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Friday, October 18, 2013

Excerpts from my "Short Stories for Success for Young Readers: A New Lexicon Unfolded"

D for Determination

Kamala teacher was again pleasantly surprised when, along with Brinda, a few more children too had moved to the front bench.

“Yes teacher. We decided to move forward to the front row from today onwards.”
“It is really quite encouraging to note that you chose to move forward. But let me tell you something more. Just making a choice is not going to be enough. You need to be determined about moving forward all the time. You need to be devoted to what you deeply desire to have. Do you know what the great Emperor Narasimha Pallava did?”

“The dynasty of Pallava emperors ruled the Southern States of our country during the 2nd to 9th Centuries. Mahendravarma Pallava was one of the most renowned emperors of Pallava dynasty during the 7th Century. He was greatly into arts, especially rock-cut temple architecture. Mahendravarma Pallava’s rule was marked by peace and tranquility, with no aggression, ever since he became the emperor after defeating his other enemy Pallava kings and other kings from other dynasties. His son Narasimhavarma Pallava was a great wrestler and was popularly addressed as ‘Mamallan’. Narasimhavarma was very much devoted to his father Mahendravarma Pallava. They ruled high with Kancheepuram as their Capital.

Pulikesin II of Chalukya Dynasty was another powerful king from North and ruled from Vatapi (Badami now) as Capital. He invaded the kingdom of Pallavas with the intention of capturing Kancheepuram and expanding his kingdom. Though Mahdendravarma Pallava succeeded in defending Kancheepuram, he was defeated at several places by Pulikesin and he lost substantial territory in Northern areas of his kingdom. He also died as an aftermath of the war. This led to a long conflict between Chalukyas and Pallavas.

After several years Pulikesin II once again attempted to seize the Pallava Capital, having failed in his earlier attempt. This time Narasimha Pallava was at the reigns of the Pallava kingdom and he was waiting for an opportunity to avenge his father’s defeat. During all these long years, Narasimha Pallava was carefully strengthening his army and preparing for an eventual war with Pulikesin II. He defeated Pulikesin II in several battles including the one at Manimangalam, close to Kancheepuram. He was determined to restore his kingdom’s prestige. He went after Pulikesin, invaded Vatapi and successfully defeated the Chalukya king. On his successful return, he was given the Tamil title: ‘Vatapikondan’. He also completed several unfinished rock-cut temple projects launched by his father. Today, Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, with its rock temples, stands as one of the world heritage sites.”


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"What If our Dreams Come True!" - My new forthcoming novel

Chapter 3
During the next several days, I felt as though that sadhu was trailing me everywhere. Every time he passed me at various places, he reminded me, with the same stern look, to meet him at Chithira Sabhai. ‘Why are you ignoring me?’ he seemed to be asking me.

Somehow, I was not sure whether I should go to Chithira Sabhai.
The sadhu had bulging eyes, bore a menacing look and appeared to be in trance all the time.  I was scared of him; but I was also apprehensive of leaving Courtallam. The voice in the temple had already stopped me from leaving Courtallam. For how long do I need to stay on here? I knew no one in the town and could consult none. The one rupee coin that I had when I reached this place was still there safely in my pocket. I idled my days and avoided going to Chithira Sabhai.

I learnt subsequently that Chithira Sabhai (Hall of Artistic Work and Painting) was one of the five important abodes of Lord Nataraja – The Lord of Dancing or the Cosmic Dancer, the dancing form of Lord Siva; the other abodes were Kanaga Sabhai (Hall of Gold) at Chidambaram, Rajatha Sabhai (Hall of Silver) at Madurai, Tamira Sabhai (Hall of Copper) at Tirunelveli and Rathna Sabhai (Hall of Ruby) at Tiruvalangadu.                                                           

I also learnt that the cosmic dance was known as Dance of Bliss – Anandha Thandavam. Lord Siva performs five most important functions – creation, protection, destruction, embodiment and saving with grace - to keep the world alive and Lord Nataraja’s cosmic dance pose represents all these functions.

The hourglass shaped drum held by the Lord in his upper right hand represents ‘creation’; the second right hand gesture symbolizes ‘protection’; the fire held in the upper left hand represents ‘destruction’; the second left hand points towards raised foot signifies liberation from successive birth; the foot planted on the earth represents Lord’s ‘embodiment’ function; and finally the foot held aloft also symbolizes the ‘grace’. The dwarf demon lies at the bottom of the planted foot signifies ignorance. The flames surrounding the lord represent the universe. The snake found around the Lord’s waist signifies yogic energy (kundalini or prana-sakthi). The cosmic dance form of Lord Nataraja represents the continuous cycle of creation, protection, destruction, embodiment and liberation of the soul from successive births. Lord Nataraja dances with his consort Devi Sivakami. The annual dance festival takes place in these five important places on the day marked for Aarudra Star during the Tamil Margazhi month.

People also told me that Chithira Sabhai is a beautiful small temple above a small hillock nearby Kutralanadar temple and one got a better view of the temple, the waterfalls and the surroundings from the higher elevation there.  Everyone I met, encouraged me to visit the place.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Remembering the fallen banyan tree at Courtallam - Tenkasi - Ilanji road

I love banyan trees. I believe they are symbols of strength and stability. They provide shelter. I read many historical figures of ancient India had slept under the banyan trees. One may find plenty of banyan trees in and around Courtallam, Shencottai and Tenkasi. A year back, while I was driving back home from Shencottai through Ilanji, I took pictures of a few banyan trees and wondered how long these trees would last and whether the greenery of Courtallam and Shencottai would ever be maintained in the years to come. I hear it might take many years before a banyan tree can grow into a full fledged tree.

Just a couple of days back, I was driving back through the same route and I was very sad to see one of the banyan trees felled as I heard that it became aged and broke off from its base. Will people ever plant a few more saplings to replace the aging banyan trees?

Urbanization is taking a heavy toll on the greeneries everywhere, notably Shencottai, Courtallam and Tenkasi. Many beautiful scenic spots are disappearing one after another.
                                                                  The pictures then:

The picture now:

I invite people who are good at writing poetry to write a few lines on banyan trees. You may write in Tamil too.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Short Stories for Success for Young Readers: A New Lexicon Unfolded - Excerpts from my book: "C" for "Choice"

C for Choice

Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.” – Ayn Rand, The English Author

That day Kamala teacher was pleasantly surprised to see Brinda in the front row in the class. “I am pleased to see you in the front,” she commented looking at Brinda.
“Yes teacher. After hearing the story of Rani of Jhansi, I decided to change myself.”

“I appreciate, Brinda. It is always a question of Choice before you: “To stay back and lag behind or go forward and make progress”. In every moment, everyone has a choice. The choice that you make now, decides your next moment. You are always left with the dilemma of having to choose between opposites. When you choose something that enriches you, empowers you, helps make progress - you will be happy. When you choose something that pulls you down, sucks your energy or brings obstacles to what you do - you are bound to be unhappy,” Kamala teacher lectured.
The children knew that Kamala teacher was ready to tell them a story and were all in great anticipation.

“Mahabharat is a great epic of India and we have several lessons to learn from it.
One such incident relates to Duryodhana inviting Yudhishtra for playing ‘chaturang.’  Chaturang was a game of gamble. The intention behind the invitation was wicked. Duryodhana suffered from jealousy and wanted to usurp Pandavas of their wealth and kingdom. He had Sakhuni, an expert player in chaturang, to play for him. Yudhistra knew that the invitation to play chaturang was with bad intention. Everyone around advised him to refuse the invitation. They all cautioned him that there was an evil intention behind the invitation to the game. Yudhishtra was in a dilemma. On one side, as a royal invitation, he couldn’t refuse it and on the other side, he knew that he would lose if he accepted it and played chaturang.

He chose to accept the invitation and play for the sake of ‘Dharma’ of a king. Again, while playing Chaturang in the Royal Court of Drudharashtra, he had several opportunities to halt the progress of the game. But he chose to continue to play pawning his small possessions first, then his wealth, his kingdom, his own brothers, himself and finally his wife. In every moment he had an opportunity to bring the game to a halt and redeem himself, but he didn’t.  The seeds of Kurukshetra war were first sown when Pandavas lost their chaturang game to  Duryodhana.

Another significant incident relates to the Kurukshetra war itself. The armies of both Kauravas and Pandavas had lined up for the war in the battle field. Arjuna was dismayed seeing the long lineup of his gurus, grandfathers, great grandfathers, besides all his kith and kin on the opposite side. He was shaken by the thought that all his kith and kin would be killed in the war on both sides. ‘What is the use of this war? How can I fight against my own kith and kin?’ were the questions uppermost in his mind. He asked Krishna for his advice and Lord Krishna delivered the most significant sermon in the form of ‘Bhagavad Gita’. Krishna reminded Arjuna about his duties and responsibilities and advised him against attachment to results of one’s actions. Finally, having given him the most remarkable advice ever in the history of mankind, Krishna told Arjuna, “Now you decide, what you should do.”
Even the Lord leaves it to man to make his choice. Arjuna decided to fight and uphold Dharma. The entire race of Kauravas was eliminated in the war. There were significant losses on Pandavas’ side too.”

Could Arjuna or Yudhistra or Lord Krishna have altered the course of the epic by making a different choice? Think of it.
So, your present moment and the choices you make now are the most important things in life. Remember that.”


Friday, October 04, 2013

What If Our Dreams Come True! My New Novel waiting to be published

                                                                   Episode 1

                                                                   Chapter 2
Next morning, I began my trek once again and reached Courtallam before midafternoon. God had blessed Courtallam with a number of waterfalls. The water from monsoon rains in Kerala on the other side of the Western Ghats provided a steady supply of water to the falls. Courtallam is one of the very few places in India where people can find waterfalls to take bath at ground levels. I went straight to the main waterfalls. I saw many people massaging their head and body liberally with ‘gingili’ oil, before they had their bath. The crowd was not much. I went straight and stood under the mighty waterfall for a long time. The water was quite cold and I shivered. I folded my hands in reverence in the cool waters and prayed. Suddenly I felt lost for some time. After the bath, I felt invigorated.

The Kutralanathar temple was just at the foot of the hills close to the waterfalls and was closed after the midmorning offerings to Lord Siva. I had to wait till four in the evening to have my first meeting with HIM.

Suddenly, I found a small crowd of people rushing somewhere and on enquiry, I learnt that annadhan was taking place in a nearby hall. Offering food to the poor (annadhan) was practiced by many, either as part of their way to salvation or as reparation for their sins. Feeling rather fortunate, I helped myself generously with the delicious meal.

After a small nap in the temple corridor, I was ready to meet the Lord when the main gates of the temple opened for the evening. I went straight to Siva. I was in no mood to look at or appreciate the temple architecture. There was hardly any soul inside the temple. The priest had not arrived yet. Everything was still and quiet. The air was thick, humid, and smelled pungent. Barring a few oil lamps shimmering in front of the idols, the temple was mostly dark.

I closed my eyes and stood silently before the Lord.

“I have never travelled outside my small village, but YOU have brought me here. I am now before you now, as you wanted. This is the first leg of my seven meetings with you, as you ordained. What next?”

It didn’t even occur to me that I should thank Lord Siva for what he did for me. He healed me miraculously from my pain. I was too immature to not realize the magnitude of my mystical experience. After all, I thought it was just a dream. But how was I healed instantly? It was a reality. I continued to ponder over the question without any answer. The astrologer had told me, “God has strange and miraculous ways of saving His devotees.” That must be true.  

‘Was I a devotee?’ I wasn’t sure. But, HE also left me as an orphan. Why did he do that? What was my mistake?

I stayed before HIM standing and closing my eyes for a long time. Thoughts were pouring out, waves after waves. Suddenly I opened my eyes and I saw hazily a sadhu entering the sanctum sanctorum. I continued to stand there for no reason. After some time passed, the sadhu turned around, came out of the sanctum sanctorum and seemed to be approaching me, his eyes fixed on me. I recollected immediately that he was the same sadhu whom I had seen the previous evening in the congregation under the banyan tree on my way to Shencottai. As he passed by my side, he looked straight into my eyes for a moment.  His look was penetrating and it blinded me for a moment. He didn’t stop by me, but I heard him telling, ‘Meet me at Chithra Sabhai’ as he passed by.

I was puzzled. ‘Did I hear him right?’ But he had gone and disappeared.

I continued to stand there as though my feet were clamped to the ground; I felt stuck. I had no inclination to move too.

When some more time passed, I was confused and I decided to get out.

When I took the first heavy step, I heard the sudden sound of a thunder inside the rock solid temple and along with the sound of the thunder, came the voice, ‘No, you can’t go!’

Where did the voice  come from? Was it my own imagination? Was I hallucinating?

Suddenly I felt very weak. My knees caved in. My whole body buckled and everything blacked out for me. I felt I was sinking and lost all consciousness even as I collapsed to the floor

I would never know how much time passed by and I opened my eyes when someone sprinkled water on my face. I saw a temple priest and he was trying to gently lift me up. He gave me some water to drink and some energy returned to me. When I felt better, I told the priest about the thunder and the celestial voice I heard.

The priest hesitated for a moment and then said, ‘Strange are HIS powers! Who knows, may be Lord Kutralanathar wants you to be here for some more time? Are you planning to go somewhere else, my dear son?”

I briefly told him my story - about the acute stomach pain I had, about my dream where Lord Siva appeared and offered to cure me on the condition that I met with him in seven of his places. I told him that Courtallam was my first destination and that I was planning to visit other places of Lord Siva. I also told him about the sadhu who ordered me to meet him in Chithra sabhai.

The priest looked bewildered, but soon recovered his composure. He then gently told me, “You seem to be an innocent village boy. What do I tell you about Lord Siva appearing in your dreams? Strange are the ways, things happen on earth. Hearing thunder inside the temple was bizarre and incredible. The sky is very clear outside. There is no possibility of a thunder or lightning. I suggest you don’t unnecessarily tell anyone outside, about your experiences. They will think you are out of your mind. But, if that was what happened to you really, ……. why don’t you stay here in Courtallam for some more time and see what happens? This is a lovely place. But be careful with sadhus. I am born and brought up here. I have also heard lot of stories about sadhus. There had been unique sadhus here in the past in this place and elsewhere. Courtallam is known for ‘Siddhars’ who had siddhic (mystical) powers. There is historical proof that many siddhas had mystical powers. Sage Agasthya was known to have lived in this place Courtallam and sanctified the whole hill. He had also written several books, and many of them were medical books. There are fakes too. One needs to be careful with the sadhus.”

With that, not wanting to have to do anything more with me, he abruptly turned back and went inside the temple to tend to his work.

I circumambulated along the inner and the outer walls of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. I had a darshan of the kurumpala tree, the sacred jackfruit tree of the temple. On the back side, there was a corner and there, over the tall temple walls, I could see the waterfalls rolling down the rocks and hear its roaring sound.

I came out of the temple. ‘I need to know where Chithra Sabhai is’, I said to myself.

The sky was bright and clear outside, with no sight of any cloud. ‘Where did that thunder come from?’