Tag Archives: Regional

Puthandu Vazthukkal & Vishu Ashamsakal (2017)


From all of us at ICP, Vishu Ashamsakal! Puthandu Vazthukkal! Happy New Year to Malayalis and Tamils alike.

At last, we complete the cycle of Indic New Years (the exception of course being our Gujarati friends). The Solar Calendar New Years are celebrated today. From Yugadi to Vaisakhi to Vishu/Puthandu, we see just how closely all these calendars (varshapada) coincide.

Continuing our tour of the various Indian scripts is Malayalam lipi. Called putiya lipi, it is a comparatively newer script. A different lipi was used centuries ago, which, like Malayalam, branched off from Tamizh.

While Malayalis celebrate Vishu today, Tamilians celebrate Puthandu.


Best wishes to all of you, and Happy New Year!


Questions of Identity

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on December 24, 2014


Read this article to learn about another type of “identity crisis”

Hi, I’m Nilambari and I’m here to share my ideas on a few subjects from Carnatic music and Kerala to Cinema and Historical math & science . Born a Mallu but having lived variously in Andhra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, I am fairly comfortably multilingual and enjoy exploring languages (such as Telugu) and the cultural nuances transmitted through them.

While I enjoy our classical musical tradition (Nilambari is one of my favorite ragams), it must also be said that I do enjoy other forms of melodious music. However, rap or heavy metal is not my cup of tea or more correctly filter kaapi. I enjoy movies too but am a bit picky and choosy about the kind of movies I will watch. In general, I have a very high level of curiosity on most subjects which stems from a wish to understand what is at the root of the various topics that interest me. I will try and share with you my thoughts on various areas that pique my interest and hope you will enjoy the journey and be a fellow traveler.

Today I start with sharing a few thoughts on the question of identity with reference being only to the geographical territory of India. A great ancillary read for this essay is Why India Is A Nation.

Below is one of the popular links from a movie, which glorifies the legacy of our mathru bhoomi’s Sanskriti, and my own native Kerala.

Now, let’s start…

What is identity?

To me, identity is intimately connected to geography and language. I believe it is good for both to be in agreement so that the identity formed is secure right from childhood. When I say agreement, I believe that if one is a Malayalee for instance, it is good that the formative years or childhood years are spent in the geography that is the birth place of Malayalam and the resulting culture. This means that a Malayalee child is better served if s/he spends childhood in Kerala. In earlier times, that was indeed the case for the large part of the population of India. However, post independence, the need to earn a livelihood meant that many people left their land of birth to look for livelihood options elsewhere and eventually ended up making a life in their karma bhoomi and not janma bhoomi. Their children were born in the new home. The parents carried the culture and language of their janma bhoomi and hence had a secure identity. Their children however, being born in a new place did not have it easy. They spoke the language of their parents at home and followed a culture that was passed on to them from their first generation displaced parents. At the same time, the children were exposed not only to the culture of the new place, but also various other influences some of which will be discussed below.

A child born to immigrant parents learns to adapt and interact seamlessly when moving between the inherited culture and the lived culture. The negative, though, is that over time a sense of rootlessness about intrinsic identity starts creeping in. Added to this sense of confusion is the acquiring of English skills as a pre-requisite to a “good education”. The newly immigrant parents working hard to fend for themselves and their small families generally gravitate to schools offering English as the medium of instruction since they believe they are providing for a bright future for their child. They believed that “English opened doors“.

The small and nuclear family is one of the first departures from the culture of their original land. Immigrant (not extremely poor), reasonably educated parents are most often found staying as a nuclear family without the traditional Indian joint family support structure. This forms a significant break with the parent culture since the joint family is an absorbing and cushioning medium for the shocks that life deals out to people. It must be understood here that the entire family is coping with the changes that the move away from the homeland forces individuals to make.

It is inevitable that in time, the parents also adopt certain ways of the local culture into their own lifestyle thus beginning to modify the primary identity. This adoption happens either through necessity or through own volition. For instance, if a Malayalee lives in say a place like New Delhi, s/he is forced to make certain eating habit changes. For example, coconut oil is an essential ingredient in Malayalee cooking for that is the oil that is geographically abundantly available in Kerala. However, the Malayalee in Delhi would not be able to cook with coconut oil since it is not widely available and even if one can procure it, it is rather expensive and cannot be an everyday option. Thus, it becomes an adaptation out of necessity. So, a dietary change has already happened in the displaced Malayalee household.


The parents with fond nostalgia for the coconut oil of their culture adapt to the locally available oil for cooking. The children, being used to the local oil right from birth either begin to consider coconut oil as an exotic indulgence or even begin to dislike it. Thus, there is a subtle shift away from the original culture. This is highlighted as an example to say that there are multiple small shifts away from the original culture that eventually becomes a blend of various ingredients locally available in the new place adapted to the original one.

Indeed the cross fertilization makes for an interesting study and does shape the individuals of the first generation immigrants differently from the origin culture. In many ways, it exposes the children of such displaced parents to pluralism early. The child learns to navigate between different worlds and this is a precious skill that stands her/him in good stead in adult life. The flip side of course is that a certain rootlessness begins to make itself apparent in the child which can create disorientation regarding a secure identity. This rootlessness starts getting accentuated when the child begins schooling thereby getting introduced to English to add to the mother tongue and the local language exposure. Soon, the three language formula in Indian schools and the insistence on English in urban, upmarket schools starts working on the child. The thought processes start getting framed in English–another step away from the parent culture.

While the child usually does follow and speak the mother tongue at home, more often than not, reading and writing in the mother tongue is not learnt. Thus, another link to parent culture via literature in the mother tongue is lost to the child. Access to the local culture and language is also alienated as a result of the imposition of English. English literature and English discourse starts replacing original or even local culture and discourse. Slowly, the narratives favored by English speaking peers and intellectuals start to seep into the mindset and psyche of the child. The result is a growing alienation from the roots and a growing disdain for the original culture. This happens because English language discourse hardly respects the regional language’s intelligence or culture.

As the child grows and as English replaces the original tongue as a medium of expression, the child begins to inhabit a world rather divorced from the reality on the ground. Thoughts, ideas, ideologies and worldviews begin to resemble what the English narrative propagates. The result of this slow indoctrination is that the child becomes confused about his/her identity. At home, parents still live according to some of the customs remembered from older times from their land of birth. The child on the other hand picks up some amount of the old homeland narrative, but increasingly also believes in the English narrative that is shaping his/her thoughts. This rootlessness created as a result then leads to a quest for identity for a small minority. Most go through life without resolving this confusion which leads them to commit many blunders along the way. The few who address the problem start out with a directionless, general quest. However, they finally find out the reasons for their restlessness and then work towards correcting that imbalance. If they are persistent, they eventually work back towards their original roots.

However, sometimes the journey back to roots can also leave one dissatisfied because the root culture has also been exposed to the vagaries of time and has changed complexion. Those who eventually retrace their steps back to their roots then look for those elements in the root culture that can be adopted by them. In a way, the displaced seeker has a much wider angle view of his/her original culture and is able to see the distortions and changes that have happened to the original culture. A person still immersed in the original culture is more prone to accept changes without much questioning thinking that change is the only constant in life.

In conclusion, displacement from original culture has both positives and negatives. The positive is that for those who understand that they are grappling with a rootlessness, it is a rather enriching journey to get back to the roots. They have the wider exposure to be able to appreciate better their own traditions but for those who do not understand or study this restlessness that they experience, they live a life where they are continually trying to grasp at an identity that will neither be wholly theirs nor be fulfilling. It’s a privilege to be born and to spend your life in your homeland. However, if you are displaced, see it as an advantage to understand your mother culture better. Make sure you recognize your restlessness as actually the manifestation of rootlessness. Be a seeker and find your true identity. Love your motherland and the language and culture that defines it; for ultimately you are defined by it whether you like it or not.

Before I end, here is an excellent talk by Shri. Rajiv Malhotra who touches on some other aspects of identity especially among the urban youth of India who today are going through some very confusing times as a result of the shrinking of the globe and the pervasiveness of a global culture.

I Leave you with a montage that certainly defines who I am. Until we meet again…


Puthandu Vazthukkal & Vishu Ashamsakal


From all of us at ICP, Vishu Ashamsakal! Puthandu Vazthukkal! Happy New Year to Malayalis and Tamils alike.

At last, we complete the cycle of Indic New Years (the exception of course being our Gujarati friends). The Solar Calendar New Years are celebrated today. From Yugadi to Vaisakhi to Vishu/Puthandu, we see just how closely all these calendars (varshapada) coincide.


Best wishes to all of you, and Happy New Year!


[Guest Post] TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

The following Post was composed by P.N. Namboodiri ji. You can follow him on twitter.


TiruNrittam — When the Gods Dance in Our Midst

Every year, sometime in March, I make a pilgrimage to my ancestral village to attend the annual festival of the village temple. I am not alone in such a pilgrimage. There are many others, people who are displaced from their ancestral roots like me, who do the same. Elders say that this is important for migrants to undertake, to maintain their links with their cultural roots. It can be said that temples are an integral part of Bharatiya culture and they are the bedrock of its evolution and maintenance.

Kerala can be considered to be a collection of villages, as villages are present across the length and breadth of the state. All these villages are dotted with temples and many villages have more than one temple. This blog is a fond reflection of my thoughts after my recent visit to my ancestral village for this year’s Utsavam (festival) and the impact of such events on the religious, cultural, and family bonds of the life in a typical Kerala village. I have also included brief information on Nrittam, a unique temple ritual in this part of Kerala for the benefit of readers. The description of festival and Nrittam is with respect to our family village diety Chuzhali Bhagavati or Goddess Durga located in village Chuzhali of Kannur District of Kerala.

Temple Worship

“अग्निर्देवो द्विजादीनां मुनीनां हृदि दैवतम् ।

प्रतिमा स्वल्पबुद्धीनां सर्वत्र समदर्शिनाम् ॥

God is Agni for the Brahmins,

In the heart for the Sages,

Idol for the less wise

Omnipresent for the Enlightened.

“Puja”, or ritual worship of “Ishta Devata” is the most common and most simple method of being one with the divine. Thus, we have Puja rooms in our homes though household Pujas have become rare due to various reasons. Many are unable to maintain the prescribed discipline at home to perform Pujas. This is one of the reasons we have temples where the public worship the Ishta Devata through an Archaka. The Archaka is the agent here between the deity and devotee, who maintains the prescribed discipline and has the authority to perform Pujas.

Temple Rituals

There two types of rituals in a temple – “Nityam”, the daily rituals like pujas performed everyday and “Naimittikam”, special rituals like Utsavam and other celebrations on important occasions every year. The practices of a temple under both categories are believed to be followed from the time the temple has been in existence in accordance with an unwritten understanding between the priests and the temple owners at the time of original installation. Thus, the rituals and celebrations of a particular temple are more or less in line with those being traditionally followed from the very beginning, acting as a direct link to the cultural roots of the population.

Annual festivals in temples are occasions for celebration for the entire village. This is the time when the deity moves out of the sanctum sanctorum. Special rituals like Sribhutabali /Sheeveli (Ritual Offerings to the Devaganas in the temple premises), Pallivetta (Divine hunting ritual), Gramabali (Offering to the devaganas of the Village), Aarattu (ritual bath of the deity), etc. involve majestic processions accompanied by percussion instruments within and outside the temple premises to different locations within the village. In many such processions, the idol or murti is carried on an elelphant, sometimes accompanied by more elephants as part of the divine entourage. There is active participation of the local population in these celebrations. As against the devotee visiting the temple and praying to the Ishta devata, confined within the inner sanctorum, the local people consider it their good fortune to have the deity in their midst during such special processions. It is common to see villages festively decked up for such occasions and each family, en route to the procession, makes it a point to accord ceremonial reception to the deity.


All processions outside the sanctum sanctorum uses the Thidambu, a replica of the original diety which is made of Panchaloha, Silver or Gold (Photo 1, Thidambu).


The murti is carried by a priest, sometimes seated on an elephant, and the accompaniments include traditional oil lamp, percussion instruments in the front followed by someone holding a traditional umbrella at the back. See Video 1 to see these accompaniments.

Tiru Nrittam or Divine Dance

The art of Thidambu Nrittam has been prevalent for at least over 600-700 years in many temples of north Kerala. It is believed that Tulu Brahmins, who migrated from nearby locations of Karnataka to the northern part of Kerala were responsible for introducing this unique temple art, which is also prevalent in that part of Karnataka. Nrittam abides by the principles of dance which has its root in Natya Sastra.

“Tiru Nrittam” (Divine dance) also called “Thidambu Nrittam” is a part of annual temple festivals in many temples of northern Kerala. It is considered divine, as it is a part of a ritual performance with the artist carrying the temple murti on his head. That is the reason why it is also popularly known as “Thidambu Nrittam”, thidambu being the Malayalam word for representation of the temple murti outside the sanctum sanctorum.

Namboodiris are the specially trained artists who perform this dance. They are specialists with rigorous training under the tutelage of a guru. A percussion player has an important role during the training with the guru and Marars, a traditional group (families) play the percussion instruments for the performance. The same is the case with the persons who carry traditional oil lamps in the procession. They have traditionally been the ones entrusted with the task of carrying the sacred lamp and they continue to do it to this day. The dance is performed with the thidambu of the temple murti carried on the head by the priest. Foot work is most important and this is executed to the rhythm of drums and other percussion instruments. As the dance progresses, the tempo picks up momentum to the delight of the viewers and there are many stages and variations of the rhythm of the dance.

The thidambu is decorated with garlands, flowers and ornaments, all beautifully arranged on a circular frame made of bamboo strips. The artist himself does the complex decoration on the concentric frame, first with the garlands of fresh flowers, then with the silver or gold flowers and finally with the ornaments as seen in the picture. This decorated frame is then fixed on the thidambu. The artist then carries the decorated thidambu for the divine dance in the temple forecourt. See the decorated frame and the thidambu ready for the dance in the pictures below. See Photos 2 and 3.


thidambu decoration (Photo 2 & 3) and Artist Costume (Photo 4)

The artists also wear a striking costume and ornaments – White dhoti with bright borders worn in traditional style with pleats, Uttariyam (diagonal vest) of bright silk, necklaces, bangles, earrings and nicely decorated turban known as ‘Ushnipeetham’ form the impressive attire of the Nrittam artist. See Video 2.

Nrittam at Chuzhali Bhagavati (Durga Devi) Temple

Nrittam is performed on three days during the annual festival. The main performance extends to over two hours in the evenings and there is a mini event in the nights which is of a much shorter duration.

The artists come out of the Sanctorum clad in conventional attire to the forecourt of the temple. Standing under the kodimaram (flag mast) facing the deity, they ritually place the thidambu on their head at the start of the performance or procession. During the main event, the procession covers four parikramas or circum-ambulations of the temple, each regulated by a different Thaalam (rhythm) by the percussion artists. The artists move from one end to the other and then backwards and this repeats for a while. The dancers make rhythmic footwork based on the music of the drums and this is the Divine dance giving a unique artistic and spiritual experience to the viewers. Here’s a video which takes a fuller look at the dance. However, this is not from my temple but another one in another village of northern Kerala. It so happens that the artist is the same.

There are many stages in which the performance unfolds with unique Thalam for each Parikrama. It starts with a special item called ‘Kotti Urayal’, or the summoning of the deity into the performer, and starts from the northern end of the temple forecourt. The artists, standing still are awakened by the percussion artists who play the drums and other instruments in a gradually increasing rhythm. This induces rhythmic movements in the artists and they start the dance in line with music tempo. This is an enjoyable experience for the viewers filling the entire courtyard as they stand most of them with folded hands, observing the ritual with total devotion.

After the Kotti Urayal, the dance slowly moves towards the kodimaram in front of the diety and this marks the beginning of a special occasion where the devotees get an opportunity to make their offerings to the diety directly. The artists with the thidambu on their head are now considered to be transformed into the temple diety with the Kotti Urayal ritual, and when they stand under the kodimaram they are considered to be Bhagavathy herself standing right in the midst of her devotees. Starting with the temple priest, practically all of them make their offerings personally to deity, into the hands of the artist. This goes on for almost half an hour in the first Parikrama with the artists moving from north to south and backwards many times all the time accompanied by the entourage.

This is then followed by the main dance performance which continues for half an hour before the Parikrama and the action repeats under a different Thala for the next three Parikramas. Finally, standing under the kodimaram, the thidambus are taken off their heads with loud chantings of “Amme, Amme, Govinda, Govinda” …. from the crowd, marking the end of Nrittam.


I go every year for the Utsavam and the rituals are the same. However, the joy and rejuvenation I feel each year is fresh and new and this is what makes me want to go back to my sacred janma bhoomi again and again. Bhagavathy helps me deepen my bonds with my janmabhoomi and also gives me Shakti, the strength to resume my worldly duties. I come back refreshed and grateful to have witnessed yet another Utsavam. I wait for the next one to come along with the same enthusiasm I have had for it all these years,  and I hope that Bhagavathy will bless me with her Shakti until next year, when it is time for a recharge.

About the author: PN Namboodiri is a retired Chemical Engineer, a Sanskrit enthusiast and volunteer with Samskrita Bharati. He is very interested in Bharatiya culture, traditions and customs and has been teaching Sanskrit for 5 years. He is also involved in vedic documentation projects.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Set Mundu – A Kerala Woman’s Quiet Dignity

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on May 31, 2015

India is a land of varied geography. But geography in India is not just about physical features; it is sacred. The geography of a particular place is intimately intertwined with its culture and its people and people mould their lives according to the geography they are in. Living in a certain geography in India means to be in harmony with it, to enhance it, and to make it more beautiful. I dwell on the subject of aesthetics here with the example of dress and particularly female dress.

Let us take the two examples of Rajasthan (desert landscape) and Kerala (lush vegetation). The women of Rajasthan wear flowing lehengas with cholis and chunaris which are in bright shades of yellow, red, blue, green and so on. These bright colours do enhance the beauty of the stark, sandy, desert landscape and are a feast for the eyes. On the other hand, the state of Kerala, a tiny strip on the west coast of India is a riot of green, blue and brown because she is richly endowed with lush vegetation, is by the sea, and has a high hill range protecting her. When she is endowed with so much natural beauty, people don’t need to add more colour to add to her beauty; which is why the predominant colour of the dress that Keralites wear is white or off white, with some minor embellishments. It is so apt, for this simplicity just adds elegance and a look of purity/freshness to the greens, blues and browns of the richly endowed land.

So, my focus here is only on one of the off white garments that Keralites wear. I refer to the set mundu that is the most simple attire of a lady in Kerala but which has evolved into one of the most understated, lovely, fashion statements at least in sections of Malayali society today.

The set mundu is essentially a two piece clothing worn with a blouse which has evolved to be worn like a saree in the present day. However, the origins of the garment were certainly not in the present form.

The Evolution of the Set Mundu – A little bit of history

Kerala is a very hot and humid place and I contend that its society was not overly concerned with issues of clothing and fashion. Moreover, the Western Ghats bordering Kerala act as a natural barrier and cocoon the land from overland influences. Hence influences from outside reached Kerala only slowly except if those influences came via the sea route. The preferred dress was to wear a simple white/off white cotton cloth called mundu which was tied at the waist and fell to the ankles or below the knees. A light piece of cloth across the breast and over the shoulders was called the upper cloth or melmundu.

Malayali Nair Women wearing Mundu

Slowly, the present day blouse that most Indian women wear with a saree began to gain popularity in Kerala.

And the melmundu began to be worn over the blouse in the traditional way.

The Weaver Story

As I was researching for this subject I came across information about the creators of this garment. There are I think principally 3 regions where the weaver community who create this garment live. One is Balaramapuram near Thiruvananthapuram, another is Kuthampully in Thrissur district and the third is Chendamangalam near Ernakulam. The weavers In Kuthampully and Balaramapuram trace their origins to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Kuthampully weavers say they are from the Devanga community in the erstwhile Mysore state who left their ancestral land during the period of Turkic rule which was hostile. They settled in Kuthampully, a village on the banks of the Bharatapuzha (Nila) and became the weavers for the Royal family of Kochi (Cochin). The Balaramapuram weavers trace their origins to the Shaliyar community of Tamil Nadu who were again brought to Thiruvananthapuram by the Travancore kings to be weavers for the Royal family.

How did the Set Mundu evolve to its present avatar?

With the coming of the weavers from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, a part of their culture would have come to Kerala. Both in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is a culture of little girls wearing chattai pavadai /Langa (two piece garment with a long pleated ankle length skirt from waist down and a waist length blouse for the top).

This garment metamorphoses into dhavani-pavadai as the girls turn into their later teen years. A dhavani-pavadai is a three piece garment. Like in chattai pavadai, you have the ankle length long pleated skirt, the waist length blouse of the childhood years turns into a blouse that is used with a saree. Over this ensemble is worn the dhavani which is a long piece of cloth which is pleated and goes across the left shoulder with the other end tucked into the pavadai. Essentially it looks like the pallu of a regular saree. This culture was probably brought into cocooned Kerala by the weavers who were anyway familiar with these clothes.


Now, once the girl got married, she graduated from the dhavani phase into the mundu blouse phase. That’s probably when the melmundu began to be redesigned like a dhavani with pleats going across the bosom and over the left shoulder with the other end end tucked into the mundu. This gave the whole ensemble a saree like look.

Generally, the set mundu is quite simple when it comes to embellishments. For the larger part, it is plain off white, cotton cloth both in the mundu and the neriyathu (melmundu) with just the borders of the cloth and the two ends being either woven with jari/gold thread (kasavu) bands or with bands that are of different colour thread. The garment is elegant, understated and extremely comfortable to wear. And most of all, it gives a pristine, fresh look when contrasted with the lush vegetation. It is everyday wear for older women and it is really a pleasure to see elder women start each day wearing a fresh, starched set mundu after a bath. The look of freshness is enough to wake one up and be thankful for the new day!

Kerala Mundu Saree. First ReporterSaree Drapes, Saree Collection, Onam Saree, Kerala Mundu, Kerala Saree, Saree Traditional, Indian Saree, Kerala Style, Mundu Saree

This garment while it was regularly used by the older generation, generally by women over 45-50 since it imparted an air of maturity and understated beauty, it has now been adopted by youngsters too as a style statement. In the Namboodiri community, this garment has become the rage in recent years with it being adopted as the standard dress code for occasions. For occasions such as a wedding, it has now become the norm to order set mundus in bulk. They are ordered like a uniform with the groom and bride’s side being distinguished by the respective uniform set mundus.

The set mundu is a definite requirement when doing the traditional folk dance of Kerala for women, called the Kaikottikkali or Thiruvathirakkali. It is also worn on festive occasions like Onam , Vishu and Thiruvathira.

Problems facing this sector

As everywhere else, this is purely the handloom sector and facing an existential crisis. As I did my research, I chanced upon news item after news item which spoke of the penury of these handloom weavers. All the three places Kuthampully, Balaramapuram and Chendamangalam have been given intellectual property rights through the Geographical Indication Act. But even this has not prevented the decline in their means of livelihood.

Their profession is not seen as being respectable and the younger generation is clearly not interested in taking up the trade in a 100% literate state. Many of the weavers themselves do not encourage their children to take up the profession. They push them towards professional courses so that they have better prospects in the ‘marriage market’[2]. This is in Kuthampully.

I happened to chance upon a blog by a young boy who is from Kuthampully but not into his ancestral trade anymore. From the tenor of the post, I felt the boy is quite apologetic about his ancestors’ profession and does not look upon it with pride. He of course seems to be employed in an IT firm in some other state. He seems to feel his village is a relic of some bygone era and one senses that he feels he has escaped the drudgery. Irony is that education has meant becoming disassociated from your past. Education has meant devaluation of a skill and its ability to become your livelihood. Weavers face many hardships too because earnings are low, peoples’ choices have evolved and hence their market has shrunk, and they are unable to repay debts as institutional funding is not easily available to them. However, the few who remain in the profession say that it “gives me immense pleasure to see the finished product[3]. I can only agree with her that that is the unalloyed joy one gets when one creates something.

The Road Ahead

While the market for set mundus will not die out for another generation maybe, its long term prospects are certainly in Intensive Care as the younger generation moves on to trendy western clothes and salwar kameez (which incidentally was a rarity in Kerala even in the 90s). I sincerely hope something is done to restore this extremely humble and simple yet elegant garment regain place of pride. For nothing brings more beauty to the lush landscape of “God’s Own Country” than a beautiful Malayali woman donning this fresh and simple dress with the simple accessories that go with it. Nothing rivals it to exude that quiet elegance which contrasts with the riotous colours of nature.


  1. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/A-Life-without-Zari-for-Kuthampullys-Weavers/2014/11/10/article2516445.ece
  2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/kochi/A-story-of-the-struggle-for-survival/2013/10/22/article1848198.ece
  3. https://myshadowflowers.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/kuthampully-the-village-of-weavers/
  4. The Spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Socio-religious context of Trivandrum/Kerala, pg. 109
  5. http://pazhayathu.blogspot.in/2012/02/kerala-dress-1500-till-now.html
  6. http://www.mkhandlooms.com/about_us
  7. http://www.ashahandlooms.com/history.php
  8. http://www.kaithary.com/about-us

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

The Death of Romance

The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on Feb 7, 2015

Antônio Parreiras, The End of Romance

It is sometimes said that “Analysis is the death of sentiment”, but I disagree. As with all things in life, balance here is required as well. The truly fulfilling life is the one which is equidistant to the two. It uses reason to determine the correct course of action based on duty to others, and uses sentiment to experience the splendid possibilities and experiences and rasas life has to offer, with romance and true love being the most prized.

However, in our era of “hookups”, one-night stands, and office relationships, has the so-called “sophistication” of modernity killed off true love? Has the rise of prurience uber alles resulted in destroying the very bonds that once raised armies of rescue and launched a thousand ships? Is The Death of Romance upon us?

Real romance is not a function of skill in the bedroom or the frequency of neurotransmitter release, despite what people today may read in cosmo, playboy, huffpo, jezebel or whatever other intellectual cul de sac they rely on to educate themselves. Real romance is about putting the other person’s needs above our own–even thinking about their interests before our own. It is not about convenience, but constancy. It is not about hopelessness, but hoping against hope. But do materialism, fancy shoes, and “Mr. Right now” instead of “Mr. Right” ultimately lead to happiness? Whatever the latest push to downgrade monogamy as boring and marriage as “obsolete”, the end result of the lives of these fictional characters below (and their real life imitators–male and female) is instructive.

Indeed a poster for the movie Nymphomaniac features a series of men and women in various states of tumescence featuring the caption “Forget About Love”.  This isn’t just limited to Hollywood, but rather, the state of Bollywood, and now increasingly Tollywood, is testament to this.

Somewhere along the lines of the mid-2000s, the soulful sentiment that once pervaded mainstream Hindi filmdom ( I am purposely avoiding the word cinema here) from screenplay to song, diluted, and then vanished.

Hits steeped in sentiment like “humko humise churalo” have been replaced by chart toppers like “char bottle vodka”…Even the romantic songs once riveting with equal parts longing and mourning and charm and rapture now pass off romance as de riguer, easily substitutable in the buffet table of modern hedonism. A timepass or recreational commodity, on demand courtesy of tinder, snapchat, okcupid or whatever else the kids are using these days, that separates the desired product (romance, sex, etc), from the person. These of course are punctuated with nice club dance beats and other assorted chart toppers.

Even the word “beloved” has been cheapened beyond the point of recognition. What was once deemed a word worthy of our spiritual other half, our second heart, is merely a detachable moniker for the infatuation of the moment or the source and recipient of a serial concupiscence. The reality however is that love without sincerity is mere simulacra.

Men, you may now have been taught by the media to think that all girls are wannabe Sunny Leones who want bad boys, and Ladies, you may think all men are the same or only run after “insincere” girls. The truth, however, is most men either want a good woman to settle down with or after wasting 20 year of their lives, realize the value of a good woman. And most women may often confuse arrogance with confidence, but they too dream of a gentlemen. Yes there are bad man and bad women, who are only “about that thing”, but the majority are in the middle. The question is whether catastrophic loss of culture will cause them to gravitate to promiscuity over Prema.

Given all this, the Death of Romance is invariably upon us. And this is not an East vs West commentary, but a Modern vs Traditional one, as it is only circumstance that has resulted in the western world first being infected by this plague of insincerity—rapidly affecting “Modern India”. Nowhere was this more obviously seen than in the TV series How I Met Your Mother.

*Spoilers Ahead*

In our era of global satellite television, many of you in both hemispheres may be familiar with How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). While the 2005-2014 production was hailed for its creativity and crisp writing/performances, it was above all the story of a young man, Ted Mosby, in his 20s/30s seeking his one true love over the casanova lifestyle. In fact, while one friend openly embraces it, and another escapes it by sheer good fortune of meeting his future wife at a young age, Ted consciously chooses to pursue it–and over the course of 8 years, is punished for it, repeatedly. Despite all this, he nevertheless soldiers on.

If the story of Ross & Rachel were about how true love is possible, but is frequently complicated by other romances, Ted & Tracy was about choosing real romance in a distinctly unromantic time. What  was originally hailed as the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of the 2000s decade, and arguably the TV show for all hopeless romantics, had all the potential to be one of the great small screen romances of our time.

Flat panel had accomplished what today’s film was increasingly failing to do–capturing and communicating real sentiment of longing for love.

Ted Mosby, a Manhattan Manmatha had committed to finding his Rati, and after  e ^ 1000 embarrassments, heartbreaks, bad advice, and wrong-turns over the course of a decade, he finally did.

One would think the finale and story would have ended there…but nooo. 9 years of character development and story-telling were ruthlessly destroyed in a mere five minutes with this abomination from network-approved naraka:

As you can see, the final scene is emblematic of how the show’s internal logic was destroyed, and also why it contributes in general to the Death of Romance…real romance. While it was fittingly panned as one of the worst finales in small screen history, it had nevertheless done its work. In the process, it led to such pearls of wisdom from pan-hellenic Platos and other assorted tequila fueled supporters as “omg! it makes perfect sense, you have many one true loves!!“, “yeah, i completely get it, you don’t stop loving after your lover leaves“,  “i totally want that–true love and a back up relationship!“…”i want to have my cake, and i’ll eat it too!

Now don’t get me wrong. Life most assuredly isn’t simple. There is indeed an element of bittersweet in romance as all lovers are doomed to be parted on this Earth. Indeed some die far too soon. But what this show, and celluloid in general, is today advocating is that lovers are indeed replaceable. Thus from the Ayodhyan heights of Ram refusing to marry again and having a gold statue fashioned in Sita’s image, we have fallen to widowers deluding themselves into thinking old casual relationship exes (who never themselves were really interested in romance) can fill the void left behind by the woman they claimed to have dreamt of for the better part of an era. It is almost as though the very nature of romance had been mutilated, convoluted and turned into a consumer good.

*End Spoilers*

Why this tangent“–you ask? Well, admittedly in our fast-paced world where professionals don’t necessarily have arranged marriages, or have relationships prior to having one, Pehla Pyaar may not be an option for everyone. Indeed, divorce/remarriage may be appropriate for some and romantic pasts are never simple. Nevertheless, simply because we end up falling short of the ideal, or need a Dusra or Teesra , doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire towards it in the first place. It is certainly  better for us in the long run than Sau or Sahasra. Waiting is not weak. Principles are not prudishness.

Now, I’ve always been part of the camp that was always fine with Valentine’s Day. Whatever the actual history behind it, in theory, it’s a rather lovely way to celebrate and connect with the one whom we love. The problem however is what it has become in practice. Rather than a day of soulfully cherishing love for one’s spouse (or soon-to-be spouse), it has become a mere veneer of romance to legitimize mechanical debauchery, with unseemly displays of public affection. Those left alone due to circumstance are mocked or seen as curiosities, while the elect happily trot about adducing their rent-a-date or fling-of-the-moment as evidence of their possession (consumption?) of “love”.

This much is made additionally clear from friends with benefits and serial monogamy substituting for real relationships to pornography’s psychologically and sociologically harmful effects to laws that destroy incentive for trust in marriages.

What’s more, the rise of the PDA is feted as somehow as a sign of liberation rather than indecency. Blatant disregard to civic decorum and respect for elders is not romance. While I certainly don’t support the institution of a “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”, those young people feeling prohibitively passionate should keep personal acts for the private sphere. True, Classical Indic society was not repressive in these matters, but it wasn’t libertine either. It merely stressed that there was a time, place, and manner for such things.  There was and is no “right of way for ribaldry”. Rati-bhava divorced from Sringara-rasa is not love at all, but lust seeking pretext.

It has become part of common parlance to say chivalry is dead, and feminism killed it. A corollary of that of course is that romance is dead, and lust killed it. The moment a society exults in the divorcing of sensuality and marriage, is the moment romance truly dies. Because when marriage itself is no longer looked forward to by the majority of society for having children or moving in together, let alone maithuna, that is the moment when it becomes a mere formality. Rather than the fulcrum of one’s life, it becomes merely a trophy or label.

When “Love” is commoditised, the consumers themselves become replaceable and interchangeable.Living for the moment, treating lovers as disposable, and lust as an assortment of flavors may be fun and fashionable, but this lifestyle more often than not leads to this result.

Real romance is not a mere veneer for licentiousness, but has an element of sacrifice. “The Beloved” is not merely the flavor-of-the-month object of prurience, but a person willing to sacrifice for us and for whom we are willing to sacrifice. It is reciprocal.

Marriage is not the end of romance, rather it is the celebration of it. And true love is the highest form of romance. It recognises the inherent oneness of the male and female halves of an individual soul to the exclusion of all others. It is why a Sati could voluntarily commit sati or an Aja (grandfather of Rama) could climb on to Indumati’s (his wife) funeral pyre in inconsolable grief.

There is an old joke that men need money for women, and women need men for money (though such equations have been changing). Now assuredly, however tempting money may be for women, so it is for sex and men. Thus, there are men and women who sacrifice the pursuit of romance for these mere commodities instead. But as with all material things, we need more and more only to feel less and less. In their waning years, such men then realise the value of a good woman (rather than many “hot” ones) and such women realise by serially pursuing Mr. Money Bags or Mr. Right Now, they lost the interest of Mr. Right. The greatest of lotharios from Don Giovanni to Sam Malone may be the envy of most men, but in the end, do the sheer notches on their bed posts fill their inevitable void of loneliness?

To get the woman or man we seek we must be the man or woman that person would want. Love that stands the test of time is not driven by superficial states or faddish fetishes. Looks fade, money comes and goes, but companionship and qualities are truly timeless.

In our topsy turvy age of polyamory and serial monogamy, such notions may seem quaint. After all, these gyaanis and gyaaninis ask, “isn’t restriction of our love to only one person (or gender) selfish, even primitive”? But as always, a little knowledge, in the hands of the foolish, is a dangerous thing. Setting aside the fact that monogamy comes naturally to us, the benefits are manifold as well.

First and foremost comes validation (real validation that one-night stands and serial lovers could never afford). The idea that someone out there is eager and willing to commit himself or herself to us to the exclusion of all others is not only validating but downright scintillating. It affirms not only our sense of self and self-worth, but adds to our esteem in a way that single-serving lovers never could. After all, if we are irreplaceable, there truly must be something to us. And if we’re not, well, we’re just emotion-less commodities driven by base pleasure.

Second, comes security. Not only the security in having someone you can trust no matter what, but the security in knowing that the connection isn’t temporary (as all superficial infatuation tends to be) like fads and fetishes. Ultimately, marriage forms the ideal environment needed to ensure that children from this union will securely have a mother and a father as a parenting unit, providing the steady love and care required in child rearing.

Family First, and Marriage makes it one

Fundamentally, marriage is about children, whatever our modernistas may say. That is because society then mandates that a man not only fulfills his responsibility to provide for the pregnant mother, but not abandon the children after birth and leave them without food and shelter. While it is true that there are those who marry and do not have children, since when is the exception the rule? Because of “except after ‘c’, does that mean ‘i’ shouldn’t be before ‘e’?”. Because the vast majority of marriages past and present have resulted in children, they must be the fulcrum of our consideration, not our passing fancies and whims.

Third, it gives us a sense of balance and stability. Life is full of ups and downs. Career success is fleeting, even friends fade in and out, but a true life partner provides us with both wind and ballast as needed. When we are sad, they cheer us up, when we are angry, they cool us down, when we are lonely, they give us companionship, and when we need a kick in the seat of our pants, they gladly give us one. After all, just as the meal that is shared is more delicious, so to is the life that is shared more fulfilling.


So if you want to rekindle romance (sringara) in society again, you must be the change you want to see. Without Juliet, there is no Romeo. Without Sita, there is no Ram. It is the virtues of women that ultimately inspire the virtues of men. That is why, in ancient civilizations, muses are personified as feminine. Even in our Indic civilization, it is Goddess Sarasvati who inspires. Indeed, it is Sarasvati’s knowledge that is the source of Brahma’s creative power, Lakshmi’s prosperity that is the source of Vishnu’s preservation power, and Parvati’s Shakti that is the source of Shiva’s destructive power. That is why our society does not stress being overly masculine or overly feminine—but advocates balance.  Yin and Yang, Female and Male, Nari and Nara must exist in harmony. It is the synergy between that two that empowers society and rekindles real romance, just as Sita’s chastity adorned Ram’s nobility.

The point is not to advocate hypocrisy, but to educate that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. Actions have opportunity costs, and to seek what we really want, we ourselves must be worthy of it, for nothing in this world worth having comes easy. Many of you may be despondent about being alone a week from now, but fear not. It, or many such days, may come and go, but if you truly commit to true love, it commits to you.

So what then is the cornerstone of a good marriage and true love? Fidelity. This is because Fidelity breeds Trust, Trust breeds Friendship, and Friendship breeds Love. And that, dear reader, is what will result in the reincarnation of Romance.

[Guest Post] Odisha Fashion & Handloom

The following Post was composed by Sheetal Mishra. You can follow her on twitter.


Amidst India’s myriad offerings in the domain of art and culture, none represents a greater artistic grandeur than Odisha’s exquisite hand woven Sarees . A motley crew of weavers in this coastal state create sublime designs on a variety of Sarees like Sambalpuri, Bomkai, Maniabandha, Khandua, Nuapatna, Pasapalli, Berhampuri Pata that fascinates people across the globe. Each region in this beautiful state has its own peculiar design that gives the sarees an identity of their own.

Once upon a time weaving clothes was an important means of livelihood for the people of Odisha. It is also interesting to note that Odisha’s caste system is largely influenced by weavers and many castes were created as per various categories of weaving. It indicates the preeminence of this profession in the glorious history of Odisha.

Odisha, also known as Utkala and Kalinga, has a rich tradition of ikat handloom which stands out among rest because of its fine patterns and designs. It showcases one of the finest qualities of double ikat silk and cotton handloom sarees with very unique and beautiful patterns in borders and pallu. Use of vibrant colors, variety and fineness are distinctive features of Odisha’s handloom sarees which suits every taste and pocket. Most of these varieties are a product of Ikat (Tie and Dye). Double Ikat Sarees are produced in Odisha since time immemorial and is unique to this region.odrafash1

It is also referred as “Bandha” in local language, Odia. In Ikat method the yarn is subject to tying in sequences. Then weavers dye the required areas in the desired color. By this method they dye and soak into the exposed portions and the tied portioned are left from the dyeing effect. As a result, you have a systematic sequence in the yarn which is then put to weaving. This sequence is a preconceived design of the weaver. This sequential tie and dye method allows the weaver to form the designs in various colors. This technique is quite different from the “Bandhani”method adopted in other States like Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Some statistics according to Government website:

Type Region Looms Production potential (In lakhs) INR

Type Region Looms Production potential (In lakhs) INR
Silk Tie-dye, Silk and Cotton Bomkai Boudh, Sonepur 6773 4063.8
Khandua Silk Saree Cuttack 2255 1217.7
Cotton tie-dye Saree and Furnishing Bargarh, Sonepur, Bolangir and Nuapada 8045 3816.6
Tasar thana saree and furnishing Bargarh, Jajpur, Balasore, Nuapatna 2424 1163.52
Berhampur Silk Saree Joda Ganjam 609 292.32
Single count fine cotton Saree Jagatsinghpur 2234 804.24
Medium variety cotton Jajpur, Khurda, Bargarh, Bolangir, Ganjam and Nayagarh 5563 2003.47
Course variety cotton Bolangir, Cuttack, Khurda, Kendrapara, Nayagarh, Puri, Nuapada,Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Balasore, Bhadrak & Sambalpur, Sonepur 17220 5166

According to “Third National Handloom Census of Weavers and allied workers” in Odisha only 40,683 household are engaged in weaving or allied activities. Out of that only 1,416 households reside in cities.Most of them are uneducated. Adding salt to injury, the average annual income per weaving household is a meagre 30,000 to 32,000 INR.


It is appalling and concerning that the people who carry forward our culture and tradition in a very creative way since ages are struggling to make ends meet. Shall we only act as a passive protestor and let them lead a miserable life?

Could we allow these adverse conditions destroy Odisha’s rich tradition? Is there anything that can be done to revive Odisha handloom? Handloom products are good for the skin and are very durable. They can be used as curtains, clothes, bed sheets, and doormat and has got many more applications. Actors, designers, political leaders and most importantly the common people, can promote handloom in their day to day life and bring it to the limelight from its murky existence. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi rightly pointed out that Indian handloom products lack global branding. Honorable Prime Minister, who himself is seen wearing handloom products on many occasions, appealed the masses to use at least one khadi product to brighten the lives of the producers.


Reputed fashion designer Manish Malhotra just revealed his latest handloom collection- “The regal threads, and paid tribute to Gujarat and Benaras weaves. South India designers like Shravan Kumar Ramaswamy, Gaurang Shah, Vivek Karunakaran are aggressively promoting handloom among Indian celebs. Like that, Odisha handloom Industry needs to be marketed globally. Famous designers have to explore this fabric and re-introduce to the world.

Odisha state government has roped in top fashion designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Bibhu Mohapatra to promote and popularize Odisha handlooms and textiles within the country. They will work with the weavers to preserve the old traditional designs and train them about new pattern and trends of handloom industries. Added to that, both Central and state Govt. should actively promote Odisha handloom along with Odisha tourism. Inclusion of more and more weavers under insurance schemes, strengthening co-operatives, re-branding and marketing of Odisha Handloom products would take our textile industries to places.

As a woman I have always been fascinated by handloom products for its variety and uniqueness. That is why this blog came into existence. Before concluding, I would like to suggest a few designs made out of different handloom products for both boys and girls. You can look stylish while wearing handloom products also! Though I don’t have pictures of dresses made out of Odisha Handloom products, these references can help you to style your own handloom dresses.


When palazzo, patiala salwar, hot pants, maxi dresses, short skirts, dhoti trousers are trending in this fashion season, girls flaunt these with our handloom products. A well stitched vase coat is a style statement for both boys and girls. Stitch one with Handloom fabrics. Boys can also experiment a lot with Odisha Handloom fabrics. Try out making “Nehru Jackets, Khadi shorts, shirts, pathani suits, Dhoti trousers and short kurtas”. It’s high on style quotient and comfort level.

Let’s join our hands to promote Odisha Handloom world wide. Buy, gift and motivate others to do the same. Let’s create blogs, photo blogs and share it actively on Print media and social Media!



  1. All statistical data derived from “Third National Handloom Census of Weavers and allied workers 2009-10”
  2. http://she9.blogspot.in/2014/07/khaadi-man-shalwar-suit-collection-2014.html
  3. https://www.jaypore.com/white-khadi-yoga-dhoti-men-p11392
  4. http://www.thecrispycorner.com/trend-called-bandi/
  5. https://www.etsy.com/in-en/listing/195372783/boho-hippie-shorts-summer-shorts-light?ref=related-4

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Attukal Pongala – A Woman’s Sabarimala

pongalaFollowing up on my previous post regarding the restriction on entry of women to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, I think I have to follow it up with its counterpart, the Attukal Pongala (mentioned in that article) where men are simply not allowed to participate.

First, the Guinness record. Here is the link to the record. It states:

The largest annual gathering of women is achieved by 2.5 million women in an event organised by ATTUKAL BHAGAVATHY TEMPLE TRUST in Kerala, India, on 10 March 2009. Attukal Pongala festival is a tradition of Hinduism.”[i]

This was in 2009. In the edition of the festival held in 2015, the number was supposedly around 4.0 million!

I think nearly four million women have participated in the Pongala festival,” said a temple committee member.[ii]

So, what is the festival about?

The festival is a 10 day long temple gathering which happens in the Attukal Pongala temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the small state of Kerala. The onset of the summer months in Kerala is a season for temple festivals. It happens in almost every temple in every town, district, and village in Kerala and is celebration time. Depending on the resources a temple has and the antiquity of the temple (which means the antiquity of the story attached to it), the festival it has runs from 3 to 10 days. So, the older and more established temples like the Attukal Devi temple has a festival that runs for 10 days.

Life becomes slower during these days as it is the time to indulge the senses. But the dharmic worldview of indulging the senses does not mean mindless pleasure seeking. Each day, the temple will have rituals and a percussion tableau (called as the melam) with lots of cultural programmes thrown in. Since the festival revolves around the temple deity, the pleasing of the senses is achieved with the carrying out of those activities like the melam, umpteen number of pujas, dance and music programs all infused with the sense of bhakti. Attukal Pongala is no different.

However, there is one difference with the Attukal temple festival. On the 9th day of the festival, there is a congregation of women who gather to cook a particular sweet porridge called pongal out in the open. This is made as an offering to the presiding deity of the temple, Attukal Bhagavathi or Devi, the mother goddess. It is this gathering of women that has earned its place in the Guinness book of records. The pongal is made in a clay pot on a fire which is lit between three bricks out in the open. The fuel for the fire is brought by the women from their homes and it is usually dried coconut rind and fronds.

The city starts filling up well before dawn and from last year’s (2015) accounts, streets in a 10km radius were cordoned off for the cooking ritual. The temple conducts the pujas to the Devi as three men seated in a hut recite the story of Kannagi’s  life. Kannagi is believed to be a reincarnation of the Devi. The story that is recited at the temple for Pongala can be read from links below. However, there is a point in the story where Kannagi destroys the city of Madurai with fire. This point in the story is the cue for the temple priest to light the holy fire in the temple. The cooking then commences with the fire that is lit from this first one, the fire being passed down to the women one by one from the original one.

The women wait in the gathering smoke and heat until their pot boils over with its contents.

Pongal is made of rice, jaggery cooked in water and garnished with coconut. The cooked dish is then served around all the assembled people as prasadam blessed by the Devi. While cooking, the women ask the Devi for blessings for whatever it is that is on the top of their list of priorities for the year. During this entire episode, menfolk are not allowed anywhere in the vicinity unless they happen to be the temple administration officials or someone connected with the actual conduct of the rituals. Permission is needed if a man wants to enter the area and men generally keep away without complaint.

At the end of the day, the women gather all their belongings and leave the place. And last year, it is said that the women cleared up every single thing after they finished so that they left the place clean and tidy. This was a gesture in support of the Swacch Bharat campaign launched by the present Government of Bharata desam.

At this festival of the women, by the women and for the women, there are no caste barriers, no class barriers and in recent years, no religion barriers either. It is however a Hindu festival in its nature, its origin and its ethos.


Excerpts from a Foreigner’s Account of the Pongala

At the outset I must say that I usually view any foreigner’s account of our traditions with suspicion because they do not understand our culture like we do. Hence I do not like to quote such studies.

However, during my research on the festival I came across a paper/article written by a foreigner on this festival which had so many points that I would like to reproduce here. The writer of this article/paper does have many misconceptions which I do not want to elaborate on here. However, she makes some beautiful points in her paper which I would like Bharatiya women to read carefully and understand before embarking on their ‘Happy to bleed’ and confrontationist path with men.

With regard to Kerala, it must be stated that Kerala had a matrilineal system from ancient times. It is in this context that I reproduce the writer’s words [Emphasis mine].

There were several positive consequences for the status of women and children in the system. The mother was the most significant parent in every respect, and women were indispensable for the continuation of the matrilineage, which was understood to be an indivisible combination of the people, land, and ancestors. There was no prepuberty marriage, and the marriage ritual was simple, with no transfer of wealth or power as in a dowry system. Because women did not leave their homes, they and their children had no loss of power or status. Legitimacy, which was the main concern in the rest of India, was relatively unimportant. Females had high visibility, indeed were indispensable. The trauma of widowhood was avoided (Gulati, Ramalingam, and Gulati 1996, 4). A female, from the moment of her birth, was “perceived as the (potential) purveyor of prosperity, fertility, and good fortune. The female is an auspicious category” (de Tourreil 1995, 17).”

The below extract is true for all Hindu families, not especially Kerala ones, as far as I know. However, it is important to highlight it since it is a luxury the West does not have. And we never appreciate it fully enough ourselves.

Shakunthala’s daughter, Gigi, married at twenty-two, later than women in other parts of India, and returned home to her mother when she was five months pregnant with her first child. When I told her that this would be unusual in the United States, she was very concerned: “Who will give the girl and baby the massages?” In their ayurvedic system, birth is an event that holds great possibility for healing and also for poor health. They believe that with proper care, any existing condition can be cured. Before birth and for forty-one days following, the women of the family provide the mother and baby special massages and diet. Wealth as well as healing and natal care continues in the matrilineal line.

On the inclusive nature of the festivities:

“ On Pongala day, not only every street but every courtyard is filled with women. It is auspicious to live near the temple because Pongala brings prosperity. In return for this advantage, each family, including Christian and Moslem ones, invites women to cook Pongala in their courtyard. It is a blessing to be able to receive the women in the name of the Goddess Bhagavati and good luck for the occupants of the house. Every courtesy is extended to the women–both those who have been invited and those who just show up.

On what it means for this lady to be at this festival and how it is significant for her society, the Western one.

“The journalist continues, “The way it is generally perceived here is that in the West you don’t value your family. Given that background, does Pongala seem relevant? Because here too, we are changing.

I answer, trying to be truthful and trying to make a bridge:

Yes, we care about our families and what is happening to them. I think that is why women in the United States are looking at spiritual traditions and practices. Some women are looking into their own traditions, but some of us are looking to older religions, religions that have the concept of a deity as a mother. We don’t have that concept in the West; we don’t have the concept of the Divine Feminine. Many women in the West are trying to find rituals and ways to help reconstruct and revision our families and our society.

… You still massage your babies and pregnant mothers, and we have forgotten that need. You still go to the snake groves to ask for children and are content if you only have two and both are girls. Christians, Moslems, and Hindus from all communities come together to do Pongala for the Goddess, united in their wishes for healthy and happy families. When I have shown films of Pongala to women in the West, they are inspired.

… “Because here, too, we are changing”; the words of the reporter repeat in my mind. I am profoundly disturbed by the changes because they remind me of what I believe we have lost in the West and the consequences of that loss. As Hema says, “We are trying to change like you at the same time you are trying to find out about us.

On the unselfish nature of the wishes that the devotees ask of their Devi while doing the Pongala as also the spirit of sharing that this festival is infused with.

As a researcher, I have been asking women what they ask Bhagavati for. Many respond, “I asked for the health and well-being of my family.” The vegetable seller asks that her family never goes hungry. Asha asks for a job. Shreemadi asks that her granddaughter do well on her school tests. Tara asked for a good husband.

When you go to the Pongala you try to share everything there. There is nothing that belongs to you exclusively. So you don’t try to exclusively appropriate something that belongs to you and not share it with another person. If you did, then you would be immediately given a sign of it before you reach home.” “What kind of sign?” I asked. “Some small disaster that you wouldn’t forget. People don’t cheat. They don’t steal. If they would take something, then double that would be taken away. The women stay there without quarreling until they reach home.

And finally, a gesture from our menfolk that is at once simple and celebratory and at the same time reinforces my idea that most of our men still consider the feminine as divine.

“The men begin to come back. When the helicopters do not arrive to shower the departing women with flowers, the men take buckets of petals and, standing on top of the walls, do it themselves. I am astonished. This is why I come here.”

As a woman, this simple and uncomplicated celebration of womanhood is exhilarating. Which woman does not want to be showered with petals! Unrelated men just celebrating the earth that you are trodding on because you are considered divineI can’t imagine a woman not being moved by that gesture.

The full paper can be found here.


I have only this to conclude with. To my women counterparts I say, let us not demonize our men so much that they eventually start being the demonic beings from the foreign/media projections that are made on them. Understand the evolution of our society. It is different from the trajectory of the West. Appreciate that difference and by all means change and evolve. But do it with a civilizational lens that is compatible with ours. Don’t use the lens of the West to analyze, dissect and deconstruct our culture. It is only bound to fail.

To the men: I have to say, we are proud to be complementary beings to you. You have a culture of looking upon us as the divine. Do not lose that reverence in the noise that is generated today. It is the one thing that has kept the women of Bharata desam safer than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. At the same time, in keeping with the changed times, do your best to encourage the woman to achieve her potential in whatever it is that she may choose to do. Be the supporter, the care giver, the baby sitter when the need arises. It will only make the relationship more harmonious.

Post Script: For those whose curiosity is piqued, the festival calendar for Attukal Pongala this year is between 15 Feb and 24 Feb. The Pongala itself therefore falls on 23 Jan. Do join and celebrate the divine woman.


[i] http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-annual-gathering-of-women/

[ii] http://www.dailypioneer.com/nation/millions-of-women-offer-pongala.html


[iv] http://www.attukaldevi.com/pl/attukal-devi-history.htm

[v] http://www.attukaldevi.com/pl/story-kannagi.htm

[vi] http://attukalpongala.blogspot.in/

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Announcement: Tamizh Cultural Portal


As Sankaranthi winds down, here’s the surprise announcement we mentioned in our greeting. Many of you following ACP on twitter probably already saw, but one of the sharpest minds (and wits) in the dharma blogosphere has just launched our first sister site:

Tamizh Cultural Portal

The Network, Interface, and Database for the Serious Tamizh person.

TCP marks an important milestone as it provides India’s southernmost state, the wonderful people of Tamil Nadu, a chance to enjoy their own culture as well, while appreciating the Integral Unity they share with other parts of Bharatavarsha.

Our Tamizh brothers and sisters are more than welcome to continue reading and participating at ICP. But we encourge all of you, Tamizh and non-Tamizh, to check out this site, and not only learn about another region, but encourage cross-pollination as well.

 Happy Makara Sankaranthi/Magh Bihu/Lohri…and especially, Happy Pongal!

ACP Logo4ICP Logo1tamizhportal

[Reprint Post] Problem of Indians: Unrepentant Stupidity

A version of this Post was published on Andhra Cultural Portal on June 26, 2014

At first glance, many of you may be taken aback by such a damning, and some would even say, questionable, assertion.

After all, aren’t Indians known for their intelligence? Aren’t we famous in the US as Silicon Valley “tech geniuses” and medical wizards? Aren’t many of us scoring off the IQ charts? Don’t we win Geography and Spelling Bees?

But the reality is there are many types of intelligence–even animals and robots now have some degree of intelligence and some types of intelligence. Nevertheless, the single most important type of material intelligence is strategic intelligence: raw ability to understand what happened, why it’s happening, and what one should do. And it is here that Indians (at least modern ones), fail miserably.

This, of course, is not the first time we have critiqued Indians (and as usual, Andhras represent exaggerated versions of both the best and worst qualities). We previously evaluated whether we were a Serious People, and then whether we were Talkers or Doers, but the reality is, the core problem of Indians is Unrepentant Stupidity. In this post, I will evaluate precisely why this is the case.

The prime reason for this disconnect is that mere acquisition of knowledge has become wisdom and accomplishment for our people. It’s as if this alone has become a substitute for actually doing. Winning all these math competitions or becoming exam toppers and getting into some “School from Phoreign” is akin to a monkey or poodle performing a trick on command. That is the problem with our parents today: Instead of raising wise men and women, they are raising poodles that they can showcase to make their frenemies jealous–all while their enemies plot against them and their civilization.

But the end goal of education is not a poodle. Rather, as a certain former resident of Anantapur district said, “The end goal of education is character”. What we choose to or choose not to do in this world. The knowledge that we gain is ultimately lost—all that echoes in eternity is our action.

Thus, thought without righteous action is not character, but our stupidity is so great, we don’t realize this.

Our stupidity is so great we talk more than we think, and we think the mere reading of a book or copying and pasting from an article is the attainment of knowledge. We think knowledge means intelligence, and intelligence is wisdom.

Our stupidity is so great facts can stare us in the face time and again and we’ll still fall back to emotional reaction  rather than an educated basis for argument and problem solving. Rather than reevaluating our previous views, in irrational prickliness, we hold onto them even stronger and without providing logical reason– as though letting go of an obsolete/invalid view would somehow undercut our fashionability or negate all our previous posturing.

Our stupidity is so great we think our friends are our enemies and our enemies are our friends. We engage in fratricidal disputes to split already meager inheritances, while enemies smilingly wait to mop up the mess. We think the enemy is genuinely seeking to further our ambitions in the name of friendship, when he is merely acting with diplomacy (which is the art of letting someone else have Your way).

Our stupidity is so great, when the enemy declares exactly what he is about and what he intends to do, we think we can rely on our shopkeeper skills to negotiate our way out. We think that through some too cute by half rhetorical gymnastics, some last minute lungi dance will be enough to save our skin. But we forget that,”Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

The worst part is, Indians aren’t even apologetic, circumspect, or reflective about this ignorance. Even when the stupidity has been diagnosed and confirmed, they will arrogantly and petulantly declare “Are you saying I am moron (sic)?!”, “Who do you think you are?”, “Yes, that is how we do it!“.

Where does this undeserving entitlement come from??? Why this stubborn unrepentance?? Many don’t even feel bad about it, but practically bask in it, or hide behind fancy degrees, as if the brand name university alone conveys competence and intelligence.

Oh yes, we may have a “wily Amar Singh” here or a “clever KCR” there, but this is the low cunning of nimrods who think they are big deal guys when in reality they are buffoons. They are called smart because they gain today by losing (or more specifically, selling out) tomorrow. People forget what ultimately happened to Amar Singh—he was used as a money man in 2009 and then disposed—ejected from the very party he helped build. And there is no reason to think the same won’t happen to KCR as CM.

The recent alliance between the TRS and MIM is emblematic of this mind-numbing stupidity. The party of Razakars which committed untold atrocities against Telangana men and women in the lead up to liberation in 1948 is not only influencing government policy, it is changing logos, and seeking to marginalize and eventually displace Telugu with Urdu.

People may say “oh well, KCR knows how to keep them on leash”, “he is running the show”, but historically speaking, the Maharajah of Mysore famously promoted Hyder Ali in the name of fighting his enemies. But what ultimately happened? Hyder Ali in time used his military position to gain power—the Maharajah ruled only in name…

Ultimately what does it matter that you have a 180 IQ, memorized the four Vedas, or are a chess grandmaster—did Chess Champion Gary Kasparov defeat Vladimir Putin or was it the other way around?

Worst of all is this Dhritarashtra approach parents take with their kids. Parents don’t have the moral courage to correct their children’s stupidity and then whine about the disastrous end product.

Parents or not, we then get outraged by the fact that someone actually tried to give us advice. Some even have reached a level of malice where they habitually teach people lessons for no reason other than their own malice. Rather than trying to teach others a lesson, teach yourself a lesson…in humility…by learning the value of “Shut up”

The Value of “Shut up”

The rapid-fire hysteria that possesses Indians when their conceits or even passing assumptions are challenged by anyone held in anything less than absolute adoration, is astonishing.

Rather than trying to hear and digest what the other party is, or at least ending with “that is my opinion” and agree to disagree, there’s an immediate and uncontrollable urge to debate to oblivion. It’s as if our greatest fears will be realized if the other side doesn’t concede and agree to exactly what we think. It doesn’t matter whether or not we ourselves have examined the view—or even studied the subject matter in depth—they have to accept—otherwise, “ZOMG!!!, our fear!!!“Broader strategic alliance is forgone for immediate but minor differences in opinion.

 Rather than spending years understanding an area—the bits and pieces of received wisdom are congealed to create a walking moron of heuristics. Instead of firmly establishing views on logic—logic is contorted to fit the view. And the frenetic, even nervous, energy is fired off in a machine gun burst of buffoonery.

If someone points this out, then our beloved Indians burst out in an inane babble of “you are saying I am moron (sic)” –well you would have to be, wouldn’t you?

 Think, adjust your views as needed, and even modify your approach to new actors and new information—this is called strategy. If you don’t do this, then yes, “you are moron”.

Unfocused babble is not the means for civilized discourse or conversation, and simply repeating the past is not a strategy for victory. Victory is not determined by who fought the bravest, or was thought to be the most knowledgeable, but by whomever defeated the strategy of his adversary. So don’t proudly say you have “no knowledge whatsoever” in an area. If you don’t, then shut up and learn. Shutting up doesn’t mean you agree. It just means that you had the good sense to shut up…and LISTEN!!!

 “What is this Shtupidity”

Stupidity amongst Indians comes in many forms. The first is the inability to distinguish between poodle showmanship on exams and real intelligence.

Recitation of pointless facts and memorization of mantra is meaningless if you can’t protect those you love and perform your duty to them. Real intelligence refers to the ability to make the logical connections necessary to determine what is needed to preserve what matters; in short, it is the ability to prioritise. What is the point of your saastric knowledge if you don’t know how to save your land and women? For a Rajput, his honor was based on safeguarding his sword, his horse, and his womenfolk–the House of Mewar safeguarded all three. So if you call yourself a real man, remember that a real man is not determined by how many women he”scored with” or what his bank balance is, but by his will to stand up to fight for what he believes in and protect those for whom he is responsible.

Stupidity, on the other hand, misses the woods for the trees. It focuses on irrelevant minutiae, ignoring the broader patterns and strokes. In the process, it forgets right from wrong, and necessity from nice-to-have–thereby putting all at risk, in the name of its recalcitrance and false ego.

Stupidity also extends to foolhardiness. After all, it is not for nothing that they say that discretion is the better part of valour, and that there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity. It is also no coincidence that Odysseus survived the Trojan War and rescued his wife, and Achilles did not. Getting worked up into a fit of hyper-emotionalism due to some stupid movie that became fashionable (despite how it easily collapses under the scrutiny of logic) accomplishes nothing. Even worse is watching openly stupid, nonsensical movies that rot our brains (sorry Khiladi bhai, I’m a long-time fan, but you have so much more potential than this).

But the single-worst form of stupidity that plagues Indians today  is pointless malice and baseless jealousy, resulting in infighting. Andhras appears to have cornered the market here too, with the recent fight to split their state. In fact, it is often said that Maharishi Viswamitra cursed his 100 sons (who became the Andhras) to suffer from fratricidal infighting…sadly, it appears the tradition continues…If you take one thing from this article, hell, even the entire blog, it’s to stop picking avoidable fights with members of your own team.

You don’t have to agree with everything they say, or can even respectfully debate with them, but for God’s sake, stop airing out such disputes publicly and tearing down someone you feel is eclipsing you. If they are older, learn from them; if they are the same age as you, admire them and compete with them (in a friendly fashion that doesn’t tear them down), or team up with them (if you can’t beat them, join them);and if they are younger than you, advise or encourage them. And if you absolutely 100% can’t get along with them, ignore them. It’s not hard guys. Indians have enough enemies, we don’t need more egotistical Jaichand’s who destroy the cause due to their own ambition and ahankar.

 Indians could perhaps be forgiven for their gullibility, which time and again has been their undoing. After all, a civilization that posits truth above all, can’t be entirely faulted for believing others will keep their word or represent themselves truthfully. But what cannot be forgiven is refusing to learn from history. Time and again, the stubborn refusal to remember the lessons of the past, comes back to bite them. It’s as if Indians bask in this apoplectic amnesia. “Bhool Ja!”. But that’s not a recipe for serious people, that’s a recipe for drunks…

For those of you who want to play “secular” with the mim

And for God’s sake, enough with this cine-obsession! Truly obsessed. Why do you care so much about who said what about your favourite star? Are they real life heroes who will beat up anti-nationals when they come after you? Chances are that when things get rough, they will be the first to relocate to Singapore, London, or Toronto. Same goes for politicians. After all, we all know who was partying at a farmhouse when Mumbai was under attack.

The origin of this stupidity however is the inability to focus. When the monkey mind is unrestrained, and hyper-actively driven to swing from mental vine to mental vine, it’s time to learn how to focus. In fact, Swami Vivekananda himself stated that the ability to concentrate is greater than actual knowledge. This is because the ability to focus in a disciplined fashion allows us to not only absorb knowledge, but also process it faster and better.

How to Stop being Stupid

Before we begin, please give yourself a firm slap across the face, so that you will remember the need to stop being stupid.  You’ll never remember the lesson if you don’t chastise yourself for prior stupidity.

The first step for Indians to come out of their mess (to some degree self-inflicted) is to self-diagnose this stupidity and accept it.

The cure is to follow a prescription of consistent and continuing doses of our Culture. Culture—real culture, not the chest-thumping, hot air gassing “kulchhar” of buffoons—will open our eyes, discipline us, and teach us about ourselves and our history.

Why is this important? If we don’t know what happened, we don’t know where we’re from. And if we don’t know where we’re from, we don’t know where we’re going. And to do nothing about it?—well folks, that’s effectively the definition of stupidity.

Second, as explained above, learn the value of “Shut up”.

Just read the comments of an R.Sowiyal and associates in this article. Instead of engaging with the wisdom of what the writer is communicating, the bozos are referencing– in a fit of irrational sentiment–irrelevant filmy songs that have nothing to do with anything. Rather than analyzing what is being said, a continuous bout of verbal diarrhea is projected. Thus, to counter this stupidity, Indians first need to know the value of shutting up (no one does this better than the Chinese). It is not for nothing that there is a saying “Better to be thought a fool and keep silent, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”. Indians are experts at removing all doubt. They need to know the value of shutting up—and where and when to do this.

What’s more, even our most celebrated strategists routinely miss severe dangers—off fighting the battles that they want to rather than the ones they need to. When this devastating propaganda campaign was launched, not one of India’s major strategists organized an immediate counter in Indian and International newspapers. It took many days for a lame-duck NSA to make a mild, half-heated rebuttal that barely scratched the surface. It fell to a naturalized Indian citizen of European background to point out the ramifications of this—not only on international perceptions but domestic perceptions as well. Thus, if Indians ever want to rid themselves of this perception of being children (yes, it’s there…) they need to first slap themselves across the face, stop being stupid, and start being serious. This means knowing when to shut up–and when not to shut up. This also leads to the third point.

Third, understand how to analyze the world and current events. Merely running around like a chicken with its head cut off won’t solve the problems of the state, country, or civilization. You have to act, but also act wisely. This means not operating on the basis of assumptions, but on the basis of reality. Understand what happened, why it’s happening, how it will affect you/your people, and think of what to do. This comes not only from studying history, but from studying our classics, like the Arthashastra and Hitopadesa. Even Sanskrit plays like Mudrarakshasa can help us better understand the interaction between countries and the games played by their leaders.

Fourth: DO!!! My God, sometimes I honestly wonder if we aren’t the laziest people in the world when it comes to doing what matters. Oh sure, they will run like the wind if there’s food, money or some other immediate incentive involved, but ask for strategic action–or even a contribution to those engaging in efforts for the public good, and a strange antipathy develops in Indians. It’s as if anyone who asks for even a modicum of help, is somehow being bossy and overbearing. The smallest request becomes an Herculean, even Sisyphean labor that immediately renders them in a state of suspended animation. Remember that being part of a society, especially a republic, means that each individual has a duty to do, and good conduct  is premised on this.

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Fifth, don’t just do your duty–do it properly! Of late it has become fashionable for people say that one should only be concerned about duty and not be concerned about the outcome. They even misquote Sri Krishna on this, saying this comes from him, and completely misinterpret the Mahabharata and Dharma. But this is nonsense (half our problems come from half-wits misquoting our scriptures—even to support AAP…further emphasizing stupidity as the problem of Indians) . Krishna says

Phalesu, or phalam is not outcome, but fruit. Thus, while we should be concerned about  the outcome, we should not be concerned about the reward or benefits or fruits from this performance of duty. Merely mechanically doing one’s duty without aiming for victory is no way to protect Dharma. We should be concerned about this outcome (and ensure its harmony with Dharma), but if we, or even society, do not enjoy the fruits or even attain this victory, that is another matter. It is similar to studying for an exam. You have an obligation to study as best you can and hope for a good result–but your motivation should not be the new car your parents will buy if you get an “A”. Just as elders say, “if you did your best, that is all that matters”, so to should we think “I worked for the best outcome, but God will determine it and whether I receive fruits from it”…

Conclusions on Stupidity

So dear reader, understand that the best correction for stupidity is action, because stupidity doesn’t like Action, it prefers Reaction, because rather than strategizing, it is used to navel-gazing. Simply reading, talking, tweeting will accomplish nothing.

 When W.Bengal is in flames, when riots are taking place from UP to Hyderabad (not to mention from Kashmir to Kanyakumari), when entire states are being undemocratically divided, and water supplies dwindling, it is time to wake the hell up and do something constructive that will change things for the better. To sit and watch as your civilization fragments due to loss of culture, loss of ethics, and a myriad of threats is not only stupidity, it is downright treachery. It is not the time to Padutha Theeyaga, but the time to act, for this is the price of lazy pleasures and brainless inaction and these are the type of dangers that lay ahead.

It is almost trite now to say Vinasha kale vipareetha buddhi, but what else can explain such unrepentant, even congenital stupidity?

No, my brothers and sisters in Dharma. No more. Enough of this thoughtless addling through life. It is time to wake up and reclaim your birthright with seriousness and strategy.

It is time to rise and break the shackles of helpless torpor. It is time to shake the gutless, knock sense into the brainless, punish the treacherous, and inspire the fearless.