- "a jackfruit falls into a rocky cleft,
and the tender honeycomb lies crushed."
- "wispy clouds play upon the cliffs jutting out from the mountain;
jackfruits hang from crooked trunks..."
'Cakka', as the jackfruit is known in Malayalam was a hugely loved fruit in these parts even millennia ago. As evidence, see the above samples from the classical Sangam poetry in ancient Tamil. Indeed, even at the most cursory look at Sangam love-songs (arguably the best translations into Malayalam are by N V Krishna Variyar), one can't but be struck by how much loving attention the cakka alone among all our summer fruits receives.
Here is an article
on the Jackfruit - just the kind of piece I would be very proud to have written and most probably, couldn't have. Samples:
"Often this tree recalls for me gifted, understated individuals in large families, who barely receive their due, but shoulder on regardless and carve out their own trajectory..."
"... the jackfruit also finds mention around 400 BC in Buddhist and Jain literature. 'Indian Food: A Historical Companion, OUP, 1998, points out that poetry in the Sangam period records the serving of jackfruit to wandering minstrels and a lover compares his beloved to the dainty stalk of the jackfruit."
I myself am not much of cakka-lover and in my childhood, this had marked me out as something of an oddity - those were times when everyone else used to hog 'cakkaculas'. But in recent years, the clear majority of Mallus seem to have developed a 'cold tongue' for this fruit - every summer Kerala gets a bounty of cakkas and the bulk of them are never even plucked. It is not at all uncommon to find jacktrees with scores of untouched fruit on their main trunk barely a few feet above the ground - a sight very reminiscent of the Ephesian Artemis. Come monsoon and the scent of rotting jackfruit fills our countryside compounds; and this happens when everyone is screaming unto the heavens how every fruit and vegetable is obsecenely overpriced!
Whatever our Sangam forebears sang, modern Kerala poets seldom mention the cakka. Despite the absence of the generic 'cakka', sporadic references to 'varikka' (also called 'thenvarikka' = honey-sweet varikka), a strain of jackfruit, still occur in film-songs; 'koozha', another other major variant of the fruit is summarily ignored. Such poetic choices seem primarily to spring from considerations of euphonic/lyrical-sounding qualities of words(*).
My own unenthusiasm for the cakka leaves out none of its strains but I do know a gentleman who eschews the thenvarikka but feasts on koozha-cakka. Here is another link
were one can read more about the 'cakka'in general and the varikka-koozha schism in particular.
Update - May 25th 2014: A fruit-vegetable mela
has just begun in Cochin. Focusing on the jackfruit, it tries to correct Kerala's 'criminal wastage of cakka'. The show has been named (predictably enough!) the 'then-varikka fest' - not the direct and honest 'cakka fest', not to speak of the 'koozha fest'.
2. VARAHA, BAHRAM AND VRITRA
Several years ago, I wrote here on a brief visit to Udayagiri in MP. The post mentioned the giant Varaha carving in one of the caves. While the mention itself was honorable (it had to be since the carving is a famous classic), it was also brief to the point of being pretty much contentless(**). For instance, I failed to note the many hooded serpent being trampled underfoot by the hulking boar-man as he strains to lift Bhudevi - the 'standard' Dashavatara narrative features Varaha slaying the Asura Hiranyaksha but does not feature snakes anywhere.
Some time later, a note here on Thugs devoted a lot more lines to the most infamous of them all, a certain Bahram. Among the issues raised there was his religion with a remark that Bahram was a Muslim name.
Yesterday, during a desultory browse, I chanced upon the Wiki article on 'Veretraghna'. Let me quote.
Verethragna descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g'han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) "slayer of the blocker". In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahran, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive.
Verethraghna is sometimes identified as a boar. Boar figures are widespread in Sassanid (Persian, early centuries after Christ) art, appearing in everything from textiles to stucco and in silver ornaments, coins, and seals. Other animal motifs have been found that recall the aspects of Bahram.... The bird motif on Sassanid-era fire altars are also believed to represent Bahram.
... the figure of Verethragna is highly complex (and) parallels have also been drawn between it and (variously) Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu,...., Heracles.... Verethragna cognates with Sanskrit word Vritraghna(वृत्राघ्न),which means the slayer of Vritra, in Vedas Indra is frequently praised as slayer of Vritra(the enveloper).
The Wiki article on 'Vritra' says:
In the early Vedic religion, Vritra ... is also a serpent or dragon, the personification of drought and adversary of Indra. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi ("snake"). He appears as a dragon blocking the course of the rivers and is heroically slain by Indra.
The Wiki article on Verethraghna never mentions the exact word 'Varaha'. But one clearly sees 'Varaha' as a derivative - and a cognate to the allgedly Muslim Bahram (a Persian name only brought to India by Muslims). And the many-hooded serpent being subdued by the Udayagiri Varaha could only have been Vritra.
Udayagiri caves were excavated around 5th century by which time Vishnu's avatara myths might not have fully crystallized - so there is no Hiranyaksha on view. And the Varaha might well have been as much Indra as Vishnu - the former actually has much stronger claims to being 'Verethraghna' who could, in turn, assume the boar-form; furthermore, religious imagery has traditionally mapped the body of the charging boar to a raincloud, its terrifying tusks to lightning and the pounding of its mighty hooves to thunder - and Indra has been, from the beginning, the god of rain and thunderstorms. In a broader sense, these carvings might mark a stage in the process of the gradual supplanting of Indra by Vishnu as a principal deity. Theirs seems to have been a close-run contest that went on for centuries (the Govardhana episode in the Bhagavatam again shows how Krishna-Vishnu desicively shows Indra who is the boss).
Following a suggestion from Vimal, one could sum up: In 'Animal Farm', two boars fight to the finish to decide who gets to act like God. In Udayagiri, two Gods are caught in a struggle to decide who is the 'true Boar'.
And finally the religious affiliation of thug Bahram remains an unsolved mystery - albeit one that is not much worth probing.
3. KORAH WAS A KOULIK!
A year or so ago, I wrote here at some length on a very unique name, proudly borne by an artist I had just gotten to know - a certain Mr. Kora Koulik (the latter half pronounced 'Cowlick'). That post had focussed on the sad tragedy of the biblical rebel Korah and the conclusion arrived at was "like Korah, like cowlick - plucky, pesky, diehard rebels both!"
The other day, I saw the story of a certain 'kaulika/koulika' in the Panchatantra. 'Kau' of 'Kaulika' is pronounced 'cow' and the Hindi equivalent of 'Kaulika' is 'Kaulik/ Koulik'.
An online search for 'kaulika' led to the following:
1. Kaula describes a type of Hindu tantrism that probably derives from Kapalika or "cremation ground" asceticism and Kaulika is a practitioner of kaula. (based on Wiki)
2. Monier Williams gives several meanings for 'kaulika': (1) a weaver (2) an adjective derived from 'kula' meaning family/tribe to mean 'pertaining to/ belonging to a (noble) family' and (3) a follower of the 'left-hand' sakta ritual; hence the word can also have the broader meaning: 'heretic'.
Leaving out the 'weaver', one observes: The artist's byname/surname 'Koulik' could mean the Malayalam phrase: 'kutumbathil pirannavan'
( = 'hailing from a noble family'). Rather more interestingly, we could quote the Wiki definition: "A Heretic is someone who propounds a heresy; A Heresy is any provocative belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs" and make the connection: "Hey, the Korah of Bible was a solid heretic!"
Indeed, Wiki says: "Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion". The Bible never says Korah renounced the faith of the Jews; he only revolted against Moses and Aaron so he was no apostate. Korah certainly was massively irreverent but only towards the custodians of the faith and not towards the faith itself so he was no blasphemer either. Moreover, Martin Luther, who treated the then Pope just the way Korah treated high priest Aaron was in fact branded a heretic and excommunicated. So, Korah certainly was a Kaulik. QED!
4. 'GOOD WILL HUNTING'.
Many things about this film are admirable - none more admirable than that it was made by two nearly 25 year olds. While it is no 'Citizen Kane' (made by another 25 year old), 'Good Will..' makes a damn good fist of telling a hard-hitting story: A freakish Mathematical genius, convinced he and he alone decides what to do with his gifts, chooses to (largely) let them go waste. The scene wherein an eminent mathematician, almost in tears and cringing in abject frustration, pleads with the 'Hero' to try and make contributions that measure up to his limitless talent, hit me the hardest.
But I did not like it at all when the film cooked up a back-story of abuse and stuff to explain (and sort of justify) the genius behaving like a screwed up bastard. Indeed, I have seen enough of life (and of geniuses) to know that a genius needs no more reason to behave like a screwed up bastard than the most mediocre of mediocrities (and the latter, most of the time, needs no reason whatever).
5. Gulmohur and the 'Standard'
The other day, I casually picked up a cluster of gulmohur blooms from the footpath and saw something very curious. The Wiki description: Gulmohur flowers are large with four spreading scarlet or orange-red petals up to 8 cm long, and a fifth upright petal called the standard, which is slightly larger and spotted with yellow and white.
This odd fifth petal and its very unique coloration is a feature that had eluded me all these years. And I don't yet know if any other flower has this characteristic.
(*) this connects with the 'thumbi effect' mentioned in the last post - how a none-too-apppealing object acquires a much loved presence in poetry by virtue of a sweet and pithy name. More precisely, what we have with cakka is the opposite effect - a less than sweet name relegating an object to the fringes. One could call this phenomenon the 'cakka effect'; alternatively, with reference to the last post, it could be termed the 'poompatta effect', literally the 'butterfly effect' (the latter phrase of course has a rather different technical meaning in English)!
(**)To quote myself: "The caves and the sculptural decorations are said to date back to the Gupta period (4th-5th century AD) and almost exclusively deal with Hindu themes. The well-known highlight is a colossal relief of Vishnu as Varaha, lifting up the Earth (personified as Bhudevi)".