Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rameshwaram - A Walk Through Time

If you have not been to the temple town of Rameshwaram, birth place of the great scientist Late APJ Abdul Kalam, then make haste, journey through time to this beautiful gem. Its an overnight train journey, but best enjoyed in the day time when one can experience the 3 km train journey through the open sea on both sides, with waves lashing on the huge old rocks and massive stone pillars - think of bungee jumping, where you jump without any support save for the ankle clasp. We visited this holy town in early March 2016.

Belonging to the Ramanathapuram district, the town of Rameshwaram, translated to mean, Lord of Rama, is a holy place dedicated to Lord Shiva, known as Ramanathaswamy, hence a place of convergence for both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects. The place is rich with mythological trails. It is believed that Lord Rama built the bridge, Rama Sethu with floating rocks to Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita. Most places of interest in this town have these huge rocks floating in the tank, making it almost impossible, not to believe the story of Ramayana. Further, Rama prayed to Shiva to relieve him of the sin of killing during the war with Ravana.  People come to offer Shrarth or final offerings to their ancestors. Built in the 12th century, the temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and praised in hymns by the famous Shaivaite saints Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar.

People from the north of India make the largest number of visitors, so the locals speak Hindi quite fluently. It never fails to humble me when I meet enterprising minds, who adapt to make a living inspite of an incomplete education, due to tough economic conditions.  I always wonder how much we can do with all the advantages we seem to enjoy. 

A massive tourist destination, be mindful of touts who charge extra for services including pouring water from the 22 wells in the main temple. Everything in the temple and its vicinity is well organised and you can simply follow the general instructions.  

As soon as we reached Rameshwaram, we first went to the ocean or Agni-theertham to offer our ablutions to the sun and our ancestors; from there we proceeded to the temple to have the holy water from the tanks. You need to purchase the INR 20 ticket for the bath. 

The crowds were huge, but the walk to the 22 tanks was very well organised and the volunteers who draw the water and pour it on your head did an amazing service ensuring all pilgrims left with contentment of mind and spirit. It is truly an amazing experience. We then changed into fresh clothes and visited the main temple, Lord Ramanathaswamy and His consort, concluding a crucial part of the pilgrimage.

We retired to our hotels, Daiwik, which is a rip-off both in price and service. There are much more reasonable and well maintained places around the temple. Further food in the local restaurants is much more tastier with a value for money. 

For the rest of the day, we engaged an auto driver at an expensive price INR 1500/- I think, since we had no choice of transport to get around Rameshwaram and Danushkodi.   The latter is much more dearer to me since my art teacher's name is Arcot Danushkodi and I absolutely had to visit the ghost town, left lifeless in the 1964 cyclone.  

We visited historical temples such as the Gandhamadana Parvatham which was carried by Hanuman when he went in search of medicinal herbs for Lakshmana. Rama's footprint has been preserved pointing towards the direction of Lanka in search of Sita, followed by the Kondandarama temple, where Rama conducted Vibhishana's coronation. The main temple pillar is in ruins, hence the main sanctum was built above without disturbing the pillars. A few steps to the water, mythology states that Rama built the bridge to Lanka which has since gone underwater, but the floating rocks are housed in another temple which we visited later at the Panchamukhi Anjaneyar (five faced Hanuman). 

Prior to that we went to the Villondi Theertha, believed to be the sacred place where Rama dipped his bow into the salt water to quench Sita's thirst. Next we headed to the Lakshmana Theertham, dedicated to Rama's younger brother Lakshmana and then over to Jatayu Theertham, the place where the great eagle, sacrificed its life saving Sita from Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.  

Next day, we went to Devipattinam, where the Navagrahas are housed in the tank into which the sea water comes in during high tide and recedes during low tide. So the timing is very important. The piligirmage is considered complete only when you finish the worship of the nine planets.

We made an interesting addition to our itinerary, a visit to an important Vaishnavite temple Thirupullani, a 10-12 km drive from Ramanathapuram, dedicated to Adi Jagannatha with His consorts, Sridevi and Bhudevi. You can see the unique Dharbaranya Rama, where Rama is seen in a reclining pose over a bed of Dharba grass, Pattabhisheka Rama (Rama coronated), Santhanagopalakrishna sannidi and Pattabhisheka Rama, when Rama was coronoted as King of Ayodhya. The sculptures are beyond our imagination and lend themselves to such artistic beauty you cannot describe with mere words.

From there, we drove down to Danushkodi. We had to alight at a certain drop-off point and from there, we got into mini vans that drive you into the beach and through the waters right up to the town that once existed. The drivers charge you fancy prices depending on the crowd and number of people in the group. You will also notice the train track that is now reduced to a figment of history. Danuskodi, has endless waterbodies, a beautiful place where the water birds thrive.  You can spend a good hour or so there and head back.
Enroute, we visited the memorial of the eminent scientist and former President, Dr APJ Kalam and his house, which has since turned an abode capturing his accomplishments and contributions in the field of science. 

Finally, we made a pitstop at the Pamban bridge road to watch the train go over the tracks across the ocean. The water is an icy cool blue like Maldives, maybe even better. It is truly an architectural marvel. The drastic change in landscapes is hard to miss. The bridge is connected as a link and whenever ships pass by, the bridge opens up to allow them to pass and folds back to its original position as a rail line!

The three day trip was fascinating and spiritually uplifting. It brought me back in time when my parents and grandparents used to tell me the story of the Ramayana and here I was walking through memory lanes decades later!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Calvin's CLoud

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.

― Ana├»s Nin

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Creams Centre Sizzlers

Creams Centre in Arya puram has been a favourite family haunt. It has become a ritual to take our family members and friends over to this delicious vegetarian haunt, almost like visiting an ancestral house!

Service is generally exceptional and it gets crowded on weekends with people queuing up in large numbers waiting restlessly to be seated. So we usually make a dash for it by having an early dinner - you get to eat in peace and savour every mouthful. There are two key menu items I never miss and neither have the dishes ever failed. 

The Spring Garden soup is fantastic-the softness of the paneer or cottage cheese cuts through the peppery-ness of the soup while the shredded crunchy vegetables balances the corn starch that thickens the soup. Overall, very appetizing and well balanced.

What I love above all else is their fantastic range of sizzlers with generous portions. I have had all their sizzlers on various occasions and I generally seemed to like the Indian varieties with paneer and the Mexican one quite a bit. Infact these are so famous that one of my foodie friends just exclaimed, Creams Centre? when I posted the picture of this divine heap of well marinated succulent paneer topped over a warm bed of rice laid out over a crackling lettuce leaf. I was pleasantly shocked and pleased.

I had been to Kobe's on two occasions and sadly, they were nowhere near what these guys had to offer in terms of service, presentation and taste. Infact the last time I had dragged a friend over for lunch, we had to wait for a long time and the air-conditioning was not working. I was sweating and finally lost my cool. That was the end of it!

This dinner was long overdue. Everytime I made a decision to go out for a meal, I ended up settling for home cooked meals which I personally prepare on weekends and I can confidently say, everyone loves it! 

This time, we made an exception and headed out for a relaxing Sunday evening ignoring the boring Monday looming over us.

Its my dream to have my own eatery with a warm simple menu that has a lot of fun element to it and oozes love. Universe, are you listening to me?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Calvin's CLoud

In the end, though, maybe, we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever, and sincerely, for as long as have voices.

- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Friday, February 12, 2016

Puthiya Niyamam (2016)

My Punjabi friend and I decided to watch a Malayalam movie at the theatres for three reasons; one, because they are relatively more sensible to watch; second, you have sub-titles in english, which makes it easier to follow, and third, it is  a sweet language. 

I have watched a slew of Malayalam movies, such as Drishyam, a thriller Mohanlal starrer, 22 Female Kottayam with Fahad Fazil in the lead, but the protaganist is a woman who is out for blood, Manachitrathazhu, which had a stellar performance by Shobana (which Jyothika slaughtered in the Tamil version), Mili, a warm hearted story about the introverted misunderstood girl, played by the talented Amala Paul; Bangalore Days that traces the lives of three cousins in Bangalore, and a natural performance in Premam by the handsome Nivin Pauly.

New Testament or Puthiya Niyamam, a Malayalam starrer with Nayanthara and Mammooty in leading roles will have you spellbound. Directed by A.K.Sajan, this mystery genre revolves around the life of a middle class family, comprising Divorce Advocate and film critic Loie Pothen, his Brahmin Kathakali danseuse wife, Vasuki Loie, and daughter; in particular, the turmoil about Vasuki who goes through a strange transformation. The director has done a fine job balancing the weight of both characters and has given them the space to flourish and grow in their scenes, complementing each other beautifully. The movie reminds me of Wazir, Drishyam, and 22 Female Kottayam in parts. 

Just when you think you have it all figured out, Sajan throws you off completely with another twist. Nayanthara shines in her role and this is certainly one of her high points in her career. Mammooty as Divorce Advocate Loie who counsels his clients to live happily and sweeten the unity, does justice to his role not just as an advocate of family values, but also as a doting dad and husband whose entire life revolves around keeping his family happy. The movie can be disturbing to some, but sends out a strong message - the will to live through a tragedy that shakes your being. The easiest outlet is death, or is it? 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Family Trip to Thirukazhukundram

I have been unwell and still recovering from an allergic flu that's been making its rounds in the city. In the midst of my recovery, my aunt and uncle along with my nephew made a plan to visit their family deity, which they incidentally found out through their family priest. I was not planning to join the group for the early morning jaunt for lack of sleep, but divine calling had other plans for me - I managed to get a great night's sleep and was all set to go with the group for our first ever visit to the much talked about 1300 year-old Shiva shrine. My grand aunt was instrumental in getting us all together.

Chennai is quite pleasant at this time of the year. The hour's morning drive was beautiful on the East Coast Road, 70 kms from Chennai and 15 kms from Mahabalipuram. 

means Respectfully, Kazhugu means Eagles, Kundram means mount - the temple lore has it that the sages were punished by Lord Shiva and they visited the temple as eagles for salvation. It is also known as Pakshi Theertam (Holy Birds Tank) and is visited by pilgrims all over the world. The main deity is Vedhagirishwarar on the hill and his consort Thripurasundari, at the base of the hill. There is a Shiva shrine at the base for those who cannot make the steep climb of over 500 steps one-way. When you make your way back down, you will be advised to take a left near the drinking water area, so you actually do a giri-valam (going around the base of the hill in worship, similar to Thiruvannamalai). The Pallava architecture is indicated by the Gajaprushtam (Gaja-elephant; prushtam-backside) style, where the temple sanctum resembles the backside of an elephant. It is also believed that the four vedas, the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva vedas are stacked on top of each other in the form of boulders, hence the name Vedagiri (veda-scriptures, guru-hill) and the presiding deity, Vedagirishwarar.

The temple has also been sung in high praises by saints Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar, and Manickavasagarar. Every 12 years, all the sacred rivers flow here into the temple tank, when the conch is created and Guru (Jupiter) enters Kanni rasi. This is one of the largest festivals celebrated at the temple called the Thirtha Pushkara Mela

The hill is surrounded by medicinal plants and herbs and is believed to cure one of ailments. Along the way, there are many beautiful view points to enjoy the scenery from the hilltop.

It was an enjoyable trip with a lot of adventure, battling the monkeys along the way. So a word of caution to my fellow travellers, hide water bottles and food because these guys will not think twice before they snatch it from your hands.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Calvin's CLoud

Sarah learnt a lot from Alex. Like the way men could say one thing, then another, then act in a way inconsistent with both positions and somehow still be convinced of their own integrity.
- Emily Maguire, Taming the Beast