Tag Archives: India

Wearing Helmets in Tamilnadu


Myself 

 

 

BT. V. Antony Raj

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Helmet a must for pillion riders (Photo: timesofindia.indiatimes.com)

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As per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 and the Rules made thereunder, the wearing of helmets is mandatory. As per Section 129 of this Motor Vehicle Act, two-wheeler riders and pillion riders should compulsorily wear helmets. So, The City Traffic Police have decided to strictly enforce this rule and impose fines from ₹100 to ₹200 for not wearing helmets.

Now the helmet rule has been made compulsory for both the two-wheeler rider and the pillion rider.

On August 23, 2018, TK Rajendran, the Director General of Police, Tamilnadu, issued a circular to all police commissioners in cities and superintendents of police in districts to implement helmet rules strictly and book more cases on pillion riders not wearing a helmet.

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Two-wheeler riders try to evade the police by stopping the vehicles on road margin in Visakhapatnam. (Photo Credit – K R Deepak)

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The Court has made it compulsory for both rider and the pillion rider to wear helmets. I accept that wearing a helmet is a safety precaution but feel that it should be left as a safety guideline only and not be made a law and is against the basic concept of freedom.

If a rider and the pillion rider are not wearing helmets, then they in no way are causing any problem to other commuters or the flow of traffic.

Normally, wearing a helmet is very uncomfortable for old people like me and women in general, and it is excruciatingly harrowing for both young and old during the arid Indian summer.

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This would not have happened if he had worn a helmet!

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The above incident happened on one of our well-maintained International Standard Indian roads. Was it due to the rider not wearing a helmet?

 

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The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous:  The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore

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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.

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The Gulf of Mannar

Gulf of Mannar (satellite image)

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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.

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Map of the Pearl Fishery Coast (1889)
Map of the Pearl Fishery Coast (1889)

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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.

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Royal Flag of the Jaffna Kingdom.
Royal Flag of the Jaffna Kingdom.

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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.

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Previous:  The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore

Next: The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste

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The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: A Preamble

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In this and the next chapter, I will attempt to present in a condensed form some of the myths that pertain to the origin of the Paravars.

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Myth #1: Paravars are offsprings of a Brahmin and a Sūdra woman

The word ‘Tantras’ refer to various scriptures of several esoteric traditions rooted in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy.

Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765 -1837), an English orientalist and a former director of the Royal Asiatic Society, followed some of the Tantras while enumerating Indian classes, and he represented the Paravars as descendants of a Brahmin who consorted a Sūdra woman.

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Myth #2: Paravars are offspring of a Kurava male and a Chetty female

Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty (1807-1860) of Sri Lanka, a writer of great repute, cites the Jātībēdi Nūl (a work of some celebrity among the Tamils) which describes the Paravars as “the offspring of a Kurava (or basket-maker) begotten clandestinely through a female of the Chetty (or merchant) tribe.”

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Myth #3: Paravas descended from Varuna (the god of water)

Some Paravas have among themselves a different tradition about their origin. According to them, their progenitor was Varuna (god of water).

Soorapadman, the leader of the Asuras (evil spirits) after performing a tapas (an act of devotion through deep meditation) received a boon from Shiva that protected him from death except a being manifested from Shiva himself. Having gained immortality, Soorapadman vanquished the Devas (heavenly spirits) and made them his slaves. The Devas appealed to Vishnu, but he refused to help them. Next, they appealed to Shiva.

Shiva decided to take action against Soorapadman‘s increasing arrogance. He opened his third eye – the eye of knowledge – that started releasing flares. There were six flares in total. Shiva gave Agni, the god of fire, the responsibility to take the flares to Saravana Lake. Soon after, a beautiful child manifested on a lotus in the Lake with six faces.

Six sisters known as the Kṛttikā (constellation Pleiades) were given the responsibility of taking care of the child and thus the child came to be known as Kārtikeya.

According to an extension of the myth, the Paravars also manifested along with Kārtikeya and were nursed by the constellation Kṛttikā.  Since the Paravars were born out of the water they naturally became the descendants of Varuna, the god of water.

Kārtikeya became the supreme general of the Devas. He led the army of the Devas to victory against the Asuras. On the fifth day of Kandha Sasthi, Soorapadman visited Kārtikeya and saw his Vishwaroopam.

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Soorapadman vathai padalam
Soorapadman vathai padalam

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Soorapadman faced Kārtikeya in battle and was defeated even though he used illusions. As a last stand when all his illusions had failed him, Soorapadman transformed himself into a mango tree hoping to escape death. Kārtikeya with his vel (spear) split the tree in two. One half became the peacock, the vehicle of Kārtikeya and the other half became the cockerel, the emblem on Kārtikeya‘s flag.

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Myth #4: The fable in Valaivīcu kāviyam

In Valaivīcu kāviyam: Tiruviḷaiyāṭal kataippāṭal, an epic composed by the Tamil poet Ār̲umukapperumāḷ Cir̲avān̲, Parvati, the consort of Shiva, and her son Kartikēya, having offended the deity by revealing some ineffable mystery, were condemned to quit their celestial mansions, and pass through an infinite number of mortal reincarnations, before they could be re-admitted to the divine presence. However, when Parvati pleaded with Shiva, he reduced the punishment to one incarnation each.

About this time, Triambaka, King of the Paravas, and Varuna Valli his consort were performing tapas (acts of devotion) to obtain an issue. Parvati conceded to their prayer and incarnated as their daughter under the name of Tīrysēr Madentē.

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Shark

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Kartikēya transformed himself into a fish and roamed the North Sea for some time. He then entered the South Sea, where, after growing to an immense size, attacked the vessels of the Paravas and became a threat to their traditional fishing and seafaring trades.

An enraged King Triambaka publicly declared that he would give his daughter in marriage to whoever would catch the fish.

Shiva, assuming the character of a Parava fisherman, caught the fish, and was once again reunited with his divine consort.

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Myth 5: Ancestors of the Paravars were fishermen of river Yamuna

Some Paravars believe that they migrated from the ancient city of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and that prior to the Mahābhārata war, they inhabited the territory bordering the river Yamuna.

One day, Girika, the wife of King Vasu, bathing and purifying herself after her menstrual course, told him her state. But that very day the Pitris (spirits of the departed) of Vasu came unto him and asked him to slay a deer for their Sraddha (a ritual performed for one’s ancestors, especially dead parents). The king, thinking that the command of the Pitris should not be disobeyed, went a-hunting.

The whole forest was maddened by the sweet notes of the kokila and echoed with the hum of maddened bees. The king became possessed with desire, and could not keep his mind away from the thought of his beautiful wife Girika. Beholding a swift hawk resting close to him, the king, acquainted with the subtle truths of Dharma and Artha, said, “Amiable one, carry thou this seed (semen) for my wife Girika and give it unto her. Her season hath arrived.”

The swift hawk took it from the king and rapidly soared through the air. While thus passing, the hawk was seen by another of his species. Thinking that the first hawk was carrying meat, the second one flew at him. The two fought in the sky with their talons and beaks. While they were fighting, the seed fell into the waters of the Yamuna wherein dwelt an Apsara named Adrika, transformed by a Brahmana’s curse into a fish.

As soon as Vasu’s seed fell into the water from the claws of the hawk, Adrika rapidly approached and swallowed it.

Ten months later, Parava fishermen caught that fish. From the stomach of that fish came out a male and a female child of a human form. The Apsara after having given birth to the twins, and killed by the fishermen was freed from her curse. She left her fish-form and assumed her own celestial shape.

The fishermen approached King Uparichara, their ruler, and said, “O king, these two beings of human shape have been found in the body of a fish!”

King Uparichara took the male child under his wings who later became the virtuous monarch Matsya. The King gave back the fish-smelling daughter of the Apsara to the fishermen, saying, “Let this one be thy daughter.”

That girl, named Satyavati, gifted with great beauty with tapering thighs and had a graceful smile – an object of desire even with an anchorite was also known as Machchakindi).

As was customary with the Parava fisher-women Satyavati ferried passengers over the waters of the Yamuna river. One day, while engaged in this vocation,  the great wandering Rishi Parasara saw the celestial beauty and desired to consort with her.

He said, “Accept my embraces, O blessed one!”

Satyavati replied, “O holy one, behold the rishis standing on either bank of the river. Seen by them, how can I grant thy wish?”

The ascetic thereupon created a fog which enveloped the region in darkness. The maiden, beholding the fog became suffused with the blushes of bashfulness and she said:

“O holy one, note that I am a maiden under the control of my father.
O sinless one, by accepting your embraces my virginity will be sullied.
O best of Brahmanas, my virginity being sullied, how shall I,
O Rishi, be able to return home?
Indeed, I shall not then be able to bear life.
Reflecting upon all this,
O illustrious one, do that which should be done.”

That best of Rishis, satisfied with all she said, replied:

“Thou shall remain a virgin even if thou grantest my wish.
And, O timid one, O beauteous woman, ask for the boon that thou desirest.
O thou of fair smiles, my grace hath never before proved fruitless.”

The maiden then asked the rishi for the boon that her body might emit a sweet scent instead of the fish-odour that it had. The illustrious Rishi thereupon granted her wish.

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Rishsi Parasara and Satyawati
Rishsi Parasara and Satyawati

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Having obtained her boon, she became highly pleased, and her season immediately came. She accepted the embraces of that Rishi of wonderful deeds.

She thenceforth became known among men by the name of Gandhavati (the sweet-scented one); and since men could feel her scent even from a distance of a yojana (16 km), she was also known as Yojanagandha (one who scatters her scent for a yojana all around).

After this, the illustrious Parasara went to his own asylum.

Satyavati gratified with having obtained the excellent boon in consequence of which she became sweet-scented and her virginity remained unsullied conceived through Parasara’s embraces. She brought forth the very day, on an island in the Yamuna, the child begot upon her by Parasara and gifted with great energy. The child, with the permission of his mother, set his mind on asceticism. He went away saying, “As soon as thou rememberest me when the occasion comes, I shall appear unto thee.”

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Vyasa (Author: Ramanarayanadatta astr)
Vyasa (Author: Ramanarayanadatta astr)

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It was thus that Vyasa (the arranger or compiler), the author of the Mahabharata, as well as a character in it, was born of Satyavati the fisherwoman through Parasara the ascetic.

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Previous: The Paravars: A Preamble

Next: The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore

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The Paravars: A Preamble


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Fishermen (Source: Heritage Vembaru)

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The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.

There is a variety as well as a discordance of opinions about the origin of the Paravars. The available materials on the origin of the Parava communities are so full of contradictions that it is almost an impossible task to reduce them to order and coherence.

There are many theories – most of them myths from Hindu Vedas and Puranas and a few slanting towards Jewish. Many of these myths were readily accepted and endorsed by the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste which was considered “low and ritually polluting occupations,” namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt.

In his book “The Madura Country: A Manual, Compiled by the Order of The Madras Government” published in 1868, James Henry Nelson of the Madras Civil Service states:

THE FISHERMEN belong to several castes. They are usually called Sembadavans if they fish in tanks and streams, and Savalakaarans if they fish in the sea. Those again who live on the sea-coast, karei, are also called Kareiyaans. Some of them are Mahometans and some of them are Paravans.

These last were the earliest converts made by the Portuguese: and resorted to the first Roman Catholic Church in Madura before the time of Robert de Nobilibus. They are constantly spoken of by the Jesuits. After they lost the protection of the Portuguese they sank into great poverty and wretchedness.

The Paravas of the District appear from the list to have numbered only five and thirty in 1850-51. This seems very strange. Formerly they were very numerous along the whole coast from Cape Comorin to the Paamban Pass, and I know of no reason why they should have died out. I can only account for the fact of their fewness (if indeed it is a fact, which I doubt) by supposing that most of them are now either Roman Catholics or Labbeis, i. e. Mahometan converts, and appear as such in the census returns.

It appears from a letter of Father Martin dated 1st June 1700, that when the Portuguese first came to India, they found the Paravas groaning under the yoke of the Mahometans, and assisted them to shake it off on condition of their becoming Christians.

The Paravas flourished after this and built many substantial villages. But they became poor and wretched after the decline of the Portuguese power: and when this letter was written, were in a very miserable condition.

Though works in the Tamil Sangam literature such as Ettuthokai, Pathupattu, Ahananuru, Maduraikkanci and Pattinappaalai refer to the lives of the Paravars, there are different views regarding events up to the early 16th century among the investigators of the Paravar history.

Simon Casie Chitty mentions in The Ceylon Gazetteer that the ancient name “Taprobane” for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) might have been named after the Paravars:

Among the Greeks and Romans, it was known by the name of “Taprobane,” the etymology of which is disputed by many authors. Some deduce it from the Phoenician words “Tap-parvaim,” or “the shore of the Parvaim;” alleging that the latter (whom they identify with the modern Paravas) were at one time masters of the commerce of the Island; others, from “Tapo-rawan,” or “the Island of RAWANA,” the giant king who was conquered by RAMA; others from the Sanskrit term “Tepo-vana,” or “the wilderness of prayer;” while many, with more probability, suppose it to have originated from the Pali word “Tamaba-pannya,” which signifies a betel leaf, and to which the Island bears some resemblance in its figure.

Little is known about the Paravars from 5th to the 13th century. There are no native literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or places, before the arrival of the Portuguese, and the ‘en masse’ conversion of the Hindu Paravars to Roman Catholicism. Therefore, any historical observations have to be deduced using Arab, European and Chinese accounts.

Every origin myth is a tale of creation and they describe how some new reality came into existence. In some academic circles, the term “myth” properly refers only to the origin and cosmogonic myths. Many folklorists reserve the label “myth” for stories about creation. Traditional stories that do not focus on origins fall into the categories of “legend” and “folktale.”

According to Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Romanian historian of religion, writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago, nearly every sacred story in many traditional cultures qualifies as an origin myth. By tradition, humans tend to model their behaviour after sacred events, seeing their life as an “eternal return” to the mythical age. Because of this conception, nearly all sacred stories describe events that established new paradigms for human behaviour, and thus nearly every sacred story is a story about a creation.

Mircea Eliade says that an origin myth often functions to offer an aura of sacredness to the current order. Here are some observations:

  • When the missionary and ethnologist C. Strehlow asked the Australian Arunta why they performed certain ceremonies, the answer was always: “Because the ancestors so commanded it.
  • The Kai of New Guinea refused to change their way of living and working, and they explained: “It was thus that the Nemu (the Mythical Ancestors) did, and we do likewise.
  • Asked the reason for a particular detail in a ceremony, a Navaho chanter answered: “Because the Holy People did it that way in the first place.

We find exactly the same justification in the prayer that accompanies a primitive Tibetan ritual: “As it has been handed down from the beginning of the earth’s creation, so must we sacrifice. … As our ancestors in ancient times did—so do we now.” 

This reminds us of the doxology, a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services often added to the end of canticles, psalms and hymns. For example, the Catholics while praying The Rosary recite:

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  As it was, in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

And so also are the glorified myths borrowed from the Hindu Vedas and Puranas and a few from the Jewish traditions that have been concocted, accepted, and endorsed by the affluent Paravars who wish to hide the stigma placed on their low and ritually polluting occupations namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt.

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Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

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History of Cane Sugar


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj
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Sugar is the universal name for a variety of sweet-tasting carbohydrates, derived from various sources. Sweetmeats, confectionaries, chocolates, alcoholic liqueurs, sweet beverages, etc. use sugar for sweetening.

The English word ‘sugar’ is derived from the Arabic word سكر sukkar, which came from the Persian شکر shekar, itself derived from Sanskrit शर्करा śarkarā, which originated from Tamil சர்க்கரை Sarkkarai. Thus, the etymology of the English word ‘sugar’, in a way, reflects the spread of sugar from India to the western world.

Rich Cohen in his article “Sugar Love” (A not so sweet story) published in the National Geographic says:

“In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. In that span of 30 years, world production of cane and beet sugar exploded from 2.8 million tons a year to 13 million plus. Today the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar annually, or more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.”

Sugarcane

Most plants have sugar, but only sugarcane and sugar beet are endowed with sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction. Around 80% of the world’s sugar is derived from sugarcane.

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Sugarcane crop
Sugarcane crop

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Sugarcane is any of several species of tall perennial true grass of the genus Saccharum, tribe Andropogoneae, native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia, and used for sugar production. They have stout jointed fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar. They grow six to 19 feet (two to six meters) tall. All sugar cane species interbreed and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

The crop has been cultivated in tropical climates in the Far East since ancient times.

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The island of New Guinea.
The island of New Guinea.

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Eight thousand years ago, sugar featured prominently in the food of the inhabitants of the island of New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, after Greenland. During sacred religious ceremonies, their priests sipped water sweetened with sugar from coconut shells.

The use of sugarcane spread gradually from island to island, and around 1000 BC reached the Asian mainland.

By 500 BC, the Indians were processing crystalline sugar from sugarcane. In India sugar was used as a medicine for headaches, stomach flutters, impotence, etc. The art of sugar refinement passed from master to apprentice and remained a secret science.

Sugar found its way to Persia around 600 AD and as luxury rulers entertained their guests with a variety of sweets. From there Arabs carried the knowledge and love for sugar. The Arabs perfected sugar refinement made it into an industry. “Wherever they went, the Arabs brought with them sugar, the product and the technology of its production,” wrote Sidney Mintz in Sweetness and Power. “Sugar, we are told, followed the Koran.”

From there sugar travelled with migrants and monks to China, Persia, northern Africa and eventually to Europe in the 11th century.

The first Europeans to know about sugar were the British and French crusaders that went east to wrest the Holy Land from the Arabs. Having their taste buds excited by sugar they returned with stories and memories of sweets. Unfortunately, they found the temperate climates in Europe unsuitable for cultivation of sugar cane, which needed tropical, rain-drenched fields to grow.

The sugar that reached the West through a trickle of Arab traders was rare and was classified as a spice. Due to its high cost only by the nobility consumed it.

With the spread of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s, trade with the East became more difficult for the Europeans. To the Western elite who had fallen under the spell of sweets were propelled to develop new sources of sugar.

So, it was the age of exploration for the Europeans – the search for new territories around the world.

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Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu aka Henry the Navigator (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460). (Source: From the Polytriptych of St. Vincent in the National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon).
Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu aka Henry the Navigator (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460). (Source: From the Polytriptych of St. Vincent in the National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon).

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Infante Henry, Duke of Viseu (March 4, 1394 – November 13, 1460), the third child of King John I of Portugal, better known as Henry the Navigator, was an important figure in the early days of the Portuguese Empire and the Age of Discoveries in total. He was responsible for the early growth of European exploration and maritime trade with other continents.  In 1419, Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique claimed Madeira, an archipelago about 250 miles (400 km) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the North Atlantic Ocean. In 1425, Infante Henry sent sugarcane with an early group of colonists who settled in Madeira.

Sugarcane found its way to other newly discovered Atlantic islands such as the Cape Verde Islands, and the Canaries.

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Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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In 1493, when Christopher Columbus set off on his second voyage to the New World, he too carried the cane. He planted the New World’s first sugarcane in Hispaniola.

From then on dawned the era of mass sugar production in the slave plantations in the Caribbean islands.

Within decades the Portuguese and the Spanish expanded sugar cane plantation to Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Cuba and Brazil. They cleared the rainforests for sugarcane plantations. The Portuguese turned Brazil into an early boom colony, with more than 100,000 slaves producing tons of sugar.

The harvested crop of sugarcane was crushed and ground and then pressed to extract the cane juice, which was thickened into a syrup by boiling. This produced sugar crystals, which were dried before storage. The raw sugar was piled in the holds of ships and carried to Europe for refining.

Until the 15th and 16th centuries, sugar was classed with nutmeg and cardamom as a luxury spice enjoyed only by the wealthy upper classes.

The original British sugar island was Barbados found by a British captain on May 14, 1625. Tobacco and cotton were grown in the early years, but sugarcane overtook these two on the island as it did wherever it was planted in the Caribbean. Sadly, however, the fields got depleted, the water table drained within a century, and the ambitious planters had left Barbados in search of other island to exploit.

In the 17th century the British established large-scale sugar plantations in the West Indies. The price of sugar fell. Sugar changed from a luxury to a staple item. Since the fall in price made it affordable to the middle class and the poor, the demand for sugar increased.

But the sugar trade was tarnished by its colonial heritage of inhumanity and exploitation. Profits from the sugar trade helped build the British Empire. When the enslaved native population dwindled due to disease or war the planters replaced them with more slaves brought from the west coast of Africa with the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade.

By 1720 Jamaica became number one in the sugar market.

Until the slave trade was banned in Britain in 1807, more than half of the 11 million Africans shipped to the New World ended up on sugar plantations.

The slaves from Africa found the life hard. In the Caribbean millions died in the fields, pressing houses, or while trying to escape. Gradually the people in Europe came to know and understand the hardship of the slaves. While reformers preached abolition, housewives boycotted cane sugar produced by the slaves.

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François-Marie Arouet ( 1694 – 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire. French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.
François-Marie Arouet ( 1694 – 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire. French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher.

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In 1759, a slave in Voltaire’s Candide, ou l’Optimisme, missing both a hand and a leg, explains his mutilation:

“When we work in the sugar mills and we catch our finger in the millstone, they cut off our hand; when we try to run away, they cut off a leg; both things have happened to me. It is at this price that you eat sugar in Europe.”

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William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) - an English religious and political orator .
William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) – an English religious and political orator .

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William Johnson Fox (March 1, 1786 – June 3, 1864), an English religious and political orator in An Address to the people of Great Britain on the propriety of abstaining from West Indian sugar and rum. [London], 1791 wrote:

“So necessarily connected are our consumption of the commodity, and the misery resulting from it, that in every pound of sugar used, (the produce of slaves imported from Africa) we may be considered as consuming two ounces of human fleshA French writer observes, ‘That he cannot look on a piece of sugar without conceiving it stained with spots of human blood.'”

Fox’s pamphlet was widely circulated, and helped promote the idea that sugar was contaminated with the blood and flesh of the suffering slaves who produced it. Nonetheless, production of sugar never stopped.

Current Production of Sugar

The use of sugar beet as a new source of production was developed in Germany in the early 19th century. By the end of the century, production of beet sugar had spread across Europe and beet had overtaken cane as the primary source of sugar there.

Sugarcane is indigenous to tropical South and Southeast Asia. Different species likely originated in different locations. Saccharum Barberi originated in India and Saccharum edule and Saccharum officinarum from New Guinea. Almost 70% of the sugar produced globally comes from Saccharum officinarum and hybrids of this species.

At present, Brazil and India are the world’s two largest sugar producers. For the past 40 years, these two countries have accounted for over half the world’s production of canesugar. The European Union is the third-largest sugar producer and accounts for around half the world’s production of beet sugar.

World sugar production (1,000 tonnes)

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Largest producers of raw sugar as percentage of world production, 2007-12

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Largest exporters of raw sugar as percentage of total exports by volume, 2007-12

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Fast facts: the sugar lowdown (Source: fairtrade.org.uk)

  • Sugar is one of the most valuable agricultural commodities. In 2011 its global export trade was worth $47bn, up from $10bn in 2000.
  • Of the total $47bn, $33.5bn of sugar exports are from developing countries and $12.2bn from developed countries.
  • The sugar industry supports the livelihoods of millions of people – not only smallholders and estate workers but also those working within the wider industry and family dependents. 
  • Around 160 million tonnes of sugar are produced every year. The largest producers are Brazil (22%), India (15%) and the European Union (10%).
  • More than 123 countries produce sugar worldwide, with 70% of the world’s sugar consumed in producer countries and only 30% traded on the international market.
  • About 80% of global production comes from sugarcane (which is grown in the tropics) and 20% comes from sugar beet (grown in temperate climates, including Europe).
  • The juice from both sugarcane and sugar beet is extracted and processed into raw sugar.
  • World consumption of sugar has grown at an average annual rate of 2.7% over the past 50 years. It is driven by rising incomes and populations in developing countries. 
  • The top five consumers of sugar use 51% of the world’s sugar. They include India, the EU-27, China, Brazil and the US.
  • Brazil plays an important role in the global sugar market, as the world’s largest sugar producer, the world’s major exporter and one of the highest per capita consumers, at around 55 kg a year. 

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Mattu Pongal, the Third Day of the Four-day Harvest Festival of South India.


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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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).

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

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Cattle are important and are a form of wealth to people living in rural areas all over the world.

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Nandieshvara

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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 ).   

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Maattu Pongal (Source - tamilrasigan.wordpress.com)

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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.

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The sport of Jallikkattu (bull embracing)

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

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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 eru thazhuvatal (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.

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Thai Pongal, the Second Day of the Four-day Harvest Festival of South India.


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Happy Pongal

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In Tamil, the word Pongal means “overflowing”, signifying abundance and prosperity. The Tamils in TamilnaduPuducherry, 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 PuducherryPongal is a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (மார்கழி ) and culminates on the third day of the Tamil month Thai ((தை ) – January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar.

In Tamil, the phrase “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the birth of Thai heralds new prospects” is an oft-quoted popular saying among the Tamils. 

The four days of Pongal are Bhogi Pandigai, Thai Pongal, 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 this day which coincides with Makara Sankranthi, a winter harvest festival. On this day the Sun begins its six-month-long journey northwards or the UttarayanamThis also represents the Indic solstice when the sun enters Makara (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 Makara Sankranthi.

Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.

In HaryanaHimachal Pradesh and Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri.

Assamese celebrated it as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Nepaesel celebrate it as Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti.

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Thai Pongal - Boiling milk

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

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Chakkarai Pongal

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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.

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Chennai: Oil Spill at Ennore Port Blackens Beaches and Affects Fishing


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Oil spill on the shores of Chennai (Source: indiatimes.com)
Oil spill on the shores of Chennai (Source: indiatimes.com)

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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.

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The ill-equipped pollution response teams of the Indian Coast Guard are grappling with the oil spill (Source: ndtv.com)
The ill-equipped pollution response teams of the Indian Coast Guard are grappling with the oil spill (Source: ndtv.com)

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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.

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Oil Spill Near Chennai Blackens Beaches, Fishing Community Affected (ndtv.com)

Chennai: Fuel spill at Ennore Port spreads to Marina Beach, workers use buckets to scoop out oil (scroll.in)

Authorities Struggle To Contain Oil Spill Three Days After Two Vessels Collide Off Chennai Coast  (indiatimes.com)

Oil Spill In Ennore Has Now Covered Chennai’s Marina Beach, Experts Fear Severe Damage To Environment (huffingtonpost.in)

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Don’t Be Fooled by Posts about Chinese Plastic Rice on Facebook!


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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I saw the following video posted on Facebook without any description, leaving viewers to speculate.

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As of today, this video on Facebook has 4,310,649 views, 7.7K likes, 8,784 shares and 23 Comments.

The first comment that I saw at the top said, “What the hell is going on.”

This video of a woman stirring the contents in the pot over a fire was followed by a video that shows an easterner recycling plastic using machinery that produces rice-shaped plastic pellets for manufacturing plastic products.

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After the above videos  followed the image of a packet of Thai Milagrosa Scented Rice with Chinese letters displayed prominently .

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A packet of Thai Milagrosa Scented Rice with Chinese letters displayed prominently.
A packet of Thai Milagrosa Scented Rice with Chinese letters displayed prominently.

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Putting three and three together, almost 95% of the Facebook readers deduced that the woman in the first video was making plastic rice.

One wise person popped up the question, “What is happening in the world today?” and another, weak in geography said, “Read your labels at all times. If it was made in China leave it on the shelf.” And a ‘know-all’ person from Oba, Nigeria wrote a lengthy comment on “How to Identify Plastic Rice or Fake Rice“.

By the way, not all Facebook members are fools. A woman from Nassau City, New Providence, Bahamas, said, “There is fake plastic rice, however, that’s not what the lady is doing in this particular video… Yall so silly I would explain what that is but nah it’s so hilarious. ” But she never revealed what she knew. Maybe she herself did not know what it really was.

Finally,  a comment by Shana Wiltshire from Brooklyn, New York who said, “Lol.. this is how rice goes from brown to puffed white rice… nothing wrong with this… and it’s an Indian method not Chinese“, assuaged  my curiosity.

Yes. The woman in the first video was making popped puff rice.

Here is a video showing the indigenous method of making popped puff rice for sale in India.

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Mother, Motherland, and Mother Tongue


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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mother-feeding-child

When someone else feeds you, then you will realize the worth of your mother.

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motherland

When stranded in a foreign land you will recognize the worth of your motherland.

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mother-tongue-3

When you struggle to make yourself understood in a foreign language then you will realize the worth of your mother tongue.