Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ashtalakshmi Temple, Chennai

Goddess Mahalakshmi
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons.

Recently I went to lunch at a flat on Elliot’s Beach, Besant Nagar, Chennai. A soothing sea breeze was blowing in from the Bay of Bengal. I walked up to the balcony and looked out, and saw a stunning temple right on the beach.

The Ashtalakshmi Temple, I was told.

I was fascinated by the structure which highlighted several features of the Dravidian temple architecture. It is a comparatively new temple, built in 1976. Within the short span of three decades this shrine has become a tourist attraction in Chennai.

At that time, the Ashtalakshmi Temple was the only one to house Goddess Mahalakshmi’s eight manifestations – Adilakshmi (The First manifestation of Lakshmi), Dhanyalakshmi (Granary wealth), Dhairyalakshmi (Wealth of courage), Gajalakshmi (Elephants, symbols of wealth), Santanalakshmi (Wealth of continuity, progeny), Vijayalakshmi (Wealth of victory), Vidyalakshmi (Wealth of knowledge and education), and Dhanalakshmi (Monetary wealth). [Source: Wikipedia.]

Also worshipped here are Sri Hanuman, Sri Guruvayoorappan and Sri Ganesha. The Deepavali, Navaratri and Pongal festivals are celebrated with fervor

The Ashtalakshmi Temple has four levels on which the deities are installed. This is something rare.

Chennai Ashtalakshmi Temple’s claim to uniqueness as the lone location where all the eight forms of Goddess Mahalakshmi are displayed was lost in 1996. That year an Ashtalakshmi Temple was built in Hyderabad.

I was about to take some photos of the Ashtalakshmi Temple from the balcony when KO Isaac, President of the Madras Photographic Society, who was there with me offered to do that. Some of the pictures he captured on his camera are given below:

Click on photos to enlarge. Copyright Reserved.

Related post:

A Queen Visits Her Lord.

Also see about Star of Lakshmi at:


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wildlife photos

Photos by KO Isaac.
Location: Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Copyright Reserved. Click on photos to enlarge.

Related posts:

Photography: The Photographic Society of Madras, capturing images for 150 years

Big game hunting: A tiger shoot

Photos: Elephants and deers

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kerala Architecture: A heritage home undergoes repairs

Before concrete structures came into vogue, the roofs of Kerala houses were made with wood. In Malayalam it is known as melkoora or melkoodu. The amount of calculations that go into making a melkoodu is amazing. And each wooden piece that forms a part of it has to be precisely made.

Assembling – that is exactly what it is – all the beams and crossbeams and rafters and support items is a critical phase in the construction of a house. If there is even a minor mistake in the calculations or the dimensions of the made parts, the assembling would fail.

The wood that is normally used is old anjili (jungle jack tree). It is a hardy wood capable of withstanding the vicissitudes of time and weather. (A clarification seems necessary here. Anjili, though belonging to the same family, is different from jack fruit tree.) Nevertheless, it is safer to check the structure for possible damages. The common problem is rain water seeping in through the tiles on to the wood pieces that support them.

Currently we are undertaking repairs to the top roof of our ancestral house, Thekkanattu Parayil at Olavipe, Kerala, India. This is the second such venture in my memory.

In large houses, such repairs are done in parts: one area is finished and then the work moves to the next area. There is always an urgency to ensure that the job is completed before the southwest monsoon arrives in June.

My bother Jacob has pointed out an interesting aspect of this round of repairs to the house. The wood used is from an anjili which is estimated to be 120 years old. This means that when the house construction started in 1890, the tree would have been a tiny sapling!

Trees are vital and it is sad to cut them down. But it is also important to maintain homes, heritage or otherwise. Thachusastram (the Kerala science relating to construction) permits felling of old trees for meaningful purposes. Anyway, we have dozens of anjilis at various stages of growth on our lands and we take good care of them.

I am reproducing below some photos of the house. The last one offers a sight that is rare because very few houses with wood melkoodu are built these days.

South portion of the house. It is the top roof here that is undergoing repairs.
Photo: JJ Tharakan.

The specific part of the roof where the tiles have been removed for repairs.
Photo: JJ Tharakan.

Same portion at night.
This beautiful photo is by Dr. Sanjay Parva.

The roof as it looks without tiles, exposing the
wooden superstructure. Photo: TP.

All photos: Copyright Reserved. Click to enlarge.

Related posts:

Kerala Architecture - Olavipe Heritage Home

Kerala Architecture: Nalukettu, ettukettu, pathinarukettu

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Photos: Flora along Chennai streets

Chenbakom against the backdrop of a coconut palm.

Pala flower

(Ezhilam Pala (Alstonia scholaris) ?

African tulip


Tender leaves on a mango tree before it flowers.

Related post:

Gulmohar: A beauty from Chennai

Friday, April 17, 2009

An elephant swims to Crow Island

History was made in Kakka Thuruth (literal translation: ‘Crow Island’) last week, in an unusual manner.

Now, Kakka Thuruth is a beautiful peanut-shaped island just north-west of Olavipe. It is about 16km south of Cochin as the crow flies. Almost all along the coastline of the isle are rice fields which are mostly used for shrimp filtering these days. The central portion consists of coconut groves.

The photo below by Karthiki, taken from the Olavipe ferry, shows Kakka Thuruth on the left:

At about 6.30 in the morning on April 9, the shrimp workers saw a strange movement in the lake on the western side of the island. As the bewildered people watched, a tusker emerged from the water and majestically climbed on to the outer bund.

That was Neelakandan, the first elephant to set foot on Kakka Thuruth.

He had been tied for the night in a plot near National Highway 47. Early morning, Neelakandan broke the shackle, ran south along the highway for a short distance, turned left to a by-road and reached the land’s end at Kakka Thuruth Ferry.

The water mass did not stop the elephant. He just got into the lake and swam across. Well, elephants (a full-grown bull weighs around 5 tons) are good swimmers.

There was a bit of panic in Kakka Thuruth initially because the mammoth creature had arrived without escort. But the distressed mahout and his assistant followed in a short while.

More drama was on. Police personnel from two stations rushed to the spot. On their heels came the Fire Force, and the Elephant Squad of the Veterinary Department.

Neelakandan suddenly decided to traverse the rice field and reach the coconut groves inland. He probably did not know that the water-locked area had a thick clay bed. And he got stuck in the mud.

The police, firemen and the local people tied ropes to the elephant and after a prolonged struggle managed to bring him on to solid ground again. Then water was pumped on to the animal for a while to wash away the slime coating he had acquired.

Attempts to make Neelakandan swim back to the mainland failed. Perhaps he was under trauma caused by the clay trap in the paddy field. And he stayed on, as an honoured guest of the people of Kakka Thuruth, who fed him and looked after him well.

Many persons from surrounding areas and tourists from Cochin, including foreigners, came to visit the hero of the story on the island in the sun.

It is said that the owner of Neelakandan delayed arranging a raft or barge hoping that he could save quite a bit of money if his elephant swam back. Finally, a barge was brought from Cochin on Monday the 13th to transport the jumbo across the waters.

But the drama did not end even with that.

Neelakandan refused to climb the steep ramp to the vessel. He would take a few steps up the incline and then reverse himself to land. After failed attempts, the mahout had a bright idea. He made the elephant turn right about and negotiate the ramp with his back to the barge. On reaching mainland also the same procedure was followed.

Perhaps Neelakandan did not wish to turn his back on the idyllic Kakka Thuruth and the people there.


(Based on newspaper reports and eyewitness account over telephone.)

Click on photo to enlarge. Copyright reserved.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Short Fiction: A Vodka Story

The policeman escorting me stopped at the door of the Magistrate’s chamber and talked to a turbaned peon in hushed tones. He had promised to save me the ignominy of standing in queue along with the accused in petty cases for the afternoon session of the Court. The shopping bag containing the booty recovered from my car was in his hands.

It had been a pleasant drive from Bangalore that morning. Instead of the direct route to my destination, Calicut via Sultan’s Battery, I happened to pick up a hitchhiker and took the road through Bandipur – Madumalai Wild Life Sanctuary. A part of it was in Tamil Nadu State, which I could have bypassed. But the drive along the route was exhilarating.

We stopped at the check post on the Tamil Nadu side of the border. A squat Head Constable accompanied by his assistant and a politician-looking young man took their time coming to the car.

After checking my driving license and the registration papers of the car, the Head Constable asked, “Are you carrying any alcohol?”

I suddenly remembered that Tamil Nadu State had prohibition those days and thanked my stars for not buying liquor at Bangalore where it was cheaper, to carry home.

“No,” I answered.

“What’s in that?” he questioned, pointing to the small bag kept on the back seat.

“I don’t know. It is a present. Haven’t opened it yet.” When I was leaving Bangalore, the friend with whom I was staying had placed it there saying, ‘Here’s something for you’.

The constable opened the bag and triumphantly took out a bottle and examined it carefully. “Vodka,” he said loudly. “There’s one more.”

The Head Constable nodded. “Do you have,” he asked, “a permit to carry liquor in Tamil Nadu?”

”No,” I said. “Look here, I was on my way to Calicut.”

“Should have been on that road, not on this.”

“But I was stopped and told that there’s rouge elephant blocking that road.”

The policeman laughed. “Not a dinosaur?” he asked sarcastically. “Who told you this fib?”

“The man,” I replied, “to whom I gave a lift.” I looked around for him but the fellow had vanished.

“Did he stop you at the turning to Calicut?”


The Head Constable gave me an amused look. He got into the car and sat next to me. “Drive,” he ordered.

“Where to?”

“The Court,” he replied. “I’ll tell you the way.”

I thought of protesting, but kept quiet. I was thinking of a way to get out of the mess.

There was a big crowd just off the road half a mile from the check post. “What’s happening?” I asked.

“Cinema shooting. Some of the top stars are there. Your travel companion must be in the crowd”

Bastard, I said under my breath.

“Would you like me to pick him up?” the policeman asked. “Of course it won’t help you. He would deny everything. But I can shake him up pretty bad.”

“No point.”

“Actually,” the cop said after a while, “I would have let you go. After all you’re not a smuggler. But that local politician was there.”

“My bad luck,” I said. “How long will the court procedure take?”

“Depends on the number of cases ahead of yours. May be you’ll have to spend a night in the lockup.”

“I want a lawyer.”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll get you the best as soon as we reach the court. But there’s another way.”


“I’ll arrange for the Magistrate to see you in his chambers as soon as the Court adjourns for lunch. He’s fed up of these silly cases. You admit the offense and there’ll be a fine. It’ll be over in less than fifteen minutes.”

That seemed to be the best option under the circumstance.

When we passed a tea stall by the roadside the Head Constable asked me to stop.

“The bottles,” he said, “will be confiscated. Why waste good vodka. Can I have it? A return favour.”

I was silent, thinking.

“If not me,” the policeman continued, “the court peon who seals the bottle will take it. Or someone else. What difference does it make to you?”

“What do you plan to do?”

“Do you have any water bottles in the car?”

“There’s one under the seat.”

“That won’t do. You go to the teashop and get two bottles of water. Tell them that the engine seems to be heating up and you need to carry water.”

I did as I was told.

I was asked to stop again after a few minutes. Using the third bottle which was in the car, the policeman executed a transfer trick. When he finished, we had two water bottles filled with vodka, two vodka containers with water, and an empty bottle!

“Clever,” I said. The cop smiled.

The Magistrate was a chubby man. He looked bored. After studying me he announced, “This may appear rather informal, but the Court is now in session.” Then turning to me he asked, “Do you require a lawyer?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“Good. They talk too much and waste the Court’s time.”

The policeman briefly explained the case including my claim that I landed up in Tamil Nadu inadvertently. He took out the bottles and placed them on the Magistrate’s table. After scrutinizing them the Magistrate said, “We haven’t seen this brand here. Must be expensive. Made in Sweden.”

“Only the container, Your Honour,” I said.

The judge gave me a hard look. “And the contents?”

“Water, Your Honour,” I replied without looking at the policeman.

The Magistrate leaned back on his chair and asked me sternly, “Do you know the punishment for perjury?”

“No, Your Honour, but what I stated is the absolute truth.”

“But,” the judge rejoined, “it is written Absolut Vodka on the labels.”

“True, Your Honour,” I said. “But the bottles are filled with water. Your Honour can see that the caps are not sealed.”

The judge examined the bottle caps and frowned. He turned to the policeman and asked, “What do you have to say?”

“Your Honour, I’m sure that what I confiscated was vodka.”

The judge thought for a moment and pronounced, “Since there is dispute about the contents of the bottles, we shall send them for lab test.”

“But Your Honour,” I protested, “the verdict will have to wait till the results come.”

The judge looked at me sympathetically and nodded.

“Please, Your Honour,” I pleaded, “the test can be done right here. Vodka will burn. Water will not.”

The judge turned to the policeman and asked, “What do you have to say?”

The Head Constable looked pale. “I apologise to the Honourable Court,” he said. “I didn’t think of that test.”

When we started back the cop went into peals of laughter. “You’re a smart one,” he said. “Escaped the fine.”

I nodded and drove in silence. When we reached the halfway point between the court and the check post I stopped the car, told the cop that the rear tyre appeared to be flat and requested him to check. When he was out of the car I banged the door shut and drove away.


Cross posted from:

Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Vishu Greetings

Happy Vishu

Click to enlarge.
Kani konna
(Golden Shower or cassia fistula) is a symbol of Vishu.
This beautiful photo by
Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin, Chalakudy, India, (from Wikimedia Commons) is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

For more on Vishu, see:

Vishu: Did God Create Earth on This Day?

Saturday, April 11, 2009


(Public domain photos of Easter candles from Wikimedia Commons.

Top:WaxArtStudio. Bottom: Immanuel Giel.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mallu medley

Looking charges

A soldier wanted to build a house. That’s fine. Everyone wants to own a home. This jawan started construction in his home district of Alleppey one and a half years back. He would not have anticipated any problem.

Trouble started when he and his brother unloaded some building materials that had been brought to the site.

Enter members of the Marxist-led workers union. They had no objection to the brothers handling the unloading. They only wanted to be paid for the job which they did not do. It is known as ‘nokkukooli’, which means looking charges.

Eighteen months passed and more construction material arrived. Again, the brothers and their men did the unloading. The Comrades were back, demanding Rs.4000/- as ‘nokkukooli’ including their unmet demand on the earlier occasion.

The soldier refused to pay. The union men beat up the brothers and their men, and threatened the womenfolk.

This is not an isolated incident. ‘Nokkukooli” is quite prevalent in Kerala, particularly in Alleppey district. The Marxists leaders preach against the practice, but turn a Nelson’s eye when such instances happen.

There used to be a law that permitted citizens to unload domestic items and construction materials for their own use, either themselves or with their employees. The police could interfere if there was any obstruction by outsiders. Likewise, a farmer could handle his produce himself or with his men.

The present Communist-led government changed the law. Now the police cannot interfere. They can watch if they want, but won’t charge anything for that.

Rupees 4,617.5 crore (46,175 million)

Five Year Plan expenditure? A major industrial venture? Some scheme to help the poor? Money set apart for a worthwhile project?


It is the sales turnover for liquor by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation for the year ended March 31, 2009. It shows an increase of Rs.948 crores over the previous year. The figure does not, I believe, include toddy, illegally sold spirits, and liquor directly imported by luxury hotels.

Not a bad performance for a small state!

Related post:

Merry Mallus and mosquitoes

Monday, April 6, 2009

Remembering Appan

What is the importance of March 28, 1959?

According to history books, China dissolved the Tibetan Government on that day and installed Panchen Lama.

That was the end of an era and the beginning of another.

And so it was it for my family, for a different reason. Appan. (father) died of a heart attack on the evening of March 28, 1959. It was Holy Saturday that year. He was just 56. The local doctor, who was a family friend as well, was there, but he could do nothing to stop the inevitable.

Appan was buried the next day in the family crypt at St. Antony's Church, Thycattussarry . Since it was Easter Sunday, the priests wore white vestments instead of the traditional black for funerals.

We – his descendants, relatives and friends, and the local people - gathered this March 28 to commemorate Appan.’s 50th death anniversary.Not many who were present for the function that day knew Appan personally. But they had heard of him, of his contributions to the family, the society and the people of that area.

It was a simple event – Holy Mass at the St. Antony’s Church, Thycattussarry and prayers at the crypt led by His Eminence Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church. After that there was a vegetarian lunch at home followed by reminiscences of Appan by some of the people who knew him.

As a speaker pointed out, Appan’s short lifespan covered a unique period in history. He was born on March 23, 1903, the date on which the Wright Brothers obtained patent for their flying machine.

Appan saw the two World Wars, the Great Depression, Indian Independence, the switch over from feudalism to democracy, and the first Communist Government in Kerala. He was able to adjust to the great changes during his time extremely well and remained a respected leader of the Parayil Family and the people of our area.

Appan once told me that progress is a series of changes and adjustments. His life proved that to be true. I was 25 when Appan died. My elder sister was 27, and the youngest amongst us siblings, a sister, was just 6 years old. By God’s Grace and the value system Appan and Ammachi (Oru Desathinte Amma.) instilled in us, all of us did well in life.

Half a century is a long time in a person’s life. Memories become blurred, details forgotten, and pictures faded. Years ago, I described Appan’s death in a Short Story: A Bend in the Lake. I am reproducing the relevant portion here:

‘Some of the details were clear in my mind. Mother lying on a cot and crying silently. The crowd. Priests chanting prayers. The muted band playing as the raft carrying my father’s coffin moved away into the sunset for the cemetery across the lake.

“That morning,” the Captain was saying, “I saw the crowd. The servants and the tenants were beating their chests and weeping. Your father was a much respected man.”’

That raft, along with Appan’s coffin, carried away an era.

His Eminence, Cardinal Vithayathil leading prayers at
Appan's crypt on March 28, 2009.

Appan's crypt. The stripes are made with white and brown rice. All other
decorations are also done with produces of the land.

Photos: TP, JJT. Copyright reserved.
Click to enlarge.

Also see: Remembering grandfather