ANAMIKA

'(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).



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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?



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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.



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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...



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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).



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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.



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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)).



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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'.

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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.



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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'...

Boon

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.

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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!”

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'Saala'

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.

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Cannibal

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 what he had been served. His anger rose and came out as a curse: "May this evil king who tried to make me eat human flesh become a man-eating Rakshasa!"

Mitrasaha was shocked beyond words. He invoked his own considerable spiritual virtues and was about to smite 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'.

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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' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.

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Time

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.

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Dharma

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. 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).

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Caste

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!”