Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — October 2009

A quarter century later

Guess you are new here!Why don't you subscribe to this blog?Free for a limited period!RSS feed. (Ya,Right!!!) I tweet too Twitter

I came home early from school.Not school, kindergarten. I was not sure why all of us were fetched in the school van much earlier than usual. Aunt was visiting then. Our Prime Minister was shot dead, she told me. I did not realize how big that news was. I was shocked,that is all. It seemed like a big news, from Amma’s and aunt’s reactions. I had seen that old lady’s photographs in papers. I did not know who killed her. I would not have known the word assassination then. Amma tuned in to AIR that confirmed the news,bulletin after bulletin.

It was before we got TV at home, before DD started their Trivandrum station*. Nor did we have a phone to call up friends or relatives and break the news. Somewhere in P&T(or was it DoT then), our application for a connection was lying. I do not remember much from that day. I rocked my cousin’s cradle. I kept rocking till the ropes hit the ceiling fan blades. The baby was safe. Dad scolded me. He had to mend the fan blades. The next day’s newspapers had more of black ink than usual, a lot lot more. Things were going to be different for India,many said.

*Guess, Keltron was operating a DD-esque station then

Add to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!

Google Buzz

Tags: , , ,

October 30, 2009   7 Comments

Travelogue:Thanjavur and Brihadishwara temple

[Part 1 of the Tanjore/Thanjavur-Srirangam-Trichy travelogue] Part 2 can be read here

Having overloaded myself with information on Tanjore/Thanjavur, I reached the Tanjore Palace in search of all the glory of the old Chola capital.

The 16th century palace complex was built by the Nayaks and later renovated by the Marathas. With very unimpressive looks, the ill maintained complex has parts that unfortunately look more like ruins. The grandeur that the Cholas, Pallavas  and Tanjore were synonymous with, was missing here (at least from outside).

Situated close to the Old Bus Stand, the first of the museums I visited here was the Royal Museum. Is this the might and valor of the Cholas I heard of? What am I seeing here, I wondered? A scantily lit room with drums, urns, perfume bottles, wooden boxes, manuscripts, gifts, jewelry, weapons and other belongings of the Marathas. At least once, I felt pity for the exhibits with years of accumulated dirt, that tried to utter words from a glorious past. A 17th century printed Ramayana was one of the exhibits I found worth mentioning.

Exiting and moving on, a painting of a Maratha King welcomes you to the Durbar Hall. The area in front has a canon and a bull. The smell of pigeon excreta near the portrait makes you run into the interiors of the palace, only to take you into empty dark rooms with even worse stench. On the other side of the painting, an array of of Pallava and Chola statues throws light into the craftsmanship of the Pallava and Chola era. Immense amount of solace here. :)
The Art Gallery has an impressive line up of granite (7th to 17th centuries| Pallava, Chola ,Pandya) and bronze statues(10-18th centuries, Chola, Nayaks,also 7-8th century Natarajas).With details of excavation and century of origin clearly displayed, the Gods, Goddesses and other statues take you to a different era. The magnificent monolithic statues evince energy and life; the aura in their eyes beamed a story of fine craftsmanship and effort. Vishnu, Ganesha or a Nataraja look exactly the same as they look in today’s images and statues. Gods haven’t changed much. I also did notice a Buddha statue from the Pallava era here.

Climbing up the Bell Tower was an interesting exercise, but the multitude of I Love you graffiti throughout the narrow stairs and the storeys were very depressing. A lot can be improved in this palace complex.
After existing the main entrance, further down the road towards the bus stand, stands a the pink colored building on your left. Sharajah Madi, a six storied building built in the Sarcenic style by Raja Serfoji houses the belongings of the Maratha kings. With its spacious halls and grandeur, this palace will remind you nose of the Durbar Hall. The paintings and the embellishments on the roof are sparingly visible in the dark interiors. You may wonder if you mistakenly entered the Maratha kings’ dungeon. :)

With due respect to the rulers, one could easily conclude that Marathas’ and Nayaks’ efforts here seems very anachronistic in front of the Pallava and Chola splendor.

From the Palace,I headed to Brihadiswara Temple (Built in 1010 AD, 25 years and 275 days after Rajaraja Chola’s ascension to the throne in AD985).Whenever I saw this temple on Discovery and such, I always believed it is the firang’s knee jerk WOWs that created the hype around this place. Alas, I was wrong, terribly wrong. This structure looks majestic and looks way better that how it looks on TV.

Gopura-I, Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Gopura-I, Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Inside a walled fortress, this temple will take your breath away. I stood in awe, astonishment and reverence. A standing testimony of the Chola’s opulence and vision, their architectural excellence can be seen in this structure built during the 11th century by Rajaraja Chola-I. The scale and the enormity of the deities reflect the staunch reverence of the king to lord Shiva.

The Gopuras,Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

The two Gopuras , Brihadishwara Temple,Thanjavur

Rajaraja, his sister Kundavai and queens donated their gold and silver to this temple. The gold Rajaraja donated came from his treasury and the booty from his Chera(Kerala) and Karnataka campaigns.
The intricate carvings on the pillars and walls, and the inscriptions on the walls make the temple a delight for a historian’s senses. The script used in the inscriptions resemble Tamil, Thai or some of the South East Asian languages. The huge(8.7m height) Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum and Nandi statue reflect the magnificent munificence of the Cholas. The shrines of the goddess and Subrahmanya date back to 13th (Pandyas) and 15th century respectively. A legend says that the Nandi statue was growing and the growth was curbed after a nail was drove inside its back. So now, this monolithic Nandi is 3.7m high, 6m wide and 2.5 m broad. Get an idea how big that is?

Vimana -Inside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Vimana -Inside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

The inside walls, Brihadishwara Temple

The inside walls, Brihadishwara Temple

The pillared cloisters beside the main structure has a series of deities and Shiva Lingas which includes a few of them excavated in recent past; which makes one think when does an statue excavated end up as a god and when as a Art Gallery piece. The murals narrate the story of Shiva’s might. Among the things visible were the interlocks of the granite stones. The rocks so perfectly fitted into one another at a height of tens of metres seemed to share a harmonious bonding , unnerved by the rains, winds and heat. Very well maintained, this structure will leave you with thoughts like, was it actually built in the 11th century. :)

Interestingly, I could spot that only the doors were made of wood and not surprisingly, even they were intact. Not sure if they were replaced during the course of time, once or even more.

Elephant Hair being sold outside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Elephant Hair being sold outside Brihadishwara Temple, Thanjavur

Unlike in most other temples, here the towering Vimana(roof of the sanctum sanctorum) (58m tall) makes the Gopura( Pyramidal tower at the entrance of the temple) look diminutive. The inscriptions of the Vimana talk about the Rajaraja Chola’s gifts to the temple. The 13 storied Vimana is ornate with several stucco figures. Water for the temple would have(still) come(s) from the Kaveri river(should be a distributory of the river Kaveri as Thanjavur falls in the river’s delta region) flowing adjacent to the fortified walls of the temple complex.

Brihadishwara Temple at night

Indide Brihadishwara Temple at twilight

It would be the greatest show of disrespect to the Cholas, if I even think of comparing them to the Marathas. Frankly, even a Taj Mahal is nothing in front of this temple. You would not argue with me, if you have been to both the places.

The magnanimous idea, the grandiose vision, the Herculean effort, the glorious past of the Chola regime, their patronage for arts and culture, this temple stands testimony for all of these.

Some questions remain unanswered to me. Where did Raja Raja Chola rule from? Where was his palace? Since the Lord was more or less like the ruler, was the temple a center of governance too? But, where did the king and his family stay? How were the rocks brought into the site? How were they erected to such heights? Elephants, humans, inclined planes? I am yet to find some answers. The copious admiration lives on.
PS: I won’t rant about the school history text books that irreverently cut short the Chola kings. Cholas were just worthy of 5 or 10 marks while history was all about the series of kings who ruled Delhi, the Mughals included.

Cholas ruled not just South India and Ceylon. They had almost the whole of SE Asia under their control.Their system of governance and administration was so advanced and systematic that it can match the best of such systems that ever existed around the world. He was indeed king of kings, Rajaraja Chola.I am not getting into that, this post will go on for pages if I do. Read this by Charukesi if you still don’t believe the Chola might.
Suggested reading:

  • [For more on the architecture] Temples of South India, Ambujam Anantharaman
  • The Illustrated History of South India,K A Nilakantha Sastri

Photo credits Bharat Narayanan

Add to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

October 25, 2009   15 Comments

A dozen kb of fame

Now, The Hindu said something interesting :-)


One of the Q/A from the my email reply to Nita Sathyendran

2. looking through nikhil’s musings it appears u have a lot of info on Kerala why is that ie. why unlike most blogs by most mallus u stuck to Kerala, specifically Tvm issues ( local content) in a very postive way…and not cribbing as is generally done.

Ans:Blogs that sling mud at Kerala,its people,the skewed development indices are dime a dozen. Most of these people are arm chair critics staying far away from the state(in literary and figurative sense); they find it fashionable to criticize the state and the people. Hartal,unionism,communism,eve teasing,lack of development, bad roads etc being their cliched weapons against the state. They are not interested in doing something for Kerala or investing in Kerala. Incapable cynics there are, to say the least. How many of them have thought of ways to tackle hartals? How many of them would invest in the state? Is eve teasing only Kerala’s problem? How many of them who flashed their blogs with pot holed roads,wrote about the JNURM Volvo buses?

Add to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , ,

October 22, 2009   11 Comments

Pazhassi Raja:Review

When it comes to movies with hype attached,the cynic in me comes alive. The cynic grows bigger if there is too much talk about the budget. I had all these things in mind when I went to watch Pazhassi Raja on Saturday morning at New Theatre,Trivandrum.

The movie starts after Tippu’s defeat in the Third Anglo-Mysore War(1792). A large part of his kingdom was annexed to the English East India Company(EIC). Pazhassi Raja was an ally of the Company till the end of this war. The people were rebuilding their lives after Tippu’s raids that left Malabar in penury. Much damage was already done to the society by these raids. Atrocities on Hindus by Tippu had torn apart the social fabric. The equations were soon changing. The Company and its tax collecting middlemen were now exploiting the people of Kottayam with heavy taxes. Thus,the sigh of relief post the Third-Anglo Mysore war was short lived.
This is where the movie begins.Kanavath Shankaran Nambiar, a local chieftain(Devan) is asked by the Fort William Govt to collect taxes and dues. This agreement was temporary and Pazhassi Raja’s uncle Veera Varma Raja of Kurumbranadu(Tilakan) was put in charge of Kottayam by the Supervisor of Malabar. Veera Varma should have been happy with the Company collecting taxes, but Pazhassi Raja was not happy with traders(EIC) ending up as rulers and tax collectors. A Tahsildar and an earlier aide of Kerala Varma , Pazhayam Veettil Chandu (Suman) also soon became a close aide of the Company.

The movie portrays some of the revolts which the Company collectively called the Pychy(Pazhassi/Cotiote) Revolts. These revolts were against the unscrupulous and commercial administration of the company. The siege and the loot of Pazhassi Kovilakom by the company threw Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja(Mammootty)and his wife into a life in exile. Pazhassi Rajah’s ability to mobilize Kurichyar (tribals) and Muslims against the company goes on in the background. Every scene is so meticulously shot and the flow so smooth that you would fail to realize that the movie is 200 minute long.We should be thankful to Venu and Ramanath Shetty  for the gifting a visual treat. The battle scenes look stunning and captivates your eyes,ears and mind. Resul Pookkutty’s sound recording makes you ask if an SDM can get him an Oscar,what will he win for PR? :)

Mammootty does not portray a larger than life character but handles the character soberly,with finesse and perfection. More than Mammooty,I liked Sharat Kumar in the movie. He was very much apt for the role of Edachena Kungan,the army commander. His physique and histrionic skills leave him hand in glove with the role. It was his influence that brought in Thalakkal Chanthu(Leader of the Kurichyar tribe)(Manoj K Jayan)and the tribals into Pazhassi’s fold. The guerrilla war scenes involving Neeli(Padmapriya)(Chanthu’s fiancee), Thalakkal Chanthu are splendidly executed.

Suresh Krishna does justice to the character he plays; Kaitheri Ambu,Kerala Varma’s brother in law(Makkam’s brother). Kaniha gracefully portrays Kaitheri Makkam,Pazhassi’s wife. Though Kappulli Kanara Menon(Jagathy) and Bhandari(Jagadeesh)are not avoidable in a story around Pazhassi Raja, I do not understand their attempts at humor in many scenes.(Both of them work for the Fort William Govt).

Athan Kurikkal(Mamu Koya),Unni Moosa Moopan(Capt.Raju) and Palloor Emman Nair(Lalu Alex) are some of the characters, I feel should have been given some more importance, given their importance in history. But,a movie is different from a history text book. So,I am not complaining.

Asst. Collector Thomas Hervey Baber(Harry Key),the man who recorded Pychy rebellion does not impress me much. His fiancee Dora(Linda Arsenio)does a much better job. Subedar Cheran/Shekharan(Ajay Rathnam),who joined EIC’s side after Tippu’s death, is also a character worth a mention.

Having more mentions of years and places would have been useful for history enthusiasts. The tribal leaders could have been de-glamorized to look original. In spite of a few gravity defying action scenes,the stunts look very realistic in most cases. Art Director T Muthuraj has recreated the past in a seemingly authentic fashion.

Though most songs seemed to strike a dissonant chord,the movie does an exceedingly good job in leaving the audience riveted to the screens.

To sum it up,this story of valor and gallantry is a must watch for every Malayalee.

Thanks to Hariharan and MT for this fantastic movie.

Update: Nick Balmer clarifies by email that Baber’s wife Dora(actually Helen) leaving Baber before the fall of Pazhassi as depicted in the movie is “rubbish”.The relationship was strong till the end.
On Helen(Dora)’s love for India,he says, “Mrs Baber was certainly very sympathetic to the Indian’s she knew. She had Indian guests to stay in her house, which I believe was quite unusual. In 1818 these included the Tamborette and her sister from Travancore who came to visit her at Tellicherry.”

Nick Balmer is the great^4 nephew of Thomas Hervey Baber.He blogs at Malabar Days

PS: I am a bit skeptical about how the Telugu and Hindi versions would fare in the box office. Mammootty and Sharath Kumar should be able to pull off the Tamil version well. Good luck to Gokulam Gopalan, hope he recovers the 27 crores spent.


Suggested Reading:

  • Pazhassi Raja : Chamayangalillathe by Mundakkayam Gopi(Sahya Publications,Kalpetta)
  • Kerala Simham by Sardar K M Panicker [Fiction]

Add to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

October 20, 2009   17 Comments


For years, none of us knew why we had the bench vice on that table; not that we knew it was called a vice.

Bench Vice(Not from my SUPW class)

John sir’s nails would dig deep into our skin if we ever tried to mess with the vice,even if to stay awake in his boring class. I am not kidding.  The sessions were super duper long and boring. A series test lamp that was tested for ages, all we figured was that when the circuit was complete,the bulb would light up.Don’t know how many hours were spent explaining that.

Iron boxes were opened.Repaired.Wiring diagrams that would resemble unsolvable mazes were drawn.House wiring it seems.We learnt that bulb holders of various types have names like angle bulb holder,baton bulb holder etc.A ceiling rose was called a ceiling rose,that was some learning.Phase was always (in the) right,what was left was neutral,he kept talking about some archaic Indian Electricity rules(I haven’t been able to dig this specific mention in the said rule).So,a tester glows on the right side of the plug,okay?. It was in these classes that we were taught the BBROYGBVGW of coding resistors even before we learnt that in Physics.Chokes and starters-why are they used in a florescent tube etc were taught to us there.We chuckled over the explanations of Fleming’s left and right hand rules ;-)

Then there was torch repair,but that was much much earlier.

The school’s public address system was the SUPW sir‘s/students’ responsibility.Setting up the PA system,adjusting the mic during the morning assembly etc. Fiddling with the Bass/Treble/Volume and the innumerable controls on those Ahuja PA systems could easily create screeches to deafen the whole school.I have done the mic-testing-adjusting job once,that is it.  :|

The girls were spared from the vice and such.They did some embroidery during the time, aah..I don’t know what they did.

SUPW was not just about these wires and lights.Before the holders and lights came in,we made candles, the ones colored red,green,yellow and likes.So much fun it was.We bought them ourselves.Not just that.Chalks were made in SUPW classes,for internal consumption of the school.And how can I forget those dusters made in SUPW classes? :-)

This is years after I learnt hem stitch and button stitches.Yes, I did learn them in school.Graduating from making flowers out of crepe paper and skirt for dolls using plastic straws,stitching was a giant leap.

Then,much hated SUPW was; now I realize it was not as bad as we thought it to be. :)

[Image source:]

Add to RSS Feed Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble It! Digg It!

Google Buzz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

October 6, 2009   28 Comments