Today, Thursday, February 6, 2020, Dindigul C Sreenivasan who serves as the Minister for Forests in the present AIDMK government in Tamilnadu was at Theppakadu in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) located in the Nilgiris to inaugurate the annual rejuvenation camp for captive/tamed elephants. Along with the minister were Ms J Innocent Divya IAS, District Collector of the Nilgiris District, Mr A Ramu, alias ‘Shanthi‘ A Ramu, the MLA for Coonor, and officials from the district revenue and forest departments.
Dindigul Sreenivasan who bent down almost to the floor every time he saw Ms JJ when she was alive and after her demise bowed to Ms Sasikala, and hence nicknamed “a tire-licker” along with his fellow ministers, has accumulated so much fat that he can’t bend even to remove his own footwear now.
The inauguration of the annual rejuvenation camp for elephants was marred by an incident in which Dindigul C Sreenivasan exposed himself as a VVIP Racist.
Kethan, a Class IX schoolboy belonging to the Irula tribal community was present there to witness the inauguration of the rejuvenation camp with a friend. Both the boys were sons of mahouts at the camp.
Before entering a shrine, the 71-year-old minister, who found it difficult to bend due to accumulated fat, beckoned the tribal boy Keithan.
Keithan was afraid when the minister called him as he thought the minister would scold him for not having gone to school. With hesitation, Keithan and his friend approached. The minister asked Keithan to unbuckle his slippers.
When press photographers and others tried to take photographs, Dindigul C Sreenivasan asked them to stop, while A Ramu, the MLA for Coonoor, tried to block photographers from getting a clear picture.
The two boys were then asked by another member of the minister’s entourage to pick up the slippers and leave them at the entrance of the shrine.
Now, the above video of the incident has gone viral on social media. People are outraged by the minister’s “arrogance” and are demanding action against him and sacking him from his position for discriminating and mistreating the tribal boy.
Many want Dindigul Srinivasan to be booked under the SC/ST PoA Act. along with the equally liable government officials who were silent spectators during the incident.
The Tamil and Sinhalese New Year, generally known as Tamizh Puthandu (Tamil: தமிழ் புத்தாண்டு) in Tamil Nadu and among the Indian worldwide Tamil diaspora, and as Sinhala Aluth Avurudda (Sinhala: සිංහල අලුත් අවුරුද්ද) in Sri Lanka, is a major anniversary celebrated by the Sinhalese and Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
The festival date is set with the solar cycle of the Hindu calendar, as the first day of the Tamil month of Chithirai. It, therefore, falls on or about 14 April every year on the Gregorian calendar. The same day is observed by Hindus elsewhere as the traditional new year but is known by other names such as Vishu in Kerala, and Vaisakhi or Baisakhi in central and northern India.
The Sinhalese New Year / Sinhala Aluth Avurudda has a close semblance to the Tamil New year / Tamizh Puthandu and is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. It is generally celebrated on 13 April or 14 April and traditionally begins at the sighting of the new moon.
On January 29, 2008, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led Government of Tamil Nadu enacted the Tamil Nadu New Year Declaration Bill 2008 which declared that the Tamil new year should be celebrated on the first day of Tamil month of Thai (14th January) to coincide with the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal. However, the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Canada continued to observe the new year in mid-April.
The law enacted by the DMK-led Government of Tamil Nadu was met with resistance by the majority of Tamils in the state and elsewhere. It was also challenged in court, questioned by Hindu priests and many Tamil scholars around the world. Many in Tamil Nadu ignored the DMK government legislation and continued the celebration of the traditional Puthandu new year festival in mid-April.
The then opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) in Tamil Nadu subsequently condemned the decision of the DMK Government in that state and urged their supporters to continue celebrating the traditional date in mid-April.
In an effort to placate popular sentiments the DMK-led government renamed Tamil Puthandu as “Chithirai Tirunal” (the festival of the Tamil month of Chithirai). It maintained April 14 as a public holiday purportedly to commemorate late Dr B.R Ambedkar, who was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution even though all the television channels in Tamil Nadu continued to telecast festive “Chithirai Tirunal Special Programs” on April 14, 2010.
In April 2010, the Governor and the Chief Minister of the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry, which has an ethnic Tamil majority, wished and greeted the public for the Tamil new year 2010.
Subsequently, on August 23, 2011, an AIADMK majority-led government rescinded this law legislated by the DMK majority-led government by a separate act of legislation in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
The most ancient sources of pearl, the queen of jewellery,are believed to be the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar that lies between India and Sri Lanka. Pre-historic people of these regions were probably the first to find the first pearls known to mankind, obviously during their quest for food. However, to pinpoint an exact region where the discovery and appreciation of pearls first began may be difficult.
In 315 BC, the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, pupil and successor of Aristotle in the Peripatetic school wrote that pearls came from the waters off the coast of India, and certain islands in the Red Sea and in the Sinus Persicus (Persian Gulf).
Megasthenes, the Greek geographer and writer, who accompanied Alexander’s general Seleucus Nicator in his Asiatic conquests, visited many regions of India, including Madurai, the capital of the Pandya kingdom. While in southern India, he also learnt about the neighbouring island of Sri Lanka which he called “Taprobane,” and its valuable resources, such as pearls and a variety of gemstones. Subsequently, in his famous work “Indica” he wrote that Taprobane was an important source of large pearls.
The Alexandrian-Roman geographer, Claudius Ptolemy ( c. AD 100 – c. 170) wrote about the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar, both on the South Indian side and the Sri Lankan side.
The Periplus Maris Erythraei (Periplus of the Erythrian Sea), written by an unknown Alexandrian-Greek author, in the second half of the 1st-century A.D (approximately 60 A.D.), mentions the route to the east coast of India, is through the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka. It provides an extensive account of the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar, particularly on the Indian side of the Gulf, and the pearl fishery of Epidprus (Mannar Island) on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf.
The Gulf of Mannar
The Gulf of Mannar is a large shallow bay, a part of the Lakshadweep Sea. It lies between the southeastern tip of India and the west coast of Sri Lanka. The estuaries of the river Thamirabarani of south India and the Malvathu Oya (Malvathu River) of Sri Lanka drain into the Gulf of Mannar.
Geological evidence suggests that in ancient times India and Sri Lanka were connected by land. An 18-miles (30 km) long isthmus composed of limestone shoals, and coral reefs, popularly known as Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge or Ramsethu, lies between the Rameswaram Island, off the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and the Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Adam’s Bridge separates the Gulf of Mannar in the southwest from the Palk Strait in the northeast. The sea in the area is very shallow, only three to 30 feet (1 to 10 metres) deep in places, and hinders navigation. Some of the sandbanks are dry. Some claim that up to the 15th century, Adam’s Bridge was completely above sea level and people travelled between India and Sri Lanka on foot. The bridge they say was breached, fissured and the channel deepened by storms when a cyclone devastated the region in 1480.
In ancient times, this coast was known worldwide for its natural pearls. Greeks, Romans and Arabs sought the beautiful pearls harvested in these waters. From the time of the known history of the Tamils, pearl trading became one of the principal sources of revenue of the Tamil kings.
The bed of the Pearl Fishery Coast in the Gulf of Mannar is a fertile breeding ground for pearl oysters. There were two distinct fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar – one on the South Indian coast, the other on the northwestern Sri Lankan coast.
On the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, the Pearl Fishery Coast of southern India extended along the Coromandel Coast from Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin). This fishery coast has been known in different periods of time in various languages as the Cholamandalam coast, Colkhic Gulf, Comorin coast, Coromandel coast, Fishery Coast, Kuru-Mandala coast, Ma’bar coast, Paralia, Pescaria, Fishery coast, Tirunelveli coast, Madura coast, etc. The coast took its name from the presence of natural pearls in the bed which is a fertile breeding ground for pearl oysters.
The pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar stretch from the island of Mannar, off the northwestern tip of Sri Lanka, south to Chilaw.
The Pearl Fishery Coast in Southern India and in Sri Lanka were predominantly populated by the Paravar caste. The Paravars were fishers, seamen and maritime traders. Majority of the Paravars specialised in the seasonal harvesting of pearl oysters and chank and for thousands of years.
The Pandyan kings allowed the Paravars to manage and operate the pearl fisheries because of their ancient skills in that activity, which required specialist seamanship abilities, knowledge of the location of the oyster beds and the art of tending them. The Pandyan kings exempted the Paravars from taxation and allowed them to govern themselves in return for being paid tribute from the harvested oysters.
In ancient times, this Pearl Fishery Coast was known worldwide. Greeks, Romans and Arabs sought the beautiful pearls harvested in these waters by the many Parava fisheries that operated to exploit them. From the time of the known history of the Tamils, pearl trading became one of the principal sources of revenue of the Tamil kings. By the first century AD, pearls and shanks were among the important exports from southern India.
In the late 1270s, Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I sent an expedition to Sri Lanka under his minister Kulasekara Cinkaiariyan Aryachakravarti near the end of the Sri Lankan king Bhuvanaikabâhu I’s reign (1272-1285 AD). Aryachakravarti defeated Savakanmaindan of the Jaffna kingdom, a tributary to the Pandyans. He plundered the fortress of Subhagiri (Yapahuwa) and brought with him the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Bhuvanaika Bahu’s successor Parâkkamabâhu III went personally to King Kulasekaran’s court and persuaded him to return the tooth relic.
Most historians agree that on later expeditions it was this Arayachakravarti who stayed behind to create the Arayachakravrati dynasty in the Kingdom of Jaffna, and raided the western Sri Lankan coast. From then on, the pearl banks came under the sole dominance of the Aryachakravarti line of kings of Jaffna kingdom.
Political and military leaders of the same family name left a number of inscriptions in the modern-day Tamil Nadu state, with dates ranging from 1272 to 1305, during the late Pandyan Empire. According to contemporary native literature, the family also claimed lineage from the Tamil Brahmins of Rameswaram in the modern Ramanathapuram District of India.
In 1450, a Tamil military leader named Chempaha Perumal under the directive of the Sinhalese king Sapumal Kumaraya of the Kotte kingdom invaded the region which remained under the control of the Kotte kingdom up to 1467. After that, the region once again came under the Jaffna kingdom.
The Arayachakravrati dynasty ruled the Jaffna kingdom from the 13th until the 17th century, when the last ruler of the dynasty, Sankili II, also known as Sankili Kumaran confronted the Portuguese. Thereafter, the entire pearl fishery on both the Sri Lankan and the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar came under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Portuguese.
The pearl fisheries of the Gulf of Mannar were controlled independently of one another, by the Pandya, the Chola or by the regional rulers on the Indian side, and by the Sinhalese or Tamil kings on the Sri Lankan side. Sometimes, the two fisheries came under the jurisdiction of the same authorities, such as the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Portuguese (in 1619), the Dutch (in 1658), and the British (1796), whoever controlled the regions on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar.
To mark the end of the harvest season, the Tamils in Tamilnadu, Puducherry, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, celebrate the festival called Pongal (பொங்கல்) or Thai Pongal(தைப்பொங்கல்). The farmers in these regions thank the Sun, the principal energizer that helps to reap a bountiful harvest.
In Tamilnadu and Puducherry, Pongal is a four-day festival comprising Bhogi Pandigai, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal. The Pongal festivities begin 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).
Cattle are important and are a form of wealth to people living in rural areas all over the world.
In Hinduism, the bull Nandi is the mount (Vahana), attendant (gana) of the god Shiva, and also the gatekeeper-deity of Kailashagiri, the abode of Shiva. According to a legend linked to Mattu Pongal, Shiva sent Nandi from the heavens to earth to deliver his message to the people on earth that they should have an oil bath every day and eat once a month. Nandi inadvertently advised delivered the message that people should take an oil bath once a month and eat every day. When Shiva came to know of his message related to food delivered wrongly, he was annoyed and in a fit of rage, banished Nandi to earth to live permanently among the farmers and help them to produce the extra food crops needed for the people to eat every day.
The rural folks in Tamilnadu and the Tamils in Sri Lanka dedicate the third day of the four-day-long Pongal festivities to their cattle and call it Maattu Pongal (மாட்டுப் பொங்கல்). Though the name Maattu Pongal seems specific to Tamil Nadu, it is also celebrated in other southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
According to the Gregorian calendar, Maattu Pongal is celebrated on January 15, the second day of the Tamil month Thai((தை ).
The rural folk show their affection towards their cattle by applying kungumam (kumkum) on their cattle’s foreheads and garlanding them. They then feed their cattle with a mixture of venn pongal (sweetened rice), jaggery, banana, sugar cane and other fruits.
The sport of Jallikkattu (bull embracing)
In many parts of Tamilnadu, the youths take part in the adventurous ancient sport of Jallikkattu (or sallikattu), also known as Manju virattu (chasing the bull), and eruthazhuvatal (bull embracing) to celebrate Mattu Pongal.
Proof of Jallikattu, as an ancient sport of Tamil Nadu, has been corroborated from rock paintings of ‘bull chasing sport’ discovered on massive rock surfaces at Karikkiyur in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu, which are dated between 2,000 B.C. and 1,500 B.C.
Initially, and were a mild form of sport in the in the southern part of Tamil Nadu, particularly in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur.
The sport was held in the afternoon or evening of the Mattu Pongal day. After worshipping and feeding the bulls in the morning, their owners tied money in the form of coins or notes on the horns of the bulls and let them loose among the crowd. Young boys chased and lassoed the bulls to retrieve the money tied to their horns.
Nayak dynasties emerged after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire. During the Nayak rule in Tamil Nadu, this traditional harmless bull-chasing sport transformed into the present form of Jallikattu, which is a bloodier bull-wrestling sport.
Nowadays, ferocious Bos indicus or Bos taurus indicus bulls, also known as indicine cattle or humped cattle, characterised by a fatty hump on their shoulders such as the Pulikulam or Kangayam breeds are selected, trained, and released into a crowd of people. The youngsters to exhibit their valour endeavour to subjugate the bulls by attempting to grab the large hump on the bull’s back with both arms and hang on to it attempting to bring the bull to a stop while it tries to escape. Participants who hold the hump for a long period are declared winners.
In Tamil, the word Pongal means “overflowing”, signifying abundance and prosperity. The Tamils in Tamilnadu, Puducherry, 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 Puducherry, Pongalis a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the TamilmonthMaargazhi (மார்கழி ) and culminates on the third day of the TamilmonthThai((தை ) – January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar.
In Tamil, the phrase “ThaiPirandhalVazhiPirakkum” 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, Maattu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.
Of the four-days Harvest festival, the second day is the principal day of the festival.This day is known as Thai Pongal by the Tamils and they celebrate it on January 14, the first day of the month of (தை).
All the states in India celebrate thisday which coincides with MakaraSankranthi, a winter harvest festival. On thisday the Sun begins its six-month-long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun entersMakara(Capricorn), the 10th house of the Indian zodiac.
In Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Sri Lanka and Malaysia it is celebrated as Thai Pongal.
In Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh, this day is is celebrated as MakaraSankranthi.
Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.
In Haryana, HimachalPradesh and Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri.
Assamese celebrated it as MaghBihu or BhogaliBihu.
Nepaesel celebrate it as MagheSankrantior Makar Sankranti.
In Tamilnadu, it is a tradition for the housewives to boilmilk at dawn in a new clay pot. When the milkboils and spills over the vessel, the folk blow the (a conch) yell “PongaloPongal!“ The Tamils consider watching the milkboil and spill over as auspicious as it connotes “good luck and prosperity.“
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, payasam, etc., which they share with their neighbours.
A large quantum of thick and dark oil washed ashore from Bharathiyar Nagar beach in Ernavur to Marina Light House in Chennai. Tonnes of tar-like thick black oil has polluted several square kilometres of sea in the Bay of Bengal.
According to fishermen, tar-like thick oil started to collect near the shore from Saturday evening. Fishermen around Marina complained that they found it difficult to navigate their boats in the sea because of the thick oil deposits. The fishermen are demanding compensation for loss of livelihood.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board officials said the spill could be the result of the accidental collision of two ships, the inbound vessel MT Dawn Kanchipuram and the outbound vessel LPG/CBW Maple in the wee hours on Saturday at Ennore port’s anchorage.
“There was a collision between a LPG tanker vessel, BW Maple, Isle of Man flagship, and vessel MT Kancheepuram, an oil and chemicals tanker, on the outskirts of Ennore at 4 am (on Saturday). So, this could be a result of that. As it is so thick, we are not able to find out what type of oil it is. We are conducting an investigation,” said a senior official.
While a statement from Kamarajar Port claims that there was no damage to the environment, or casualty or injury, the Times of India reported that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Darya Ship Management and Kamarajar Port have been held responsible for damage to the environment.
The New Indian Express reports:
“The biggest challenge was that both Kamarajar Port and the vessel that caused the disaster remained in denial, leaving the official machinery clueless about what they were dealing with. Minister of State (Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan visited the port and observed that ‘there were no spills/sheens in the area’, claims a release from the port.”
By Sunday morning the dark thick stagnant oil spread southward about 25km from the outskirts of Ennore where the accident occurred polluting several beaches, including the iconic Marina Beach in Chennai and beyond.
Now, the oil has converted sandy beaches, including the Marina, into a slushy ground, making it inaccessible to the public. Oily sludge. coats the rocks on the coast.
The mild smell of salt and fish that wafted in the air in the neighbourhoods along the beach has been replaced with a heavy, pungent emanation of petroleum and tar.
Hordes of fish and many turtles and hatchlings covered with thick oil were found dead near Ernavour and some were found washed ashore at Marina Beach.
According to environmental experts, the spill could have a long-lasting adverse impact on marine life. The shoreline is known for Olive Ridley turtles which nest on local beaches between January and April every year.
Now, the ill-equipped pollution response teams of the Indian Coast Guard are carrying out an impossible mopping operation. As the Indian Coast Guard lacks the technical expertise, the authorities have invited private companies to bid for the cleanup work.
It rained through the night in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India. The incessant rains that plagued us for the past three weeks did not seem to abate.
At 7.11 am, while I was still in bed my boarding and classmate Sunderaraj Kagoo, former Managing Partner of Star Brand Sweets, Colombo, had given me a call. I was not able to call him back since my cell’s battery had run down.
There was no way to charge my cell because we had no electricity supply.
Of all the rainy days that started in mid-November, 2015, today it rained heavily and forcefully.
Since the cable TV line was completely out and my 100 MB internet connection was dead, there was no way to know what was happening around us. We were not able to go out of our house to shop for essentials due to the torrent.
My second daughter Subodhra living in Palayamkottai, 620 km away from Chennai, phoned my wife. She said it did not rain there in Tirunelveli. She inquired how we were faring since she saw several news channels on TV covering the floods in Chennai. She said that Velachery, about 5 km from our house was flooded and that boats were being deployed to evacuate the marooned from their flooded houses to safety. My wife assured her that we were safe.
At 6:45 pm electricity came on.
At 6:48 pm my cousin Lawrence rang up inquired whether we were safe. He assured us that his house safe. I could hear children shouting and music in the background and immediately knew that the first birthday of his second grandson Tom Philip was being celebrated. I blessed the child over the phone and told Lawrence that even if they had invited us for the birthday party we would not have made it.
At 7:00 pm my wife, daughter Sujatha and I ran to the house on the first floor of the flat opposite our house to attend the first birthday party of a year-old toddler.
At 7:30 pm while the party was on, the electric power was cut off and we had the birthday dinner by candle light.
We returned home at 8:00 pm.
It poured heavily.
At 9:00 pm since we had no electricity, TV broadcast nor the internet, I tried to call my daughter Subodhra at Palayamkottai to know about the situation in Chennai that she would have seen on TV . Alas, to our bad luck the Vodafone network was out of service.
At 9:20 pm remembering the phone call from Sunderaraj Kagoo, I tried his number, but I was not able to get through. Then I noticed that my service provider Aircel too was out of service.
Since there was no electricity, we were not able to turn on the electric mosquito repellers and had to sleep at the mercy of the swarming mosquitoes.
After the inundation of the arterial Grand Southern Trunk (GST) Road south and north of Tambaram, all roads leading to Tambaram submerged at various stretches making Tambaram inaccessible to the rest of the city and for those heading towards Chennai city from Chengalpattu.
December 2, 2015:
It rained heavily in the morning.
I saw a few strangers in our neighbour Lokanayaki’s house. She told me that they were her relatives from nearby Pallikaranai and flood waters had entered their house up to their neck and so had come to her house for shelter.
Around 4:00 pm the rain ceased and there was only a pleasant drizzle. I took this opportunity to venture out on my two-wheeler to buy essential foods and medicines.
All the ATMs in our neighbourhood were out of service.
I went to one of the local medical shops. The proprietor was there and I asked him whether the card machine worked. The proprietor reluctantly said no. Then he asked how much my purchase would amount to. When I said more than ₹500, he said he would try to accommodate me since the backup battery had almost died out. He then took my order which amounted to ₹580 and switched on the card reader which came to life after a bit of coaxing. I thanked him for obliging and left the shop with the medicines.
The main road between Velachery and Tambaram is flooded in many places with hidden potholes lurking under the muddy waters. So, buses are not plying. I am not able to travel on my two-wheeler more than 100 metres either way from Pallikarani Oil Mill Stop.
I took the risk and waded through deep waters on my vehicle for about a kilometre and finally saw eggs stored on plastic trays at a shop. I bought a dozen eggs for ₹6 each.
On my way back home the engine of my two-wheeler stopped. I cranked the fuel tap to reserve and retraced my route. I found more than 50 people waiting in a queue to fill their motorcycles and cars at the petrol bunk. Finally, after waiting for about 30 minutes my turn came and after filling the tank with petrol and oil for ₹200, I returned home around 5:30 pm.
At 6:30 pm it was dark. I ventured out on my two-wheeler to buy a pair of batteries for my LCD torch. Almost all the shops were closed. Finally, I saw an electrical shop where an oil lamp lit the inside dimly. Luckily the batteries were available and I hurried home.
In the evening we heard that Chennai was officially declared a disaster area.
December 3, 2015:
Rains continued to plague Chennai.
Around 11:00 am we saw an army helicopter crossing far away from our house.
Around 1:30 pm we received electricity. We were able to see TV programmes.
We were made aware that the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu viewed the damages wrought by the incessant rains from the comfort of a helicopter. We also came to know that the Prime Minister who had come all the way from New Delhi too viewed the damages travelling on a separate helicopter.
At 6:30 pm some of our neighbours hurried towards the main road. My wife told me that the ATMs were working. I too took my debit card and ran to the main road. We were all disappointed for one ATM displayed the “Sorry. No money!” sign and the other two ATMs had shuttered down. It was a rumour.
Around 7:00 pm the electric supply was cut off and we were once again in the dark.
Around 7:30 pm my nephew Raphael Leo came home by motorbike to our house to inquire whether we and his mother-in-law who lives about 200 metres away from our house were safe. My son Subas Raj in Ellicott City, MD, USA had contacted him on WhatsApp and had asked him to check on us.
Though relief efforts were well underway across some of the flooded areas in Chennai, the lack of any coordinated relief response forced thousands of its residents to evacuate their houses on their own.
December 4, 2015:
From 5:00 am we had no rain and the sun shone through thick clouds. We were happy and thought the rains had finally ceased. With a letup in rainfall, floodwaters gradually began to recede in some areas in Chennai though 40 percent of the city remained submerged. Safe food and drinking water was in short supply.
Still no cell phone service. And there is no internet.
The electric supply comes in spurts. TV works intermittently even when electricity is available.
The internet was available from 1:45 pm today.
At 2:30 pm ominous dark clouds started gathering and it started to rain heavily.
Around 6:30 pm I saw the heart-wrenching news on TV channels about the loss of 18 patients who had died at the MIOT International Hospital in Manapakkam, Chennai, due to overflowing of flood waters from Adyar river that breached the hospital’s walls, damaging equipment in its path.
Two TV channels showed AIADMK Tamilnadu State Ministers Natham Viswanathan, Gokula Indra, and Selur Raju being chased away by the public when they visited the Chief Minister’s R.K. Nagar electorate. They had come to the CM’s electorate to meet the people in lieu of their head. The ministers arrived in a cortege of 18 cars, and without getting down from their vehicles, the ministers spoke to the people. This infuriated the people. They asked the ministers to get down from their vehicles and get their feet wet as they did. After an argument, the ministers with the protection and cordoning by the police escaped the fury of the mass.
Then we came across the shameful news that in some areas in Chennai the AIADMK hooligans are abrogating the work done by the charitable people and NGOs in Chennai by sticking stickers of JJ on the food parcels brought by them for distribution. If they could not help at least they should not steal the credits that are due to the helping people with their hard earned money and organizations who do not belong to their party. Instead, these shameless ruffians could have volunteered to work in the flood affected areas instead of stealing efforts made by others; or they could have pressured their higher-ups from the lowly municipal councilors to the Chief Minister to distribute free food from their “Amma Canteens” and distribute free “Amma Water” Bottles.
There seems to be a voltage drop and the electricity might be cut off at any moment.
For now, my family and I are safe. Please see the TV news channels for the overall situation now prevailing in Chennai.
The cynosure in most village festivals in Tamilnadu would be entertainment items such as the theru koothu, karakaattam, dancing, singing, drama or a pattimandram (debating platforms), etc. But, what many, even in Tamilnadu, do not know is the fact that this nondescript village enacts 100 dramas every year to please the village deity – “Thaanaai mulaitha Thanilinga Perumal” (தானாய் முளைத்த தனிலிங்கப் பெருமாள்) meaning “self-sprouted Thanilinga Perumal”. So much so, the villagers do not fancy cinema theatres.
Even in this modern scientific era, women barred from entering the Thanilinga Perumal temple, pray to the deity standing outside the temple.
On the stage erected in front of the temple, the villagers allow only performance of dramas. They consider the stage sanctified and none can approach it wearing any kind of footwear.
According to a former village headman, the deity Thanilinga Perumal loves staged dramas; hence his devotees perform dramas 100 days per year to please him.
Devotees entreat the deity to fulfil their request and in return pledge to stage a drama of their liking when the deity answers their prayers.
This tradition of staging dramas in this particular village dates back to the days of Thirumalai Nayakkar who ruled Madurai from 1623 to 1659 when a severe drought brought famine to Valayankulam and other surrounding villages. Since the people believed the deity Thanilinga Perumal loved staged drama, they pledged to perform a drama if he answered their prayer for rain. Miraculously, it rained and the village had a bountiful harvest. As obligated, the villagers staged a drama the following year to thank their village deity. From then on to date, the village has been performing dramas to please their deity.
Around this time, when king Thirumalai Nayakkar visited the Thanilinga Perumal temple, the villagers entertained him by performing a drama from Mahabharata titled “Abhimanyu Sundari” – the story of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra, and his first wife Sundari. The king relished the play and praised the actors who took part in it, and those actors adopted the phrase ‘Thirumalai mechinaar‘ (திருமலை மெச்சினார்) meaning ‘Praised by Thirumala’ as their family name.
Consequently, the first play performed during the drama festival would always invariably be Abhimanyu Sundari performed exclusively by members of the Thirumalai mechinaar families
Every year the drama festival begins on Maha Sivarathri or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence to mark the marriage of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati – the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. From that day onwards the villagers enact a drama daily for 100 days without any interruption.
The villagers believe that if anyone prays to their deity and pledges to stage a drama, the deity would hearken to their prayers. The villagers of Valayankulam boast that barren couples who pray for issues would come to the temple the following year with their offsprings and offer their thanks by sponsoring a drama.
In the past, when there was no electricity, the villagers lit the stage using flaming torches. Hence even now, to uphold the tradition, the villagers carry flaming torches from the village square to the stage with pomp and ceremony before the day’s play begins. When the torch bearers reach the stage, the pujari or archaka (priest) performs special ceremonies in the temple.
After paying the due respects to the seniors of the village, the play will begin at 10:00 pm and will proceed till 5:00 am the following day. The pujari keeps the door of the sanctum sanctorum open during this time for the deity to view the play.
The drama festivities will culminate on Chithra Fullmoon Day followed by a banquet for people belonging to all castes.
The minimum cost of staging a play by mediocre actors would amount to ₹25,000 and might go up to ₹60,000 to ₹1,00,000 if performed by cinema actors. Almost all Tamil drama actors and artisans connected with the dramatic art have performed or taken part on the stage at Valayankulam before the deity Thanilinga Perumal.
Staging a play at Valayankulam whenever one likes is not easy as anyone might think. Devotees who have pledged to sponsor a play have to pay ₹100 and wait in a long queue for at least a year to stage it on a stipulated date.
Note: I gleaned most of the above details from the article published in dhinasari.com written in Tamil titled, “வருடத்தில் 100 நாட்கள் நாடகம் நடைபெறும் கிராமம்” (“A village where dramas are performed 100 days per year”) by Mr. S.P. Senthilkumar, a reputed Tamil journalist from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
In the early hours of August 8, 2015, around 6:30 am, a walking group called “Twalkers” saw a mother and her daughter carrying a travelling bag at the Anna University Campus in Chennai,
The Twalkers saw them still standing in the same spot when they came around the second time. They inquired why they were standing there in the early hours.
Thangaponnu, the mother told them that she was a shepherdess from Musiri, a Panchayat town in the Tiruchirapalli district. Her daughter R. Swathi had scored 1017/1200 marks in her Plus Two examinations. After applying for entrance to B.Sc. Agriculture course, her daughter had been asked to come to Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, to attend the counseling session ahead of the admissions process to B. Sc. Agriculture, scheduled to start at 8:30 am. She showed the letter received by her daughter from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).
On scrutinizing that letter, the Twalkers saw the mistake. TNAU had directed Swathi to present herself at The Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, in Coimbatore, but some people had inadvertently misdirected them to Anna University, Chennai.
When the mother and daughter realized their mistake, they lost hope of reaching Coimbatore in time because the distance between Chennai and Coimbatore by road is 533 km (331 miles) and would take around 8 hours to travel.When the mother and daughter realized the mistake, they lost hope.
Since the counseling was to start at 8.30 a.m. in Coimbatore, the Twalkers decided to help the girl and her mother reach Coimbatore by air flight. The Twalkers decided to share the flight cost of ₹10,500.
Some Twalkers teaching at the Anna University, spoke to TNAU registrar C.R. AnandaKumar, and explained to him the situation and asked for extra time for the girl candidate.
The Twalkers brought breakfast for the girl and her mother.
Once the flight tickets were booked and confirmed, the Twalkers took Swathi and her mother to the Chennai airport to board the 10:05 am Coimbatore flight.
The flight Swathi and her mother were on landed at 11:28 am in Coimbatore. Arrangements were made to pick them at the Coimbatore airport. They reached the TNAU counseling venue by 12:15 pm.
Around 2:00 pm Swathi got admitted to B.Tech. (Biotechnology).
Swathi and her mother are now planning to visit Chennai again soon to meet the Twalkers who had spontaneously helped and thank them. The mother said that they would return the money the Twalkers had spent to buy their flight tickets.
Why am I interested in wetlands and writing about them?
Because I am concerned.
My home in Jalladianpet in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland. Now, this once pristine idyllic wetland and many other smaller wetlands, pasture lands and patches of dry forest in Chennai are being transformed into concrete jungles!
That is why I am concerned.
I am not an environmentalist per se. I am just a layman. I seek protection of our natural environment from changes made by harmful human activities. I yearn for improvement in the quality of our surroundings worldwide for the benefit of our present and future generations.
The Pallikarani wetland serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rainwater and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.
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).
Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump almost 2,600 tonnes of garbage per day, which is over one-third of the garbage of the ever-growing metropolis, here in this climatic marshland.
Now, 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 marsh” by Shaju John. He has augmented his article with photographs captured by him in the post-Photo file: The mired marsh.
Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse each day.
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.
Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums, frequent the garbage dumps.
Air samples from the Perungudi garbage dumping yard registered the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample. The air contained cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals.
People living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland continually inhale the omnipresent malodorous virulent air. They suffer the stifling smoke. They have no other alternative than to use the polluted and poisoned ground water. These factors subject them to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.
On June 15, 2012, a concerned Jaison Jeeva uploaded the following video on YouTube. It shows the fire accident that happened at the garbage dumps in Pallikaranai. The incident caused physical and mental disturbance to the people in the vicinity.
There is an incredible rate of development in the Pallikaranai wetland. The sanctioning of many IT parks has resulted in countless high-rise office and residential buildings.
The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and CR Sivapradha)
Dr. Kamakshi Memorial Hospital, Pallikaranai, Chennai (Source: drkmh.com)
Sree Balaji Dental College and Hospital, Velachery – Tambaram main road, Narayanapuram, Pallikaranai, Chennai (Source: sbdch.ac.in)
Jerusalem College of Engineering, Velachery – Tambaram main road, Narayanapuram, Pallikaranai, Chennai (Source: eceincendio.com)
The campus of the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Engineering and Dental Colleges, and Hospitals have been built on the marshland.
All these encroachments have led to building infrastructures such as the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland.
Sadly, all these rampant developments have shrunk the water spread.
With policies in place to crack down on encroachment, illegal waste disposal, and poaching, there is still hope for saving the Pallikaranai wetland.
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.
Even so, 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 Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.
An official release on Friday, June 9, 2006 the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) underscores the need to protect the rare species of fauna and flora in the ecologically important wetland of Chennai.
To retain the groundwater recharging potential the TNPCB banned the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage and industrial effluents into the Pallikaranai marshland. The TNPCB directive states that untreated sewage should be discharged only into the sewage treatment plant operated by Metrowater at Perungudi. The TNPCB warned that violators of its directions would be Penalized without prior notice under section 15 (1) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
On June 10, 2006, The Hindu in an article titled “Dumping banned in Pallikaranai marsh” said:
The punishment under this section involves imprisonment for a term, which may extend to five years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.1 lakh, or both. In cases of repeated violation, the penalty involves additional fine, which may extend to Rs. 5,000 for every day during which the contravention occurs, after the conviction for the first violation.
Further, if the violation continues beyond a period of one year after the date of first conviction, the offender is liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend to seven years. According to the press note, the basis of the directive is a routine inspection of the Perungudi dump site and the marsh zone by the TNPCB, which found that unsegregated garbage along with other wastes emptied into the marshland by the Chennai Corporation and other local bodies as well as private agencies. This garbage is burnt by ragpickers, causing nuisance to the residential areas and setting off air-pollution. The inspection also observed that untreated sewage collected from nearby areas in tanker lorries was being discharged into the marshland.
The TNPCB has also constituted a Local Area Environment Committee to protect the marsh. The public can refer any complaint on discharge of sewage or solid wastes into the marsh area by any agencies to this committee through the District Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, Tambaram (Phone 22266239). The Pollution Control Board’s announcement comes just days after a non-governmental initiative released the results of a recent study on air quality.
In April 2008, the Madras High Court directed the State Government of Tamilnadu to remove all encroachments on the Pallikaranai marshlands. The Madras High Court also directed the Chennai Corporation not to allow the four municipalities – Pallavaram, Madipakkam, Kottivakkam and Valasaravakkam – to dump garbage at Perungudi after April 30, 2008.
On April 3, 2008, The Hindu in an article titled “Court directive on Perungudi garbage dump” said:
Passing interim orders on two writ petitions, the Bench said the State Government should not permit any construction activity on the marshlands. The court appointed a six-member expert committee, with Sheela Rani Chunkath, Chairperson, TIIC, as its convener to inspect the Perungudi Municipal Solid Waste Yard, CMWSSB treatment plant and the surrounding areas and submit a report regarding the suitability of the present site for usage and the continuance as a municipal solid waste ground and sewage treatment plant; to review compliance of various legislations, guidelines, rules and regulations in relation to dumping of solid waste and discharge of sewage; to review the earlier studies done by various agencies, and the measures taken and proposed to protect the Pallikaranai marsh and render suggestions for restoration and protection of the marsh.
The committee would also suggest measures for remediation of the land, ground water, flora and fauna in the marsh and Seevaram, Pallikaranai, Thoraipakkam and Perungudi villages. It would also consider the cumulative aspects of dumping of garbage, discharge of sewage and conversion of the marshlands to other use and suggest scientific alternative methods of dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage in the light of the methods in other countries.
The committee would conduct public hearing to ascertain the views of the residents of the four villages. The report should be made within six months, the Bench said.
Pending receipt of the report, the Chennai Corporation was directed not to permit their trucks to dump garbage on either side of the road and to remove the garbage already dumped on either side of 60 Feet Road abutting the residential areas and also the 200 feet road, within four weeks. It should demarcate the area of 200 acres which had been allotted to it by CMWSSB and further demarcate 106 acres which was actually used for dumping waste. Security at the dumping site should be increased to prevent incidents of fire. Appropriate scheme for segregating biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes should be evolved and submitted to the court within three months.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board in its report in respect of the landfill at Perungudi submitted that the Chennai Corporation had not complied with the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
Seven years have passed since then, but even now, dumping of garbage and sewage in the Pallikaranai marshland by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.