Archive | February, 2017

A Visit to Arni (Arani)

28 Feb


1952 hrs on 28 Feb 2017

From Arcot I asked Suresh my taxi driver to take me to Arni (Arani), some 27 kms due South.

Arni is famous for silk weaving. I checked on Google Maps and found it is only about 75 km from Kanchipuram, the famous silk weaving centre.

Arni is a rice growing area and the dominant caste is the Gounders who also own rice mills.

The town is small and the roads congested with two wheelers and four wheelers. Policemen could be seen on Market Road, but motorists seemed to be oblivious and followed their own rules.

I took a few photos of the congested roads and was waiting for my taxi to come from where he had gone to park. A serious looking man with ferocious muttonchop whiskers came to where I was standing and said, “Noorulla Sahib wants to see you…”


“Noorulla Sahib. That’s his shop.”

I walked in to the shop with both my cameras dangling from my neck… Noorulla Sahib turned out to be a short, ageing man running a chewing tobacco business.

“Why are you taking photos in our town?” He asked.

I had to think on my feet and said, “I am writing a book.”

“A book? About what?”

I could have been rude and walked out, but thought I would use the opportunity to find out where the Arni Fort is… or was.

“A book about Robert Clive!”

“Ah… Clive Sahib! He was only a boy when he fought the battle of Arni!”

The tough looking man who served summons on me to Noorulla Sahib’s court smiled broadly!

“I am soldier sir! Madras Artillery!” He said and gave me a salute before he went on his way.

“Where will I find Arni Fort?” I asked. Where is the ‘Por Kalam’? I asked, hoping Noorulla Sahib would understand the Malayalam word for ‘battle field’…

Noorulla Sahib nodded and spoke to Suresh, my driver. “Go to the Sports Stadium. Its still called ‘Kuthira Layam’ (Cavalry Lines). It was also a military parade ground. All our Government Offices and Courts are there…”

“And now, have some sherbet before you go… its high noon and very hot!” Noorulla Sahib smiled almost affectionately.

“No thank you, Noorulla Sahib”, I said and got up and gave him a smart salaam.

We were at the Arni Battle Field in about five minutes. It is now a sports stadium, surrounded by Government offices.

In the middle of the field is a monument to Col. Robert Kelly who died in 1790. That was a very long time after the Battle of Arni in 1751. I later read that he was an Ensign at the time of the Battle and worked as a Surveyor.


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Arcot and the Carnatic Wars

26 Feb


I visited Arcot town on 17 Feb 2017, which is 280 years after the above map was published.

In the 18th Century, “Arcot” was a feudal kingdom, part of the Mughal empire, the seat of the Nawab of the Carnatic, owing fealty to the Subahdar of the Deccan, Nizam-ul-Mulk.

Please see the attached map of the Nawabdom of Carnatic which borders the Kingdoms of Madurai and Thanjavur in the South, Mysore in the West and the settlements of Madras and Pulicat to the North.

Today, Arcot is a Taluk of Vellore District in Tamilnadu.

Robert Clive, who landed in Madras in June 1744, got an unexpected opportunity to dabble in Indian politics during the first two of the three Carnatic Wars.

The First Carnatic War between the English and French Companies in India coincided with the Wars of Austrian Succession (1740-48).

During the First Carnatic war, Robert Clive joined the Company Army where his leadership and initiative were noticed by his Commander, Major Stringer Lawrence.

The English and French realised the importance of naval support in the battles of the Carnatic War. England had an extra advantage in having a base in Bengal from where reinforcements and supplies could be delivered to the Cormandel Coast. The French Navy was anchored at a far greater distance in Mauritius in the Indian ocean.

During the Second Carnatic War, Chanda Sahib, the Nawab of Carnatic was besieging Trichinopoly with the support of Joseph Francois Dupleix, Governor of French India. Dost Ali, the English backed contender for Nawab of Carnatic was hiding out in Trichinopoly.

Robert Clive suggested to the new English Governor Thomas Saunders that an attack on Arcot would divert the attention and forces of Chanda Sahib away from Trichinopoly.

On 26 August 1751, with 200 Europeans and 300 sepoys, Clive marched from Madras to Arcot, a distance of 117 kilometres. He completed the forced march in 5 days, of which on the last day, the detachment marched in heavy rain. When Chanda Sahib’s troops heard of the determined English advance, they abandoned the Arcot Fort. Clive and his men easily occupied the fort, strengthened the fortifications and prepared the cannon left behind in readiness for the siege. He held out heroically for 53 days (Sept-Oct 1751) until the besieging force withdrew.

It is reported that he lived in the small room above Delhi Gate of Arcot Fort. Please see map of Arcot Fort.

As expected by Clive, Chanda Sahib sent his son, Raju Sahib with a large force to Arcot. He arrived at Arcot on 23rd September 1751 and besieged the fort.

While Governor Saunders was organising a relief of Arcot, on 14 Nov 1751, Raju Sahib’s troops concentrated on the breach in the walls of the fort. Elephants were used to batter the Delhi Gate. Heavy musket fire from the defenders of the fort caused the elephants to turn back and create confusion in the ranks.

Robert Clive distinguised himself in this siege, at one point even manning a cannon himself and firing several rounds into the besieging army.

The next day Raju Sahib marched away with his army leaving behind several of his guns and ammunition which were captured by the English army.

On 3 Dec 1751, Clive followed up the siege by engaging Raju Sahib’s army at Arani, 28 km to the south of Arcot and defeating it.

The Siege of Arcot and the Battle of Arni considerably increased the prestige of Robert Clive and the English Army.

Timeline of Carnatic Wars:

First Carnatic War: 1746-1748
Second Carnatic War: 1749-1754
Third Carnatic War: 1756-1763


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Shastanga Pranam to Prof. S.Krishnaswamy of MCC, Tambaram

23 Feb


23-02-2017, 05:13 hrs

My visit to Arcot on 17 Feb 2017 was a pilgrimage made 50 years after I sat mesmerised in the class of Prof. S.Krishnaswamy of Madras Christian College, Tambaram.

Prof. Krishnaswamy was a gentle and scholarly man and I recall visiting him in the staff room to talk about the Siege of Arcot, 1751. I can still conjure up his soft voice telling me emphatically… “If Robert Clive had not come out to India in 1744, I assure you quite emphatically that India or at least parts of modern India would have evolved as a French colony ruled from Pondicherry.” If that had happened, the UK would have no doubt been absolved of any compulsion to pay reparations to India!

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the role of Prof. Krishnaswamy in stimulating my interest in Modern Indian History (from 1600 CE).

I have attached a scan of the Title Page of the prescribed text book for the BA History Course in 1967: AN ADVANCED HISTORY OF INDIA by R.C.Majumdar, H.C.Rayachaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta, MacMillan 1967. This 50 year old book has begun to show its age, if not wear due to scholarly use.

I now own a fourth edition of this textbook (2001) with an Appendix on Bangladesh.

Prof. Krishnaswamy was commissioned circa 1969 through the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) to write the manuscript for the Time Capsule containing the first 25 years of Independent India’s history (1947-72). The Time Capsule, made of copper, was buried in the Red Fort complex on August 15, 1973 and was called “Kalpaatra”.This Time Capsule ran into controversies and when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 they had the Kalpaatra exhumed in fulfilment of one of the Janata Party’s election promises.

As expected, the Kalpaatra was reported to have glorified the role of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi in the early days of Independent India.
It is not clear what happened to the Kalpaatra, but it is fairly well known that it cost Indira Gandhi only Rs. 8,000 to bury the Time Capsule, but it cost Morarji Desai’s Government Rs. 58,000 to unearth it.

(360 Words)


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Arcot Biriyani

21 Feb



21-02-2017, 18:15 hrs

Sitting in Bangalore in 2017, “Arcot”, the name of a Tamilnadu district, typically conjures up for me, images of fragrant “South Indian” Biriyani known as “Arcot Biriyani”.

Within this overall category, there are two sub-regional variations: Ambur Star Biriyani and Arani Star Biriyani.

The distances below give an idea of the scatter of the sub-regional towns.

Vellore to Ambur – 52 km
Ambur to Arani – 81 km
Arani to Arcot – 28 km
Arcot to Vellore – 25 km

One has to understand how the Mughal administration structure was organised to understand how Islam and Mughalai cuisine travelled to different parts of the Indian sub-continent.

Until at least the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, the Emperor in Delhi (theoretically) ruled over all the subordinate states in the subcontinent.

The Nawab of Oudh (Lucknow) headed what was arguably one of the better known Governorships due to its proximity to Delhi. Lucknow claims a superior biriyani citing their Persian, Shia connection and the 72 ingredients that went into the dish.

The Nizam of Hyderabad was the Subhadar of the Deccan with several Nawabs and Sultans under his authority. Hyderabadi Biriyani is famous and also has a link with Persia or Iran. This connection explains the use of dry fruits in the preparation of the biriyani.

The Nawab of Carnatic (also known as the Nawab of Arcot) occupied an important position in this structure since both Madras (HQ of East India Company) and Pondicherry (HQ of French East India Company) were within his territory. The Arcot Biriyani is virtually unknown in North India and is known as “Ambur Biriyani” in Karnataka and Andhra.

Arcot Biriyani has sub-regional variations as pointed out at the beginning of this blog. For reasons which were not very clear to me, Arcot Biriyani is known as “Arcot ‘Star’ Biriyani”. We hear of Ambur ‘Star’ Biriyani and ‘Arani’ Star Biriyani.

My taxi driver Suresh and I went to “The New 5-Star Biriyani Centre” on Gandhi Road in Arni for lunch.

Seeing the large portions, I ordered only a quarter plate, while the young Suresh happily tucked into a half plate.

To be very frank, I was a bit disappointed with the biriyani. Usually curd is used to marinade the mutton and add a sour note to the biriyani. In addition, I found the Arani Star Biriyani used tomatoes which give a distinctive wilted vegetable smell to the biriyani. Lucknow biriyani uses “Aloo Bukhare” a sour plum for a sweet and sour flavour.

I spoke to the head cook, a ferocious looking bearded Musalman with a skull cap. He had a surprisingly soft voice and told me that he partly cooks rice and mutton separately, then combines them for the final round of “Dhum” cooking where the aluminium vessel is ‘sealed’ with atta dough.

I have a friend with a wide knowledge of Southern Tamilnadu cuisine. She thought I should have gone to Ambur for lunch, but Arani is a close second. She also told me not to miss the local sweet, “Makhan Pedha“.

It seems to have been a bad day for me because I was headed for another disappointment. I bought 200 gms of Makhan Pedha for Rs.85. The sweet looked suspiciously like a flattened Gulab Jamun… I bit into one, and horror of gastronomic horrors, it tasted like Gulab Jamun too.

Dodging traffic on the completely chaotic and congested roads, Suresh driver and I made our way on foot to where the car was parked. We had to visit the Arani “Fort” close to where the Battle of Arani took place on 3 Dec 1751, where Dupleix’ dreams of French supremacy in the Carnatic were unambiguously shattered by Robert Clive. Little wonder that the British government bestowed on him the title of “Clive of India”.

(635 Words)

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In Search of Robert Clive’s Dog

21 Feb


21-02-2017, 06:07 hrs

One evening in December 2016, I was telling a friend and neighbour, Dr. Chakko, about my interest in the career of Robert Clive who changed the history of the Indian sub-continent.

Dr. Chakko had worked for CMC Vellore for about 40 years before retiring.

He told me that near CMC Vellore there is a factory owned by Parry & Company with a Guest House at Ranipet.

“This Guest House, oddly enough, has a tomb dedicated to a dog which belonged to Robert Clive”.

I caught my breath… Clive’s career with the East India Company began in Fort St.George, Madras when he landed on the Coromandel coast in June 1744.

He was in the “Carnatic” (Kaveri distributary districts of modern Tamilnad including Vellore, Arcot and Tiruvannamalai) and Pondicherry (now Union Territory of Puducheri) from 1746 to 1754.

I started planning a visit to Vellore from where Dr.Chakko assured me I could hire a taxi and do Ranipet, Kaveripakkam, Arcot, Arani and Poosimalaikuppam (this last location is not associated with Clive) in a single day.

It finally happened over 17-18 Feb 2017.

I arrived in Katpadi Jn. on the Shatabdi Express, about half an hour later than the scheduled arrival time of 0858 hrs on 17 Feb 2017.

Thanks to Dr. Chakko, a taxi had been arranged to take me to Hotel GRT REGENCY SAMEERA. The driver was supposed to stand with a placard with my name… but he identified me from a distance and came bounding up the overbridge steps to relieve me of my baggage, most of which was photography gear, including a tripod.

Suresh was wearing an Indigo blue shirt and was probably in his mid thirties. I spoke to him in my rough tea estate Tamil. He insisted on replying in English.

We drove to the hotel, where I showed the smart lady at the Reception my reservation confirmation  and told her that I would be coming back to occupy my room only by about 1600 hrs.

Back to the taxi and we raced off to Ranipet. Google Maps shows a location near Ranipet called “PARRY COLONY”, 25km from the GRT REGENCY SAMEERA.

We spent an hour looking for the PARRY Guest House but just couldnt find it. When I phoned Dr. Chakko, he told me to go to the PARRY Factory and talk to the manager. I had to reluctantly abort the mission as we were on a tight schedule and I didnt want to spend too much time in Ranipet looking for the dog’s grave!

Someone that driver Suresh talked to told us to visit the Secretary of St. Mary’s Church, Ranipet before leaving. He would know all about “Kallarai” (Graves or Tombs)

We walked down a narrow lane and turned in at the house of the Secretary. He was in the middle of a shave, with foam on his face.

When we told him about our search for the tomb of Lord Clive’s dog, his face crinkled into a smile. He pointed to a photograph on the wall of his front room and said, that is my father, R.C.Paul. He worked for Parry and Company. “R.C.” is for Robert Clive! My own name is R.C.Apollo Paul. “R.C.” for Robert Clive and “Apollo” is the Greek God, no doubt correctly assessing that I wouldnt have had the benefit of a classical education.

He wasnt able to help us with Clive’s dog’s grave. He said that the old Parry Guest House had been demolished and multistoried flats had come up there. He thought we should visit the St. Mary’s Church Cemetry as it had graves of British settlers and officials of Ranipet and Kaveripakkam going back 300 years or more.

Thus ended the first leg of our tour of Lord Robert Clive’s stamping grounds in his days as a Writer of the East India Company and then as a Lieutenant and Captain in the EICo Army under the famous Major Stringer Lawrence.


(660 Words)

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AN ERA OF DARKNESS – Audi Alteram Partem

15 Feb


This blog began as a review of the book, “AN ERA OF DARKNESS: The British Empire in India” by Shashi Tharoor, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2016. Very early in my undertaking, it became obvious that I wasn’t doing an Executive Review and had to offer arguments in the interest of the principles of “Natural Justice”.  Foremost among these principles are: rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to a fair hearing (audi alteram partem).

A journalist friend commented “this is not a book review… it is a  book about a book”… a reaction to the length of the blog. It is obviously only for those who have the interest and the patience to read it!


I had just finished reading, INDIA CONQUERED: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire” by Jon Wilson when “AN ERA OF DARKNESS” by Shashi Tharoor became available.

I couldn’t help wondering if the title of V.S.Naipaul’s book, “AN AREA OF DARKNESS” had influenced the title of Tharoor’s latest book, both offering analyses of the British Indian Empire.

Tharoor’s book, “An Era of Darkness, The British Empire in India” followed closely on the release of Jon Wilson’s book, “INDIA CONQUERED: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire”. Tharoor has quoted from Wilson and in places presented Wilson’s observations.

Shashi Tharoor’s command of the English language towers above his arguments and some of his facile scenario building forays.

Many of the words used by Tharoor (Schadenfreude, Defenestration, Smidgens, Congeries, Elide, Infelicitous, Reified, Metonym, Redounded, Immiseration and Indigenes, for example) are not words even the above average English reader would be familiar with. The impression is not of the “Macaulayputra” showing off his scholarship, or of bits of the dialogue from a Peter Sellers movie, but of class and style that any one proficient in English can recognise. I was also able to brush up some English words which I hadn’t come across or used in ten or twenty years!

The inspiration for this book was the famous Oxford Union debate on 24 Jul 2015, when Tharoor spoke on the proposition, “Britain Owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies”.

Unfortunately, much of the book appears to have been organised as notes for the debate, where the objective is to defeat the other side, not to present a balanced picture. In a debate the speakers defending the proposition gather and present only arguments that support their claim. It is not their responsibility to produce a “balanced” picture.
To understand what I mean by balance and academic sophistication, one must read Jon Wilson, who has not only introduced a lot of material not usually found in graduate level history text books on colonial India, but highlighted both the costs and benefits of British rule in India.

Will Durant’s “The Case for India” appears as a recurring source of inspiration for “An Era of Darkness”… The thoughts of modern writers Niall Ferguson, Lawrence James, Jon Wilson, John Keay and William Dalrymple, make frequent appearances in the main narrative.


One of the main assumptions taken for granted is the “idea of India”.

Tharoor suggests that even the ancient epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana reflected an “’idea of India’ that the twentieth century nationalists would have recognized.”

This “idea”, captured in the Sanskrit term, “Himachala Setu Paryantam” merely describes “the land stretching from the Himalayas to the southern seas” as “Bharata”.

At a time when the Chinese were making topographic maps, thinkers in the Indian subcontinent were “inclined to dream up cosmographies, rather than to draw realistic maps.” (ERALY 2000). There was a notion that the earth was a flat disk with a golden mountain, Mount Meru at its centre. Seven continents lay in “concentric circles around Mount Meru, each girded by a distinct ocean, one of salt, another of treacle, others of wine, ghee, milk, curds and fresh water.”


British imperialists insist “that the very idea of ‘India’ as one entity instead of multiple warring principalities and statelets, is the unchallengeable contribution of British imperial rule.”

3.1. The Ancient “Idea of India”

There were several empires in the subcontinent (MAURYAN, KUSHAN, GUPTA, HARSHA) which established their rule from present day Afghanistan to Bengal and to the Deccan) through a system of directly ruled territories and indirectly ruled provinces.

The Vijayanagara empire was a South Indian empire based on trade and economic prosperity. Other empires were those of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal dynasty where territories were annexed with the help of mercenaries who were made Governors and had the responsibility of collecting revenue and sending the King’s share to Delhi. After the time of Aurangazeb, the Mughal emperor ruled only in name, while the Governors or Subadars established themselves as independent Maharajahs or Nawabs.

The Maratha Empire, also known as the “Maratha Confederacy” did not have a centrally administered government. It existed from 1674 when Shivaji established a kingdom carved out of the Bijapur Sultanate to 1818 when the leaders of the broken confederacy surrendered to the British one by one bringing to an end the Third Anglo Maratha War.

3.2. The Legacy of British India

When the sun set on the British Empire in India, we inherited a political entity called “India” which included the Presidencies which were created by the East India Company and the princely states, which were indirectly ruled through a Resident and had to pay heavily for their “subsidiary alliance”.

Tharoor has graciously accepted that “When the British eventually left in 1947, they left India as a functioning democracy, and many Britons would take credit for having instilled in their Indian subjects the spirit of democracy and the rule of law, even if Indians were denied its substance by the British. This claim is worth examining closely.” (p47)

The Mughal empire was a spent force, brought to its knees ever since the sacking of Delhi and looting of its treasury by Nadir Shah in 1739. However, it was still a powerful memory in 1857 when mutineers from Meerut rode to Delhi shouting “Delhi Chalo”, gained entry into the Red Fort and proclaimed the last titular Mughal ruler, the elderly Bahadur Shah Zafar as Emperor of India.

“India” by this time consisted of “Company ruled” provinces, semi-independent territories controlled by gubernatorial strongmen in Bengal, Arcot, Maharashtra, and princely states, each fiercely independent and ambitious. Rather than any “impulsion for unity” what we can see is a fissiparous tendency by regional powers. The Marathas in particular, were unable to ally with other Hindu rulers to forge a “Hindu Nation” and resist Muslim invaders. The disastrous Third Battle of Panipat (17 January 1761) was the inflection point after which the course of Maratha imperialism was “seriously deflected”. It also marked the point from which Marathas began to be viewed as unreliable allies (M,R&D p546)

3.3. Cultural Linkages

The cultural linkages throughout the subcontinent no doubt provide an underlying unifying feature. The powerful ideas of Advaita Vedanta, propagated by Adi Shankara in the eighth century and carried to the four corners of the sub-continent by him provided the basis for a unification of the underlying philosophy which no doubt guided the actions of warrior kings and emperors.

Tharoor quotes Diana Eck, “Considering India’s long history, India has had but a few hours of political and administrative unity. Its unity as a nation, however, has been firmly constituted by the sacred geography it has held in common and revered: its mountains, forests, rivers, hitlltop shrines… linked with the track of pilgrimage.”
The East India Company came to India as supplicants of the Great Moghul, to establish a trade centre in Bengal and carry on their business. Frequent depredations of local chieftains who appeared to fear no authority and arbitrary customs and tariffs by Mughal officials prompted the Company to ask for military help from the British Army.

3.4. What Business Are We In?

Once the army came into the picture, “trade”, the “core” business of the East India Company became secondary to the business of War.

With military support the Company was able to establish itself, through the Battles of Plassey (1757), and Buxar (1765) as Revenue Collectors of the Mughal King Shah Alam II (1760-1806).

As Revenue Collectors, the East India Company put its clerks and ledgers to work to make profits for its shareholders.

In Tharoor’s words, “The Company ran India, and like all companies, it had one principal concern, shared by its capitalist overlords in London: the bottom line.”

The East India Company (1600-1858) made investments in fortifications and a disciplined, professional army to establish and indeed expand its activities and power base.


The rapacity of servants of the East India Company and how they built their individual wealth bases are well known although we should calibrate measures of venality based on looting by rulers even after Independence. Englishmen who had come to India with the sole intention of making as much money as they can, merely continued the existing feudal practices of squeezing revenue from the countryside. Many of them entered into “Private Trade” which they were forbidden to do, and used their position and connections to make huge private profits.

The expectation that the East India Company should have behaved like Britain’s ODA or DFID of latter years (working to end extreme poverty in the world) is laughable in an age when feudal exploitation was rampant and human life was cheap. Just as there were enlightened Indian feudal rulers who would negotiate taxes with their people, there were as many English district officers who toured their districts and listened to the farmers. Philip Woodruff (Mason) notes, “… But even in Akbar’s day, it must have been easy for whoever collected the King’s share to extort more than had been fixed and then take his bill and sit down quickly and write less…”

British Imperialism in India was powered by revenue collection, a system inherited from the Mughals over two centuries and methods of collection and enforcement had not changed much. The Permanent Settlement of 1793 was a first step in regularisation of land revenue collection.

In the 18th century, plunder was one of the sources of state revenue, and “treasure” (looted from the enemy) was used to pay troops, especially mercenaries who were not paid regular wages.

After the fall of Seringapatam, in keeping with the times, Arthur Wellesley laid down the share of every officer and sepoy from the loot that was organised after Tipu was killed. Many items from this loot can be seen in Powis Castle in Wales, UK. “The division of spoils was conducted according to the rules of ‘prize’ whereby each soldier received the share due to his rank. The coin and treasure were allotted to the army; the stores and ordinance to the Company .” Loot and Plunder were the order of the day!

We are told that when Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Scindia had no resources to pay his army circa 1805, the “soldiers were permitted to collect money on their own account, from the districts .”

As Tharoor puts it, “Violence… was contracted to non-state actors.” As a result, “The freelance warriors and mercenaries associated with the Company enjoyed the license to loot everything they could lay their hands on…”

4.1. Kohinoor Diamond

Although Tharoor has discussed the Kohinoor diamond towards the end of the book under the Chapter Eight titled, “The Messy Afterlife of Colonialism”, since it deals with the return of “looted colonial treasures”, I have included it under this section on “Looting of India”.

The shrill demands for returning the Kohinoor diamond to “India” is a good reason to re-examine some of the issues of legal ownership.

Tharoor has touched on this topic and has dealt with it fairly (p280-283).

Although the diamond was found in the Subcontinent (in the Kollur Mines of Guntur District of Modern Andhra Pradesh according to one account, or in the Golconda mines of modern Hyderabad District according to another account) or in Central India on the banks of the Mahanadi according to yet another account), it went to the treasury of the Delhi Sultanate, then passed to the treasury of the Mughal dynasty where it lay for over two centuries. Nadir Shah of Persia sacked Delhi in 1739 and the jewel which adorned the Peacock Throne travelled to Persia. After Nadir Shah was killed in 1747, the stone came into the hands of Ahmed Shah Durrani who became the Emir of Afghanistan. One of his descendents, Shah Shujah lost his kingdom to Mahmud Shah in 1809 and had to seek refuge in the Punjab. While under house arrest in Lahore, Shah Shuja was forced to hand the stone over to Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in 1813 under duress. After the Second Anglo Sikh War, under orders from the Governor General Lord Dalhousie, the stone passed to Queen Victoria from Ranjit Singh’s son Gulab Singh through the Governor of Punjab, John Lawrence, under Article III of the Treaty of Lahore on 29th March 1849.

In 1976, Pakistan claimed the Koh-i-noor, since Lahore, the court of Ranjit Singh was in what is now Pakistan Punjab. Afghanistan has made a claim. Iran (successor state of Nadir Shah’s ‘Persia’) also has a claim. India has joined the chorus for return of the jewel which is claimed to have been the left eye of Goddess Bhadrakali in her temple in Warangal, Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh.

4.2. Textiles

With the objective of maximising return on investment, we should not be surprised that Indian production of fine textiles was not only discouraged, but also brutally repressed. If at all true, it is not clear how accurate or widespread was the practice of mutilating the thumbs of weavers to put them out of business. This dramatic story is attributed to a 1772 book, “Considerations on India Affairs” by William Bolts, a Dutchman who joined the East India Company in 1759. He was dismissed in 1768 for “going private” and had an axe to grind with the Company Raj. We should exercise caution in accepting the lurid details of how weavers’ “thumbs were broken” to put them out of business.

Like all colonies, India became a producer of raw materials and a market for machine-made finished goods.

4.3. Shipbuilding

At the time of the arrival of Europeans in India in the 17th century, both the Western Coast and the Eastern Coast were well served by local shipping and shipbuilding.

Local materials and labour, made Indian shipbuilding vastly more competitive than the British shipbuilding industry.

As sailing ships gave way to steamships, the East India Company had gradually become more powerful in India.

Tharoor asserts that a combination of self-serving policies and legislation crushed the Indian shipbuilding industry.

However, we get quite a different picture from Jon Wilson. Sir John Malcolm, a Governor of Bombay actually commissioned an “armed steam vessel” from the Parsi shipbuilder Naoroji Jamsetjee…to check piracy along India’s West Coast. The same vessel, was sent to Egypt with letters for onward transmission to London’s Court of Directors to persuade them to support inland and ocean-going transport investments in India .

The policy of establishing Managing Agents for all sterling companies as a prerequisite for British capital created barriers of entry to Indians and Indian capital, shutting off potential “native” investment.

4.4. Steel

Shashi Tharoor’s research notes on the history of Indian steel making is a source of pride and shame for modern Indians. Pride that ancient Indians in the subcontinent had perfected the art of Crucible Steel making (Wootz Steel) in Kodumanal, Erode Dt., Tamilnadu; Golconda, Telingana, and Gulbarga, Karnataka; and shame that this science did not develop with modern furnaces and equipment.

By a process of being required to meet higher quality standards, Indian steel became uncompetitive in other parts of the world.

Again Tharoor suggests that if there were a “forward looking ‘Indian’ ruler” there could have been scientific and technological innovation. We have already seen that if the British were not ruling India, it is very likely that some other European power or Russia would have been doing so. If it had to be an “Indian” ruler, it would have had to be a Maratha ruler, provided the members of the Confederacy could agree on leadership, economic policy and and administrative co-operation..


British rule in India is described in the book (p63) as “’a huge military despotism tempered somewhat by a civil bureaucracy’. That bureaucracy was all pervasive, overpaid, obtusely process ridden, remarkably inefficient and largely indifferent to the well-being of the people for whose governance it had, after all, been created. ”

With this single sweeping assessment, the “Steel Frame of India” as the ICS was known is dismissed as a nominal and an unnecessary expense inflicted on India. Here is another example of complete lack of balance.

We must remember that in the late nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill and in the early twentieth century Max Weber had promoted bureaucracy as the most efficient and rational way to organise human activity. Delaying harsh or irreversible executive decisions through “due process” was seen as one of the benefits of bureaucracy.

If the ICS were as useless as implied, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) the successor service of the ICS would have been completely overhauled and the defects of the British system removed. Instead, we have the same distance between rulers and the subjects and the same time-consuming procedures. This “distance” culture is older than the Indian Civil Service and can be traced to a doctrine first propounded by the slave king Ghiyas ud din Balban (reigned: 1266–86) of Delhi. Balban propounded the Divine Right of Kings and believed that kings should deport themselves seriously at all times and introduced rituals and ceremonies to emphasise his beliefs.

If Brahmins were considered “Twice Born” ICS Officers were called “Thrice Born” and “Heaven Born”, myths created by Indians, not by the Englishmen and Scotsmen who came to India.

As for the huge cost of ICS salaries, perquisites and retirement benefits, these have to be seen as the cost of keeping the service free of corruption, and out of “private business”, one of the reform objectives of the Regulating Act of 1773 and those of Lord Cornwallis in 1786 under the Pitt’s India Act of 1784. By the the late nineteenth century, the ICS had gained the reputation of being “incorruptible”.

Tharoor lays out the Job Description of the ”24 year old district officer [who] found himself in charge of 4,000 square miles and a million people.” (p65) No further argument is required to justify the cost ot the ICS officers who performed the roles of kings in hostile conditions.

Today, the salary and perquisites of IAS Officers do not compare proportionately with those of the ICS although some of the prestige still remains. The IAS Officers today still stay aloof from the people they govern and go only to exclusive clubs. The difference we frequently hear about is Income Tax raids on corrupt officials, who at the bidding of corrupt political masters and due to their own greed have abandoned the high moral ground of the “Incorruptible” service.

Tharoor offers no evidence for the blanket statement, “…the British bureaucracy retreated to mountain redoubts in the hills for months on end to escape the searing heat of the plains, there to while away their time in entertainments, dances and social fripperies while the objects of their rule, the indian people, were exploited ruthlessly below…. Really? Exploited ruthlessly? Belief, opinion or fact?

The best response to this accusation is attributed to ICS Officer E.H.H.Edye circa 1909, “It may be easy to win a name for laziness, but to keep it up over a period of years is a laborious process .” (Woodruffe)

“The British in India created little islands of Englishness (p66)… they lived in bungalows in their own areas, known as cantonments and ‘civil lines’, separated from the ‘Black Towns’ where the locals lived;…” (p67).

Jon Wilson observed candidly that “Within the heavily guarded spaces of South Asia’s bureaucracy, business and media, elites [today] have cultivated their own exclusive communities, creating social norms which separate themselves from the rest of society….Political and bureaucratic elites live in heavily guarded areas where there is never a power blackout or water supply shut down. Business and expatriate elites live in “Gated Communities” where the only ‘outsiders’ allowed are Indian servants and service agencies (modern “Boxwallahs”).

There is a description of the slow absorption of Indians into the ICS and their nether world where they became imitations of the white ICS Officers without gaining full social acceptance and getting isolated and alienated from their own ‘Indian’ community.

“… imperialists during the second half of the nineteenth century developed and expressed a strong preference for the noble savage (the primitive, wild, martial but ‘manly’ tribesman and his ilk) over the educated wog (the effete, culturally hybrid Westernised Oriental Gentlemen later to be derided as Macaulayputras )


The British claim for having created India’s Political Unity and Democracy as observed by Tharoor lay in three of the building blocks of democracy:

a) A Free Press
b) Parliamentary System
c) Rule of Law

6.1. Building Blocks of Democracy – A (Partly) Free Press
The British get the credit for establishing newspapers in India, “which had been unknown before colonial rule”. The English press was followed by a vernacular press and soon, the East India Company administration experienced the embarrassment of conflicting interests.

A “scoop” by a reporter in Anand Bazaar Patrika revealed plans of Viceroy Lord Landsdowne to annex the state of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result of this leak, the Maharajah travelled to London and lobbied the authorities to honour the existing guarantees of the “state’s independent status”.

Ideas of “sedition” and “Anti-National activities” which we continue to hear about in Free India 70 years after Independence owe their origin to this nascent period of the history of the free Indian press.

British owned newspapers, which catered to the British in India tended to be more free than the Indian press which was critical of imperial policies and highlighted the National movement

6.2. Building Blocks of Democracy – Incipient Parliamentary System

The Indian Parliamentary System was freely chosen by Indians in a Constituent Assembly even though in Tharoor’s view it is not suited to India.

When Clement Attlee as a member of a Constitutional Commission offered the US Presidential system as a model, “they rejected it with great emphasis”. The innate conservatism of Indian politicians insisted on the same system as the Mother of Parliaments whether best suited for India or not.

6.3. Building Blocks of Democracy – Rule of Law

Shashi Tharoor illustrates why “Justice in British India, was far from blind: it was highly attentive to the skin colour of the defendant. Crimes committed by whites against Indians attracted minimal punishment… The death of an Indian at British hands was always an accident, and that of a Briton because of an Indian’s action always a capital crime.”

“Sentences handed down by British judges were never equal for Indians and Europeans; in Calcutta it was estimated that Indian prisoners’ sentences exceeded those for Europeans by a factor of ten for the same crimes.”

“Since the rule of law was intended to perpetuate the British hold over India, it was designed as an instrument of imperial rule. Political dissidence was legally repressed through various acts. The penal code contained forty-nine articles on crimes relating to dissent against the state (and only eleven on crimes involving death).”

Legislators have been content to leave the Penal Code almost exactly as Macaulay had drafted it in 1837, and use the archaic laws to muzzle dissent and hobble political opponents.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) still has Section 120B, which deals with criminal conspiracy against the state, and 124A, which concerns sedition.

We still have outmoded Adultery Laws (Section 497 and 498) which target married women having a consensual sexual relationship with an individual other than her spouse.
“There is no provision in the law for a woman to file a complaint against her adulterous husband. If a married man commits adultery with an unmarried woman or a widow or with a married woman with the consent of her husband, his wife is not regarded as an aggrieved party and she is not permitted to make any official grievance against her husband.”

India has Homosexuality Laws of the Victorian era which Lord Macaulay introduced as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 1860. This law criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”, arguably including homosexual activities.

The section was decriminalized with respect to sex between consenting adults by the High Court of Delhi on July 2009. That judgement was overturned by the Supreme Court of India on 11 December 2013, with the Court holding that amending or repealing Section 377 should be a matter left to Parliament, not the judiciary.

This reinforces the argument that India has a deeply conservative social system which is reluctant to change even alien laws introduced by a colonial power.

It is partly due to the usefulness of some draconian laws which can be invoked when the ruling dispensation, if not the state feels threatened or extremely annoyed.

Are we to blame the British colonial rule and demand reparation of costs incurred by us for shortcomings in our democracy?


The book traces the the impact of two World Wars, the Freedom Struggle and Partition with the caste system and Hindu Muslim conflict as a background.

Swami Vivekananda is quoted as having said, “Acceptance of difference was central to the Indian experience throughout its long civilizational history.”

Tharoor posits that, “The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the project of divide et impera would reach its culmination in the horrors of Partiion that eventually accompanied the collapse of British authority in 1947.”

We in modern India are not so bad at the game of divide et impera. As I write in February 2017, political parties are busy, unabashedly “polarising” the electorate in UP on the basis of religion and caste.

7.1. Feast and Famine: The British and Starving India

The author lists 11 major famines between 1770 and 1944 which claimed the lives of 35 million people of the subcontinent and suggests that the Malthusian Theory was used to explain the non-interference of the British Indian Government.

Particularly worthy of denouncement were the export of goods (including food grain) and inflexible high taxation in the midst of famines.

This is one area where Free India can be proud… famines are unknown to modern Indians, thanks not only to policies, but also to technology and infrastructure.

7.2. Violence and Brutality

The author cites a number of occasions when the British Indian Government inflicted the most cruel brutality on the people of India.

The retaliation of the Administration and Army after the Mutiny of 1857 is cited with the explanation that it was “for the killing of British women and children and over 100,000 lives lost.” The orgy of killing in Central India was under General Neill, in Jhansi by Sir Hugh Rose. The reprisals in Delhi and surrounding areas involved killing without trials and mass hangings in marketplaces.

The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre ordered by General Reginald Dyer is described in some detail and is cited as “the decisive moment when Indians were alienated from British rule” (A.J.P.Taylor). Sometimes its when we push hard that the system pushes back harder ! The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre (13 April 1919)… “made Indians out of millions of people who had not thought consciously of their political identity beore that grim Sunday.” (p200)

7.3. The Railways

Tharoor evaluates the benefit of the Indian Railways to the Subcontinent against the ways and means of raising (British) capital to invest in the venture during colonial days. The government guaranteed returns on capital of 5% net per year, making up shortfalls from its revenues, which came from taxes raised in India.

The author reckons that even after the Government took over railway construction in the 1880’s, a mile of Indian railway cost more than double the same distance in th Canada and Australia.

The immediate objectives of the railway project were movement of the British army and British trade.

As with any new technology, a number of unintended or unforeseen negative impacts on the environment, on agriculture, on human health (rapid spread of bubonic plague) were visited on the subcontinent by the newly opened railways. Probably more devastating were the market distortions which made consumers in rice-growing areas compete directly with urban Indians and exporters of rice. Similar distortions were noted in fish markets.

7.4. Education and the English Language

The vast array of native education systems in India in the nineteenth century cited gives us an idea of the complexity of policy choices that faced the British Government in India. This does not include the princely states which would not have been affected by such policies.

Although English may have been an instrument of colonialism rather than a gift of modernisation, it is spoken well enough to be understood by native English speakers only among about 2% of today’s Indian population. However it continues to be an aspirational language and is associated with social status. Indian youth interested to explore international job markets and keep abreast of modern computer technology know that English is the key medium of communication.

The RSS and BJP would like to make English disappear from India (Ref: Sushil Aaron, Hindustan Times, Updated: Oct 25, 2016 12:49 IST) However, the first of the five processes to realise this objective is:

“The RSS should ensure that all BJP politicians, from the village level to the Union Cabinet, sign a pledge that they will enrol their four-year old children and grandchildren in only Hindi-medium or regional language institutions…”

Inevitably, the introduction of English education in India led to the study of Indian history in English with all the biases and prejudices they presented.

Caste continues to be a hurdle for universal primary school education even today. It is inconceivable how lower castes could have sat in the same classrooms as higher caste children and studied in the nineteenth and early twentieth century without the intervention of an autocratic British Indian power, however clumsy their attempts might have been.

Even Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have objected to universal compulsory primary education!

Tharoor admits that “English was undoubtedly Britain’s most valuable and abiding legacy to India…”

7.5. Tea

The section on tea illustrates the dilemma of a typical colonial product… where a plantation agriculture crop was grown with inexpensive factors of production. Tea was grown on low cost land, usually on long term leases, cultivated with low cost labour and debt capital.

Indian tea has become uncompetitive due to high labour costs directly impacting cultivation practices. New entrants like Argentina, Kenya and Malawi are offering comparable products at lower costs. These countries would have lower costs of production in this labour intensive industry in its current position on the product life-cycle.

Tharoor flies yet another kite here…”If Argentina could grow tea without the British having colonised them first, couldn’t India have done so as well?”

Argentina turned to tea growing and production a full sixty years after India and benefited from all the agricultural and marketing knowledge capital; much of it no doubt developed in India.

Every product has a life-cycle and while Indian tea may be in its decline and cost of production is no longer optimal, Argentine tea might just have reached its maturity level with increased sales volume and efficiencies brought on by the experience curve. It is pointless to wonder if the Indian tea industy could not have developed without British colonisation.

The futility of the question is all the more apparent with the author having just stated, “Full credit, then to the British. And this time it is difficult to argue that one could have had extensive tea cultivation and a vast market for the product without colonization: certainly Indians hadn’t ever done it before the British.” (p240)

7.6. The Indian Game of Cricket

Cricket is yet another colonial legacy in India and “has seized the national imagination of India as no other sport has. Long after the British have gone, love of cricket continues to be a passion in India, cutting across all its divisiveness and diverse backgrounds. “A land divided by caste, creed, colour, cuture, cuisine, custom and costume is united by a great conviction: cricket.”


Tharoor emphasises that “The British left a society with 16 percent literacy, a life expectancy of 27, practically no industry and over 90 percent living below what today we would call the poverty line.

These statistics would have been more useful if we knew the state in which the Portuguese left Goa and the French left Pondicherry, even though both these European possessions were much smaller in size and would have had better report cards, just as Union Territories in India have today compared to the larger states. It would be equally interesting to compare India’s literacy and life expectancy with that of Britain from 1773 to 1947 to get an understanding of the slope of the trendline.

Although there is a fleeting mention of Sir Arthur Cotton and his pioneering irrigation project across the Godavari, his dedicated work and influence that led to the creation of India’s Public Works Department is overlooked.

9. From Darkness to Light

Without European colonisation, there would have been no political entity called “India”… with the weakening of the Mughal Empire and the assertion of independence by hundreds of independent rulers, each with their own systems of administration and justice and notions of kingship. While Persian and Urdu would have been the state language in Hindustan, below the Vindhyas, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam would have been the lingua franca. At the very least, Punjab (of which Kashmir was a province), Mysore, Hyderabad and Travancore could have been Independent states.

Even though British rule in India is a distant memory, it still evokes emotional and angry responses in Indians today. Shashi Tharoor’s speech in Oxford went viral and even the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi praised Tharoor for “articulating India’s point of view”. It is easy to see why the speech would have gone viral, reflecting the feel-good impact especially among Indians.

If the period of British rule in India was an “Era of Darkness”, we can reasonably expect that 70 years after Independence, was enough time to have come out into blinding light.

The Upanishadic poet prayed:

Asato ma sad gamaya | Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya | Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I.iii.28

“From the unreal to the real! From darkness to light! From death to life!”

Poverty should have been eradicated, Rule of Law should have long been in force, Caste cruelty and atrocities should have become distant memories, Full literacy for men and women, Health for all, No more looting of our tax money, to be stashed away in England or Swiss Bank accounts, and no more “scams” (like the Railway Scam in British India) involving public money.

The purposively selected examples below tell a different story about Independent India’s record of governance which can rapidly change the “Feel Good” to “Feel Wretched”.


During 2006-2007, malnutrition contributed to seven million Indian children dying, nearly two million before the age of one .


As for Rule of Law, (Law and order is a State subject) we see that according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every day [an average of] 93 women are raped in the country. The number of rapes in Delhi almost doubled from 585 in 2012 to 1,441 in 2013.

On the night of 28 September 2015, in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh a mob of Hindus attacked a Muslim family on the suspicion of having killed a cow and eaten its flesh. Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi (52 yrs old) was killed and his 22 year old son Danish was injured.


On July 11 2016, a group of Dalits who were skinning a dead cow in Mota Samadhiyala, a village near Una town in Saurashtra region were rounded up, tied and publicly flogged with steel pipes and iron rods by members of the local cow protection committee. The flogging was filmed, posted on Facebook as warning to other Dalits were they to repeat such acts.

Most Dalits in many parts of the country are not allowed entry into temples in villages; common crematoriums too are out of bounds to them.


According to the INDIAN EXPRESS (9 Feb 2016), 29 state-owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between financial years 2013 and 2015, much more than they had done in the preceding nine years. Writing off bad loans means transfer of tax money to private capitalists while acknowledging that it ensured that mass layoffs and retrenchments may not have taken place.

On 5 May 2016, a JD(U) Member said in Rajya Sabha that Corporate houses owe about Rs 5 lakh crore to PSU banks. In particular, he referred to the Adani Group, alleging that the company got “unimaginable” favours and its debt stands at Rs 72,000 crore.

On 9 Feb 2017, India handed over its request to extradite business tycoon Vijay Mallya from the UK where he had flown last year after defaulting on bank loans worth 900 crore and facing charges of money laundering.

The Saradha Scam was a Ponzi Scheme in W.Bengal and Odisha, involving Rs.40,000 crores, which collapsed in 2013 and led to the arrest of Rajya Sabha and State Legislative Assembly members.

A list of 32 major scams in India from 1940’s to the present time can be found on


According to a statistic offered by Credit Suisse, “India’s wealth increased by $2.284 trillion between 2000 and 2015. Of this rise, the richest 1% has hogged 61%.”

India is listed under “Very High Inequality” (Share of Wealth of top 10% population > 70%) countries by Credit Suisse in their 2014 Global Wealth Report.


According to a former Women and Child Development Minister (Krishna Tirath, 2011) “Large scale displacement of tribals due to land acquisition for development is a challenge.” Large scale land alienation takes place despite tribal welfare laws such as the PESA 1996, the Forest Rights Act 2006 or even the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.


So what has Independence and democracy done for the people of India? What have we been able to change? Where is the light?

More importantly, where is the heat? Why is there no anger? Is it possible that when Indians elected by us or Corporations registered under the Indian Companies Act 2013 steal our money it is less painful than when the East India Company ripped India off? No public anger although we are better educated now and have communications at the speed of thought today? Is it because there is a separate rule of law for members of our ruling class by which FIRs are not lodged or cases are dragged on till they slip beyond the limits of public memory?

How will reparations for British rule in India help us today?

(6582 Words)

Kiliroor Kunnil Devi Temple

15 Feb

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After visiting the Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple, my taxi driver took off with great confidence for Kiliroor Kunnil Devi Temple. He said his home was in Kummanom and he knows the area well.

Kottayam was a small town in my childhood and had its centre at the Thirunnakkara Maidanam.
From the Central Junction, we took the road to Kumarakom, past Chalukunnu to the Meenachil River Bank Road. A little after the Illickal Municipal Ground, we turned right and crossed the river over Illickal Bridge.

At Illickal Junction Bus Stop, we turned left onto Thiruvarppu Road. Another turn left on to Kanjiram Jetty Road, then right onto Kiliroor Devi Temple Road.

The Kunnil Bhagavathy Temple is reckoned to be 2000 years old and is situated on a hilltop which “stands out” in this flat riverine area.
In Buddhist times, this was a Monastery for Monks and Buddhist Nuns. It was a Centre of learning in Ayurveda medicine.

Today it has several Hindu shrines, two of which are surprisingly still dedicated to Buddha or “Buddhan” in Malayalam.There are two statues of Buddha where he is shown in the form of Lord Srikrishna. One of the statues is made of bronze and the other of limestone.

The other deities are of Lord Siva, Lord Ganapathy, Lord Sastha and Yakshi.

Daily there are three poojas – Usha Pooja (at dawn), Ucha (at noon) Pooja and Athazha (at dusk) Pooja.

The Annual festival lasts 8 days in Meenom (March-April).

Thanks to the ¼” metal spread on the grounds, walking around barefoot can be quite painful unless you are on one of the paved pathways.

With the self-confidence of the ignorant and irreverent, I took many photographs although I learnt later that photography is allowed only with permission.

I passed a few middle aged men, bare-bodied and wearing only mundus… As I walked past them, I heard one of them passing a comment, “Naale nammade ambalaththinte padam London newspaperugalil varum” (Tomorrow, photos of our temple will appear in London newspapers).

Passing Comments or “Commentadi” is a fine art in Southern Kerala (old Travancore) where groups of men hang around at road junctions and pass comments about passers-by.

Usually women are the target and even though some of the comments are humorous, they can be rude and mean sometimes.

I decided I would turn the comments into an opportunity for a friendly chat and turned around with a broad smile. I said I am from Bangalore so it’s more likely the photos will appear in the Deccan Herald.

“You speak Malayalam?” The ice was broken and the tension was dissolved in smiles and chuckles all around. I walked up to them and told them of my interest in the Buddhist history of this temple. I told them I had been to Neelamperoor only a few hours ago.

The temple is now closed. You can see the Buddha statues in bronze and limestone there… he said pointing to one of the shrines…

“Can I take photographs?” I asked.

“Oh no… you will require permission from our Sub Division Officer.

“You see, Neelamperoor is a Private temple. This temple comes under the Devaswom Board. We are Board staff.” He scratched his belly thoughtfully and belched noisily.

“You can go around and see the shrines” he added.

I wasnt happy, but there was nothing I could do. I have added a photo which I got from the internet showing the statue of Sree Krishna.

I walked past the shrine of Sastha, who is identified with Lord Ayyappa and youthful memories prompted me to mutter, “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo”… I had worked in Pathanamthitta District (not yet carved out of Quilon District in 1970), on Lahai Rubber Estate, which was about 30 km downhill from Sabarimala and during the season, the chants of “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo” got seared into my youthful memory.

I was just 22 years old at the time and understood very well the urgency of Ayyappans coming downhill after 40 days of “Vrutham” or abstinence.
Enterprising estate labourers set up stalls on both sides of the Rajampara Perumon Road selling homemade liquor. Young women who wanted to make a quick buck would dress up, paint their faces, and wait for customers.

The word “Saranam” meaning refuge is not usually used in the adoration of any other Hindu deity. It is a very important clue about our Buddhist past.
No. of words: 740

Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple

14 Feb

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The first thing I thought about on the morning of 7 Feb 2017 was that time is running out. There was something I had been planning to do in Kottayam for a long time and putting off each time I visited due to other pressures.

Sometimes you just have to confront your inertia and take charge. I had to visit two temples in Kottayam. One near Kurichy on the Kottayam Changanacherry Road and the other in Kiliroor near Illickal Bridge, Thazhathangady, an old riverside market.

I asked for a taxi to come at 0830 hrs and was ready with my camera and pocket diary.

The driver was Naushad, a bit overfriendly and smelling of “All the perfumes of Araby”…

When I explained to him where I wanted to go, he smiled and nodded, Malayalee style, indicating he understood.

Malayalees think…perhaps a bit too much… and always seek the reason for behaviour…so Naushad asked unabashedly why I am going to these old temples. I had a readymade story. I am a teacher. I am studying “Purathana Boudhika Viharangal”… (Ancient Buddhist Viharas)…

Naushad was satisfied. He nodded and raced his car down the “back road” via Pallom, past the Buchanan Institute and got onto the MC Road. A short way down we reached Mandiram junction near Kurichy and turned in to the Chethipuzha road.

Naushad parked the taxi in the maidanam outside the temple and I got out. People in the nearby SNDP Office came out onto their verandahs to take a look at me. An elderly woman with an empty basket dangling from her right hand stopped on the road to get a good look at me.

At the gate was a handsome barebodied man in a “kaavi” (saffron) kaili (coloured mundu – not Veshti, not Dhoti). I introduced myself, announced my mission and he nodded his understanding. His name turned out to be “Omanakuttan” which roughly translates to “Darling Little Boy”… the kind of pet name you would expect a six year old to have. It turned out that Omanakuttan was exactly my age, although he may have been a few weeks older. What a splendid name to have!

“Remove your shoes”… Omanakuttan ordered… I slipped my shoes off and walked in behind him.

This temple is almost 2000 years old (250-300 AD) and was built as a Buddhist Vihara. Wooo… thats a long time ago… The Gupta Era began in 320 AD. The Chinese traveller Fa Hien hadn’t started his 15 year tour of the subcontinent (circa 405-411 AD). He had actually attended a Padayani festival right here and recorded it in his memoirs.

Although it started as a Buddhist Monastery, it was now a Bhaghavahy Temple, and the principal deity is Goddess Vanadurga.

Unfortunately the various shrines of Ganapathi, Siva {this area is called “Neelamperoor”, named after Lord Siva of the blue throat. (Neelam = blue, per = name, oor = village)}, Dharmasasta, Vishnu and Rakshasas were not open and I couldn’t find out which was which.

Dharmasasta (Sasta) is a popular God in Kerala. He is the product of the union of Siva and Mohini (a female transformation of Vishnu). This myth is seen as the resolution of the conflict between the followers of the two cults.)

Lord Ayyappa, the hugely popular deity of Sabarimala in Kerala is considered to be a manifestation of Dharmasasta. Ayappa, a prince of the Royal Family of Pandalam, now in Pathanamthitta district is also revered as a Buddhist saint. Pilgrims going to Sabarimala chant, “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo” which is a modification of “Buddham Saranam Gacchami” (I go to the Buddha for Refuge).

Omanakuttan explained to me that Sasta is associated with Shani Gruha (Planet Saturn) and people pray to him to reduce the ill effects of “Shani Dosham”.

The temple has two important festivals:

a) Ten day festival in the Malayalam month Meenam (March-April) and

b) The Pooram Padayani a unique festival blending Buddhist and Hindu culture and roughly coinciding with the ten days of Onam in the Malayalam month Chingam (August-September)

A very important symbol of the Pooram Padayani is the Swan (Hamsam) and a huge effigy is built with local materials like coconut fronds, banana stems and flowers. The swan is a symbol of the argument between the young Buddha and his cousin Devadutta who shot and wounded a swan with his bow and arrow.

I got a guided tour of the temple grounds although I wish I had come better prepared to understand the significance of each of the shrines.

A shrine dedicated to Lord Siva had his 108 names on a board outside. I didnt know that “Aashutosh” (One who fulfills wishes instantly) is one of Siva’s names… or Kamalakshana (Lotus eyed Lord) or Mahabuddhi (extremely intelligent), or Vachaspati (Lord of Speech).

Before long it was time to say goodbye to Omanakuttan who shook hands with me Western style and invited me to visit again during the festival.

I waved to the staff of the SNDP Yogam with my new found reverence for Sree Narayana Guru. They invited me for a cup of tea… but I had to go to Kiliroor, see the Kiliroor Kunnil Bhagavathy temple there and release the taxi… so I bade goodbye, which translates as “Yatra parayuga” in Malayalam which literally means, “Talk of the journey”.

Traces of Buddhism in Kerala

12 Feb

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Hi all,

On 7th Feb 2017, my 70th birthday, I did something that I had been planning to do for a long time. I gave myself a treat, hired a taxi and visited two Buddhist Monastery sites in Kottayam, the town where I was born.


Very few people know today that Kerala had a sizable population of Buddhists in the first century. Buddhism is believed to have reached Kerala from Sri Lanka or “Eelam”. The early Buddhists were called “Eelavar” or “Ezhavar”. In Malabar this group were called “Theeyar” (People from the “Theep” or Dweep).

Although Ezhavas are included as Hindus today, their organization, Sree Narayana Dharma Palanam (SNDP) promotes “One Caste, One religion, One God for man”, which is a Buddhist precept.

Hinduism was the ancient religion of the region, which was strengthened by Adi Sankaracharya in the eighth century (788–820 CE).

According to popular legend St. Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ is said to have arrived in Muziris, a port city near Ernakulam in AD 52 and converted some families. “There is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity spread in Kerala by the 6th century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically…”


There are two Hindu temples in Kottayam which were originally Buddhist Viharas or Monasteries.

1. Neelamperoor Pally Bhagavathi Temple believed to have been built between AD 250 and 300.
Location: Lat: 9:29:48.714 and Long: 76:30:20.658
Route: Thirunnakkara Maidanam to Neelamperoor 15 km. At Mandiram Junction near Kurichy turn right onto Chethipuzha Kurichy Road. Ask for the Pally Bhagavathi Temple. Originally only Buddhist temples were called “Pally” and the monastic schools attached to them were called “Pallikoodam”. Today Christian Churches and Muslim Mosques are called “Palli”… it is not a name usually associated with Hindu temples.

2. Kiliroor Kunnil Bhagavathy Temple is believed to be 2000 years old.
Location: Lat:9:34:52.344 and Long: 76:29:8.484
Route: Thirunnakkara Maidanam is 6 km on the Kottayam Kumarakom Road. Cross Illickal Bridge, turn left at Illickal Jn. and get onto Thiruvarpu Road. Turn left onto Kiliroor Devi Temple Road.

Instead of a lawn, the grounds are covered with ¼” granite chips and having to walk barefoot was a very painful experience.

I will add photographs when I post individual stories on each of the temples.

As a teaser, I am adding one photo each of the entrance to the two temples.

Midnight Visitor in Meerut

12 Feb

This story (Part I) with photographs is extracted from a piece first published in my Yahoo Group pages on 20 May 2012. This is an edited version with an additional section (Part II) finalised on 20 Jan 2017. The additional section is a creative end-piece.


On 21 March 2009, I went to work as Monitoring & Evaluation Consultant on an ADB financed project in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.

Ever since university days, I have been interested in Indian colonial history and novels from this period.

While in Dehradun, I knew that I was just four hours away from Meerut, where the Great Indian Mutiny broke out on Sunday 10 May 1857.

It so happened that 10th May 2009 was also a Sunday, just as it had been in 1857.

Being a weekend, I decided I would go to Meerut on Saturday 9th May, spend the day and Sunday absorbing the Mutiny vibrations of 152 years before. I would go by bus to save money, although it was a four-hour journey at the height of summer.

On Sunday 12 April 2009, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Dehradun, I met school classmate Air Vice Marshal Don Jonas (Retd.) and Lt. Gen. Eric George Kerr (Retd.), whose son Pat Kerr was an alumnus of my school although about 15 years junior to me. Lt. General Kerr had retired as Director General of Artillery.

I told Gen. Kerr that I would like to call on him the Sunday after next if I may. The General smiled and said, “Of course”…

And so it was, that on Sunday 3rd May 2009 I made my way to Edelweiss Cottage in Clement town where the General lived.

Over a beer before lunch, I told the General of my plans to visit Meerut on 9th May. I believe I got General Kerr rather excited when I explained that the weekdays and dates coincided with those of the calamitous weekend in 1857.

Before my beer was over, General Kerr announced that he would be pleased to accompany me to Meerut on 9th May 2009.

“But, sir, its summer, I’m taking a bus for the four-hour journey and you are over seventy years old…”, I protested….

“Nonsense, I can go anywhere you can go… I’ll call the Brigadier in command of the Cantonment. He’s one of my young men…He’ll reserve rooms for us at the MES Inspection Bungalow in Meerut…”

“Sorry sir, you’re not coming with me… your children will never forgive me if they know I let you rough it out with me…”

The General wasn’t listening… He was already on the phone, calling up the Cantonment Commander and fixing up accommodation in less than two minutes! General Kerr had a sister in Meerut, so he called her and then spoke to one of her sons, a Colonel and asked him to organise dinner at the Wheler Club on 9th May 2009.

Thanks to mobile phones, I phoned Pat Kerr and told him of my dilemma… Pat thought I was right in refusing to take his dad along with me…. “It’s too hot for dad to be travelling… anyway, I’ll call him and dissuade him.”

A minute later Pat called to say that his dad had refused to listen and was determined to go…”Be careful, Ajit, take care of dad…” In one sentence the awesome responsibility was transferred to me!

The first decision I made was that we would not travel by bus… I decided to hire a taxi and asked my office to arrange a car for me for the weekend… they organised a TATA INDICA car for me. We settled on a payment of three thousand rupees for the weekend starting 0500 hrs on Saturday 9 May and ending midnight on Sunday 10 May 2009.

We arrived in Meerut at about 1000 hrs on 9th May with just one stop at Roorkee to fix a puncture…
The MES Inspection Bungalow was like a five-star hotel. What we got was a suite of rooms each, with uniformed servants to wait on us. Obviously meant only for Flag Officers (Brigadier and above!)

In the evening, I enjoyed a beer on the lawns of the Wheler Club, established on 03 Feb 1863 and named after Maj Gen Francis Wheler CB (1801-1878) who commanded Meerut Division of the Bengal Army in 1861. The badge of Wheler Club still carries the family crest of its founder who was promoted as Lt. General Francis Wheler, 10th Baronet and installed as a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

A game of Housie was in progress. Our armed forces clubs seem to have taken to Housie and Tambola (both based on the British game of chance called Bingo) with great enthusiasm. The voice of the caller droned over the loudspeaker in an educated Indian English accent, “Four and Six, Forty Six, Up to tricks”; “Six and Two, Sixty Two, Tickety Boo”… No wonder Malcolm Muggeridge observed that the last true Englishman would be an Indian! General

Wheler wouldn’t have known that almost 150 years had rolled by!
Dinner wasn’t from a nineteenth century British menu… it was a splendid Chinese meal.


Back at the EME Guest House, in my suite, I had a hot shower and sat reading for about an hour in the living room. I carefully arranged a book mark, laid down my book and gazed at the cover page…”The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut in 1857″ by J.A.B. Palmer, published December 2007 by CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS. I made my way in comfortable carpet slippers across the dark brown marble floor into the air conditioned private bedroom.

I was tired after the dusty journey in the small TATA INDICA and drifted off to sleep by about 2130 hrs. I had left the light on at a small desk in the living room so that I wouldn’t be disoriented when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I woke up at about 0200 hrs with a need to go to the bathroom at the far end of the dressing room. As I passed the door to the living room, I thought I saw the silhouette of someone sitting at the desk… rather odd… who could it be? I had locked the front door and bolted it.

I opened the door a little wider to get a better view and I froze as the old hinges creaked and squealed…

From the corner of my eye I thought the silhouette at the desk slowly rose and moved noiselessly towards the expensive curtains of the French windows. It appeared as if the shadow walked into the curtained windows and disappeared.

I stood silently for about five minutes wondering if the intruder had heard me move and had hidden himself behind the curtains.

I took a heavy wooden coat hanger from the rack near the front door and tip-toed to my bed. I reached under my pillow for my 500 Lumen LED torch. I pointed it towards the window and pressed the switch button. Was there a movement behind the curtain? I summoned all my courage and crept up to the living room door and switched on the main light, the coat hanger poised for combat.

I padded silently to the French window and held my breath and… in one smooth movement, dragged the curtain to one side with the coat hanger. Nothing… absolutely nothing… and the windows were closed.

I walked to the desk and found my book open… I was sure I had left it closed and put a book mark in it.

I picked up my gun-metal hip flask from the table to fix myself a drink. I was surprised to find it empty… I was sure it was half full when I packed up for the night. Fortunately, I had a full bottle of Old Monk Rum in my suitcase. I poured myself a stiff drink and settled in the comfortable wing chair.

I finished my drink and went back to bed. I tossed and turned and pondered on my experience. Towards early morning I dropped into a deep sleep and woke up an hour later.

I got ready and went to the Mess for Breakfast. The smartly uniformed Mess Havildar showed me to a table with starched white table cloth and porcelain and silver dishes with the MES Logo on them.

There was an elderly gentleman at the table… He nodded to me and I introduced myself. He half rose, wiped his lips carefully with his serviette and said he was Brigadier Abraham Sarkis. He seemed to be in his Seventies and said he lives at the Wheler Club, just off the Mall Road. He said he came every Sunday morning to the MES Mess for breakfast.

“The scrambled eggs on toast here is something special”, he said.

I learnt from the Mess Havildar that Gen. Kerr had gone to his sister’s house for breakfast and would be back at 0930 hrs.

I struck up a conversation with Brigadier Sarkis. He was a Lahore born Armenian and had joined the British Indian Army just before Independence. He studied engineering and got a Commission in the MES and chose to join the Indian Army at the time of partition.

As I finished my broken wheat porridge and waited for the plates to be cleared, I struck up a conversation with Brigadier Sarkis.

“Last night I had a strange experience”, I said… “I woke up in the middle of the night and thought there was someone sitting at the desk in my room. By the time I bestirred myself I thought the intruder had walked into the French window… very strange…”

“Ah…” said Brigadier Sarkis… you saw Old General Hewie…  Maj-Gen W.H. Hewitt. He commanded the 7th (Meerut) Division at the time of the Mutiny. I have heard of many sightings in the Western block of the Inspection Bungalow.

“As you know the Mutiny broke out in Meerut on 10th May 1857 and then there was an orgy of arson and killing…

“Of course General Hewitt, who used to live in a stately house which is now the Headquarters of the Allahabad Bank lost his command… it was a big disgrace…Col. John Finnis, was shot off his horse at the parade ground on 10th May 1857. In addition, officers, officers’ wives, some children, and many European men, women, and children were massacred.” Hewitt simply failed to act. He could have stopped the sepoys from riding out to Delhi… he could have changed history…”

Brigadier Sarkis paused thoughtfully and stared out of the nearest window and tapped a silver table knife metronomically against his teacup.

I had this great need to do something, so I pulled out my pocket diary and made some notes… General Hewitt could have changed history… The scrambled eggs were indeed very special, served with sausages, grilled tomato and hash potatoes.

I couldn’t have had a more exciting unexpected meeting with the Divisional Commander of Meerut in May 1857… cutting through the time barrier of 152 years!


(1843 Words)