Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha


A painting of the monkey king and the golden mermaid at Phnom Penh airport

It’s been a month since we moved into the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh and this strange statue of a monkey king holding a lady, half human and half fish, right in the middle of a small pond in a neighbour’s house captured my attention. The barking of two little fancy dogs (who thought themselves ferocious) stopped me from getting a closer look of the small statue every time I walked past that house. Later I found similar statues in one of the souvenir shops but the girl in the shop failed to explain to me whose statue that was. During a trip to Kep, a small beach town, I saw this beautiful statue on the way and this really kindled my curiosity. Then I started researching about the monkey and the lady.

Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha- a statue at Kep, Cambodia


At the souvenir shop



The one at the cultural village, Siem Reap

As I rightly guessed it’s the statue of the mighty Hanuman, the vanar god, flawless devotee of Lord Ram. Hanuman, also known as Vayuputra or the son of the Wind god in Hindu mythology, is the personification of strength and knowledge. Hanuman is renowned for his unconditional devotion towards Lord Ram and is considered one of the eight Chiranjivis (Immortals) in Hindu mythology. A great singer who could melt the hardest of rocks with his heavenly music, Hanuman is well-known for his celibacy too. He is one of the strongest characters in the Indian epic Ramayana.

In the Khmer version of Ramayana, Reamker, there’s another story (in the Thai version too, I have read). Ravana’s daughter Sovanna Maccha (the Golden Mermaid) falls in love with Hanuman. During the time of ‘Sethu Bandhan‘ (the building of the bridge across the ocean to reach Langka) Ravana sends his daughter with her accomplices to jeopardize the task. The rocks, the monkey troop throws into the ocean disappear the next morning. To solve the mystery of the missing rocks, Hanuman dives down into the sea and meets with this beautiful daughter of Ravana. He realises that the rocks were carried away by the mermaids as per the instructions of their leader Sovanna Maccha. Though she tries to evade Hanuman in the beginning, very soon Sovanna Maccha falls in love with the mighty Hanuman and thus goes the story …




Sovanna Macha and Hanuman as they appear in the Smile Of Angkor show, Siem Reap

There are dance dramas retelling the love story of Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha at different places in Cambodia. But somehow my Indian psyche couldn’t find the masked face of the Khmer Rambhakth very much pleasing (apologies). I have in my heart etched a more pleasing, beaming face of a Hanuman filled with kindness and flawless devotion for Rama; he has the face of the Hanuman of a framed photo in our pooja room (later many people back in India loved the face of Dhara Singh’s Hanuman in Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayana!)

It was a delightful experience for me when The Kalakshetra troupe from Chennai came to Phnom Penh and performed a three-day Ramayana dance drama. It was an enthralling experience and the performance of the person who enacted Hanuman in the ballet was astounding!

Hanuman and Sita in Kalakshetra dance drama, Ramayana



Vanar king Sugriva and Hanuman

This beautiful sandstone carving of Rama on Hanuman’s shoulders is one among our favourite possessions, a bit of Cambodia and the beautiful memories associated with that country.


MAY the month bid farewell!

May too is standing at the threshold, turning back and waving her hands bidding goodbye…

How quickly the months fly! The red hot 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 seems to be 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 Scarlet-backed Flower Pecker religiously visits every morning. Scarlet, crimson and ruby red is all around!
Red eyed, red mouthed Plaintive Cuckoo fills our Bassac Garden with her plaintive notes, but her wailing doesn’t affect the spirit of the month.

The red eyed plaintive cuckoo, crying her heart out


The little scarlet-backed flower pecker comes and perches on the pomegranate tree


Every fruit is red and ripe; the rose apples and pomegranates in the yard are plump and sway in the breeze with flushed cheeks. Birds work and sing tireless.


Rose apples at our back yard

And the pomegranates


Our little pomegranate tree

The deep blue May sky rejoices at the singing of the birds. The fluffy white clouds leap up high with joy, hearing the Robins singing among the pleasant boughs.
The Sky and the clouds and the birds can soothe your doleful thoughts too.

Till we meet next year…

Adieu May!

Midas Touch

April is the cruellest month…’, says T.S.Eliot, but when we were children April was the merriest of the months!

In Kerala schools usually close on the 31st of March and the two month-long Summer vacation was a time to rejoice! Holidays at Anakkara had a special charm. Each day was filled with fun, new adventures and surprises. There was no room for a dull moment in our lives back then. A time when TV or smartphones were unheard of family get togethers and meeting cousins, spending time together, learning and sharing, endless story telling sessions, swimming for hours in the cool green ponds and so on filled our days and young minds with excitement and joy.

Vishu, the new year of Kerala (the start of the zodiac new year) generally falls on the 14th of April. Vishu is a time for sparklers and crackers, it’s a time of Vishukkaineettam or the gift money from the elders, it’s the season of ripe mangoes, jamuns and jackfruits. Moreover these were all part of our fun-filled two month holiday celebrations.



My amma’s Vishukkani



A basic, simple Kani that I prepared this year with the limited items available in Cambodia

It is believed that a good beginning on the first day of the year brings grace and luck to the rest of the year. The Kani or the auspicious sight is the first image one should have on the early morning of the new year day. This glorious sight should fill your eyes and heart. ‘Kani‘ would be arranged and kept ready the previous night by the elders. Dazzling is the best suited word for Kani!

In front of Lord Guruvayurappa’s idol, a beautifully arranged golden coloured brass uruli (a flat vessel) would be kept. The uruli is filled with everything that signifies prosperity and light. It is filled with rice grains on which two half-split coconut shells with lighted wicks are kept. A fan shaped pleated piece of cloth with golden border is inserted inside a small polished kindi (a spouted brass vessel). A valkannadi (a brass mirror with a handle) has its sacred place in the uruli, a piece of jewellery, some coins and so on are the other auspicious items in the uruli.

The kani is laden with golden-yellow melon, yellow juicy mangoes, buttery yellow bananas, shiny yellow jackfruit lobes and bright yellow konna flowers. The uruli represents the universe filled with Nature’s bounty.

Vishukkani is symbolic of a year long bounty and prosperity. Kanikkonna flowers (flowers of Indian Laburnum or Golden Showers) are an integral part of this vishukkani. On the new year’s eve collecting konnappoo is a major task. The elders in the family prepare the kani after everyone goes to sleep. At the break of dawn we are taken to the pooja room to see the Vishukani, a sight which brings blessings and abundance through out the year. In our household, on the new year’s dawn our parents used to lead the half asleep siblings to the beautifully adorned pooja, covering our eyes with their palms all the way. The moment the eyes are opened the dazzling view takes one’s breath away! The splendour of the Vishukkani should remain in our hearts and in our thoughts through out the year; it should enrich us materially and spiritually.



The gourds swell and plump, and the fruits ripe to welcome Vishu!

Bountiful vegetable patches at our Anakkara

Jackfruits, melons, pumpkins, gourds all grow abundantly back home in the peak of Summer



Receiving the gift money along with a few grains of rice and konnappoo from the elders follows next… The Young accept kaineettam with great reverence a gesture that is symbolic of the flow of wealth and blessings from the old generation to the new. Later we would proceed to light the firecrackers and sparklers. Meanwhile the golden uruli would be carried around the house for Mother Nature to have her kani, the cattle should have their kani as well. The day ends in a happy note after a sumptuous feast for lunch. Whoever visits during the season would give us, children, the gift money or kaineettam…probably the only form of pocket money then! Those were the days when 50 paise coins and one rupee coins had great value and respect! When cousins meet we used to brag about the amount of kaineettam we ‘earned’!


Crackers and sparklers! Memories of a Vishu at Anakkara


All these are part of an average Malayali’s nostalgic memories (One who was fortunate to enjoy a childhood before the 90s), happy memories of a childhood that play a role in moulding you, making you into what you are. Golden memories of old days! They have a Midas touch!


The golden showers in our Bassac Garden


April makes Phnom Penh a hot oven. The sky loses her lustre, sun splashes his hot, molten gold all over and the living beings writhe under his wrath, but Phnom Penh turns into a yellow sea during the two months of March-April. Rows of Golden Shower trees on the street burst in to lovely golden blooms. They compete with the bright yellow of the sun.

Khmer new year too falls around the same time. It is a four day to one week celebration. Cambodians also welcome the new year with offerings placed on an altar. The offerings include a statue of Buddha, incense sticks, fruits jasmine flowers, lotus flowers, sesame oil and many other goodies.



Nature waves her Midas wand!

Every bough bends with the heavy drops of gold!


My heart skips a beat each time I see the golden showers in full bloom. What a treat for the eyes!! The trees that shed their leaves in March, suddenly open their jewellery chest to adorn themselves with their dazzling gold jewellery.. The splendid sight fills your eyes, heart and your whole being. This bright and dazzling sight makes the dull lethargic April days so bright! The streets of the compound Bassac, where we live, is lined with the Laburnum trees. Nature with her Midas touch turns all the leafless trees into golden beauties decked up in gold in no time.


A drop fell on the mango tree-another on the roof…

‘Horses sweat, men perspire and women merely glow’, goes the saying. Lady Phnom Penh is exhausted from glowing. Today she glistened with raindrops for a short while. A very brief respite from the suffocating heat! The smell of cool air and wet earth is refreshing. Sincerely wish this’s the start of the much awaited, long desired ‘mango showers’!


 Just before the rains


A drop fell on the mango tree…


After the rains…

Can’t help sharing another Emily Dickinson one

( borrowed my title from her)

A drop fell on the apple tree
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roa
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.

Thou hast thy music too…


Mercury levels are shooting up with the arrival of March in Phnom Penh. Heat has become unbearable. It’s mid March now and wonder what April has in store! March brings a myriad memories of school days; end of the academic year, annual exams, long awaited summer vacation, meeting cousins, family reunions, hot afternoons, juicy mangoes, ice candies, small play houses with thatched roofs, swimming in the pond… endless list. And April has never been ‘the cruellest month’ for us, it was the much awaited time of the year. March brings different feelings with changing times and places.

Here’s how Emily Dickinson looks at March!

DEAR March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the bird’s;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,—
I declare,How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me—
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.
Who knocks?

That April!Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Season of bright skies and mango blossoms!



The air is laden with the sweet fragrance of mango blossoms. It’s February once again! Cambodia is a place blessed with mango trees in abundance. Almost every house has one tree in the courtyard. We have a tree in front of our house which proudly bore more than a hundred fruits last year; golden, creamy, sweet mangoes! The best mangoes I have ever tasted! With the arrival of February the mango tree is draped herself in gleaming, silky delicate green foliage. Where is that sensuous coppery-red satin gown she has been wearing a few days back?!

The mango tree in front of our house


Draped in copper hues




Veiled in tender green!

Golden blossoms looking heavenwards

Soon the she bursts into blossoms; golden fragrant ones. The sharp tips of the bunches pointing skywards…  Now the costume gets changed into a profound green with the added responsibility of the buds. A more matured and responsible disposition that befits a to-be-mom. The blossoms on some of the branches grow so heavy that they bend their heads wearily. Sometimes I feel there’s no better word for a mango blossom than our Malayalam equivalent ‘mampoo’.

This is the festive season for all the little winged souls around! They celebrate the season with great pomp and noise, tirelessly celebrating baby showers and new arrivals everyday! Bees go humming and roving around the tree in circles. The greedy lot get so drunk, wobbly winged and  reel in all directions! Emily Dickinson rightly called the bee a debauchee!! The birds too keep pace with them; they are so reluctant to leave the tree and they babble, whistle, tweet, chirp, chatter, sing…Fill the air with their magic tumult, from dawn till dusk! The bulbuls, the sparrows, the robins, the fantails – each one is a chorister par excellence!


a drunken bee… Dickinson rightly called him a debauchee



Poets are absolutely right when they say that the koels, eat the tender leaves of the mango tree to make their singing sweeter. The famous Malayalam poet Vallathol in his lullaby portrays the  koel, intoxicated after eating tender mango leaves, singing a sweet song. The magpie robins and fantails are the koel’s counterparts here. Then there is the Plaintive cuckoo who visits at this time of the year filling our Bassac Garden with her plaintive notes! After an year’s experience I am convinced that these happy singers and cheer leaders are the reason and secret behind the countless mangoes on our small mango tree. Bounty and happiness go hand in hand?

 A red eyed Plaintive Cuckoo, who fills the air with her plaintive notes…




Swaying in the breeze!


Floral galore!


Pavement lined with mango trees-Koh Pich (Diamond Island)

The pavements of Koh Pich near our Bassac Garden are lined with mango trees… It’s a refreshing experience to take a morning walk breathing the pleasant scent of the blossoms. Mango blossoms have a special place in the realm of Indian poetry. Kalidasa and other great poets of the past loved to sing about the season and also about the koels that forget their surroundings after drinking the nectar of mango blossoms, the bees who whisper sweet nothings to each other inebriated with the nectar. Mango blossom happens to be one of the five arrows of the God of love, Kamadeva (the counter part of Cupid). I’m not surprised that the one who is shot with an arrow of these intoxicating, heady scented flowers is soon smitten with love!

The season, though it’s the start of Summer here, somehow reminds me of Keats’ ‘Autumn’, where the season together with the maturing Sun, who is her bosom friend, conspires to ‘set budding more and still more’ (thus o’er-brimming the clammy cell of the bees), to ‘bless and load every vine and tree with fruits’  and  to fill them with ripeness to the core. Yes, every season has its beauty and charm; every season has its music. February can boast of her bright skies, mango blossoms and jubilations that last two fortnights!



Blessed are you, the spirits of Cambodia!


Wat Svay Pope, Phnom Penh

Cambodia has more in store to surprise me. This time  structures that I fell in love with are the eye-catching stupas inside the Buddhist pagodas. I was quite impressed to know what they are. A graveyard inside a place of worship?! During one of the trips to the provinces, an English speaking Khmer gentleman explained to me that when the Buddhists die their ashes are housed in these stupas or ‘cheidei ‘.  Khmer people believe in reincarnation, they cremate their dead. They keep the ashes in these stupas.DSC_1177

Entrance to Wat Lanka


‘Cheidei’ or stupas where the ashes are kept

Top portion of the stupa containing the ashes of  HM Ang Duong( founder of the present dynasty) in the Royal Palace compound.


Usually affluent Khmer people have stupas or the monumental tombs in the wat (temple) premises (The reason for my surprise element is that Hindu temples would never allow the entry of the ashes of the deceased in its premises). These tomb stones are captivating with their fine intricate carvings on them. The ashes of the members of a family are put inside the stupas through the entrance  door to the stupa. On auspicious days offerings are kept inside the ‘cheidei’. Almost all the pagodas I have seen in and around Phnom Penh have these beautifully designed stupas. Stupas of various sizes and colours  and shapes are seen. As in the  case of the spirit houses the wealthy have the more ornate stupas, I presume. The ones in the photos are in the premises of Wat Lanka in Phnom Penh.


Entrance door to the stupa

Interesting to know that the departed ancestors are treated so well in Cambodia! (Hope those alive  are treated equally well) Cheidei as an abode for the family members after their life on earth and spirit houses for the wandering spirits. Offerings in the form of food,drinks, money, incense sticks etc are given to them. A two-week celebration called Ancestors’ Day or Pchum Ben in the month of October  is specially dedicated for them.During this period every Cambodian visits as many pagodas as possible carrying home cooked food for the departed souls! Blessed are you  the spirits of the Kingdom Of Cambodia!





During Pchum Ben festival Khmer people paying respect to the diceased by offering food and money at Wat Ounalom

Stupas at Wat Langka


‘The robin is the one…’

They started singing from February  and have never stopped ever since!
Am talking about the oriental magpie robins. They make my days, days of joy..singing incessantly. I have never come across such a musical treat from birds. They keep changing their tunes.They sit on the roof tops, my neighbour’s TV antenna, among the mango tree foliage, rose apple tree, on the compound wall, the frangipani boughs.  After coming to Cambodia often I wonder if  Emily Dickinson would have ever visited this place!! Many of her lines on Nature and the flora and fauna melt so well with the sights and sounds around me!


                                                                                                                                                                        The Robin is the One                                                                                                                                    That interrupt the Morn                                                                                                                                                  With hurried—few—express Reports                                                                                                   When March is scarcely on—

The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity—
An April but begun—

Emily Dickinson


Oriental Magpie Robin singing



                      ”write me how many notes there be in the new robin’s ecstasy                                      Among the astonished boughs”


It’s interesting see their gimmicks during courting time. The male stoops and hops and moves fast towards his lady love to woo her. There’s always a rival in the background. This drama usually takes place on the roof tops of the houses across our lane.


He stoops to conquer 🙂


DSC_0986 Roof top singing!

Shelley’s and Keats’ Skylark and Nightingale come alive when I hear these small birds singing sweetly.
It’s a full throated singing at times and at times  a mix of cooing-cajoling-coaxing..sometimes they whisper without knowing that their too musical voice is carried by the  jealous winds to the nearby eaves droppers. These happy souls fill my dull and dreary afternoons  with sound of music.

Bless you my feathered friends! May your tribe increase!

Saga Of A Curry-leaf Plant

Ye birds of the sky!! Thou do not soweth, but thou sure do reapeth!


‘O troupe of little vagrants of the trees! Sweet little villains, full of innocence!’

They fill my days with excitement and surprises! These little house sparrows! Getting accustomed to the new surroundings in Phnom Penh, seemingly dull and mundane in the beginning, turned out to be joy filled ones with the numerous birds living and visiting the premises. It has been a year and these happy souls around me make my days joy filled ones. The house sparrows ( passer domesticus) were the first ones that conquered my heart. From sunrise, till late in the evening their chirps and tweets break the silence of my days.


The plant that enjoyed lush growth indoors!

These little birds are known as ‘angadikkuruvi‘ in my mother tongue Malayalam and they are nearly extinct in Kerala. Environmental pollution being the main reason for this mishap. Bassac Garden in Phnom Penh, where we live is blessed with an abundance of these happy souls. One gets to see them everywhere in Cambodia. May their tribe increase!!


A happy plant basking in the sun

I have deviated from my topic curry leaf plant! (these innocent looking vagrants drift me away). We have a seven-year old curry-leaf plant with us. Curry leaves are indispensable in south Indian cooking and it is not widely available in Vietnam nor in Cambodia. The leaves that you rarely find in the markets lack the fragrant flavour. This plant was brought from India and was tended lovingly and with great care by my husband. To our immense joy the plant flourished indoors in Saigon. Moving apartments or changing pots never affected the growth of the plant.

With great care we transported the plant from Saigon to Phnom Penh and were so happy that it could breathe fresh air, bask in the sun and dance in the rain. From the pot the lucky plant found a place in the backyard. The twist in the tale happens from then!!


Alone they came, also in battalion!



One soweth, another reapeth


Breakfast time!



Leaves to finish before we leave And leaves to finish before we sleep!

Very soon, the plant with its many branches and lush green leaves became the hub of their activities, the favourite haunt for the little sparrows. After their routine morning hops on the lawn, they perch themselves on the curry leaf plant. It became a painful sight to see them picking on to the leaves, munching them! There was no stopping… The moment a tender shoot sprouted it disappeared. Who would have had the heart to shoo them away!

What a disheartening sight in the mornings!



Time to sing an elegy!


In three months it was time to sing an elegy to the plant. The plant was like a leafless tree in Autumn!


From pot thou art and unto pot thou returneth ! back to the pot, thou naked plant!

From soil once again it was planted back to the pot and was kept hidden among the bamboo foliage. Ever since our little friends show no interest in the medicinal properties of the plant!


And the pot found a place close to my eyes, next to my favourite corner of the house where light plays hide and seek, bamboo leaves rustle and sing with breeze.


Hidden among the bamboo foliage.

Once again back to life the plant is flourishing well now. The number of sparrows have increased but foraging is limited to the lawn and surroundings. Have they failed in spotting the plant or they’re just tired of the taste?! I shall patiently wait and see !

Mount Chisor or Suryparvata

Mount Chisor was a package of surprises! It took us less than an hour to reach there from Phnom Penh. Standing at the foot of the hill, I was a little apprehensive when I heard  that 400 steps are waiting  ahead of us to reach the top! It was a tiring uphill climb, yet there was a ray of hope when a bunch of happy tourists on their way  back declared that it indeed was worth the climb.


 I really climbed so far!

We were welcomed by a smiling Khmer lady who sells goodies at the top of the hill.Her endearing smile made us buy some soft drinks from her. Even though many of them find it so hard to make both ends meet,  most of the Khmer never fail to wear a pleasant, amiable disposition. I admire them for that. I was reminded of the great Bard’s lines when I saw her…


“My crown’s call’d content,
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy”

The temple on Chisor Mountains or Suryaparvata was built in 11th century by  King Suryavarman I.
The temple ruins and the surrounding canopy of trees gave a tranquil charm to the place. We were the only visitors around that time and a  young lady offered her service as  a guide.She showed us how the temple got destroyed in the US bombing and we could see stone carvings of Lord Vishnu in  the reclining pose (Ananthashayana), Bhoomidevi (Godess Earth) at his feet and another sandstone lintel carving of  Lord Siva and Parvathi, atop Nandi. Almost all the fallen stone blocks lying on the ground have carvings on them.

DSC_0333The gopuras of the temple, designed in the typical Khmer architectural pattern

The temple ruins


Shiva-Parvathi atop Nandi



Vishnu-Ananthashayanam ( reclining on 1000 headed naga, Anantha)

The view from the hill was breathtakingly serene. The plains surrounding the hills are dotted with green trees and bushes. One can see how skillful the Khmer artisans were and how well planned their nagaras(townships) would have been. A long path way leading to the temple with two enormous gopuras- of course in dilapidated condition – is an unforgettable sight! I could visualise the king and his regal paraphernalia parading to the temple in a chariot or on an elephant back! The pictures became more vivid once I started reading the beautiful historical novel  ‘A Woman Of Angkor’ by John Burgess.  Flipping through the pages of the novel, I was virtually transported to the Cambodia of the 12th century and felt one with the characters! Even after finishing the novel the characters are strutting in the inner corridors of my  being


 Trash bins made of recycled tyres

DSC_0292Light and shade playing!

The tall stupa, the moss covered temple pond, the roof tops built in the typical Khmer architectural patterns with the naga head and tail are  all weather worn and war worn. But still everything reminded us of the past glory of a great empire, a great culture.

 Dilapidated first gopura or the entrance gate



DSC_0303Panoramic view from the Suryaparvata


Cattle grazing! Feels like am back in Kerala…




With changing times, Hindu religious rituals have given way to the Buddhist ways of rituals.  All the prayers are done at the  idol of the reclining Buddha in the pagoda and there’s one Buddhist monastery on top of  the hill. A little monk posed for me for a photo. Cut off from the outside world what experiences and exposure these little children of God must be having, I thought. Is it that their parents feel that the monasteries may be a safer place where food and shelter are no more a matter of worry or is there an element of deep religious obligation involved? Yet to find out.


The reclining Buddha


The little monk happily posed for me


Spreading Peace


The moss covered pond on the hill

Later that day I bowed my head with gratitude to God almighty, my husband and everyone else who is reason for giving me this rare opportunity to know this country, its traditions, its culture- the glory of a bygone era.

The name Cambodia, otherwise, would have never evoked  these images in me lest I got a chance to live here. Each day this place unfurled  new exhilerating experiences !