Monthly Archives: December 2016

In Search of Truth

A story from Paulo Coelho:

The devil was talking to his friends when they noticed a man walking along a road. They watched him pass and saw that he bent down to pick something up.

“What did he find?” asked one of the friends.

“A piece of Truth,” answered the devil.

The friends were very concerned. After all, a piece of Truth might save that man’s soul – one less in Hell. But the devil remained unmoved, gazing at the view.

“Aren’t you worried?” said one of his companions. “He found a piece of Truth!”

“I’m not worried,” answered the devil.

“Do you know what he’ll do with the piece?”

The devil replied, “as usual, he’ll create a new religion. And he’ll succeed in distancing even more people from the whole Truth.”

End

 

The Tiger And The Fox

A fox who lived in the deep forest of long ago had lost its front legs. No one knew how, perhaps escaping from a trap. A man who lived on the edge of the forest , seeing the fox from time to time, wondered how in the world it managed to get its food. One day when the fox was not far from him he had to hide himself quickly because a tiger was approaching. The tiger had fresh game in its claws. Lying down on the ground, it ate its fill, leaving the rest for the fox.

Again the next day the great Provider of this world sent provisions to the fox by this same tiger. The man began to think: “If this fox is taken care of in this mysterious way, its food sent by some unseen Higher Power, why don’t I just rest in a corner and have my daily meal provided for me?”

Because he had a lot of faith, he let the days pass, waiting for food. Nothing happened. He just went on losing weight and strength until he was nearly a skeleton. Close to losing consciousness, he heard a Voice which said:

“O you, who have mistaken the way, see now the Truth! Instead of imitating the disabled fox, you should have followed the example of that tiger .”

End

Source: Massud Farzan from spiritual-short-stories.com

A Tale Of Two Guru’s

There was this Raja passing through the forest with his an entourage of loyal courtiers and bodyguards.

When they reached a clearance, they saw a small low-roofed hut. And a holy man meditating in the front, lost to the world.

The Raja decided to stop.

A sishya (disciple) rushed out of the hut on hearing the commotion outside. Seeing the Raja approaching the hut, he hurriedly brought a straw mat and laid it out a little away from the holy man for the Raja to sit.

A senior courtier saw this and signaled to someone at the back. Quickly a high seat was improvised upon which the Raja settled down comfortably.

After a period of silence, the nervous sishya ventured to say his guru had entered meditation not long before and it was quite uncertain when he would emerge from his spell.

The Raja got up and paced up and down wondering if he should go now and return later.

Just then the courtiers were startled to see ripe mangoes rain down from a small tamarind tree under which they were standing.

It was a man up in the tree who was then ordered to come down by the Raja’s men, his sack tearing at the seams.

Quite shaken, he managed to get it out he was no thief nor did he intend any mischief. He was new in these parts. And carrying some fruits with him. On seeing the holy-man, he felt the urge to make him an offering of the fruits he carried.

‘If you are not a thief, why were you hiding in the tree? Were you worried our Raja will take away your fruits? Fool, only fruits from the royal orchard enter the royal kitchen. And not any mongrel stuff.’

‘It’s not that…and I wasn’t hiding…’ he sounded a little hurt.

‘Then?’

‘I’m an illiterate man, not familiar with propriety of conduct in your land.’

The courtiers waited for him to proceed.

‘And today it left me vexed when I saw the Raja take his seat. The inversion of heights around here is new to me. Though I learnt quickly, the problem remained – that’s when I saw this lone tamarind tree where I could wait to make my offering. There was no better solution available under the circumstances.’

‘What was your problem?’

‘Don’t you understand? If the Raja of all this land is humble enough to place himself on a high seat before the venerable guruji, how am I as an ordinary man of no accomplishment, going to find a seat elevated enough for my station in life?’

To the consternation of his courtiers, the Raja stopped pacing and unhurriedly settled himself on the mat waiting on the guruji.

End

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Adieu, CM

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law

Day 4:

The final hours and summary observations at the resort:

So it was the day for us to pack up.

And packing up wasn’t difficult at all because all that we had was laid out before us in plain sight. Because there wasn’t any storage space in the room to put things away.  A good strategy because there was no danger of forgetting things behind!

We made our last trip to the restaurant, the royal court of Shri Srinivasan (our chef, if you have missed the earlier posts, and a good reason to visit the resort). And rounded it up with a tumbler and more of the divine concoction from the hands of our Merlin.  Before the ritual was over, I asked him if he would take me as his understudy, seriously.  He dismissed me as being frivolous. One day I might…

This restaurant is an amazing place to see the magic that could be wrought through proper training. For starters, the guys here dress so well. Never imagined one could look so graceful in a dhoti-shirt ensemble as a service attire, of course spotlessly clean, as I saw the one day. They move noiselessly and without fuss negotiating the tables and the guests.  Looks like there’s no ‘not my table’ syndrome – any table the guy sees as needing service is his table. These youngsters may not appear overtly friendly but they’re not unfriendly, by any stretch. Try much as I did, could not tease out of Shri Mohanraj, the young resort manager, if they did employ some special techniques to get these guys into shape and motivate them on an ongoing basis.

On inquiry some interesting tidbits shared by Mohanraj:  a) CM does involve villagers around the place creating some direct employment opportunities and b) On Fridays they allow guests to prepare and present their own recipes working out of CM’s kitchen!

It felt nice to be in an ambiance that we shared with the trees, the shrubs, the plants, the grass, the birds…none threatened, all living peacefully…the bliss of ‘vanaprasthashrama’ (retiring to the forests withdrawing from active life) in a capsule? Don’t miss seeing some unusual specimens –  those trees at the periphery of the resort that grow wild and almost horizontally, banyan vines snaking away over large distances, plants running amuck with more flowers than leaves and some normally-not-sighted-birds at their busiest in the mornings.

Though I still felt the resort could certainly do with more landscaping and lot more plants and some charming water structures like streams, ponds, miniature water-falls…I sincerely trust they don’t pack up the unused spaces with more guest dwelling units.  Do resorts have the concept of FSI (Floor-Space-Index)?

What we didn’t jump into: Lots of play-things for kids including rifle range, archery, pedal-cars, cycles, some roller-coaster styled new scream-raising contraptions…daily house activities including a visit to a village nearby (we shouldn’t have missed that one) that could do with more active guest participation (needs some innovative approach).

Keeping with the CM tradition, the travel-desk wasn’t an alluring spot to halt. CM, by design, does not plan to have its resorts intersect with tourism, it appears. They’re not proved wrong as no one is complaining.

The ‘Library’ may be ignored.

The house-keeping is quite responsive – you’ll want to trouble them for extra adaptors for charging batteries.

The only real inconvenience, if I’m asked to put my finger on, was the mattress-bed on the floor for the third occupant – tough to get up or lie down if your joints are not well oiled/cushioned.  It didn’t occur to me to ask for a raised cot – am sure they would have obliged.

On the whole an enjoyable experience as one would expect at a CM resort. Our thanks to one and all who made it happen for us.

A few halts on the way back to Chennai:

Arikamedu:

Arikamedu is a coastal fishing village 4 kms from Pondicherry.

Did you know Arikamedu-Virampatnam (a neighboring village) together find mention as Poduke, a major port in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea in the first century CE and as Poduke emporion in Ptolemy’s Geographia of mid first century CE? Poduke is a Roman name and is also said to be a corrupted version of the Tamil name Potikai, meaning a “meeting place”, also known for the local Poduvar clan. (Podhigai TV?)

Based on recent excavations, it is inferred that the site has been in continuous occupation since at least 2nd or 3rd century BCE to much more recent times!

An obscure fishing village boasts so much of history. Presently comprising a few brick structures in ruinous condition, looked after by ASI, the access was considered unsafe by the locals and the travel desk, dissuading us from venturing out. A great disappointment. It would have been interesting even to look at the artifacts retrieved at the site, if not the site itself. Unfortunately it was not to be.

So it was no Arikamedu.

Paradise Beach near Pondicherry, on the way back to Chennai:

A short boat-ride, best part of the outing, took us to the island beach in under half-an-hour. The guy told us these waters were not very deep, up to 10 feet at places and shallower where red flags bobbed. The beach: pristine, litter-free stretch of sand.  There wasn’t much to see or to do in the noon hours.  So we did the next best thing to do under the circumstances – returned to the mainland in quick-time.

A board planted on the shore in faded paint talked about more exciting options of making it out to the sea by different modes and farther too.

Dominating the pier where we (un)boarded, moored was a large luxury boat, avowedly available for parties. Covered with curtains of vetti-ver grass all over, it was a veritable tinder-box ready to go off on merest spark, I thought. How did the Fire-Safety clear it? (Now, who are they?)

Panchamukha Anjaneya Temple:

It’s a village ‘Panchavatee’ about 10 kms away from Pondicherry. The imposing idol of Anjaneya is a whopping 36 ft in height making it one of the largest of its kind – in comparison, it’s 32 ft high at Nanganallur and 18 ft and cut out of a single rock and as old as god himself at Namakkal.

Back to Chennai:

It was late afternoon when we were finally back home…and there was work to do. Following morning we had a train to catch on our next leg – a ten-day trip to Srirangam/Tirupparaithurai and places around.

Looking back, I think we covered quite some ground in those four days with the resort and the road claiming fair share of our time. And, are happy for it.

Some other time for places like Cuddalore, Thiruvakkarai, etc.

End

 

 

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Away At Thiruvaheendrapuram

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law

Day 3 (contd):

Thiruvaheendapuram:

After a packed day, we planned to slacken the pace a bit beginning with a morning visit to Thiruvaheendapuram.

We rushed with our breakfast and were out on our way well before 10-00 am. Made it in good time –I think it was less than an hour – to this small town at a short distance from Cuddalore. Our streak of luck endured even here – there wasn’t much of a crowd.

We made a bee-line to Devanatha Perumal temple. Had a good darshan and also at the shrine of His consort Hemambujavalli Thayar.

The uthsavar (procession deity) is, in chaste Tamizh, ‘Moovaraghiya Oruvan’ and also ‘Adiyavarku Meiyan’. The appellation ‘Moovaraghiya Oruvan’ places him as the supreme godhead of the trinity – Bramha, Vishnu and Siva. Folks around haven’t lost time to build on the concept – it’s said the deity sports a jadai (locks of hair) and a third eye to signify aspect of Siva and carries a lotus in hand to connote Bramha. My niece, a long time resident and well-versed with related literature, clarified the murthi has no such features at all and there are no references to the same in the literature. Though, the hand does show a lotus symbol, not uncommon in aagama practices. If she’s right, it’s a disservice to propagate such stories of questionable authenticity as facts.

We missed seeing Sesha Theertham, a water-well believed to be built by Aadisesha to quench the Lord’s thirst – in fact the entire place is said to be the making of ’Aheendran’ or Aadisesha and hence Thiru-Aaheendra-puram.. Also missed having darshan at Vedantha Desikar sannadhi inside the temple with its own separate dwajasthambam, a flagstaff. The idol worshiped here is said to be made by Desikar himself, at the bidding of the Lord, when a shilpi (a sculptor) challenged his status as “Saravatantra Swathanthrar” (a title conferred upon him by Sri Ranganachchiyar at Srirangam?) – someone good at everything.

The temple in its current form is believed to have been built during the Medieval Cholas, with later expansion from Pandyas, Hoysala Empire and Vijayanagara Empire. The temple has fifty inscriptions from Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1120), Vikrama Chola (1118–1135), Rajaraja Chola III (1216–1256), Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251–1268), Vikrama Pandya, Vira Pandya III, Vijayanagar king Achyuta Deva Raya (1529–1542) and Koperunjinga, a Pallava scion. However the temple must be much older for it is revered in Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 7th–9th century Vaishnava canon, by Thirumangai Azhwar in eleven hymns.

Like most vaishnavite temples there are festivals all year round.

An interesting aside: One of those Chola’s had gifted the village of Aadur near Kurinjipadi to a family (may be there were more than one) that worked at the temple, according to an inscription dated 1129. Over time for whatever reason the family gave up the village and relocated to Thruvaheendapuram. Their dwelling at the new location was known as the House of Aadur’s. My niece is the fifth generation descendant of the family!

All found out quite serendipitously from an ASI book that came into her hands.

From Vedantha Desikar’s (1268-1370) life history (yes, he lived to the ripe age of 102!), a masterly polyglot and the founder of Visishtadvaitha philosophy:

“…Born in Thoopul near Kanjeepuram, he blossomed into a peerless sage in this sacred divyadesam. He gravitated him to this sthala (place) where he performed tapas (meditation with severe austerities) on Oushadagiri (a hill growing medicinal herbs, no evidence of it now though) and invoked Garuda who initiated him to Hayagriva Mantra.  Blessed with the effulgent vision of Lord Hayagriva, Desikar composed monumental works in Sanskrit, Tamil and Manipravala in praise of Hayagriva and Devanatha…in this temple elucidating the Vishitadvaidic philosophy with many of his works indirectly and directly referring to the temple…”

The place where Desikar lived here (for 40 years?) in Thiruvaheendrapuram is preserved as Desikan Thiru Maaligai – one more place that we missed visiting. A large mandapam now stands there in place of the old structures.  Has a water-well, still functional, constructed by Desikar himself to show that he was indeed a “Saravatantra Swathanthrar”, again in response to a challenge.

Believed to be the work of Garuda to quench the Lord’s thirst, Gadilam (aka Kedilam) river flows by, considered as a tributary of the South Pennar River (aka Thenpennaiyaru) emptying into the Bay of Bengal at a point, just north of Cuddalore. In monsoon, the waters turn red, attributed by the overzealous to a curse by a Rishi.  Around here the soil is red, perhaps rich in iron.

To keep both of them – Aadisesha and Garuda – happy, the Lord decreed waters of Sesha Theertham be used in madapalli for cooking and of Gadilam for thirumanjanam  (bathing).

Outside the temple of Devanatha, steps, not many but quite steep enough to make one pause often for breath,  lead up to the shrine of Hayagriva atop Oushadagiri. Subsequently we learnt there is a motorable road at the back to reach the top. Reaching early, we were a small crowd standing before the sanctum. When the deity was unveiled, it was shocking to find the murthi’s bare without any flowers. On inquiry, the security guy clarified there’s no fund allocated and the flowers offered by the bhakta’s would be used. I rushed out to buy all I could from the only shop just outside the shrine. And when I returned with flowers, the security guy was not wrong – there were enough flowers adorning the murthi’s, presumably brought by the crowd. Still it just didn’t seem right…

This temple – the first and one of the few raised for Hayagriva in the south – did not exist during Desikar’s lifetime.

Did not explore around on Oushadagiri. My niece told me she had heard of a few theerthams (tanks, ponds) at quite some distance that she had not braved it in all her twenty years of residing there.

On our way out we stopped by to visit my cousin and my niece – the niece whose clarifications appear in this post. Though we arrived without prior intimation and we were meeting the niece for the first time and my cousin after 35+ years, they were happy to see us just as we were. The warmth was immediate and palpable. Luckily we belong to an age and time where cousins are fun, affectionate…Blessed with a dozen and more, I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with them however infrequent they might be and the feelings have been mutual.

The niece – an amazing lady. Hope to know more and write about her, going ahead.

The return to the resort was rather event-less. After resting for a few hours, we set out again.

Adayar Ananda Bhavan:

Our first stop was at the local outlet of the chain Adayar Ananda Bhavan, entirely in order after so much of food for our souls! The snacks/tiffin were expectedly quite okay, dished out on a banana leaf on plate. But the low-light was the ‘prank’ played by a senior chap behind the counter on my sister-in-law.  It went like this: She would go up to him and ask what was available hot from the kitchen (besides coal:-)). He would direct her to a board at one end of the long-running counter. She would read the board and return to the counter to place her order. This chap would with a mild irritation tell her the dish she wanted wasn’t available and she should pick something else from the board. She would go back to read the board and…She grew wise after a few cycles.  She let him and other staff floating around know in no uncertain terms what it meant to get the wires crossed with her.

AAB, at least at this outlet, has yet to come out of the mindset of Tamil retail that ‘Customer is a necessary and evil part of business.’ Many others have, fortunately.

Aurobindo Ashram:

It was still early in the evening and darkness had set in. Someone told us to hurry as it was nearing closing time. We considered ourselves lucky as we managed to rush past the security and open gates and entered the part of the ashram that held the samadhi or mausoleum of both Aurobindo and the Mother. It was a white marble shrine decorated with fresh flowers under a frangipani tree in a quiet tree-shaped inner courtyard. While a few young and old knelt and prayed/meditated silently at the samadhi, rest of us did a pradakshinam (circumambulation).

Subsequent reading up showed the ashram to be huge self-contained complex of immense proportions engaged in multifarious activities for spiritual upliftment.

Must confess to near total ignorance about the lives and teachings of Aurobindo and the Mother. My wife had once joined group of Mother’s followers in Chennai and made an offering of flowers seeking Her Grace.

Commercial Streets:

The long streets in the commercial districts were lined with shops on both sides open and waiting for the shoppers to turn up – not too many of them yet on a Friday. The two ladies – my wife and sister-in-law – were not lured by what they saw and chose to remain inside the car.  I was the one out there scouring the streets in search of dealers in philately – I was keen to buy a few stamps of Pondicherry under French rule. No help there from Google. No one knew much about stamps and a few helpful ones showed me the way to the post-office with the advise that it would be closed at this hour. I decided to call off when an antique dealer told me these guys had quit ten years ago! May be I should try the Sunday flea-market. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be as we were leaving on the following day, a Saturday.

So it was the end of Day 3 as we trudged our way back to our pad. It was not without a twinge of regret we retired for the night – our last at CM in this trip.

 

(To be concluded, mercifully, eh?)

 

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Out At Gingee Fort And Its Silent History

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law

Day 2 (contd):

Gingee Fort: 

(A 1000 years+ old fort, one of the very few surviving till date in the south)

(Some pics included at the end of the post)

Well, we landed at the base of the Gingee fort at about 11-30, an hour not recommended for climbing up. A prospect the ladies did not warm up to. They went straight for the steps while I split to explore the big structures that were visible and accessible: A shrine for Venugopala Swamy, the murti carved in relief, beautiful despite the damage. A granary with multiple high-vaulted chambers – a de-risking strategy against spoilage? – for storing grains.  Then, a stable for horses.

Not venturing too far out for other structures that may be around, I returned to join the ladies on the steps up the fort. I know I missed at least Kalyana Mahal, thought to be the quarters of the queens, the shrine Chenjiamman – the guardian goddess of the fort, standing under an enormous banyan tree beside the shimmering Anaikulam – a huge elephant pond presently quite dry and large enough to take fifty of them, at a guess.  Was it really used for elephants to wallow and cool themselves?

If only ASL could provide a cart and a map to visit these spread-out structures…

Again I pulled away and forward from the ladies with a cell phone not fully charged (unwise) and a small bottle of water (for the fear of being weighed down). Another concern: Would my much-used slip-in sandals would last out without giving up its ghost?

The steps were manageable to begin with.  A youngster climbing down gave me a stick to keep the bold monkeys away.  As I was climbing up puffing and panting – hauling up a mass of nearly 90 kgs with a heart element and asthmatic breathing, there were others cautioning me to return. Though there were no obvious signs of discomfort as long as the pace was slow.  Now and then my wife would call up, getting shriller, asking me to return – they chose to give up and rest at a spot not far from the start.  I plodded on at an unhurried pace, soon passing the shrine of Kamalakanni Amman.  When the water ran out, mercifully I was able to lay my hands on a discarded bottle that still had some clean water.

At this point let us briefly look at what history tells us about this fort.

Short history of the fort:

The actual name of Gingee is ‘Sengiri’ meaning perhaps the ‘Red Hill’ in Tamil that has got corrupted into Gingee. Another explanation: Two sisters Senji and Kamalakanni gave up their lives fearing threat to their chastity. There are shrines for both, attracting votaries from neighborhood. Perhaps Senji lent her name to the place.

While Gingee and areas around seem to have been successively under the influence of the Jains (200 B.C. to 6 A.D), Pallavas (600 to 900), Cholas (900 – 1103), later Pandya, Pallava and Hoysalas (1014 – 1190), the forts seen today are thought to be the work of Konar Heritage (1190 – 1330). Anandha Koan built ‘Anandha Giri’ and afterwards it became ‘Raja Giri’ – a mere 800 ft we were trying to climbJ. His son Krishna Koan built ‘Krishna Giri’. Raja Giri, Krishna Giri and Chandrayan Durg form the larger fort complex protected by a 80 ft moat and encircling fort walls measuring 13 km enclosing an area of 11 square kms.  There is also a fourth hill Chakkilidrug with nothing to show and overcome by shrubs.

There’s also the rock-cut shrine of Singavaram, situated about 3 kms from the fortress on a fifth hill called Singavaram hill. The deity of the shrine is Lord Ranganatha reclining on the serpent with his head turned to a side.  The hill is also said to carry evidence of association with Jains. Unfortunately the shrine was closed for darshan when we reached.

Ignoring the conflicts in chronology in the available literature, suffice to say Gingee passed through the hands of successive rulers belonging to Kurumba,Vijayanagara, Nayaka, Maratha, Mughal, Carnatic, Nawab, the French, Hyder Ali and British during the period 1383 to 1780. And finally slipping into peaceful anonymity under the British.

Many have conquered and many have ruled Gingee but a young man known for his bravery is still the hero of Gingee, that too after being killed in a war. Raja Tej Singh and his horse “Neelaveni” died in the battle at a place known as Mavanandal on 3rd Oct 1714, along with his buddy Mehboob Khan.

His story – The story of Tej Singh:

“…After the ouster of the Marathas, Aurangazeb seems to have vested with a Rajput cheiftan from Bundela (Rajasthan), named Swaroop singh, the rank of a Mansab, a jaghir and the killedari of Gingee as reward for his loyal services. Thus a Rajput came to assume charge of the historic fort of Gingee. With Aurangazeb’s farman in hand he arrived in Gingee and reported to Aurangazeb’s general Zulfiqar Khan to take over the fort in 1700. When Aurangazeb died in 1707, taking advantage of the confusion in Delhi and the hassled status of aged new Emperor Bahadur Shah I (eldest son of Aurangzeb), Swaroop Singh failed to remit his dues. By now, it was running to Rs 70 lakhs or so and Sadathullah Khan as Nawab of Carnatic and representative of the Mughal throne threatened action against Swaroop singh. Sorrow stricken and with debts unpaid, Swaroop Singh died around the end of 1713. He was succeeded by his son Tej Singh (Raja Desing for the Tamils) who arrived from Bundelkhand with his newly married wife and a great famous horse, according to Narayana Pillai’s chronicle. Narayana Pillai is believed to have lived near Gingee at the time of Swaroop Singh’s death.

Upon reaching Gingee, Desing performed the obsequies of his father and took up the Governance of Gingee. With his father’s debt still unsettled, Nawab Sadathullah Khan of Arcot and representative of Mughal authority was not pleased and insisted that a new farman was needed from the reigning emperor for Desing to be in possession of Gingee. Desing categorically dismissed such suggestions and claimed that the farman of Alamgir (Aurangazeb) gave all the legitimacy needed. Thus the stage was set for the confrontation from the start of his brief 10 month rule. Raja Desing gave scant respect to the orders of Carnatic Nawab to clear the dues and the Nawab decided to punish the Raja. He invaded with a large army of 85000 cavalry and 10000 infantry. Ginjee had a very small army of 500 soldiers and 350 cavalry. Yet the 22 year old Raja Desing decided to face the enemy bravely. He rushed into the hopeless battle on his steed and fought bitterly and very bravely and was killed along with his steed and his much loved friend Mehboob Khan. His bravery and death moved friend and foe alike. His wife committed Sati at his funeral pyre. The Carnatic Nawab was much moved at the turn of events and built a city and named it Ranipet in the memory of the late queen.

The bravery of Raja Desing has inspired many and it has become a legend and the ballads have many interesting events and incidents included in the life of the Raja …”

Obviously it was a reckless suicidal venture doomed from the start, given the formidable enemy power.  Perhaps he had no one to guide on smarter options that might have been available to him. And we, Tamils, secular and given to theatrics and romanticizing, did only what was our wont – we made a hero out of the poor kid posthumously.

Another interesting bit of history I came across:

Gingee and the Maratha’s

“…The fort was further strengthened by the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677, who recaptured it from the Bijapur sultans who had originally taken control of the fort from the Marathas. During Aurangzeb’s campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji’s second son who had assumed the throne, Chhatrapati  Rajaram, escaped to Ginjee in the distant South and continued the fight with Moghuls from Ginjee. The Moghuls could not capture the fort for seven long years in spite of laying siege. The fort was finally captured in 1698, but not before Chhatrapati Rajaram escaped. It is learnt that Chatrapathi Rajaram’s escape from the fort of Jinjee was abetted by Maratha General Ganoji Shirke who was in the service of army of Aurangzeb and present in the Mughal army at Jinjee. A senior Maratha diplomat of Rajaram negotiated with him and issued a farman handing over the Jagir of Shirke that was seized by Chatrapati Sambhaji earlier. General Shirke in fact was the person who betrayed Sambhaji Maharaj to Mughal commander at Sangameswar earlier and subsequently Sambhaji Maharaj was tortured and was killed by Mughals at the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb. The Fort of course fell to Mughals after escape of Chatrapathi Rajaram. It was later passed on to the Carnatic Nawabs who lost it to the French in 1750 before the British finally took control in 1761 despite losing it to Hyder Ali for a brief period…”

Shirke’s jagir is present-day Dabhol.

Now why did Rajaram go all the way to Gingee? My interest was piqued.  That’s when I found there are a number of books published on Maratha history and personalities. I’m sure there’s an explanation somewhere in there. There’s also material on the eight-year long siege of Gingee and how it was finally captured by the Mughals with the help of artillery and the kind of opportunistic and strange alliances made by either side for its capture and its defense.   At least one historian has this to say on the unusually long siege: “…It had become an established custom for Mughal commanders to drag on campaigns as much as possible, for as long as they were in the field they wielded enormous power, while back at court they would be just flunkeys. The Mughal army was not so much besieging Gingee as camping beside it. Sometimes Zulfiqar set out on tangential campaigns…delayed the capture of Gingee as much as possible…It was suspected that Zulfiqar was in secret correspondence with Rajaram wanting to set up his own principality in Deccan on the expected imminent death of Aurangazeb….”

So what was the truth? Let them historians sort it out – I’m not going to lose my sleep over it.

So much of happenings around this sleepy little place in the middle of nowhere!! It’s not clear what is the strategic importance many historians attach to this place that every other ruler/chieftain of mention had fought for its possession. Was it overseeing some key trading route? Or…A fact that certainly emerges is forts on hills were sought-after items!

The climb continued:

Well, back to the mundane present, the climb.

On my course, I came upon another shrine a small distance away from the main steps.  The path to the shrine was in bad shape. I found out it works to hold on to the tough weeds growing wild on the side for retaining balance. To my dismay, the shrine was hollowed out, save a few sculptures at the entrance, on the pillars inside and on the small gopuram on top.

I managed to return to the main steps after many near-falls where a large group of monkeys nonchalantly went about their business right in the middle of the path. I’ve no problems admitting it was scary. They seemed looking for the right moment to pounce on me. It was clear the stick I had in my hand was no deterrent if they chose to. Luckily a bunch of students descended right then kicking up a squall that drove the monkeys helter-skelter.  Are there going to be more of them the way up?

On reaching a clearance I had a view of what lay before me – a mammoth rock sheer-faced structure reaching for the sky. My heart sank at the sight – it meant another 300 to 400 steps, surely knee-breaking, ‘unkindly’ confirmed by a guy coming down.  I had enough resolve to make it to the top even at this point albeit slowly – both the spirit and the flesh were willing. But the ladies down near the base would never give me the hours I would need. Can’t blame them – they had nothing to do with themselves while I plodded on. And when my wife heard up there one had to negotiate a deep naturally-protective chasm by going over a wooden bridge – exciting, isn’t it? – the issue was settled. She blew her fuse and was ready to blow the city’s as well over what she saw as an accident cleverly set up for me to walk into by a malevolent fate. The cell-phone sputtering in its death throes didn‘t help the matter either.

So there I was returning defeated, a small voice in my head telling me I had done well as much as I did and anything more would be like pushing it over the edge, not reading the flesh right.

What I had missed: atop the citadel, there are a number of brick structures still in good shape.

At least I gifted the stick to someone going up like I had got it.

On inquiry, a ASI guy told us all the artifacts found inside the fort and at places near-by are in court custody owing to some litigation. May be the ASI museum at the base holds a few that we somehow missed. Otherwise all the structures we saw were bare-faced, not a spoon or a plate or a coin.

At Venkataramana Temple:

Leaving the fort behind, we drove to the near-by Venkataramana temple.  Managed by ASI it amazingly more than compensated for what we lost out at Gingee fort. Of comparatively recent vintage – built by Muthyalu Nayaka (1540 – 1550) – it requires at least a couple of hours to look at the rich sculptures found everywhere in this large temple, large parts of it not in use.

From the moment we got off the car, a ASI man (we asked for no proof) tagged along giving us a unsolicited guided tour.  The man was a great story teller and an amazing store- house of information. He spoke of events around Raja Desing like he was a first-hand witness to the tumultuous happenings centuries ago. Banking on google, I allowed myself to be distracted by the sculptures when he was reeling it out. It was a mistake – his stories – I caught snatches of it — are nowhere to be found on google. He was mighty happy when I paid him generously for his time at the end of it. Why doesn’t ASI formally permit these guys operate as guides?  It’s win-win for them and us.

Contrary to ASI’s practice there was a priest who allowed us to have darshan at the sanctum. At variance with the thin public attendance – I suspect it to be the reality – some posters and photographs displayed at the site claimed considerable public patronage.

Again, while ASI has done a decent job of the upkeep at entire Gingee complex, the bosses in Delhi must address the question of how to promote tourism professionally at ASI managed sites. There is so much untapped potential that we should find solutions expeditiously.

Physically exhausted, we tore ourselves away to return to our resort, our thirst to enjoy the grandeur of this temple unslaked.

Promenade Beach:

After a rest break, we headed to the Promenade beach for the evening.  Just the place for a leisurely walk by sea-side and the balmy wind for bruised souls to recuperate.  With failing light, did not spend time on monuments and buildings of importance if any that lined the promenade on the inside.

We closed the day feeling good about seeing so many, young and old, having a good time on the promenade – all the gloom and doom one reads about must be on another planet.

Back to the resort:

Though there was one cloud lingering in the sky for a while for me – was it right to drag the ladies all the way into something they were not likely to enjoy? Well, I didn’t know the height would cut it out for them and there was little else to occupy them.

(To be continued)

A virtual tour is available here: http://view360.in/virtualtour/gingee/

Here are some pics from the net (not individually acknowledged with due apologies):

1 A view of Rajagiri fort.jpg

2 Anaikulam - a huge elephant pond .jpg

3 Kalyana Mahal at the base.jpg

4 Kalyana Mahal – another view.jpg

5 Kamalakanni Amman Shrine on the way up.jpg

6 A structure atop the citadel.jpg

7 The wooden bridge that ‘brought’ me down.jpg

8 More Structures at the base.jpg

9 More Structures at the base.jpg

10 The Venkataramana Temple.jpg

11 Coin.jpg

End

Pages From My Travel Dairy: A Place Where Magic Happens!

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law…

Day 2:

The plan for the day was to head for the Gingee Fort some 60 kms + away from the resort.

Running late we made haste to the restaurant for our breakfast.  A chalk-board informed us Shri Srinivasan was our chef. The spread was good as always to cater to different palates. While some may have felt it suffered in comparison to other CM resorts – was it really so or the hall was just smaller? – looking at the gustatory delights laid out before me, I felt more like a sultan at a loss to know where to begin in his harem. After a sumptuous meal we headed for the coffee counter.  And there he was in his throne! A gaunt gentleman in full regalia of a chef standing ram-rod straight.

Ye world, abandon your vain pursuits forthwith and head here; for, this is where the magic potion is made that will transport you to heights of sensual decadence you never imagined! Well, there I got carried away a little – but that’s what Srini’s concoction does to anyone. Coffee that he lovingly mixes right before you in a steel tumbler and a davara – utensils ubiquitous in any Tamil house serving the same purpose as cup and saucer. When he hands out the frothy in a tumbler held inside the davara for catching the spill-over, don’t ever use the davara to cool the coffee in his presence – sends him into spasms.  You’re supposed to take it straight from the tumbler as it cools.  Let me give you a tip of my own: Coffee tastes best when it is poured against the back of your mouth using the lip of the tumbler. Yes, no sipping.

Srini is a one-man brand that CM will do well to shout about from roof-tops. And he could be one reason for CM members to flock to this resort.

I had two suggestions to make: a) use of brass tumbler and davara would lend authenticity to the ritual and b) CM could offer for sale an entire coffee-making and dispensing kit including pouches of coffee powder; and Srini would demonstrate the use of this kit to produce the magic he does.  A good source of additional billing for CM.

Incidentally my proclivity for making suggestions like the above here and elsewhere earned me the sobriquet of ’Karutthu Kandaswamy’ from my wife. A character played by Vivek in some Tamil movie wherein he throws around suggestions like confetti wherever he goes. So much so people rushed for underground bunkers on mere sight of him at a distance. Hasn’t happened to me yet!

A fall-out of becoming Srini’s acolyte was: I was generously treated to more coffee whenever the counter was open. Though it wasn’t too often owing to my health issues. A pity – so near yet so far.

Srini is by no means a one-trick pony. The ladies still talk about his cheese dosa, puttu and vattha kuzhambu. Am sure his deck has more aces than 4!

More about the restaurant and the resort in the posts to follow. For now, onward to Gingee fort…

(To be continued)

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Shore Temple At Mahabalipuram

We took a short holiday at Club Mahindra’s resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law.

As customary we planned it as a break to enjoy the ambiance, comfort and food at CM’s resort as well as visit places on the way and around – temples, historic sites and beaches.

Day 1:

We left Chennai on a Wednesday morning. Stopped by to have darshan at the Nithya Kalyana Perumal(NKP) temple at Thiruvidanthai and Sthalasayee Perumal(SP) and Shore temples at Mahabalipuram. These did not involve lengthy detours.

NKP and SP temples are religiously active places of worship even today and are not tourist spots.

About 30 to 40 kms away from Chennai on the ECR, NKP temple is the place to go if you find it difficult to find a soul-mate! Epigraphic evidence dates the temple between 10th to 16th centuries worshiped by Udaiyar, Rashtrakuta and Pandyan kings. You may google up on the interesting sthala puranams (legends on the origin) with their metaphorical overtones, and the rituals for netting the elusive life-partner. We did not get to have a darshan at the sanctum being under renovation.  The archakar (priest) drew our attention to a beauty-spot on the cheek of the utsavar that doesn’t go away! The mandapam pillars around the temple are richly embellished with sculptures though they do appear weather-worn.

A quiet place and a quaint village.

Our next stop was at SP temple, about 60 to 70 kms away from Chennai, located in the well-known town of Mahabalipuram. During the 14th century, the Vijayanagar king Parankusa fearing the onslaught of sea tides built this temple away from the shore as a replica of the Shore temple. At the sanctum, the reclining form of Vishnu quite unusually rests on the ground instead of the customary adisesha (snake) bed, with four hands, bearing no weapons and facing the east (unlike Srirangam). The deities here are named in chaste Tamizh! Example: The utsavar (the procession deity) is Ulagam Uiyya Ninra Perumal – he stands for the salvation of the world, not just his followers. The words roll off the tongue so sweetly!

The early Vaishnava saint Bhootath Azhvar was found in a temple tank here. All three Mudal Azhvar’s – Poygai, Bhootham and Paei – were not born naturally, it’s believed.

Surprisingly, unlike NKP temple, the mandapam pillars around this temple appeared sparse without sculptures. That too in a place like Mahabalipuram!

At this place we were informed about the original Shore temple. A must-see spot, now in ruins, managed by the Archeological Society of India and a Unesco declared World Heritage site. Before we move onto the Shore temple, mention must be made about the numerous way-side studios in and around Mahabalipuram displaying their craft – beautiful sculptures/icons from small to huge. It will be a very sad day if these disappear due to lack of patronage.

The Shore temple complex comprising at its center two Shiva shrines and one of Vishnu, without vimana (domed roof), is attributed to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II (680-720 A.D). An early example of free-standing stone-dressed structure in contrast to Pallava’s signature rock-cut cave and monolithic rock temples. And the last of the surviving structures that Narasimhavarman I and his successors built over 200 years at Mahabalipuram. That several other structures stood along with the Shore temple, subsequently swallowed up by the sea, is strongly believed, yet to be confirmed by under-sea excavations.

Obviously weather beaten, its small size belies its grandeur in its heydays that could only be guessed by recalling another complex the king had built, surviving till date and in much better shape – Kailasanathar temple at Kanjeevaram, the capital city of Pallavas. As an aside, the latter temple also documents 200+ titles carried by Narsimhavarman II, overtaking all our politicians by miles!!

The courtyard of the complex is enclosed by a series of nandi’s (bulls), mythical yali’s and some varaha’s (boars) topping half-height walls. The main Shiva shrine is east-facing with an intriguingly front-free design towards the ocean! The purport of the design remains a matter of intense speculation among experts: Was it intended to provide devotees a mystic experience of communion with the elements? Or, for a theatrical effect? Was it for the benefit of local and foreign sea-farers sailing in and out of the trading port at Mahabalipuram? Whatever it be, even the Cholas following several centuries later, for a good reason, did not make any alterations/additions unlike at other places they inherited.

The smaller west-facing Shiva shrine has the traditional architectural accouterments like mandaps, perhaps used for rituals. According to the two inscriptions found in the slab of smaller Shiva temple, the names of the three temples mentioned are as Kshatriyasimha Pallaveshvara-griham, Rajasimha Pallaveshvara-griham and Pllikondaruliya-devar – are these among the 200+ titles of the king? The entire temple complex is called as Jalashayana (lying in water) connoting Vishnu. The inscription on the lintel of the Vishnu shrine also mentions this as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha where Narapatisimha is again a title of Narsimhavarman II. The guy was smart – he made sure of the attribution.

The Somaskanda panel in one of the Shiva shrines is the best preserved. It is interesting to see  the reclining form of Vishnu resting on ground with four hands, no weapons, no adornments except the crown and without his consort or Bramha emerging on naabhi-kamalam, thus validating the fidelity of its later-day model at SP!. Time and salty wind are humbled at diminishing the beautiful serenity of the face.

The temple walls are replete with beautiful full-height statues of gods, guards and damsels. In their days obesity was certainly not one of their problems!  Smaller panels decorating the base are found all over like small change.

Even saw an animal sacrifice, of course, in stone!

No expert on history or stone art, I found it intriguing to see a confluence of Vaishnavism and Shaivism at one place. The king was an ardent worshiper of Shiva – most Pallava kings were, lured away from Buddhism/Jainism by Shaivaite saints – and carries the name of a Vishnu avatar. Why did he build a Vishnu shrine bracketed by two Shiva shrines? There is even a juxtaposition of a Bhuvaraha (another Vishnu avatar) and a small Shiva shrine in a small sunken water tank!  Maybe there’s some simple explanation.

Incidentally the Shiva shrine stands on a base of a stack of stone slabs, progressively smaller in size, cut into many-sided polygons, the edges of one slab by design out of alignment with those of the slab below -impressive geometry and aesthetically pleasing.

In hindsight maybe we should have hired a guide to tell us about it all. ASI has done a good job of preserving the site without vandalism or litter – could be more forthcoming with information on history and architecture, I thought. Was told by someone promoting tourism is not high on ASI’s agenda – it’s neither suave nor skilled for the job.

We left Mahabalipuram determined to revisit for a more leisurely guided pursuit of stories sculpted in muted stone here and around.

Not before the ladies bought a few bead-strands without bargain from the poor kurava women pushing their wares.

We had lunch on the way and headed for CM’s resort.

It was nearing 4-00 pm when we checked in – marked the beginning of our hassle-free stay – at the resort which is some 15 kms+ beyond the town of Pondicherry.

Had just the amount of energy for a short stroll on the beach – a short stretch of sand that the resort opens out to at the back, taking in lungs-full of free oxygen – rare for a mumbaite. Waters were said to be treacherous ruling out swimming. The sands were reasonably clean though not entirely litter-free.

Hit the bed after a light a la carte dinner.

(To be continued)

His Sense Of Fair-Play

It was D-day – the boy had a test to give for earning a scholarship.

The grandma did what most grandma’s do – she taught him a simple Hayagreeva stotram (a mantra in praise of and seeking blessings from god of learning). It was sure to help him ace the test.

The boy quickly learnt the stotram.  To grandma’s delight he could recite the Sanskrit stotram with great spashtam (fidelity).

It was time for them to leave for the school-bus.

As he boarded the bus, she reminded him to recite the stotram without fail just before taking the test.

The boy was in good spirits when he returned from the school in the afternoon. The family mobbed him immediately to know how he fared in the test.

The boy confirmed what was already evident – he had done quite well, he thought. Much better than he had expected.

Amidst the excitement all around, ‘I knew all along,’ beamed the grandma. ‘It had to be so and nothing else with the blessings of Hayagreeva.’

‘But, Paatti (grandma)…’

‘Yes?’

‘Am sorry…I did not recite the stotram.’

‘What? You didn’t? You forgot the lines?’

‘No…’

‘Then?’

‘Wouldn’t be fair for me to benefit from the stotram. None of my friends has learnt it.’

Paatti’s explanations, arguments and theories that followed till-date have not won him over unreservedly.

End

 

 

PS: Based on a real-life story. The youngster is growing up in UK away from the traditional Hindu eco-system (though the household is) and its influence and edicts.