October 31, 2016

The Neglected Jyestha Devi of Manimangalam

Manimangalam is a small locality located near Tambaram, which in turn is located near Chennai in Tamil Nadu state of India . Manimangalam is a historical site. The great battle between the Chalukya King Pulikesi and the Pallava King Narasimha Pallava was fought in Manimangalam in the 7th century CE

In Manimangalam, which has few ancient temples, there is a Jyestha Devi idol lying on the field near Dhanalakshmi Engineering College. The idol has no temple structure or the regular priests to perform poojas. Yet, the local villagers worship this deity as the Mother Goddess.

Who is Jyestha Devi? As per the Hindu Puranas, she is the elder sister of Lakshmi. Lakshmi, who is considered as the deity of wealth, is being worshiped in all temples. There are big temples with Lakshmi as the presiding deity. However, her own sister Jyestha does not find any place in Vishnu temples or her own sister Lakshmi's temples. Barring few temples in Trichy-Tanjore region, Jyestha Devi is generally found outside the Shiva temples or in a neglected corner in the Shiva's temple enclosure.

Tiru Valluvar, the ancient Tamil poet, had written that this world is not for those without wealth. It appears that the statement is true not only for the humans but even for the deities. Jyestha is considered as inauspicious and is believed to bring bad luck. Thondaradi Podi Alwar, one of twelve Alwars, reportedly condemned the worship of Jyestha Devi in the temples. It is said that due to his efforts the idol of Devi was thrown out of the temples. There is no solid proof to prove this theory though. Interestingly, this Alwar's birth star was Jyestha. 

Whatever be the reason and whenever this practice had started, it is true that many of the Shiva temples in the northern part of Tamil Nadu have neglected Jyestha Devi. You can find this idol lying near the fields, outside the temple or in a neglected corner inside the temple complex.

In Manimangalam village, opposite to the Dhanalakshmi Engineering College, a beautiful idol of Jyestha Devi is found. She is found along with her two attendants. As per few versions, they are her children, Manthan and Agni. Some broken idols, probably Somaskanda and others, are found scattered near her idol. It is not sure why and how these idols are found in this site.

You can throw her out of the temple. But she can turn her new place into a temple. A temple is not the one which has structure, but the deity. She may not need a temple structure. The open air and the green fields are more beautiful than your architecture. She has got enough love from the innocent villagers and heritage enthusiasts. She will live long as the deity forever.

Happy travelling.

October 30, 2016

Shiva who became a female deity

This article is not about any mythological story of Shiva changing his gender. But, it is about the locals who changed Shiv Linga into a female deity.

Chembarampakkam Reservoir is one of the two river fed reservoirs of Chennai city. It is located at a distance of about 30 kms from Chennai Central. Before the reservoir was constructed, there must have been a temple of Lord Shiva on the banks of the Chembarampakkam Lake. After the reservoir was constructed, the access to this small temple was probably not easy as earlier. As the people started neglecting or forgetting this temple, the local villagers alone worshiped this temple, which is located in a hideout in the reservoir structure now. The villagers probably changed this deity as a female deity and named him as Kanni Amman.

Who is Kanni Amman? In Tamil Nadu, the village deities are generally called as Kanni (meaning Kanya - virgin). Serpents are worshiped as Naga Kannis. Sapta Matrikas, which are found in the traditional temples, are worshiped as Sapta Kannis. Sometimes, Mari Amman is also named as Mundaka Kanni. So, the tradition of naming the female village deities as Kanni appears to be common in Tamil Nadu state.

Apart from Mundaka Kanni, Naga Kanni and Sapta Kanni, there are many village temples across the state which have the presiding deity as "Kanni Amman". I wonder who is this Kanni Amman. I could not find any solid source of materials about this. As far as my knowledge goes, Chamunda Devi among the Sapta Matrikas (or, Kannis) is more popular than the other six companions. She is sometimes considered as Kali. There are temples in and outside Tamil Nadu for Chamunda and Kali. Even in the temples where all the seven Devis are found, Chamunda alone is given important position in few village temples. Hence, I believe that Kanni Amman should refer to Chamunda (who is also called as Kali, Chamundi, etc.)

As the villagers reportedly took over the small Shiva temple hidden under the structure of Chembarampakkam Reservoir, they named him as Kanni Amman. Now, Shiv Linga has a nose and eyes (somewhat similar to Mukha Linga) to justify that it is Kanni Amman. :-)

Happy travelling.

October 29, 2016

Chembarampakkam Lake

If you are from Chennai or a suburban area around Chennai, you would have definitely heard about Chembarampakkam Lake. You might be depending on this lake for your drinking water needs. Else, you and your property would have been badly affected due to overflow of this lake in 2015 Chennai floods. For good and bad reasons, you would remember this lake forever, if you belong to this city.

Chembarampakkam Lake is one of the two river fed water reservoirs of Chennai city, the other being Puzhal Lake. It is located in a village called Chembarampakkam, at a distance of around 30 kms from Chennai.

The lake has 3,645 mcft as full capacity and its full tank capacity is 85.4 feet.

For all practical reasons, Chembarampakkam Lake can be considered as the origin of the river Adyar. The source of water from Malaipattu Tank near Manimangalam village and another source from Adanur Tank near Guduvanchery flow as thin layer of water. Technically, Malaipattu and Adanur can be considered as the origins of the river Adyar. However, the flow of water supply from Chembarampakkam Lake makes Adyar a perfect river.

Happy travelling.

October 28, 2016

Sirukalathur Amaravatheeswarar Temple

Are you from Chennai? If yes, you would have definitely heard about Chembarampakkam Lake, which supplies water to Chennai. In this article, I am going to introduce you to a lesser known temple located near Chembarampakkam.

Sirukalathur village is a tiny hamlet located between Kundrathur and Chembarampakkam, at a distance of around 3 kms from Kundrathur. In those days, the village was called as Tirukkaavanur. The village has a small temple of Lord Shiva called as Amaravatheeswarar Temple.

The locals of the village do not even know the name of this temple. They call it as Kaattu Koil, which means a temple in the forest. 

The temple, which is in dilapidated state, is believed to belong to the period of Sekkizhar (12th century CE). For those who do not know, Sekkizhar, the author of Periya Puranam, belonged to the nearby Kundrathur village.

This reportedly Chola period temple does not have any signs of that period now. Based on some of the sources, I understand that there were inscriptions on the walls of the temple dated 13th century CE. There is a high possibility that the temple was rebuilt or renovated few times, as the current dilapidated structure resembles Nayakka style of architecture.

The presiding deity of the temple is Shiv Linga, who is named as Amaravatheeswarar. He is also called as Ramanatheswarar. His consort is called as Parvadavardhini in this temple. 

Like the way how the so-called Chola temple became a later period temple, the people, as per their belief, keep adding new deities and change the names of the deities too. A Goddess named Vaibhava Lakshmi is also found in this temple, who is also considered as the presiding deity of the temple nowadays.

The temple originally had the sub-shrines of Ganesha and Shanmukha along with the idols of Sukravara Amman, Surya, Bhairava and Sekkizhar. 

Currently, the temple is under renovation and we can get darshan of Shiv Linga and the Goddess placed in a nearby structure.

It is said that the utsav deities of this temple were moved to Kovur temple after the theft of niche image from this temple.

Happy travelling.

October 24, 2016

How Mambalam became Maraimalai Adigal?

Site Name: Maraimalai Adigal Bridge
Site Type: Monument
Location: Saidapet, Chennai city, Tamil Nadu state, India 
Highlights: Historical importance
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai - well connected from the cities/towns all over India
Nearest Airport: Chennai has both national and international airports
How to reach: Easily reachable by road, train, and flight
Hotel: Many star hotels, luxury hotels/resorts, and budget hotels are available in Chennai
Restaurants: All options - vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Chinese, South Indian, Gujarati, North Indian, Punjabi,....- you can find everything in Chennai city

How many of you know that the bridge across the Adyar river that connects Guindy and Saidapet areas of Chennai city has some historical background? This article focuses on that bridge, which is called as Maraimalai Adigal Bridge.

It seems the Britishers in India could not pronounce any Indian name properly. They changed Tiruvallikkeni to Triplicane, Tiruvanathapuram to Trivandrum and so on. Similarly, they could not pronounce (or even write) the name of a village called Mambalam. They used to call it as Marmalong, Marmalon or Mamelon, but never used the word Mambalam. Before proceeding further, let me give some background details about Mambalam.

If you get down at Mambalam sub-urban station today, you would enter into the highly crowded and costly T.Nagar area. This is one of the hot areas of Chennai city today. But, originally it was part of Mambalam village. The current T. Nagar area and West Mambalam area were together called as Mambalam village in those days. Mambalam was an important village which had a big lake called Mambalam lake. (Today, there is no lake but we have Lake View Road, which is a different sad story.) 

The first bridge that was constructed over the river Adyar was named as Marmalong Bridge, after this village. Technically, this bridge was located not in Mambalam village, but in the nearby Saidapet village. I don't know why this bridge was named after the neighboring village and not on its own village.

The bridge was not constructed by the British Government, but by a rich merchant. Coja Petrus Uscan was a rich person who belonged to the Armenian community. He was very loyal to the Britishers and was considered as the leader of Armenians in Madras.  In 1723 CE, he migrated to Madras. In 1726 CE, he constructed Marmalong Bridge at the cost of Rupees One Lakh. 

In those days, the river was called as Mylapore River by the British people. This bridge, which was constructed across the river Mylapore, was 365 meters in length and had 29 arches of various sizes. 

Today, this original bridge does not exist. Only a marble plaque stands as a proof for the construction of this bridge. The plaque has inscriptions in three different languages, Persian, Latin and Armenian.

The original bridge was replaced by a new one in 1966 CE. Interestingly, it was named as Maraimalai Adigal Bridge, after an eminent Tamil writer. (But the plaque near the bridge dated 1966 CE still refers the bridge as Marmalong Bridge.)

A lot of people think that the Britishers misspelled Maraimalai as Marmalong. But, it is the other way round. Marmalong has become Maraimalai.

Happy travelling. 

October 23, 2016

Kolu Tradition of Gujaratis

Durga Pooja, which is celebrated as part of Navaratri celebrations, is very popular in Bengal; similarly in Tamil Nadu state of India, Navaratri is celebrated in grand manner with the display of dolls assembled and arranged on the steps. The assembly of dolls of various sizes and materials in the houses or temples is called as 'Kolu'. (People often mispronounce this word as 'Golu'). Even in the states of Andhra and Karnataka, Navaratri is celebrated with the display of Kolu dolls. The dolls that are displayed in Kolu may include the idols of deities, animals, humans and depiction of few scenes. Some people even arrange the dolls in innovative story telling concepts.

The other parts of India do celebrate Navaratri in different manner but not by displaying Kolu idols. Of course, in Gujarat state, people celebrate Navaratri in grand manner by performing poojas to the Mother Goddess. But, they do not have the tradition of displaying dolls during Navaratri. However, there is a group of Gujaratis who follow this tradition of South Indians. This article is to focus on this subject.

The Gujarati community of Tamil Nadu has its own history and tradition. Kheda is a district near Ahmedabad city in Gujarat state. The Brahmin community from Kheda are called as Khedawal Gujaratis. A group of Khedawal Gujaratis from Kheda district migrated to Tamil Nadu state in the beginning of the 18th century CE. The reason for their migration or the exact year of their migration is not known, though there are different versions and different theories about their migration.

Hundreds of families that belong to Khedawal Gujarati community still live in various parts of Tamil Nadu. Although they speak Gujarati at home (of course, in a very different accent), they mostly learn Tamil as their second language in the schools. Their food, dressing sense, rituals and other traditions mixed up with that of South Indians, as they have been living in the south for about three centuries.

Khedawal Gujaratis, who were attracted by the Kolu tradition of the Tamils, started decorating their houses, made artificial steps and arranged dolls on those steps. All this was done with one major difference. Instead of displaying the dolls during the Navaratri days, they started the new tradition of having Kolu during Krishna Jayanti. (The Khedawal Gujaratis neither adapt to new tradition completely or forget their old tradition; they just mix up both. :-) )

All communities of Gujaratis (in and outside Gujarat) traditionally celebrate Janmashtami (Krishna Jayanti) in grand manner. They would dress up the idols of Krishna beautifully and decorate the divine cradle. The Khedawals extended this tradition by assembling more dolls and made it like the South Indian Kolu.

Even today, this tradition of displaying Kolu dolls during the Krishna Jayanti is being following by very few families of the Khedawals. The others from this community either migrated to the Kolu tradition of Navaratri or completely stopped this tradition.

Happy travelling.