Some chairs are never empty
Memories sit on them…
Some chairs are never empty
Memories sit on them…
This obsession for lotus, ‘the queenliest of flowers’ has been rekindled once I was relocated to the South East Asian region. The abundance of the flower filled me with boundless joy! Lotus was considered divine and not so common in my childhood days, yet through pictures, poems and songs the flower became familiar. My child ego took great pride in sketching elaborate lotus flowers standing erect in the blue waters and it was a joyful task filling the petals with rich pink, and painting the broad leaves bright green and the waters deep blue, from where the flower rises proudly. Very much alike the example of the single story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche recounts in her Ted Talks, my art was not based on a real experience; the sketches were purely based on imagination and copies of the pictures I have seen. Water lilies were common then, but lotus flower was not so commonly seen. The existence of white or blue lotuses were unimaginable those days! Nevertheless, the famous legendary blue lotus of our village was a fascinating myth.
Blue Lotus has a dreamy aura about it. There is something magical and mystical in the name. The blue lotus that appears in Egyptian culture and Greek mythology could be the blue water lily; Nymphaea caerulea (Egyptian lotus, blue water lily, sacred water lily) or Nymphaea nouchali (Blue star water lily which is the National flower of Sri Lanka) and not Lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera ( Indian lotus, national flower of India and Vietnam). Thus I came to the conclusion that Blue Lotus is scientifically water lily and symbolically blue lotus.
Buddhism has close association with the flower lotus just as Hinduism does. In Buddhism lotus is a symbol of purity and spiritual awakening. The flower rises pure and fragrant above the muddy waters. In Buddhist art and literature lotus motifs are highly symbolic. A fully bloomed flower symbolises enlightenment where as the one in bud form shows a period before enlightenment. Different coloured lotus also has different symbolism. Lotus motifs are present in mandalas and chakras too. My long association with the Cambodian and Vietnamese cultures drew me more towards learning the significance of this flower.
Apart from the spiritual aspect, lotus and water lilies play a major role in the everyday life of the layman. Both are widely used in South Asian kitchens. In Khmer and Vietnamese cuisine water lilies are used in soups and salads. Lotus tea and Blue lotus tea are widely available in Vietnam. Both the flowers are renowned for medicinal properties too.
Blue lotus tea
In Egyptian culture the blue lotus is associated with rebirth. Very much alike the Hindu mythology the Sun and Lotus have close connection in Egyptian mythology too. In Hindu mythology Lotus is Sun’s beloved; Lotus has no existence without the Sun. During the churning of the ocean goddess Lakshmi comes out standing on the lotus where as in Egyptian mythology sun god Ra, the creator, emerged from the primeval waters sitting on a lotus. Like Sun who disappears at night and comes back to life in the morning, the lotus flower re-emerges from water everyday. Per contra, most of the water lilies bloom at night hence called the beloved of the Moon.
A painting inspired by the mystical and mysterious Blue Lotus of my village
Scholars say that the blue lotus is widely depicted on the walls, pillars, thrones, papyrus scrolls and head dresses of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The bloom was known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile. I read an interesting article by Kirsten Cowart where the restorative powers of this sacred flower is mentioned.
An Egyptian lady surrounded and adorned by blue lotuses. The flowers resemble water lilies here.
Egyptian murals and carvings portraying men and women indulging in revels, holding bunches of blue lotuses and smelling them could be a hint on the intoxicating properties of the flower. The god of Healing power and Perfume, Nefertem holds bunches of blue lotus and he offers this to Ra, the sun god to sooth his pain.
It seems the flower has properties to calm the nerves and brain. Homer in his Odyssey mentions about Odysseus’ men who fall into a blissful forgetfulness after munching the lotus flower and fruits. He had to drag his men back to the ship and tie them to the rowing benches to resume their voyage back home. I wonder whether it is the blue lotus that has enchanted and ensnared the Greek heroes.
In Tennyson’s ‘The Lotus Eaters’ he weaves the story around the same isle where Ulysses ( Odysseus) and his mariners had spent time. The enchanted flower the Lotus eaters of the island offered them had the power to change their minds. The mariners wanted to linger on that dreamy island forever. They come to the conclusion that ‘slumber is more sweet than toil.
My Blue Lotus has an entirely different shade of blue. The blue lotus I have heard and wondered about right form my early childhood is one of its kind, a faith or a myth associated with a temple in our village.
The serene temple premises
The story that intrigued us as children is about a sacred bloom called neelathamara (നീലത്താമര) . Those who keep a coin on the steps of the sanctum sanctorum of a nearby temple, with a wish in their heart, would be blessed to see a bloom in the temple pond the next morning. This would be a sign that the wish is going to be fulfilled. The unique flower is known as Neelathamara the malayalam equivalent of Blue Lotus. Neela thamara sounds more royal and desirable than chengazhineer poovu another mediocre name for the bloom.
The practice still continues but with changing times not many venture this divine intervention for personal favours. The flower is exclusively used for certain special auspicious rituals and sacred rites (കലശം,പ്രതിഷ്ഠ) in other temples, such as idol installation or for the glorification of the deity. The divine flower blooms in the morning in one of the deep rock pits on either side of the pond, provided the money is kept on the temple steps the previous evening.
stones that stood the test of time
My visit to the temple was after a long interval of more than ten years. Previous visit was with my father and for no reason I have never been there after he left us to the heavenly abode. The day we went, we were told that neelathamara was abloom that day as a temple in a distant district needed the flower for an auspicious occasion, but we missed the chance to see the sacred flower.
The temple pond
The kokkarni or the deep rock pit at the side of the pond
The 300 year temple in our little hamlet was always referred as Manokkavu, a shortened and colloquial version of Malamalkavu (മലമൽക്കാവ്). The temple sits on a hillock hence the name, the temple on the hill… It is quite interesting when my daughter told me that there is place called Manukau in Auckland!
When there’s too much rains that threaten a function to be held in a household or when there’s a need for rains for the crops to grow, people in my village offer a ‘koottupayasam‘ (കൂട്ടുപായസം) or a sweet rice dish to the temple deity and their woes are taken care of. A koottupayasam or ‘ada’ (അട) was a usual offering that my grandmother used to do then. The devotees are never disappointed as Lord Ayyappa always heard their prayers.
The story of the Neelathamara has remained mysterious and fascinated our minds. Am still curious about the appearance of the flower. The blue lotus like the blue moon has nothing blue about it, I understand. This same Blue lotus has been the theme of a famous Malayalam film, based on the story of the veteran writer M.T Vasudevan Nair from our nearby village. In the early part of this century the film was remade to become a huge hit once again. Even though Malamalkkavu is already well reputed as one of the two major schools of Thayambaka, the Percussion music in Kerala, the temple that is nestled in an unknown corner of Palakkad district earned more fame through M.T’s story, Lal Jose’s and Late Yousafali Kecheri’s films based on the story.
Yours truly and her mother in front of the age-old ootupura
Certain beliefs have no scientific explanations and Neelathamara remains an enigma. The simple and good hearted souls of this small village has deep faith and great pride in their powerful deity and this miraculous flower.
Another World Sparrow Day is here today, 20th March. A day to remind us to protect the little winged friends called sparrows that are going to be in the endangered list very soon. The House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus) is a close associate of man and is seen in rural as well as urban settings. They build nests in nooks and crannies of houses and other buildings. Sparrows need small cavities to build their nests. They love to be around people and are close associates of human beings. Market places were favourite haunts of theirs in the past. They feed on grains hence were seen near grocery thriving on the spilt out grains from sacks. In Malayalam they are called ‘Angadikkuruvi’ ‘sparrow of the market’. We hardly see troop of sparrows chirping and ransacking small market places these days as super market culture and packed grocery items and food stuff deny the sparrows the food they are looking for.
Surveys show that there is an appalling drop in the house sparrow population. Ecological imbalance, lack of favourable conditions to thrive on, emergence of modern architecture taking place along with urbanisation, excessive use of chemical pesticides, changing life style of man, radiation from the tele communication towers all attribute to the disappearance of these petite friends of Man. Gardens and bushes and small trees are their recreation spots. Their survival is at stake because of the over use of insecticides.
Bird lovers and conservators have started to create awareness in the general public to save the sparrows from the threat of becoming extinct. World Sparrow Day is an initiative by many national and international organizations across the world to raise awareness of the conservation of the House Sparrow and other common birds. People share ideas on how to protect the hapless birds and on preserving the biodiversity.
Humans are the major reason for making these sparrows homeless. We can help them flourish by not depriving them their natural habitat. The drop in their number affects the food chain system. Every species on mother Earth has a role of its own and the absence of one creates a vacuum that affects the whole system. We can once again enjoy the cheerful chirp and tweet of the sparrows by throwing or spreading a few grains, by keeping some water to quench their thirst in the harsh Summer, by hanging wooden bird nests or earthen pots or cardboard boxes with holes in the balconies or courtyards for these feathered guests. Sparrows are garden birds. By maintaining an eco friendly environment we can bring back the sparrows to their former status..
Those were my Phnom Penh mornings!
I have a special place in my heart for these little friends. My love for them began in Cambodia where the house we lived in was home of many sparrows. My mornings used to start with their cheerful chirrups and they were my constant companions there. They stole my heart and I have posted blogs dedicated to the house sparrows. By naming my blog House Sparrow, I honoured my little friends. The unpolluted air and the lush green all around may be the reason the house sparrows flourish in Cambodia.
Here I’m flooding my page with the pictures of my winged friends…
Do we look intimidating?
we don’t sow, but we do reap! Munching on our curry leaves
Bedtime for the birdies
You sleep, I keep watch
Love is in the air! Wooing time…He stoops to conquer!
In a pensive mood…deep thoughts on a bleak future?
If these feathered friends are at risk and are on the verge of extinction, whatever is causing that risk can be threatening to us humans too. Whatever affects one in the universe affects us all. I would like to quote a few lines from Donne. I would like to interpret Donne’s ‘Man’ as Man or his fellow beings. They all are woven into the fabric of the universe. One can not stand alone.
John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris:
“Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Hope we don’t have to sing an elegy for these sweet little birds.
MAY THEIR TRIBE INCREASE!
Here comes another full moon; the first full moon of the year 2017. The full moon of January is called the Full Wolf Moon, Hunger Moon or the Cold Moon… It is said that wolves howled out of hunger in the cold winter month and hence the name wolf moon. As usual I set out to the river side to get a glimpse of the year’s first full moon and had to wait for long as the sky was overcast…I couldn’t click the rising Moon in its splendour, yet captured her when she came out lifting the veil of thin dark clouds. A pale face and a paler smile. Under Emily’s spell and her poems I too started considering Moon as a woman these days!
The veil was lifted gently and the Moon showed her pale face and smiled
The first full moon of the year
In Hindu mythology, unlike the Greek and Roman mythologies, Moon is a male god. Among hundreds of our Hindu gods Moon is Chandra, born along with goddess Lakshmi when the Ocean of Milk was churned to get ‘Amrit’ ( the nectar of immortality). The crescent moon adorns the matted locks of Lord Siva
When we were children at the sight of the first crescent moon, after the dark phase we used to look up and recite,
Ksheera saagara sampanna/Lakshmi priya sahodara
Haram makuta vaasanam/Baalachandra namo namah:
[ Oh young lord Chandra, who was born of the Ocean of Milk (who spreads the milky moonlight), who is the brother of goddess Lakshmi, the one who adorns Lord Siva’s head, I bow to thee]
and offer a white thread to the baby moon, symbolic of white cloth to the new born lord and also to thank his benevolent presence. He is a pleasant god, pleasing, friendly, radiant and handsome; favourite god of moony eyed lovers and poets. He has that family-member-kind of an aura about him, and children of our generation have heard him being mentioned as Ambilimama or Chandamama (Uncle Moon).
He has many names Soma, Sasi, Shashank (as a hare is believed to sit on his lap-shasham= hare, ankam= lap), Thinkal… to name a few. Strangely some synonyms like Ambili and Indu were considered both male and female names. Those were common names and most of the households in my young days had one Sasi or Soman or Chandran to their credit. Learning synonyms was part of our Malayalam curriculum and while many of my friends hated this ordeal of learning the many synonyms of different words I was passionate about learning and memorising them.
Chandra is the god of vegetation and fertility, he rides an antelope. Monday is Moon’s day. Moon plays a major part in Indian traditions, festivals, astronomy and vedic astrology. It is believed that the movement of the sun, the moon and seven other planets across the lunar and solar houses plays an important role in the destiny of man.
Like other celestial bodies moon travels through the solar houses as well as the lunar houses. Moon’s orbital period is 27 days. In mythology Moon is married to 27 nakshatras, daughters of Daksha (the 27 lunar mansions). Rohini, ( the lunar house Taurus where he is exalted) is his favourite and he waxes as he gets closer to her and wanes as he goes away from her. On the 28th day when he is alone without the feminine presence, the sky is dark. I have talked about these Moon tales in an earlier blog too.
The festival Thiruvathira, a traditional festival of Kerala is celebrated on the asterism Thiruvathira; the 6th star of the 27 nakshatras, in the fifth month Dhanu (December-January) as per the Malayalam lunar calendar. There are many mythological stories about this auspicious day. Thiruvathira of Dhanu is said to be Lord Siva’s birthday, the day Siva and Parvati were married, also the day Ratidevi, wife of Kamadeva (the counterpart of Cupid) prayed and won her husband’s life after an angry Siva burnt Kama to ashes as he had disturbed Siva’s yogic meditation. Usually Thiruvathira falls on a full moon day but this year it was on the previous day of the full moon. Thiruvathira is exclusively a women’s festival. Women observe certain rituals for the well being of their spouse. Special prayers are offered to Siva-Parvati. Women and young girls observe a partial fasting and abstain from rice based dishes. Thiruvathira has its own special dishes; a dish made of tuber vegetables called puzhukku, a sweet dish made of arrow root powder, jaggery and clarified butter, broken wheat porridge are the main menu of the day. Tender coconut and bananas are an integral part of Thiruvathira.
I have my small share of memories when the ladies of the house strictly followed the traditional festival in all its glory. A fragment of the memories is of an early morning bath in the spacious pond in our ancestral home on one cold December morning. My grand mother and other women were singing and splashing the water with the fist in a rhythmic movement called ‘Thudi’. A sleepy five year old me sat on the steps to watch this ritual. After the bath they lit a bonfire and were talking about ‘pathirappoochoodal’ another ritual of adorning the hair with some flowers and herbs. My memory fades there.
Thiruvathirakkali a beautiful and graceful dance form is associated with the festival. Women clad in traditional Kerala attire circle round a brass lamp and dance in a sinuous rhythmic way swaying slowly to the music. Literally resembling ‘thiruvathira’ (a sacred big wave). I ventured this dance form much later in life with a group of friends in Cambodia and realised how much joy one can receive from being together, learning and dancing. Thanks to a dear dancer friend Vidya who patiently taught us this elegant dance form. I could share the stage with my daughter was another bonus point.
After a long time I throughly enjoyed a starlit night sky in January, the bright Venus outshining all the stars!
I couldn’t complete my post yesterday. Today is Friday the 13th and I learnt a fascinating new word. It is written that if you can pronounce the word properly, you’re cured of this phobia 🙂
PARASKAVEDEKATRIAPHOBIA- a terrible fear of Friday the 13th.
Paraskavedekatriaphobia is from the Greek paraskevi( Friday) and dekatrria (thirteen)
Here’s to an year of celestial marvels!
Contented they are in their lowly status Daisies spread joy to the beholder. Here are lines from three different poets on the simple, demure yet cheerful Daisies…A bed of daisies on a hill station brought back flowery memories of Munnar days… smell of the fresh air, pine trees, evergreens, bird songs and cool weather.
Said the other, little daisy, “I am very well content
To live simply in the meadow where the sun and rain are sent;
Where the bees all gather sweetness, and the dew falls on my head,
And the radiance of the moonlight is all around me shed.
“The grass and clover blossoms admire my beauty all day long,
As I listen to the music of a bird’s delightful song…”
“Two Little Daisies” [The other little daisy was wishing to be a rose]
~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham,
The Daisy follows soft the Sun –
And when his golden walk is done –
Sits shyly at his feet –
He – waking – finds the flower there –
Wherefore – Marauder – art thou here?
Because, Sir, love is sweet!
Fresh-smitten by the morning ray,
When thou art up, alert and gay,
Then, cheerful Flower! my spirits play
With kindred gladness:
And when, at dusk, by dews opprest
Thou sink’st, the image of thy rest
Hath often eased my pensive breast
Of careful sadness.
Thou liv’st with less ambitious aim,
Yet hast not gone without thy fame;
Thou art indeed by many a claim
The Poet’s darling.
From Wordsworth’s ‘To The Daisy’
Look out at the July skies! Ready to burst open at anytime. Mountains of clouds come floating with no warning; heavy hearted they hover around for a while, then they pour down…
The hooded clouds, like friars,
Tell their beads in drops of rain.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
June-July rains are entirely different in Kerala, my homeland.( Monsoon Thoughts) There the rains don’t pause…The sky is dark and grey throughout the day and you hear the many different tempos and rhythms of rain. Cicadas and frogs sing incessantly at nights adding to the rhythmic cadence. Saigon rains are different, I hardly experience the musical treat but the changing dispositions of the Saigon Sky is a joy to behold.
After heavy showers, rumbling thunder and a few flashes of lightning the sky wears a beautiful expression.
Sometimes the Rain is so delicate and delightful that it refreshes and rejuvenates the land.
Tell me how many beads there are
In a silver chain
Of evening rain,
Unravell’d from the tumbling main,
And threading the eye of a yellow star:
When I found this Song 668 of Thomas Lovell Beddoes’ I felt some similarity with Emily Dickinson’s.
Dickinson, very much ladylike, fancies drops of rain as pearls
‘Myself Conjectured were they Pearls –
What Necklaces could be –
At times Rain is like the one in Frost’s ‘Lodged’; he is harsh and brutal
The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged – though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
There are times when I feel one with ‘The sky is low, the clouds are mean…’ by Dickinson as the dark, sullen clouds fill my heart with an unexplainable grief. And a heavy heart and heavy clouds are relieved by shedding some water.
Of all the rain poems ‘A drop fell on the apple tree…‘ is my most loved one. Graceful portrayal of Summer showers. A delight to read again and again, where ‘the Sunshine throws his hat away’ and ‘the Bushes- spangles flung’. I lived the Dickinson experience during my days in Cambodia.
Rain clouds blanket (throws a wet blanket) a cheery Saigon sunset sky.
Much later, late at night, Rain sings a lullaby to a city that refuses to sleep…
The gulmohur tree in our Bassac Garden
May too is standing at the threshold, turning back and waving her hands bidding goodbye… Until we meet next year, the red hot May!
How quickly the months fly! May brought with her a bundle of pleasant childhood memories, more intense and heartbreaking memories of loss too…May will be back next year, but those who were snatched away by May will never be.
Bright May sunrises at Phnom Penh
Burning sunsets over the riverside pagoda
May painted Phnom Penh city red. Red is the colour of the month. April had her dazzling yellows, May has her fierce reds.
Crimson sunrises and burning sunsets are pepping up the season. May’s own fiery Gulmohars are all aflame. My little hibiscus plant in the front yard is blazing red and the scarletbacked flower pecker visits her everyday.
Red eyed, red mouthed Plaintive Cuckoo fills our Bassac Garden with…
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