government. Since then, not much has been done for capacity expansion of sewage treatment plants or holding capacity of reservoirs.
Jayalalitha carried out some water pipe and drainage pipe replacements in key areas of the city including my street. Now that has saved us from much of water logging. I guess we benefited because we live in the heart of the city.
In her second term as CM, Jayalalitha also carried out prompt RWH – Rain Water Harvest – that the successive Karunanidhi’s DMK government failed to keep up. When ADMK returned to power and Madam became the 3rd time CM, there was no time for her for administration (for a variety of personal reasons) and RWH has been since long forgotten. But most developers seem to be incorporating RWH in new projects, not because of any legal or corporation statute or rule book, but because they happen to think it is good and prudent to keep the water table replenished periodically with every monsoon. While weeding out of waterbodies was done systematically in previous JJ regimes during summers, nothing of the sort was carried out in the present term.
PRE-MONSOON CRITERIA: WEEDING THE UNDERGROWTH & MAINTENANCE/UP-KEEP OF WATERBODIES
Sometimes, citizens themselves take the initiative to weed out dense growth from lakes, tanks and ponds, sprucing them up for storage from an impending monsoon. NCC units for instance have been rendering such a selfless community service with young men involved in the good job for years. Chitrakulam, a small temple tank in Mylapore was thus cleared of weeds and made good by school students for a project. Similarly a few years back, my cousin and his friends weeded out the temple tank attached to Nitya Kalyana Perumal temple in ECR (30 km from city).
When the government is dysfunctional, it is finally upto us countrymen to fend for ourselves. This is what happened in Coimbatore (refer the above link).
IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
A wild thought: is it possible to reclaim the lost waterbodies of the city ever? Soon sanity returns. Those regularized settlements like Nungambakkam, Anna Nagar and Mogappair were after all government layouts principally when the lake beds ran dry in off-seasons or harsh summers. Not saying the private promoters had no role to play. These encroachments on natural water bodies have since long been integrated into the corporation limits and constitute the heart and lung of the metropolis today. Even the highrises/tech-parks/complexes in OMR cannot be reclaimed, even if falling under various Panchayats situated in the outskirts of Chennai. But someone somewhere will come to foot atleast a part of the bill : and that someone could be our maid or driver or cook or tailor or bus conductor or factory worker or carpenter or plumber or mason who would have spent his/her entire life savings in procuring patta for that tiny square bit of land parcel he/she may fondly and proudly refer to as home, bribing officials at all levels… I am talking about the encroachments in Coovum and Adyar and Buckingham Canal banks… It is these hapless residents who will pay dearly with their lives and livelihood in case of manmade disasters, and never the upper middle class residents of Nungambakkam or T Nagar or the corporates of OMR/ECR belt.
Very shortly expect to see bulldozers smashing to smithereens whatever is left off the pathetic wash-out of the lower middle-class subsistence that will be once again be thrown out of the city, forced to start life from scratch…. Rest of us can still pick up the pieces from where we left and move on…
CHENNAI’S WATERSHED MOMENTS…
A friend in Pammal recounts the harrowing night. The locality boasts of new constructions so did not go much under the deluge. The friend’s house stood 1 meter water (only) for a single night and she and her husband were forced to flee to the top floor. She says there was running water in the street like a rivulet but they did not fear it getting in. Without power, the couple were planning to retire to their rooms for the evening. Just then their neighbours knocked alerting them to a rise in water level and seeking refuge. Their old house next door lying at a lower level already had over 4-5 feet of water and they panicked. Water was starting to enter my friend’s place. The 2 families moved furniture, locked doors and barely had time to disconnect electronics before fleeing up the stairs. Within minutes says she, the entire ground floor inside the house had about 1 meter water in which snakes came swimming.
They spent sleepless night in the open terrace at third level, abandoning even the middle floor, worried about rising water level. In mid-morning next day my friend says, flood water finally receded completely in her place. But had had done enough damage by then. She is still scouring her grand house clean. Lots of re-fixing have to be carried out which will cost the family a fortune.
It has been raining nonstop for days in the city from even before Diwali. There was a light respite in the 3rd week of November but the rains resumed with vengeance by 24th.
Chembarambakkam, the largest reservoir supplying water to the city, had not been opened up in time by officials as CM’s signature was pending as well as the Chief Secretary’s. For 2-3 days, valuable time was wasted in exchange of correspondence. Inefficiency and indecisiveness cost the state dear. The lake had neared its full holding capacity by the first spell of monsoons itself. The delay and official apathy destroyed much of Chennai. By midnight the officials realized they could not postpone opening the floodgates – and when they did, it caught the napping citizens by surprise. Without power and with phone lines down and communication channels cut, many lost their lives as well as valuable assets.
With much of Chembarambakkam water discharged, now the retained capacity is merely 60% avers the friend who fears a water crisis in the city by next year this time, should the monsoons fail in the following season. Had the opening up been gradual and regulated, the standing capacity could have been maintained at a safe and healthy 85%. Too much of water in November and water scarcity by July, is it? What a reversal of fates.
Mismanagement of the highest levels where the government, official bureaucracy failed miserably but the good samaritans of Madras rose in a single wave giving humanitarian help.
‘No crimes reported during relief operations, but do not expect the conditions to persist’, warns the friend. ‘As reality sinks in, the state/city is left with millions on pavements without a roof over their heads and not a pair of clothes to change.’ Next few years will be very difficult for Chennaites predicts she, when crime-rates will zoom and murder for gain will become commonplace. And this is not counting the Epidemics. ‘Wait until January when the slum dweller feels the pinch, the owner of the cornershop who’s lost his stocks and customers in one go starts counting his losses and the labourer lacks his tools to go back to work. This is not about individuals, this is about a society where everyone’s livelihood has been crushed. This is not about rain or floods; this is about the morale of the city/state, this is our destiny.’