'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The First Quarter - Images

As this blog is poised to enter its 'teens' (it began in April 2005) and to complete three years as a blog with pictures, we collect some images from the last three months.

A poignant vision from the last evening of 2017 - a colossal 'Paappaanji' at Palluruthi Veli. Santa Klaus, apparently stricken with 'grahani', seems to be contemplating his impending fiery end (wonder when and why this ritual of burning Santa came about).


Two wood carvings from the walls of the Vazhappalli Mahadeva temple near Chenganacheri. These pics were taken rather surreptitiously and with trembling hands, and it shows.

First up, a belligerently majestic Krishna and his consort Satyabhama returning triumphantly on Garuda from the battle with Narakasura. The lady seems to be holding up a branch of the Parijata tree. A different working of this group is the principal image in worship at the Pundareekapuram temple.

Now, it is Krishna's turn to contemplate his end. In his 10-armed Yogeswara form, the lord plays the flute and waits for Jara's fateful arrow. A bit of doubt: how could the hunter have seen and aimed at Krishna's foot mistaking it for whatever, if the latter sits in padmasana like this?


Sometime in February, I saw this photograph on display at the Durbar Hall art gallery. Cardinal Alencheri, now caught in a sad controversy over some real estate dealings, snapped with his face 'eclipsing' the face of St Thomas (whose picture is in the background) and with his head surrounded by St Thomas's halo. But, in a wicked bit of detailing, the pointed end of the saint's lance now rises behind the Cardinal like the tip of a Devil's Tail. The photographer: a certain Mr. Aji.


As was noted in an earlier post, the sculptures at Subhas Bose park are being renovated. Dripping with a fresh coat of aggressive red, Raghav Kaneria's thunderous bull bellows...

The day the work on the sculptures ended (further landscaping is in progress as I write), veteran artist Nambuthiri visited the park. As he settled on a waterfront bench, lit by the sinking sun, shutterbugs swung into action...


In post written around 4 years ago, I had mentioned the Koothattukulam Mahadeva temple and its impending renovation. A recent revisit there yielded no clinching evidence of any serious renovation having happened. But a small subsidiary shrine has been built within the temple enclosure and the following Nagayakshi (Serpent Goddess) image has been installed (Note: I have a vision of a coffee table picture book devoted exclusively to the Naga images of Kerala).


Tripunithura is where Vishnu is worshipped in his regal Purnathrayeesa form. Here is an image of the interior of a car that I saw parked near the temple. The lord sits stiffly on his serpent-throne while a perky belly dancer struts her stuff nearby.


A very curious clay mask made by Mahesh, who studies English literature. I particularly loved the double helix horns - to my knowledge, there isn't and there has never ever been any beast with such a fantastic feature (although there are deer/antelope species with single helix horns and there are species with 4 horns (a pair on each side)).


A brief visit to the Konkani quarter of Mattancheri yielded two very curious pictures, both on display at the YNP hall (thanks to Rahul who snapped them for us)...

The above pic, done in Kerala mural style, shows sage Shuka (blue-skinned and unclothed, as he is often shown) as he narrates the Bhagavata Purana to king Pareekshit (right foreground). Pareekshit too is facing his end, having been cursed with death by snake-bite but he looks anything but pensive here - perhaps the power of the purana.

And here is a grand 'group photo' as most divinities who matter assemble at Vishnu's wedding to Lakshmi. This wedding is as rare a subject in our art as the Siva-Parvati wedding is common.

Curious details abound in this picture but none strikes me as much as practically every face therein (especially every female face) having been given essentially the same (and very Gaud Saraswat Brahmin) features. And among the very few exceptions to this rule is the somewhat droopy, parrot-bodied apparition to the right and it is again sage Shuka (let us note that the word 'shuka' literally means 'parrot' and that even in the earlier Pareekshit pic, the sage is flanked by two parrots)! Among the figures I can't identify is the central male figure apparently performing the 'kanyadanam'. The picture is signed by a certain 'N Kumar'.


A glimpse of the the interior of a Kochi metro train in rush hour - 9 am on a monday; picture taken in early March 2018.


A few days back, I happened to walk past 'Indian Guest House' a century-or-two old colonial building in the heart of Ernakulam.

This building is still in residential use. Over the generations, many of my relatives have lived in it. My earliest memory of the place is as a four year old, of an evening on those expansive steps, relishing my earliest remembered experience of ice cream (vanilla of course; pop had brought a big pack from nearby 'Woodlands').

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

'Tale-less' Tales - 2

Some more 'tale-less' stories from Mali's Malayalam classic 'Puranakathamalika'...


Dhruva was a noble and brave king and an ardent devotee of Vishnu. He had a half-brother named Uttama.

One day, prince Uttama, out hunting, had an encounter with a Yaksha and was killed. Suruchi, his mother (and Dhruva’s step-mother) died of grief.

Dhruva swore revenge and marched his troops into the realm of the Yakshas. A grim battle ensued. The Yakshas lost heavily, unable to match Dhruva’s valour.

And then Manu, the primordial father of Mankind, appeared before Dhruva and said: “Your brother was murdered. But why would you want to take revenge on the murderer's race? And Kubera, the king of Yakshas is a loyal devotee of Siva; Siva’s anger is impossible to face. So, stop the fighting and seek Kubera’s grace!”

Dhruva immediately ordered a cessation of hostilities. Kubera appeared before him and said: “O Dhruva, you are truly great. And your greatest quality is your devotion to Vishnu. I shall be honored to grant you any boon!”

Dhruva had no doubt as to what he wanted. “Grant me undying faith in Vishnu!” he said.

“So be it!” said Kubera.


The Final Solution

In the beginning, Brahma, the creator, created all life forms.

They multiplied exponentially and the world soon was overloaded. Mother Earth began to sink. The problem was serious and no solution was in sight. Brahma thought and thought and frustration became anger and anger became a raging inferno that threatened to burn the universe to ashes. Siva intervened and asked Brahma to calm down. With great difficulty Brahma managed to control his fury and from his concentrated anger, there emerged a maiden. She was all red, yellow and black. Her name was Mrityu.

“Go forth, Mrityu and become the Death of each individual living being when its Time has run out. Let the burden on the earth ease!” said Brahma.

But Mrityu was having none of it. “No Father, I can’t be so cruel as to snatch from living beings what is most beloved to them, their life breath!” She declared and left in a huff.

She performed severe austerities until Brahma again appeared before her.

Mrityu said: “I seek only one boon. Please take away from me this horrible task of killing!”

It was Brahma’s turn to say No. And he added: “We gods shall arrange that no sin will attach to you for taking lives. But, you must obey us - indeed, without Death, there can be no Life!”

Mrityu knew she had no choice but to acquiesce. But her compassion for her would be victims flowed out as tears - a few drops fell on Brahma’s palm as he tried to console her.

“My child, your tears won't be in vain." said Brahma."They shall become diseases and aid you in your mission! Go ahead with my blessings!”



Siva once got angry at one of Indra's transgressions (actually, Siva, in disguise, had tricked Indra into misbehaving). The anger burst forth as fire from his third eye. Indra, fear-struck, begged for mercy and Siva pardoned him. The lord also gathered his anger into a flaming ball and flung it into the ocean.

The ball of fire assumed the form of a little boy. The Ocean gathered him in his lap, named him Andhaka and brought him up with love and affection. Andhaka grew up to be an immensely powerful Asura and a sworn enemy of the Gods.

Unable to face his might, Indra turned to Vishnu for assistance. Andhaka fought Vishnu to a standstill and then said: "Vishnu, it was improper for you to have picked up this fight with me. Indeed, your consort Laxmi first emerged from the Ocean and the same Ocean has brought me up. I am thus, her younger brother and your 'saala'.

Vishnu stopped all fighting and he and Laxmi went to Andhaka's palace as honored guests. Brothers in law parted as brothers. And sure enough, Andhaka resumed his assault on the hapless Indra...

As to how it all ended,... through the machinations of Narada, Andhaka developed a fancy for Parvati and ordered Siva to hand over his wife... and in the ensuing battle, Siva managed to kill him and save the Indra's backside.



Mitrasaha was a virtuous and just king. He was also very brave.

Once, he fought and killed an evil Rakshasa. The dead Rakshasa had an even nastier brother who wanted to get even with the king. He assumed a human form and approached Mitrasaha claiming to be a great cook. The king was impressed with his skills and made him the royal chef.

A few months later, Vasishtha, the king's guru came visiting. The king ordered a grand feast. The evil chef managed to smuggle in a curry made of human flesh and served it to the sage.

Super-smart Vasishtha figured out he had been served human flesh. His anger rose and came out as a curse: "May this evil king who had human flesh served to me become a man-eating Rakshasa!"

Mitrasaha was shocked beyond words. He invoked his own considerable spiritual virtues and was about to strike Vasishtha with a retaliatory curse when his noble queen intervened. "Please, my Lord! Don't curse our guru, whatever the provocation!" The king generously retracted his curse.

But Vasishtha, of course, didn't. And Mitrasaha became a demon who stalked a jungle highway and preyed upon defenceless wayfarers.

Once Mitrasaha caught a young and newly married Rishi. The victim's bride pleaded with him: "Lord, we know you to be none other than our noble king Mitrasaha. Do remember, protecting the weak is your dharma. Please spare my husband!" But the rakshasa would have none of that. He ate up the rishi. His distraught wife cremated her husband's remains and committed Sati.

The brutal murder of the rishi brought upon Mitrasaha's head the horrendous burden of the sin of 'Brahmahatya'.


Finally, Vasishtha's spiritual prowess released Mitrasaha from his sins and made him king all over again!

Note: What is recorded above of Mitrasaha's story follows what Mali retold. And compared to the full story, narrated in multiple versions in our epics, Mali's version is but kid-stuff! See the Wiki entry on 'Kalmashapada' ( and one sees that Vasishtha deployed rather more than merely spiritual prowess to save the king.

'Tale-less' Tales - 1

Note: 'Tale-less-ness' is the literal translation of the Malayalam word ‘kathayillaayma’. The latter is a rather subtle word and indicates a total freedom from concerns about moral, intent, meaning…. I believe this quality to be the hallmark of a truly great story. The Mahabharata is of course, the ultimate, Cosmic-level example of kathayillayma but smaller examples abound, scattered all over the vast corpus of our Puranic lore.

A recent exploration of ‘Puranakathamalika’ , a massive compilation of Puranic stories by the late Mali has been greatly illuminating. Here are some samples... and btw, I think someone ought to bring out an English translation of at least a subset of this tome.



A Brahmin and his young family were traveling along a jungle path in the Pandya kingdom. It was a hot day. The Brahmin told his wife and child to rest under a tree and went to fetch water.

Meanwhile, a Hunter nearby shot an arrow at a flying bird. The arrow missed the mark and briefly got caught in some foliage. A gust of wind caused it to fall and it fell bang on the neck of the Brahmin’s wife. Returning with water, the Brahmin was shattered to see his wife lifeless, her throat slit by the arrow. And the unsuspecting hunter presently made an entry, weapons and all. In a tearing rage, the Brahmin caught the hunter and dragged him to the court of king Kulottunga Pandya, with the Hunter protesting his innocence all along.

The king was puzzled. He felt sad for the Brahmin but the Hunter's words rang true as well. He prayed to his tutelary deity Sundareswara (Siva) for guidance. Presently, he heard an inner voice: “O King! Go out in disguise tonight and mingle with the guests at the first wedding celebration that you see!”

The king did as he was told. At the wedding venue, he spotted some shadowy, shady-looking guys lurking in a dark corner. They were talking in hushed voices. The king stealthily approached and listened:

Shady 1 : “You, get going! Grab the groom. The Master waits"

Shady 2: “ Hello, I know my job. Just wait for the ceremony to get over!”

Shady 3: “And then?”

Shady 2: “See that cow tethered there? I will cut that rope and make her rush madly, scattering the guests..”

Shady 1: And?

Shady 2: "The animal will go straight for the groom and gore him. Neat, isn’t it?"

Shady 4 (he had been silent till then): "Not a bad idea. But not as neat as what I managed yesterday!"

Shady 2: "Oh, really?! And what is the big thing you did?"

Shady 4: "The Time had come for a Brahmin’s Wife. I simply deflected a misdirected arrow from a hunter straight down and cut her throat!"

Shady 2: "Hmm, smart work, Elder!.... Hey, the ceremony has begun!"

The eavesdropping king had figured out the shady characters were actually agents of Yama, the God of Death. But just to be sure, he waited and watched.

Indeed, the ceremony got over, the cow charged and the bridegroom lay dead in a pool of blood!

At the next day, the King revealed what he had seen the previous night to his courtiers. The innocent Hunter was acquitted and sent away with some gifts. The bereaved Brahmin received a great amount of gold.



Durvasa is a sage known for his short temper and a propensity to hand out curses.

Once, he felt he didn’t have sufficient clarity on Dharma (loosely translated as Virtue; but it is more of the Cosmic Order of Things). He performed very rigorous Tapas to earn an audience with Dharma in person.

The austerities went on for a long time, but unsuccessfully. Durvasa’s frustration became anger and was just beginning to explode into a rage when Dharma appeared.

“O Sage, kindly control your anger. It can harm me greatly. And it might even harm you!” Dharma pleaded.

Durvasa wasn’t impressed. But asked nevertheless:

“Well Dharma, I see a group of divinities with you. Let me know them!”

Dharma was somewhat relieved. He introduced his retinue: “This is Ahimsa, that is Chastity, meet Compassion, Patience, ….”

Having gotten to know Dharma and his entourage fully, Durvasa spoke again: “Look here, Dharma, you have been unfair to me for a long while. Over the years, I performed severe penances but somehow, you never seemed to care enough. Even today, you took too long. At least, you did well to reach me before I totally lost it. So, I shall give you only one Curse!”

Dharma: “if you curse injures me, the whole world will be affected!"

Durvasa: "I know, I know. But you shall have two curses, one for getting me angry and one for arguing with me!"

Dharma: "I didn't argue with you. Instead I beg of you, please don’t curse me!"

Durvasa: "Make it three curses!"

Dharma: "Sir, is there any request whatever that I can make?"

Durvasa: "Yes, I shall allow you one request."

Dharma: "Please don’t condemn me to an Earthly life as either a King, a Servant Maid’s Son or a Cremation Yard hand!"

Durvasa: "I allowed you one request and you made three! … Enough of bargaining, here are my three curses. May you be reborn as a King, a servant maid’s son and a cremationn yard hand! "

And sure enough, Dharma had to incarnate as a King (Yudhishthira), a servant’s son (Vidura) and a chandala (Harishchandra).



Vitahavya was a warlike Kshatriya king. He had many mighty and brave sons.

Kashi was a prosperous kingdom. Vitahavya and his sons attacked and looted it. They also put Haryaswa, the king of Kashi to death.

Sudeva, Haryaswa’s son and Divodasa, his brave grandson, rebuilt Kashi but they too couldn’t hold out when Vitahavya’s sons made repeated invasions. Kashi lay in ruins.

Driven to exile, the desperate Divodasa performed a special sacrifice for a valiant son. He soon begat a bright and energetic boy whom he named Pratardana.

Pratardana slowly rebuilt Kashi and organized a powerful army. He boldly took the initiative and attacked Vitahavya’s citadel itself. War raged - and one by one, all of Vitahavya’s sons fell, all despatched by Pratardana's sword.

Unable to hold out and shattered by the loss of his sons, Vitahavya fled from the battlefield and sought refuge in the hermitage of the Rishi Bhrigu. Vengeful Pratardana, who had sworn to kill Vitahavya, soon followed him there.

Bhrigu received the victorious king with courtesy. Pratardana spoke: “Sir, a sinner who, with his sons, did great damage to my country and family is hiding here. I need to punish him!”

Bhrigu: "Pratardana, this hermitage is a peaceful place where there can be no killing, no war. Only Brahmins, I repeat, only Brahmins live here!"

Pratardana knew that Bhrigu was one of the very few Masters who had the spiritual authority to ‘promote’ a Kshatriya to Brahmin-hood. So, he figured out that the hapless Vitahavya had been converted into a Brahmin and now was beyond his reach – for, although Kshatriyas could attack and kill each other, the scriptures strictly forbade a Kshatriya from killing a Brahmin.

He spoke: “I have killed all of Vitahavya’s sons. And I managed to make him give up even his caste in fear and that is a victory as well. So I shall consider Justice as having taken its course, and yes, my revenge as complete. Grant me leave!”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mysterious Emperor, Mysterious Idols

"Aitihyamala is full of resource material for plays, poems, novels,... Read it. Then re-read it. And then, read it once more!" - ONV Kurup

"By the Beard of the Buddha..."

'Pallibana Perumal' was a legendary Perumal - 'emperor' - of ancient Kerala. He reigned around 1000 AD. Here is a portion of an article on him from the evergreen Keralan classic 'Aitihyamala':

"This Perumal, though a Hindu by birth, fell under the influence of some elements and converted to Buddhism. Kiliroor, now a village near Kottayam, was his residence for many years. The Perumal built a Vihara-like temple there and installed a Buddha idol; it showed the master meditating under the Bodhi tree. The long-bearded idol is manifestly that of a hermit. .... Perumal was an ardent Buddhist and tried hard to propagate his new faith among his subjects - and some of them converted out of sheer fear. He was also keen that the priests at the new temple be selected from among Brahmins. Some Brahmins did become priests albeit with great reluctance - they would take a purifying bath after performing the puja to Buddha....

After a while, some Muslims from Mecca came and settled in the area. Their leaders met Perumal with gifts and obtained permission from him to build a mosque. Some Muslim scholars soon established cordial relations with the ruler .... and well, before long, he left Buddhism for Islam. And Perumal was as pious a Muslim as he had been a Buddhist; he would spend most of his time at the mosque studying the Koran.

Though a confirmed Muslim now, Perumal remained devoted to Buddha and would often worship at the Vihara. When some Muslim elders quizzed him about it, he told them that the idol in the Vihara was actually that of Prophet Mohammed. Then the Muslims too started kneeling in prayer and prostrating before the Buddha - a practice that persisted long after the Perumal's passing (*) and even into the early 20th century.... "

Aitihyamala goes on to say: For centuries, Kiliroor remained a Buddhist pocket. But finally, sick of the mockery and ill-treatment from Hindus who lived in the surrounding villages, the people of Kiliroor decided to build a temple of Ayyappa alongside the Buddha shrine. That led to further complications - goddess Kartyayani ( a form of Parvati) revealed to a devout lady called Kothayamma that she would be 'taking over' the newly built temple and that she was okay with Ayyappa too being worshiped there - but only as a subsidiary deity. (Note: At least some serious historians say Kartyayani was a mother goddess revered by Buddhists. However, Wiki, quoting the Amarakosa, says the slightly different(if at all) 'Katyayani' is simply a synonym of Parvati)

I visited Kiliroor last week. The primary intent was to see the 'Bearded Buddha'. The village is located in the backwater district of central Kerala and the terrain is very flat except for a nearly 50 foot high hillock. The Kartyayani temple stands right on top; indeed, what we have there is a religious complex with a host of sub-shrines, including one dedicated to Ayyappa.

Here is a shrine dedicated to the Nagas; it is part of the Kartyayani temple complex:

I asked a few locals about the Buddha. They said the Buddha idol sits in a building that also contains a Krishna subshrine (picture below) but is no longer worshiped or even shown to visitors (no one seemed to know why).

One gentleman said the doorway leading to the Buddha has remained locked for at least 50 years. Another said the Buddha idol is not a proper statue but a relief carving done on a granite wall. There was also disagreement as to which door of the building (at least two appear permanently closed) leads to the Buddha. And as is obvious, the building doesn't look more than a century or two old and so cannot have been the original Vihara.

And yes, no one had anything to say about the Master's beard. Note: I first read the Aitihyamala story of Perumal while in Primary School. But it was only after its umpteenth re-reading last week that I contemplated even the possibility of Buddha sporting a beard - this despite Buddhism being a long-time favorite subject.

Outside the north-western corner of the temple enclosure stands this little edifice, empty and derelict. Wonder what its story could be:

The Idol that got Stuck

Just a kilometer or so from Kiliroor is Thiruvarpu. A varpu is a vast and flat bottomed metal vessel used for large scale cooking and the literal meaning of Thiruvarpu is 'holy varpu'. The place has a Krishna temple and this is its story, again from Aitihyamala (note: the Perumal has no role in this):

Legendary saint Vilwamangalath Swamiyar was traversing our backwaters by boat. At some particular spot, he felt the presence of some holy object lying submerged. He promptly dived in and fished out a beautiful Krishna idol and resumed his journey....

A short while later, Swamiyar wanted to take a leak and asked the boatmen to pull ashore. Now, he faced a problem. It was ritually unclean to pee while holding the idol; putting it down on the bare ground was also sacrilegious (and he didn't want to leave the idol with the boatmen for whatever reason). Swamiyar saw a big varpu lying nearby and put the idol in it and went to ease himself. When he got back, he couldn't lift the idol off the varpu - the two objects had gotten fused together!

Soon, Swamiyar called the local elders over and .... long story short, they built a temple there and installed the idol+varpu composite in the sanctum. And there they remain to this day.

At Thiruvarpu, I stared long and hard into the innter sanctum. The Krishna idol is substantial - about 3 feet tall - but it didn't look as if it stands inside a varpu. But an 'official' temple poster shows the vessel very clearly:

I asked a couple of temple employees about the varpu. One of them said I hadn't looked carefully enough and maybe even if I had, I wouldn't have seen the vessel - the adornments on the idol might have obscured it. The other gentleman said that the varpu exists but only as a 'sankalpa' (=concept). Another devotee wanted to know why someone would come all the way from Cochin to this temple to check out an old cooking pot, to the apparent exclusion of more uplifting concerns.

Thiruvarpu is famous for its 'neypayasam' and claims to be the earliest-opening temple in the entire country - everyday, darshan begins at 2 am. A glass box has been fixed on a wall in the temple enclosure and a tomahawk sits inside. An adjacent inscription goes: "Punctuality is of utmost importance here. If for any reason, the inner sanctum cannot be opened for puja at the appointed hour, use this axe to break thru any obstacle!"

The same gentlemen who had told me about the 'conceptual varpu' said: "By the grace of the Lord, never in history have we had to use that axe"


A piece of news: The sculptures of Subhash Bose park, the subject of our film 'Poo Viriyunnu, Poo Kozhiyunnu' (for new Readers, it is on Youtube - with English subtitles) are being restored and renovated - with just the right amount of fanfare - after a generation of neglect, decay and vandalism. Here is a picture from there:


(*) Aitihyamala goes on to say: One fine morning, the Perumal was nowhere to be seen. The previous evening, he had been seen at the mosque by many worshipers and nobody had an idea what had happened thereafter. Some suspected the Buddhists or Hindus to have bumped him off for his apostasy. Some said he slipped out in disguise and boarded a ship bound for Mecca. And some suspected he received an Assumption - was lifted up straight to heaven.


Note added on 29th Jan 2018: An article by Ajay Shekher, who is an artist and scholar, presents many interesting details (and speculations) about Kiliroor, including a photograph of the metallic Krishna idol that is still under active worship. That it doesn't look like a 'standard' Krishna or Vishnu is obvious - it shows a meditating male figure somewhat like Badrinath. But, meditation apart, it is not proper Buddha either - the figure wears an elaborate crown, not an usnisa. Let me quote a bit from Shekher:

The uniqueness of the temple is the relief of the Buddha inside a shrine now dedicated to Krishna. The idol of Krishna looks like a Yogic Avalokitesvara in Padmasana.... (and the Buddha relief) is on the other side of the wall behind 'Krishna'.

It seems there aren't too many around who have physically seen the Buddha relief - presumably it was openly visible in early 20th century when Aitihyamala was compiled. Shekher's article is silent on the Master's beard; and the Krishna-Avalokiteswara idol is clean-shaven.

Sekher says the temple "must be conserved for the whole humanity who value the life and teachings of the compassionate one". His article also has phrases like "the Sramana past of Kerala and its democratic and egalitarian cultures" and "Brahmanical aversion to a Mlecha (Buddhist) holy place". I am reminded of an old post of mine titled "Buddha, Pizza and India" .

Friday, December 15, 2017

Veda to Bhrantan

An earlier post here on the barber's profession had quoted from a vedic hymn on Agni, the fire god: "Agni eats up forests just as a barber cleans up a beard!". The other day, I saw in the Rigveda: "Ushas, the goddess of dawn, sweeps away darkness just as a barber shaves off unwanted hair".

Back in the 1950s, working well past his 75th birthday, Kerala's great poet Vallathol put together the first ever Malayalam translation of the Rigveda. A copy of this swansong of his - as remarkable a feat of endurance as of scholarship - has just come into my possession.

At a quick glance one observes that some of the most hard-hitting verses in the Rigveda are dedicated to the Aswin twins:

- "O Aswins, moved by the site of your devotee Gotama suffering from thirst, you uprooted and brought a well from far away and tipped it over to bathe him in a bounteous waterfall!"

-"When your mount, the donkey took the form of a she-wolf and approached prince Rijashwa, your devotee, he stole a full hundred sheep from his subjects and slaughtered them to feed her. And when Rijashwa's enraged father Vrishagir smote him with blindness, you restored his eyesight!"

Note: Rijashwa's eagerness to please the wolf is likened to that of a young man's zest to satisfy the cravings of another man's wife - with whom he is having an illicit affair. This is one metaphor even Kalidasa would find hard to beat.

- "When princess Vadhrimati, married to a eunuch, sought your blessings to conceive, you came down in person and sired the noble Hiranyahasta in her" (very Greek, isn't it?)

More on this thread in future posts...

'The Rigged Veda'. That is the name of a chapter in Shashi Tharoor's Great Indian Novel'. I had dismissed that phrase as just another of the empty puns that litter this mostly insufferable novel; but as I have just come to know, the Vedas can be - and indeed have been - seriously rigged by, of all people, their ardent devotees. For example, there is a hymn in the Rigveda dedicated to Agni that has the following straight and punchy interpretation: "O Jataveda (Agni), we shall now press out the Soma juice for you. Have your fill of this potent brew and go burn up our enemies' wealth!"

Here is a bit from an online page that translates the same hymn thus:

"To that Jataveda (one from whom the Vedas are born, the Goddess Durga) we press out the Soma (i.e. Invoke Her ardently); (We invoke that Jataveda) Who consumes by Her Fire of Knowledge (Veda) all the Adversities (within and without) (And frees us from the bondage of the world)"

Note: Durga is not a Vedic deity at all. And also note the additional Vedantic baggage that has been foisted on to the original direct supplication:


A quote:

My biggest disappointment when it comes to India is the education system. It should be far better. I don't want to be critical, but I do want to create higher expectations about it. - Bill Gates

Captain told me the other day: "I was at the Calicut beach and saw a group of lower primary kids being shepherded around the park there by a couple of lady teachers. In the park is a vast and shallow concrete basin with a little water and a dead fountain. A little boy asked a Miss, pointing at the basin: "Is this water drinkable, or is it salty?"

Miss: " This water has to be salty.... they must be pumping it in from the sea!"

Boy: "But then Miss, this water is so still. If it were sea water, should it not go up and down in big waves?"

At this point Captain pauses and asks me. "What would the Miss have said?"

Self: "No idea. But nice question!" Captain: "Whatever, the Miss silently gave the boy a sharp slap and he asked no more questions"


All over India, one finds women named after rivers and the Earth. Men named after mountains or the ocean or the sky are also legion. The other day, I made the acquaintance of a 3 month old girl who has been named 'Vasudhara'; the first and only instance known to me of someone named after a waterfall (Vasudhara falls are beyond Badrinath - a few kilometers past Mana village on the Satopanth trail).


I recently reread an adventure of Naranath Bhrantan, Kerala's crazy master of antiquity. It goes thus:

A certain smart loafer, having heard Bhrantan is great company, asks if he could join him on his wanderings and tags along. They soon come upon a feast being held somewhere. Bhrantan sits down among the guests and is served. His companion follows suit and has his fill as well. "Hey this is cool!" he muses.

They start walking from the feast venue and eventually Bhrantan says: "I am thirsty". "So am I" says his self-appointed friend. They look around and see a metal worker smelting copper. "That will do" says Bhrantan and gathers some molten metal in his cupped palms and drinks it with relish. "You too have it!" he says. Seeing his companion dither, Bhrantan says: "Look here, if you want to live my life, you need not only to eat what I eat but to drink what I drink!"

Some of my colleagues happened to tell me the very next day: "You have lots of generous friends; they give you books, they take you to far off places, they buy you nice gadgets,... why don't you introduce some of them to us, we too could do with some gifts!"

And I heard myself say: "I can happily share my friends with you provided you agree to share my enemies too - I have had several viper-like illwishers. If you can take both sets, it's a deal!"


While on Bhrantan and his admirers, here is another episode:

As part of his ongoing research project, Vimal was exploring the myths surrounding Bhrantan and his siblings, especially, the master craftsman Perunthachan. I went along on his very first field trip last April. The principal objective of that particular trip was to meet Dr. Rajan Chungath, who has spent several years studying - and writing about - folk traditions surrounding Bhrantan and his brothers. We had an appointment at 3 pm but reached Pattambi, Dr. Rajan's hometown by 1. Wondering what to do with the two hours remaining, we thought of Rairanelloor hill, where Bhrantan used to roll up boulders; it was just a few kilometers away so we drove there. Long story short, we had a very hard time trekking to the summit but managed, beating severe dehydration and cramps and the searing heat.

We got to Dr. Chungath's place bang on time. He asks: "You drove down here from Cochin... how did you time your arrival so well?" Vimal says: "We actually arrived here long back. Since we didn't want to disturb you before the appointed time, we decided to take a look at Rairanelloor"

Chungath: "Rairanelloor? What did you do there in this weather?"

Self: "When we reached there, it was just past 1 pm; there was plenty of time, so we just climbed the hill"

Dr. Chungath stares at us in disbelief, then laughs out aloud and says: "You guys are Bhrantan's men, well and truly!"


Ezhattumukham is a scenic spot on the Chalakudy river; the river is broken into several frothing streams by granite hilllocks and they all rejoin a little downstream. On a recent visit there, we spotted this:

The pristine white lumps are diapers, perhaps used, perhaps adult. Many more littered the bank, all spotless. Maybe they were dumped somewhere upstream and the river washed them up here, cleansed.


Thanks to Captain, I recently visited Kozhikode, a city where I spent my first six years. Waves breaking on the Calicut beach and the pier are powerful visual memories from my early childhood. The latter has since turned into what looks like a row of black storks.


A brief exchange I had with a social media friend:

Self: This idea of the a bullet train from Amdavad to Bombay is idiotic. We should be trying to develop the entire network... And what is the goddam point in going from Bombay to Amdavad in 3 hours when to go from Bombay to Blore or Chennai or Hyderabad - all bigger cities than Amdavad - by train will continue to take so many hours more than even intercity buses. Bullet train it seems!

Friend: USA has 2000 active airports. India too needs to get them and get all kinds of planes, big, small, tiny... and all should fly. About time we stopped caring about our trains. Indian Railways is just a job generator and vote bank creator - a means to win elections by doling out government jobs and filling SC/ST quotas!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

From Here and There

A poetic coincidence

Two images, so uncannily reminiscent of one another:

-"Time, thou glorious beam of Light awakening from the depths of the Cosmic Ocean!"

- the song 'Pralayapayodhiyil' by Vayalar from the film 'Mazhakkaru'; my translation.

-"The Edge of Breath, a sliver of Light, polished and burnished by the flow of Time"

- from the poem 'Portrait', by Malini Murali

The Metro, again

Has the Kochi Metro eased traffic congestion? Most folks answer this question in the negative. Along its path, the metro has cluttered roads with pillars and stuff and made construction of flyovers well nigh impossible so some offer the gloomy prediction that traffic woes are actually going to get worse.

However, as I have just discovered, the above question is totally beside the point; the Metro's intent is not to decongest roads. It aims - first and last - to give an alternative and quick means of transport; period. Earlier, no one had a fast way to get across the city. Now, at least some have a choice. To give a similar example, the graded, paid Darshan system at Tirupati does not aim to make things easier for every pilgrim - indeed it might make the wait longer for those who can't pay - but those who do pay will get quick service.

Two ponds

Here are two kulams (home ponds) from Monsoon Kerala - less than a hundred meters apart, they look very different due to the wildly different floating vegetation.

And it is not just the appearance. Shortly after the latter pic was taken, I had to plunge in and pull ashore the scummy raft of weeds - it became an experience reminiscent of what happened to Kuppu Achan on his nocturnal fishing expedition (Khasak).

Stoicism - A desi Parable ( as narrated by eminent poet Sugathakumari; I don't have any comment on it)

On a visit to an arid village in Rajasthan, I asked a laborer engaged in breaking stones:"How long have you been doing this work?"

"As long as I can remember!" He replied. "My father and his father were stone breakers too!"

- "What about your children? Do you not want them to go to school?"

- "I have a son. And he too will break stones for a living."

- "Don't you wish at least for him an easier life?"

- "An easy life? Even Lord Rama had to suffer so much. My son too shall face his karma!"

The unlettered laborer's words, to me, contain the quintessence of the Indian world-view - a world-view that enshrines such a beautifully detached and wholehearted acceptance of Life - the rock-solid foundation of our civilization!

In Dubious Parentage

"Leonardo da Vinci had the good luck to be a bastard. Otherwise, he would have been expected to become a notary like the first born legitimate sons in his family stretching back at least five generations." (from a biography of the great man I happened to look into today - and didn't buy owing to its steep price)

A French Physicist once told me: "Back in 18th century France, the word 'bastard' was an honorific. It was reserved for the king's sons by one of his (acknowledged) mistresses. If you are a bastard in 18th century France, you aren't quite a prince but a very important person nevertheless!"

And here is a bit from the B(ast)ard's 'Troilus and Cressida':

Margarelon: Turn, slave, and fight.

Thersites: What art thou?

Margarelon: A bastard son of Priam's.

Thersites: I am a bastard too; I love bastards..... One bear will not bite another, and wherefore should one bastard? Take heed, the quarrel's most ominous to us ....Farewell, bastard! (exit)

Margarelon: The devil take thee!

Metamorphosis - another parable ( I heard this last month and quote without comment)

A certain Jack was an alcoholic and binge eater. One evening, returning home from the tavern, he passed out at the doorway of his house. He suddenly had a stunning vision. The angel of death had come for his soul: "You Sinner, your present life has been such a waste! You are now dead! But God has granted you another life so you will soon reincarnate as a hen!" Soon, Jack saw he had become hen cooped up in a poultry farm. Remarkably, he could remember every moment of his just concluded human life and his excesses but couldn't tell anyone about his Fall. As he sadly contemplated his new station, Jack could sense something beginning to move in his belly. He heard a voice within say: "Time for you to lay an egg!" Soon, Jack the Hen could sense an egg roll out from within him - it was a pleasantly fulfilling feeling. Soon thereafter, another egg developed within and he/she prepared to let go of it....

Suddenly came a violent blow to the head and the feeling of a fog lifting painfully from the eyes. And the voice of his wife from his former human life rang out, yelling: "Good for nothing scum, you shat all over the doorway!"

A remarkable quote

"Even the villages in Kerala are more beautiful than the cities in Bihar" - Sushil Kumar Modi, BJP leader from Bihar, married to a lady from Kerala.

And this pic has been christened the 'Jyotirlinga' - a criminally bald English translation is 'pillar of light'.

Signing off: My writing efforts are feeling the burden of age. But I am very happy to note I used the word 'thou' for the first ever time today, just a few lines above this.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Maveli and Metro - an Onam Survey

As is well-known, the ancient (and ageless) king Mahabali (Maveli) was banished to the netherworld 'Pathalam' by the gods and visits (or is allowed to visit) his subjects in Kerala every Onam. And as is even better known, the Kochi Metro opened with great fanfare a few months ago.

The following pic came my way on Onam day. I circulated it among friends with a request for a caption.

Here are the responses (those in Mal have been provided with translations).


- "Ithinu Pathalathil stoppundo chetta?!" ("Does this stop at my Pathalam, Bro?!")

- "Kochi pazhaya Kochi allenkilum Maveli pazhaya Maveli thanne!" ("Kochi has come a long way but old Maveli is his old self!" - a parody of a very popular and very daft 'punch-dialog' from the Mammootty film 'Big B')

- "Ithuthanne njan pande swapnam kanda ente Keralam!" ("This is just what I always dreamed for my Kerala!")

- "Golly, this Metro thing wasn't there when I came last... real cool!"

- "Metro Mitram" ( 'sutra'-like in its alliterative pithiness, this caption is open to all sorts of interpretations: "A Friend for our Metro" or "Metro, your friend" and so forth ...)

- "Cool, maan! Should get this to run thru Pathalam too!" .

Note: two respondents have given the above caption. One of them adds: "Should somehow kidnap Sridharan!" (E Sridharan, engineer and bureaucrat has guided the Kochi Metro project almost since inception).

- "Metro comes to Pathalam!"

- "Maveleem kummanadichey!" ("Maveli does a Kummanam!". Explanation: Local politician Kummanam Rajesekharan boarded the inaugural run of the Metro with national leaders in apparent violation of protocol. Trollers coined the word 'kummanadi' for sneaking in anywhere without ticket)

- "And yet it moves (sorry old Gal!)!"

- "Hey, this actually runs,... forward!"

- "Looks like it can take you down to Pathalam in ten seconds flat!"

- "Dey Maveli Metroil!" ("Look, Maveli in our Metro!" - a parody of the title of an old comic audio cassette).

- "Bhagavane, Kummanom kootiyillallo!" ("Gaad, not even Kummanam to be seen!")

- "Thudangiyappozhekkum Poottaaraayo?!" ("Gosh, just started service and already about to shut down,eh?!")

Sunday, August 27, 2017

An August Miscellany

Alternative title: 'Miscellany in August' (What say, Kuro?)

How now, Blue Cow?

Looking out from the Delhi-bound Prayagraj express as it coasted between Aligarh and Ghaziabad one steamy monsoon dawn, I saw an unfamiliar animal - somewhat taller and leaner than a bull, dark coated and well-muscled and with small horns. It was grazing in a freshly planted field.

Here are some Wiki details on the beast, commonly called the nilgai.

For centuries Indian villagers have associated the nilgai with the cow, a sacred animal revered by Hindus, and the name ("gai" means "cow" in Hindi) indicates the similarity they saw with the cow. The nilgai is rarely consumed by Hindus due to its religious significance. Tribes such as the Bishnois traditionally take care of wild animals like the nilgai....

The governments of Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand have urged the Government of India to declare the nilgai as vermin... As the name "nilgai" appeals to the religious sentiments of Hindus, the Government of Madhya Pradesh has sought to officially rename it as rojad (Hindi for "forest antelope") and the Government of Haryana to rename it as roze in a bid to make their culling acceptable...

Wiki also says the nilgai used to be called the "blue horse" during the time of Aurangzeb. As per the official 21st century image of the emperor, he would rather have called it the "blue cow" and slaughtered it to extinction. And at least from a Malayali viewpoint (the reason for bringing in the Mal angle here will remain unspecified), to call a horned animal any kind of horse is utterly stupid.


New Delhi, which I walked over intensively on the same day, is a strange place. One sees many restaurants, the majority of them quite swanky (in particular, there are about half a dozen in a small shopping center off Pandara road) but none was open during 7 am- 11 am. I was told they start at midday and stay open almost till daybreak. Wonder what it could be about the daily routine - and nightlife - of the city that warrants such timings. Indeed, to my knowledge the only eating place functioning in the above time window in a two kilometer radius of Pandara road operates out of a shed behind a sarkari office with infrastructure limited to a single bench and table and without running water.

(Aside: Must also say it was quite pleasing to see roads named after Bhavabhuti (ancient playwright considered second only to Kalidasa by many) and Copernicus)

Wearily trudging back to the railway station past Connaught place, I saw this figure hovering over a still closed restaurant.

The irony of a dark, winged and hoofed purveyor of illumination struck me. Looking around Wiki, it was a shock to know that ancient Biblical tradition viewed the brilliant Venus or Morning Star not as joyous harbinger of a new day but as a symbol of the tyrannical king Nebuchednezzer and even the Devil himself. The later name Lucifer (="light bringer") rose from this concept.

On Identity

Another Bible, Grady ("the daddy") Booch's textbook on Object Oriented Analysis has this picture: "Every object has a state, behavior and identity"

One morning, at the elephant yard behind Tripunithura temple, I saw a freshly instantiated variant of the third portion of the above triptych:

Khasak and Translation Woes:

"Saar, aarum chaavaatha katha!" that was Kunhamina specifying the type of story she would want to hear from Ravi.

I recall struggling to translate the phrase: "Aarum chaavaatha katha". A literal translation would be "A story in which no one dies" but that's too clumsy. The problem comes from the unique way the genius of Malayalam (equally Tamil) creates an adjective like 'aarum chaavaatha'; English (or Hindi for that matter) has nothing like a counterpart. (*)

"A story without death" would be inappropriately heavy - the reason being that Kunhamina is an as-yet-unlettered ten year old girl. I could identify with her angst about mortality but injecting the abstraction of 'death' would ruin the direct simplicity of her demand.

I ended up with "a story where no one dies!" - strictly speaking, wrong because a story is no location in space. But the translation had brevity - and methought that is about as close as English can get.

After many years of dithering, I have actually bought the English version of Khasak written by Vijayan himself. And here is what the Master has made Kunhamina say: "a story without dying!"


(*) To give another example from the same ballpark (I owe this to old friend Anil), 'pusthakangalilillaatha vivarangal' is the type of phrase routinely said in Malayalam. vivarangal means 'matters' but the two-word phrase can be said in English only as "matters which cannot be found in books"!

Aside: Recently, I saw the Malayalam "akkarekkaavil" translated as "At the temple on the other bank of the river". The translation is bad, and inevitably so! Indeed, 'akkare' only means 'on the other bank' but does not specify the type of the water body involved - it could be a river or a 'kayal'. And to translate 'kaavu' as 'temple' is criminally inadequate. A kaavu is a very specialized Keralan sanctuary and all its character is lost in the bald 'temple'.