Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tsunami and Tamil Nadu

"Tsunami" as the recent holocaust that severely shook the southern part of the country, especially Tamil Nadu is called, is not something new as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned. The Tamil country, especially ancient Pandya Nadu, was literally swept off its feet, not once, but twice in the pre-Christian era, as revealed by Tamil literature, which fact has been confirmed by historians. The first one was believed to have struck the Tamil Nadu coast around 500 B.C., and the second one 200 years later. As a result the Pandyas lost their capital cities--"Then Madurai" in the first sea-swell and Kapadapuram in the second and vast areas, 49 Naadus to be specific and two rivers.
Scholars, of late call this catastrophe as "Kadal Koll" which term is not found in the Tamil Lexicon published by a band of scholars under the leadership of late S. Vaiyapuri Pillai in the 1920's under the auspices of the Madras University. It mentions this phenomenon as "Kadarperukku", which seems to be more apt. "Koll", according to the Lexicon, means a planet. Perhaps the scholars might have called it "Kadal Koll" as they felt that the sea had taken away vast areas and the term “Koll” was derived from the word "Kolluthal" which denotes anything that is taken or accepted. The Sangam literary work, "Kalithogai" (Mullaikkali, verse number 4) mentions it as "Kadal vowal". The poem says that when tidal waves swept away his land, the Pandyan monarch of undying glory did not despair, but forged ahead into the territories of Cheras and Chozhas and brought the invaded country under his sway, thus making good the loss of territory due to sea-swell.
"Silappadikaram", one of the five Tamil epics, also describes this land-grabbing tidal wave as the vengeful retort of the vanquished sea, smarting under an earlier victory over it, traditionally attributed to an earlier Pandyan potentate. The Pandyan king, known as Kadal Vadimpalampa Nindra Pandyan, was said to have thrown his spear towards the sea. Perhaps he might have reclaimed some land under the sea. The sea as a retort not only swallowed a large area including Pahruli river and Panmalai Adukkam. This only shows that the sea will not tolerate any attempt made to disturb the Nature's balance.
The first sea-swell took place during the reign of King Kadunkon and it not only swallowed his capital, Then Madurai, but also vast areas. Undeterred by this fury of Nature, the king moved northwards and set up his new capital, Kapadapuram, which literally means the doors of the gateway. It was at Then Madurai that the Pandyan kings ranging from Kaisinavazhudhi to Kadunkon set up the first Tamil academy known as Mudhal Tamil Sangam and many works like "Mudhu Naarai", "Mudhu Kurugu", "Kalariyavirai" and others were ushered in. All of them were lost during the sea-swell. It was in the second Tamil academy that Tholkappiyam, the earliest extant Tamil grammar work, was ushered in by its author, Tholkappiyar. Scholars like Dr. Thamizhannal have concluded that the three Tamil academies flourished between 1000 B.C. and 200 A.D. Hence they feel that the sea-swells might have rocked the Tamil country sometime during these 1200 years.
The second capital of the Pandya kings is also mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana as "Pandya Kapadakam".When Sugriva gives instructions to his Vanara army led by Angadha, going in search of Sita, he asks them to avoid going to Kapadapuram as otherwise, they, enticed by its riches like golden and pearl gates, will forget their mission and stay there. Some scholars are of the opinion that this only refers to the gates of the Pandya capital and not Kapadapuram. Whatever it may be, the sea also swallowed this great city during the reign of Mudathirumaran. The king, who somehow escaped the Nature's fury went further and was searching for a suitable site for the new capital by setting up a temporary headquarters at Manavur, near Madurai, which is identified with the present Manalur near Madurai on the road to Rameswaram. The king felt that they had lost the two capitals as they were situated in coastal areas and hence the new capital should be set up somewhere in interior land. It was thus the present Madurai was chosen as the capital as an ancient Siva temple existed there and it formed the nucleus for the new capital city. The king decided to name the new capital as Madurai as the capital with the same name was lost in the first sea-swell.
The commentator of the Silapadikaram, Adiyarku Nallar, mentions two rivers, which were lost during the deluges, Pahruli and Kumari. The great scholar, Dr. U. Ve. Saminatha Iyer, in his glossary to the Silappadikaram, says that these were two rivers, which were lost during the sea-swell along with many areas. Adiyarku Nallar says that in the submerged Then Madurai, 89 Pandyan kings ruled patronising the Tamil academies and of them seven kings were poets themselves. The land that was lost consisted of Aezh (seven) Thenga Nadu, Aezh Madurai Nadu, Aezh Munpaalai Nadu, Aezh Pinpaalai Nadu, Aezh Gunakarai Nadu, Aezh Kurumpanai Nadu, Aezh Kundra Nadu, Kumari, Panmalai Adukkam and forest areas. Of these Thenga Nadu means land of coconut trees, and Kurumpanai Nadu means the land of small palmyrah trees. While palmyrah trees generally are tall it is interesting to note that the lost Tamil country possessed dwarf varieties. Munpaalai and Pinpalai Nadus were areas, which had parts of deserted lands as there was no separate desert area in the Tamil country. The grammar work, Tholkappiyam, says that due to over-exploitation Mullai and Kurinji, the cultivable lands and forest areas turned into deserts. The total extent of the lost area had been given as 700 "Kaavathams" (Kaavatham is a land measurement of ancient Tamils).
All these only prove the point that the ancient Tamil country protruded into the Indian Ocean far beyond the present Kanyakumari, below the southern limit of the present Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also lost vast territory in the south during these sea-swells, according to its chronicles like "Mahavamsam" and "Rajavali". While these were the two major deluges that reduced Tamil Nadu to its present size, there were also other minor sea-swells like the one witnessed recently, which swallowed cities like Poompuhar, Korkai and Kadalmallai (Mahabalipuram) that existed on the eastern coast. All these had passed into pages of history.
The so-called modern "tsunamis" had been attacking the Tamil country from time to time in the past two centuries. On December 31, 1881, there was a tidal wave attack on the then Madras and Pamban island due to the earthquake in Car Nicobar islands and another on June 26, 1941, again on Madras and Pamban due to tremors in the Andamans. The tidal wave attack on December 23, 1964, which washed away the Pamban rail bridge and reduced the holy place of Dhanushkodi to a ghost town, will be fresh in every one's memory. The Dhanushkodi disaster was caused by the cyclone but the present one without any warning symptom is unparalleled in history.

Monday, June 13, 2005



What is Sanatana Dharma? It means the oldest religious philosophy or way of life. It is the name by which realisation of truths and varied experiences of thousands of sages and seers immortalised in scriptures like the Vedas and incorporated in them, and practised for thousands of years in ancient Bharata Varsha, is known. These sages did not give any name for their religious philosophy and those who came later denoted it by this name.
But the alien invaders like Romans, Greeks and others who came to ancient Bharata Varsha called it as the land of Sindhu as they came across the river by that name now flowing in the western part of the sub-continent. They gave the name of Sindhu not only to the country but also to the people living on the banks of that river and beyond it and called them as Sindhus or Hindus and the religious philosophy practised by the people as Hinduism. The name of Sindhu later became India and this was how the vast landmass, lying between the Himalayas in the north and Kanyakumari in the south, came to be known by that name. Hence to call the religion practised in ancient Bharata Varsha as Hinduism, though widely accepted now, seems to be rather inappropriate.
This landmass was the place where one of the ancient civilisations flourished. The people who lived there in times of yore and who saw and experienced the bad and good effects of Sun, Moon, thunder, lightning, sea, rivers, mountains, rain, trees, fire and other elements of Nature, worshipped them in the form of stones or implements, which they carved out and sheltered them under trees. Later they erected structures around them with the help of stones or wood. They later built temples when the worship of Gods in the form of paintings, murals or idols carved from stones or wood came into vogue.

VEDAS: When they felt the need for conducting prayers to these Gods, Vedas and Vedangas were preached. They were not written down in manuscripts but were handed down orally. There is a Tamil term, “Ezhuthaakkilavi” or unwritten word in the ancient Tamil grammar work, “Tholkappiyam” to denote the Vedas, which confirms this view. The Supreme Lord handed them down to the four-headed God, Brahma, who was also known as “Chathurmugan” and he, in turn taught these Vedas to saints or “Rishis”, who handed down them to their disciples and through them they spread to every nook and corner of the country and also to other parts of the world. The four Vedas are Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva. The first two generally consist of prayers and hymns to be recited while conducting various rituals to propitiate Gods. These four Vedas are further divided into six parts known as Siksha, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Sandas, Jothisha and Kalpa. The four Upa-ankas or sub-parts of Vedas are Meemamsa, Nyaya, Purana and Smriti.
Vedas are also denoted by the Tamil term of “Marai” as they contain hidden truths and details about religion. As Vedas form the basis of the religion it is also known as the Vedic religion or “Vaideeka Matham”. It has six branches known as “Shannmatha” — Vaishnavam, Saivam, Saaktham, Kaumaram, Gaanapathyam and Sauram -- describing the ways of worshipping six Gods — Vishnu, Siva, Sakthi or Parvathi or Mother Goddess, Kumara or Skanda or Subrahmanya or Muruga, Ganapathi or Vinayaka and Surya or Sun-God.
The four Upa Vedas that arose from Vedas are Ayurveda (medical science), Dhanurveda (archery), Kandarva Veda and Artha Sastra. Sage Vyasa, considered as an incarnation of Lord Narayana, the Supreme Lord, collected the four Vedas from different sources and codified them as Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva and hence he is known as Veda Vyasa.
Upanishads, which are considered to be the essence of the Vedas, are also known as Vedanta, Veda Siras, Rahasya and by other names. They are 108 in number, according to one section of scholars and according to another group they are 120 in number. Twelve of these Upanishads — Isavasya, Kena, Kada, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Thaithiriya, Aithreya, Chandokya, Brahadaranya, Swedasvathara and Kaivalya — are considered to be important.
As it was felt that Vedas and Upanishads could not be easily understood by laymen, Puranas and Itihasas, which contained stories from the lives of saintly men and God’s incarnations, were written during the Vedic period to stress the need for leading virtuous life. The term “Purana” in Sanskrit means old. The Puranas and Itihasas help us understand the way of life of the people, who lived thousands of years ago. They give detailed information about the universe, its creation and destruction, holy places, trees and water sources, astrology, medicine, art forms, music, government and its administration, social life of the people, greatness of chaste women, justice, moral codes and other essential things to be understood and practised in life.
The five essential characteristics of these “Puranas” are “Sargam” or the creation of the universe, “Pratisargam” or the creation of the universe after the great deluge, “Vamsam” or the dynasties, “Manvantaram” or the ushering in of various periods named after “Manus” who were prominent in those periods (the present one is known as “Vaivaswata Manvantaram”, named after Vaivaswata Manu) and “Vamsanu Charita” or the details about kings who belonged to solar, lunar and other dynasties.


PURANAS: The total number of Puranas is18 and there are 18 more sub-epics, known as “Upa-Puranas”. Of them 10 are Siva Puranas as they speak about the glory of Lord Siva, the Destroyer. They are Saivam (also known as Vayu Puranam), Bavishyam, Lingam, Skaandam, Brahmandam, Mathsyam, Markandeyam, Koormam, Varaham and Vaamanam.
There are four Puranas describing the greatness of Lord Narayana, the Protector. They are Vishnu Puranam, Bhagavatam, Naratheeyam and Gaarudam.
Two Puranas — Brahmandam and Padmam -- are dedicated to Lord Brahma, the Creator. Brahma Vaivartham speaks about the glory of Sun God and Agneyam, the glory of Fire God.
There are 18 Upa-Puranas—Kapilam, Uchanam, Kaali, Sanathkumaram, Saambavam, Sivadharmam, Sowram, Durvasam, Naarasimham, Nandi, Naaradam, Parasariyam, Angeerasam, Barghavam, Manavam, Mareecham, Vaasishtam, Lingam and Vaarunam.
Each Purana consists of thousands of verses known as Slokas. For example, Skaandam, singing the glory of Skanda or Muruga, is said to consist of one-lakh Slokas. Many of the Puranas are in Sanskrit and they have not been translated into Tamil. Lord Siva handed down Siva Puranas to Nandikeswara, who gave them to Sanathkumara, who in turn handed them down to Sage Vyasa and from him they were passed on to Sudhas and other sages. Vishnu Puranas were given by Lord Narayana to Brahma, and from him they came to sages like Vyasa, Romaharshana and others.

ITIHASAS: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are known as Itihasas and they speak about the glory of Lord Narayana’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. The Lord came down to earth to save the sages, savants and others from the evil designs of demons and these incarnations are said to be countless. However, ten of them – Matsya (fish), Koorma (tortoise), Varaha (wild boar), Narasimha (half lion, half man), Vaamana (dwarf), Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki – are considered to be most important. According to scholars these ten incarnations signify the evolution of life on the earth, first as fish, which lived only in water, then as tortoise, which lived both on land and in water, wild boar, which eats the root of a grass known as “Korai”, half animal and half human form, known as Narasimha, then as Vaamana or short-stature man, Parasurama, an angry young man, Rama, a virtuous man and Krishna, the universal teacher, who gave the Bhagavad Gita. The last incarnation, Kalki, is yet to take place.
AGAMAS: Many temples were built in which various forms of Narayana (Vishnu) and Siva as described in the Puranas and Itihasas were worshipped. Details about the lands to be chosen for building temples, forming streets around them, tanks to be dug up either inside or outside these temples, formation of gardens, installation of idols in temples and their consecration, various rituals to be conducted in temples every day, the food to be offered to deities after due preparation, the Poojas to be conducted and the festivals to be held in temples are explained in ancient texts known as Agamas.
They generally come under two categories – Vaishnava and Saiva. Vaishnava Agamas are said to number 108, but only two of them – Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa – are in vogue now. Lord Narayana Himself preached both the Agamas. The first one got that name as the Lord handed it down to sages during five nights or “Pancha Ratris”. It described the five kinds of worship of the Lord in temples – Adaagamam, Upadaanam, Eejyam, Swadhyayam and Dhyanam. Sage Vikhnasa, considered to be an incarnation of Lord Narayana, gave Vaikhanasa Agama to this world. It describes the worship of the Lord by showing the lamp, performing Homam and Archana before the “Archa Roopam” or the idol form of the Lord in temples.


Lord Narayana’s five forms are Vibu (Parathvam) or His appearance in the Paramapadam, where He is enjoying Sama Gana recited by sages and other eternal beings known as “Nithyasuris” (hence the preceptors call this as “Paatukketkum idam”), “Vyooham” or the Lord’s appearance in the Thirupparkadal or the Milky Ocean, reclining on Adisesha, where He lends His ears to the grievances and complaints of sages and celestial beings (hence the preceptors call this place as “Kooppaadu ketkum idam”), “Vibhavam” or the Lord’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna (preceptors call this as “Kudhitha idam”), “Antharyamithvam” or the in-dwelling capability of the Lord in all souls, and “Archai” or the idol form.
Saiva Agamas number 28 and they are Kaamikam, Yogajam, Chinthyam, Kaaranam, Ajitham, Deeptham, Sookshmam, Sahasram, Amsuman, Supravedam, Vijayam, Niswasam, Swayumbavam, Analam, Veeram, Rauravam, Makudam, Vimalam, Chandragnanam, Pimbam, Prodhgeetham, Lalitham, Sidham, Santhanam, Sarvothram, Paramechuram, Kiranam and Vaadhunam.
Of these only three – Kaamikam, Kaaranam and Makudam -- are being practised in most of the Siva temples.
Apart from the Agamas, which describe the way of worship of Gods in temples, there are other works pertaining to building of temples, carving of idols and containing other details.


The Lord of the Seven Hills, Sri Srinivasa, more popular in North India as Balaji, has been hailed by Nammazhwar, one of the 12 Vaishnavite saints of Tamil Nadu, whose hymns in Tamil have been hailed as “Thamizh Vedam” (“Vedam Thamizh seidhan Maaran Sadagopan”, says a Tamil verse), in his “Thiruvaimozhi” as the Lord of the three worlds. His decad, a garland of ten poems, also hails Him as the one who has given His Consort, Goddess Mahalakshmi, a permanent dwelling place in His chest. The Goddess, in Her turn, has vowed not to leave His chest even for a single moment, staying there to recommend the case of the fallen souls for redemption. He is also praised as the one of ever-lasting glory, as one whom the celestials and saints long to see and to whom the saint has surrendered unconditionally. As the Lord has been hailed as the ruler of the three worlds (earth, heaven and nether world) it is no wonder that He is a universal God for whom temples have sprung up not only in India, but also in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Singapore and other countries.
Of the many temples of Sri Srinivasa in the USA, the one at Malibu (1600, Las Virgenes Canyon Road, Calabasas, CA 91302) is of great significance as the State of California has been identified by the late Paramacharya of Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu (India) as the place where a sage, Kapila, did penance in times of yore. According to legend, Bhagiratha, an ancestor of King Dasaratha, did penance to bring the Ganga River from heaven to earth. When one of his ancestors, Sagara (who was responsible for digging the earth to create a big lake known as Sagar) performed a big sacrificial offering to propitiate Gods, known as “Aswamedha Yagna”, when the well-decorated horse was sent to all parts of the world, the king of the celestials, Indra, took it away and hid it in the hermitage of Sage Kapila, which was known as “Kapilaranyam” (sounds similar to California?) the sons of Sagara, numbering 63,000, went to all parts of the world and also dug up the earth relentlessly as they came to the other side of the world (if you take a globe you can see the North Indian holy places and the State of California situated on the same longitude) and reached the hermitage of the sage. They disturbed him and the enraged sage looked at them and it was enough to burn all the sons of Sagara. It was left to Bhagiratha to bring Ganga from Heaven and take it to the place where the ashes of all his forefathers was lying like a mountain to wash off their sins and help them get salvation.
The sage is considered as an incarnation of Lord Narayana and the hymnal work, singing His glory, known as “Vishnu Sahasranama” hails the sage as “Maharishi Kapilacharya”. The priests in the Malibu Temple, while reciting the “Sankalpam” for the orthodox Hindus performing rituals to please their forbears, also give the name of the place as Kapilaranya Kshethram. The Sthalapuranam (the book giving the history of the holy place) of Tirumala-Tirupati says one of the sages to whom the Lord gave His Darshan was Sage Kapila. Hence it seems more appropriate that a temple for the Lord has come up in the hills of Malibu. Malibu can also be identified with “Mahabali Bhoomi” (the land of the demon king, Mahabali, who was sent to the nether world by Vamana. Lord Narayana’s incarnation, as sages were tortured by him.
Though of recent origin (it was constructed only in 1977), by several members of the Indian community living in the metropolitan Los Angles area, who earlier met and resolved to build a temple for the benefit of Indians living in this and other places in the USA, who formed a Hindu Temple Society of Southern California and incorporated it as a non-profit religious organization on August 18, 1977. Two key provisions of the articles of incorporation are: the specific and primary purposes of the organization are to operate a temple for religious purpose; the property of this organization is irrevocably dedicated for religious purposes and no part of the income or assets shall ever inure to the benefit of any office-bearer or other individual. The organization now has over 1,000 members.
Situated on a 4.5-acre sprawling site in the picturesque Santa Monica mountain range, flanked on either side by the majestic Pacific Ocean and the road from Los Angeles criss-crossing the mountains, the temple is a replica of the great temple at Tirumala. The total built up area is 26,000 square feet the temple was built by Sri S.M. Muthiah Sthapathi from Tamil Nadu. The construction work was started in April 1981 and the first phase was completed in October 1987.
The temple has shrines apart from the presiding deity for His Consort, Alarmel Mangai Thayar (Goddess seated on the lotus flower or Mahalakshmi or Padmavathi), Andal, the incarnation of Goddess Bhoomadevi, who though the daughter of a temple priest, Vishnuchithar, united with the Lord at Srirangam, Radha-Krishna, Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, Lord Siva, Ganesha, Subrahmanya and Kannika Parameswari. Some more shrines are to be added to the temple complex, which is a growing one.
The temple is also famous for the Jyoti (fire) worship, which confirms the legend connected with the burning of Sagara Puthras by Sage Kapila. Pulakasas, the native tribals of the region, who were away when the burning incident took place, found the meadows charred and the fire descending into the sea. They were said to have prayed to Goddess Shakti to save them. A shrine for Mother Goddess or Kannika Parameswari was built with donations given by the Arya Vysya community in Karnataka in India. (The article is based on materials given by the temple authorities and the pictures of the deities were also given by them.)