G.’s Blog

“Orthu Nokkumbol…” in Mathrubhumi

Posted by G. on September 29, 2009

I’m dating myself here, but for those who haven’t seen this yet, Sarath Krishna writes an excellent nostalgic series on the Kerala of our childhood/youth, in the Pravaasi section of Mathrubhumi online edition. Sharath’s poetic Malayalam describes the sounds/smells/sights of a life in Kerala that has now been lost forever to the passage of time. Go read it!

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On (the Lack of) Regional History in School Curriculum

Posted by G. on September 15, 2009

The Hindu recently carried an article on Maddy’s (of Historical Alleys) work, specifically his posts on the Malabar connection in the Geniza Papers. It is heartening to see a main stream newspaper carrying/recognizing valuable work done by a blogger, on a niche subject that has unfortunately garnered so little attention from the common populace of Malabar – local history.

We have a generation growing up today who knows of Tantia Tope and Nana Sahib but has no knowledge of Edachena Kungan and his association with the Pazhassi Raja. Who knows about the American Civil War but has no clue on what the Maamaankam was. Who has watched Mulan but do not know the story of Mathileri Kanni. And who thinks Perunthachan was a movie starring Thilakan.

We are proud of India’s diversity in culture and customs; unfortunately, the same diversity gets short shrift in the syllabi of our centralized schooling systems (whether they are at the national or state level). If education is supposed to make you a complete person, then we have to admit that our system fails in explaining the historical aspects of one’s ties to one’s immediate society.

Granted it is an impossible task to even attempt to cover all the local legends and histories under a common official syllabus. But this knowledge gap, it should be noted, was filled by grandparents and old naattukaar for the previous generation. I learned the stories of the Vadakkan Paattukal from my Achamma, not through any Navodaya movie. With urbanization and extinction of the joint family system, this is a scenario that is not feasible anymore. And so we are left with the choice of either creating an alternative arrangement for the preservation and transfer of our local history/culture/customs/legends, or face the possibility that a significant chunk of knowledge would be lost forever with the passing of a generation over the next few decades.

A solution, I would think, would be to mandate a special Regional History class (in addition to the existing lessons) for, say, the VII and VIII standards in every school, to be comprised purely of the regional histories and legends of the land…

But while we wait for such a move from the Government, there are always the few blogs that have started documenting little known aspects of our history and heritage for us.

Kudos to Maddy.

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Tweeting Mahabharatha…

Posted by G. on August 22, 2009

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1917882,00.html

Chindu Sreedharan, 36, lecturer in Journalism and Communication at the Media School in Bournemouth University, England, says he has always had a soft spot for the epic tale, the narrative of a war between cousins Pandavas and Kauravas. “It’s more cultural than religious,” he says. “Most [Indians] know the storyline. It’s something our grandmothers have told us.” That and his keen interest in social media led Sreedharan to start experimenting with the epic, writing it in short bursts online to see how it would read in that format.

—-

The format has its creative advantages. Instead of telling the classic story through the eyes of a the main narrator as in the original Mahabharata, Sreedharan takes the point of view of an heretofore one- dimensional character, Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers who defeat their cousins, the Kauravas, in tale’s central battle. “Bhima has been the brawny superman of Mahabharata,” says the Indian-born academic and journalist. “Here he is being presented as someone who is really sensitive and intelligent.

If I read this correctly, Chindu Sreedharan is doing a Randamoozham on Twitter. This is the second instance (that I’m aware of) where MT Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham (a novelization of the Mahabharatha from the point of view of Bhima) is being retold online – Prem Panicker posts his version episodically at his blog here.

Update (1 Sep, 09): Here‘s Chindu’s own blog post on the subject.

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The Dragon, the Elephant and Oil

Posted by G. on May 28, 2009

In the past six months, commodity prices worldwide crashed to multi-decade lows.

In the past six months,

1. Chinalco signed a deal with Australia’s Rio Tinto that will eventually double its stake in the world’s second-largest mining company.

2. China National Petroleum signed separate loan-for-oil agreements with Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Venezuela, under which China would provide loan/aid, in exchange for long-term commitments to supply oil.

3. China National Petroleum signed an agreement with Iran’s National Iran Oil Company  to jointly develop a oil/natural gas field.

4. Commercial Bank of China took a stake in South Africa’s Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest bank and a key to securing access to the Dark Continent’s vast oil/mineral riches.

India is a net importer of crude oil, and thats before the Nano. What have we done to secure our energy supplies during this sale of the century?

 

Update 1: The Rio deal has fallen through. Apparently, now that the markets have moved past the possibility of Armageddon and Rio can raise money in the bond/equity markets again, there is a sudden uptick in concepts like national interest…

Update 2: China Petroleum Corp has completed its purchase of Addax Petroleum, giving it reserves in Kurdistan and Western Africa.

Update 3: Here’s a comprehensive article on the subject from CNN.

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The Ghost Of Malthus

Posted by G. on April 28, 2009

The following is from The New Scientist (click to enlarge).

New Scientist

Haven’t gone through all the assumptions on the basis of which the figure has been created, but some have pointed out that such apocalyptic charts arise everytime there is a period of sustained inflation (apparently predictions were made in the 70’s that the world would run out of copper by the early 2000’s). I think the nature of the inflationary pressure is a little different today compared to the 70’s – back then, there was supply restrictions due to the Arab Oil Embargo, while today, there is demand increases  due to the emerging economies. Excessively loose monetary policy without a corresponding improvement in human productivity remains the only constant inflationary theme across both timeframes.

If you do believe the data, it might be wise to keep an eye on Wayanad real estate… At some confluence of high gold price and human gullibility, who knows, we might see another gold rush in our Wynad hills…

🙂

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Vishnumoorthi Theyyam and the Legend of Paalanthaayi Kannan

Posted by G. on April 26, 2009

Spending another Vishu in a cold land where no Konna has ever flowered, my thoughts went to childhood summers of the past, spent at ancestral homes in Malabar. The air would be thick with the smell of flowering mango and cashew. Parts of the dry paddy fields would have been converted to cultivating cheera (spinach) and vellari (cucumber), irrigated manually from temporary shallow wells (called kooval) dug in the fields. The evenings would resound with the noise of kids with their soccer games, temporarily converting Korettan’s field into The Grand Koran Stadium. The temple festival season would be in full swing. And day and night, there would be the faint sound of chenda, from theyyam at one or the other of the thousands of kaavukal that dotted the landscape. 

There are literally hundreds of theyyams, each with its own story, history and lineage. Most the stories have a “traditional Hindu” connection, showing lineage from Parvathi, Shivan, Vishnu etc. But they also have connections to local myths and legends, and as is usually the case with most folklore, they sometimes describe episodes in local history.  

Photo by Rakesh Ayilliath

Vishnumoorthi is a ubiquitous theyyam, with the Narasimhavatharam as its essence. It is a theyyam of the Malayar people, and is performed in the daytime. A Vellattam is conducted the night prior to the actual theyyam, where the thottam paattu is sung describing the origins and history of the theyyam.

***

“Varika varika venam Vishnumoorthiyaam paradevatha
Ningalithoru palliyara naalu bhaagam adichu thelichu
Naalu bhaagathum naalu ponnin nanthaar vilakku vechu
Naduve azhakithoru velli shreepeedhamittu
Velli shreepeedhathinmel madakkiyittoru

kolavarikan manja chittaadayum poonthukilaadayum
Chukappilitta koorayum Naagamanimothiravum Nerpulithandayum vechu
Njaan ningale, thottathe vara vilikkunnen a
adimoolamaayiripporu Paradevathe”

*** 

The thottam paattu has sections on Narasimhapuranam and Prahaladolpathi. But it also explores the story of Paalanthaayi Kannan.

***

“Karumanayil Paalanthaayi viruthanaayulloru Kannan
Karumam palathum palarodum cheythathukondu
Kuruvaadanumaayi thangalilidapaadundaayi
Tharavaadum naadum vittu Vadakku nadannu.
Mangalapuramavide chennittangane pala naal chellum kaalam
Sangathiyaal paradevathakkoru komaramaayi.
Drishtaantham palathum palavaka drishtaanthamathaakkiyozhichu
Pottallithu pattaanennu palarkkum thonni.

***

The thottam mentions that Paalanthaayi Kannan, after getting into a fight with Kuruvadathu Kuruppu, went north to Mangalapuram, where he became the Komaram for the  Paradevatha (Vishnumoorthi). (Although the thottam itself doesn’t provide more details, local folklore  is a bit more descriptive. One version says that Kannan was a cowherd for Kuruppu. One day, while Kannan was sitting on a mango tree, the Kuruppu’s niece went by and a mango fell on her. Assuming that Kannan had thrown the mango at her, she complained to her uncle, who beat up Kannan and had him banished from the land).

***

Ottu varisham naalingane ishtamode vaanoru shesham
Thattothoru Malanaattekku manassu ninachu.
Chathravumoru churikayumenthi shathrubhayam theerthu nadanni-
-ttathalezhum Kadalikkulamathilarikathambol.
Maravillathoru Nair Kuruvattu Kuruppathu kettu
Murukappoychennithu Kadalikkulamathilarike.
Paalanthaayi Kannan varavathu chelode kandoru Nair
Kaalam vaikaathe chennu pinakku kazhichaan.
Chilli Kadalikkulamathile vellathilerinjoru churika
Thullunnathu vellathinnude meethe churika.
Churikayilakkam kaanumbol Kuruvaadanu paaram paravashamaaki
Durithathinu kaaranamaakum vannam vannu.
kannum chila kaalikidaangal annanne chathu thudangi
Onnonneyaatithulli virachu thudangi”.

***

After a few years, Kannan decided to come back home. Upon reaching his native place, he kept his churika (sword) and umbrella by the side of the Kadalikkulam (a pond) and took a bath. Hearing of Kannan’s presence in the land, the Kuruppu came by the pond and beheaded him. Kannan’s umbrella was smashed to pieces, and his churika was thrown into the pond. But then, something strange happened. Kannan’s churika was seen dancing on the water surface. Cattle in Kuruppu’s household started dying, and people started getting sick. Kuruppu himself fell ill.

Kuruppu brought in an astrologer to see what was going on. 
 

***

“Kannan marichathinutharam chollanan vannam mudikkaanennu Paradevatha
Velli kondennude kolapradishtayum palli vaazhicha pallikkarakozhuvayal
Allaal Kuruvaadanude veedakam thannile thallayodum pillayum kannodu kidaangalum
Okkeyodukki vannugramathukaattinen”.

***

The Paradevatha asked for Kuruppu’s repentance for killing Kannan. As penance, Kuruppu was asked to establish a pradishta for Vishnumoorthi, and conduct the theyyam.

It is recognized that a Paalaazhi Parappil Malayan was the first to establish the theyyam as we know it, but I have been unable to find any details. 

 

Ref:

1. Dr. MV Vishnu Namboothiri, “Uthara Keralathile Thottam Paattukal”, Kerala Sahithya Academy, ISBN 81-7690-075-3
2. Photo of Vishnumoorthi by Rakesh Ayilliath, hosted at Trekearth.

 

 Notes:

1. Murali Rama Varma is a better writer than I ever will be. Go read his reminiscences of childhood Vishus here.

2. Kannuran has an entire blog (in Malayalam) on theyyam and their folklore.

3. http://www.theyyam.com/ seem to have a lot of general information on theyyam.

4. The Theyyam section in Wikipedia has a mention of the legend of Paalanthaayi Kannan in connection with Vishnumoorthy.

5. There seems to be a book written on the subject called “Vishnumoorthi: More than a Myth”, by Nandakumar Koroth. I’m trying to see if I can locate a copy.

6. Last year, I managed to catch a couple of theyyam festivals at home. It had been approximately 14 years since I had been to a kaavu. It seems the mukhathezhuthu is done using artificial colors nowadays. I remember, as a child, watching the Vadakkunkooran of the time holding a piece of broken tile over a lamp to create soot, to be used as black coloring, while casually mentioning  that he was the theyyam in the movie  My Dear Kuttichathan… There also seemed to be a lot of tourists, with official “Theyyam Tours” being organized by several travel agencies…

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