Friday, May 15, 2009

Amman Amman Ooracha

Sometime back my younger sister-in-law asked me, "Akka what is this kakkai kalile letter your brother has been saying?" When I asked my brother what it was, he said “I was telling her even if akka sends a letter tied to the leg of a crow, anna would visit her”. He was referring to my immediate younger brother who lives in the same city as I do and whenever I need him I just have to call him and he will come immediately. This is in reference to a story we were told as children.

However, whenever this kakkai kal (crow's leg) letter is referred to, I am always reminded of the close relationship shared by my grandmother (Echiyamma) and her brother (whom we used to affectionately address as Amman). My grandmother had three brothers, of whom two lived in the same village as she (Puthucode). Amman was the eldest of the three and my Echiyamma and Amman shared a special bond. She just had to think of him and he would be there. He was a great Yajurveda scholar (His name was Anantharaman but was more popularly known as Chami Vadhyar) and as such was always busy with various poojas and yagnas and often was outside Puthucode. Whenever he was in Puthucode he would definitely visit her at least once a day. Echiyamma never took a big decision until she had consulted with Amman.

I can, to this day, visualize him sitting opposite our Echiyamma in the tharamelthara (this is a raised platform in the living room where people would sit) or on the floor next to her easy chair where she would be reclining. The children would be gathered around listening to them as they had some interesting tales to share. He would narrate all that happened on his tours and she would bring him up to date with all that happened at home.

Our Amman had a great sense of humor and was very affectionate towards all of us. He would enthrall us with all the stories he had heard. He would bring back whatever was special from the places he visited. I remember once he brought a few carrots and a lemon and gave to my Athai (my paternal aunt) and told her, “grate the carrot and cut a green chilly into small bits. Mix them, sprinkle some salt and squeeze the lemon over it. It will taste delicious.” This was one of the dishes served to him at the function that he had last attended. We had not heard of carrots in Puthucode those days. Such was his affection towards his sister and her children.

As usual, I started with the story but wandered into rambling about our Amman. I will continue with more rambling about Amman at a later date perhaps. I am also reminded of this story when someone wants to say, "Chumma irukkayo, swarupathe kattattumo" (Will you shut up or do you want to see my true form?). The full story is posted on Kathai Kathaiyam Karanamam.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Important festivals in May 2009

Someone rightly pointed out there aren't any important festivals that we celebrate in the month of May. That is if you do not count Chithra Pournami as a festival celebrated at home. Chithra Pournami is the full moon day in the month of Chithirai (April-May) and is celebrated as the birthday of Chitragupta. This year Chithra Pournami is on the 9th May.

Chitragupta is the accounts keeper of Lord Yama. He keeps the accounts of the good and bad deeds committed by the humans and advises Lord Yama of the appropriate place for them in heaven or hell at the end of their lives. There are various stories about the birth of Chitragupta. Yama found it very difficult to keep track of the good and bad deeds committed by the humans and pleads with Lord Brahma to give him an assistant who can keep track of this. Lord Brahma goes into deep meditation and at the end of his meditation finds a young man in front of him with a pen in his hand and names him as Chitragupta and assigns him as the deputy of Yama.

In another story Chitragupta is depicted as being given life by Lord Shiva to a portrait drawn by Devi Parvathi. Since he emerged from a Chithiram (portrait) he was named Chitragupta.

It is also said that Indrani, Lord Indra's consort, wanted to have a child and prayed to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva asks Chitragupta to be born as the son of Indrani. So meticulous is he in keeping the accounts of everybody's destiny that Chitragupta refuses to be born from the womb of Indrani as Indrani is not destined to have children. Lord Shiva then sends Kamadhenu, the celestial cow, to Indra's abode and asks Chitragupta to be born from the womb of Kamadhenu.

Chitrapournami is celebrated as a big festival in many temples. The Chitrapournami festival in Madurai is especaially famous.

Our Echiyamma (my beloved grandmother) used to celebrate (or perhaps appease Chitragupa) Chitrapournami by gifting a bamboo tray (Muram in tamil and malayalam) filled with fruits, idli, payasam and an iron ezhuthani (a metallic scriber with which inscriptions were made on palm leaves in the olden days) to a brahmachari (bachelor). She would tell the brahmachari to return the ezhuthani later and would pay him four annas in lieu. The ezhuthani would be kept safe for use for the coming year. So for us Chitrapournami was also a festival at home since we got a feast on that day.

Though there are not any festivals during this month, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala this is the time for the festivals in various temples. In Kerala, the festival season starts by February at the end of the harvest season and goes on till the end of May or upto mid June. Of these the Thrissur Pooram festival is the biggest event of all and is a treat to eyes and ears.