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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tamil Nadu Festivals - Theemidhi (Fire Walking Festval)

Theemidhi or Fire Walking Ceremony honours Goddess Draupadi, heroine of the epic poem "Mahabarata" and deified by the Hindus if South India as Draupadi Amman. Legend has it that she had to prove her innocence and fidelity by walking barefoot over hot coals. For weeks before the ceremony, devotees practice strict vegetarianism and fasting rituals in addition to observing austerities.

Every year, Theemidhi is celebrated in the month of October or November. On the actual day, the ceremony starts at 1.00am at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple where the devotees take ritual baths before setting off on a 4km walk to Sri Mariamman Temple.

The highlight of the ceremony is the walk devotees make across a pit of fire. The preparation of the four meter long pit of hot, burning coal that usually takes about five hours is especially important and is preceded with prayer and ritual.

Once the pit is ready, the chief priest of Sri Mariamman Temple would take the first walk across the scorching bed of coals.With intense concentration, barefooted devotees who wish to fulfill a vow make their walk across the pit - completing the challenge miraculously unscathed.

Absolute faith, courage and endurance of devotees can be witnessed at this breathtaking ceremony.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Festivals of Tamil Nadu - Pongal

Pongal is traditional Indian harvest festival and is also known as Sankaranthi.It originated in South India as a community festival in celebration of a bountiful harvest. In modern Singapore this festival is celebrated as the commencementof the auspicious month of Thai.

Pongal is a festival when God is praised with simple faith and sincerity. Old vices are washed out and all that is good is welcomed in the New Year.

Pongal festivities go on for 4 days and are different day to day. The first day is called Bhogi Pongal which is celebrated within the family. This first day is celebrated in honour of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. On the second day which is Surya Pongal, the worship of Surya Bhagawan, the sun God, takes place. The third day is Mattu Pongal. On this day, cattle which are sacred in Hinduism are honoured and worshipped. Cattle are revered as traditionally in India they are used to plough the fields which yield bountiful harvests. On this day the cattle are bathed, their horns polished and their bodies painted with bright colours. Multi-coloured beads, tinkling bells, sheafs of corn and flower garlands are tied around their necks. The fourth day of Pongal is referred to a Kaanum Pongal when colouful rice is fed to the crows and birds. The feeding of the birds is usually carried out by sisters for the welfare of their brothers. This practice dates back to the old days when young men were required to go out and work the fields to feed the family.

On the first day of Pongal, Hindu homes start the day with the preparation of pongal (sweet sticky rice) cooked in a new pot. Pongal literally means to boil over and hence the pot of rice is allowed to boil over as a sign of prosperity. Vegetables, sugar cane and spices are offered to the Gods and later consumed by the family to cleanse themselves of their past sins. Pongal rice is also prepared at all the temples and special prayers are conducted on these days.

For four days, Hindu temples throughout Singapore will be ringing with the rhythmic sounds of drums, clarinets and conch shells as Hindus celebrate Pongal festival.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Festivals in Tamil Nadu - Tamil New Year

Puthandu or Tamil New Year falls in the month of Chittirai (April) as per the Indian almanac. It is celebrated by Tamilians all over the world which is supposedly the day when Lord Brahman started creation. Tamil New year is also known as Varusha Pirappu. 'Varusham' is the Tamil word for 'year' and 'Pirappu' can be translated as 'birth' or 'beginning'. Puthandu or Varusha Pirappu is significant as it is believed to be indicative of how the rest of the year will be. Therefore, people only entertain positive thoughts and engage in meaningful activities on this day.

The excitement begins a two weeks before the New Year. Families go shopping for new clothes. Homes are thoroughly cleansed and even repainted. Mothers and grandmothers make plenty of sweet and savory snacks in preparation for the big celebrations when relatives and friends visit.

Each family will begin their Tamil New Year celebrations with the lighting of the Kuttu Villaku (traditional oil lamp) which is placed next to the Niraikudam (a brass container filled to the brim with holy water, decorated with mango leaves and where a husked coconut is placed on the mouth of the pot) in the family altar. Prayers are offered to the Gods after which elders make their gifts of money to all members of the family. The day also starts with the viewing of auspicious things including gold and silver jewellery, betel leaves, nuts, fruits, flowers, raw rice and coconut which are placed in the family altar or prayer room.

People welcome the New Year with kolams, colourful floor art decorations at the entrance of their homes. Festoons of mango leaves or flowers are hung at the doorway. A lavish feast is organized in which pulses and cereals form part of the main menu. Another important dish served during Puthandu is maanga pachadi (a dish made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers)

Relatives and friends make their rounds of visits to homes passing on wishes of a prosperous and healthy, year with warm greetings of Puthaandu Vaalthukal (Happy New Year)!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chennai Metro Rail Project

A Detailed Project Report (DPR) relating to the Chennai Metro Rail Project was prepared and submitted by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited (DMRC) who have successfully designed and implemented the Delhi Metro Rail Project. The DPR envisages the creation of 2 initial corridors under the proposed Chennai Metro Rail Project as shown below:

Corridor1: Washermenpet to Airport - 23.085 kms
Corridor2: Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount - 21.961 kms
Total Corridors Length: 45.046 kms

The details of the two corridors are given below:

Corridor-1: Washermenpet - Broadway (Prakasam Road), Chennai Central Station - Rippon Building along Cooum River - Tarapore Towers - Spencers - Gemini - Anna Salai - Saidapet - Guindy - Chennai Airport.

Corridor-2: Chennai Central - along EVR Periyar Salai - Vepery, Kilpauk Medical College, Aminjikarai, Shenoy Nagar - Annanagar East - Anna Nagar Tirumangalam - Koyambedu - CMBT - along Inner Ring Road - Vadapalani - Ashok Nagar - SIDCO - Alandur - St. Thomas Mount.

Part of this project will be underground and the remaining on elevated portions. The alignment and stations given above are tentative and subject to change during detailed design and execution.

The Government of Tamil Nadu have approved in principle the two initial corridors mentioned above. The Government of India are also keen on implementing this Project. The proposal sent by the Government of Tamil Nadu for Central Government funding is awaiting approval.

The estimated cost of this project (in March 2007 prices) is Rs.11, 124 crores. Of this, the Central and State Governments together are expected to contribute about 40%. The balance will be met by a loan granted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JICA has since agreed to finance the project and the loan agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Japan was signed on 21-11-2008 at Tokyo.

Tentatively, the project is programmed for completion in the financial year 2014-2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Places To Visit In KanyaKumari

Kanyakumari is located in the southernmost part of India and is the meeting point of Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. It is famous for its beautiful views of sunrise and sunset. Due to its pleasant climate, this place can be visited anytime of the year. But the best time is between October and March. Places to see in Kanyakumari are as follows:

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial:
Mahatma Gandhi Memorial was built as a Memorial for Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This is a very attractive place. Mahatma Gandhi visited Kanyakumari in 1925 and 1937. When he died on 1948 his ashes were immersed in the sea waters of Kanyakumari.

Thiruvalluvar Statue:
The famous poet Thiruvalluvar who wrote Thirukkural has a memorial statue here in kanyakumari. The pedestal of the statue is of 38 feet height and the statue over it is 95 feet tall with a grand total of 133 feet for the entire sculpture, denoting the 133 chapters in Thirukkural. It has a total weight of 7000 tons. The pedestal of the statue being 38 feet represents the 38 chapters of "virtue" in Thirukkural. The pedestal statue represents wealth and pleasure.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial:
Vivekananda Rock Memorial
is another famous tourist spot. This monument was constructed by Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee to remember Swami Vivekananda. This rock has been regarded as a sacred place. It is also known as Sripada Parai because it is being blessed by the touch of Goddess Shripada feet. It is said that Swami Vivekananda meditated here in 1892. The rock memorial has two structures known as the Shripada Mandapam and Vivekananda Mandapam. The shripada Mandapam has the main sanctum Sanctorum surrounded by an outer platform. The Vivekananda Mandapam has a meditation hall known as Dhyana Mandapam. Visitors can sit, relax and meditate here.

There are various places to visit in Kanyakumari. A Village by name Suchindrum is located about 12 kms from Kanyakumari and seven Kilometers from Nagercoil. This small village is situated near river Pazhayar. This small village also has a famous temple which is devoted to Sri Sthanumalayan. This word is divided into three parts which are names of three different gods. Sthanu means siva, Mal represents Vishnu and Ayan means Brahma. Sthanumalayan means the three gods shiva, Vishnu and Brahma in One form. Suchindrum means a place where Indra attained suchi ie purification.

Udayagiri Fort:
Udayagiri Fort
is situated about 34 Kms from kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. Tip sultan used this fort to keep his prisoners. Visitors visit this place because it has a 16ft long brass gun, which was not removed by 16 elephants also. There is a tomb of De-Lennoy who trained European soldiers some fighting methods. He was a trusted general of King Marthanda verma.

Mathur Hanging Trough:
Mathur Hanging Trough is one of the famous tourist spot for visitors. This bridge is considered as the tallest and the longest trough bridge in Asia, which has a height of 115 feet and a length of kilometer. Trough Bridge was constructed in 1966 at a cost of Rs.12.90 lakhs. This bridge was constructed by former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, K.Kamarag for drought relief measure in the Vilavancode and Kalkulam Taluks.

St Xavier Church:
St Xavier church
is located at Kottar in Kanyakumari. This church was built in 1600 A.D. In 1865, church was enlarged and renovated and vaulted over. In 1930, it was named as Cathedral. It is said that this church is a place of miracles from early times.

Padmanabhapuram Palace:
Padmanabhapuram Palace
is located in Kanyakumari District, 15 Km from Nagercoil and 55 Km south west of Thiruvananthapuram. The main attractions of this Palace are its murals, innovative designs and time tested wooden carvings. The walls have wooden planks, which say about Anantasyana, Lord Vishnu in reclining posture.

Muttom Beach:
Muttom Beach
is situated about 16 km from Nagercoil and 32 km from Kanyakumari. The main attraction is the sunset view. Another attraction is light house built by British. But it is not safe for visitors because the rocks are very slippery because of which many serious accidents have occurred over a couple of years. Due to this reason, government has fenced off the more dangerous portion of the rocks.

Vattakottai (Circular Fort)
is located about 6 kms from Kanyakumari. This Fort was constructed during 18th century. This place is very calm and suitable for bathing.

Do enjoy your stay at Kanyakumari! Have a Happy vacation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Temples in Madurai

Madurai is Known as Athens of the East, Madurai is a place of great historical and cultural importance. It is the oldest city in Tamil Nadu and Madurai lies on the banks of the River Vaigai. Madurai is one of the liveliest cities in South India it was originally known as Kadambavanam or the "forest of Kadamba" or the Nauclea kadamba. Legend says that Lord Shiva appeared in the dream on the king, Kulasekhara Pandya. The king was amazed to see drops of nectar or madhu falling down of earth from Lord Shiva's matted hair. The "madhu" was so sweet that the place where it fell came to be known as Madhurapuri, which in course of time became "Madurai." Tamil and Greek documents record its existence from the 4th century B.C. Being in the heart of Tamil Nadu, Madurai has fostered an essentially Dravidian and Tamil culture. Famous for its cultural and scholarly pursuits, the city had an academy consisting of critics, poets and savants highly esteemed both by kings and commoners. It was in Madurai that three successful conferences of Tamil scholars called sangams flourished under benevolent royal support.

Madurai is famous for housing one of the five traditional dance halls where Lord Siva, in his form as the Silver Hall or the Velli Ambalam. It is situated within the Meenakshi Temple. Madurai was the capital of the dynasty. The Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Shrine is its central glory. The Muslims invaded Madurai in the 14th Century. Later it came under the rule of the Nayaks, and the rule of Thirumalai Nayak, who is remembered as the maker of modern Madurai, was an eventful one. Madurai was known to be the centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. Today, Madurai is a modern commercial and industrial city, with a vast University campus and is renowned for its weaving mills and dyeing industry. The chungadi cotton sarees are the speciality of this city with its colourful tie and dye motifs. Handicrafts, brassware, bronze items and the famous wooden toys of Madurai are some of the notable artifacts.

Sri Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple Synonymous with Madurai is the Meenakshi Sundareswarar twin-temple. It is the pivot around which the city has evolved. The Meenakshi Temple complex is literally a city on its own. It is one of the largest of its kind in India and undoubtedly one of the oldest too. The temple grew bigger with the contributions of each dynasty and victorious monarchs, into an enormous complex extending over an area of 65000 sq. metres. The temple was first built 2000 years ago and was substantially expanded during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak between the years (1623-55 AD). Lord Siva in his incarnation as Sundareswarar and his spouse Meenakshi, are enshrined in this twin temple. She is called Meenakshi because it is believed that her eyes are shaped like that of a fish. The name is made up of two words - meen for fish and askshi for the eye. There are four massive gateways enclosing these two shrines. Visitors are fascinated by the many paintings and sculptures that adorn this temple. A striking feature of the temple is the astonishing structure known as Ayiramkaal mandapam or the Hall of a thousand pillars in the outermost corridor. The hall has 985 pillars and each pillar features high, ornate, bold sculptures that look life- like. Viewed from any angle these pillars appear to be in a straight line it is an architectural masterpiece indeed. In the outermost corridors are situated the matchless musical pillars carved out of stone. When tapped, each pillar produces a different musical note and the hall resonates with the sound of this note.

Thirumalai Nayak Mahal : About 1.5kms from the Meenakshi temple is this palace that was built in 1636 by the ruler whose named it bears. The imposing edifice is famous for the stuccowork on its domes and impressive arches. The Sorga Vilasam or the Celestial Pavilion, measuring 75mx52m, is constructed entirely of brick and mortar without the support of a single rafter or girder. It is a marvel of Indo Saracenic architectural style. Among the other striking features of the palace are the massive white pillars, several of which line the corridor that runs along the courtyard. Connected by well-decorated arches, these pillars measure 20m in height and have a circumference of 4m. Elsewhere, there are polished black stone pillars of varying heights. It was King Thirumalai Nayak's grandson who demolished much of the fine structure and removed most of the jewels and woodcarvings in order to build his own palace in Thiruchirapalli. That his dream never came true is another story. Thanks to Lord Napier, the then Governor of Madras, who partially restored the palace in 1866-72, and the subsequent restoration works carried out several years ago, today, we get to see the Entrance Gate, the Main Hall and the Dance Hall. These are worth seeing too. There's a daily sound - and - Light show in English at 6.45 p.m and in Tamil at 8.15 p.m. This half an hour show extols the virtues of king Thirumalai, particularly his passion for the arts, his victories in battle and his love for his subjects. Palace is open for visitors.

Alagarkoil : About 21kms north east of Madurai, stands a celebrated Vishnu temple dedicated to Lord Alagar. The temple is situated on a hill amidst panoramic surroundings. The shrine is known as Alagarkoil and the hill is known Solaimalai. The temple also contain some beautiful carvings and makes the visit rewarding. Solai malai Mandapam, one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya is located atop the hill.

Koodal Azhagar temple : This ancient and acclaimed Vaishnavite temple is noted for its remarkable architectural and sculptural magnificence. The Lord here is in the sitting or asana, standing or sthanaka and reclining or sayana postures, all enshrined in one vertical plane.

Monday, May 19, 2008

All about Vellore, near Chennai, India, with rich heritage of communal harmony

Vellore, the famous town in North Arcot District of Tamil Nadu, has been famous for communal amity. The town carries a considerable section of Muslim and Christian population apart from the majority Hindus who all co-exist peacefully. The town has a historical importance, as it was a happening place during Islamic and British rules notwithstanding the Hindu Kings' tenures before Islamic and British invasions. One of the most vibrant spots of the town is the famous 'Vellore Fort', which witnessed the 'Sepoy Mutiny' in 1806. This fort was built by the Reddy brothers (Bomma Reddy and Thimma Reddy), who were Nayakar Chieftains under the great Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagaram, during the 16th century. The fort comprises Jalakandeswarar Temple, a Church and an Islamic structure apart from a few government offices and a police training post. The fort is surrounded by a beautiful moat ('Agazhi' in Tamil), which never dries due to the presence of a perennial spring inside.

Though the Jalakandeswarar Temple was enhanced by a superior construction during Krishnadeva Raya'a period, the Hindu religious scholars are of the opinion that the deity is a 'Swayambu Lingam' belonging to "Dwapara Yuga". When Tippu Sultan invaded Vellore during the 18th century, he captured the fort and desecrated the Temple, but the Hindus were shrewd enough to save the Deities by removing them beforehand. During his stay there, Tippu Sultan demolished the tower ('Vimaanaa' in Tamil) of another 'Amman' (Nagalamman) Temple and constructed tombs in its place and converted it into a temporary prayer house for his soldiers. It was not a full-fledged Mosque and after Tipu's time it has never been used for conducting prayers. During British period, a Church was also constructed inside and since then prayers have been going on uninterruptedly. In the early twenties (1921), the fort and the entire complex were taken over by the ASI.

The Muslims never used the Tipu's make shift prayer house (desecrated Amman Temple) for their regular 'Namaas' and the Hindus could not conduct poojas in the temple, as the deities were still not replaced. Later on, in the early eighties (1981) after consistent and long drawn efforts, the Hindus brought back the deities from the safe custodial place (Sathuvachari near Vellore) and placed them in their respective places and consecrated the temple with the help of the then District Collector Gangappa and since then the prayers, poojas and festivities have become a regular affair.

With the recent passage of a resolution in the Vellore Municipality for allowing Muslims to conduct prayers inside the so-called prayer house, the TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) had given a call for the community to congregate at Vellore to conduct a massive Friday Namas. The Hindu organizations like Hindu Munnani and Hindu Makkal Kacthi have protested against this plan. The point to note here is that, the TMMK is an ally of the ruling DMK and the Vellore Municipality in dominated by DMK and its allies. The Hindu Makkal Katchi had declared that it would conduct a 'Kaavikkodi Poraattam' (Saffron Flag Demonstration) at the fort. After seeing the resentment from the Hindu organizations, the Chief Minister, while replying to the demand made by Congress MLA Gnanasekaran in the State Assembly, who wanted the Muslims to be permitted, had said that the state government could not do anything and that only the center could decide as the fort is maintained by ASI. Though
the CM has the capacity to convince his trusted ally TMMK to refrain from politicizing the issue, he keeps conspicuous silence after passing the buck to the center.

The State Police acted with alacrity and arrested cadres belonging to both TMMK and HMK as a preventive measure. An unprecedented security was also arranged in and around the fort with more than 2000 security personnel. Riot control vehicles, ambulances and fire engines were deployed and most of the district senior police officers were available on the spot. When thousands of TMMK cadres from rest of Tamil Nadu congregated and when they tried to get near the fort, the police prevented them. As they could not go near the fort, the TMMK cadres did 'namas' on the road from 12.30 pm to 12.45 pm and later dispersed.

Arjun Sampath, President of Hindu Makkal Katchi had said, 'the plan of TMMK is uncalled for and unwarranted. In the early eighties, when the Hindus strived hard to restart worshipping inside the Temple, the Muslims led by the late Abdul Samad have given in writing that they do not intend to conduct prayers inside the so-called Mosque, as they have a full fledged Mosque and a Dharga just out side the fort close to the moat. . Our Temple has been an ancient one and prayers have to be temporarily suspended due to the presence of Tippu's army and after independence, we have regained the worshipping rights through a long drawn battle. Also, the Muslims have never used the prayer house as a place of worship. As the local Jamaath leaders have come out against the TMMK in the interest of communal amity, in appreciation of their welcome gesture, we also wanted to withdraw our protest demo, but as TMMK was unrelenting, we decided to stay put. It has become a habit for TMMK to play politics and create problems for Hindus, with the connivance of the ruling party'.

Jaishankar, another leader of HMK had said, "The local Muslims co-exist with us peacefully and they are not interested in conducting prayers inside the prayer house, which could not be called as a real Mosque. They are satisfied with the Mosque, which already exists outside the fort near the moat. There is another village vilaankulam near Arcot, where ASI maintains a Mosque and a Cave Temple (Pandavar Gugai). Why TMMK is not showing any interests there? Why it always creates problems near Temple locales? We welcome, appreciate and thank the genuine stand of DMMK (Dravida Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and the local Jamaath, who were against the TMMK'.

Sources said that thirty percent of Vellore's population is Muslims and they hold most of the businesses and the majority Hindus are their customers. Hence the local Muslims have been living with the Hindus in absolute peace and they have never allowed the extremist elements like Al Umma, TMMK and MNP to set up bases there. It seems there is an internal fight between TMMK (DMK ally) and Thowheed Jamath (inclined towards AIADMK) as to who represents the majority of Muslims in the state. As the Thouheed Jamaath has been organising a big event in Thanjavur, the TMMK had tried to utilize this ellore issue to counter it. But, the Communal amity and over all peace have prevailed over the nefarious designs of TMMK, thanks to the DMMK and local clerics.


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