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The Monk and I

27 Apr

Hi all,

On Sunday 23rd April 2017, I travelled from Bangalore to Mysore by the Shatabdi Express from Platform 7 of Bangalore Central with a smart Lady Officer of the CTA-SARD named Tsering Nordon.

The train takes exactly two hours from 1100 to 1300 hrs to do the 139 kms.

From Mysore, we took a taxi to Bylakuppe which is almost due West on the eastern border of Coorg District.

I checked in at a posh suite of rooms at the Theckchen Khangsar Guest House attached to the Sera Mey Monastery. Although lunch was served on the Shatabdi, I had just pecked at the food and was rather hungry.

I was dismayed to find that both the Monastery Restaurant and the Coffee Shop were closed because a senior Lama had died the previous day.

I asked a monk I saw near the Monastery Gate where I could get some food. He pointed to the East and said, “three kilometers. Camp 1 Restaurant”, in short staccato bursts.

Wow! I could walk that distance, I thought, but I would rather not… maybe I could catch an auto going past. Two autos sped past me, filled with monks, their maroon robes fluttering out of the vehicle from both sides.

The next auto that came slowed down for me and I could see that there was a single monk in it, sitting at the far corner.

“How much to Camp 1?” I asked the Auto Driver… He surprised me by saying, “Rs.10″… in Bangalore there is no such rate. The minimum is Rs.30 x 2 = Rs.60, where you get charged two ways.

I got in, arranged my backpack and two cameras on the floor of the auto and smiled at the monk who smiled back. In his hand he held a book. The cover page had a title in Tibetan. I couldnt bear to be left out… “What’s this book?” I asked…

“I teach Tibetan. For the Tenth Standard”, he said in halting English. My name is Thupten.

I introduced myself and said I am in Bylakuppe on some work for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala. The monk looked unimpressed and looked away.

Before we could exchange any further pleasantries, we had arrived in front of the Tseshung Restaurant and Tibet Bakery.

I got out, with my gear and walked to one of the tables. There were no other customers, so we could have sat anywhere.

As I laid down my cameras and back pack, the monk commented, “You carry a heavy load!” I looked at him to see if there was a hidden meaning but his face had the same impassive expression.

The restaurant keeper came to our table and displayed a menu which was a page full of coloured photos of various dishes. The monk chose a dish and then I put my index finger on an image of “Tibetan Noodles with Meat”.

I also asked for a “Non-Alcoholic Soft-Drink” with the brand name KB-500, made in Telengana… Well, well!

I was curious to know how the monk could afford a meal at this restaurant. So I asked him, and he told me he gets all his meals at his monastery, and a “stipend” of Rs.4000 per month with which he can buy whatever he wants, including eating out now and then.

He asked me where I live, and as I told him about Bangalore and how I pop in and out of the city because of my work, his face creased into a distant smile.

He commented on my spoken English and said he wished he could speak with the same self-confidence. In what might have been a volte-face, he continued, “…but you speak too fast… if you speak more slowly, I would still be here and understand what you say.”

Our food arrived and while I tucked into my noodles which cost only Rs.80/-, I decided I shall make a conscious effort to relax my mind and body.

I now had my directions for the next two days… slow down, take that load off my back. That should be easy, I thought, since there was no wi-fi here and I would carry around only my NIKON P900. Even the telephone signal was a bit dodgy so I would rely on my paper note book and ball pen and thanked God I hadn’t forgotten to write with a pen!

The Arani Palace, Satya Vijayanagaram

15 Apr

I thought it was due to the date… 13 March 2017… I was going round in circles, unable to find the palace of the Jagirdar in Arani.

This Jagirdar was a vassal of the Nawab of Arcot, and boasted a lineage going back to 1674 when the Maratha armies swept the Deccan, penetrating as far south as Thanjavur.

I knew that the palace was in a settlement called Satya Vijayanagaram. We asked people at the Magistrate’s Court at Arani and no one seemed to have heard of Satya Vijayanagaram.

“We are looking for the Arani Jagirdar’s palace”, I said…

“Oh hoho…Arani Arasanmanai… that’s in S.V.Nagar… I could have kicked myself… the place was no longer called Satya Vijayanagaram…it was S.V.Nagaram now…

Now it had become an easy task… skirt the Paiyur Lake, (12°40’23″N 79°17’31″E), cross the Poondi River and turn East towards S.V.Nagaram.

The Palace is in ruins, although the three storey facade still stands, complete with decorated pediments and Corinthian columns with Acanthus leaves and dentils.

It reminded me of the Lesser Lights of Freemasonry: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders representing Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.

I stepped into the ruined palace. The roof had caved in, the place stank of urine and there was little point in exploring any further.

The campus now houses a Regional Institute of Rural Development. There was considerable activity with groups of students moving in and out of the new building.

I walked in and stopped at the desk of an important looking man.

“Can I take a few photographs of the Palace and the campus please?” I asked.

“You have to get the permission of the Director.”

“And where can I find the Director?” I ask.

“You have to wait. He is taking a class.”

A female bureaucrat spoke to the man, “For taking photos, he may be allowed sir. Director’s permission not required.”

“It is always better to get permission”, the man in-charge asserts with some irritation.

“How long will it take before the Director comes, Sir?”

“Depends…on whether he is supervising an examination.”

I decided to make a move because I had miles to go… Vandavasi (Wandewash) was my next stop.

The Impregnable Gingee Fort

29 Mar

I visited the small town of Gingee on 14 March 2017 during my travels in the old Arcot Nawabdom. “Gingee” is the British spelling. In Tamil script it is “Senji” and pronounced “Chenji” just as one might hear “Sankarankovil” pronounced “Changarankoyil”.

Gingee Fort is 38 km due East of Tiruvannamalai. Gingee is a Taluk of Villupuram District.

The Gingee fort was originally buil by the rulers of the Chola dynasty during the 9th century AD. It changed hands to Kurumabr and then to the Vijayanagar Empire in the 13th century.

The fort was strengthened during Maratha occupation under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 AD.

Shivaji recaptured Gingee from the Bijapur sultans who had earlier taken control of the fort from the Marathas.

During Aurangzeb’s campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji’s second son Chhatrapati Rajaram who ascended the throne, sought refuge in Ginjee. The Moghuls laid siege to the fort but could not capture it for seven years. In 1698, the fort capitulated, but by then Chhatrapati Rajaram had escaped.

The fort later came under the control of the Carnatic Nawabs who lost it to the French in 1750. The British assumed control in 1761 although it was lost to Hyder Ali for a brief period.

“The Gingee Fort complex is on three hillocks: Krishnagiri to the north, Rajagiri to the west and Chandrayandurg to the southeast. The three hills together constitute a fort complex, yet each hill contains a separate and self-contained citadel. Connecting them — forming an enormous triangle, a mile from north to south — are 25-metre thick walls, punctuated by bastions and gateways giving access to the protected zones at the heart of the complex.”

The first hill, where the main fort is, is called Rajagiri. Originally it was known as Kamalagiri as well as Anandagiri. The fort here is most impregnable. To gain entry into the citadel one had to cross a chasm with the help of a small wooden draw bridge which was drawn as soon as the host troops crossed it.

I bought a tourist’s ticket for Rs.15 and set out to climb the steep slope on Rajagiri hill. The climb was so steep that with the best will in the world, I could not get beyond a third of the way where there was a circular landing with a hole in the center… probably a rotating gun turret for mounting a cannon.

I have an injury on my left knee from an old motorcycle accident and I thought discretion was the better part of valour and made a dignified retreat. In many parts there was no railing and I had to take great care not to miss my step and fall into the boulder-filled abyss.

Shivaji ranked Gingee as the “most impregnable fortress in India” and it was called the “Troy of the East” by the British.

The Ruins of Wandewash Fort

29 Mar

The history of India was irretrievably altered by the Seven Years War in Europe between 1756 and 1763.

One of the warring sides in the Seven Years War was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain, supported by Prussia, Portugal, Hanover and other small German States); while the other was led by the Kingdom of France, supported by Austria led Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Spain and Sweden).

In India meanwhile, the Mughal Empire had begun its decline following Emperor Aurangazeb’s death in 1707.

In 1739, Delhi had been brought to its knees by Persian King Nadir Shah who emptied the treasury of the Mughals and carried it away to Persia. Thirty thousand innocent men, women and children of Delhi were slaughtered in a qatl-e-aam or public killing following the attack on some Persian soldiers by Indian troops and the streets of Delhi flowed with blood for days.

A completely different kind of threat to the Mughals was posed by the English East India Company which had begun to assert itself and resort to force to protect their trading interests. This was because they discovered that despite firmans (Royal Charters) from the Sultan of Bengal and from Emperor Aurangzeb himself, they were regularly harassed by local officials who expected to be paid off.

The Carnatic Wars in India were fought between French Supported and English Supported Indian Rulers between 1746 and 1763

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

From the time the Seven Years War broke out in Europe in 1756 to its conclusion in 1763, here are the main political events that took place in India:

1756 – Accession of Siraj-ud-Daulah as Nawab of Bengal
1757 – Sack of Delhi by Ahmed Shah Abdali of Afghanistan
– Battle of Plassey
– Mir Jafar becomes Nawab of Bengal with Robert Clive’s help
1758 – Comte de Lally in India
1759 – Murder of Alamgir II by Ghazi-ud-din
1760 – Battle of Wandiwash (Vandavasi): French forces decisively defeated by the East India Company Army
1761 – Fall of Pondicherry
– Shah Alam II becomes Emperor
– Madhava Rao becomes Peshwa
– Rise of Hyder Ali
1762 –
1763 – Expulsion of Mir Kasim

The Battle of Wandiwash (22 Jan 1760) marked the end of the Carnatic Wars.

It was a decisive battle in India during the Seven Years’ War in Europe.

The French Army, under Comte de Lally, handicapped by a lack of funds and naval support, attempted to regain the fort at Wandiwash (Vandavasi), which is 95 kms South East of Vellore via Arni.

Vandavasi is about 75 kms North East of District Headquarters, Tiruvannamalai.

Comte de Lally’s army was attacked by Sir Eyre Coote’s forces and decisively defeated. The French general Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau and the French were then restricted to Pondichéry, where they surrendered on 16 January 1761.

The battle of Vandavasi (1760) brought to an end the Third and last Carnatic War.

My mission in Vandavasi on 13 March 2017 was to visit the fort and photograph it. Although we found a road junction called, Kottai Junction or Fort Junction, it was just a busy suburban town road junction.

Just as my taxi driver had begun to give up hope of finding any structure which was part of the Vandavasi fort, we got a tip from an elderly shopkeeper.

We drove through narrow streets till we came to a congested habitation where we could park the car.

An elderly housewife was drying chillies in a bamboo murram (winnowing tray). She looked curiously at us and called a young man who appeared to be handicapped. He couldn’t speak but he nodded his head confidently when the elderly woman told him to take us to the Kottai (Fort).

He took us through a small but fairly neat and clean slum to a spot where there were masonry ruins. Yes, we had found the Vandavasi Fort… or what was left of it. This was a brick and mortar structure which appeared to have collapsed on its foundations.

I stood for a minute looking at what remained of the Vandavasi fort. This was an important fort in the territory of Nayak Damerla Venkatapathy of Vandavasi, a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The Vandavasi Nayak sold a village called Madraspatanam or Chennaipatanam to East India Company Factors Andrew Cogan and Francis Day on 22 August 1639.

The founding of Madras or Chennai is commemorated as “Madras Day” on 22nd August every year.

I took a few more photos of the ruins and thought, “How the mighty have fallen”… and wondered what Sir Eyre Coote, the victorious English Commander at the battle of Wandiwash would have thought if he had seen his prize which was being gormandised by a fast growing slum.

My disabled guide took me back to my car. I thanked him and we left for Tiruvannamalai.

My only regret was that I couldnt meet my classmate from IIMB, Poongavanam whose home I remembered was in Vandavasi. Neither I nor any of our classmates on WhatsApp Group had his address or phone numbers.

Go to the Dawn Mountain

25 Mar

In January 2016, I got a copy of INDIA: A SACRED GEORGRAPHY by Diana L.Eck (Published 2012, Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House Inc., New York).

As a student of Indian History and Political Science, I have been fascinated by the spiritual unity of India despite diversity in climate, language, food, religion, social organisation and political divisions.

Although I went to school in Nilgiris District of Madras State and attended four years of college in Madras city, there were many parts of modern Tamilnadu I had not visited… like Vellore District and Tiruvannamalai District.

On one of my visits to the territories of the erstwhile Nawab of Arcot in March 2012, I spent a night at Tiruvannamalai with a plan of visiting the ancient Annamalaiyar Temple and getting photographs of Annamalai Hill – the Mountain of Light. The legend is that Shiva appeared here as as a column of fire at the top of Annamalai hills.

Those interested in this remarkable temple can look up:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annamalaiyar_Temple

The present masonry structure of the temple was built during the Chola dynasty in the 9th century, while later expansions are attributed to Vijayanagar rulers of the Sangama Dynasty (1336–1485 CE), the Saluva Dynasty and the Tuluva Dynasty (1491–1570 CE).

The priests at this temple belong to the Shaivaite community, a Brahmin sub-caste.

The western world learnt of Tiruvannamalai during the mid 20th century, through the work of Ramana Maharishi (1879–1950 CE). The cave where Ramana meditated is on the lower slopes of the Annamalai hills, with the ashram further down at the foothills.

I stayed at a small hotel named Aakash Inn. [Address: 79/1, Chengam road, (Opp to shree ramana maharishi ashram), Tiruvannamalai, 606601, India] which was very clean with well equipped air-conditioned rooms. The quality could be explained by the number of foreign tourists who were staying there, although obviously no-frills customers who had come to the Jyotirlinga (the lingam of light) in search of spiritual solace.

The annual festival of Kartikai Deepam falls in the lunar month of Kartikai, spanning November and December. The festival celebrates the manifestation of Shiva in the form of a column of fire for the sake of mankind. He is believed to have later transformed into the sacred Hill Arunachala.

“You must create a Divine and Noble town named Arunachala. You must also build in it a Divine Temple adorned with jewels. Lord Shiva said: Gautama! You must worship Arunachala Hill, which appears as a lustrous and immeasurable Linga on earth, for the welfare of the entire world. Let MY power (Shakthi) which is inseparable from ME and sustains the glory of this temple be installed on MY northern side and worshipped as Apithakuchambal (Unnamulai Amman). Since Bala Ganapathi is the bestower of all prosperity, let HIM be well adorned and worshipped in front of ME.”
Ref:
https://theholyarunachala.wordpress.com/tag/unnamulai-amman/

After circumambulating the temple (with my shoes on) ), I enjoyed drinking “Kumbakonam Degree Coffee” at a small restaurant just outside the temple premises.

 

 

 

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.

BACKGROUND

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…”

TRACES OF BUDDHISM IN KOTTAYAM

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.

PART I

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.

PART II

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!

AM

(1843 Words)