Friday, August 31, 2007

A forest church in the heart of Chennai

Luz is a busy area of the Indian metropolis of Chennai. And tucked away from the main road there is a cute little church. It has many names – Kattu Koil (meaning church in the forest, in Tamil), Prakasha Matha Church, Church of Our Lady of Light, Nossa Senhora da Luz, and Luz Church. In fact, the place name, Luz, is inspired by the church.

The legend is that at the beginning of the 16th century, a ship carrying a group of Portuguese Franciscan missionaries was hopelessly lost in the Bay of Bengal off the Chennai coast. Then the crew saw a light towards the west and following it, safely reached the land at a mangrove forest area. It is believed that Apostle St. Thomas used to live in this place for a while before his martyrdom in 72 A.D.

In thanksgiving, the Franciscans built this church in 1516 and dedicated it to ‘Our Lady of Light’ (Nossa Senhora da Luz). Some historians dispute the date but it is the official view of the Madras Mylapore Diocese under which the Luz Church comes. Anyway, it is considered to be the oldest existing Catholic church in Chennai. I saw a mention on the Internet that Marco Polo had visited a church in Chennai. Perhaps there was one built by early Christians of the place at the spot where St. Thomas had died. That church no longer exists.

The original church building at Luz was damaged during attacks by the Golconda forces (1662-1673) and again during Hyder Ali’s siege (1780-1782). It was, of course, restored.

The Luz Church is small but beautiful. The exterior is modest but the interior, particularly the alter, is grand. Some pictures are reproduced below from with permission of the parish priest.

On the left is
Fr. A. John Andrew, Vicar.

The feast of Prakasha Matha coincides with Indian Independence Day – August 15. Thousands participate in the celebrations regardless of caste and creed.


Also see: A historic church is no more.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kerala: Onam goes up in spirit

On August 26 The Hindu carried an article ‘Festival of Onam, from legend to mirage’ by the venerable Justice VR Krishna Iyer. Mr GV Krishnan (My Take by GVK) was kind enough to draw my attention to the thought provoking piece.

The Justice very correctly says that the media hype and commercial interests create illusions “tempting the youth and the fairer gender into expenditure beyond their means.” He goes on to comment “Onam today has become robbery, bankruptcy and alcoholism, fleecing the spirit of the festival.”

Today there are two disturbing headlines. One is that three people died in Quilon District by consuming illicit liquor during Onam celebrations. Another report is that during the three days of Onam (on the fourth day the liquor shops were closed) Kerala consumed Rs. 52.79 crores worth of spirits. This is an increase of 28% over last year. The amount spent on toddy, illicit drinks and smuggled foreign liquor is not known.

According to the figures published in the Business Line of May 3, 2004, Kerala had 2.109 crores voters consisting of 1.016 crore males and 1.093 crore females, say, a total of 2.1 crores aged eighteen and above. There could be marginal increase during the last three years.

Never before has so much been done by so few (Apology, Winston Churchill) .


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

The practice of tenants and workmen presenting onakazhcha (offering for Onam) to their landlords continued in our place till the 1950s. The offerings by the lower castes were, invariably, bananas of the type known as nendrakka or ethakka (see photo). One cannot of course think of Onam, then and now, without these bananas. The return gifts for those who bring the kazhcha were a measure of paddy and a dhoti.

The offering given by those who ranked higher in caste set up was sugar. It would be packed in a cone made of newspaper and tied with bast fiber from banana plants. During my childhood, cotton thread and cords were not so common. Sometimes jute strings were used.

With all the kazhcha we would have heaps of bananas of different stages of maturity. A group of women would prepare them for making different food items. They would sit on the eastern veranda of the nalukettu, gossip and attend to the work on hand. Sometimes Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) would join them for a while. What happened finally was that most of the bananas would be given to the servants.

Of the many preparations made from bananas, I remember a few. Chips of course were on the top of the list. There were four types of them – the regular thin round ones that are most popular in the market now, thick half pieces which were eaten with meals or used to make sharkarapuratti (coated with jaggery), small cubed pieces, and the last, cut into small batons. Though all these were of the same material and fried in coconut oil, the bite varied in each type and there was a subtle difference on the palate.

The skin of the unripe banana cut into small pieces and sautéed with pepper powder was a favorite with meals. I once heard a joke about a Nampoothiri (Kerala Brahmin) telling the tenants to take the fruit inside and give him only the skin as kazhcha.

The bananas which were smaller in size were allowed to ripen to the full and then sun-dried, first with the skin on and then without the skin. If properly done and stored, these would keep and provide an excellent dessert either with honey or syrup or grated coconut and sugar, or even plain.

Those days Kerala was self-sufficient in nendrakka. Today, I believe, most of it is imported from the neighboring Tamil Nadu.


Photo acknowledgement: F. Kakkassery. Click on image for enlarged view.

Also see: Ammachi's Health Recipe - may lower cholesterol, blood sugar.

Monday, August 27, 2007


King Mahabali (Maveli) at the famous Marari Beach Resort of
CGH - Earth Group during last Onam.
Also see:
Dominic Joseph checks out

Chenda (Kerala drum) is usually a part of receiving VVIPs.
For more pictures of chendamelam see:
Chenda – The Kerala Drum.

Artist Reji Navasree. He made Maveli shown above from Thermocole (Styrofoam) and sandalwood paste. The garments and turban are done with flowers.
Also see:
A village artist

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flowers for Onam

Onam Greetings.

Photos: Copyright KO Isaac.
Click on images to enlarge
Also see:

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala photos: Flowers for Onam

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

Onam: Pookalams in water

Olakkuda – Palmyra leaf umbrella

Sadhya - a sumptuous Kerala meal

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Onam: Pookkalams in water

During Onam, children roaming around to collect flowers is a common sight in villages. These blossoms are mainly used for making pookalams, that is, flower arrangements. These pookalams are extremely beautiful and almost everybody has one at their home. Even our local church has pookalam for Onam.

The flower arrangement is done on the ground, either indoors or outside on the muttam (courtyard). I was thinking, why not have them in water. At our Tharavad, apart from pookalams for Onam, for family functions like weddings, we have flower arrangements in water (floral basins).

Two examples are shown below. The first one is in a warppu, a traditional flat bronze cauldron. The second is in a chiseled out granite basin. Third is a detail.

The top picture shows a medley of flowers. The other is hibiscus stuffed with crape jasmine.


Photos copyright: KO Isaac. Click on them for enlarged view.

Also see:

Ripples on water

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala photos: Flowers for Onam

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

Flowers for Onam

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kerala Architecture: Interiors

Here are some more pictures of the interior of the Thekkanattu Parayil Tharakans' heritage home.

Photo credits: top 3 TP, 4th Karthiki, last KO Isaac.
Also see:
Interior of a heritage home.

Kerala architecture: Verandas, corridors of a nalukettu house

Kerala Architecture: Exterior of a heritage home

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Olakkuda – Palmyra leaf umbrella

During Onam season Mallu minds would be full of thoughts of pookalams, sadya, and celebrations. The festival marks the annual visit of the mythical King Mahabali (Maveli) to Kerala, the land that he once ruled to perfection.

Olakkuda, an umbrella made of palmyra leaves, is an integral part of the depictions relating to Onam. Also, we have the story of Kuchelan in penury visiting the Lord, with a torn olakkuda and a packet of rice flakes soaked in his tears.

During which period did these legends start? According to Wikipedia, the Maveli episode was in the pre-Ramayana era. It would appear that Kuchelan lived during the time of Mahabharatha. I am curious because both stories mention olakkuda. Then we have Buddha’s instructions which permitted only eight earthly possessions for the monks. These included palmyra leaf fan, and umbrella. It is not clear that the umbrella was also made of the palm leaf, but in all likelihood it was.

According to many writings, umbrellas were being used in countries like China, Egypt, Assyria and Greece four thousand years ago. They were initially parasols to provide shade from the sun, and were status symbols as well. Then the Chinese invented a method to waterproof them using wax and modified them for protection from rain also. Did India have the all weather palmyra leaf version at that time? Quite possible.

The status symbol aspect appears to have been common to all countries. In Kerala, only Namputhiris (Kerala Brahmins) and Syrian Christians could have them. Some vestiges of using an umbrella as an instrument to demonstrate respect still exist in some remote villages. On coming across a peer, a man walking with an open umbrella would either fold or hold it to a side.

The ladies also used umbrellas to conceal their faces and bodies from the eyes of the opposite sex. The men normally did not carry olakkudas themselves; one of the servants would hold it for them.

In Malayalam, the present day umbrellas were known (not in usage now) as seemakuda (seema = Europe, more specifically Britain, + kuda = umbrella). The forerunners of the current version of umbrellas started gaining popularity in Europe during the 15c. The westerners brought them to India.

Today olakkuda is a rare sight. One finds them mostly in curio shops and tourist places. Hardly any one uses olakkuda now. If you get a chance, try it. Olakkuda is effective in both sunshine and in rain.

I'm the proud grandfather of this pretty young girl, Nonee (Annie).
(See: The tooth fairy came by...)

Can you suggest a caption, please?


Photos taken at Olavipe. Copyright: KO Isaac. Click on them for enlarged view.
Also see:

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala photos: Flowers for Onam

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Birds: Photos & Poetry

There was a lake I loved in gentle rain:

One day there fell a bird, a courtly crane:

Wisely he walked, as one who knows of pain.

Gracious he was and lofty as a king:
Silent he was, and yet he seemed to sing
Always of little children and the Spring.

John Shaw Neilson

The Gentle Water Bird

Photos: (C) KO Isaac
Click on images for enlarged view.

The poem from which the lines are quoted is from the collection Poet Seers. According to the website:

"Poet Seers is a collection of spiritual and illumining poetry by poets from around the world, including many different spiritual traditions. Every day we try to add a new Poem of the Day selected from the many inspirational poems we have on the site. We are also hoping to keep adding to our collection of poets and poetry."

The collection contains some great poetry.


Also see:

Colors - beautiful photos

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mentally challenged: Story of Shilpa

The story of Shilpa is the story of a gentle young girl. A beautiful little bird, born with clipped wings, who in her short life, did her best to soar. Tiny and fragile, with a congenital ventricular defect (hole in the heart), subject to frequent attacks of fits, she was also severely mentally disabled (with an IQ of below 20).

Her parents, Harimohan and Pramila, both doctors themselves, began their uphill quest to make their little girl's life as normal as that of any child. They took all the medical advice they could get, joined groups of parents who shared their plight, in the hope of finding answers. With special schooling, she could say a few words and by the age of 4, began to walk on her own.

When she was seven, she successfully underwent open- heart surgery. Like all children, she was full of little delights, enjoying pillion riding with her Dad on the motorcycle with the wind whipping her hair. She went to hill stations and movies, hotels and on shopping trips with her mother, loving and living each day to the full. Her heart condition had healed but she continued to be racked by increasingly frequent bouts of fits. At the age of eleven, after one such attack, she slipped into a coma, never to recover. Shilpa left this world on 1st December 1995

A child's story - as short and sweet as a nursery rhyme. Once heard, never ever forgotten. Shilpa, the little girl, through the aching sense of loss she left behind, blossomed into Shilpa, the Society for Mentally Handicapped. On December 1st, 1996, on the first anniversary of her death, her parents with several friends pledged to share their experience and give free service to other children like her in their daily struggle against mental disability. Shilpa lives on.

I came across the above article (which is reproduced with permission) while following up comments on my post Dominic Joseph checks out. Mr. Dominic Joseph had visited Shilpa School for the mentally challenged at Palluruthy, Cochin, a few years before he died and had given a donation.

Today the School has, according to its website, about 140 mentally challenged disciples in the age range of few months to 35-40 years. They are attended to by more than 25 committed, specially trained staff that includes doctors, social workers, special teachers, therapists, and vocational rehabilitation trainers. Also on the cards are parent training programs, respite care, and residential centre. I hope to visit this facility while I am at Cochin next month.

The Shilpa Society has, as members, a group of committed people. It includes the well-known physician Dr. Sujit Vasudevan (Ojus Clinic) whom I know. When my mother (Oru Desathinte Amma.) was alive, he was personal doctor to her for long time

Please do visit the website of this institution for mentally challenged at The email id is:

It would be nice if you circulate this post to your friends.


Note: The image of butterfly is public domain.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Indo-US nuclear agreement

A spokesman of the US State Department, not the President or Secretary of State of that country, makes or is reported to have made a statement about the Indo-US nuclear deal. No body knows what exactly was said, if at all any comment on the agreement was made by the official. And on the basis of that the Prime Minister of India, never mind which party he belongs to, is virtually called a liar. Strange indeed are the ways of the politicians!

Let us have a look at what this is all about. The Government of India presided over by the then Prime Minister moots the idea of the nuclear deal with US. The succeeding government negotiates a treaty after considerable debate at home and claims that the agreement which has been reached is the best in the nation’s interest.

Undoubtedly, such a treaty should be judged dispassionately and objectively, taking into account the country’s sovereignty, energy requirements, technological development India has reportedly achieved so far and those like thorium based operations that are in the pipeline, and economic factors.

The ballyhoo would make one think that we have a nuclear test or two slated for the next few months. Nothing of the sort. The previous government had announced a moratorium on such tests. Only if that self-imposed constraint proves to be ill-advised or intrinsically wrong or irrelevant, the question of further tests arises. In any case, we seem to have reached a stage, like the US, where more tests are not really needed

Now, what happens if we do conduct a test? Will the American Marines storm the beaches of India, pack up all the fuel and equipment they supplied and leave? Or will the US do another Iraq? Not at all. The American Administration at that point of time would handle the situation according to what is best for them. It may be commercially beneficial for them to make some motions of protest and continue business with India as usual.

What if India decides to call off the treaty? We have done that once with Russia. Do the Americans have any recourse? Well, why should we bother? It is their problem.

It would appear that the protesters have no faith in their own country, in its inherent strength, in its people and what its scientists are capable of. India will always be there bright and shining, no matter what an American official is supposed to have said (possibly for home consumption). The US slapped an embargo on us in the past. We carried on nevertheless.

The whole episode reminds me of a story told by Sriman Narayan, a former General Secretary of the Congress Party, decades back. In a once famous East European University, the new generation biology professor was teaching the anatomy of grasshoppers. He had a trained insect in his right palm. When he held up his left palm and ordered, ‘jump’, the grasshopper obeyed.

Now, the next part of the demonstration – The teacher pulled off the legs the insect and repeated the order. The insect didn’t jump. The conclusion given by the professor was that grasshoppers hear through their legs.

Protests and criticisms are fine; that is part of democracy. But warped logic is not.


Also see: India - national symbols

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mallus, Happy New Year

To day is the 1st day of the 1st month, Chingam, according to the Malayalam Era (ME). The year that starts today is 1183 ME. In Malayalam, this Era is called ‘Kollavarsham’, a combination of the Malayalam words ‘Kollam’ (name of the place where the new calendar was created) and ‘varsham’ (year). Kollam (Quilon), which was also known as Desinganad, was a flourishing trading port even during the first millennium of the Christian Era.

There is difference of opinion among the historians about the origin of Kollavarsham. The theories relating to this are: (1) linked to the consecration of a Shiva temple built during the reign of Udaya Marthanda Varma, (2) marks the settlement of Nestorian (a denomination of Christians) traders near the port, and (3) started by the disciples of Sri Shankaracharya.

No dispute however about the year in which Kollavarsham began – 825 AD. To convert Kollavarsham to AD and vice versa, add/deduct 825. There could be a slight overlap because Kollavarsham starts in the eighth month of the Gregorian calendar. The new calendar quickly gained acceptance and was officially in force till recently. Kerala astrologers still use Kollavarsham for calculations.

For the benefit of those Mallus who might have forgotten – the twelve months of a Kollavarsham are Chingam, Kanni, Thulam, Vrischikam, Dhanu, Makaram, Kumbham, Meenam, Medam, Edavam, Midhunam and Karkidakam.

In certain parts of Kerala and among certain communities, there is a belief that the New Year starts on Medam 1, which is Vishu. The day usually falls on April 14/15. Please see the post Vishu: Did God Create Earth on This Day?


Happy New Year, many happy returns!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

India - national symbols

Yesterday, I wanted to give details of India's national symbols also, but was rather ashamed because I couldn't remember all of them. I looked up the details and here is what I found:

National emblem: Lion of Sarnath

Photo: Wikimedia, under GFDL

National Anthem: Jana gana mana

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

National Song: Vande mataram

National Pledge:

India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters.

I Love my country. I am proud of its rich and varied culture. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.

I shall love and respect my parents, teachers and elders.

To my country and my people I pledge my devotion

National bird: Peacock

Photo: Public Domain under GFDL

National flower: Lotus

Photo Public Domain

National tree: Banyan

Photo: Wikimeda Public Domain

National fruit: Mango

Photo: Wikimedia under GFDL

National animal: Tiger

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

National game: Hockey

Indian hockey team that won gold at Berlin Olympics, 1936
Photo Public Domain

Note: The copyright status mentioned is correct to the best of my knowledge. It would be prudent to check before using the photos.


Also see:

Oru Desathinte Amma.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dominic Joseph checks out

Dominic Joseph, the founder chairman of CGH-Earth Group (Casino Hotel Group) died yesterday at Cochin. He was 86. A few hours later his wife Thankamma (80) also passed away. They had been married for 62 years.

I have known Dominic Joseph (Thommikunju) from my childhood. He belonged to the ancient and aristocratic Kuruvinakunnel family, near Palai, Kottayam District.

Thommikunju was a visionary. His mind wandered beyond the world of planting in which his family is prominent. He shifted to Cochin and started Casino Restaurant which was later converted into a beautiful four-star hotel. He took the famous Malabar Hotel (today’s Taj Malabar) on lease from the Cochin Port and ran it successfully for sometime till he decided to concentrate on Casino.

Under his stewardship and with the input by his brilliant sons, Casino (renamed CGH-Earth Group) grew into one of the finest hotel chains in India. I think they have about a dozen units now, in Kerala, Laksha Dweep, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Casino and Malabar Hotel were my favorite places at one time. I also recall staying at the Group’s Anjali Hotel, Kottayam for about a month in 1973 with my team to write the Market Report on automobile tires for Apollo Tyres when it was promoted by Mathew Marattukalam.

Thommikunju was the pioneer of hospitality and tourism industry in Kerala. He won several awards including Hall of Fame by Indian Association of Tour Operators.

What I remember most about the man is his humility, and that ever present smile which had sincerity written all over it. May the souls of Thommikunju and Thankamma rest in peace.


Also see:
Travel: Beaches off the beaten track

Monday, August 13, 2007

Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu

A number of people seem to be fascinated with traditional Kerala nalukettu houses. Nalukettu means a residence with one inner courtyard. Ettukettu would have two such courtyards, and ‘pathinarukettu’, four. I found all kinds of statements about these on the Internet. I am not commenting on them but feel that it may be worthwhile to record my personal knowledge of several such houses and how life was in them.

My mother’s house, Konduparambil, and my home, Thekkanattu Parayil, are both nalukettu. Five other Parayil heritage homes (100+ years) which I know well from childhood are ettukettu. All these buildings are east facing. In our ettukettu houses the smaller of the two quadrangles is located at about the centre of the building and the larger one in the north, near the kitchen.

The construction of Thekkanattu which is the smallest among the Parayil heritage mansions started in 1890. It blends the traditional architectural style and the concepts of the modern house designs that were to follow in 20c. Here also the nalukettu is located at the north end – the single-storied area in the photo below:

Photo: TP

Now, about the inside layout. There are two broad, well-ventilated verandas on the western and eastern sides of our nalukettu and two narrower ones connecting them. The eastern veranda which is near the kitchen is not used much by the family.

The western veranda gets good breeze that blows in from the lake 500 yards away, and, with wood ceiling and tile roofing, is always cool. That was the living area where the ladies and children spent most of their time. When we bought a TV set, it was kept in the nalukettu and not in the drawing room.

Interestingly, the men did not use this part of the building. Likewise, the women did not normally go to the southern portion of the house. That was the way it was till my generation.

Here are two photos of our nalukettu:

Interior corridors leading to the nalukettu
Photo: TP

The quadrangle
Photo: KO Isaac

Having a nalukettu in a new house is fine provided it is functional and blends with the ambiance. The Parayil mansion shown below, which was built in 1940s, has a comfortable and practical nalukettu

Ayanat Parayil (Middle)

A good example of adaptation of nalukettu in non-residential construction is the canteen at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, designed by Laurie Baker.


Also see:

Kerala architecture: More on nalukettu

Kerala Architecture: Exterior of a heritage home
Kerala Architecture: Prayer room of a heritage home

Kerala Architecture: Another Parayil heritage home

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Swan: A painting and a photograph

The painting

Hamsa Damayanthi

Raja Ravi Varma's famous depiction of the swan
delivering Nalan's message to Damayanthi.

The photograph

Swan with ducks in the background.
(C) KO Isaac.

Click on the images for enlarged view.

Also see:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bangalore memories

A June morning in 1951. I get down at Bangalore Cantonment Station after a rather tough overnight journey. There was no direct train from Cochin to the Garden City; I had to get down at Jalarpet in the middle of the night and change train.

It is cold. There is a slight drizzle as well. I engage a jutka (a horse-drawn carriage) and enjoy the ride to the semi-circular St. Joseph’s College Hostel on Lal Baugh Road. There I meet the Warden, Fr. Charles Andrade SJ (Charlie to his wards, I came to know later) and four wonderful years of my life begin.

Bangalore (the Cantonment area) was a sleepy little town those days. Pensioners’ Paradise. The transformation from the British background to Indian was on, but the pace was slow. (You can see some old photographs at The Bangalore that was, 60 years ago!) No high rise buildings, only houses with gardens, most of them single storied. Hardly any traffic, except for hoards of bicycles. Lovely trees and flowers. I used to enjoy the 1km walk from the hostel to the college.

I think St. Joseph’s was the only college in the world hemmed in by four schools – St. Joseph’s Indian High School in front, Sacred Heart’s (Good Sheppard) on the right, St. Joseph’s European School on the left and Bishop Cotton Girls School at the back.

Apart from the college and hostel, life was centered on the playing fields next to the hostel, South Parade (present MG Road) and Brigade Road. There were occasional trips to Majestic too for Hindi movies. South Parade had three theatres – Liberty, Globe and Plaza. There was BRV on Cubbon Road, and three on the Brigade Road-Residency Road junction – Opera on one side and Imperial and Rex on the other. We used to get 50% concession on tickets at Globe and Plaza by showing the college identity card!

The only restaurant we could go to in the evenings was the India Coffee House on South Parade. Then came Parade Café on St. Marks Road, and later, Koshy’s on Brigade Road.

All activities came to a stop by around 8 o’clock. Bangalore, the little town, used to go to sleep early those days.

(Note: It was ambitious to try and cram the memories of four years into 400 words. Perhaps I should come out with interesting details later.)


Also see:
Nostalgia: Bangalore again

Bangalore Memories: Cricket, hockey and the tragedy of Len Dial

Hockey days in Bangalore

Gunboat Jack, a Bangalore hero of the past

Bangalore: Of a club, a park and a Chief Secretary couple

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Kerala photos: Coconut palms

Images from Olavipe

Photo: TP

Photo: Karthiki
Photo: Karthiki

Photo: TP

Photo: Patrik

Photo: KO Isaac

Photo: Chackochan (TP)

Click on photos to enlarge.
All photos copyright.

Also see:

OLAVIPE: Gift of the waves to Kerala, God's Own Country.