Saturday, 19 December 2015

Anandayi

[Women as a person or social agency of power is invariably deified before she is valued and the methodology of her worship literally iconises her. This tale remarks on the domestic hierarchy and the control of female's life by the male. This story is collected from the former South Arcot district (which is now divided into Villupuram and Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu) The title of this story is Anandayi. Anandayi is a Goddess represented by a face made out of flour paste, on a coconut that is placed on a pot. She has no specific form or temple of her own. Offerings are made to her at midnight, following the worship of the family deity. Men do not worship Anandayi. Tales about Anandayi are often recounted in clusters.]

 A husband and wife lived in a place called Vadapaakam. One day, the husband who had gone out came back to eat his meal. His wife was then in the brinjal garden. She hurried in when her husband called her. Her sari got caught in a thorny plant. She tried to untangle it, it was not possible to do so in a hurry. 'Chee! Let go of my cloth,' she urged the plant. She spoke these words as she thought her husband would be waiting impatiently.

Her words fell into her husband's ears. He thought she was talking to a man and demanded suspiciously, 'Who was that?' 'No one,' she said. He did not believe her. He dragged her around and beat her. She was fatally hurt and died. From then on, for seven generations, no girl was born in that family. Everyone in that clan would gather year after year and fill seven winnowing fans with many things and make an offering. Girls were born to them only after that.

This tale is sourced from the anthology, "Hundred Tamil Folk and Tribal Tales" translated by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan published by Orient Blackswan. For more tales like these, you can buy a copy of the  book here:

book here

Sunday, 22 November 2015

In Memoriam: Guruvayur Kesavan


The temple town of Guruvayur in Thrissur district of Kerala is a storyteller’s delight. The town which is home to several popular legends smells of faith in every nook and corner and stands at an interesting crossroad where myths intersect with history. An integral part of temples in Kerala are its elephants. Elephants are loved, revered, groomed and accorded their importance in the colourful cultural life in Kerala, since most temples in the state rear their own elephants. Guruvayur has its own Aana Kottaram (an elephant palace) where 57 elephants are reared. Many of these elephants are often donated by devotees and the elephants are cared for by way of offerings received at the main Guruvayur temple.


The concrete statue of Kesavan standing tall
Among all the elephants in Kerala, the most popular is undoubtedly Guruvayur Kesavan. He is perhaps the most famous and celebrated elephants of Kerala. He was donated by the Valiya Raja of Nilambur when he was 10 in 1916 in fulfillment of a vow. At his age, he was not active as other elephants. After being fed rice balls and butter, the elephant started fasting on the auspicious day of Ekadashi. The head priest at the temple and the elephant’s mahout were surprised to notice this unusual practice. The Ekadashi in Guruvayur is celebrated with much fanfare with an elephant race. The winner of the elephant race would be honoured by carrying the idol of Lord Krishna on his back. It was during one such elephant race when Kesavan emerged as the winner. Kesavan won the elephant race for several years.

A noble and kind elephant, he was known for bending his front legs only before those who would carry the Lord’s idol, to enable them to climb on him, while the others who held the royal umbrellas etc. had to climb on his back from his hind legs. His sincerity and devotion surprised many and it was due to his unwavering devotion that he was rewarded with the epithet: ‘Gajarajan’ (The Elephant King), which was prefixed to his name by the temple authorities in 1973. As he began ageing, Kesavan was tied 32 km away from the temple town of Guruvayur, he still managed to break free from the shackles and ran towards the temple to carry the Lord. It was during this elephant race when Kesavan came second in the elephant race. To cheer him up, they made him join the race but the adamant Kesavan bent forward graciously and carried the idol on his back. The will of the Gods revealed that Kesavan was the most favourite elephant of Lord Guruvayurappan.

‘Gajendra Moksham’ is an episode in the eighth chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatham which is narrated by Suka to Yudhisthira’s grandson, Parikshith. It revolves around the struggle of Gajendra, the elephant who was battling against a crocodile at a lake at the foothills of Trikuta ranges. The crocodile tries to drag the elephant into deeper waters while Gajendra is playing in the shallow recesses of the river. The battle between the crocodile and the elephant is said to have lasted a thousand years, during which the crocodile gains the upper hand over the elephant. Gajendra, at the end of his wits and strength, turns to pray to the Lord. The prayer of Gajendra is often used to symbolise the supremacy of complete surrender (sharanagati). Kesavan can be called as the Gajendra of Kaliyuga since he was blessed to be the Lord’s favourite elephant.


December 2, 1976 marked the auspicious Guruvayur Ekadashi. Kesavan was fasting that day and when the idol of the Lord was placed on his back, he began shivering and wabbled while walking, causing the idol to be placed on another elephant. Kesavan did a pradakshina around the temple and was taken to the temple compound where he lay with his trunk stretched towards the Lord, before he collapsed to the ground, 54 years after serving the Lord faithfully. His tusks can still be seen adorning the entrance of the main temple enclosure in Guruvayur. The unique tale of Kesavan shows that even in death, he commanded the adulation of all those who surrounded him.
The tusks of Kesavan at the entrance of the Guruvayur Temple


It is often said that a human without bhakti is equal to dust and even bacteria with bhakti is equal to a Mahatma. In recognition of his service to the temple, the authorities commissioned a 12 feet concrete statue, which is located at the entrance of the Sreevalsom Guest House in the southern side of the temple. At 72, standing tall at 3.2 metres, Kesavan still continues to live in the hearts and memories of people who speak of him fondly. When devotees arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of his loyalty and devotion by way of his tusks which are placed at the entrance of the temple. Today being Guruvayur Ekadashi, I hope this post works as a fitting memorial to a unique devotee.

P.S.: The post has been written along with Shravanthi Premkumar

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book Review: Accelerating Out of the Great Recession


I must confess that dry economic topics make me switch off from a conversation. Yet, with China recently devaluing its economy, I inferred that this was the right time to read a book on economics. While the title ‘Accelerating Out of the Recession’ did not really catch my interest, it was the subtitle: ‘How to Win in a Slow Growth Economy’ which made a significant difference. Anchored firmly with exceptional research and outstanding advice, this book explains the magnitude and enduring nature of changes which have taken place in the global economy.

In a tone that provides both education and entertainment, the book is enhanced with engaging examples which are narrated in an appealing manner. Their research packages business and historical lessons from The Great Depression and how to apply them during the current Recession. It shows executives how to learn from the decisive actions taken by companies such as General Electric, IBM, P&G in order to accelerate out of past downturns. It also urges leaders to take the fight directly to their competitors by diversifying and expanding at a time when the markets are significantly affected by the economic turbulence. The book also spells out a vision which can help in shaking off conventional wisdom in order to protect and grow a company’s market share by developing a new managerial mindset for tough times.

In a concise manner, it is indeed commendable that the tone of the book is not dry. With occasional redundant examples, the writers seem to express their support for conservative fiscal politics. The writers highlight the shortfalls and downsides of administrative interventions championed by the Democrats in the United States and offer minimal criticism of deregulatory policies pursued by the Republicans. Despite trying to sound politically neutral, it is easy to infer that the political shades are present in undertones given that there is not much written about the role of Republicans in the securities crises, multi-level ponzi schemes and the mortgage market meltdown, three reasons which led to the economic meltdown in 2008.

This book, despite being placed in the economics section under the larger umbrella of non-fiction, is an enriching read. The authors diagnose economic problems by providing firm evidence based solutions for executives who are trying to generate profits in a rigorous fiscal environment. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in economics. Corporate leaders, strategists and managers who wish to provide an impetus to their sales and generate a wave of excitement in a period of slow business growth will also benefit from reading this book.