Friday, December 29, 2006

Sri Munnodi Devasthanam

Sri Munnodi Devasthanam A temple with a mission

Built very near to the Sea shore of Alappuzha town, this temple excels the other ones in grandeur. Situated in a backward area ( Kanjiramchira ) Sri Munnodi Devasthanam ( popularly known as Munnodi temple) has got a big mission to fulfill. It is built and exists for the well being of a people who are in urgent need of physical as well as spiritual awakening.

One of the most beautifully built temples in Kerala; Munnodi temple towers around in a landscape which is scattered with small hutments of poor fisher folks. This temple adds charm to the entire area which would have been other wise an ordinary fishermen’s village in the other parts of Kerala.

Sri Munnodi temple accommodates two deities, Goddess Sri Durga and Goddess Bhadrakali. Installation of the deities was made on “Kumbham 22nd (March 6 2006) under the auspices of brahmasree Puthmana Sreedharn Nampoothiri and the “sthapathi” was Sri Gopalan Achari. It is an established fact that a temple has a great role in the prosperity of the immediate surroundings. A temple if well kept and well functioned brings prosperity to the entire region.

About the original old temple

The coastal area from Alappuzha to Thumpoly was previously known by the name Karangattussery. This name gradually became to be known as Kanjiramchira. The ancient temple with Khandakarnan (Lord Siva) as deity was supposed to be the spiritual centre of this entire area. This ancient temple was known as “Thrikkanna Swami Kshethram. It had seven small subtemples (chuttampalam) around.

The mythology behind the old temple

While life at Karangattussery the old fishermen’s village was limping as usual, it so happened that on his way to pilgrimage a Brahmin took rest beneath a banyan tree which stood at this place. The simple fisher folks assembled around him as a sanyasi was a rare sight in this remote fishermen’s village. The learned Brahmin had some discussions with the simple fisher folks who assembled around.

As news spread of the arrival of a great sanyasi people flocked around him with their grievances, and as a learned man he used to give them advices based on the old scriptures. The man decided to stay in this place as per the request of the people. But the absence of a temple was a serious problem to this man who was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva.

He suggested an idea of building a temple there. The fisherfolks of that locality by that time began to see a spiritual leader in this man. They were only too happy to co operate. Within a short time a temple with seven small chuttamapalams were built. And the Brahmin assumed as the Poojari (one who performs the rituals) of the temple.

This Brahmin later married a girl from the locality, and lived there as a spiritual guru to the poor people who needed the guidance of a learned man. His advices lead the people to live in perfect harmony. Peace and prosperity prevailed in this region.

The Brahmin unexpectedly passed away due some illness, leaving the community and his family back in to the dark times before his arrival. The old man who was very popular before his death was addressed as “Munnodi Appooppan” by the people (meaning old grand father). People began to see him in their dreams.

Due to poverty, they were even unable to light the lamps of the temple which was gradually getting dilapidated. The temple which was located very near to the seashore got swallowed by the sea. All these happened before four centuries back.

“Munnody appan” is an ancient myth of the Araya community. They used to believe that by pleasing Munnodiappan, they would get good catch of fish. The Brahmin who passed away was believed to possess the soul of Munnodiappan and he began to be worshipped in that name “Munnodi Appooppan”

When the Sea receded, by the beginning of the 19th century people identified the position of the old temple. They planted a banyan where the old tree stood and started to light a lamp in the position of the old temple every day evening.

One day a Christian lady had seen this old man in her dream and as if in a trance she woke up and walked to the Seashore. There they found a shaped stone and brought it to the location to be installed as the idol. At first the temple was a thatched shed made out of one hundred coconut leaves. From the state of a thatched shed this modern temple has traveled a long way to become the most beautiful one in Kerala.

Mythology behind the new temple

While the new temple was functioning in the thatched shed in a very simple way, Sreekumaran a devotee of Goddess Bhadrakali had a dream in the early morning (Brahma Muhurtham). He woke up and walked towards the sea shore as if directed by an unknown power.

There he could see a very incredible sight, two goddesses standing in the seashore with a welcome smile. One was Goddess Durga and the other Goddesses Bhadrakali. They introduced themselves to the poor man who was in a confused state and revealed to him the fact that both of them are one and the same and they wished to be installed in a temple at that shore itself. Srikunaran who was awestruck when opened his eyes saw only an idol made of stone. When he got his consciousness back could understand what has happened. He took the stone idol to the temple. The idol was installed in the temple as per the directions contained in the scriptures. The installation was done on the auspicious Muhurtam with “pooram” star sign. There after this temple and its surroundings have seen quantum jump in prosperity.

At present the temple is managed by a committee consisting of ten members. The committee is elected by the council of devotees and functions as per the wish and directions of the Devotees’ council; The responsibility of the committee is not limited in keeping the temple in ship shape and administering the rituals with extreme care. The fisher folk, who live around the temple, live a life of misery they find it difficult to meet their day to day life as the income from fishing is unpredictable. They pitch high hopes on the temple to fulfill their long cherished wishes.

The people so far lived a fatalistic life style and did not care going to the temple or observing rituals. They had to be persuaded to visit the temple and spirituality had to be brought in to them. This was the real task before them which was not an easy thing at all. Building a temple is easier than building spirituality and trust in god among people who are poverty stricken and not literate enough to read scriptures. The temple authorities, being aware of its scope as well as limitations is trying its level best to live up to the expectations of the people who have nothing else to lean upon. The main problems identified with this are poverty and unemployment.

Owning and operating a fleet of taxi vehicles is a non traditional field in which the temple authorities has made a mark, these operations give jobs to a lot of people around and enable them to earn a steady income. The fisher folk who were exploited by the money lenders for generations had been relieved to by the financial packages offered by the temple. Munnodi Devasthanam is working for the betterment of a society around. It serves free meals to all the devotees every day. The people who were so far ignorant of what spirituality is have to be educated. The temple conducts spiritual discourses by well known gurus regularly for this purpose.

Now the devotees are being taught how to attain spirituality by leading a prosperous and promising life. This temple is with a mission, a mission of aligning spiritual progress with that of physical well being.

May god bless this temple to attain even more!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tsunami A Revisit On The Second Anniversary

Tsunami A Revisit On The Second Anniversary

About a casual report

On December 25th 2004 there were reports of an earth quake in the Sumatra Island belonging to the Republic of Indonesia. The magnitude was very casually reported as 9 degrees in the Richter scale.

The author who had read some articles about earth quakes just recollected that a quake above 6 degree in magnitude is the stepping stone to a disaster, and each degree that adds to it, is capable of multiplying the impact. If that was the case the quake that was casually reported as 9 degrees was capable to cause unprecedented havoc. The phenomenon of tsunami also came to the mind being related to earth quakes.

A great Lapse

These were only stray thoughts of a man just watching television. As there are a lot of experts to do the jobs with magnitude are in the payrolls, it would be wise for ordinary people to mind their own business even if they had no business.

But precisely that was not what happened next day the television and radio were awash with reports of the unparalleled destruction and loss to life caused by the killer waves which showed no mercy. No shores of adjacent or distant countries were spared.

The death dance of the waves can only be equated the wrath of Othello The hero of the Shakespearian tragedy “ No Iago! like the Pontic Sea, Whose icy currents and compulsive course never feel a retiring ebb, But keeps on going until it reaches the Propontis and the Hellespont”.(Iago my anger will not be over as far its aim is achieved) The tsunami waves reached until the African continent with its mission of devastation.

What is the phenomenon “Tsunami”

Tsunami is a combination of two Japanese words “tsu” meaning harbour and “nami” meaning wave, the combination means as waves which strikes at the ports. Oxford dictionary describes it as “a long high sea wave caused by an earth quake or other disturbance”

India’s trysts with tsunamis

The first reported tsunami in India occurred on 31st December 1881. The other one was on 26th June 1941, details of loss to property and human lives not available. The one that struck on 26th December 2004 was the actual mother of all tsunamis as the total death toll at its credit is about 3,70,000 of which India’s share comes about 16,500 (the seven thousand missing from Andaman and Nicobar Islands included)

India’s eastern coast, which is about 1076 kilometers in length, bore the brunt while the waves did not spare even the coast of Kerala. It traversed via the Pakstrait (the strait between India and SriLanka) and reached Kerala coast with its mission of death. Coastal areas of Kollam and Arattupuzha of Alappuzha etc are among the affected areas. Total toll at Kerala comes to about 168.

Tamilnadu was the worst affected (especially Nagapattanam) which had to bear the loss of about 7793 lives. Pondicherry had 560 fatalities and Andhra Pradesh’s tally is 105. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands which stood in the way of the waves had to pay heavily for its geographical position. While reported deaths at that time was 812 only, the missing cases was 7000 all presumed dead.

On the next day morning was a terrible one, thousands dead several thousands missing those who are alive were searching the heaps of dead bodies for those of their dears and nears. Medias were having a hay day reporting deaths and destructions. Names and details of people survived were being reported for the information of their relatives, if any survived and seeking them.

The first “bold step” the Government has taken was the decision that India will not accept any external help in the relief works. The reason for taking such a drastic step was intriguing, but taken for granted as the self confidence of an emerging nation. Many valuable lives could be saved and rehabilitation could have been faster and more effective, had external helps were accepted.

Several NGOs were active and they were scrambling for space to demonstrate their ability and efficiency. It seemed as if they were delighted in getting a chance to play “good Samaritans”. Relief works were split between “Non Governmental Organizations” those were scrambling for more space. The Government acting as a referee was exuberant with magnanimity, all and sundry were liberally allotted spaces as rescue and relief works are debutant’s job!

The Mata Amritananda mayi” math which had adequate resources, dedicated men, materials and expertise was considered just an “also run NGO” and was given a fraction of the task they could actually perform. Now on 27 December 2006 the chaff has been distinguished from the grains. When Amrita Math has completed all the assigned tasks in record time, most other NGOs are far behind even Government agencies have not been able to do half of the jobs they voluntarily taken.

Most of the refugees are even now living in the temporary shelters for the period of two long years. There are complaints about the quality of the tenements already built, as well as in choosing the beneficiaries. In Tamilnadu much of the houses were built away from the Sea shore. How the poor fisher folks could take their boats and nets home, after a day’s work was not even taken in to account.

In many places of Alappuzha district and adjacent areas the relief camps were swarmed with antisocial elements, who made these camps sheer hells, both for the real refugees as well as for the workers. In more than one places the local residents had to resort in to driving away the “refugees” in one place the relief camp was burned to get rid of them.

As the Government did not know what to do with so much cash it received from varous sources, the victims as well as antisocials (who sneaked in to the rank)were liberally distributed with money. This cash found its way directly into the liquor shops, adding more problems to their family’s already overflowing cup of woes.

The ruling Government was not better either, they were busy diverting most of the money received for tsunami relief programs to other schemes better suited for catching more votes! “Like people like Government”!!!

There were declarations of planting mangroves along the Seashore and building seawall etc. As the tsunami is over why bother about all of them! After the long span of two years these promises are still kept in the refrigerator, to be taken out after the next tsunami.

The author remembers reading a feature about a poor villager spending his free time planting mangroves in the banks of the backwaters where he was residing. If a poor old villager can do such a thing what prevents the Government in initiating a program for planting mangroves along the Sea shore? Are the seeds so unaffordable to the Government? If so find the poor villager and ask for some mangrove seeds, he may give it free of cost.

Only request to the Government is this, whatever be the consequences please do not form a mangrove department. If formed that department will eventually make the poor plant extinct!

This article is dedicated to the unknown villager,

who spends his precious leisure time for a noble purpose.

God bless him!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The People of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The People of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman and Nicobar islands, a union territory belonging to India is virtually a treasure trove for ecologists as well as anthropologists. The tiny groups of islands situated right in the heart of the Bengal bay, is in the south eastern part of India. Its geographical location is between 6 and 14 degree north latitude and between 92 and 94 degree east longitude. The group of islands mainly comes in two clusters mainly the Andaman and the Nicobar groups. Port Blair is the capital of this archipelago.

The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago consist of 319 islands in total, of which 38 are with human inhabitation. Of the thirty eight inhabited islands first one, the Andaman group consists of twenty six and the other Nicobar group consists of just twelve. For an average person, the Andaman Island reminds the “notorious Cellular jail” where criminals along with all considered undesirable to the former British raj were dumped for their whole life.

The history of the cellular jail is rife with records of horrendous tortures inflicted upon hapless people who had taken part in the freedom struggle. At present the cellular jail which is situated in the Andaman Island near Port Blair, is a national historical monument under the “Archaeological survey of India”. In the pre colonial period the group of Islands consisted of aboriginal people divided in to ever so many sub groups. Some of them are the great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinelese etc. And their total population was several thousands. At present their strength has dwindled to a mere fraction of it. All the members of the tribes left are awarded with the status of scheduled tribes by the government of India.

The way these aboriginal people first came and settled in these Islands which are situated far away from any main lands is a mystery to the anthropologists. The time of this migration also remain as a riddle. The anthropological museum of the Government of India situated in the Andaman Island is engaged serious research in the ethnography of these groups of Islands. However there are evidences to prove that human habitation existed in these islands about two thousand years back as per the old sailors’ accounts. The British who colonized these Islands did much damage in polluting the purity of genomes existed in its purest form until then, They did it by importing all sorts of people from all corners of the world.

Up to the middle of the 19th century, purity of the tribal population remained almost un affected. The great Andamans (the largest of the Islands) contained about ten sub tribes. Their names as noted below, all pre fixed by Aka, like Aka-Bea, -Bale, -Bo, -Cari, -Cora, -Jeru, -Juwoi, -Kede, -Kol, -Pucikwar. The total population of all these tribes in great Andaman itself was about seven thousand. The present situation is rather pathetic, as the total population of all these tribes put together, come less than twenty. The remaining ones have been rehabilitated at Strait Island. These tribes are now referred to as the “Great Andamanese” The contact with immigrant population caused certain diseases to spread to these people, who did not have the physiological adaptation to resist these new types of germs brought in by these immigrants.

The Ongese – the original inhabitants of the Little Andamans are sub divided in to a number of “Bands”. A “band’ is a collection of more than one families. There is only one tenement for a band and this tenement is known as “Beyra”. This type of a joint family by name beyra forms a social unit. The Ongese are at present got settled in Dugong creek and South Bay. This resettlement is done on Government initiative to protect the tribe from getting extinct.

As their tribe name denotes the Nicobarese tribes are the original inhabitants of the Nicobar group of Islands. Even though they are known in the same generic name “Niconarese” each tribe live in separate Islands speak separate languages. More over they are known in different names in accordance with the Island where they live. People of Choura are known as “Som Pai” and those of Car Nicobar are “Tarik”. The inhabitants of Katchal are Kamotra and those of Trinket are Som Ita. Though the names are different they are a homologous population.

They share many cultural and social rituals among them. “Tuhet” is the extended household of the Nicobarese, and it plays very important roles in controlling their social and trading activities of its members. As the Nicobarese are mainly fishermen, herders, horticulturalists and sailors, they frequently have to cross the straits between the Islands for trading purposes. For the purpose of transporting goods across the sea, special type of boats, by name canoes are used for this purpose. These canoes are made by of digging out the bark of a single wood

By the ardent work of the government agencies the Nicobarese have been imparted with some formal education. This has enabled them to acquire some types of jobs like Police, Shipping related works, clerks etc. Of all these tribes the sentineleses are perhaps the smartest they never permit outsiders to enter in to their Island. They are the only inhabitants of the North Sentinel and lead a life not different from what it used to be in thousands of years ago. As hunters Sentenalese are experts in using bows and arrows. Any outsider who sneaks in to their territory will taste the sharpness of their arrows.

Jarawas who live in the South and Middle Andaman islands are mainly hunters and gatherers. The dense forests and the sea around bless them with every thing these tribes require; there sole want is only just something to fill their stomach. Shompens live in the great Nicobar Islands, are generally nomadic, they stroll in the dense forest searching fruits, tubers etc. The “Kaley” and “Keyet” both tribes found in the great Nicobar Island come under the generic name Shompens, the former live in the west coast of the Island and the latter live in the east coast.

The establishment of the penal settlement in this Island by the British during the second half of the Nineteenth century has done much in the destruction of the demographic purity of this Island. The penal settlements established by the British during the early half of the 19th century brought convicts from various parts of the their Empire. And these people were encouraged to get settled in these Islands it self. Due to scarcity of young women in the Island those who wished were allowed to bring in brides from their native lands.

A fresh heterogeneous community belonging to different religions, castes, and ethnic groups was thus formed. This new community with numerous exogamous sub groups was named as “Locals” for the sake of convenience. Some of them are the “Bhantus” of Uttar Pradesh (a community accused to have criminal life style), they are further divided in to about ten sub groups by name “gotor”.

Growing timber industry also required a lot of skilled labor, which was not available among the tribals, hence labors from ChotaNagpur and Jharkhand were also brought in, these people are known as “Ranchiwala” or as “Sathi”. In Sathis also there are about a dozen sub groups. Baraiks,Chik, Lohars, Khariars,Ouaos, Kumbhars, Mundas, Gonds, etc Are the members of the Sathis, all are exogamous units. Bhantus, Moplas (Mulims)and Locals are mainly agriculturists; the Ranchiwalas are mainly landless laborers. Between 1907 and 1923 people from erstwhile Burma (Myanmar) were also brought in, they are known as the “Burmese” as the former sub groups (Pallungs, Shans, Shantalokes, Kachins and Chatris Karens) all lost their identities gradually.

The partition of India also had an impact in the ethnic diversification of these Islands. The Hindus driven away from Eastern Bengal had to be settled here. The Moplas from the Malabar region who took part in the agitation by name “The Mopla agitation” were deported to these Islands by the British, As per the IndiaSri Lanka agreement the Tamil speaking community settled in Sri Lanka were to be accommodated here. Along with all these people from all states came and got settled here adding variety to the cultural mosaic of this Island. In short the Andaman and Nicobar Island is a miniature India with all the varieties India has along with the “unity in diversity” of which India is proud of. The British gained by disposing of the trouble makers in to it, India also gained as influx of refugees from East Pakistan and Sri Lanka could be settled here.

The blunt question that can be asked is, “who is the loser in all these events? what the innocent tribes have gained?. To a people whose identity is being lost and who are slowly becoming extinct, what gain and loss mean.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

KG Balakrishnan Chief Justice Of India

K.G. Balakrishnan Chief Justice Of India

Sri K. G. Balakrisnan has gained a position in the history of Kerala as the first Malayali to be posted to the highest chair in the Indian legal system (The Hon. Chief Justice of India) by an order signed by the Hon. President of India on 21st December 2006. Sri. Balakrishnan is expected to assume charge of the new chair on 14th January 2007.

At present (when the order is released) he is available at his house “Vazhakkala” Kakkanad at Kochi. Sri K. G. Balakrishnan is busy with answering calls and receiving well wishers who pay visit at his home to congratulate him for being elated to the post of supreme status. There are people from the media as well with tricky questions, answers to which may be misinterpreted by the world. The messages conveyed to the public may just be the opposite of what was actually intended!

Sri Balakrishnan is not afraid of such questions as an experienced lawyer he is used to such circumstances. The smile in his face does not fade hearing a difficult question. He knows what he is saying and who he himself is. Justice Balakrishnan’s replies to tricky questions appeared in the media early morning next day, were enough to make any one impressed however cynical he was.


Sr. K. G. Balakrisnan second of the eight siblings of Gopinathan and Sarada couple had, was a brilliant student from the beginning. His father, late Sri.Gopinathan started his official career in High Court as a copyist and retired in the post of head clerk. It was the vision and hard work of the humble father which made all his children reach in high positions. Sri. Gopinathan died in the year 2002. Balakrishnan’s mother Smt. Sarada is fortunate enough to see her son rising to highest rung of the ladder.

Sri. Balakrishnan is married to Smt. Nirmala of Chamakkala family in Kaduthuruthi. The couple has three children, Prdeep, Sony and Rany. Following the foot prints of their dear father all of them reached in law profession. One of his sons in law, Sri. Sreenijan is also an advocate.


Sri.Balakrishnan’s father wished to see him becoming a doctor. But destiny carried him to another field, so that he could treat the evils of the society instead of ailments of individuals. As Sri Balakrishnan’s father had frequent transfers as an employee, the family also had to shift base accordingly. His primary education was done at places like Vaikom, Kaduthuruthi and Thalayolaparambu. Pre University course was done at the St.Thomas School, Pala. College education was done at Government Law College at Ernakulam. Both graduation (LLB) and post graduation (LLM)were done at this college itself. It is with first rank Balakrisnan took the LLM degree.


In 1968 soon after getting the degree Balakrishnan joined as the junior to P.J.Varkey who was a well known advocate then. The post graduation was done along with practice. In 1972 Balakrishnan joined as additional Munsif at Paravur at the age twenty seven. This it self is a record because he was the first to become a Munsif at this young age. In 1973 Balakrishnan got promotion as Munsif and served in Kasargod, Fort Kochi, Varkala and Muvattupuzha in this cadre. Balakrishnan had a short spell of service as Munsif Magistrate in the Lakshadweep also.

In1982 he was sub Judge at Alappuzha and next year went on deputation as Deputy Registrar at High Court Kochi, while serving there as Deputy Registrar on 1984 he resigned the job to become an advocate in the High Court. Balakrishnan practiced as a lawyer, while working as advocate he was appointed High Court Judge on June 29th 1985. Thus he became the first man to become High Court Judge at the age of forty.

Noted Judgments

There are many remarkable Judgments for his credit, the important one may be that which banned the “bandh” a phenomenon frequent in India where political parties, as a mark of protest towards government plicies ban public from traveling and doing their work.

When the “Bandh” was banned the strange and barbaric form of protest got, its name changed to “hartal” and continue to torture public.

One of the Judgment, a very significant one was about the mid day meal program in schools Justice Balakrshnan in a joint Judgment with Justice Kripal made mid day meal program in school statutory. This order has brought relief to millions of poor children who had to discontinue their studies due to poverty and hunger. The order of restricting the processions and rallies in public places also was a very noted one showing how much this Judge cares the poor un organized people who were repeatedly tortured by muscle men sponsored by political parties.

Soon Justice Balakrishnan is going to take charge as the Chief Justice of India. People of India are very anxious to see him on that powerful chair. They nurture high expectations from this humble but strong willed man. Let us pray to god almighty to give him enough opportunities to fulfill their aspirations.

Wish you good luck Justice Balakrishnan!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Sri Sankaran - Jagadguru Sankaracharya Of Shrinkeri

Sri Sankaran - Jagadguru Sankaracharya Of Shrinkeri

Jagadguru Shri AdiSankaran is described as original one of all the spiritual gurus ever born in India. Kerala can really feel proud of being the native place of the great saint who inculcated an order to the Hindu theology. He brought in a unique culture along with uniformity in a dispersed and disintegrated religion. The great man who consolidated, interpreted the Vedas in the very young age was no ordinary man, hence considered as the very Incarnation of lord Siva.

It is believed that Kerala was created out of the deep blue sea by Parasurama- the axe wielding monk. After retrieving the land Parasurama, it is believed, divided it among people of Brahmin origin. He divided people in to different castes and ordered them to live as per the protocols he has set. But as centuries passed by the protocols were forgotten and people lived a life of disorder. The time was ripe for the birth of a reformer and the mantle fell upon sankaracharya.

As a propagator of caste system shri Sankaracharya can even be blamed for the evils associated with it. The caste system, originally intended to be of good to the society as a whole, later got corrupted to the extreme and turned out to be a curse of the Hindu religion.

Whatever the case be, think of a man when roads communications etc were non existent traveled throughout India brought a dispersed and virtually non existent religion in to a uniform set up, collected the Vedas written in different parts of the country in different times consolidated it and defined it and made all people obey the standards set by him.

There are no records to show when the saint was born or where exactly his birth place was. The most accepted opinion is that he was born at a village by name Kalady on the bank of River Periyar. The period is supposed to be between 8th and 9th century. His parents belonged to the Malayali Brahmin (Nampoothiri) community. Father was Sri Sivaguru and mother Smt Aryaamba.

The couple was not blessed with any children for a long period and they proceeded to Thrissur to pray before the deity for the fulfillment of their wish. While the couple was asleep in the temple compound they both had a dream. In the dream Lord Siva approached them and said he will full fill their wish and asked whether they wish to have a child of extreme brilliance of short life span or too many children of mediocre talents. The wise Brahmin opted for the first and they got it. The couple was blessed to be the parents of none other than Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya.

As per the assurance of Lord Siva a male child was born to them. His father he passed away while the boy was young. The young Sankaran was far different from other boys. At the age of five the child could study the Vedas and could understand the meanings in it. (Even now most of the experts who recite the Vedas are not following the meanings)

But young Sankaran was inviting big troubles, the obscurantist leaders of the community could not absorb the fact of a child defining and explaining the Vedas (which even they could not understand!). They struck back by excommunicating the widowed mother and her son. No one of the community was permitted visit or contact the family.

Sankaran began to nurture the idea of becoming a sanyasi (Hindu monk). As he was her only child his mother could hardly let him go. There was strong difference between mother and son in this regard. One day while bathing in the river a crocodile caught hold of the boy. Seeing this, his helpless mother was wailing loudly on the bank of the river for the life of her only son. The boy shouted to the mother “give me immediate permission for sanyas or I die”. Panic stricken mother immediately said yes and the crocodile vanished in no time.

At the age of sixteen Sankaran became a full fledged monk and left home for pilgrimage to Badrinath. There during his stay he wrote the “Sutrabhashya” (key to the Vedas”). There it is said that he had an encounter with Vyasa the great monk who originally compiled the Vedas and Sankaran got the Vyasa’s endorsement to his work “Sutrabhashya”

Sankaracharya while staying at Badrinath got some signals in his mind that his mother was in her deathbed and started to his original home. There the mother breathed her sight seeing the last glimpses of her son. As the family was still excommunicated neighbors were not present in the scene and the great monk had to carry the dead body of his mother to the pyre all by himself. That was the punishment Kerala offered to a mother who gave birth to the greatest saint ever born in this land!

Sankaracharya started with the tryst with destiny from there onwards, first he returned to Badrinath on the way he met several people and had discourses regarding the intricacies of the Vedas and Puranas. He could earn many disciples on these sessions. In the process of shedding new light upon the old Vedas, which were corrupted by people of people of power who did never have real knowledge Sankaracharya was gaining clout as a great scholar. Gradually Sankaracharya got accepted in the Indian spiritual field.

On his way he met Swami Bhagavalpada at the banks of river Narmada and became his disciple initiated the paramahamsa order stayed there for some time. From there he took leave and continued his travel. On the way he was acquiring knowledge as well as distributing it. He was explaining as well as defining the Vedas and Gita through commentaries through “brahmasutras”. Sankaracharya’s creations in this regard are known as “Bashyas” with sub commentaries by names as Vartikas, Tikkas and Tippanis.

His works include “Adyatmapatala” of Agasthamba sutras and bashyas to Patanjali’s Yoga sutra.

The really great work he done was to conduct assemblies for discourses and inviting the men of knowledge in the Vedas to get engaged in serious debates. In these courses the extraordinary talent of the young guru got noticed by the scholars and several of them joined him as disciples. His clout grew to such extend that, what he ordered became the. Ritual and he became the final authority to dictate procedures for religious performances.

The visit of Sankaracharya along with a group of disciples to holy places was such an event at that time people gathered in large numbers to see and hear the great guru who occupied the status of visible god. He during these travels and camping established four Maths(Ashrams which had authority over other spiritual bodies) in four different places and posted four of his disciples one each for every ashram as noted below.

1. Math at Shringeri in south India. Sri. Sureshwaracharya.

2. Math at Dwaraka in Gujarath west India Sri. Hastamalaka achrya.

3. Math at Puri in Orissa east part of India Sri. Padmapadacarya.

4. Math at Joshnath.(Jyotirmath) Uttaranchal north India. Totakacharya.

There is one more interesting story associated with Sankaracharya which runs like this. While Sankaracharya was engaged in his “Degvijayam”(winning of the world) meaning converting old traditionalists in to new ideologists as per his dictum. Sankaracharya had a prolonged confrontation with king Viswarupa.

The condition was that who fail in the argument will have to join the winner as disciple. The wife of Viswarupa Smt. Saraswati was playing the role of referee. The debate lasted for weeks and at a point the king was about to lose, his stake was tremendous because joining Sankaracharya will make him lose his kingdom and his family which he could never think of. Finally Saraswati the wife of the king had to come for the rescue of her husband her question was about sex and married life of which Sankaracharya- a chronic brahmachari- had no practical experience! Sankaracharya had to admit that he is at present not in a position to answer this and asked some time to gain it.

The poor king and his family sighed a breath of relief as they could escape from an imminent danger. Saraswati is also said to be an incarnation of Goddess Saraswati (who is associated with knowledge and education) who came to eliminate the arrogance that was slowly building up in Sankaracharya. The story ends like this, Sankaracharya for gaining experience in married life lay like almost dead in his bed and his soul entered in the body of a king who was breathing his last. Such a process is known as “parakaya pravesam” as per Hindu mythology. The king arose as if from a sleep and lived a normal life for some more time. Later the soul returned to the original body. Nothing known about the argument with the king let the poor souls (king and queen live in their marital bliss for ever)

It is also believed that it is Sankarachaya who imparted most of the traditions those exist in the Malayali Brahmin community one of them known as “smarthavicharam”. (ex communication of women accused of adultery). The permission of the ruling king was necessary for imposing such harsh steps. These rituals were misused to a great extent that the Malayali Brahmins became notorious for their misdeeds towards members of their own community. And Sankaracharya was often made a scapegoat for all their misdeeds.

Like his birth, the place of his death also is a disputed thing. It is generally believed that his death occurred at Badari Ashram in Himalayan ranges. One thing was beyond dispute that it occurred at the young age of 32. It occurred as per the boon given to his parents by none other than Lord Siva himself.

It is interesting to note Sri Sankaracharya who already was a legend while he lived still continues so. A man whose life history is shrouded within mythologies is often quoted as responsible for all social evils those have crept in the society. One thing is for sure he is the most important personality Kerala has ever produced.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marthanda Varma - The lion among lambs.

Marthanda Varma. The lion among lambs.

The kings of the Travancore dynasty were invariably pious god fearing and innocent,But this one was different who could get in to the den of any lion and offer a challenge. Well versed in martial arts he rose to the status of a jack of all games. In administration tactics and strategies he matched Chanakya and in sky high ambition he nurtured, could match Alexander the great. By any means this king stands as a towering personality and his heroic deeds crown the pages of Kerala history.

His full official name was “Shree Padmanabadasa Vanchipala Marthandavarma Kulasekharapperumal”.Born on 1723 and crowned as the king of Travancore on 1729 at the age of 23. He had that quality what the generations of other kings of Kerala dynasty lacked, the ‘killer instinct”. Marthandavarma was terror personified for his opponents, while a model king for the country and the people.

At that time the land was divided in separate fiefdoms controlled by feudal lords. The eight families which controlled major portion of the country with feudal rights never heeded the advices of the pious kings. They continued to torture the people with hefty taxation and all other misdeeds. Same time they were also engaged in plotting against the dynasty.The former kings as well as well as the members of the royal families lived in perpetual fear of these formidable foes numbering eight! (They were known as the “Ettuveettil Pillamar”) and their cronies.

Ammachi plavu (Mother jackfruit tree) in his teen ages Marthandavarma was chased by these cronies of the conspirators and he had to escape from them by hiding in a big pothole in a jackfruit tree. This tree stood at the premises of the Sri Krishna temple at Neyyattinkara was live until recent times. People treated as a divine tree which saved the life of their beloved king. They named the tree as “Ammatchi plavu”, giving the tree the status of mother.

At the time of his taking over the reign, the economy was in shambles, army was obsolete and internal strife was rampant. As per the agreement reached between his uncle Ramavarma three thousand Rupees were to be paid to the king of Trichinapally as royalty. There was not even money to pay for the soldiers, and they became rebellious. Some soldiers captured his minister and kept him captive. Marthandavarma who never stooped before threats, he did not choose to negotiate with the captors, but sent an army and released him by force. This was perhaps the first challenge he had successfully overcome.

Marthandavarma inherited the throne from king Ramavarma his uncle as per the traditions existed. The two sons (Pappu thambi and Raman thambi)of the former king were angered at this and they were up in arms against the king from the very beginning. They conspired with the feudal land lords to eliminate the king. They approached the Pandya king of Trichinapally and complained that the king has illegitimately occupied the throne which was due to them. The Pandya king who also had scores to settle (as the royalty due to him was overdue) sent an army (under Alagappa Muthaliar) to Travancore. The master strategist in Marthandavarma was able to convince the chief of the army about the legitimacy of him in occupying the throne. Relevant records also were produced to substantiate his arguments.

That was a time Marthandavarma had just begun his career and a war with the Pandya king was not desirable at that time. So the master strategist in him chose the route of convincing the Muthaliyar- the chief- using documents with liberal dose icing in the form of generous gifts! As per the agreement reached with the chief he earned a portion of the army brought by the chief (a battalion of cavalry and two battalions of infantry) belonged to the Pandya king. This was sufficient for the occasion to intimidate the ever plotting feudal land lords.

As peace returned to the country he could concentrate his attention in building the nation. The renovation of Sri Padmanabha temple was done at this time in 1731A.D. The king was busy in building roads, markets, irrigation systems and dams (Ponmana and Puthen dams) The attention he paid in building infrastructure for agriculture, trade and commerce were examples for his farsightedness. The army he acquired from the Pandya king was used to train a good set of soldiers for him (Nairs and Maravar soldiers). One of the wisest things he did was to organise a good and efficient spy network. This network leaked to him the plots hatched by the feudal lords.

He took timely and brutal actions against the culprits sending right signals to the opponents that the king meant business. The message was loud and clear “don’t meddle with me”. Some of the feudal lords failed to sense it had to pay for it. One day while Marthandavarma was relaxing at Nagercoil palace Pappu thambi and Ramanthambi tried to sneak in to the palace. The smart king who was aware of the plots was prepared. Papputhambi was killed by the guards at the entrance itself. The other one stormed in to the king’s room, tried to cut the king with his sword, but the sword struck on the ceiling of the room. The king sprang on him and sent his personal knife straight in to Ramanthambi’s heart (this incidence took place on 1733 AD.

Marthandavarma did not spare the well wishers of Thamhi brothers, who flocked knowing the tragedy, occurred to them. The king was no weakling to forget and forgive. All the conspirators (totaling 42 in numbers) including the Ettuveettil Pllays were hanged in public. Their houses were dismantled and the materials recovered taken to Trivandrum and utilized it for building purposes, their women were given as gift to poor fisher folks!! The long history of revenges and plotting against the dynasty thus came to a decisive and tragic end.

Marthandvarma “a war machine” as he was, never wanted to rest on the oars; his next aim was to expand the territories of his country. The Kollam dynasty (at that time known as the Desinganad dynasty) which was just north to his country was his next target. When surrounded by the Marthandavarma’s army the Kollam king signed every thing as directed and surrendered before him. The king of Kayamkulam was made of sterner stuff; he offered a stiff challenge stiffer than Varma thought! As the war was got prolonged, the king of Kayamkulam took over as chief of army and jumped in to the battle field on horseback. In the ongoing fight the king was shot at by a soldier and he fell dead.

Kayamkulam did not succumb with the fall of the king, the king’s brother took over charge and morale of the Kayamkulam army was restored. As casualties on both sides mounted Marthandavarma had to retreat to Trivandrum. The failure of Varma was celebration to the mini kings of Kollam Kayamkulam Changanchery etc, As they viewed a rising monster in Marthandavarma. They formed an alliance with the king of Kochi. Mr. Ramayyan the chief who led the Varma’s army, proceeded to Thirunelveli acquired reinforcements (both infantry and cavalry) under Ponnan Devan Pandyan, then came back after negotiations a new strategy was formed. Ramayyan took over charge as chief of army and took on Kayamkulam with renewed vigour.

The second battle was rather prolonged and final victory was that of Ramayyan, he entered in to Kayamkulam as a victorious general. Thereafter a lot provinces were added to Travancore during 1734 AD.(Chengotta, Kalakkad, Kerakkudi, Valliyoor etc. By this time the Dutch who had business as well as political interests in Kochi, Kayamkulam, Travancore etc. smelled a potential foe in Varma and they tried to correct the king in political matters. King’s reply to the letter sent by Mr. M. A. Matton read as follows “The Travancore government has always done much for the promotion of business with the Dutch, and I regret to inform that Your interference in political matters is unwelcome” 1737 AD, Sri. Ramayyan was promoted to the post of Prime minister with the deaths of Arumugham pillay and Thanupillay (his younger brother, who also died after a short spell). The war machine’s next plan was to launch a greater war on Kayamkulam, As Kayamkulam was emboldened by the support of the Dutch. The Dutch irked by the provocating letter by Marthandavarma who asked them to mind “Your business”.

The Kulatchal War.August 10, 1741.

Marthandavarma’s next target was Elayidathu swaroopam, a small kingdom where after the death of the ruling king the Dutch sponsored a lady to wear the crown. (This action was against the wish of Marthandavarma). The queen fled along with the Dutch securities to Kochi and sought asylum under Van Imholf.(the Dutch governor of that time) By this time a battalion of Dutch army sent from Ceylon (the present Sri Lanka) landed at Kulatchal beach and started looting houses and markets, they even attacked a small contingent of army belonging to Marthandavarma. Emboldened by the initial successes the Dutch army captured lands ranging from Kulatchal to Kottar, and planned to attack Thiruvananthapuram

Marthandavarma sent a large army under Ramayyan. The Ramayyan’s army was positioned between Nagarcoil and Eraniel. Ramayyan led the army from the middle. The war began in the morning ofAugust 10 at Kulatchal. The strong cavalry under Ramayyan did immense help toMarthandavarma’s army as the Dutch who came via sea route could not bring any. The cavalry could break the formidable infantry positions of the Dutch army. The Dutch army had to flee in to the fort leaving the injured and captured. The captured soldiers were sent to the fort at Udayagiri.

On that day itself (August 10) the Kulatchal fort was surrounded by Marthandavarma’s army. The Dutch had to jump in to the sea and swim to board the waiting ships; they left all their arms and ammunitions to be taken over by Marthandavarma’s army. The king was exceptionally generous to the prisoners of war. Of the 24 soldiers who were captured two persons attracted the attention of the king. One Mr. Donady and the other was none other than Mr. Dilanoy. Both were natives of Belgium. Marthandavarma was shrewd enough to utilize these able officers’ service giving them the rank of Captain. Mr. Dilanoy was posted as the chief of the king’s security wing.

Mr. Dilanoy who was promoted to the position of captain was, responsible for imparting modern warfare techniques to the king’s army. He was given the responsibility of constructing the new fort at Udayagiri. By this time the nawab of Arcot entered within the boundaries of Travancore They were engaged inlooting temples and markets. Marthandavarma sent a consignment under Ramayyan, But this time not lucky. Ramayyan had to retreat. In 1741 Varma had to suffer serious losses in battles with Kayamkulam dynasty. The combined forces of Kayamkulam and Dutch attacked Kilimanoor and captured it. The war machine who was in Sucheendram at that time, rushed to the spot, prepared a master plan for the ultimate war. He acquired arms and ammunitions from the French and English. An infantry was instantly formed with more than five thousand Maravar and Nair soldiers. He did not miss to add trench –diggers, and all paraphernalia for a long drawn battle. Special caliber cannons were brought from distant places.

On 1742 Marthandavarma surrounded the Kilimanoor fort, the king himself was the supreme commandant of the forces, Mr. Dilanoy, Ramayyan and the crown prince (his successor) were given charge of the three forces. Finally the war machine won the battle. In the ensuing agreement Travancore gained a lot of land portions. Kayamkulam king agreed to pay Rs. 1000 royalty to Travancore. Marthandavarma was not satisfied he went in hunt of the allies who stood with the Kayamkulam king, Ettumanoor and Vadakkumkoor etc were brought under the control of Travancore in the battles which followed. The war machine was in no mood to take rest, He directed his army next to Kollam which was in alliance with the Dutch and captured it. Sword of Marthandavarma later turned to the Ambalapuzha kingdom.

Ambalpuzha though was a very small country it had well trained army in using bows and arrows. The king had a batch of experts in using poison edged arrows. The battle was brief Marthandavarma had to see his soldiers falling dead one by one. He had to retreat as Rumours spread that “Bhagawan Sri Krishna was one among the soldiers belonging to Ambalapuzha. Marthandavarma’s soldiers got frightened and they refused to fight against the god almighty!
Marthandavarma was not scared, even though he was an ardent believer in god, he used the help of Muslin and Christian sharpshooters to take on the poison arrow shooters. Varma won the battle and his commanders entered the Ambalpuzha palace. There the king, unaware of what was happening was going on outside was enjoying himself by playing chess! The “chess player” was immediately parceled and forwarded to Trivandrum by Ramayyan the chief.

Marthandavarma got help from Mathur Panicker and Mr.Bhattathiri in conquering Ambalapuzha.The thankful king granted certain benefits to them. The king of Changanacherry was the next target of our machine. The foolish king of that country gave enough reasons for an aggression; he joined the group of some weaklings to fight against Travancore. Kochi, Thkkumkoor, Ettumanoor etc were part of the alliance. The wheels of the warmachine rolled to Changanacherry and that kingdom became the part and parcel of Travancore as usual. Marthandavarma’s army under Ramayyan marched to north and adjoined all lands that belonged to the members of the alliance which spread up to the southern banks of river periyar. Kochi even though was part of the alliance was spared. The pious king of Kochi was actually drawn in to an alliance by some mini kings and land lords. Prior information handed over by the Dutch governor about the movements of the alliance army was helpful for the king to take timely action and early victory.

By 1754 AD it was the turn of the Samoothiri of Calicut, who enjoyed more clout among the small kings had begun to raise his head, he conspired with the small kings of the southern parts like Ettumanoor and Changanacherry etc. The kings under the influence of Samoothiri raised flags of descent. In the next year (1755 AD.), Samoothiri overcome by his big ego was stupid enough to send a big consignment of army through sea to conquer Travancore. Poor Samoothiri did not foresee that he was putting his hands in to the mouth of a tiger. Marthandavarma’s army was waiting in the seashore to give a “warm welcome” to the Samoothire’s hopless consignment. Most of the Calicut army perished in the war others drowned in the sea. All ammunitions and most of the boats were captured by Varma’s forces under the able leadership of Delanoy and Ramayyan.

Marthandavarma, though described as a war machine was very human at his heart. He never spent a rupee for his personal luxury. He never spent money in grand palaces or in costly costumes and ornaments. The coffers were never used as his personal fiefdom. The life of Marthandavarma as given in the above paragraphs was filled with strives and hardships. The wars he fought were numerous as the cases mentioned are not comprehensive. For the purpose of brevity some of the battles are avoided. The unavailability of clear cut records which, is a curse of Travancore history also has played its part in leaving many events unrecorded.

He did everything for his country as a just and principled king ignoring his personal comforts. Marthandavarma could lead a happy life in the comforts of the palace. Instead he toiled in the war fields all through his life. He was a real king and he acted like a king. A great visionary as he was, did much to enhance the security and prosperity of his people. Marthandavarma in his tenure liberated millions of people from the clutches of feudal land lords. He developed roads for the people, irrigation systems for farmers, markets and trading centers for marketing agricultural products etc. In this process he had to kill thousands of soldiers, land lords and kings. As a king it was his duty after all he was not a monk. When all other kings of Travancore lived like monks Marthandavarma had no such double roles in his life he was a king and lived like one. Forgetting and forgiving serious crimes were not in his dictionary. It was the gravity of the crime that determined the intensity of the punishment whoever the criminal was.

In the later years of his life he was gracious enough to surrender his powers before his deity, The Sri. Padmanba of the Padmanabha Swamy temple. This process was discribed as the “thrippadithanam”, meaning offering all before the deity on January the 17th 1750. He breathed his last on 1758, leaving his kingdom to his nephew Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja).

Marthandavarma was a war machine; yes a machine that relentlessly fought many battles for the betterment of the land and its people. He had no pretensions; he who spent most part of life in battle fields had no time for that. Long live Marthandavarma in the hearts of any one who has no time for pretensions. As Paolinda Bartolomeo has rightly stated in his work “Voyages to East India” he killed those who deserved to be killed. And the deaths of these feudal lords emancipated the poor people from slavery and unparalleled hardships.

Victory to Marthandavarma Maharaja!!!!!!!