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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tanks, Folklore and a Pun

1. Here is a picture taken in mid-May by Prof. C S Jayaram.

The glorious meadow is actually the bed of a kulam (tank) in central Kerala. An especially severe summer has dried it up - but for a tiny trickle of water that generated that deceptive patch of green.

Vimal has been working on a project which involves, among a host of other interesting matters, a documentation of kulams of Kerala. On a recent field trip with him, I visited the Pozhil Mana near Manisseeri, Palghat. The Mana has a capacious kulam with a couple of bathhouses (Kulappura) attached. Each bathhouse has a stone floor and granite steps leading into the water. Carved on the floor of one bathhouse in pretty realistic fashion is a crocodile. The other bathhouse features a tortoise. Here is the latter:

The Pozhil Mana folks (and their forebears) deserve appreciation for that bit of thoughtful detailing - the croc and the tort are the 'vahana's of goddesses Ganga and Yamuna respectively.

The same trip revealed yet another bit of curious detailing - in a restaurant named 'Lavish' in the northern outskirts of Trichur city. An artist has filled its walls with a vast water body studded with tiny islands with each island bearing a man-made wonder and nothing else. One island has the Pyramids, another the gopuram of the Vadakkunnathan temple; one bears the Petronas tower and yet another, a reconstruction of the Phraros light house. Here is a small fraction of the show:


2. "Enthathishayame Daivathin sneham etra manoharame!"

("How wonderful, the love of God, in all its glorious beauty!")

Thus begins a very popular and joyous Christian devotional song in Malayalam.

A recent meeting with Rekesh taught me a new word (I don't quite remember what prompted him to mention it): "Agape"; it means "the highest form of love, the love of God for mankind, the love that prompted Him to send his only son to this very planet".

That implies the above hymn can also be translated thus: "Beautiful Agape leaves me agape!"

Question: Does this second translation contain a pun, in the strictest sense? For a pun to occur, two words or phrases with different meanings should *sound* very close, right? Here, are two words with identical spellings and sounding very different from each other.

Answer: It is indeed a special kind of pun called the 'homographic pun' (see Wiki).


Note: Agape or Love feast was a religious meal among early Christians... who would, after a group prayer, meet to partake of a communal meal. Incidentally, the cake shop run by the protagonist of Mal super hit film 'Premam' was (quite thoughtfully) named 'Agape'. Thanks for Vimal for sharing this piece of gyan with us.

3. Yesterday, I visited the Folklore Museum at Thevara, Cochin. While the establishment is quite commercial and sells artifacts (some look ersatz copies of authentic folk productions) at steep prices, its collection has a certain richness (it has a particularly wide-ranging ensemble of masks and faces) and provides a very fare share of surprises.

An odd Savior:

Note: The above is the first ever 'bald Jesus' that I encountered - and within seconds, I saw another shaven-headed Jesus in the same room - this second statue shows Him facing Pilate.

A most girlish manifestation of Siva - a curious counterpoint to the six-packed, square-jawed and smouldering version of the same god propagated by the Meluha series:

Note 1: The folklore museum has a bronze 'oordhwathandava' (no pics here) - Siva, as a dancer, performs a single-handed handstand.

Note on the above note: There appears to be much greater variety of poses among stone carvings of Siva the Dancer than among bronzes showing him as Nataraja. But all extant examples of this very acrobatic pose seem to be in bronze. And in his Nataraja form, Siva is almost always shown wearing cycling shorts-like breeches. The Dwarapalas (guardian figures who flank doorways in temples) too usually wear them.

Note 2: And there was a terracotta vessel decorated with relief carvings of an elephant riding couple. Stylistically, it looks very pre-Christian Buddhist, akin to the Surya group at Bhaja. Pity, I couldnt take a half-decent pic of it.


Here is a bit from a The Hindu article on Kappiri Muthappan, a much loved folk deity of old Cochin (

"The small shrine at Mangattumukku in Mattancherry bears no religious markings, idols, or symbols. It consists of a simple platform built onto an adjacent compound wall and a tiled roof covering it. Yet, people visit this shrine every day to light candles, offer flowers, cigars, tender coconuts, and even toddy to the ‘deity’ unique to Kochi – ‘Kappiri Muthappan....’

Brought to Kerala as slaves, kappiris (Africans) were kept in inhuman conditions in dungeons or small cellars.... Portuguese traders buried their riches under large trees and sacrificed their African slaves so their ghosts would be around to guard the treasure. Kochiites believe that these ghosts still linger to protect the lost treasures of the Portuguese. Today, the ‘kappiri’ is a benign spirit or deity who smokes cigars, drinks toddy, and helps lost travelers."

At Edamuttom, a place nearly 80 kilometers to the north of Cochin, is the 'Kappirikkavu', a small but flourishing shrine. The presiding deity, 'Pathala Kappiri', has roots in Kochi ('Pathala-Kappiri', means 'Kappiri of the Netherworld' and that must come from the legend of buried alive slaves). But at his new abode, the deity has assumed a very muscularly Hindu form and is heavily armed. Dark complexion apart, there is not much of Africa about him. Only the snapped chains declare his having risen from slavery.

The temple brochure lists a total of 18 forms in which Kappiri could be worshiped; among them is 'Jinn Kappiri', who aids Muslim devotees (the area has a good Muslim population). As far as I could make out in one visit, the list of admissible votive offerings at Edamuttom contains neither cigars nor coconut palm liquor (toddy).

In old Kozhikode too, the spirit of Kappiri had (and maybe still has) a presence - I call to witness my old hero S K Pottekkatt and his 'Desathinte Katha'. Here, Kappiri is reputed to be the ghost of a Christian priest(!) and could be seen perched on the walls of cemeteries past midnight, puffing placidly at a cigar (shades of the caterpillar there?). When mortals got too close for comfort, the spirit would repel them by releasing an almighty stench ('The Ghost who ****s'?).

Was it not Wodehouse who coined the phrase 'cigar or coconut'?


  • At 2:43 AM, Blogger Two Minds said…

    Black PurnaNariEshwara, Jesus! Agape and a wonder of the world indeed.


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