Towards Understanding Hindu Culture, Rituals and Traditions (Part Sixteen)

(And God said, “Let there be light; and there was light” – The Holy Bible. Light has been the most fascinating element known to man for it not only destroys darkness it also imparts knowledge. The lighting of a lamp in Hindu traditions is symbolic of driving away the darkness and lighting the lamp of wisdom. In ancient times, the air currents of the world were affected by such massive lighting done in millions of homes across South India that preceded or set the pattern for the monsoon rains. But today, due to industrialization, Global warming and other factors, festivals like Karthigai Deepam may not have such an impact on weather patterns as it did in ancient times)The lesser known FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS other than Deepavali for which India is famous for, is Karthikai Deepam of South India. Aganaanooru a book of 400 poems dating back to the period between 300 BC to 200 BC refers to Karthigai Deepam as the “peruvizha” during the full moon period of the Tamil month of Karthigai. The Tamil savant Avvaiyar too refers to the festival in her poems.Thiru Karthikai Deepam is a regional festival of lights mostly observed by Hindus South India, especially Tamil Nadu. It falls in the tamil month of Kaarthikai and occurs on the day when the moon is in conjunction with the 6 star constellation of Karthigai (Pleiades in terms of Astronomy). In various places in India this is celebrated in various names such as Thirukarthika in Kerala ( where, interestingly, it is to welcome Goddess Sakthi ) and in places like Orissa and in parts of North India, it is celebrated as Karthik Poornima.Legend has it that it is the Birth of the celestial Lord Muruga who was formed from the six star constellation into six lotuses who conjoined to become the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati.The other more Popular legend is that on this day Lord Shiva stood as a pillar of fire without beginning or end (ஆதியும் அந்தமுமாய்) and Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar to search for the roots and Lord Brahma took the form of a bird to search the origin of the pillar of fire above. Both couldn’t find the beginning or end of the pillar of fire. But Brahma returned with a flower that fell from above, saying that he found the origin above. Lord Shiva is said to have cursed him saying that since he lied, people will no longer worship him.In his famous song called Potri Pathigam after which Lord Shiva gave him a vision of Kailash and took him to the other World, Appar alias Thirunavukarasar says,
அமையா அருநஞ்ச மார்ந்தாய் போற்றி
ஆதி புராணனாய் நின்றாய் போற்றி
கமையாகி நின்ற கனலே போற்றி
கயிலை மலையானே போற்றி போற்றி.Here Appar Refers to Lord Shiva as the Eternal Flame.The most famous light during the Karthikai Deepam Festival is that of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, South India. The lamp is lit atop the Tiruvannamalai Hill and is seen for miles around.The festival is celebrated for three days. First day is celebrated as Karthigai Deepam or Shiva Deepam ( for Lord Shiva) second day is celebrated as Vishnu Deepam ( for Lord Vishnu) and third day is celebrated as Brahma Deepam (for Lord Brahma) in some parts of Tamil Nadu the third day is observed as “Kuppai Deepam”.The lamps used are usually clay lamps, called AGAL VILAKKU in Tamil.

Is it crime to be woman ?

Understanding Heritage – Legends reveal the etymology of certain places…..

Series – Three of 2019

(The Ranganatha Temple on top of a hillock in Thiruneermalai, situated near Chromepet in the suburb of Chennai, is rich in tradition and history with many inscriptions from ancient Chola and Pandya periods. It is mentioned in Brahmanda Purana, and is also connected with Thirumangai Azhwar and Bootha Alwar. In this temple, Lord Vishnu is seen in four poses – standing/sitting/Lying and Walking. It is said that after completing the epic Ramayana, the sage Valmiki was blessed by a vision of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharatha, Shatrugan and Hanuman at Thiruneermalai)

There are a number of places in Chennai that is connected with various legends. For Example, Mylapore was better known as “Mayil Aarpu Oor” meaning the place where the peacocks scream. The etymology of Mylapore can be traced to Puranaanooru, they say. The Shiva Temple in Mylapore is known as KAPALEESWARAR – the one with the skull (Kabalam in Tamil means Skull – Interestingly, Thiru Vodu also means skull – and some say that the name Tiruvottiyur comes from Thiru Vodu Oor – but more of Tiruvottiyur at the end of this blog post)

A road connecting Ayanavaram to Villivakkam is known as Konnur High Road. At present there is no place by the name Konnur. Then how did this name come into being? According to legend, two demons, ‘Ilvalan’ and ‘Vatapi’, born to Sage Dhurva and Aswamukhi, were tormenting the world with their wicked ways by killing people. Their modus operandi was unique – one of the demons would change into a fruit and the other would offer it to eat to people. Once consumed, the demon would come out by tearing the stomach of the person who ate the fruit. Once Sage Agasthya came to visit this place and the same trick was performed on him by the demons. Agastya put his hand on his stomach, and said, “Vatapi, Jeernabi” – thus killing the demon and later he killed the other demon too – the place where he killed the demons, was called as KONNUR….a name that exists till this day…

After killing the demons, Sage Agasthya planted a Vilvam tree (it is believed that the presence of Vilvam tree prevents demons to come in the vicinity) in the nearby Malligaichery Village (Malligaichery Village is the present Villivakkam) which is believed to be still existing in the Shiva Temple of Villivakkam….and hence the name, Villivakkam from the VILVAM Plant.

North East of Villivakkam lies Thiruvottiyur – one of the oldest places of Chennai City. The Thyagarajaswamy Shiva Temple in Tiruvottyur is one of the oldest temples in the city. Believed to be more than 2000 years old, the temple has many unique stone inscriptions detailing the history of the chola and pallava times. This temple was visited by many saints like Appar, Sundarar, Gnana Sambandhar, Thyagayyar, Vallalar, Valmiki, Kambar, Adi Shankara etc. It is widely believed that Kamba Ramayanam was composed here first before it was recited at Sri Rangam, Trichy.

The diety of the place is known as Adhi pureeswarar. It is believed that Lord Shiva blessed Lord Brahma here at the time of the dissolution of the Universe, (Pralaya) by making the waters evaporate ( Vatri – means drying in Tamil), hence this place is called Thiru Vatri Oor. It is believed that Lord Shiva dried up the waters by becoming a huge living fire and later stayed on as a Swayambu lingam. It is said that this is the first (Adhi in Tamil) Swayambu lingam that appeared in the earth after the Pralaya, hence the lord here is named “Adhipureeswarar”. (Adhi means first) Legend has it that a great Saint Pattinathar is believed to have lived here in Tiruvottiyur for long and attained Samadhi.

Time for the indelible ink….

Exchange of slurs
the politics of issues
mere personal slang matches
where issues are blurred
by hatred and venom…

and suddenly, personalities reign supreme.

Who has done what ?
Who is better suited
to rule in future?

Whom to trust ?
And whom to elect ?
Tough questions indeed
for the voter
with the difficult task
of weighing the merits
and demerits,
Right or wrong or left;

while straining to catch the beats
of campaign drums that match the mind of the confused
has to honourably erase
the slate clean
With his or her choice
On Election Day.

Speaking through
The Ballot Box,
Casting the vote
And saying it aloud
with his action : –
“As a voter,
my opinion, matters
The most….”

Atleast to me.
– D.Om Prakash Narayan

Understanding Heritage – RAYARPURAM

Understanding Heritage…

Series – Two of 2019


(** – Preface – in many of these initial railway lines, only the first commercial passenger runs are recorded, and that leaves out the initial trial runs of the train – so if any records give an earlier date, they are talking about the trial runs and not the first commercial run. Even for the famous Bombay – Thane run on 14,April 1853, there were a few trial runs earlier)

Various traditions and cultures have influenced the the origin of the name Royapuram. Originally it was Rayar puram – Now, the word Rayar has interesting connotations. Remember Krishna Deva Raya? Well, there was/is a community by that name – Rayar ( these days the only Rayars the average Madrasi will know is the famous Rayar mess in Mylapore) who hail basically from the Agriculture and Business community, who were landlords and Zamindars of the past, and who migrated to various parts. The most famous among the Rayar kings who ruled between 6th century AD to 9th Century AD was Muthuraiyar who is said to have ruled Trichy, Tanjore, and Pudukottai. Interestingly, there is also a Rayarpuram in Tuticorin.

Another more popular, and anglicised version of Rayarpuram comes from the fact that the initial Britishers and later, Anglo Indians who settled in the place were known as “Rayars” – the church of St Peter, dating back to the 18th century, is known as “Rayappar” church (meaning Peter in Tamil). Interestingly, a Bishop is known as “Aayar” ( ஆயர்) in Tamil and Arch Bishop is known as “Peraayar” (பேராயர் )

“Aayar” ( ஆயர் ) in pure Tamil means, “those who tend to cattle – cowherd” (Ah! The complexity and brevity of Tamil language!) denotes Cow – (which is why you have AAVINஆவின் – meaning from the cow – as the State run Milk federation organisation).

Anyway, Rayar puram later became a fashionable “ROYapuram” and it was here, that in 1853, that the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway started building the Royapuram Railway Station and the first train operations started sometime in June 1856 with the Royapuram – Walajah Road inaugural run** This beautiful structure remained the headquarters of Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway till 1922 and is still one of the oldest, undisturbed original structures ever on Indian Railway (thanks to the erstwhile MoS Railways Shri R.Velu who in 2005 did a restoration project for the station)

( Series to be continued)

Understanding Heritage…

Series – One of 2019

Let’s have a look at Chennai’s rich cultural heritage through its history. Starting with names of places. ( Am writing this in English more for my non Tamil friends – but in Tamil, the word பாரம்பரியம் has more relevance) Hailing from the village of Chennapattinam

 (called Chennapatna by the British) the village chieftain by name Maadarasan ( மாடரசன்) gifted some cattle to the visiting dorai ( Britishers were called Dorais by the Tamizh ) and look at the irony here – in a foreign land, occupying a foreign place by force or by design, Robert Clive (no offence meant to the great adventurer that he was and one can’t certainly judge a person after 300 years) declared that this place will be called, “Maadarasanpet” after the village chieftain, Maadarasan! That is how, Madras ( Maadarasanpet later became Madras) got its name!

( Series to be continued )

சூரியனுக்கு நன்றி !

உலகமெங்கும் உறைபனி நீங்கி
சூரிய வெப்ப கதிர்கள்
பூமியின் மடிமேல் பதிந்து
வருடாந்திர புதுமை
புரியும் சடங்கை,
போகி போய் பொங்கல் என்றும்
லொரி போய் சங்கராந்தி என்றும்
வெவேறு பெயர்களில் அழைத்தாலும்
செயற்கையாய் வாழ கற்று கொண்ட
நவீன மனிதன்
பூமியில் உயிரின வாழ்தலுக்கு
வழி வகுக்கும்
சூரியனுக்கு விசுவாச நன்றி
சொல்ல மட்டும்
இயற்கையாய் …..
மனித நேயம்
நிலைத்திருக்கட்டும்! Omsmusings

சுதந்திர சமுதிரத்தை விட்டு வைக்காத அரசியல்!


எங்கும் அரசியல்

எதிலும் அரசியல்

இன்றய உலகில் –

சாப்பிடும் உணவிலும் கூட….


சுதந்திர சமுதிரத்தில்

வாழும் மீன்களையும்

பிரித்து பார்க்கும் அரசியல் –


அதில் மாட்டிக்கொண்டு மிதக்கும்

இலங்கை இறால்

அந்தமான் வஞ்சிரம்

தூத்துகுடி சுறா

ஜப்பான் ந்ண்டு


என பிரித்து பார்க்கும்

கேவலம் மனிதர்களைப்

போல் இல்லாமல்



இயற்கையின் பிரஜையாய்




 ( Thanks to Yahoo Transliteration service and Google translate!)

Towards understanding Hindu Culture, rituals and traditions….PART TWO


( Disclaimer : I am no authority on Hinduism, nor is this blog an authority on Rituals and Customs and Traditions – This blog merely tries to bring certain rituals, customs and traditions into perspective. One of the reasons for writing this blog stemmed from a recent incident I had seen where an educated youth was opposing the idea of removing sandals near the puja area. The arguments were on equal footing, and the elderly person was telling the younger one to respect the customs and the younger one was asking for “scientific reasons” for a number of things – So, this is only an ATTEMPT at looking at some of the perspectives…… Also, the blog can only generally address the issue and it is NOT possible to go deep into the topic because customs and traditions stem from various factors all of which cannot be discussed in detail without going into the basis of each belief/custom/tradition/practice.  )

In the great Biblical story of Moses, when Moses, the hero of Exodus, approaches the “burning bush” he is asked to “take off” his sandals. The reason he is told by the “voice of God” from the burning bush is that it was “holy ground” that he was standing upon….

In most of the religions, including Hinduism (even Islam?) one is required to take off his/her shoes/sandals before entering the holy place, be it a temple, sanctum sanctorum or the altar. Even though the reasons appear to be that of general cleanliness, it seems that there is a greater purpose in the simple tradition and custom of not wearing sandals inside the temple. .

In almost all the holy places of worship, it is believed that the cosmic energy from the cosmos is swirling around, by virtue of the place being a meeting point of energies, or by virtue of continued practice of prayer/meditation/ rituals/etc at that point in the temple or place of worship. This is the reason why we feel a sort of peace and quiet when we enter some temple, since that place is saturated with the vibrations of so many prayers/mantras/divine thoughts, which draw the cosmic energy into that place. The person who enters the holy place, becomes a conductor of that cosmic energy. It is believed that when that cosmic energy enters the person, it can cause drastic changes in the person’s physical and astral body if the person does not pass out the energy to the ground. Even though the cosmic energy is positive and beneficial, it is believed that not all human bodies are equipped to handle that kind of energy. (Some pranic healers even avoid healing babies because of this reason).

If, Moses had not obeyed God’s instructions to remove his sandals, the energy coming direct from God (as in the case of Moses and the burning bush) could have burnt or damaged the physical body of Moses – And by removing the sandals, the cosmic energy is earthed to the ground. In the case of Moses, the change in his appearance was visible, as is evidenced by his wife’s reaction when she sees Moses return from the mountain (not all versions of the Bible say this). Just as electricity and Magnetism, Cosmic energy too, is invisible. But we have instruments to measure electricity and Magnetism. And Mankind is yet to develop simple measuring kits/instruments for measuring cosmic energy. Experiments have been conducted by various organizations to study the holy water used in the Kalasam kept during Homams and Yagams  – and changes in the water molecules have been noticed, some of which have even been published.

However, simply because the Cosmic energy cannot be measured as yet, skeptics have been dismissing the theory that energy may be there in the ether. However, those interested in utilizing or using this energy need not necessarily start studying these invisible currents as it may take hundreds of years before instruments to measure or detect such rays are invented. Humanity did not know about X-Rays before they were discovered. Humanity did not know about electrical energy before it was discovered. But our ancient rishis and saints and siddhars have studied and mastered this energy. Sri Ramakrishna tells an interesting story of the mango grove where a person who is interested in eating mangoes, simply plucks the mangoes and eats, instead of the studious person who starts counting the leaves, the mangoes and branches of the trees and studying them. Similarly, the person who wishes to make use of these currents should go ahead and utilize them instead of trying to reason out the existence of such currents scientifically as it will take many years to physically prove their existence.

Is this not the reason why electric installations have “earthing”, where the wire that is earthed is taken straight to the ground? Just as a building is fitted with a lightning rod, which is connected to the ground to “earth” the electricity flowing out of lightning, the human body needs to earth the cosmic currents, which is why, many schools of thought suggest walking barefoot on dewed grass or ground early in the morning to “reconnect” with the earth energy. This is said to not only activate the earth chakra in the human body, but also to release the negative energy from our body to the ground. There is also the added benefit of activating the acupressure points on the soles…..

And this is the main reason why in places of worship, one is required to take off their sandals or shoes. When the cosmic energy passes through the person, the person is cleansed of any diseased or negative energy by the positive cosmic energy. But I must add here that the same anology of positive energy also applies in the case of negative energy. Which is why, one should always WEAR FOOTWEAR in a place of possible negative energy, like a crematorium, graveyard, etc.

One can safely assume that it is because of this very reason that the ancient sages and rishis and saints used wooden sandals – so that they retained some specific energy and also to ensure that the positive energy that they received was NOT transmitted to the ground! Apart from ancient Indian tradition, Chinese and Japanese traditions also have widespread use of wooden sandals. Wood (Largely cellulose fibers) consists of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms – and why wood is an excellent footwear has to do more with the molecular structure of wood –  The advantages of wooden sandals over leather sandals may take another full blog, so I will stop here.

From dust to dust….The human body, has to go back to the five elements…..but  the earth energy, plays an important part in us, when we are alive….and the one part of our body that is in constant touch with the earth, are our soles……

(To be continued……)