Dhanushkodi – Fifty Years After the Cyclone of 1964


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.

On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town  with heavy casualties.

On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.

 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964

The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22 – 25, 1964.

More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.

The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.

The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.

Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.

The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.

After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.

The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.

The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.

After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.

An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.

We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.

St. Antony's Church at Dhanuskodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

St. Antony’s Church at Dhanushkodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.

Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.

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A Shortcut to Learn French


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Learn French

THE COMMONEST WORDS IN FRENCH

In 1958, I opted for French as second language for my Bachelors degree, at St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai, Tamilnadu, India.

Rev. Fr. Moumas, S.J. (Photo taken in 1979 by T.V. Antony Raj)

Rev. Fr. Moumas, S.J. (Photo taken in 1979 by T.V. Antony Raj)

It was the late Rev. Fr. Moumas S.J., a saintly jovial Jesuit priest from Gascony, who taught me French.

Learning the language was never an easy task. I used to spend a lot of time reading French novels borrowed from the well-stocked college library. In the 1960s and 70s, after graduating, while being employed in Sri Lanka, I used to visit the Library at the Alliance Française in Colombo often, trying to brush up and augment the French I learned in college. During this time, I took down notes and found an easy method to learn French.

Recently, while browsing through my old papers and books, I came across four pages of French words I had picked about 50 years ago. Since I feel that this list would provide a shortcut to you and your children to learn French, I have presented them below. Please pass it on to your friends and their children.

The words in the list occur most frequently in ordinary French, as determined by a word count of 400,000 running words of French prose. The figures after each word indicate its average number of occurrences per 1,000 words. It will be seen that the total is 446.1; in other words, learn these,  and you will know 44.6% of the words of French.

LEARN THEM NOW.

The meanings given are the common English translations.  Others are possible.

à , au, aux, à l’ = to, at, in, to, the, at the, in the, to the = 21.4
aller (v.) = to go = 2.1
autre = other = 1.7
avec = with = 3.4
1avoir (v.) = to have = 13.7
bien (adv.) = well, very = 2.8
bon = good = 1.2
ce, cet, cette, ces = this, that, these, those = 12.0
comme = as, like = 2.5
dans = in, within = 6.7
de, du, de l’, de la, des = of, from, of the, from the = 54.9
deux = two = 1.8
dire = to say, tell = 4.2
1donner (v.) = to give = 1.4
elle; elles = she, it, her; they, them = 8.0
en (prep.) = in, while = 6.3
en (pron.) = of it, of them, some, in the matter = 2.6
enfant = child = 1.1
et = and = 19.1
1etre (v.) = to be = 20.6
1faire (v.) = to make, do, have (something done) = 4.5
femme = woman, wife = 1.2
grand = tall, big = 2.0
homme = man, husband = 2.4
il; ils = he, it, him; they them = 13.7
jour = day = 1.2
le, la, l’, les (art.) = the = 69.4
le, la, l’, les (pron.) = him, her, it them
leur (pron.) = to them, them = 2.6
leur, leurs (adj.) = their
lui (pron.) = (to) him, her, it = 3.8
mais = but = 3.7
2je = I = 15.0
2me = me, to me
2moi = me, I
mon, ma, mes (adj.) = my = 4.5
ne … pas = not = 10.5
notre, nos = our = 1.2
nous = we, us, to us = 4.1
on = one, they, we = 3.9
ou = or = 1.9
Ou … ou,  soit … soit = either …. or
= where = 1.1
par = by = 3.7
pas (neg. adv.) = not, no = 5.6
petit = little, small, insignificant, petty = 1.7
plus (adv.) = more = 4.3
pour = for, in order to = 3.2
1pouvoir (v.) = to be able, can = 1.9
1prendre (v.) = to take = 1.2
que (conj.) = as, than = 12.8
que? (interr.) = what? = 3.0
que (rel. pron.) = who, whom, which, that
qui? (interr.) = who? = 7.6
qui (rel. pron.) = who, whom, which, that
sans = without = 1.8
1savoir (v.) = to know = 1.4
se = himself, herself, itself, oneself, themselves, each other = 8.7
si = If, even, if so = 2.5
son, sa, ses = his, her, its = 8.9
sur (prep.) = on, atop, about, in, on top, over = 3.4
tout = all, every = 6.1
tu, te, toi = you = 1.8
un, une (art.) = a, an = 18.5
un (num.) = one
1venir (v.) = to come =

1.3

1voir (v.) = to see =

2.1

votre, vos = your =

1.3

1vouloir (v.) = to want, wish =

1.5

vous = you, to you =

5.2

y = To it, to them, in it, in them, there =

2.4

Total

=

446.1

 

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965). It serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rain water and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump over one-third of the garbage, almost 2,600 tonnes per day, of the ever-growing metropolis here in this climactic wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

At present the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article The mired marshby Shaju John. This article was augmented by photographs  captured by him in the post Photo file: The mired marsh.

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse.

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums frequent the garbage dump.

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Continual inhaling of the ever-present malodorous germ and virus bound air, the stifling smoke, polluted and poisoned ground water subject the people living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

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The incredible rate of development, such as the rampant construction of sanctioned IT parks, the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) campus, Hospitals, Colleges, high-rise office and residential buildings, the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland also have immensely contributed to the shrinking of the water spread.

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

With policies in place to crackdown on poaching, encroachment and illegal waste disposal, there is yet hope for the Pallikaranai wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

However, even now, dumping of garbage by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Last Sunday I posted an article titled “February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day.”

Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions. Primarily, wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

The Pallikaranai Wetland 

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 sq Km). It is the Chennai city’s natural primary aquifer recharge system.

Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)

The original expanse of the marsh, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares, which has now been reduced to about 600 hectares. Situated next to the Bay of Bengal, about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre, it is bounded by Velachery (north), Kovilambakkam (west), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), and Medavakkam (south). It is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city and is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India. It is one of the three in the state of Tamilnadu, the other two being Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is one of the 94 identified wetlands in India under the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India that came into operation in 1985–86.

The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

Flora and Fauna

This wetland is literally a treasury of bio-diversity that is almost four times that of Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai where more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world visit during the migratory season every year.

The Pallikaranai wetland contains several rare and endangered species of plants and animals. It acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the wetland is definitely more than in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity, and studies wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned her the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components — to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

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In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)

Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

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The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)

Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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Next → The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!

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Thai Pongal: The Harvest Festival of South India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Happy Pongal

The Tamils in Tamilnadu, Puduchery, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, celebrate the festival called Pongal (பொங்கல்) or Thai Pongal (தைப்பொங்கல்). This festival marks the end of the harvest season. The farmers thank the Sun, the principal energizer that helps to reap a bountiful harvest.

In Tamilnadu and Puduchery, Pongal is a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi and culminates on the third day of the Tamil month Thai (January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar).

The Tamil word Pongal means “overflowing” signifying abundance and prosperity. “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the birth of Thai heralds new prospects” is an oft quoted popular saying among the Tamils.

The four days of Pongal are: Bhogi Pandigai, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.

First day: Bhogi Pandigai

In Tamil the first day of the festival, namely the day preceding Pongal, is known as Bhogi Pandigai. Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh too observe this day and call it “Bhogi“.

Bhogi Pandigai (Source - mylaporetimes.com)

Bhogi Pandigai (Source – mylaporetimes.com)

In Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh people light bonfires at dawn and burn the derelict items found in their household. This practice is similar to Holika in North India.

Pongal Kolam (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

My neighbours creating the Pongal Kolam (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

Next, they clean their house, whitewash and paint it if necessary, and decorate the house with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with kolams or rangoli (decorative patterns) drawn using brightly coloured rice powder/chalk/chalk powder/white rock powder.

In villages, owners of cattle paint the horns of oxen and buffaloes in bright colours.

Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Assocation and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)

Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Assocation and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)

In Andhra Pradesh, in a ceremony called Bhogi-pallu, elders shower a mix of ‘regi-pallu’, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery on children attired in colourful ‘langa-voni’ and other traditional wear. This ceremony is conducted to ward off evil eye and bless the children with abundance and long life.

Second day: Thai Pongal

The second day of the four days of Pongal is the principal day of the festival. This day is known as Thai Pongal by the Tamils. Pongal festival per se is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai (January 14). This day is celebrated in all the states in India. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi, a winter harvest festival, celebrated throughout India. On this day the Sun begins its six-month long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun enters Makara (Capricorn), the 10th house of the Indian zodiac.

In Tamil Nadu, Puduchery, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia it is celebrated as Thai Pongal.

In Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh it is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi.

Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.

In Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri.

Assamese celebrated it as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Nepaesel celebrate it as Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti.

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Thai Pongal - Boiling milk

In Tamilnadu, it is a tradition for the housewives to boil milk in a new clay pot at dawn. When the milk boils and spills over the vessel, the folk blow the sanggu (a conch) shout “Pongalo Pongal!” Tamils consider it an auspicious to watch the milk boil over as it connotes good luck and prosperity.

Chakkarai Pongal

Later, the women prepare Pongal by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new clay pots. When the rice is half-cooked, sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins are added to the pot. This traditional preparation of sweet rice or Chakkarai Pongal derives its name from the festival.

Newly cooked rice is first offered to the Sun at sunrise as gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Women prepare savouries and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam which they share with their neighbours.

Third day: Maattu Pongal

Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)

Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)

Cattle are important to life in rural India. They are a form of wealth to the rural folks.

The Tamils of Tamil Nadu celebrate Maattu Pongal (மாட்டுப் பொங்கல்) on the day following the Thai Pongal day. This day is also celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Maattu Pongal (Source - tamilrasigan.wordpress.com)

The rural folk show their affection to their cattle by applying kungumam (kumkum) on their cattle’s foreheads and garlanding them. A mixture of venn pongal (sweetened rice), jaggery, banana, sugar cane and other fruits.

Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source - thehindu.com)

Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source – thehindu.com)

In many parts of Tamilnadu, youth participate in adventurous game of Jallikkattu also known as Manju Virattu, or taming the ferocious bulls to test their valour.

Fourth day: Kaanum Pongal

People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)

People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)

Kaanum Pongal is an auspicious day for family reunions for Tamils in Tamilnadu.

The Tamil word “kaanum” means “to view”. Siblings pay special tribute to their married brothers and sisters by giving gifts as a token of their filial love. People visit relatives and friends to rejoice the festive season. People have a day out with their families on river banks, beaches and theme parks.

Kaanum Pongal culminates the end of the Pongal festivities for the year.

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Assamese Gang Apprehended in Chennai for Circulating Fake Indian Currency Notes


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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“City residents should be cautious about transactions involving currency and must alert the police if they find anything suspicious.” – S. George, Chennai Police Commissioner.

A file photo of fake Indian currency र1000 and र500 displayed at Chennai Police Commissioner Office (Photo : S.Thanthoni / thehindu.com)

A file photo of fake Indian currency र1000 and र500 displayed at Chennai Police Commissioner Office (Photo : S. Thanthoni / thehindu.com)

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Chennaites are now apprehensive and cautious when accepting र1,000 currency notes.

On New Year’s Day, the Fishing Harbour police in Chennai arrested three men from Assam when they attempted to purchase a wristwatch at a showroom on Adam Sahib Street in Royapuram using fake Indian currency notes.

According to C. Sridhar, joint commissioner of police, North, the shop owner suspected the trio when they gave a thousand rupee counterfeit note as payment for the wristwatch, and he alerted the police.

The police arrested the suspects and then raided the house in Manali New Town where they were staying. There the police found four more fake notes along with र30,000 genuine currency and various items purchased by the gang using fake notes. The three identified as Hameed Rehman (19), Rafiqul Islam (22) and Fasil Islam (28) were arrested for circulating fake Indian currency notes of र1,000 denomination.

The three arrested men from Assam had come to Chennai six months ago and were working as security guards at a private firm in Manali. Three more Assamese frequently visited the city and replenished them with almost-genuine fake Indian currency notes originating from Maldah district in West Bengal. The three Assamese security guards had exploited the counterfeit currency in shopping hubs Purasawalkam, Washermenpet, T. Nagar, and in various other areas in the city. They even maintained bank accounts to deposit their harvest from the exchanges.

On Saturday, January 4, 2013, another private security guard, identified as Jelbar Hosfin (21) from Assam, tendered a fake र1,000 note at a photocopying shop in New Colony, Adambakkam, for taking a few photo copies. The shop owner, suspecting the note to be a fake, alerted the police.

Police took Hosfin into custody. When RBI officials confirmed the note was a fake, Hosfin told the police that his friend Mohammad Quaid Ali, employed with a private security agency in Koyambedu had given the note to him and asked him to spend र500 and return the balance.

The police team picked up Quaid Ali from his office and recovered र2.74 lakh fake Indian currency notes he had hidden in a pile of sand dumped at a construction site near his office in Brindavan Nagar, Adambakkam. Quaid Ali also revealed that he got the counterfeit currencies from Saddam Hussain, believed to be the brain behind the network circulating fake notes in Chennai, the police said.

The special police team traced Saddam Hussain to a hideout in the city and arrested him.

The police seized some debit cards from the arrested duo and also recovered Rs. 19,900, which they had obtained in exchange of purchases made with the counterfeit notes. (Photo - B. Jothi Ramalingam - one.in)

The police seized some debit cards from the arrested duo and recovered Rs. 19,900, which they had obtained in exchange of purchases made with the counterfeit notes. (Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam / one.in)

 

The three men – Jelbar Hosfin, Mohammad Quaid Ali, and Sdadam Hussain – revealed that they had so far harvested र19,000 in genuine money by circulating र1,000 counterfeit currency notes totalling र26,000. Three remit cards used by the accused to deposit money in bank accounts after the counterfeit harvest were also seized from Saddam Hussain.

These three culprits seem to have a connection with the three arrested at the beginning of the year for trying to circulate fake notes, police said. Saddam Hussain is the brother of one of the three arrested earlier.

S. Thirugnanam, South Chennai joint commissioner of police said that Saddam Hussain had stayed in the Chennai for some time in 2011. He then returned  to Chennai in 2012 and brought several people from Assam and got them jobs as security guards and construction workers.

Chennai Police Commissioner S. George said the case would be transferred to CB-CID, the main agency that deals with such cases.

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Bribing Voters Worldwide and in India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Bribing voters in India

Every one of us yearns to raise our status in society, but politicians entertain hopes of great magnitude. There are many men and women of principle in the world, but once they enter politics they just forget those principles they strived for, and constantly seek money, property, and power. Except a few politicians many do not care about their deteriorating reputation.

It is now an apothegm that any candidate standing for any elections in any part of the world would use all available ploys to influence voters. Invariably, many potential voters expect the handouts from the contesting candidates.

Black’s Law Dictionary, the most widely used law dictionary in the United States, defines bribery as an act of offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.

Smoking Marijuana

On December 30, 2013, The Monitor carried news that US Federal authorities arrested a local politiquera Diana Castañeda in McAllen, Texas, United States, for paying voters in cash, beer and cigarettes during the 2012 primary and general elections as well as taking voters to buy drugs after they had cast their ballot. According to court records, Castañeda confessed that she was a politiquera for various candidates and that during the 2012 elections she was paid $125 by one candidate to get food for voters and to pay them $10 to $20 per vote. However, the name of the candidate that gave her the money was not listed in court records.

Drinker

On November 13, 2013, Mail Online India reported:

City agencies have seized over 2,064 litres of liquor in the past few days and recovered more than 63,000 bottles during the last one month – 61,500 were ‘quarter’ bottles, which are mainly meant for distribution.

Around 7,000 bottles seized on Tuesday were all of the quarter bottle size (180 ml).

… a few MLAs revealed that liquor bottles are generally distributed a day before the polls. The police and excise department have seized over 63,000 bottles of alcohol in Delhi over the past month after seeing a record-breaking amount of illegally supplied liquor.

The illegal supply of liquor has crossed all records in the run-up to the Delhi assembly elections. …

“Quarter bottles are distributed among slum dwellers and in resettlement colonies. Politicians ask their workers to keep a stock of bottles at secret locations,” a sitting MLA said.

Delhi chief electoral officer Vijay Dev said the Election Commission has asked all the agencies to crack down heavily on the illegal supply of liquor in Delhi.

Politicians use subtle methods to distribute alcohol to avoid run-ins with the police.

“The voter is given a chit to be deposited with a selected liquor vendor to get alcohol. Many candidates also finance parties hosted by other people and distribute liquor in such parties,” said an excise official.

India is a nation where over 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and illiteracy is around 35 percent.

Promise of Freebies to win votes

All political parties in India indulge in competitive politics. Their mission does not to make life better for the average person or banish unemployment. In certain states instead of promising to provide schools and households with basic amenities such as potable water and hygienic toilets, freedom from corruption, mitigate poverty, and improve the purchasing power of the people, the political leaders promise to provide colour TVs, electronic gadgets such as mixer-grinders, fans, and laptops, to voters who scarcely get electricity for more than four hours a day. Once these parties come into power they first inflate government expenditures, impose taxes, and then hand out enticing goodies instead of worthwhile goods; and that too only to the members of their party.

On March 28, 2013, as his indefinite fast against “inflated” power bills entered the sixth day, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal alleged both Congress and BJP were winning elections through bribing voters and using muscle power. He told his supporters:

“This is because BJP and Congress are both worried as a different kind of politics is slowly emerging in India. So far they are used to winning on the basis of bribing voters, money power and muscle power but now the voters have awakened. The elections will not be elections but revolution.”

Wikileaks

The Telegraph carried an article by Dean Nelson titled “WikiLeaks: Indian politicians ‘bought votes with cash tucked inside newspapers” that said:

In conversations with US diplomats, the son of India’s powerful home minister P. Chidambaram and an aide to a senior leader of one of the main coalition partners allegedly explained how the main parties in Tamil Nadu state routinely bribe voters to clinch close elections.

One allegedly said they had widely distributed envelopes containing 5000 Rupees in cash (£70) hidden inside voters’ morning newspapers.

The disclosures highlight the nature of electoral fraud in the world’s largest democracy, and its widespread acceptance. Indian political parties, in particular in the south, often offer televisions, refrigerators, and computers to voters to win elections.

American diplomat Frederick Kaplan, a principal officer in its Madras consulate, was surprised at how freely senior politicians apparently admitted paying bribes for votes.

In a cable dispatched on May 13, 2009, the last day of India’s general election, he explained the system to his colleagues in Washington: “Bribes from political parties to voters, in the form of cash, goods, or services, are a regular feature of elections in South India. Poor voters expect bribes from political candidates, and candidates find various ways to satisfy voter expectations. From paying to dig a community well to slipping cash into an envelope delivered inside the morning newspaper, politicians and their operatives admitted to violating election rules to influence voters. The money to pay the bribes comes from the proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption. Although the precise impact of bribery on voter behaviour is hard to measure, it no doubt swings at least some elections, especially the close races,” he wrote.

… “Weeks before the elections agents of the parties come to the neighbourhood with cash carried in rice sacks. They have copies of the voter lists and they distribute the money based on who is on the list.” The deliveries are made between “two and four in the morning, when the Election Commission is asleep,” he added.

One aide is quoted as revealing details of bribes paid by his boss. “It is no secret at all [he] paid 5,000 rupees per voter in Thirumangalam,” he said.

Prashant Bhushan, a senior lawyer who has led a crusade against corruption, said the cables revealed the “corruption of democracy” in India.

“These facts show the corruption and monetisation of the electoral process in India and therefore the corruption of the democracy in this country, where democracy essentially exists in a formal sense on paper, [but] effectively it is owned by those people who have money,” he said. “The money comes from all kinds of corruption which is rampant in India,” he added.

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November 19, is World Toilet Day!


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“Sanitation is more important than independence.”
– Mahatma Gandhi (in 1925).

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World Toilet Day

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If you find the images used in this article nauseating, then I have made my point. For us, Indians and other Asians, this is life. We have to live with it.

In 2001, World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared November 19 as World Toilet Day (WTD). Today, over 19 countries observe WTD with events hosted by various
water and sanitation advocates.

In developing countries in Asia and Africa, poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually.

India has more mobiles than toilets

Though a majority of the world’s population has access to mobile phones, one third of humanity do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines, affecting the environment, human health, dignity and security, and social and economic development.

We all like food. We spend most of our income on food. We look forward eagerly to what we would eat today for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, do we ever give thought to what happens as a result of all that food we consume?

In our society and community, it is a taboo and not polite to talk about toilets. We do not want others to see the cleaning and sanitation products we use. So, we hide them. We even hide the sewer system beneath the ground.

Why?

Because one third of humanity (2.5 billion people), or one in three people living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean, safe, and functioning hygienic toilets. Therefore, they do not bother to discuss the problem of sanitation. As such, sanitation remains a neglected issue with meager financial investments in water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.

In the developing countries, the cost of inaction on sanitation is high. Due to lack of toilets, men, women, the young, the sick and the elderly have to defecate in the open, in fields, in vacant lots, and even by the roadside during the day and at night. Almost 1 billion people continue to defecate in the open.

Excreting in India

Lack of access to clean bathrooms in schools deters many girls from pursuing their education after they reach puberty. In some regions, due to lack of toilets, girls do not go to school when they are menstruating. Improved sanitation facilities can have a particularly positive impact on the education opportunities of young girls, affected by the lack of privacy and cleanliness during their menstrual period. Also, lack of toilets in schools affect all learners from concentrating in the classrooms, as they have to wait for longer periods before being able to relieve themselves in privacy in a dignified manner.

Without toilets and proper sanitation the environment around homes, workplaces, markets, and hospitals, become sources of infection and diarrhoeal diseases due to millions of tonnes of human excretion.

Due to lack of improved sanitation almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, the second leading cause of child deaths in the world. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and unhygienic conditions put children at multiple risks leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high morbidity, malnutrition, stunted growth and death. Every year 0.85 million children die from diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and unimproved water cause 88% of these deaths. Studies reveal that improved sanitation can help reduce diarrhoeal diseases by about 33%.

Despite the scale of the crisis, sanitation remains a low priority for many governments.

How can we mitigate this situation?

Now, many organisations have started to discuss toilets. Investment in sanitation is becoming a priority in many international communities. Yet, because the topic of sanitation has until now been neglected to a vast extent, they wait for good solutions to the problem. New solutions and approaches to sanitation that should have been tried and tested a long time back, are starting to find support only now.

Progress depends on adequate investment and collaborative action by civil societies, multilateral agencies, academia and the private sector in developing countries by supporting national efforts to improve sanitation for all strata of their society.

To address these issues, in July 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Sanitation for All” Resolution (A/RES/67/291) designating November 19 as World Toilet Day, aims to change both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from ending open-air defection (which 1.1 billion people practice worldwide) to enhancing water management.

 Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

On July 24, 2013, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a statement on adoption of the General Assembly resolution ‘Sanitation for All.’

I am delighted and grateful that Member States have adopted a resolution officially designating November 19th as World Toilet Day. I thank the Government of Singapore for its leadership on a crucially important global issue. This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.

Despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, one in three people do not have a basic toilet. Almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. Poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually in developing countries.

Proper sanitation is also a question of basic dignity. It is unacceptable that women have to risk being the victims of rape and abuse, just to do something that most of us take for granted. It is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities.

This new resolution builds on the General Assembly’s “Sustainable sanitation: the drive to 2015”, agreed in 2010, and adds momentum to the Call to Action on Sanitation that I, on behalf of the Secretary-General, launched in March this year.

I urge every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights. I look forward to working with all partners to make Sanitation for All a reality.

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The lack of access to decent toilet is no joke for a third of the world’s people, but a matter of life and death. No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Without access to toilets, many women and girls are too embarrassed to go in the open to defecate during daytime and so deny themselves relief until darkness sets in. But, trips to fields or roadside at night, however, puts them at risk of physical attack and sexual violence. So, having a toilet in or near the home lowers the risk of women and girls getting subjected to violence and rape.

Toilets mean safety.

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Deepavali: The Festival of Lights


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Glow of joy! Women lighting traditional lamps on the eve of Deepavali (Photo:  K.C. Sowmish)

Glow of joy! Women lighting traditional lamps on the eve of Deepavali (Photo: K.C. Sowmish)

The people in India, belonging to culturally diverse and fervent societies celebrate various holidays and festivals. The different states and regions in India have their own local festivals depending on prevailing religious and linguistic demographics.

Deepavali (also known as Diwali, Dīvali, Dīpāwali, Dipabali, etc.,), is one of the most sacred festivals of the Hindus.

Deepavali is a “festival of lights,” symbolizing the victory of righteousness over spiritual darkness. All over the world, the Hindus celebrate Deepavali jubilantly with their families in their homes, performing traditional spiritual activities. In India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, people belonging to other religions as well join the Hindus in the celebrations.

Goddess Lakshmi is the most significant deity during Deepavali Puja. Several other gods and goddesses are also worshipped. Various religious rituals are followed during the five-day festivities.

Deepavali is celebrated as a five-day festivity that starts on Dhanteras, celebrated on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna paksha (dark fortnight) of Ashwin and ends on Bhau-Beej, celebrated on the second lunar day of Shukla paksha of the Hindu calendar month Kartik. However, in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the Deepavali festivity begins one day earlier on Govatsa Dwadashi, and is a six-day festivity.

The month of Ashvin begins with the Sun’s exit from Virgo in the solar religious calendar. In the Sanskrit language ‘Ashvin’ means light. It is the seventh month of the lunisolar Hindu calendar.

In many cultures, people use the lunisolar calendar where the date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.

In the Tamil sidereal solar calendar, used by Tamils all over the world, Ashvin is known as Aipassi (ஐப்பசி). In the Bengali sidereal solar calendar, officially used by the Bengali people in West Bengal and Bangladesh, it is the sixth month and is called Ashbin (আশ্বিন).

The Five/Six Days of Deepavali

Deepavali celebrations is a five-day festivity spread over from Dhanteras to Bhau-Beej. In some places like Maharashtra and Gujarat the celebrations begin with Govatsa Dwadashi. All the days except Deepavali are named according to their designation in the Hindu calendar. The days are:

Govatsa Dwadashi or Vasu Baras (27 Ashvin or 12 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):

In Sanskrit, Go means cow and vatsa means calf, Dwadashi or Baras means the 12th day. On this day the cow and calf are worshiped.

King Prithu chasing Prithvi.

King Prithu chasing Prithvi.

According to Hindu mythology, Prithu was a king, from whom the earth received her name Prithvi. The epic Mahabharata and the Hindu text Vishnu Purana describe him as a part Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.

Prithu was the son of King Vena, a tyrant. Due to the lawless rule of Vena, an appalling famine engulfed the earth making it barren. King Prithu went after Prithvi, the earth goddess, who fled from him transforming herself into a cow. After being caught, Prithvi agreed to yield her milk as the world’s grain and vegetation that brought prosperity to the world once again.

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Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras or Dhanwantari Trayodashi (28 Ashvin or 13 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):

In Sanskrit, Dhana means wealth and Trayodashi means 13th day. This day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month Ashvin, and usually eighteen days after Dussehra.

Dhanventari,  physician of the  devas, and god of  Ayurvedic Medicine.

Dhanventari, physician of the Devas, and god of Ayurvedic Medicine.

According to Hindu mythology, Dhanvantari is an Avatar of Vishnu. He appears in the Vedas and Puranas as the physician of the gods devas, and is the god of Ayurvedic medicine. He is depicted as Vishnu with four hands, holding medical herbs in one hand and a pot containing rejuvenating nectar called amrita in another.

In the myth of the Samudra or Sagar manthan (Churning of the Ocean of Milk), Dhanavantari emerged bearing the pot of nectar after the Devas (demi gods) and Asssuras (demons) churned the ‘Ocean of Milk’ using the Mount Mandarachala, also known as Mount Meru, as the churning rod and Vasuki, the king of serpents, as the rope.

The Hindus pray to Lord Dhanvantari seeking his blessings for good health for themselves and others, especially on Dhanteras, his Jayanti (Birth Anniversary), along with Goddess Lakshmi, the provider of prosperity and well-being.

Lakshmi and Kuberan

Lakshmi and Kuberan (Source: amritsartemples.in)

Lord Kubera, the God of assets and wealth is also worshiped on this day by the Hindus. Dhanteras is very significant among business communities since it is customary to buy precious metals on this day.

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Naraka Chaturdashi (29 Ashvin or 14 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):

Chaturdashi is the 14th day (Tithi) of the waxing phase or waning phase of the moon.

This day signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, because on this day the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. . This day is also known as Kali Chaudas, Roop Chaudas or Choti Diwali.

In one source in Hindu mythology, Narakasura is the asura son of the earth goddess Bhūmī-Devī (Earth) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) Avatar. In other sources, he is said to the son of the asura Hiranyaksha. It was foretold that he would be destroyed by a later incarnation of Vishnu. So, his mother, the earth, sought a boon from her consort Vishnu for a long life for her son, and that he should be all powerful. Vishnu out of love for Bhūmī-Devī granted these boons.

Narakasura, knowing himself to be unrivalled in prowess became evil, and subdued all the kingdoms on earth and brought them under his control. Next, he set his eyes on Swargaloka (the heavens), the abode of the devas. Unable to withstand the powers of Narakasura, the mighty Indra, the lord of the devas, fled from Swargaloka. Narakasura became the overlord of both the heavens and earth. Intoxicated by power, he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped some of her territory, while also kidnapping 16,000 women.

The devas, led by Indra appealed to Vishnu, asking him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he would help them when he would be incarnated as Krishna.

Narakasura was allowed to enjoy a long reign because of the boon granted by Vishnu.

When Vishnu incarnated as Krishna, he married Satyabhama, an Avatar of Bhūmī-Devī. Aditi, being a relative of Krishna’s wife approached her for help. On learning about Narakasura’s ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, Satyabhama was enraged. Shr approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against Narakasura.

As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Vishnu in his Krishna avatar, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama, attacked the great fortress of Narakasura. The battle was fierce. Narakasura unleashed all his army on Krishna. However, Krishna slew them all. He also killed Mura, Narakasura’s general. Thus, Krishna is called ‘Murāri ‘(the enemy of Mura).

Krishna and Narakasura

Krishna hurling the Sudarshana Chakra.

The desperate Narakasura launched his great weapon, sataghini, a thunderbolt, and then his trident on Krishna, but these weapons did not harm Krishna. Eventually, Krishna beheaded Narakasura with his Sudarshana Chakra, a spinning, disk-like super weapon with 108 serrated edges.

Before dying, Narakasura requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’.

In southern India, this is the actual day of festivities.

On this day, the Hindus, all over the world, wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes. In Tamilnadu, after the bath, a home-made medicine known as “Deepavali Lehiyam” is consumed, which is supposed to aid to overcome digestive problems that may ensue due to feasting that occurs later in the day. They light small lamps around their homes and draw elaborate kolams or rangolis in front of their houses. They perform a special pooja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu, for liberating the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. The Hindus believe that bathing before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky, is equal to taking a bath in the holy river Ganges. After the pooja, the devotees burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As a day of rejoicing, housewives prepare elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet with family and friends.

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Lakshmi Puja (30 Ashvin or 15 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):

Amavasya, the new moon day, is the most significant day among the five days Deepavali festivities and the ceremonies followed on that day are known as Lakshmi Puja, Lakshmi-Ganesh Puja and Deepavali Puja. The Hindus worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings also known as the banisher of obstacles.

Deeyas

Deeyas (little clay pots) are lit in the homes and streets to welcome prosperity and well-being.

On this day, ink bottle, pens and new account books are worshipped. Ink bottle and pen, are sanctified by worshipping Goddess Maha Kali. New account books are sanctified by worshipping Goddess Saraswati.

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Govardhan Pooja and Bali Pratipada (1 Kartika or 1 Shukla Paksha Kartika):

In North India, this day is celebrated as Govardhan pooja, also called Annakoot.

Krishna holding Govardhan Hill to save his people.

Krishna holding Govardhan Hill to save his people.

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna taught people to worship Govardhan, the supreme controller of nature, a manifestation of himself and to stop worshiping Lord Indra, the Lord of Swargaloga and also the god of Rains. Indra was furious and directed his wrath on the people by raining on them. Krishna lifted the Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods.

For Annakoot, large quantities of food are decorated symbolising the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna.

In the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Govardhan pooja is performed with great zeal and enthusiasm.

In Haryana Govardhan Puja forms an important part of the celebrations of Diwali. There is a tradition of building hillocks with cow dung, to symbolize the Govardhan hill. After making such hillocks, devotees worship them after decorating them with flowers. They move in a circle round the cow dung hillocks and offer prayers to Lord Govardhan.

In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, this day is celebrated as Bali-Pratipada or Bali Padyami. The day commemorates the victory of Vishnu, in his dwarf form Vamana, over the demon-king Bali.

In Maharashtra, it is called Padava or Nava Diwas (new day). Men present gifts to their wives on this day. In Gujarat, it is celebrated as the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar.

Yama Dwitiya or Bhau-Beej (2 Kartika or 2 Shukla Paksha Kartika):

On this day, siblings meet to express love and affection for each other. Brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters.

Bhau-Beej - Sibling meeting each other on this day.

Bhau-Beej – Siblings meeting each other on this day.

This tradition is based on a story when Yama, lord of Death, visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. So, the day is also called ‘Yama Dwitiya’.

Bandi Chhor Divas (Diwali), the Sikh celebration of the sixth Nanak Guru Har Gobind’s return from detention in the Gwalior Fort, coincides with Diwali. This coincidence has resulted in celebrating the day among many Sikhs and Hindus.

Many Buddhists in India celebrated the anniversary of Emperor Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism around the time of Diwali.

Jains celebrate the anniversary of Mahavira’s (or Lord Mahavir) attainment of nirvana on October 15, 527 BC. Many Jains celebrate the Festival of Lights in his honor.

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Islands in the Gulf of Mannar: Part 2 – The 21 Islands of India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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The Government of India has established 18 Biosphere Reserves of India. Nine of these biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme list. This list includes the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve that covers an area of 4,054 square miles (10,500 sq km) on the south-east coast of India in the Gulf of Mannar.

In addition to protecting the flora and fauna in the region, protection is also given to the human communities who live in these regions, and to their ways of life.

Gulf of Mannar is one of the richest coastal regions in southeast Asia. It nurtures over 3,600 species of flora and fauna. Biological researchers have identified more than a hundred hard coral species. Dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and oysters abound in the gulf. Frequent visitors to the gulf are the globally endangered sea cow (Dugong dugong), a large marine herbivorous mammal. Other endangered species are the dolphins, whales and sea cucumbers. Also, the gulf has six endangered mangrove species endemic to peninsular India.

The Indian coast in the Gulf of Mannar extends from Rameswaram island in the North to Kanyakumari in the South of Tamil Nadu.

The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park is a protected area of India consisting of 21 small islands in the Gulf of Mannar covering an area of nearly 216 square miles (560 sq km). It lies up to 10 km away from the east coast of Tamil Nadu, South India, stretching about 160 km between Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) and Dhanushkodi. It is the core area of the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve which includes a 10 km buffer zone around the park, including the populated coastal area. The park is endowed with a high diversity of plants and animals in its marine, intertidal and near shore habitats. The park is part of the 87 miles (140 km) long and 15.5 miles (25 km) wide Mannar barrier reef. It lies between 8° 47’ to 9° 15’ N latitude and 78° 12’ to 79° 14’ E longitude.

The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve comprises the 21 islands of the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, with estuaries, mudflats, beaches, forests of the near shore environment, including marine components like algal communities, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves.

The 21 islands vary from 0.25 hectares (0.62 acre) to 130 hectares. (321.2 acres). Total area of the islands is 2.41 sq miles (6.23 sq km).  Well-developed coral reefs occur around all these offshore islands which are mainly composed of calcareous framework of dead reef and sand, and have a low and narrow sandy coast.

Indian Islands in the Gulf of Mannar.

The 21 Indian Islands in the Gulf of Mannar.

The islands are listed below, southwest to northeast.

Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) group (Four Islands):

1. Vaan Tivu, 16.00 ha, 8.83639°N 78.21047°E
2. Koswari Island, 19.50 ha, 8.86879°N 78.22506°E
3. Kariyashulli Island, 16.46 ha, 8.95409°N 78.25235°E;
*4. Vilangushulli Island, 0.95 ha, 8.93815°N 78.26969°E.

*Due to excessive coral mining, Vilangushulli Island island is now 1 metre below mean low tide level.

There were two more islands named Pandayan and Punnaiyadi at 8.78075°N 78.19536°E. But these were destroyed during the construction of the new artificial deep-sea Tuticorn Port.

There are numerous other nondescript islands located close to Thoothukudi city. Of these Muyal (or Hare) Thivu and Nalla Thanni Islands attract visitors during weekends and festival seasons.

Vembar group (Three Islands):

5. Uppu Thanni Island, 22.94 ha, elevation 4 m, 9.08921°N 78.49148°E
6. Puluvinichalli Island, 6.12 ha, elevation 5.5 m, 9.10320°N 78.53688°E
*7. Nalla Thanni Island, 101.00 ha, elevation 11.9 m, 9.10667°N 78.57885°E.

*Nalla Thanni Island island was populated recently.

Kilakarai group (Seven Islans):

8. Anaipar Island, 11.00 ha, elevation 2.1 m, 9.15294°N 78.69481°E
9. Valimunai Island, 6.72 ha, elevation 1.2 m, 9.15354°N 78.73052°E
10. Appa Island, 28.63 ha, elevation 6.4 m, 9.16582°N 78.82596°E
11. Poovarasan Patti, 0.50 ha, elevation 1.2 m, 9.15413°N 78.76695°E
12. Talairi Island, 75.15 ha, elevation 2.7 m, 9.18133°N 78.90673°E
13. Valai Island 10.10 ha, elevation 3.0 m, 9.18421°N 78.93866°E
14. Mulli Island, 10.20 ha, elevation 1.2 m, 9.18641°N 78.96810°E;

Mandapam group (Seven Islans):

*15. Musal or Hare Island, 124.00 ha, elevation 0.9 m 9.19912°N 79.07530°E
16. Manali Island, 25.90 ha, 9.21564°N 79.12834°E
17. Manali-Putti Island, 2.34 ha 9.21581°N 79.12800°E
18. Poomarichan Island, 16.58 ha 9.24538°N 79.17993°E
19. Pullivasal Island, 29.95 ha 9.23699°N 79.19100°E
*20. Kurusadai Island, 65.80 ha 9.24690°N 79.20945°E
21. Shingle Island, 12.69 ha, elevation .6m 9.24174°N 79.23563°E.

*Musal (or Hare) and Kurusadai Islands were recently populated. The shallow waters surrounding these islands harbour three species of seagrass that are found nowhere else in India. Representatives of every known animal phylum except amphibians are found on this island.

Next: Part 3 – Islands and Islets of Sri Lanka →

← Previous: Part 1 – Adam’s Bridge

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