The Traditions of Halloween


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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On October 31, the Eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows’ (or All Saints’) Day, most people in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and a few in Asia and Africa celebrate “All Hallows’ Evening.” This celebration is also known as Halloween or Hallowe’en or Hallowmas.

All Saints’ Day, to honour the saints, falls on November 1, and the All Souls’ Day, the day to pray for the recently departed kith and kin, falls on November 2.

The word “Halloween” was first used by the Scottish around 1556 AD, as a variant of “All Hallows’ Even,” to mean the night before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day.

The Tradition of Guising

The Gaels or Goidels speak one of the Gaelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and later spread to neighbouring regions. Celtic languages are most commonly spoken on the north-western edge of Europe, notably in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Cape Breton Island.

The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset of October 31 to sunset of November 1.

The ancient Gaelic believed that during Samhain, the door to the nether worlds and realms of supernatural beings and the dead, opened just enough for the souls of the dead and other weird entities, to enter our world; so, they protected themselves from harmful spirits and fairies active in Samhain by taking various steps to allay or ward-off the harmful entities. One such act was the custom of Guising that influenced today’s Halloween costumes.

Were wolves and a skeleton
Were wolves and a skeleton (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Little Red Devil (Photo: Subas Raj)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Red Devil in 2011 (Photo: V.A. Subas Raj)
My grandson Rohan dressed as Peter Pan in 2012 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
My grandson Rohan ‘guising‘ as Peter Pan in 2012 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Pirate in 2013 (Photo: Ligia Fernando)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Pirate in 2013 (Photo: Ligia Fernando)

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In Scotland and Ireland, during Halloween, children go from a house to house, dressed up in various costumes. They receive gifts in the form of food, coins or apples or nuts and recently chocolates.

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A Witch, Maid, Imps, and a Skeleton
A Witch, a Maid, Astronauts, and a Skeleton (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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The earliest record of Guising at Halloween comes from Scotland. In 1895, masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made by scooping out turnips, visited homes and were rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. It predates trick or treat.

The Tradition of Trick-or-Treating

In Scotland and Ireland, the people in the households expect the children who come to their houses to perform before they receive treats. The children sing or recite a joke or a funny poem which they had memorized before setting out. Some talented children may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or do something impressive. Often the children get a treat, even if they did not perform.

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IMG_4338
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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While going from door-to-door in disguise, it has now become common for the children to pose the question: “Trick or treat?” The “trick” in this question happens to be an idle threat to perpetrate mischief on the homeowners or their property if they do not get the treat.

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Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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The earliest known use in print of the term “trick or treat” appears in 1927, in the article “‘Trick or Treat’ Is Demand,” Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta), November 4, 1927, p. 5, dateline Blackie, Alberta, Nov. 3.

Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at the back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

The Tradition of Souling

Soul cakes
Soul cakes

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The tradition of going from door to door to receive food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of “souling”. The soulers, mainly consisting of children and the poor, would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead in return for small round soul cakes, simply called souls, traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls’ Day to celebrate the dead. Each cake eaten represented a soul freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes perhaps might be the origin of modern trick-or-treating.

The Tradition of Making Jack-o’-lanterns

The tradition of making lanterns during Halloween may have sprung from Samhain and Celtic beliefs. In the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands people made turnip lanterns sometimes with faces carved into them during Samhain. The lanterns may serve three ways: to light one’s way while outside on Samhain night, to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings and entities, to protect oneself and one’s home from them.

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Traditional Irish Jack-o’-Lantern Modern carving of a Cornish Jack-o’-Lantern made from a turnip. Jack-o’-lantern lit from within by a candle.

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Jack-o’-lanterns derived their names from the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o’-lantern.

A modern jack-o’-lantern is typically a carved pumpkin. After cutting the top of the pumpkin, the flesh inside is scooped out. An image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out, and the lid replaced.

And as a passing thought I give you this Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor. Thanks to Ms. Sheila Ribeiro, a mutual friend who posted this on Facebook.

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A Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor (Source: http://www.freshomedecor.com)
Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor (Source: http://www.freshomedecor.com)

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Islands in the Gulf of Mannar: Part 3 – Islands and Islets of Sri Lanka


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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The island nation of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean has several small offshore islands and islets as well as islets in its various bays and lagoons.

I have listed below, in alphabetical order, most of the known islands (and islets) lying in the waters of the Gulf of Mannar on the western coast of Sri Lanka. Please note that this list is not comprehensive.

Mannar District, Northern Province

  • Kalliaditivu / Galadi doova, 1.71 sq km, 8°56′54″N 79°54′42″E.
  • Mannar Island / Mannaram doopatha, 126.46 sq km, 9°03′10″N 79°49′42″E.
  • Puliyantivu / Kotidoova, 0.90 sq km, 8°57′19″N 79°54′01″E.

Puttalam District, North Western Province

  • Ambanttativu / Sambanda-doova, 0.17 sq km, 8°12′40″N 79°46′06″E. In Puttalam Lagoon.
  • Erumaitivu / Mahisadoova, 0.90 sq km, 8°16′07″N 79°46′44″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Henativu / Havativu / Haavadoova, 0.78 sq km, 7°58′22″N 79°49′09″E. In the channel between Puttalam Lagoon and Mundal Lagoon.
  • Ippantivu / Ibbandoova, 0.76 sq km, 8°19′49″N 79°48′22″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Karaditivu / Karadiva, 0.09 sq km, 7°54′42″N 79°48′54″E. In channel between Puttalam Lagoon and Mundal Lagoon.
  • Karaitivu, 8°27′45″N 79°47′15″E. West of Portugal Bay.
  • Mantivu / Maandoova, 0.38 sq km, 7°42′03″N 81°39′43″E. In the channel between Puttalam Lagoon and Mundal Lagoon.
  • Maripututivu / Maliputhu diva, 0.10sq km, 8°10′33″N 79°44′59″E. In Puttalam Lagoon.
  • Mattutivu / Maddu doova, 0.12sq km, 8°13′02″N 79°47′00″E. In Puttalam Lagoon.
  • Neduntivu / Maedundoova, 0.10 sq km, 8°14′06″N 79°46′45″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Oddakarentivu / Uddakadoova, 0.20 sq km, 8°16′37″N 79°45′54″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Periya Arichchal / Maha Arakgala,0.32 sq km, 8°17′59″N 79°47′45″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Periyativu / Mahadoova, 1.10 sq km, 7°56′57″N 79°48′58″E.
  • Pullupiddi / Kotipitiya, 0.11 sq km, 8°11′21″N 79°46′40″E. In Puttalam Lagoon.
  • Sinna Arichchal / Podi Arakgal, 0.16 sq km, 8°17′02″N 79°47′32″E. In Dutch Bay.
  • Udayurputi / Udukurupoththa, 0.42 sq km, 8°10′07″N 79°48′31″E. In Puttalam Lagoon.

Mannar Island

Mannar Island. (Source:- Google Map)
Mannar Island. (Source:- Google Map)

Of these listed islands, Mannar Island is the largest having an area of 48.83 square miles (126.46 sq km). It is a part of Mannar District. It is linked to the main island of Sri Lanka by a causeway.

The island is dry and barren, mainly covered with vegetation and sand.

The main occupation of the people living in the area is fishing.

Major settlements are Mannar and Erukkulampiddi on its eastern coast, and Pesalai on its northern coast. All these towns are connected by the A14 road which leads across the bridge to mainland Sri Lanka.

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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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Islands in the Gulf of Mannar: Part 1 – Adam’s Bridge


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The Laccadive Sea

The Laccadive Sea or Lakshadweep Sea is a body of water that includes the Lakshadweep islands, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

Laccadive Sea
Laccadive Sea

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The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Laccadive Sea as follows:

  • On the West. A line running from Sadashivgad Lt., on west coast of India (14°48′N 74°07′E) to Corah Divh (13°42′N 72°10′E) and thence down the west side of the Lakshadweep and Maldive Archipelagos to the most southerly point of Addu Atoll in the Maldives.
  • On the South. A line running from Dondra Head in Sri Lanka to the most southerly point of Addu Atoll.
  • On the East. The southeastern coast of India and west coast of Sri Lanka.
  • On the Northeast. Adam’s Bridge between India and Sri Lanka.

The Gulf of Mannar and Adam’s Bridge

The Gulf of Mannar is a large shallow bay, a part of the Lakshadweep Sea between the southeastern coast of India and the West coast of Sri Lanka. The estuaries of the river Thamirabarani of south India and the river Aruvi Aru of Sri Lanka drain into the gulf.

Adam's Bridge separating Gulf of Mannar from Palk Bay
Adam’s Bridge separating Gulf of Mannar from Palk Bay

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An 18-miles (30 km) long isthmus composed of limestone shoals, and coral reefs, popularly known as Adam’s Bridge or Ramsethu, lies between Pamban Island, off the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka.

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Aerial view of Mannar Island and Adam's Bridge.
Aerial view of Mannar Island and Adam’s Bridge.

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Geological evidence suggests that this bridge formerly connected India and Sri Lanka.

The Rameswaram cyclone of 1964 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 and moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town. The death toll rose to 1,800.

In the past too, high-intensity cyclones and storms often ravaged the area around Rameswaram in India.

Records from Hindu temples say that Ramsethu was completely above sea level that could be traversed on foot, until a cyclone in 1480 AD submerged it.

A study conducted by the Geological Survey of India indicated that in 1948-49 the southern part of erstwhile Dhanushkodi Township, facing Gulf of Mannar, sank by almost 5 meters due to vertical tectonic movement of land parallel to the coastline. As a result of this, a stretch of land of about half a kilometre wide and 7 km in length, along North-South direction, submerged into the sea together with many roads, residential areas, places of worship, etc.

Now, some sandbanks of the Adam’s Bridge are dry, and the sea is very shallow, only 3 feet to 30 feet (1 metre to 10 metres) deep. This geographical feature of the Adam’s Bridge acts as a barrier to heavy vessels that cruise from India’s west coast to India’s east coast and ships have to take the long circuitous route around Sri Lanka.

The chief seaports on the Gulf of Mannar are Thoothukudi (formerly Tuticorin) in Tamil Nadu, India and Colombo in Sri Lanka. These ports can accommodate deep-draft vessels, but the shallow sea in the Adam’s Bridge region allows only small shallow-draft vessels.

In July 2005, the Indian Government envisaged the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project to dredge and scrape out a deep channel to open a direct shipping route for heavy vessels to ply from the southeastern Gulf of Mannar to the northeastern Bay of Bengal and avoid the long trip around Sri Lanka. However, environmentalists have warned that the project could cause grave damage to the sea life of the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and thereby affect fisheries in both the southeastern coast of India and the west coast of Sri Lanka.

.                                                                     Next: Part 2 – The 21 Islands of India →

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The Myth of the Hoarded Treasure of Daundia Khera


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Gold coins

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In the nondescript hamlet of Daundia Khera in Unnao district, Uttar Pradesh, India, myths and legends abound about a hypothetical hoard of gold, buried beneath the ruins of a 18th century fort – the treasure hidden by a local landlord hanged by the British for raising a group of rebels up against them at the time of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

The fantastic tales about the hoard of gold has passed down from one generation to the next. Villagers said that there had always been speculation of gold buried in the village, and people occasionally found coins near the fort that invariably brought bad luck to the finder.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British, began on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut, as a mutiny of Sepoys of the East India Company’s army. The rebellion soon escalated into civil disobedience, more rebellions, and other mutinies in the upper Gangetic plain and central India with major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh,  and the Delhi region.

On June 4, 1857, the troops of Maratha aristocrat Nana Sahib, crushed the British army in Kanpur. The British contingent fled to Unnao, where Raja Rao Ram Singh leading a group of rebels challenged them. The British took refuge in a temple at Buxar. When the British soldiers refused to come out, the rebels burnt them alive on the Raja’s command.

Enraged over the incident, General Sir James Hope Grant GCB, contrived the arrested of Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh.

On December 28, 1857, the British hanged Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh near the banyan tree at the Shiva temple, and his palace situated near the temple was destroyed.

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Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh
Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh

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What happened to his body after his execution is unclear as no record exists to that effect. In 1992, the authorities established a memorial for the king near the place where he was hanged.

Early this month, a local seer, Swami Shobhan Sarkar, who has established several ashrams in the locality, claimed that the 19th-century king Rao Ram Baksh Singh had appeared in his dream and had pointed to a treasure of gold buried near the Shiva temple where the king worshiped the deity.

The seer, apparently concerned about India’s slumping economy and plummeting rupee, said there could be as much as 1,000 tons of gold there, and another 2,500 tons of gold lying nearby, awaiting excavation, which the government could use to augment its gold reserves.

On September 22, and October 7, Dr. Charan Das Mahant, Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Processing, had visited Sarkar’s ashram. Mahant convinced by the seer, assured him that appropriate action would be taken with regard to his dream. At his behest, the government machinery sprang to action with surprising alacrity.

Political pressure compelled a team from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) to survey the area.

The GSI confirmed that there were strong indications of metal lying in the ground at the site. A sentence in the report’s conclusion said a site inspection had detected that a “prominent non-magnetic … zone occurs at 5-20 metres depth [and there is] indication of possible gold, silver and/or some alloys”. It recommended further investigation by means of an excavation.

A spokesman for the Junior Minister said Mr. Mahant was too busy to respond to queries. Yet in an interview with The Indian Express, Mahant said:

When I met [Mr. Sarkar], he told me about the reserves. He said the quantity was so huge that if the government can excavate it, it could be handy since there was a crisis with the rupee.

After meeting the seer, Mahant had informed the Prime Minister’s office, the finance and home ministers, the mines’ minister and various agencies. He also sent word to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

This revelation by the seer has sparked interest and hope among the gullible villagers, who invariably visit the memorial of the king to pay their respect on the anniversary of his execution. Since almost everyone in the village is sure the seer’s prediction will prove true, they are already demanding that 20 percent of whatever might be found should be spent to develop educational and health facilities in the area.

A delegation of All India Kshatriya Mahasabha raised a demand for their share of the “booty”. Uma Shankar Singh, the Mahasabha president, who led the delegation to the excavation site declared:

Since the fortress belongs to an erstwhile royal family of Rajputs, the Kshatriya Mahasabha ought to be naturally entitled to a share in the gold recovered.

Earlier, Naresh Agrawal, Samajwadi Party general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP,  wanted the state government’s share in the gold.

The locals say the king had two daughters only, and both committed suicide by jumping into the Ganga river after their father’s execution and left no heirs. After their death, the palace remained abandoned and eventually crumbled. Yet, some people posing themselves as descendants of the king arrived at the village, hoping to get a fair share of the treasure.

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Excavation begins at Daundia Khera (Photograph: Reuters)
Excavation begins at Daundia Khera (Photograph: Reuters)

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The Archaeological Survey of India ASI installed a few CCTV cameras around the 19th century ruined fort in Daundia Khera. The excavation works began on October 18, 2013, amid tight security by a 12-member team from the ASI led by its Deputy Director P. K. Mishra.

When reporters asked Mishra whether the decision to excavate was taken on the basis of the seer’s dream, he said:

… actually, a report by the GSI suggested that there may be gold or silver there. On the basis of findings of the report, we have started the excavation, and results will come soon.

Dr. B.R. Mani, a senior ASI official, insisted that they are not treasure hunters. Their team was interested in excavating the ‘historic‘ site because they have been directed to do so after the GSI conducted a preliminary inquiry and found there was something there.

Spending public money to launch a treasure hunt on the say-so of a seer, by the supposedly secular Congress party-led government, has led many to suspect the sanity of our leaders who are making a mockery of our nation.

The BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi while addressing a crowd in Chennai on Friday, October 18, 2013, ridiculed the Centre for deciding to hunt for 1,000 tons gold in Unnao and said India could stand to gain several thousand crores of rupees if it got back the black money stashed in the Swiss banks. Modi said:

The whole world is mocking at us (over the hunt). Somebody had dreamt and the government has started an excavation…the money hidden by thieves and looters of India in foreign banks in Switzerland is much more than 1,000 tons of gold.

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury called it strange and said it is not right to dig up some place to find hidden treasure on the basis of someone’s dream. He said:

What is going on is something we have never heard of before.

The Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury commenting on the event said:

“If the seer’s dream is true or not we will get to know soon. The State Government has taken a decision to this effect.”

Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, said that he wants every district of the state to yield a treasure and people to be happy.

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Is the Archaeological Survey of India Digging for Real or Fool’s Gold?


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Every day, Indians buy almost 2.3 tonnes of gold to hoard. However, none of them is keen to deposit their gold, for safe keeping, into the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Even the Hindu temples sitting on about half as much gold as in Fort Knox are not volunteering to have their holdings audited by the RBI.

The BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi while addressing a crowd in Chennai on Friday, October 18, 2013, ridiculed the Centre for deciding to hunt for 1,000 tonnes gold in Unnao, and said India could stand to gain several thousand crores of rupees if it got back the black money stashed in the Swiss banks. Modi said:

The whole world is mocking at us (over the hunt). Somebody had dreamt and the government has started an excavation…the money hidden by thieves and looters of India in foreign banks in Switzerland is much more than 1,000 tonnes of gold.

Where is this place called Unnao?

Connected by roadway as well as by railway to Kanpur 18 km away, and 60 km away from Lucknow, is the town of Unnao, the headquarters of Unnao district, a part of Central Ganges Plain in Uttar Pradesh, India. The town is listed as a municipality of Kanpur Metropolitan Area.

But the real action is taking place in the nondescript hamlet of Daundia Khera in Unnao district.

On Friday, a team of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavations at Unnao Fort searching for a hypothetical treasure of gold that could have been hidden by Raja Rao Ram Baksh, a rich landlord and gold trader who owned a jewellery shop in Kanpur in the early 19th Century.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of Sepoys of the East India Company’s army on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut. The rebellion soon escalated into other mutinies, civil disobedience and rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India. Major hostilities were confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion is also known as India’s First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion and the Sepoy Mutiny.

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Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh
Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh

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British historians describe Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh as a perdurable marauder and outlaw from the Gangetic Plain who joined the rebels only to loot their camps.

On June 4, 1857, a Maratha aristocrat, Nana Sahib’s troops crushed the British army in Kanpur, and the British contingent fled to Unnao, where Raja Rao Ram Singh challenged them. The British hid in a temple of Buxar. When they refused to come out, they were burned alive on the Raja’s command.

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General Sir James Hope Grant GCB, painted in 1853 by his brother Francis Grant.
General Sir James Hope Grant GCB, painted in 1853 by his brother Francis Grant.

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Enraged over the incident, General Sir James Hope Grant GCB, lured Chandi, one of Raja’s followers to his side and arrested Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh.

On December 28, 1857, Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh was hanged to death near the banyan tree at the Shiva temple. His palace, situated near the temple, was destroyed.

Earlier this month, a local seer, Sant Shobhan Sarkar, claimed that the 19th-century king Rao Ram Baksh Singh had appeared in his dream and pointed to a treasure of 1,000 tonnes of gold buried near the Shiva temple where the king worshipped the deity.

A sewak of the seer said that his 55-years-old guru hailed from a Tewari Brahmin family and that he is class 12 pass. For his followers, Sant Shobhan Sarkar is a living god. Asked about the deity he worships, another sewak retorted: “He’s a living god. Why would he worship others?”

The seer hates to be photographed and his followers would simply take way the camera or the cellphone and rough up the person who attempts to photograph him.

The sadhu wrote to the President, the prime-minister, the chief of the ASI, and local politicians about his dream.

The political pressure finally compelled the ASI to survey the area. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) confirmed that there were strong indications of metal at the site. The dig is to begin with 10 to 12 labourers using simple tools.

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Priests perform puja at Raja Rao Ram Bux fort before the excavation starts. - PTI
Priests perform puja at Raja Rao Ram Bux fort before the excavation starts. – PTI

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The ASI began the excavation work on Friday. The Swami Shobhan Sarkar reached the site around 4 am. After performing a short puja, he immediately left for his ashram in Buxar. His disciples continued to chant hymns till 8 am to generate positive vibes.

When asked about the possibility of striking gold, an ASI official said, “I cannot say anything about any metal. For us even a broken earthen pot of that time holds equal importance.

When asked about Shobhan Sarkar’s dream, the ASI official said, “We have not come here for gold. We are archaeologists who have a scientific way of working.”

Another ASI official said that it is not the sadhu’s dream alone that brought them to the site. “We’ve responded to a report by the ministry of culture. It has observations by the Geological Survey of India that there could be some metal bounty under the earth. So the team is in the field,

No one knows how rich Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh was, nor are they sure if he buried his gold in his village.

We will have to wait and see if the ASI would dig out real gold or Fool’s Gold.

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Murder Most Foul: Part 4 – The Trial and the Judgement


.Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Fiat justitia ruat caelum
(‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’)

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

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A team of Madras City Police travelled to Bombay in search of the Menons. With the help of the Bombay police, they traced the relatives with whom the Menons were staying.

When the police arrived, Devaki Menon who had undergone an abortion was resting at the home of her husband’s relatives. Prabhakara Menon was not there. He had gone out and the police traced him to the Chowpatty Beach, Girgaum. Menon had shaved off his moustache, nevertheless, the police recognized him. One member of the Madras police took out a fountain pen from Menon’s pocket. The pen had the initials of Alavandar.

The police arrested Devaki and Prabhakara Menon. A Bombay City Magistrate charging them with the murder of Alavandar, and other miscellaneous charges, remanded them to custody. The arrested couple was brought to Madras.

A team of top Madras police officials investigated the murder and gathered evidence for the trial assisted by Dr N. Pitchandi and Dr C.B. Gopalakrishna, the Police Surgeon, Madras, and consultant for a few other states in India, and to the Indian Army.

The Malabar knife used by Prabhakara Menon to decapitate and amputate the body of the dead Alavandar, which he later threw in a park in Broadway, Madras, was found by the park attendant, who in turn gave it to his mistress. The police recovered it from the woman to include it as evidence. They found the shop where Menon bought it on the morning of the killing.

The police also found the blood-stained sari worn by Devaki Menon at the time of the murder, and while helping her husband to dismember the dead body.

As there were no eyewitnesses to Alavandar’s murder, the police tried to make a deal with Devaki Menon by suggesting that she would be given the state’s pardon for her role in the murder if she gave evidence against her husband. But she turned down the offer since she believed that her husband killed Alavandar to save her honour.

The Trial

The trial came up for hearing at the Madras High Court Original Criminal Sessions before the renowned Judge, Mr Justice A. S. P. Iyer (Ayilam Subramania Panchapakesan Iyer).

The eminent lawyer S. Govind Swaminathan was the State Prosecutor. Advocates B.T. Sundararajan and S. Krishnamurthy appeared for the two accused.

The trial by jury was then in force in Madras High Court. A panel of nine jurors, some of whom were noted citizens of Madras, was sworn in was sworn in.

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HOARY HALL - A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)
HOARY HALL – A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)

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Large crowds thronged at the hearings of this sensational trial. On March 13, 1953, according to the Indian Express, “… the crowd in the courtroom became unmanageable, delaying the proceedings.”

The next day was no different. The veranda, leading to the court hall, was so crowded it made entry into the court hall difficult. The police bundobusts (arrangements) were meagre, and reserve police were called in.

The couple, Prabhakara Menon and his wife Devaki, pleaded “not guilty” to the various charges including murder.

The prosecutor Govind Swaminathan built up a strong case of a planned murder of Alavandar by the couple. He stated that the servant boy of the Menons told the police that he heard Menon and Devaki discuss the ways to get rid of Alavandar and that Prabhakara Menon had pressurized his wife to bring Alavandar to their house so that he could give the devil his due. It was a case of killing the snake that strayed into one’s home.

Defending advocate, B. T. Sundararajan, argued that the killing was not pre-meditated as suggested by the prosecution. Prabhakara Menon was provoked to murderous fury by the playboy who assailed his wife Devaki in their own house, with the intention of having sex with her against her will. The defence lawyer stated: “It was done out of grave provocation and in self-defence. It is a homicide and not murder.

What is the difference between “homicide” and “murder”? In fact, most people use these two terms interchangeably.

A homicide is the killing of one human being by another. The killing may be accidental or intentional; it may or may not be done with criminal intent. If one kills a man accidentally or in self-defence, it would be considered “homicide”; similarly, if one runs over an individual intentionally, it would be considered “homicide”. It is a neutral term. So, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide all are types of homicides that are not murders.

Black’s Law Dictionary edited by the world’s foremost American legal lexicographer, Bryan A. Garner, is the definitive legal resource for American lawyers, law students and laypeople alike. It is known for its clear and precise legal definitions, substantive accuracy, and stylistic clarity – making it the most cited legal dictionary in print. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the word homicide merely “describes the act, it pronounces no judgment on the moral or legal quality”.

Murder, on the other hand, is an illegal act that usually involves some degree of premeditation or intention to kill. Murder is punishable by death under Article 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

The word “murder” has a negative connotation associated with it. The police force in the United States has a Homicide Department, but not a Murder Department.

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The Judgement

Gavel

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Justice A. S. P. Iyer, a person ingrained in the ancient Hindu tradition opined that the victim, Alavandar, the scallywag, was a disgrace to humanity and deserved to be eliminated. He considered the killing as a “justifiable execution of an unwanted rascal.”

After the lengthy trial, Justice A. S. P. Iyer’s summing-up to the jury swerved in favour of the two accused. He accepted and supported the sudden and grave provocation theory put forward by the defence, taking into consideration the interests of the society and its morals. However, some people felt that his indulgence towards the accused couple from Kerala prejudiced because he too hailed from Kerala, from the agraharam in Ayilam Gramam, 320 km from Palakkad. However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of ‘guilty’ against both the accused.

However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty against both the accused.

On August 13, 1953, accepting the verdict of the Jury, Justice A. S. P. Iyer sentenced Prabhakara Menon to seven years rigorous imprisonment for culpable homicide and Devaki to three years in prison.

The top police officials who were eager to get the maximum punishment of death by hanging for Prabhakara Menon, the first accused, were sorely disappointed by the sentence.

Menon wanted to appeal against the sentence. But his lawyer, B.T. Sundararajan, advised him not to, now that he had escaped with a light sentence thanks to the judge. Menon accepted his lawyer’s advice and did not appeal.

The Menons were released early due to their good conduct in prison, and they shifted back to their native state, Kerala. In their prayer room, the couple placed a photo of Justice A.S.P.  Iyer along with the gods and goddesses venerated by them.

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Murder Most Foul: Part 3 – The Killing


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Alavandar: The Local Casanova

C. Alavandar belonged to the Hindu Vysya community of Telugu speaking ‘Komati Chettis. The members of this community are by tradition businessmen, and many of them wealthy, but Alavandar was not.

In 1952, Alavandar was about 42 years old, married and had two children. He lived in the crowded Nattu Pillaiyar Koil Street, in George Town, Madras, with his family.

After his discharge from the British-Indian Army, Alavandar got employed as a salesman at Gem and Company, the foremost dealers of fountain pens in China Bazaar, Madras, owned by M.C. Cunnan Chetty, a fellow Vysya.

Soon after the war ended in the mid-1940s, celluloid and plastic goods made their foray into the Indian market. Alavandar wanted to start a small business selling celluloid and plastic wares. Cunnan Chetty gave Alavandar a small space in the frontage of his pen company to display his celluloid and plastic wares and conduct his business.

Despite his unseemly looks, Alavandar always dressed well with a necktie or a bow-tie to boot. He was not keen on conducting business but had interest only in women. He was indubitably a womanizer, a local Casanova, romantically involved with many women.

In the early 50s, fountain pens were a prized possession. Alavandar used to allure young women by initially presenting them fancy fountain pens, building their friendship, and eventually taking them to a lodge on Broadway to have sex with them.

Alavandar also sold saris in instalments on easy payment terms. He chose this line of business mainly to inveigle women. Many of his women clients who failed to pay the instalments were willing to pay him in kind by accompanying him to lodges to have sex with him.

He regularly visited the YMCA, opposite the Madras High Court, always in the company of a woman. Once he boasted to one of his friends that he had slept with 400+ women of all communities.

One of the women he was romantically involved with was Devaki from Kerala.

In mid-1951, Devaki, then young and single, engaged in Hindi ‘prachar‘ work, came to Gem & Company to buy a fountain pen. There, she met Alavandar and the two became friends. By October that year, Alavandar took her to a lodge in George Town and slept with her. To the playboy, Devaki was just one more notch on his scabbard.

By the end of that year, Devaki broke off her relationship with Alavandar and got married to Prabhakara Menon.

After their marriage, Prabhakara Menon and Devaki went to Gem & Company. Alavandar congratulated Menon for marrying the lovely young woman. The way Alavandar behaved intimately with Devaki, sowed seeds of doubt in Menon’s mind about the fidelity of his wife. One day the newly wedded couple went to Minerva Theatre in Broadway, Madras. During the show Devaki confessed to her husband about her intimacy with Alavandar and said the womanizer was stalking her again, harassing and beseeching her to renew their relationship.

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Alavandar Murder Case - Paper cutting - 2
A paper cutting with photos of Prabhakara Menon, Devaki and Alavandar.

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The Killing

The Menons had a boy as their servant and provided him food and lodging in their house. Later on, during the murder investigation, the boy told the police that at nights sleeping on the floor near their bedroom he could hear Devaki sobbing at times. Also, he had heard Menon and Devaki talk about Alavandar and the ways to get rid of him. According to the boy, Menon had coerced his wife to bring Alavandar to their house so that he could meet out to the devil his due.

In the morning of August 28, 1952, the day of the fateful murder, Menon bought a ‘Malabar knife’. Later in the day, he gave the servant boy pocket-money and asked him to go sightseeing as he was new to Madras.

That afternoon, Alavandar came to Devaki’s house at Royapuram by rickshaw with high hopes since Devaki had told him that her husband would be away from home. Many people in the neighbourhood including the owner of the shop hiring out bicycles near Devaki’s house, had seen Alavandar going up the steps and knocking on the door. But nobody saw him coming out of that house.

As soon as Alavandar stepped inside the house and closed the door, he started physically molesting Devaki, trying to undress the unwilling woman. Prabhakara Menon, who was in the kitchen, rushed out with a knife in hand and enraged with what he saw, killed Alavandar by stabbing him.

Menon then cut off the dead person’s head using the lethal Malabar knife.

The couple packed the murdered man’s headless torso into a steel trunk. Menon transported the steel trunk to Madras Central Railway Station. On his way to the Egmore Railway Station, Menon threw the Malabar knife in a park on Broadway, Madras. With the help of an unsuspecting porter, Menon placed the steel trunk under a seat in a third class compartment of the Indo-Ceylon Express.

On returning home from the railway station, Prabhakara Menon wrapped the severed head in Alavandar’s shirt, carried it to the Royapuram beach, and buried it in the sand.

Later in the night, the couple set out for Bombay.

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Murder Most Foul: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The Boat Mail Train aka the Indo-Ceylon Express

In the 1950s, there was much traffic between India and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) by land and sea. The Boat Mail train, aka the Indo-Ceylon Express plied between Chennai (then Madras) and Dhanushkodi on the Bay of Bengal. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 675 kilometers.

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

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After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train crossed the Palk Strait using the steamer ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar Pier in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The ferry steamer used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. It took about 3½ hours for the crossing.

The era of the Boat Mail came to an end after a cyclonic storm with high-speed winds, and high tidal waves struck South India and northern Ceylon between December 22 and 25, 1964. The entire town of Dhanushkodi was completely submerged with heavy casualties. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was destroyed, and a passenger train with over 100 passengers drowned in the sea.

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 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, 1964

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Years later, the name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express.

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The Headless Cadaver Crammed in a Steel Trunk

As the day dawned on August 29, 1952, the Indo-Ceylon Express was nearing Manamadurai. The passengers in a third class compartment started complaining about the stench emanating from a steel trunk placed under a seat and the foul-smelling gooey fluid that oozed from it. The train had left Madras Egmore railway station at 20:00 hours the previous night, on its way to Dhanushkodi.

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Alavandar murder case - steel trunk

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When the train came to a halt at the Manamadurai Junction at 10:15 AM, the Railway Police detained the compartment. The local police opened the steel trunk in the presence of witnesses and were shocked to see a headless nude male cadaver crammed inside, along with severed limbs.

Since the penis was circumcised and the victim was wearing green socks on his feet, the colour preferred by most Muslims, the police concluded that the murder victim was a Muslim. However, the police overlooked the thick string around the waist, usually worn by Hindu men, even today, to hold the loincloth in its place and did not place any importance on it.

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The First Autopsy in Madurai

Manamadurai was then part of the Ramnad district. At the district headquarters in Madurai, the District Medical Officer Dr Krishnaswamy, a radiologist, performed the autopsy on the headless corpse at the Erskine Hospital, (now Madurai Medical College). He took X-rays, and his report said the headless trunk belonged to a male of 25 years of age. Unfortunately, this conclusion was not quite correct.

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The Second Autopsy in Madras

Meanwhile, the headless corpse was brought from Madurai to the Forensic Department of Madras Medical College where Dr C. B. Gopalakrishna, Assistant Professor of Forensic Medicine at Madras Medical College carried out a fresh autopsy.

The autopsy result said the head was slightly decomposed. A sharp weapon had been used to sever the head at the cervical vertebra, and a piece of bone was missing. Nevertheless, the cervical vertebra of the head and the trunk fitted perfectly confirming that they belonged to the same person aged between 42 and 45. The missing Alavandar was 42.

Two teeth had peculiar formation, over-riding one on another. At the mortuary, Mrs Alavandar, after looking at the severed head and the peculiarly formed teeth – a solitary black tooth along with two teeth over-riding one on another, and the pierced earlobes, she confirmed that the corpse was that of her husband.

That Alavandar was an opium addict came to light when the narcotic was found in the dead person’s stomach. He might have consumed it as an aphrodisiac, or as a relief from his frequent asthma attacks.

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→ Next: Part 3 – The Killing

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Murder Most Foul: Part 1 – The Decapitated Head


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Way back in 1952, when I was 11-years-old, a sensational murder took place in Madras (now Chennai). I remember listening to the news read out from the newspapers by the elders in our village. Even after 61 years, the gruesome details I heard about the murder still lingers in my mind.

The Alavandar murder case and trial became a cause-celebre. It aroused widespread controversy and heated public debate. Now, some details have eroded with time from people’s memory, and controversies crept in at times while recalling the incident.

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Randor Guy (Photo : M. Periyasamy)
Randor Guy (Photo : M. Periyasamy)

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Madabhushi Rangadorai born on November 8, 1937, a prominent Indian lawyer, columnist and film and legal historian associated with the English language newspaper The Hindu who sports the nom de plume Randor Guy, has written an excellent detailed account of The Alavandar Murder Case.

In 1995, a 13-part Tamil TV serial based on this murder written by Randor Guy and produced by the Dina Thanthi newspaper group was telecast by the Doordarshan Kendra in Chepauk, Chennai as a sponsored program. Though the serial wasn’t well made it proved a big hit.

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The missing businessman 

It all began with a complaint lodged about a missing businessman at a police station in Madras (now Chennai) on behalf of a worried housewife.

On August 29, 1952, a worried Mrs Alavandar, anxious about her husband who did not return home even after daybreak, went to Gem & Company, fountain pen dealers in China Bazaar (now Parry’s corner), Madras, where her husband had a small frontage space to display his plastic wares and conducted his business. There, the staff of the pen company told her that her husband left the shop the previous day around noon for Royapuram with a woman who came to meet him.

Mrs Alavandar immediately deduced that her husband would have gone with Devaki, a woman from Kerala, with whom he had an illicit love affair. Devaki was an attractive young college-educated woman, who involved herself in social service activities. She lived in Madras.

On reaching No. 62, Cemetery Road in Royapuram, Madras, Mrs Alavandar knocked on the door. Devaki’s husband, Prabhakara Menon, opened the door. He told Mrs Alavandar that he had not seen her husband and asserted that her husband never came to his house.

Mrs Alavandar then returned to Gem & Company and requested M.C. Cunnan Chetty, the proprietor of the firm, to go to the police, and on her behalf, he lodged a complaint at the Law College police station in Esplanade, Madras, about the missing Alavandar.

The following day, The Hindu carried a short news item about the incident with a catchy sensational headline: “CITY BUSINESSMAN MISSING!”

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The Decapitated Head

A police constable attached to the Esplanade Police station pedalled his bicycle to Devaki’s house at Royapuram and found the door locked. He made enquiries and found from the neighbours that the couple, Prabhakara Menon and his wife Devaki, had left for Bombay (now Mumbai).

While pedalling back to his station, the police constable saw a parcel bobbing up and down on the shallow sea water. Out of curiosity, he went up to the seashore and picked up the package wrapped in a brown shirt. When he unwrapped it, he was shocked. There was a decapitated human head inside. The head had been undoubtedly buried the previous night in a shallow pit at the edge of the sea and the morning tide had dislodged it from the sand and washed it ashore. The shirt was later identified as belonging to Alavandar.

The discovery of the head made headline news in the press the following day.

 

→ Next: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver

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