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

Monday, August 01, 2005

Palni, Revisited

July 26th 2005:

We are up very early and leave our home - a village in North-Central Kerala - by 5 in the morning. There is a gentle drizzle which rapidly intensifies into a heavy unrelenting shower. By daybreak ( a very grey and rainy one) We drive thru Palghat and take the road leading out towards Palni in a South-Easterly direction. The rain stays with us, falling in sheets, but gradually shows signs of thinning out...

We presently see the sheer mountains which form the southern wall of the Palghat pass leading into Tamil country. Past the border village of Gopalapuram, the rain quickly peters out and stops altogether. For some distance the vegetation is drippy with last night's showers and there is a stiff, sprinkly breeze but eventually, the full rain-shadow effect comes into play and it gets very dry (wonder how inspite of the 30 km width of the Palghat pass, the moisture-laden monsoon from the west hardly brings any rain to these parts). Vegetation mostly shrinks to scrub and a smattering of grass covering the semi-arid grounds - and the odd 'tarwad' bush with clusters of yellow flowers ('tarwad' is their Marathi name. Right now, I can't remember their name in any other language. a Pune botany expert told us once, these thrive only in low rainfall climes). It is very windy - indeed, on several of the hills around we see huge windmills (all of these have 3 blades - unlike the traditional Dutch ones, which have 4 each... Wonder which number is better. Btw, why do fans have only 3 blades??). Despite low rainfall, robust pockets of agriculture flourish... Pollachi, which we presently pass has long been a thriving vegetable-market-town.

Palni is eventually reached. As we near the base of the holy hill, a horde of cyclists swoop down on our Kerala registered car - each one of them has a swathe of holy ash on his forehead, each speaks a sort of 'pidgin Malayalam' and each claims to be representing the Temple in an official capacity as 'expert guide'. Eventually, one of them shooes away his competitors(?) and marshalls us towards a group of further, more specialized individuals - one trades in all the Pooja items, another sells 'pure silver' beneficial charms to be deposited in the temple coffers and yet another would take us up the hill and back and get us 'proper darshan' and get all pujas done 'properly'. There are further experts in the association- for instance, a barber who could collect your hair as a holy offering - who we decide not to approach. I am reminded of a travelog to Palni written in the mid-sixties wherein the author, a devout pilgrim, had complained bitterly about the unscrupulous 'agents' there; we, pilgrims traveling in more resigned and compromised times have decided to watch and entertain these characters as interesting specimens from a socialogical zoo.

The Palni hill (an isolated granite dome rising from a flat plain, quite some distance from the portion of western ghats known as Palni hills) is only a few hundred feet high and has proper stone steps to go up. From the top, the views are impressive. The Anaimalai hills of Western Ghats loom overpoweringly in the west. Below, one could see the sprawl of the town and the Saravana lake beyond it (strangely, the surface of the lake seems still AND wrinkled; the ripples do not seem to move!) and then to the east, the featureless plains of Tamil Nadu stretch to the horizon..

The temple is extremely rich in myths and legends. The presiding deity is Murugan (he is identified with Subrahmanya or Skanda of the Sanskrit mythology but unlike the latter, who is perpetually a youthful unmarried boy, Murugan has two wives; In Palni, I guess, Murugan is represented at various times of the day in his various forms). Much is written in Tamil on the temple walls about these legends - a bit of history can be read as well, connecting the temple with Jatavarma Sundara Pandyan, a 13th century king.

Palni temple has traditionally attracted a large number of devotees from Kerala - especially those from the 'backward' communities. The reason probably is that in times when Kerala temples did not allow Dalits to enter, Palni welcomed one and all. The atmosphere of the temple is of course, very Tamil, and there is an overpowering fragrance of camphor and holy ash in the stone-choked inner spaces.

The Idol of Murugan (a statue about 4 feet tall) is said to be made of five rare metals (or more probably, contains traces of 5 rare minerals) endowed with exceptional medicinal qualities. I recall an article by N.V.Krishna Varier, an eminent scholar and polymath from Kerala, who had written several years ago about how the 'Abhishekams' were causing the idol to slowly dissolve - originally, this had given the 'Prasadam' from the temple, a beneficial medicinal quality but now, with increasing numbers of devotees and offerings, the idol was in danger of being seriously damaged (some greedy priests allegedly used to scrape the metal off the idol and were mercifully caught). Now it seems the 'abhishekams' are no more performed. When we have the 'darshan', the idol is draped elaborately in saffron shawls and wears a head-dress like a Franciscan cowl that reveals only the face - strangely, the serene metallic face of the young Lord swathed in the cowl reminds me (horror!) of the suffering King Baldwin from the movie 'Kingdom of Heaven'.

Our return trip is the morning's drive, in reverse - from the hot and mildly-sultry Palni town we return to yet another rain-drenched monsoon twilight in Kerala....


  • At 9:44 PM, Blogger Anand said…

    Another beautiful post!

    Just wondering: 'tarward' is not what's called 'aripoo(vu)' or 'tevitissi poovu' in Malayalam? May not be, as you would have known otherwise.

  • At 11:36 PM, Blogger Sumesh said…

    Great post Nandu! Reminded me of my trip from Coimbatore to Munnar during which we took a short break at Pollachi. That was when I was faced with the dilemma of whether to drink coffee from the tumbler, or from the dabara!

    The number of blades in a fan/turbine depends upon the angular velocity at which the device operates, and on the air-flow desired. The higher the RPM (revolutions per minute), the fewer the number of blades. In the case of a ceiling fan, the motors used are standard AC induction motors which typically run at 1500 rpm. Given the average length of the fan blades (30-40 inches) and the desired air-flow for an average sized room, the optimum number of blades works out to be 3. Cost is also a factor that keeps the number of blades to a minimum. While you do have fans with 4 and 5 blades, they would experience a lot of aerodynamic drag at the RPM that they run on, and that would make them less efficient.

    The windmills (technically they should be called wind-turbines as they don't 'mill' anything, unlike in older times when they were used to power flour-mills, draw water, etc) that you mention on the hills are the same ones that you see here on Ahmednagar road on the way to Shirdi (btw, they are made by a company called Suzlon located in Koregaon Park). Again, they have 3 blades because they are designed for installation on the hills where the wind velocities are considerably higher compared to the plains. At these velocities the optimum RPM is higher, and so the number of blades is fewer. One more difference between these turbines and the traditional Dutch ones is the cross section of the blades. They have an aerofoil crossection (just like airplane wings) that gives them maximum power at minimum drag. These modern turbines are pretty sophisticated, in the sense they automatically alter the pitch of the blades depending on the wind-speed to maximize efficiency.

    This also explains why most propeller-driven aircraft have two bladed propellers (they operate at more than 10,000 rpm).

  • At 7:24 AM, Blogger കലേഷ്‌ കുമാര്‍ said…

    കൊള്ളാം, നന്നായിട്ടുണ്ട്‌. മലയാളത്തിൽ ബ്ലോഗ്‌ ചെയ്തുകൂടേ? മലയാളത്തിലായിരുന്നേൽ ഒന്നൂടെ നന്നായേനെ!

  • At 8:43 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    Thanks Sumesh, for the detailed lesson on wind turbines'.

    Thanks Anand,
    'arippoovu' is probably the weed 'lantana camera' which grows abundantly in Kerala and also near Pune. Its flowers can come in many colors, including yellow.

    Tarwad (cassia auriculata) is called avaraipoovu in Tamil (and thus, perhaps 'avarappoovu' in Malayalam; I do not remember seeing it in Kerala - it is supposed to be a marker for low rainfall). As far as I have seen, its flowers are just yellow.

    Sorry Kalesh, I cannot read what you said.

  • At 7:29 PM, Blogger Sunil said…

    I'm thorougly enjoying your travel/temple posts ...

    Good reading!

  • At 4:23 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    Thanks Sunil, for the encouragement. Hope you like the other posts here as well :)


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