Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poompuhar - India's lost Atlantis

Some years ago, If anybody  asked me about an ancient land swallowed by the sea only the  mythical Atlantis would be the answer.  I can remember this well because I’ve played the  computer animated  game through out one whole night to finish the many levels at one stretch. But this was until I heard about Poompuhar.

In reality there is an ancient Atlantis in our own backyard  by name Poompuhar which I was unaware of till I visited it on a December  afternoon  some years ago. Yup,  I am dusting out  another travel tale from my past with an alert that this is a history post. But,  I would appreciate  if you read this till the end.

300 kms south of Chennai in Nagapattinam district is Poom puhar a major  port city which is said to have played a significant role in the maritime history of India. This city was swallowed by a 400 feet tidal wave some 2000 years ago. Now an extension of this city still exists in the form a sleepy fishing village.

This is also the place where the  River Kaveri which originated in Talacauvery travels 700 kms and  joins  the bay and hence the name puhar meaning estuary in tamil. ( also called Kaveri puhum pattinam)

This fishing village was once the  capital city of the famous Chola kings. It was rich in maritime trade and the kingdom had trade with Romans and Greeks.  This ancient port is recognized in the travelogues of  Greek Geographer Ptolemy, Pliny and in Buddha jataka tales.

Apart from the above, many historical literature  are  replete with mention of this city. Some of them are pali literature, temple inscriptions, tamil epics Cilapadikaram.  All these texts describe that this kingdom was once rich in international trade and the kingdom had trade with Romans, Greeks ,China and Thailand. It had huge fleet of ships.

The chola kings like Karikala cholan, Manuneethi chola   ruled the city with pride and embellished it in various ways. It was supposed to have been a well planned city , peace reigned, art and culture flourished . The planned city was divided into two well marked divisions where on one side lived the working class like the artisans, merchants, gold smiths, diamond cutters etc., and the other side live the nobles, elite citizens, rich traders and physicians. Besides they had separate quarters for foreigners with whom they had trade associations.

The city  has had well laid out gradens. It had two markets one the day market and the other the night bazaar. It had temples for Lord Shiva, Indra, Sun, Moon, Vishnu besides the Buddha stupas and Buddha vihars. The three religions practiced were Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. There were ring wells on the fringes of the city  (which are now found by the archaeologists.) and cool, shady trees were lined all along the river banks.

Most of them speak of a great festival called ‘Indra Vizha’ devoted to Lord Indra. Pongal is also said to have originated in this age and place.  The text of Cilapadikaram speaks of high level of technology and planning practiced here. Sewage ran underground and new irrigation techniques were used by King Karikalachola. In his time was designed the world’s ancient dam which is still a standing testimony at Trichy. The epic also states that the houses and halls of Poompuhar were built with precious stones and that the merchants were prosperous. Luxury and grandness abounded  and art and crafts were at its peak. Traders from all over the world like Roma, Thailand, China and Greece found it such a gracious place that a whole neighbourhood of them lived there permanently.( archaeologists have found greek and roman coins here).

Based on extensive research done by Graham Hancock, A edinburgh born marine archaeologist , Poompuhar could even predate the Sumeria in Mesopotamia which is where civilization is believed to have originated 5000 years ago. According to him,The Poompuhar site was swallowed by the sea 11,000 years ago. He has found some fascinating evidence during an underwater exploration in the area in 2001 which shows that a 400 feet tidal wave at the end of the last ice age swallowed the city. Ancient tamil flood myths also speak of a great kingdom called Kumari kandam. 

Prior to Hancock’s findings, even the national institute of Oceanography, Goa has also conducted archaeological investigations. The divers have found horse shoe shaped objects, ring wells along with megalithic black and red wares, brick work structures and many more antiques dating more than 7000 years ago. – all suggesting that an ancient city of Poompuhar must have been submerged in the sea. Unfortunately due to lack of funds the research investigations were abandoned by NIO and moreover the 2004 Tsunami is said to have worsened the situation by adding sediments over the ruins which are under the water.

Further research by another geologist Glen Milne from UK has confirmed  Hancock’s views and this research threw up evidences that the submerged poompuhar was far superior than Harappan sites.

         It could well be the birth place of modern civilization say some archaeologists.

 When my elders in  Neyveli ( a place close to Poompuhar) told me about this place and we drove out of Neyveli after visiting many nearby places like picchavaram,Gangai Konda cholapuram  I expected to see the remnants of a submerged city which was once the Chola empire.   I thought walking over the city, running my fingers over the ruins and caressing the piece of history  which once was a chola empire would make me giddy headed, but  I found a sleepy fishing village with some catamarans gearing for their fishing journey. There were lot of small shops selling tender coconuts and goli soda and fanta(the locals call it color) and knick knack shops selling wares of sea shells.  There was nothing which was left there which could give me a peek into the past and speak about ancient history.  If only the ocean waves that gobbled up the city could confess …..

Of course, the  TN Governement has  tried its best to create an art gallery featuring the murals depicting the Cilappdiakaram story, the story which describes Poompuhar.  The whole area is set in a well maintained garden with designed gazebos and statues. I expected some antiques , pieces of ruins, excavations  or some tattered sails of the naval fleet but what was displayed were beautiful POP murals from the epic. 

There are some shell shaped guest house run by tamilnadu tourism which I found were not well maintained and spoilt with graffiti and dirtied  by some tourists or locals.  Such a rich piece of land which could speak enormous volumes of history is abandoned. While many countries with 200 years of history market every stone ,ruin, relic, land and exhibit it with pride , I thought I too should shout the news about the 2000 year old history  in my blog.

 Expect for the museum and shell shaped guest houses, the rest of Poompuhar is a lazy fishing village. Yes, yes  just that, a small nondescript fishing village on the east coast of Tamilnadu with fishing nets, beach sand, crabs ,shells and rocky shores(like pondicherry). 

And, of course Like the Karnataka handicrafts naming it after River Cauvery, Even Tamilnadu handircrafts  has honored this place by naming its handicraft emporium after it  and so you will find a Poompuhar, a  TN government run handicraft store in major cities. ‘Poompuhar’ meaning beautiful estuary.

Wish the  concerned people took measures to promote this place and showcase it to the world. I’ve heard there is a replica of the mythical Atlantis  created in the sea world of Dubai. Perhaps we could recreate a Poompuhar and exhibit it to the world along with history brochures for travellers visiting this place. Perhaps then people like me would know there is an Atlantis in our own backyard and pick these souvenirs to know about our heritage and history rather than pick the beach shells and go there to drink 'color' or goli soda. 

 Many such thoughts cross my mind  and i feel proud to have travelled in the same route where the traders of the past and many historical kings must have walked down. It indeed gives me a heady  feeling for a moment to know I have walked over an extended piece of ancient history and an ancient part of my culture lie beneath me.

               Location: Poompuhar is 300 kms south of Chennai in Tamilnadu's Nagapattinam district                

 11000 year old man made structure found under the sea bed of Poompuhar
The calm beach now which  once swallowed the chola port 

  The seven tiered silapdikara (tamil epic) art gallery featuring murals from the epic.  

A few more attractions depicting the chola age in the gardens around the Poompuhar beach.        

Image courtesy: Google

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tulasankramana at Talacauvery - a travel tale from my past

It took this long for me to reach here.After the break down, the company whose car we hired in Mysore arranged for a jeep for us to travel uphill to Bhagamandala. The driver had meanwhile arranged for a jeep from Madikeri. Now to Bhagamandala also called Triveni sangam- This is famous for the union of three rivers Kaveri, Sujyothi and the Kannika. Having a dip here is considered sacred by people who have faith. The significance is that the dip in the holy river will heal you of your various  miseries and sins. The water here is supposed to have healing and miraculous powers.
8kms uphill from Bhagamandala is Talacauvery (Talakaveri) – the origin of Dakshin ganga – river Kaveri. Here I must recall my first visit to this place in the oct of 89, when we planned a visit for the Tulasankramana or Kaveri sankramana. It was an all women's gang and a religious visit. My mom and her friends with their children totally numbering 15. From here, if you ascend 350 steps  leads you to the brahmagiri peak , you reach a mythological spot where a  crow is supposed to have  upturned the kamandal of Sage Agastya. There are many legends and stories  based on this and the water from the kamandal is supposed to be River Cauvery.(That shall be another post). Atop, Brahmagiri you are in for a breathtaking view of the beautiful valley and the windmills. The entire panorama looks like an airbrushed hallmark scenic greeting card. As you are in awe of the beauty spread below you, suddenly you will be clouded with a white veil for you can see nothing. It turns scary, you would’nt be able to see who’s beside you.  It is the drifting mist playing with you hide and seek of the view. There were no viewers gallery then, it must have undergone lot of changes by now.

Descending down to the Talakaveri( head of kaveri), as the name implies it is the source of the river Cauvery. This is one of the most sacred rivers in India. This place is about 1276 metres above sea level. This place also has many beautiful temples with lovely legends . But my post will focus on the  highlight of this place, Brahma kundike or Tirth kundike(Pond).

The tirth kundike which is where the water springs on a predetermined time on tula sankramana day( app. october 17th every year)
                                 The big pond and the small shrine adjoining the kundike
 Like I said, my first trip was during the Tulasankramana( mid October)  of 89. There was a mad rush at this place as this event is as good as a mini kumbh mela. The kundike is a small square about 3X3 in front of a small shrine and adjacent to this is a big tank. The pundits were sitting on either side of the square kundike and performing puja to the water. The water was red due to the vermillion(kunkum) used in the puja and at around the predetermined time of 4.30, suddenly from nowhere there were many small water springs bubbling forth in the small kundike. The red water was replaced with clear fresh water in no time by the gush of the spring. From then on, there was total cacophony among the devotees. It was a magical sight which I still re-run in my memory, visualize and can’t get over. It never occurred to me then as a teenager, i was angry at the jostling crowd and was very bitter.That day, i told myself i would never ever visit an unorganized crowded place like this.  But now,  I realize  this is  just what the crowd was waiting for and millions of lives down South are reliant on. For this mini fountains roll down, broadens, cascades and floods over plains and hills and joins many tributaries and is the lifeline of Karnataka and  flows into the neighbouring Tamilnadu where too she is the lifeline. She also carves many beautiful riverine Islands, promotes leisure giving raise to many picnic spots, water falls, dams,festivals etc., and she is the reason for the world's ancient engineering marvel and the world's first hydroelectric project.  If not  for her, the whole of Thanjavur region which is hailed as the granary of South India would have been a barren dry land.
She is called the 'Jeevanadhi' , who throws open an entire civilization, many lifestyles and is the source for many lives ,culture, beliefs and tradition. There are many legends associated with this river and prominent among them is the Coorgi styling of draping saree. I’m not very sure about this story. However, it is said the gushing water moved the pleats of the Kodava women’s sari to the back and hence the pleats are not in the front as the regular Indian sari in Coorgi style.
                                         coorgi women draped in a saree , coorgi style 
It is amazing how a small spring flows 700 kms across two states and becomes the lifeline of many people  and has been a muse for poets and artists and inspires a government run handicraft store to be named after her.  No wonder, she is revered down south like the Ganga.
My next post on an ancient city swallowed by the sea.  Would you care to name the city?
Images courtesy: Google

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

373 years and counting.......

                                                        Happy Birthday Madras!! (Aug 22)

An Historical city which has beautifully evolved over 373years deserves to be celebrated.  For those of you in Madras aka Chennai,  there are beautiful events lined up. Most of you must be busy with your routine work. Break the routine  and see if you can priortize  Madras day events here and know about the city you live. ( and if possible, share the happenings   with  me:)

For me, i will spend my day recalling those beautiful moments this city has given me by reading these posts for anything i add will be a repeat of  these posts..Madras memories part 1,Madras memories part 2 and My Paradise Mylapore.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adding dignity and grace to old age

We had a gardener couple working in our condominium. They were senior citizens who went about their work diligently. Recently, the maintenance was outsourced to a different company and so many changes took place. Many  inefficient employees were sacked off and new ones were recruited. The old couple also fell victim to this trade off. As always, the complex which has many people with different views started pouring their thoughts on our community portal.  Some felt that though old they were the only people who worked  sincerely. Some felt, they were old and could not tend to the plants and could not be given hardwork like spading, turning the soil etc( this voice was unfortunately raised by senior citizens). Overall, there  was lot of communication back and forth regarding this issue on our site.

Finally, a consensus was reached, where all the residents decided to offer 25rs per flat each month.  The money thus collected could be given to the couple like a pension.
But, the self respecting poor old couple refused the amount stating that they were fit and can continue to earn a living for as long as they were productive. They had children who offered them help but they preffered to work and be independent. It is not the case with these couples alone. Many senior citizens themselves don’t want to live with their working children and prefer to be independent.  I have seen the senior citizens of my own complex whose children are settled abroad and they prefer to make short visits rather than stay there longer. The average reason is here. Infact, i had made a post about many of them here.

 Today in Indian society, the retirement age is fixed at 58 or 60. Government or non-government, nobody employs the old even if they are physically fit and can be productive.  While they are young and energetic, they enjoy the benefits of the perks their jobs offer. Some of them may be having the additional perks of a driver, orderly, helper, cook etc. With old age and retirement all these benefits are gone and moreover with most families disintegrating into nuclear families, there is no choice but for the old to be emotionally, physically and financially independent.  The irony is when one is old they are in need of all these perks and not when they are young.

According to statistics, the average life span of an Indian is 65 and thanks to medical advancement it is now common for people to live beyond 80 years.  Easily, twenty years after retirement.  With the rising inflation, they have to take care of themselves with the meager pension or with the retirement benefits for the approximate next 20 years. In case, of any medical emergency it would be a huge financial strain for them. (Insurance takes care only for major hospitalization)

Most of these elders of today’s generation are with single or two children, who are employed in most cases in some other part of the country or world. Even if they stayed in the same house, their child and their spouse would be working, what with most homes having dual incomes and the working children unable  to offer emotional support due to work pressures.  In some cases, of course they end up as parents for the second time taking care of their grandchildren. There is no proper support system to take care of them. Can’t blame the children either. It is the question of survival and they have their own occupational demands. If they don’t work who will secure their lives?

As long as the elders are physically fit and ready to work, why should the retirement age be fixed?  Moreover as long as one works, they are physically and mentally fit.  They are also occupied with no time to brood.  And for those of them, who are unable to work, there must be recreation centres. I remember my uncle telling me that a  community van comes and picks up all the senior citizen (in wood bridge, New Jersey) and they congregate at a recreation centre where the elders speak to each other and indulge in talk therapy, counselling, play bridge, read books, learn new things like networking, creative writing  etc., They have time to pursue their hobbies.  This could be a huge emotional support for these people while their children are at work. And the children can also be happy while their parents are happy, else the thought of elderly parents feeling bored at home gnaws their mind.

I think like in many advanced countries, for the issueless couples and all those who are ditched by the children or unable to be independent and feel insecure in their old age,  we should  also be open to the retirement homes concept. Where people of similar age live together and in case of a medical emergency , they don’t have to wait for their son or daughter who is away on a tour to some other corner of the world. These houses which are designed with  huge windows and come with all geriatric facilities would be convenient for these people. Every necessity like a market, recreation center, place of worship, doctor’s care are within the reach of elders.  In case, of any medical emergency, the huge windows or  alarm bell of these homes  sounds the community center and they are picked to the nearby health center in no time by the maintenance staff.

In India, retirement homes are picking up in some major cities and tier II cities, but these are mostly habitat  for NRI parents. At more affordable or subsidized rates and with basic facilities these should be accessible to most  elders and BPL families like the gardener couple. Why not the government allocate time and money and offer senior citizen concessions?  After all, we will be reaching there  after some years, won’t we? I hope  by then, the infrastructure and facilities for senior citizens  will be structured and organized.

Don't miss this 1.5 minute movie  "Ageing: Beyond old sterotypes" by United nations TV and WHO Check this movie here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bishwanath Ghosh's Tamarind city - where Modern India began

 My fast of not reading  books since long was broken by the above book  which is a first hand account on Chennai by Bishwanath Ghosh (He is also  the deputy editor of the national daily The Hindu).  I was a regular reader of his writings in the Column width of  Saturday's Metro plus pullout and could relate to most of his nostalgic stories, since we belong to the same era. His experiences,observations, travels and research on Chennai as a 11 year old resident of this city  has been chronicled in this book.
What drew me to this book was my love for this city where I was born. And like me he is a third culture Indian and so was really curious to know how a Kanpur bred Bengali and now a Chennaite of 11 years perceived the city.He has researched his subject well and visited many places around Chennai and met many people first hand to compile this book.

The author traces the history of Madras aka Chennai and find its roots in Fort St. George.  According to the book, Fort St. George is where modern India began, almost every Institution in India from the army to the judiciary, from medicine to engineering  has had its origin here.

Like every other modern institution he chronicles, even Indian railways originated in Madras in the sense that Madras Railway company was formed way back in 1845, when the first ever train ride in india, from Bombay to Thane had not even been thought of. But only the Great Indian Peninsula company set up much later beat Madras by opening the Bombay Thane line in 1853. Since the original structures of Bombay and thane stations no longer exist. Royapuram station, declared open in 1856 is today the oldest railway station in the entire subcontinent.

Not just Modern India.....

Even the seeds of Yale University  were sown by the nine bales of exquisite Indian textiles, Elihu Yale shipped from  Madras and which were then auctioned to raise the amount for the financial assistance of the University.

This traditional city which has now married technology and being dubbed as India’s Detroit was home to Robert Clive, Wellesley, Warren Hastings and ofcourse Elihu Yale.

He travels to the nooks and corners of Chennai’s two important suburbs Triplicane and Mylapore and likens them to Britain and France. And I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through these paragraphs since Mylapore is my birth place, my  playground and campsite during my  summer and Dussehra vacation(My grand parents home). Still there is more to Mylapore than what he was written but this book I know is not just about Mylapore. Like him, I too as a child have seen many foreigners awe at the Kapali Koil and camcording the history of the place and shooting the colorful exquisitely crafted temple tower. But the author has missed about the “Mylapore festival” which is one of its kind in the world or may be the kolam fest he has mentioned in the  book must be related to this.

The book  kindled so many memories of my own.The author’s father getting him toys from Moore market reminded me of my own dad getting me unique  postal stamps for my philately collection and beautiful colored fishes for our aquarium from Moore market whenever he visited Madras. This big market where you could source from a pin to a machine was destroyed in a mysterious fire accident in the mid 80's.

Every issue and crosssection of life like Social, cultural, political, religious, wellness, medical,civic has been sourced and detailed meticulously with interviews from the citizens of Madras. After reading this book, perhaps my north Indian, Andhraite and kannadiga friends may never ask me why we Tambrahms never have a surname like them and instead tag our husband or father’s name. 

The endearing part of the book was the place where the author meets the editor of his favorite childhood  magazine Chandamama to whom he had written as a nine year old boy but never got a reply from the editor then.

Patricia's story was inspiring. The woman who married a drug addict and disowned by her family. She  owned a kiosk on the shores of Marina once upon a time and now runs a big restaurant called Sandeepha and caters to the needs of many MNC’s. The shores of Marina – the world’s second longest beach(?) is indeed an inspiration for many writers, actor, poets and entrepreneursa and of course fitness freaks.

Like Murugesan street of T.nagar where the author lives, every road and street is built over history and the city bears the foot prints of historical greats whom we keep reading in our school texts. The best illustration of this is when the author says after 11 years, he found that he stays in an apartment which was built after razing an independant house called Sundar Niketan- the residence of Krishnaswamy Sundarji who later went on to become the army chief. Similarly, about the Army personnel working from the room of Robert Clive , he says their children might be reading Clive in their history texts, but would never know that their fathers worked from  the same room as Clive's.

I also found some portions of the book a drag and irrelevant especially the place where it has a detailed account on Gemini Ganesan and Saroja Devi. Films are a part of tamil culture alright, but such long chapters exclusively  on them alone does not define Madras Talkies.

 Also  the author says “ Death by fire (as in immolation) seems to be the norm in Tamil culture” – I would have contested these lines but he has immediately thereafter added particularly in the case of poor women and sometimes to display their love for their leaders like MGR etc.,. So there, not tamil culture but a cross section of people like in other cities too. It happened during Mandal commission in Delhi or any revolutionary movement like the Telangana movement.

But why no grand mention about  The rippon building, ice house, The theosophical society, Kalakshetra, Valluvar Kottam, Mahabalipuram - all these buildings and monuments would speak volumes about the madras culture. Apart from the unparalled music event in December,  It has an active Tamil and English theatre group too.

And no mention about Taramani Tidel park, Mahindra city which are part of  the neon drenched Chennai instead it is compensated with the development of Sriperumbudur and other areas like Oragadam. And there is more to Madras Cuisine than Ratna Café Sambar. The adais. idiappams, paniyarams, Keerai vadai's, thattai’s, murukkus and the signature sweet Aavin’s ‘Palkova’and the  little café kiosks which serve the frothy kaapi in davara tumbler(cup and saucer).

But this beautiful city where traditions coexist with modernity and which is also slightly ahead of its times by addressing and accepting the transgender community cannot be contained in 315 pages.

Perhaps, we can expect part 2 from him if he continues to stay there.

This book would make a gentle and light read for anybody who loves History and wants to know Chennai aka Madras history and culture.  Bishwanath ghosh calls it Tamarind city because as a kid when he travelled to this city he found many tamarind trees in the city and tamarind is an ingredient in most Tamil cuisine and his mom who stayed in Madras during her early days,  often made Tamarind rice. So,  there the tamarind connection. 

 I call this city Thoonga nagram. A city which never sleeps, even much before BPO’s came .

Incidentally, Madras( I like the colonial name) celebrates its birthday on August 22nd. For more info go here.

This  review is a part of Blogadda's book review program. Thank you Harish and Nirav Sanghavi (Blogadda team) .
                                              Tamarind city – Where modern India began
                                                       Author:  Bishwanath Ghosh 
                                                             Press: Tranquebar
                                                                     INR 295

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The power of chanting mantras

One of the drawbacks of the world morphing into a global village is the dilution of  customs, traditions and rituals.  Some like me tweak it to suit our  convenience.  Some of them do not practice them  since time is a premium, or some of us find it totally irrelevant to today’s times. Some consider traditions as mere dogmatic beliefs in today's space age.  Some rituals are not observed as in days of yore, the least we could do is know why our ancients practiced it. An attempt can be made to understand their significance if not practiced or performed. Atleast this will help the Gennext to  know about their culture in the authentic form and this is the prime reason for my culture series . One such ritual or tradition  which we hold on to is the chanting of mantras. Mantras are powerful combination of words which when recited repeatedly creates positive vibrations in our body.

The chanting of mantras was a part of our ancestors daily life. Various mantras like the Mrityunjaya mantra, shiva mantra, gayathri mantra, navagraha mantra etc  were recited by our ancestors as part of a daily life routine.  In the name of Sandhya vandanam, these mantras were chanted in rhythmic tone with ups and downs. These mantras created a resonance in the body which is now defined as the neuro linguistic effect(NLE). The effect of the Sanskrit mantras on our neurons.  This NLE is supposed to be instrumental in the production and spreading of curative chemicals in the brain which are in turn responsible for curing effect in the body. Thus mantra chanting practiced by our elders is no way a superstition it is indeed a science. Modern day doctors infact prescribe listening to mantras for BP, normalization of heart beats, and even cholesterol and adrenalin level.  These mantra chanting are practised with breathing techniks called pranayam.

The mantras  should be practiced in a soft and steady tone with the right pronounciation.  Chanting the mantras everyday is excellent and important at a particular time because like in physics, the time, space and observer are the three important factors. Similarly the time, space and the person connected with the chanting of the mantras are the three important factors for deriving the benefit of mantras. To derive full benefits of the mantra chanting , sit in a comfortable position in a calm place. The ideal timings are  the prabhata sandhya(morning twilight) and sayam sandhya( evening twilight). In these moments,  the mind vacillates between one state to another. There is no stability and the mind is confused and can slip into lethargy and generate negativity. The chanting of the mantras moves the mind to a meditative state and radiates positivity. Mantras are chanted to combat stress and for positive effects in our body.

This mantra chanting is very ideal for today’s children, the reason why many schools have adapted it now along with meditation and yoga. The various lifestyle changes  have an effect on our health.  One of the most important factor is the shrinking of pineal gland in the children. This gland is located in the geometric center of the brain( chakra). This is larger in the children and reduces in size during the time of teenage years. But due to the lifestyle changes, it undergoes calcification earlier these days at the age of 7, 8 etc.  The effect of the vibrations of these mantras help in late reduction of the pineal gland which is later taken over by parathyroid. The release of hormones by the parathyroid gland is what brings about rewiring in their behavioural patterns like  withdrawing themselves, shyness and many behavioural changes which were not part of their childhood.

These mantras are best learnt under the guidance of a guru. In certain communities,  Upanayanam or the sacred thread ceremony is performed where the child is initiated into the Gayathri mantra recitation by a guru. In olden days, this also  acted as an initiation of the child into the vedic school. This gayathri mantra is recited 108 * times by the child  because repeation of the mantra makes it more effective.

The Gayatri mantra is considered as mahamantra  and is not restricted by religion, it is  considered as the mantra of humanity. It  is defined with 24 syllabbles  corresponding to the 24 vertebrae of the spine. The backbone is what provides stability to the body, similarly the gayatri mantra brings stability to the intellect. In vedic traditions, a child is first  initiated into the highest knowledge – the gayathri mantra and only after that does he receive the other forms of education.   The chanting is disciplined in the ratio of 1:2:4:1 which is inhalation:retention:exhalation:retention.  This way this mantra coupled with pranayam increases the lung capacity and lowers the BP and heart beat to bring a soothing effect on the nervous system.  It is researched and proved that chanting the Gayatri mantra once vibrates each cell of the body 2 lakh 25 thousand times thereby boosting the blood circulation and oxygen absorption in the body.
Of course, it is important to have faith, reciting with faith will yield better results. From my personal experience, i can feel the resonance of the chanting and its effects.  Now, we have introduced this to my children too,  both my children chant the mantras with good faith.  
(*108- is a holy number as practised in chants. much before the decimal system was discovered, the counting was done by the horizontal lines on the fingers. With the thumb as indicator the 3 lines on the 4 fingers were counted to 12 and hence most chants are in multiples of 12 like that of 36, 48 ,108etc)
(Info courtesy: my yoga teacher, traditions and rituals by muthuswamy Varadarajan and The hindu symbols by Narayan)