Attukal Pongala – one of the largest women gatherings in world

It was in 2016 when I witnessed Attukal Pongala for the first time and didn’t know the importance of this mega-event at that time! In 2017 I couldn’t attend it as I was away and this year, I made a point to not miss this festival. But why? Coz this ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day in 2009. The festival falls on Karthika star of the Malayalam month of Makaram or Kumbham, which usually falls in February of March, and is celebrated for 10 days. The Attukal Pongala takes place on the 9th day when women offer Pongala – a sweet dish to the Goddess.

According to a legend, the Attukal Pongala festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannaki, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic ‘Silappadhikaram’ while she was on her way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovilan. It is said that she stopped at Attukal for a day’s rest where the local women offered her rice and jaggery for lunch. The temple, located in the heart of the city, is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathy, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki.

The Attukal Pongala fell on 02nd of March this year. One week before the commencement of this Annual festival, streets of the capital city of Kerala were lined-up with make-shift shacks selling mud pots, bricks, wooden ladles, the loud-speakers of all temples came alive, and many miniature shrines were erected at almost all the junctions. People from all parts of Kerala arrived into Thiruvananthapuram days in advance to secure a hearth close to the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple and mark their spaces to have their make-shift brick stoves on which they would prepare ‘Pongala’.

It was 05.00 hrs in the morning on 02.03.2018 and I started stirring up in my bed when the women downstairs started making their preparations. Almost all the men will be hooked up to their homes while the women would be on streets in their new golden bordered Kerala Kasavu sarees. When I stepped out of my home, a long row of brick-stoves with mud-pots and bronze vessels neatly placed on top of them caught my eye. After making my visit to the nearest Goddess temple, I made my way to my office by-passing the many women devotes who are waiting patiently on either sides of the road braving the hot sun.

I could see some of our staff along with other women ready with their hearths near to the Ganesha temple. All were busy with washing rice, grating jaggery and crushing cardamom while the temple authorities were keeping a check on their wristwatches and waiting earnestly for the auspicious time. The rituals actually begin when the chief priest lights up the main hearth of Attukal Bhagavathy temple with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Finally at around 10.15 hrs, the chief priest of the Ganesha temple lit the temple’s hearth and the fire has been passed on to the other hearths by the burning fronds.

The women were into immediate action. Soon the roads were covered with the smoke from the brick-stoves, women turned into a shade of pink due to the hot sun, heat emanating from their stoves and coughs stirred up. I myself found to have a running nose and eyes because of the smoke. Though the sun was blazing like hot molten lava, it couldn’t break the determination of these women devotes. As if pleased by their devotion, the sky was filled with clouds and a cool breeze started to flow. Breaking away from the temple road, I walked towards the junction.

Here too, the situation is more or less the same – women were cooking, volunteers were helping, police personnel were overlooking the activities. Few women started ululating when the contents of their pots were overflowing and praying silently. When asked a lady she went onto say that when the contents in the pot boil over, it marks prosperity and they ululate to thank the Goddess for that. Most of them started to rest after preparing Pongala, which is rice cooked with jaggery and coconut while few others went onto prepare few more delicacies like the Manda Puttu – a green gram delight, Therali Appam – a dish that is steamed in aromatic bay leaves and Aravana.

It’s time for them to go home. It was 14.00 hrs and I could still see the anticipation in everyone’s eyes as the time for the final ritual for the day was approaching. It’s the Nivedhyam (offering ceremony). When the signal came at 14.20 hrs, the chief priest sprayed some holy water over the temple’s utensil containing the Pongala and thereby making it into a holy offering which would be distributed later to the devotes. Later, he went onto spray the holy water over all the pots of the devotes marking the end of the ritual. I too took my share of ‘prashad’(holy offering) before I left to my home 🙂

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Some authors and their books..

Arundathi Roy                                                  – God of Small Things

Jawaharlal Nehru                                            – Discovery of India

P. V. Narasimha Rao                                       – The Insider

Kapil Dev                                                           – By God’s Decree, Cricket My Style

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam                                       – The Wings of Fire

Sarojini Naidu                                                  – The Broken Wing, The Golden Threshold

Mahatma Gandhi                                             – My Experiments with Truth

Nelson Mandela                                               – Long Walk to Freedom, The Struggle is my Life

Indira Gandhi                                                   – My Truth

Dhyan Chand                                                    – Goal!

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar                                         – Thoughts on Pakistan

Bill Clinton                                                          – My Life

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad                            – India Wins Freedom

Rabindranath Tagore                                      – Geetanjali, The Gardener

Dr. Rajendra Prasad                                        – India Divided

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit                                    – The Scope of Happiness

Dharmavaram – The Woven Heritage

One of the world’s oldest and perhaps the only surviving unstitched garment from the past, saree has now become a sensuous and glamorous dress for women. Saree, ranging from 4 metres to 9 metres in length, is a traditional attire worn by women in India. Though centuries have passed since the sari was conceived as the Indian women’s hereditary costume, its charm has not waned till date. In-spite of the limited scope for any change in the garment, it seems to have a limitless future for every new generation of women.

Unstitched garment which is considered sacred in Hindu tradition, Sari evolving from the prakrit word “sattika” which is most sacred garment for females not only symbolizes cultural, grace and elegance but also an epitome of courage and strength as depicted by Rani Lakshmi Bhai during the war of independence. This 5 yard fabric has been a unifying feature, despite the variation in its wearing style in different parts of India. Draped around the body in such a way that midriff is left bare so that the navel which is center of creativity and life embraces the positivity from the Panchatantra of environment and recreating the abundance in the form of new life (fetus), is a reflection of women’s ‘inner supreme self’.

roopkala-orange-dharmavaram-silk-saree-sdl430155844-3-4e277India has a number of silk weaving clusters that are known for unique designs, weaves, colors, patterns, traditional knowledge and processes that are specific to a geographical region, and are guarded for centuries. Andhra Pradesh is a treasure of traditional handloom silks known for their distinct and typical style of products. Dharmavaram is a famous hub for its unique silks and a small town of rich handloom weaving cluster located at a distance of 47 km from Anantapur, has enthralled, endeared and throbbed the hearts of millions of women with its elegant, splendrous and classic silk sarees. The traditional, heavy, broad bordered rich with buta sarees of Dharmavaram have world wide popularity.

11.12.2016:

My mom is a huge fan of Sarees and especially she likes to have a collection of all from the various weaving clusters of India. And I too love to add things to her collection and hence decided to visit Dharmavaram. On our way back from Nimmalakunta, we asked our auto-driver to drop us at Naesaepet which is the landmark of Dharmavaram, having more than 1000 shops selling sarees. Though it is a difficult task to find out a shop which is genuine (had a very bad experience in Kancheepuram 😦 ), with belief in our guts, we entered a shop. With the cash crunch going on, we first inquired whether there are any ATMs nearby and whether they would be accepting card payments 😀 . The response was negative, but we turned it to positive 🙂

The shopkeeper and his assistant started showing us a wide-varieties of silk sarees. It is said that each and every thread of a Dharmavaram saree is hand woven. The silk sarees are exclusively made of mulberry silk woven by hand, with elaborate zari work woven on them in resplendent colors. These sarees are known for their excellent weaving quality, rich look and feel. Evidence of origin of Dharmavaram sarees can be found in the roof wall painting of Lepakshi temple. There are a total of 280 designs in the temple, constructed during the year 1522 to 1538 AD. A place called the “Latha Mandapam” wherein 36 rock pillars have 144 unique designs of Dharmavaram sarees!

indexThe shopkeeper explained us that the weavers and designers of Dharmavaram are continuing the legacy of yester year designers and experimenting on silk weaves and producing array of unique designer silk sarees. The hallmark of Dharmavaram Sarees are the motifs and designs adapted from the sculptures of temples at Lepakshi and Tadipatri and other motifs of nature like peacock, deer, flowers etc. The Dharmavaram Sarees may range between Rs. 6000 to Rs. 100000. I bought a silk saree for my mom and a cotton saree for my mam back at office. Both were satisfied with the quality of the products as well as the prices 🙂 🙂 .

We bid a bye to them and thanked for explaining us the rich history of the place and the sarees 🙂

Thank you Shweta for the opening paragraphs in this article :). Shweta – a well-educated and humored person with passion for fashion, beauty and entrepreneurship can be reached @  https://shwetasinghspeaks.wordpress.com

Nimmalakunta Leather Puppets – A day with Dalavai family…

11.12.2016:

10.00 hrs – We were at the Dharmavaram Bus station. We thought of shopping here and if time permits to head to another famous pilgrimage centre of Andhra Pradesh – Puttaparthy. Bilal and I were calculating the time and were walking towards the road when a board drew my attention. The board said ‘Welcome to the Nimmalakunta Art Village and Puppetry Workshop”. We dropped the plan of Puttaparty as we need to cover another important place and hence decided to visit this village. We hired an auto-rickshaw to take us there and drop us back in Dharmavaram.

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Nimmalakunta is a small village located 10 kms away from Dharmavaram town, which is famous for its leather puppets. There are different forms of traditional puppetry prevalent in rural areas in India. Shadow puppetry in Andhra Pradesh is referred by the name Tolubommalatta. ‘Tolu’ refers to leather; ‘bomma’ denotes doll and ‘atta’ means play. It is traditionally performed in villages and now in various theme restaurants and craft villages. The origin of Tolubommalatta in Andhra Pradesh has had a long history and the oral tradition and old scriptures suggests that the art form originated in 200 BC, when the rulers of Satavahana dynasty patronized it. The mode of entertainment in those good olden days! 🙂

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The components of a puppet show are the curtain, the audience sat before it, the commentator behind the curtain, the lights that throws the shadow on the screen and the puppets (actors). Episodes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are the popular themes selected. The puppets range from 3 to 6 feet in size. Among the Andhra Pradesh Puppeteers, the Nimmalakunta artists are well known both at the national and international level. The Nimmalakunta puppeteers are frequently seen in all the government sponsored exhibitions conducted in major cities all over India. They are also well known as leather craft artists.

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When we reached the village, the community center and the workshop were closed. Our auto-driver inquired, and to our luck – the Dalavai’s family turned to help us. Dalavai Chalapathi Rao is a famous shadow puppeteer, a national award winner and gave many a performances in the West.  His son started explaining us the various aspects of puppetry while his son was busy painting the lampshades and his wife busy in making the puppets. They explained us the process right from the procurement of the skin, processing it and how they are cut and designed. They showed us various pictures of puppets under the light in a dark room.

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Leather puppets of Andhra are large and made from translucent goat skin. The details are painted in bright colors and perforations are added. The designs are mainly mythological figures and occasionally the painters own creations. These drawings are done with a pencil. After making the designs, outlines are painted with black. Thereafter colors are filled in with vegetable dyes – brilliant red, green, white, yellow, brown and orange being the most popular. Many of these puppets have movable hands and legs and some, movable heads and necks 🙂 Elaborate ornamentation of puppets indicating jewellery and clothing is typical and amazing.

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They further told us that with the advent of television and cinema, leather puppetry is on the decline and that they are diversifying into the production of miniature puppets, lampshades and other utility items. The lamp shades are of much demand in the near-by Bangalore and Hyderabad and these people supply most of their work to these cities. I too bought a lamp shade before leaving the place 🙂

A secret escape to South Goa – Dudhsagar

25.15.2016:

It’s Christmas to start with 🙂 Merry Christmas to all!! 2 more people were to join us three on that day, Sushmita and her husband Phani. The plan is to escape to the south, into the wild, deep into the famous Western Ghats. We wanted to escape, away from the humdrum of the life into the lap of nature. And the perfect escape was “DudhSagar” – The Ocean of Milk.

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We booked a cab from Calungate to Dudhsagar which is some 80 kms from the place where we stayed. The plan is to pick up Sushmita and Phani from Dona Paula on our way and head to the waterfalls. We planned to start our journey @ 06.00 hrs, but were late by 30 mins. By the time we reached the hotel where Sushmita was staying, they were late by another 30 mins 😦 . Yeah, we never stick to the timelines. It was only on our way when I realized that I didn’t book my return tickets to Trivandrum 😦

When I checked with our cab driver if there was a possibility of me booking a train ticket from anywhere on the way to Dudhsagar, he told me that in the very village Collem, where we gonna halt to take our cab to the waterfalls, there is a small railway station and probably I might get a ticket from there. I was a bit relieved 🙂 It’s Shweta’s b’day too 🙂 . I should give her a gift and guess what I gave, I gave her the task of getting my ticket confirmed 😉 :-p

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While the rest of my team was waiting at Collem (the town from where we have to hire the cab) for booking our cab to the waterfalls (Yes, we can’t take our own cabs there. The tourism department provides their own cabs for this), I booked my ticket from Marmagaon to Trivandrum for the next day. Though Dudhsagar is meant for a trek, especially a monsoon trek along the railway track, we confined ourselves to the cab drive this time. DudhSagar waterfalls are located in middle of forests on the Goa-Karnataka border and can be reached through the Bhagwan Mahavir national park.

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It took us around an hour to reach the entrance of the waterfalls as there were lot of people and the road was jam-packed with vehicles. It is a mud road through the forest and there were a few streams which needs to be crossed in order to reach the falls. I donno whether we can go on a hike through this forest or not, but if there is one, it will be truly adventurous. After a long wait for the parking for our cab, we reached the entrance. In order to reach the waterfalls, we have to go on a hike for some distance.

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It was a good trek through the woods and streams. We could hear the hum of the waterfalls from a distance and even got a glimpse of it. The sight was mesmerizing, though the waterfall falls from a height of 310 metres, it almost seems like that it is descending directly from the heavens. We increased our pace and moved fast to see the entire beauty. We were stunned at the sight of the mighty beauty that stood infront of us. I could only imagine, if this looks like this in December, how it looks during the Monsoon season.

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Within no time, Phani and I were into the waters with our life-jackets. The water is super cool and the splashing waters from the waterfall and the mist-filled air was refreshing. There were lots of fishes too in the water. The railway track which seems like dividing the waterfalls into two halves adds to the charm of this falls. As we were wishing for a train to pass through the tracks, we heard a siren from the distance which echoed through the mountains and all the eyes turned to the railway bridge above the base.

Soon a train was passing across the bridge and the scene was breathtaking. It was beyond words and description 🙂 . After spending quite good time here, we returned back to our jeep to proceed for our Christmas celebrations. How can we miss these while being in Goa? Isn’t it?

What is the fight for??

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Rejecting any race? Culture? or proclaiming the ideal of unity?

Untying all the human races or uniting them?

Comprehending all things with sympathy and love or rejecting everything with indifference and hatred?

Bringing about reconciliation and peace or about alienation and distress?

Restoring the bonds of friendship and love or destroying the human links and bonds?

Creating seclusion or creating Universal-ism?

Rising the sufferings, jealousy and hatred or rising the joys, empathy and love?

Giving rise to political and commercial competition or to give rise to apolitical and charitable friendship?

Saving the humankind or vanquishing the humanity?

 

 

 

Let me be there where….

The rich loves the poor…

The poor will never be disowned…

There are no atrocities against the vulnerable..

There is compassion for the downtrodden…

Are no fights among people of various religions…

Are no races behind wealth and power…

There is no hatred among the human kind…

There is no agony and suffering…

There are no tears of anguish and pain…

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There is freedom of mind…

The desire doesn’t blinds the mind with delusion…

The mind is without fear and the head is held high…

The knowledge is free…

Words come out from the depth of truth…

There is pure love and friendship…

They never venture to leave me alone…

They try to love me and hold me secure by all means…

The world has not been broken up into fragments…

The human links are complete and unbreakable…

The world is full of joys but not sorrows…

The world is filled with assurance…

Love, T.

KL01 – Band with classical touch..

Today’s band is KL01. It is a band from Trivandrum and was set off in 2009 as a collaboration of two extinct bands. The line up consists of Anand Amarnath – Vocal/Guitar, Sharat Menon – Lead Guitar, Bass – Brian Fernandez and Drums by Ananthapadmanabhan. They are into progressive rock, folk and metal too.

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It’s more crowded than yesterday, might be because it’s a local band and many might have already known about it. I could see that the crowd is more cheerful than yesterday and the youngsters were shouting in support of the band. The band started the day with a progressive rock number and moved to a Malayalam song which was their own composition.

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The crowd cheered up as it was in their native language and later they continued with few more Malayalam songs which were again their own compositions. What I could see is that it’s mostly a fusion; a fusion of classical music, progressive rock and sometimes folk. The music was soothing, not so heavy yet not so low. But, as we progressed, the music got a bit heavy with “Open Car” a song by the band “The Porcupine Tree”, which they said that it’s the band’s most favorite one!

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Although all the members of the band gave their best performances, it is the drummer Ananthapadmanaban who won the most number of hearts among the crowd. He really nailed few songs with his breathtaking performance and at one instance the crowd shouted for a solo performance from him. The most unique feature of this band is they didn’t leave behind the origins of music and they carried the classical touch forward.

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While yesterday, the Segments sang some English tracks, the KL01 sang some Malayalam, English and a mix of both the songs, mostly their own compositions and which are of the themes like getting lost in love and choosing music as career or going in search of music. And I guess this is one of the reasons, why the band has got so much following among the youngsters. The once more shouts are enough to say how their music was and I would really love to see more of their performances in the near future.

P.S : Can watch the live stream @ http://www.seaindia.in from 07.00 pm.