Thursday, 22 August 2019

The forgotten story of a migration: Nacharamma of South India

This is a story of Nacharamma (fictionised by me to some extent), which is not documented in any inscriptions or ancient texts, but has been told by the ancestors of the community, and also been researched by some historians like M Keshavaiah, Dr Pranarthiharan and a few others.

Overview: Around the early 17th century, the Pilgrims set to sail across the Atlantic to become the first settlers of America. Much before this, a small but no less interesting migration took place in the Southern India of a community called the 'Sankethis'.
It was the summer of 1420 CE, in a place called Sengottai, in Tamil Nadu, along the foothills of the Western Ghats bordering Kerala. The place was flourishing with knowledge of the Vedas where Agraharams were set up. One of the prominent communities of learned people was the Sankethi Iyer community, also known as Sangeethi, derived from the name of the place- Sengottai or Shankotta. Another theory says that they were  The group followed Adi Shankaracharya's Advaitha Vedanta.
Agraharam in Sengottai, Tamil Nadu

Ancient Shiva temple, Sengottai, Tamil Nadu
Even in such an enlightened society, there were internal politics and differences among the rich and poor. One such poor family was that of Nacharu, who lived with her husband and one son. One day they were visited by a sage who felt pity for the family and blessed them with something called as Jyotishmati Taila, or medicinal oil, which would have the property to kill one, madden another and make the third wise, hoping the latter effect would be produced on the boy,
But the boy it was who died, the man went mad, and the woman became wise. The woman's body became so hot after consuming the drink that she had to jump into a well to cool herself. She was pulled out of the well by the villagers the following day and by looking at her they instantly realized that she has been enlightened with wisdom. The well-to-do village families became jealous of Nacharu and this got cascaded among many learned men in the village. Soon they decided to hatch a plan and insult her in public. They approached her and suggested her to arrange a meal for the entire village as a penance of what happened to her husband and son. She accepted it in all innocence and was also presented a sari to be worn during the ceremony. Soon the wicked plot took shape and while serving ghee and rice, the sari slipped down because of the material much to the humiliation of Nacharu. The whole bunch of people started laughing and made fun of the poor lady.
At this point, the angered Nacharu rose up, and with her miraculous powers, cursed the entire bunch of people to become 'Chandals' if they were seen in the same spot again. Looking at the fury of the angered woman, the people immediately realised their mistake and apologised to her. She also ordered the women to tie their saris tightly round the body and they followed it. Just after this, Nacharu became calm and her eyes were filled with love for the people, and said that the curse was needed to end the patriarchy in the society and it was destined to be from Nacharu's lips. Since she had cursed the place, she decided to vacate the place and move to a newer land. Around 100 families joined her in this expedition. The route she took is still not completely known by the researchers, but looking at the dialect, I would think they crossed over the mountains to Kerala, via Thenmala, Thrissur, Palghat, Wayanad before entering Karnataka near Kodagu and continued their journey till they reached Kowshika in Hassan District of Karnataka (then under late Hoysala empire).  In their course of journey, they were preached life lessons and ways of living by Nacharu, who now had become Nacharamma. Their dialect got transitioned from Tamil to a mix of Tamil/Malayalam and then a strong influence of Kannada. They forgot the old Tamil script and adopted Kannada script to write their unique Sankethi dialect. Some of the dishes carry Kerala influence- for example, Sankethis cook Pulikeri (probably taken from Pulishery in Malayalam); Sankethis are also fond of 'Ottu Shavige', a form of 'Idiyappam', cooked both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. One sentence which has words from Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada can be - 'Unde Peri Yenaki Gottille' meaning 'I don't know your name'.
The Hoysala era Lakshmi Keshava temple in Kowshika also has an idol of Nacharamma. Soon, few hundred more families fled Sengottai area and arrived at Bettadapura. Since both the groups came separately, they developed different versions of Sankethi dialects, now known as Kowshika Sankethi and Bettadapura Sankethi. In a few years, the Kowshika Sankethi population migrated to different parts of Karnataka like Mattur-Hosahalli, Chilkunda, Periyapatna, Basavapatna, Mosale, Somanahalli, Ananduru. The Bettadapura Sankethis moved more along the Cauvery banks and settled in Rudrapatna, Ramanathapura, Hanasoge, Agrahara, Saligrama, Harave.
A few years later, multiple families came from Tamil Nadu and settled in Lingadahalli in Malnad and Hiriyangala Sankethis in Hassan District. Sankethis have managed to retain their connection with music and Vedas, with several Carnatic musicians emerging from the community. For many years, Sankethi women have been tying the saris as ordered by the legendary Nacharamma, which is called as 'Gandi Saree'. Later Sankethis also got patronage from the Vijayanagar kings, and one inscription has been found at Hemmige in Mysore District, mentioning the grants given by Krishnadevaraya to the Sankethis.
Today, most of the Sankethis have been uprooted from their rural agricultural and Vedic background to urban life. A visit to a typical Sankethi house in Bangalore will greet one with 'Warango' meaning 'Welcome'. Their meal will have 'Chaar Saa' (word combination of Saaru in Kannada + Sadam in Tamil), Pulikeri, Oorvatlu and Gojju. Though the dialect of Sankethi is slowly dying, as more people from this generation are speaking the respective State language wherever they settle in, the legend of Nacharamma remains forever in their mind.

Bridge connecting Mattur and Hosahalli, Shimoga District, Karnataka

Tamboori temple dedicated to music, Rudrapatna, Karnataka

Adukale, meaning 'Kitchen', a Sankethi food outlet in Bangalore

My great grandmother wearing the traditional 'Gandi Saree'

Friday, 7 June 2019

Yedathore: An old town lost in floods

Overview: Yedathore, an old town in Mysore District, gave way to modern Krishnarajanagara, in the 1930s. The town was completely devastated in the floods by the Cauvery river and the whole town had to be shifted some 3 kms away. The new town named KR Nagara, was established between 1920s and 30s by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar. The pillar, commemorating the formation of the new town, can be seen at the centre of KR Nagar town. Some of the old remains of Yedathore can still be seen, like the old railway station, still called so. The ruins of the old station can still be seen, and the platform is still recognizable, even though the tracks are not to be seen anywhere. The most prominent landmark of the old Yedathore is the Arkeshwara temple, having Chola features, and built in the 14th century by the Vijayanagara kings.

Old Yedathore Railway station

Old Yedathore Railway station

Old Yedathore Railway station

Yedathore Arkeshwara temple

Yedathore Arkeshwara temple

KR Nagar tower

Friday, 24 May 2019

A visit to Sriharikota and Pulikat Lake

Overview: A visit to Sriharikota to view one of the satellite launches (read Chandrayaan) was in my bucketlist for a long time. Earlier the entry into the Space Centre was prohibited so watching the launch was a difficult task. 
When I read about the PSLV C46 launch, and the arrangements made to enable common public to view the launch, I decided that it's a good opportunity. The registration process is pretty easy, where we would need to enter some details like Name, DOB, Aadhar card, Address etc. The launch is normally scheduled mid-week, so I had to go and come back just in 1 day. 
About PSLV C46: This spacecraft carried the earth observation satellite RISAT 2B, which can monitor movements even in bad weather conditions. 
We started from Bangalore on Tuesday evening and reached Sullurpeta late night. Being a small town with limited tourist attractions, there are not many options to stay, however, there are around 4-5 hotels which are good enough for 3-4 hours sleep. We had booked Lathika Guest rooms on the main road. Unfortunately, due to heavy demand due to the launch, they had allocated all the rooms to someone else, and had to arrange an alternate accommodation to us, which was just next door. The rooms were very average with just basic facilities.
We started at around 3am on Wednesday from Sullurpeta and reached Satish Dhawan Space Centre (20km) at 3:30am. To our surprise, there was a long queue of vehicles for the security check. It was well managed but it took around 1.5 hours to finally get through the checks and reach the viewing gallery. It was around 2 kms from the launching deck, and there were big screens to provide all the info about ISRO and the mission. There was also a gallery displaying the miniature spacecrafts and all the info on the previous launches. There was a good crowd of around 2000+ people and there was a big cheer when the final countdown began for the launch. We could sense the thrust exerted by the spacecraft during take off. The experience was very good and we were happy to have made it to the event travelling 400kms one way. After the launch, one can visit the space centre and the museums inside the complex.
Display from the giant screen at Sriharikota

Take off at Sriharikota




Miniature model at Sriharikota

Launch viewing station
Just next to the space station is the  Pulikat Lake, India's second largest brackish water lake. Being summer time, we could not spot too many migratory birds, but we could see the salt deposits along the lake.

Pulicat Lake

Pulicat Lake

Pulicat Lake
How to visit: The registration link opens 4-5 days before the launch. The link is as follows:

Sriharikota is in Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh, located around 100km north of Chennai. The nearest town is Sullurpeta, and buses are available for Sullurpeta from Chennai, Tirupati and Nellore. For the launch event, special buses are arranged to ferry the visitors from Sullurpeta to Sriharikota.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Exploring North-East India: Manipur - 1

Overview: Once we had a thought of visiting the North-East of India, the first task was to decide on what states to visit. After some thought we finalised on Manipur and Tripura. Now to come up with an itinerary, it was an uphill task, because all the districts in Manipur and Tripura are full of surprises, so arriving at the places to visit was difficult. So finally we selected a mix of nature, heritage and culture.
Day 1: We landed in Imphal at 9:30am and the cab driver arrived at the airport at the right time. Our first place of interest was the Kangla Fort.Believed to be in existence since the 1st century CE with the Ningthouja dynasty under Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. Encircled by the traditional 4 divisions of the state, the area includes the burial places, sacred sites, megalithic mounds and places of worship. Some of the important historical structures in the fort are the Citadel wall, the Kanglasha, Sri Govindjee temple, Bir Tikendrajit temple and Gen Slim's cottage. The ancient Govindjee temple, now in ruins, highlights the temple architecture of Manipur. There is a small cafetaria inside the fort, which does not have much to offer except tea and coffee.
Kangla Fort

Govindjee temple

From here we went to the cultural heritage complex at Andro. This is one unique kind of a museum, displaying the rich tribal heritage of Manipur. Thatched houses can be seen with traditional potteryware, and wood art. Also there are a set of stones, which are carved by some interesting figures like animals, eyes, and some unrecognizable images. We could not see anyone in the complex, so we struggled a bit to find more info on these stones. This site also might have had an old temple complex, where several images of Gods are displayed in an enclosure. Most of them date to the 19th century CE.
Andro Cultural Museum

Andro Cultural Museum

Andro Cultural Museum

Next we went to the Khongjom War Memorial Complex, dedicated to the martyrs of the Anglo-Manipur war. The complex is well landscaped with fountains and gardens surrounding it. We relished a Manipuri snack called Kelichana, just outside the war memorial.
Post lunch, we checked into Elora hotel in Moreh. Moreh is a small border town, with very limited facilities. Hotel Elora is the only good hotel offering good facilities in town.


Khongjon War Memorial

Places covered: Kangla Fort - Andro Cultural Heritage complex - Khongjon War Memorial - Moreh

Monday, 25 February 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 7

Overview: This was our final day with Zoomcar, and we started early as usual to avoid queues at the Sardar Patel statue. We reached the parking lot at Kevadia at around 7:30am. The ticket counters open at 8:30am, so we had our breakfast and morning tea near the parking lot. There are 4 types of ticket, Rs 30 for a bus ride and a glimpse of teh statue, Rs 150 for entry into the Sardar Patel Statue premises and the museum, Rs 350 for reaching the top of the statue through elevator, and Rs 1000 ticket for priority pass and avoiding any queues. We took the Rs 150 ticket and hopped on to the bus. The bus takes the visitors to the Sardar Patel statue, Valley of Flowers and the Sardar Sarovar Dam. We reached Sardar Patel statue in 10 mins by bus. We were awestruck by the sheer size of the statue, and couldn't help but take pictures at every step till we reached the foot of the Iron Man. An average man is not even half the size of the toe of the statue. This was something we had not seen built in India for a long time. The Gommateshwara statue at Sravanabelagola can be compared to this statue, but that was built several centuries ago. The river Narmada flows just besides the statue, and was glowing in the morning sun. The museum showcases important events from the life of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. This statue is indeed a fitting tribute to the great man.
We spent close to 2 hours at this site before heading back. On our way back, we stopped at Dabhoi Fort, a very small fort with elaborate carvings on the doorway, somewhat resembling the Vijayanagar style of architecture. The fortification of it is ascribed to the 11th century Chaulukya king of Gujarat, Jayasimha Siddharaja (1093-1143 AD), who made this his frontier fortress. From here, we went to Ahmedabad where we saw Sultan Ahmed Shah's mosque and the popular Lal Darwaza market, before returning our rented car.

Day 7: Vadodara - Sardar Patel Statue - Dabhoi Fort - Ahmedabad (250 km)

Statue of Unity

Narmada River

Dabhoi Fort

Dabhoi Fort

Sultan Ahmed Shah's mosque
The final day of our Gujarat trip was at Vapi, to a relative's place. We took an overnight GSRTC bus from Ahmedabad to Vapi, and reached at around 5:30 am. After relaxing for half day, we decided to explore the Union Territory of Daman in the evening. There are 2 Portuguese era forts in Daman, and the interior of the forts have structures built in colonial style, similar to the French style buildings in Pondicherry. Though both the forts, St Jerome Fort and the Nani Daman forts are the most prominent structures in the city, both are very small forts. We visited both the forts, a church and a ruined Dominican Monastery. The Jampore beach is another attraction which is flocked by visitors every evening.

Bom Jesus Churh, Daman


Nani Daman Fort

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 6

Overview: Another long day was awaiting when we started our journey from Rajkot towards Champaner Archaeological site. We started around 5:30am and reached Champaner at around 11:30am. The roads are very good all across Gujarat, so we did not feel much stress of driving. Inside the Champaner Fort is the Shehar-ki-masjid, a private mosque built for the royal family of the Gujarat Sultanate in teh 15th-16th century. The mosque is built in Indo-Sarcenic architecture, with the outer pillars resembling the Hindu temple type of architecture. The outer structure is flanked by 2 minarets on both the sides. A few yards from Shehar-ki-Masjid is the Mandvi or the Customs house, used as a tax collection booth. This structure locally known as the bazaar. Also nearby are some stray structures and the 3-celled building, used as a prison in the 15th century.

Shehar-ki-Masjid, Champaner

Champaner Custom House

After relishing these monuments, we headed to the Pavagadh hill, which looked massive from outside. On the top of the hill is the Kalika Mata temple, the site of one of the Great Shakti Peethas. To reach the peak, one has to drive to the base of the Pavagadh hill ropeway ground location. Alternately, there are jeeps available from the bus stand to reach the Ropeway. The ropeway costs Rs 116 per person both ways, and takes you to the top station of the hill in around 8 minutes. From the Ropeway, we have to again climb around 300 steps to reach the summit of the hill. On the way there are several souvenir shops, and a few restaurants. We can also see a few ancient Jain temples all along the way. There is a big pond half way through the climb, where devotees can take a quick dip. The Kalika temple at the top looked like an ancient structure, reported to be built around 10th century and worshipped since then. The view from the top is breathtaking with cool breeze hitting our face which was pleasant in the mid afternoon sun. After having the 'darshan' we made our way to the parking lot through the same route.

Pavagadh Fort

Jain temple, Pavagadh

Pavagadh Hill

Kalika Devi temple, Pavagadh

It was already late afternoon by the time we started from Pavagadh towards Vadodara. We then went to the Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, built by  Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890. Built over 500 acres of land, this palace is a blend of Indian and European architecture and boasts of being the largest private residence built till date. The entry ticket is priced at around Rs 250 per person incuding an audio guide.
We spent just over 1 hour in this palace before making our way to our hotel in the city.

Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara
 Day 6: Rajkot - Champaner - Pavagadh hill - Vadodara (400 kms)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Gujarat Diaries - 5

Overview: We had booked a safari at Devaliya Interpretation Zone at Gir at 9am. So we started from Diu at around 5:30am so that we could reach their on time. The distance from Diu to Sasan Gir is around 100kms so we kept a driving time of 3 hours and 30 mins buffer. We had some confusion on whether to book a 3 hour safari into the Gir forest or 1 hour safari to the Gir Interpretation Zone, where a smaller fenced area of Gir has been created so that more animals can be spotted. The decision proved good in the end after we spotted the Asiatic Lion, Jackal, Vultures, Wild Cat, Leopard and a few migratory birds. Spotting these animals in their natural habitat was a great experience early in the morning. It took around 1.5 hours from the safari starting point to return to the same place. The ticket cost is Rs 200 per head, and Rs 200 for camera. We had to pay an additional Rs 1900 for the gypsy.



From here, we headed to Junagadh, around 1.5 hours drive from here. We first saw the 3rd century Girnar Ashokan inscriptions. The rock is well protected in an enclosure, and contains the inscriptions of Ashoka, along with Rudradaman I and Skandagupta.

Girnar Ashokan inscriptions

From here, we went to the Uparkot fort, and first saw the Jama Masjid inside the fort, followed by the Buddhist caves. The Buddhist caves are 3 tiered, and date back to the 3rd century BC built in Satavahana style of architecture. Several carvings are worn out due to the age of the structure and some seem to be damaged during excavation.

Cannon at Uparkot Fort

Uparkot Caves

Uparkot Caves

There are other important monuments inside the fort, but we decided to skip the rest and headed towards Mahabat Maqbara, one of the most prominent structures in Junagadh. The elaborate structures in the complex were home to the Nawabs of Junagadh in the 19th century. The Mahabat Maqbara has its unique style of twisted minarets outside the main mausoleum.
We had the traditional Gujarati thali in Junagadh before we left the town.

Mahabat Maqbara, Junagadh

Next we went to the Khambalida Buddhist caves, and worth a visit for the Bodhisattva figures on either side of the main cave. The following is the description of the sculptors as per Wiki -
'On the left, the figure is probably Padmapani under Ashoka-like tree with a female companion and five attendants. There is a yaksha-like dwarf on the left of it holding a basket. The figure on the right is probably Vajrapani under Ashoka-like tree with similar attendants. The broad belts of female are similar to that of figures at Uparkot Caves of Junagadh. They are comparable to late Kushana-Kshatapa period sculptures elsewhere as well as features some late Andhra mannerism.[1] The caves are believed to have come into existence in the 4th or 5th century AD.'
Inside the cave is pretty dark and is also filled with bat droppings.
After admiring the caves, we headed towards Rajkot where we checked into our hotel.

Khambalida Buddhist Caves

Day 5: Diu - Sasan Gir - Junagadh - Khambalida Caves - Rajkot (270 kms)