Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sabarimalai Ayyappan: The Magnetic Golden God of the Hills …

Sabarimalai Ayyappan:  The Magnetic Golden God of the Hills …

All Photos at the bottom of this post...

We, a group of 22 colleagues and their sons started our trip with irumudi, the holy package which alone permits one to climb the 18 steps to the abode at Mahalingapuram Ayyappan temple here on Friday Oct 16th afternoon.
We had sumptuous supper of Pooris, sabji and Upma and left for Central station where we caught the Trivandrum mail to Kottayam at 7.45 pm. After a long 13 hour haul we reached Kottayam station at 8.30 am and made for our temporary accommodation at Brahmana samooham madom nearby. We had our bath and changed, savoured a delicious veg meals provided at the venue and left for Sabarimala by 2 vans at 11.15 am. Just before that , some of us managed to find time to visit Thirunakkara Sivan temple nearby ,as well. It is a very nice abode too.
On the green hilly route to the sabarimalai in Pattanamthitta dist., we had a pit-stop of sorts and ate some freshly cut juicy pineapples.
We reached Pampa river shores at 2.30 pm or so. We could see a heavy rush of devotees forming at the bathing Ghats like a precursor of things to come.
In the welcome clean and chilly waters of pampa we bathed and changed into fresh clothes, took our Irumudi package on the head and backpack of our luggage and started uphill climb barefoot , first stop at Ganapathi temple, where we broke a coconut with a prayer for a successful trip .
We chose the newly concreted subramanya path road which is a sloping without steps. The other alternative is the older traditional path consisting of steps.  Both the paths are equally crowded now with devotees. The gentle slopes in the beginning are deceptive as the climb becomes tougher and arduous and the slopes become steeper as we progress
 This time we could see many children along with their fathers enthusiastically climbing ahead.  How wonderful it is to be so young and spirited! …In contrast the older senior citizens too, make slow and steady progress while we middle aged urbanites gasp and struggle and sweat gallons during the climb …The devotees all wear black, blue and orange Dhothis and consist of all religions and castes and age groups. Ayyappan temple is verily the melting pot of secularism and pure devotion.
During the arduous climb of 6 km distance and lasting 2 to 3 hrs, we have to give up our body conscious ness and continuously chant swami ayyappan’s name as “swamiye, bhagavane, devane “and asking him to give us” deha balam”( strong body) and padha balam( strong legs) to carry us himself to the hill top. This alone will help us during the long haul up.
On the road at several spots, makeshift shops sell coffee, tea, fruits, biscuits and even bajjis and bondas…We had some of it and liberal doses of glucose my colleagues provided…
 We reached the top at 6 pm and saw some huge crowds waiting in long serpentine lines for darshan.
Due to the Dasara holidays and newly inaugurated 18 panchaloha steps, there is a massive crowd of nearly one lakh assembled there and more devotees are pouring in till late in the night too..
Many devotees unfortunately chose to break queues at the entrance to the Lines, push and pull others, creating a stampede like situation, all for nothing.
This is an old woe of this country and we can see it among public everywhere else too.. This lack of self-discipline and unruly crowding creates so much trouble and panic to small children and senior citizens who are among them... Actually the temple is open till 11 pm and there is no such tearing hurry, but when will we learn? The other pathetic sight is devotees throwing used water bottles, packets all along the darshan lines…Who will clear them and when, we never stop to think!.. Some wild pigs roam there for such garbage. This despite the fact that there are several boards declaring the sannidhanam as “plastic free zone”, in at least 5 different languages!... Obviously “Swacch Bharat” concept needs to gain more popularity and acceptance with us…
The newly laid 18 glittering steps donated by a Bangalorean donor shri Ashok Kumar is simply lovely.
 It takes another 45 minutes to have darshan as we go up one more long passage and climb down to garbhagudi.
 We have few seconds of enchanting darshan of the Golden idol of Ayyappan who commands and attracts lakhs to take up such a tough trip every year, and then we are pushed ahead by surging crowds from behind. There is undoubtedly a magnetic attraction and it is mesmerizing to have Ayyappan’s darshan as I felt.
 Then we go to the Nambiar guest house near the temple where we have arranged to stay overnight. We have delicious snacks of pooris and dosas and sleep in the hall on the floor using cane mats. Some apply Pain killer spray, ointments and take some tablets to overcome the pain and fatigue of the long evening we have endured.
 I slept at 10.30 pm and woke up at 4.30 am next day. Unused to cold water baths in chilly mornings, I manage the same somehow!...With a fresh set of dhotis and shawl, we come out  see a huge rush in the early mornings too to witness ghee abhishekam to the Lord.
We manage have fleeting nearby darshan from the first gate with difficulty. In the morning, the Ayyappan seems to glow with grace and beauty even more and all of us feel it is worth the effort!..For devotees, this is all what makes it worthwhile; the tough vrathm at home and physically draining hill climb and the rush at the temple.

 The descend started soon after we collect aravana payasam prasadam and irumudi coconut and ghee …I start my descent at 6.45 am and it is even tougher to go down the hill than climb it. We have to be very careful and go slow or we may injure our kneecaps as the slope is sharp. I slowly descend the hill in 2.15 hours, again taking some break for refreshments on the way.
I sit down back at Ganapthi temple where we started and relax to get my breath back and then buy more prasadam- Modak from a counter  and go down to our river bank where we had agreed to meet.
We had breakfast of Dosas and poori-sabji in the lone restaurant there and weave our way back among the milling crowds staring their trek up. There is obviously a big traffic jam and we struggle to find our vans for 30 mins as vehicles are parked up to 5 kms from along the road.
 The return journey takes the same duration and we returned to Kottayam Brahmana samooham madom. We had lunch there, rested, bought some banana chips etc. and left by return Mail to Chennai starting at 6 pm. We reached Chennai the next morning, Oct 18th at 7.30 am.
We had had a marvelous holy weekend to cherish for a long time!

All photos taken on my Mobile camera

 During the climb up...

Finally the temple steps to the abode

   The above pics on the second day early morning darshan...

The above pics on the Pampa river back from the Hills ^

The following pics at Thirunakkara Sivan temple, Kottayam:-

Sunday, July 26, 2015


This much-anticipated remake of the popular Malayalam hit Drishyam, in Tamil does not disappoint.

There are many plusses and minuses from the original that starred the stoic Mohan Lal with his unwavering eyes and beautiful underplay.

Kamal Hasan gives it his twist, his flavour...he knows how to emote and he does it …and how!

Papanasam poster.jpg
The edge of the seat suspense story about the murder,  the flow and treatment remains almost the same and here the star cast does a fair job too.

Amongst the performers, besides Kamal , it is left to Gauthami as his wife who, unfortunately with her washed out looks and sporting panic-struck expression most times, is a not patch on Meena who played the same in Malayalam version. The main antihero protagonist played by Asha sarath does exactly the same as in the original and it’s a commendable watch to see her myriad expressions of a woman, torn between mother’s love and Police ethics. The aggrieved daughter played by Nivedha Thomas is excellent in emoting and so is Kalabhavan Mani as a rogue cop with a prejudice, out for Kamal’s blood.

The BGM and songs are fine too and so is the green, hilly environs of Tirunelveli Distt where it is shot.

The characters obviously speak with Nellai dialect Tamil, which was difficult to understand, but maybe it’s only me.

The over-violent scenes of police torture are glaring and too graphic and could have been toned down as in the Malayalam version.

 Ultimately it is left to Kamal Hasan, aided by a super-taut story line to carry the film on his able shoulders and his performance could be one of his best in his illustrious career.

Of course, on the flip side he looks older for a man having such a young family. Well he is 60 and it shows. But that’s only nitpicking!

I saw the Kannada version Drishya too stg Ravichandran, but sorry it did not stay in my mind for long.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Movie review : pk, a ‘Remote’ visitor in search of Hope

ALERT: A few Spoliers!*

Rating 3.5/5 (Good but not exceptional)

Is this a bird? Is this a plane?

No, he is as human as we are but drops out of the sky from a snazzy looking Flying spaceship. …Bare naked on our Mother earth with just a twinkling pendant on his neck.

But why did he come here?…‘God’ knows..!

‘That’ (GOD) exactly seems to be the premise of this comedy caper which is packaged in a science fiction format where the latter is unfortunately given the go-by and we are just left with a human looking alien who is bewildered, shocked and aghast in our' Godly' world, as he slowly learns and unlearns things in his meandering journey from Rajasthan to Delhi.

Director Hirani believes that the diversity of our faiths, religious practices, traditions and language must seem shockingly different to an alien visitor and these contradictions are given a comic satirical treatment into some light hearted fun. There are many such ‘ha-ha’ moments with the goggle eyed flappy eared Aamir as ‘pk’, in various costumes who charms you and entertains you…Some very ‘spot-on, ‘some equally frivolous…

That’s the first half, so I thought the story will mature with time…

But unfortunately the second half seems more muddled with the alien man turning into a kind of social crusader who wants to unmask a Hindu Godman just to get his ‘remote’ back… This Godmen theme is neither a new territory nor a solid one and besides, the premise of this Godman to build a temple for the 'Shivjis pendant' is unbelievably shallow.

Yet , all that is fine, Mr Director Hirani..

All the idiosyncrasies of this religious world may seem funny and strange to an alien, but not necessarily to Indian audience!! Did you forget us?. .Heck, we are born and living here…Many of us have thought of Aamir’s own queries in different ways and even found our own ‘answers’…

But unfortunately for pk and us, he never meets anyone with his half his intelligence. Mostly they are dumb bigots who ridicule him and chase him down the alleys violently.
That’s not on, as far as I am concerned.

Satire on the present is OK, but where are the answers?... Did this humanoid not pick up any good stuff, meaningful principles at all from us poor earthlings then?  Well, for that matter, nor did we learn anything useful from this specimen of scientifically advanced humanoid come from light years away …What a waste of opportunity!...

 And then there was no need to be so self-deprecatory in the end, summing up our various deficiencies in monologue speech in pucca Bhojpuri..Did he not say in the beginning, they never speak on his planet?...Oh well…

Every lacuna and loophole in the script seems to be washed away in the ‘LOL’ moments and in the few ‘lump in the throat’ scenes. Anushka is alright but her interrupted –and- resumed love story just left me cold, being not fleshed out sensibly.

The director has not taken this theme seriously, so why should we? But then it was one…That’s where the film left me semi satisfied.

See it for Aamir’s charming performance, although towards the end even that seemed tedious.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RAPE: The Shame and the Shameless

Like everyone else these days, I dread to read this news of horror in the mornings. 
I wish it would fade away..Oh, it does but not forever. There is a deceitful lull and sure enough there is a spurt..And the commotion and the usual indignant voices...

 While the no of incidences of rape and violence against hapless women and even more shockingly against girl-child continues to make unpalatable news , one is now forced to think of the cause and effect phenomenon.

This particular crime of shaming the woman's dignity and vilifying her character is not new..It was glamorized from the days of 70s Hindi Cinema and certain villains were even believed to be veterans at it..( For eg, Ranjit, Madanpuri, Prem Chopra etc)
We say that it is this day and age which has caused a quantum leap in crime against women.But It has nothing to do with less reportage then or more publicity now as claimed hollowly by some.

 It is becoming a crime of epidemic proportions, monstrous in its unsparing nature.

What I say next may not find many takers, and certainly it’s not a modern, popular opinion. I may sound orthodox or too old fashioned by nature and may even sound moralistic or preachy, but a little moral never hurt anyone. Especially in such immoral times.

There is a lot of undesirable 'connections' and 'mingling' taking place in social circuits of the Party/ Pubbing culture and flaunted as modern and civilized urban living, ostensibly called "COOL and Happening" euphemistically. Oh, there is lot of truth in it, I am afraid and.... in the widely prevalent dating culture of youth which they have adopted in most urban centres. 

Both such 'aping west' phenomenon and 'selling of Romance the Valentine's day's way' , using widespread social media has largely contributed to never before heard spurt in courtship and breakups and innumerable social and criminal fall-outs because of the same.

The irresponsible behaviour of the "haves" in flaunting their wild and irresponsible nocturnal habits would certainly have caused "have-nots” and fringe criminal elements in society into thinking "if it suits them, it is OK for us as well!"
 Strange logic? Criminal minds ?Yes..... but there are opportunities aplenty when you count the cases of courting couples attacked in lonely spots in and around the cities, esp in the wee hours of the day.

 There is no denial that today's society has lost a lot of moral nerve and ethical values.
All the conventional and safe practices of the past generation, which included separation of boys from girls till marriage to some extent are dubbed ‘silly’ and dismissed and even ridiculed as 'UNCOOL' and ‘Stupid’.

The situation has come to such a pass that even schools have turned into horror homes and teachers as depraved monsters. And then there is the widespread and uncontrolled use of Internet porn too, which has been made easily accessible to everyone on their mobile phones , which almost everyone seems to possess.
Always misuse outscores the right use and negative results outrun the positives...
Unfortunate but true.

The very people who rush to streets protesting RAPE  in bold banners today, what fundamental change in their lifestyle are they prepared to adopt to remain safe?
..Are they even coming half way to meet the authorities?

When cops are near the couples on beaches or parks and keep tabs on them with CCTV and all, we protest this as "Moral police"; and when they are not around and goons take over and attack us, we blame it as lack of security…
What are the authorities to do, then?..Aren't we putting them on the horns of an unenviable dilemma?

We talk of ‘deterrent’ punishment and some even emotionally suggest castration, but such cruel punishments will never find the nod of law in our democratic setup. There will be an immediate stay order in some court, even if a  Govt finds courage to pass such a law. They will first complain of misuse of law.

To add credence to the 'misuse' theory, already many false cases have been foisted on men by jilted women after years of co-habitation too!

Generally, this country lags far far behind in Policing and public security; besides sensitivity of the police officers in handling such cases is as good as nonexistent. They are but mere puppets in the hands of powerful politicians who always have the last word as to who should be arrested and who should be let loose. Why, some accused have even hailed from their families. So what can be expected from such immoral rulers as anything but fence eating the crop itself?

'Responsible living', 'disciplined life-style' and add a bit of grand-ma wisdom of 'come home early before sunset, do not be too friendly with all men' etc , might even just work for many urban young ladies...

 Thrills may have their place for the young ladies but then so does lurking Danger in the midnights when you wobble around drunkenly or drugged to the nostrils and found in the company of other men in questionable circumstances!
 Crime is just waiting to happen!

"Behave", our elders used to say, "do not take Risks", they preached. "Have some shame!" they shrilled....they advised "and lead simple, morally correct life devoid of liquor and drugs and live happily longer..
What’s so wrong with it, I can't, for the world of me understand. May be I am not a PARTY ANIMAL...Never thought the word ANIMAL suited me anyway!.
Is adopting a "safe, responsible living" devoid of "intoxicated 'happy hours' ", asking too much?..If it is, well then it’s too bad, but that's the way it is.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Up Above The Hills ..So High!

We had been planning a good family trip from a long time since Chinmay went away to Bangalore and I had been out of the country for nearly 5 months and just came back two weeks ago.

As such I was on leave and planned a visit to Madurai- Kodaikanal and Palani and back to Chennai via Madurai.

As per plans and bookings done , we left on the evening of 31st May by flight( Jet Konnect) from Chennai to Madurai.
It is a small craft and a 75 mins flight. This was Shyamala and Sanmathi's first flight experience and they were really thrilled and enjoyed the novelty.

 We reached Madurai and a Tavera vehicle which stayed with us throughout the next 3 days picked us up at the airport and escorted to Hotel Saratha Rajans (www.hotelsaratharajans.com.com/)

 This is an OK-type Hotel, a bit far from the temple, moderate facility but a little over priced. We rested overnight in two AC double rooms and were ready by 8 am next day for Meenakshi amman darshan.

After the usual bustle that accompanies even a 100 rupee special ticket and temple's hot interiors ( why no blowers even, let alone AC?),we still had very good darshan of Devi and swami and left for Kodaikanal in Tavera by 10 am. 

We had some pit stops and 'pic'-stops enroute the lovely uphill ride as weather cooled down considerably and were able to roll down the windows and enjoy the cool breeze waft around us.It made such a difference after the 'HOT' Madurai. We visited the famous waterfalls on the way ( Liril?) twice, once each way.

We reached Kodaikanal by 2 pm and checked into a small pretty hotel on the Main road called Apple Valley, which the owner proudly calls it as a Resort..That is 'resorting' to over-ambitiousness!!...(http://applevalley.in/)
Went to near by Hotel Astoria which is  a pretty good veg south Indian restaurant for snacks and lunch. .

Then ...We had a pleasant boat ride on the Lake in the falling evening light, after a 30-min wait and we could see the rush had diminished on this last Sunday before the schools start (for others...My daughter's school starts next week!). 
There is a small lovely veggie restaurant called "Rasoi" next to Hotel Astoria 
This 2 women + 1 man  eatery is run by a Gujju madam and we were treated to some hot aloo parathas and very tasty veggie dishes...
Check it out next time > Rasoi !

It was very misty and chilly in the evening and then went back and  rested our tired travel-jaded bodies..zzzzzzz!

Next day morning started at 8.15 am and we went in our 4x4 van to see Pine forest, Pillar rocks, Bryant park, Coakers walk and such beautiful visiting spots , normal on the tourist route.

We had lunch at the newly found Rasoi, and had Gujarati and Punjabi thali. Quality is again good but more quantity means more price!

Weather was pleasant but somehow the afternoon was a bit warm indoors and cooled down by early evening.
We also managed to visit small but very lovely shrine called Kurunji andavar ( Murugan) temple in Kodai as well as Sathya sai mandir called "Sai shruthi" near the lake, where we prayed and also sang a few bhajans ourselves to an absolutely empty hall!( afternoon 3.30 pm). 

The evening was enveloped in thick mist and it rained a bit later in the night but not too heavily, and thankfully not disrupting any program of ours! Temp range on both days was around 16 to 28 deg C...

We took many scenic pics on these 2 day/ nights in Kodai and I have uploaded some of them on my facebook page as well as some here:

Onward we went to Palani leaving Kodai by 8.15 am next morning. The journey, in today's lexicon is AWESOME!

Thick mist laden hills, lush greenery and chilly air on the road made it a pleasant climb-down to Palani mount.

The waiting at cable car queue at Palani temple below  kills you . It was very hot and shockingly so after Kodai we had just left.

 After reaching the palani temple above by 12 noon (waiting 45 mins? below) we were told temple closed at 12 noon and we had to wait one more hour for the shrine to open. More waiting after buying 50 bucks spl tickets!
 To ward off all our fatigue, we had a  Beautiful darshan  of Dandayudhapani and we had some archanai and such normal activities completed, paying off an archak (many archaks keep jostling you there!) ( You pray and they prey???).

Another disappointment was we had to wait almost 1.5 hours for cable car service to resume as they promptly closed the service at 1 pm. This is as tragic as it is ridiculous leaving us all hot and sweaty up on the hills till 2.45 pm.. 
And yeah, Palani hill (1068 ft ele.) is no Kodai kanal(6998 ft elevation) in temperature!

We of course made use of this time by having tasty 'puliyogarai and sweet pongal prasadam', drank water and refreshed ourselves in the mean time!

 We could not have good lunch anywhere in Palani as it was 3.30 pm by the time cable car took us down the hills. The ride up and down is also a very welcome sight and worth doing too!...There is some crazy 15 rupee and 50 rupee separate  ticket lines there for the same cable cars, which I could never figure out why, but took the safe 50 buck line anyway. I don't know if it made any difference in the end.

Apart from the superb deity and his blessings( our kula daiavam/ mane devaru is subramanya...But actually Kukke subramanya, anyway!), I daresay Palani was not one of the best pilgrimage spots I have visited as they waste nearly 2 to 3 hours of yours in the day time by these interruptions and waiting period! I learnt later there is a parallel "cable train" service which our driver informed us as a better one... AFTER we came down!..Huh!

We left for Madurai straight and reached the same Hotel and spent a relaxing night and checked out for airport by 10 am next day after having a good sumptuous breakfast there. 
Chinmay had to leave by a bus back to Bangalore to resume his duties.
Our Tavera Driver for the last 3 days, Mr Vetri dropped us off and he had served us well.
Our plane left Madurai at 12.30 and reached at 1.15 pm at Chennai and we were home by 2.30 pm.

That about sums up a memorable trip for the four of us..

Thanks for your patience in reading this through!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chennai-Sri Kalahasthi Road trip

A longstanding wish to see Sri kalahasthi , a famous panchabhootha sthalam of Lord Shiva was realized yesterday.
My son Chinmay and I left with a Driver at 5 am from home in our car. It is a 130 km trip from Chennai to the town in Chittoor distt AP
This was a very cool misty day and we made good speed in the early hours of Saturday to reach the Tirupathi Highway via Koyambedu-Annanagar-Red hills route. The road traffic was sparse too

We moved through misty paddy fields after Tada border town  and it was a pleasant welcome experience.
The road is very good too.
 We reached the already bustling temple town of Sri Kalahasthi by 7.50 am, with no break( 2hrs, 50 mins).
As we were quite hungry and had not seen any worthy restaurant on the way, we had idli vada breakfast in Saravana Bhavan near temple. It is quite clear from the ambience and taste that the brand name of Hotel saravana bhavan ( HSB) is being misused by many fakes and this is just one of them. Later I came to know that there are seven fakes of this name in this town, but no original!

The car parking guys forced us to keep mobiles in the car itself saying camera phones are not allowed!
The touts catch you in Car park( 60 bucks for parking!) and I was sold two oil vilakku lamps, and bilva leaves mala etc there in the car park itself for appeasing the Rahu-Kethu moorthys outside the temple. We bought a packet of milk along with it too and stood in queue and we saw there are rats which feed on all these among these statuettes boldly. (There are various detailed poojas to rahu kethu dosha nivarana worth 300/- to 1500/- here for those interested)


After offering the milk and mala and kumkum to Rahu -Kethu, we had darshan of Ganapathi in a small  basement on the road outside and were given some avalakki prasadam there.

After climbing a few steep steps we reach the abode of Main temple.
To avoid rush as it was nearing rahu kalam in the 'dharma darshan', we bought 50 bucks each worth special tickets and went in through various corridors smoothly. En route we prayed to Subramanya ( our kuladevathe) and went in.
The moola shivalingam is Vayu lingeshwara in the panchabhootas.

As we missed the exit then, we had a second round of darshan in special line once more!
then we pass through many small 'templets' of Narayana, Dakshina moorthy etc on the way to Gnana prasunnambika abode, the consort of Lord Shiva here.Very nicely decked up Devi statue blesses us.

After completing this Darshan we came out and purchased prasadam like Laddu and vada ( Big tasty laddus like Tirupathi available here too!).

There is  a small hillock next to the temple, where the famous Bedara Kannappa legend seems to have played out as per mythology, the devoted hunter who offered his own eyes to the lord. It was already quite a walk in the main temple by now and I was a little tired.. My son Chinmay went up the hillock climbing the 200 odd steps and returned after the visit, while I waited at the bottom! He described what he saw there as  having seen a small temple and some very nice views from atop.

 By now we were hungry again (10:15am) as the morning breakfast was all but digested. We had a Masala dosa in a Ganesh Bhavan which is a much better restaurant than Saravana bhavan , the earlier one.

Snaps on the street outside the temple:

Well, the next phase of our misadventure is something I would like to forget in a hurry!
We had decided to see Tada falls sometime back and took a turn in from the main road..

OHHHH...It is a very long road, ceases to be road as we near the deeper forest and becomes a muddy, rocky surface and we bucked and rocked the way to AP forest gate who charged 60 bucks to go inside..What they did not say was INSIDE is some 5 km of trekking route and full of hard rock and sharp stones strewn on the hilly path.
See pics below:
On Hawaii slippers I had worn for the temple visit, 2 km was as much as I could stand, although Chinmay carried on for some more distance and we returned just seeing a small stream but not the 'falls'..I felt we would have 'fallen' down if we did anything more!
Well, it is a Trekker's path and you need to geared up for it!

As we returned homewards, the Saturday High way traffic caught up with us and we had to go to Lunch in Anna nagar by 3.15 pm at HOT CHIPS restaurant and actually returned home by 4:30 pm.

If we had avoided the Tada loop, we could have been home by 2 pm and that is the correct duration for just going to Sri Kalahasthi and back!