Wednesday, November 2, 2016

When memories ran amok...

"Don't dwell on the past, live in the present." this preachy line, we frequently  get to hear these days on media by new age gurus. But often, I find myself questioning the above ....and my mind starts debating on that.

The arguments vacillate in support 'of' and 'against' the above statement.  Sometimes, I  think we are the products of our past and therin lies our foundation. Sometimes, I feel the unwanted baggage can hinder our life. Sometimes, I think,  Isn't introspection   the key to awareness? many such thoughts debate on my mind but finally the argument  for the support of nostalgia wins...... And Pray,  tell can I not dwell on  my past  when i have made wonderful, unforgettable memories .... .and so I say,

Old is gold!..nostalgia is empowering!!....Old music is unbeatable !!!,.... heritage buildings are classic!!! ......dejavu is rejuvenating!!!

A song, fragrance, a building, a name, so many such things can evoke memories of loved ones separated by death or distance that the hours one spends thinking about such things suspends the present and one travels back to the past.

Mylapore,  a part of chennai town is one such place which strikes a chord and sends me on nostalgia lane. The very mention of that place name releases from me a lifetime of personal memories. 

During my recent trip, a visit to this place  turned me misty eyed with happiness. I made a visit to this place after some 16 years. 14 years back I visited the Kapali temple  alone which is the soul  of Mylapore, but this time, i went around the mada street, my grand parents home ( sold 17 years back), my mom and aunt's typewriting &shorthand class home, Veena class home( all were taught in homes only). The class cum home still stand hoarding the board. The bank next door, their family jewellers, Srividya manjal shop, the florist shop, appalam kadai, Aavin, Rasi silk store where I still remember my mami asking for the "manjalla yellow border kaatunga"( Show me the yellow with yellow border saree)  and how we cousins were laughing at her and she was looking askance at the salesman and us, not knowing why we were laughing. She did'nt realize she said manjal which in tamil means yellow.Every incident and memory that came alive during this visit felt like it happened just recently. 

 The maadi tailor who used to often get a good dose of scoldings from my aunt for not stitching on time. The pooja and garland store near kapali kovil where we deposited our chappals before the visit, the fights we cousins had at home with elders since we didnt want to accompany the elders to the temple,  Matthala narayanan street sweet stall,where we were sent to get the hot kaara sev snacks, The Bharatiya vidya bhavan where I was refused admission for 6 months, The kumaran school ( no more exists)..opposite Hindu chit fund where I studied for 6 months during my sister's birth., Karpagambal mess, kalathi shop, vijaya stores and ofcourse the Kapali kovil, Mundakanniamman koil .....Except for a few facelifts in the interior of these temples, the place looked frozen in time. . There are signs of decay on some buildings which only heightens the perception of continuity with the passing of time and lends an aura of heritage. Some buildings ofcourse have buckled to lifestyle changes and sport trendy looks. But all those glamour and sheen of the new buildings fade in front of the mildewed heritage stores and shops. 
 With the timing of my visit, I could tick off one more of my bucket list wish. It was on my wish list  to shop for the golu dolls after navaratri around the mada street( around the foot path of the temple) . These are temporary road stalls pitched only during navarathri selling clay dolls. With the golu over, the traditional dolls are sold at lesser rates. A win-win situation where the customer gets at cheap rates and the seller does'nt have to store the clay dolls till the next navaratri. 

Overall  a visit, where my emotional batteries were recharged.

Some pictures from the visit...

sannidhi street housing shops for traditional arts, crafts and weaves and on this lane lies oneof the famous Bharatnatyam dress needs shop which has  dance customers from all over the world.

 Gopura darisanam kodi punyam goes a tamil saying..meaning seeing a temple tower is equal to a crore good deeds. 
                           The ganesh temple as you enter kapali kovil
                                    Many childhood memories buried underneath the flooring of that pandal and that Rasi silks and Giri trading our regular shops..
                                     The flower shops enroute which doubles as free chappal depositary for mami and always the florist would ask mami "Nalla irukkenga akka?" ( are you fine, sister?)

                                 The make shift clay dolls sold during navaratri on the mada streets( the 4 streets around the temple)

Straight and left would take to my mom's school the famous "Lady sivasami aiyar girls high school", kalathi news paper mart famous for rose milk and which has appeared in many travel shows, karpagambal mess, mami kadai...all famous old time shops and mess on this street.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The journey in pictures......

From Karaikudi to Thanjavur to Tiruvaiyaru to Trichy to Chennai....the trip was mostly another temple trail and this time although we visited unique temples again, they were our regular temples except one. The temple visits were more of prayers of gratitude to acknowledge the positives in our life and for the strength, grace and power of god behind every negative or challenge we faced.

 Prayers of gratitude, I   cannot  express here  but the sceneries  of country side during the journey were also of spiritual solace, tried to click a few from a running vehicle.

While most of the journey was thorough NH( excellent toll roads), SH were bumpy, "Under repair", "Men at work" roads,  and since it was in the night, the  headlights of oncoming vehicles were blinding and slightly dangerous if one is not alert.

 But the journey from Tiruvaiyaru to Trichy on Village roads were a sensory feast. We travelled on narrow roads flanked with channels of Cauvery and Coleroon( kollidam) and there were many more little rivulets like kodamurutti ( Tiruvaiyaru means land of 5 rivers all tributaries of Cauvery)...although not in full glory, it was lovely to see water in the rivers and at Grand anicut.

 Little shrines  on the river banks, irrigated lands,lotus and lily laden ponds, traditional thinnai homes,  dung plastered huts, coconuts dried on the road ( for making copra and oil), daily village scenes.... It was very humbling to see such simple life with less comforts  compared to the city life we lead. 

What lovely sights all along!! 


Monday, October 31, 2016

The antique market of Karaikudi

Huge and bulky  wooden doorways, Solid wooden pillars with chiselled bases, stone pillars with wooden carved bases, Burmese Teak  pigeon holed almirahs with safe, Japanese tiled wooden seaters, wooden swings, easy chairs,  brass kitchen utensils, imported porcelain cook ware of yore, silver ware, old Tanjore and Ravi varma paintings, sepia toned family photos,  Japanese tiles, door knobs, Belgium mirrors and so many more from small horlicks bottle to major items like printing machine , which adorned the Chettinad homes many years ago find their way to the  antique market of Karaikudi, making itone of the largest antique market of the world.

Unable to maintain the rich mansions, the inheritors of many such mansions sell their property and their heirlooms to antique dealers which find their way to a non-descript dingy lane which anybody could easily dismiss on first sight.  Yes, there are no boards or indicators to this market which is right behind the famous Muniswaran koil of Karaikudi. We did have a tough time locating this place although it was just 2 kms from our place of stay. But, it really baffles me how foreigners sense  such places and buy such valued objects. 

The best direction to this market that a policeman gave  was the " oorani" and I inspite of being a tamilian did not know what a Oorani was.  Oorani is the other name for water tank (pond). Oorani again is a beautiful example of town planning for this place  many years ago. Since this land is arid, the chettiyars have designed tanks to harvest rains. Such high thinking, designing  and  planning at times when globalwarming or other fancy term like sustainability was unheard of!!

Finally, we did locate the market and again i will let a few pictures speak. Some of the items like the huge burmese work table with pigeon holes to place envelopes, letters and other work related things  reminded me of my Thatha's work table. It still adorns my mama's home. The wooden almirah with japanese tile is with my cousin. The oonjal (swing) is at my mom's place. Furnitures that are so earthy, warm  so welcoming and soulful that it can remind us  of  our paati thatha's home. 

In this whole trip, i did'nt manage much decent pictures as i was more in awe  and soaking the ambience, these pictures below don't do justice, they are just  like the tip of an iceberg.

                                           An old phone, One of the furntiture dealer took us to his warehouse some 2kms away from this market, they have much more stored in warehouses.
                    brass antiques, old paintings of Tanjore and Ravivarma
                                               A printing machine
                              That gramo phone still works....what else can you spot?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The handcrafted Athangudi tiles

Athangudi tiles are handcrafted tiles with earthy base colors. They come in exquisite designs and  are the highlight of chettinad culture. These tiles are one of a kind and are named after this small village Athangudi  where they are made. 

Made on  a square of glass as base( which is removed later), with colored oxide solution, these tiles are a work of art. It had been on my bucket list in recent times, ever since i saw a video on social media talking about the crafts extinction due to its low production and high pricing (40 rs/ tile when bought in bulk)  compared to the tiles that were mass produced. 

 So, My next stop after the Athangudi mansion was the cottage industry where these tiles were made.

After a brief stop over at the carpenters antique warehouse, we drove on the same lane to Ganapathy tile house which  was recommended by a person near the mansion. It was noon by now and the sun was scorching over head. when we entered into Ganpathy tile cottage industry. On one side was the asbestos sheeted storehouse of tiles & office and the other side was the tile making workshop with its raw materials stored. 

The moment we were close to the workshop, we were welcomed by a smiling couple. Without any prompting or asking for, he started demonstrating the making of tile,one design after the other and patiently answered all our questions. He even asked my daughter and son to make a tile. 

 The dexterity and agility with which his hands moved showed his expertise in the craft. That was Muthuraman who has been involved in the making for more than 35 years. Having started as a helper, between him and his wife, they churn out 200 tiles per day all handcrafted with no machines whatsoever involved. When asked if working with  bare hands on materials like Cement and oxides  did not affect his hands , he said during rainy season they do get blisters but they go on with their work.

A few years back this was a dying industry but now Muthuraman tells there are more than 120 tile making units in Athangudi now and there is more demand for this tiles than before.  They even export these to foreign countries now. A stack of packaged tiles were stored in the godown to be shipped to  Iran.

These tiles are durable and  it gains more sheen with passage of time and maintenance is also low in that,  all one needs is to rub the floor maybe couple of times in a year with coconut oil. Muthuraman suggested tying   coconut gratings in a muslin cloth  and rubbing over the tiles. More  about the tiles  through the pictures and video

                                                  The raw materials used cement

The raw materials used in the making Cement, sand and the solution of red oxide, blue oxide etc.,. These solutions are a mixture of the colored oxides, kola maavu( rangoli powder), white cement and water The base colors are 6, the above 4 colors, green and black. And from these 6 colors another 6 colors are built. So totally  athangudi tiles can have 12 colors.

                             The tools are designed metal stencils, frames and a glass sheet of tile size

Muthuraman at work

The tiles curing in water for 8-10 days with the glass, after which the glass finally slips out leaving the glossy tile alone. These tiles are not baked so do not require any fire, power or fuel. 


The cured tiles are then laid out in a room over a layer of husk where the husk absorbs the moisture and the tiles shine when the husk releases its oil.Each of them have a name based on the design or where it is much in demand. for instance the above black and white is called Lanka and a blue tile with white pattern in corner is called "Bangalore" since it is more in demand in Bangalore.

Below a video of the Athangudi tile  making.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The magnificient and rich Athangudi mansion

Alert : A  long photo post.

After bypassing interesting indicators like Chettinad mansion, Visalam ( mansions converted into boutique hotels) we were on our way to Athangudi to see the making of Athangudi tiles.

We got into the lane that had many boards of  Athangudi tile making....we drove past them not knowing which one to stop by....but finally the husband's eyes fell on an antique wood shop selling furniture. When we entered the  bylane to enquire about the furniture display, the person said it will take a while for the person to come and we could go around the "Athangudi periya veedu" ( Big Mansion) meanwhile pointing to a house exactly to whose side we stood.

The entrance was on the main road. Till then I did'nt realize we crossed past a mansion called 'Periya veedu' of Athangudi...yes, the exteriors of the building looked so worn out and the elevation was like any other house that I saw in the region .  I did'nt realize that  it is the celebrated Athangudi mansion which has acted in many Bollywood and Kollywood movies. 

We then paid an entry fee of 50 per head to the house keeper and when once past the steps of the entrance, the magnificience and splendour unfolded door after door. After a tour of the house, I came out with neck pain and jaw pain....yes folks, such a beautiful mansion, so well maintained interiors with lovely ceilings and artistic walls that I was open mouthed through out and craning my neck to see the high ceilinged mansion. My co-visitors at the place were foreigners who were all along looking awestruck every place, they said "beautiful" and clicked pictures even of the "attukal" and " ammikal" ( traditional stone grinders) in the kitchen side. 

Athangudi mansion like the rest of the 11,000 mansions in this region was built with materials sourced from South east Asia and other european countries where the chettiars went for occupation. The house is built with Italian marbles, Japanese tiles, Belgium mirrors, Burma teak columns and ceilings and the walls which were built in 1929 have remain untouched ( not even painted). The buildings are built with native architectural science and vastu shastra which is more about allowing light and air inside the house. The walls were built with bricks and  lime stone mixture ( santhu kalavai)  This mixture is made of limestone powder, kadukkai podi ( gall nut or haritiki in hindi), egg's white  ( such satin finish on the walls). and karupatti ( palm jaggery)  and a little padaneer( unfermented palm tree sap),  Such constructions provide strength and longevity to the building and these mansions are testimony to that. Here i must also mention that i had written long back how my husband's grandparents home in Lalgudi was also built with such mixture on walls. Instead of egg shells, sea shells were used for the sheen.

Rest, I will leave unworded...this will be a photo post from here on,I am not even collaging the pictures, it will rob the beauty of the place and would prefer if you clicked on  the pics to feel the grandeur. I have sequenced it the way i saw the house from entrance to exit

 The  main entrance door from the narrow  road

                             The lobby between the  path leading from entrance  to the steps of thinnai called "Mogappu"
 The long thinnai (seating area)  on either  sides ( left and right below

                          The man who built the house in 1929...such a simple man but such grand taste

 The belgium mirror and japanese tile encrusted Burma teak door leads to the huge living room below

                                The wooden engraved ceiling above and the Italian  tiled chess board patterned flooring below. The gold enamel paint over the wood has never been retouched and the gloss and sheen is of the original paint.
From this room the below door leads to another huge hall

around which rooms are built and the high ceiling is roof to  the second floor too

these pillared corridors on first floor have succh beautiful ceilings where japanese tiles are framed

and the windows have beautiful paintings from Indian mythology

                    The engraved details on the pillars holding the ceiling
                                                   a close up of the japanese tiles

and the above room leads to a place with open courtyard around which again more rooms are built..Apart from sunlight and air, when it rains, the place is designed for harvesting water

one of the passage from the above room leads to this huge dining hall...notice the famous chettinad stained glass windows below and don't miss the gloss of the walls due to egg whites.

 One of my favorites in this mansion is the native wooden rafter roofing of the dining hall.  The slats sit snugly on the rafter grooves like a jigsaw puzzle. The symmetry, design and precision ...what amazing native architectural skill!!

                        A side door from the dining hall leads to an open path way which has a corridor like below
                        The grinding stones are placed to the left side while the right side is the kitchen...
                   As I exit, i realized the house extends even beyond the car on the right side..the servant quarter etc.  Glad i saw this house because the rest of the celebrated mansions like Kanadakuthan mansion requires permission from the owner mutthiah chettiar, the chettinad mansion has been converted into a boutique hotel and the Karaikudi mansion ( aayiram jannal veedu" has occupantsand so we have no free access.

The caretaker of this mansion said, this house now belongs to four families and they are now scattered all around and they come here for weddings and other functions. Most of the rooms are locked and the house is maintained with the entrance fee collected. It indeed is an white elephant to maintain such property.