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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Season 4!

Season 4 of Sabarimalai started with a visit to the Bhagavathy Temple at Chottanikkara. It was here that I had first come face to face with what is popularly known as Vedi Vazhipadu. Vazhipadu loosely translates to a type of poojai or an archanai or a ritual. Vedi Vazhipadu is a ritual bursting of a fire cracker as a mark of prayer. The process starts with you registering you Vedic identification i.e., Name, Gotram, Nakshatram (Star) and Raasi ( Zodiac) at the counter, pay the fees and BOOOM! Somewhere in the background goes off the firecracker sponsored by you. To be honest, the word firecracker is too mild, it is more like a ton of TNT being blown to smithereens in the vicinity. It was late in the evening in Chottanikkara when I witnessed this ritual underway. The nearby trees were chirping with maybe thousands of cacophonous birds which were possibly calling it a day and retiring for a peaceful night. Imagine somebody blowing off a 100 kiloton bomb in your house while you are asleep? That is what it must have felt for the birds once the Vedi Vazhipaadu with someone’s name on it was put into action. A prayer which can cause so much distress to hapless birds is no prayer, it is cruelty. By the way  it would come as no surprise to you that Vedi Vazhipaadu is a feature at Sabarimalai too, both at the trek route as well as the Sannidhanam. And just to helpfully jog your memory along, Sabarimalai is bang in the middle of the Periyar Tiger Reserve Forest! Why a firecracker to mark a prayer you ask? Beats me too! I mean I don’t see a fire cracker benefit anyone except maybe a few people in Sivakasi, assuming these are sourced from the Firecracker and Matchsticks Capital of India. I hope better sense prevails and this practice is done away with. Failing which I hope a PIL does it for us!


As you start the ascent of the Sabarimalai from Pampa, you climb a hill named Neelimalai. A popular song about this says, Neeli malai yettram, Sivabalanum yettriduvan!  (Lord Siva’s son, Ayyappan, will help you climb Neeli malai, Welcome) Truer words have never been spoken or sung. Neeli malai is indeed a hard one to climb. The initial kilometre or so is a breeze. Post which the hill takes an incline sooooo steep that had it been a few more degrees vertically, I would have officially redesignated the trek as rock climbing! Climbing the Neeli malai though is the easier part of the exercise. You gasp for breath; you feel you are going to have a heart attack or the end is near. Don’t worry. The much touted second wind will see you through it. So will the healthy helpings of medicated water that is served along the trek. These of course are the times when you bless the hours you put on the treadmill in the friendly neighbourhood gym. But what no gym prepares you for is the Neelimalai yerakkam, the descent. The toes keep applying the brakes and the knees keep stepping on the accelerator simultaneously. After very step! Initially your knees listen to the toes albeit reluctantly but sooner rather than later, it rebels from the oppressive regime that the toes are and declares Poorna Swaraj, Total Independence! By the time you reach Pampa post your descent, your toes, feet and knees have more disagreements with each other than Tamilnadu has with Karnataka on Cauvery!

One of the interesting features of the visits to Sabarimalai is the presence of many pigs at the Sannidhanam, some of whom were of the four legged variety. From what I experienced during this visit, I must concede the four legged ones were far better behaved and disciplined than the two legged creatures. I was later informed that the four legged version that I saw were not actually pigs but wild boars. I apologised to them. However I found them less wilder than the two legged species, more hygienic than them too, whom I will continue to categorize as pigs! During my four seasons at Sabarimalai, I have arrived at a back of the envelop estimate of the behaviour pattern of the devotees to Sabarimalai on parameters ranging from their commitment to Swachch Sabarimalai and Pigs or Boars stakes. The toppers on both counts are the Kannadigas. The Malayalees get the Silver and the Bronze medal goes to the Tamils. I won’t embarrass the wooden spooners by revealing their identity. All I can say is that there aren’t many Naarth Indians floating around the Sabarimalai, this time of the year and hence not everything that is wrong with South India can be blamed on Amits! (This rating is strictly based on my personal experience. Devotees from the recently bifurcated state are free to disagree with me!)  

Its a Pig! No! Its a Boar! Wild Boar!

If I found the Vedi Vazhipaadu quite disconcerting, I found another Vazhipadu very interesting. It is called Shatru Samharam Vazhipadu. One can translate it as ‘Prayer for the destruction of the enemy’! While I had seen this ritual happening at Sannidhanam during my previous visits too, I was forced to take a closer look at it this time around as the Junior insisted that he would like all his enemies vanquished by participating in this ritual! What enemies can a 11 year old have was a question that was brushed aside by him as he forced me to reach for the wallet to make my contribution for ‘Operation Shatru Samharam’! Post the usual Vedic Introduction, the ritual started. And believe me it was music to my and his ears! Take a look!  


PS:  The ready reckoner
Gold, Smoke and Plastic Devotees!  Sabarimalai Season 1
The Bad, The Good, The Best!  Sabarimalai Season 2

Bhagavathy : Goddess
Sannidhanam : Sanctum Sanctorum
Swachch Sabarimalai : Clean Sabarimalai

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tamarind & Temples!

Those who have been following my random notes here must be already well aware of my love for the Divine Delight! As I often say, when in doubt have.....! To this I add my latest discourse on when you have a choice have… have Puliyodharai!
Puliyodharai! Called Puliyogare in Kannada and Pulihora in Telugu. I have heard it referred to as Puliyamaram in a Tamil Drama by Marina. I have no clue why so but I will let it pass uncontested since it was Marina. Among the English Medium Types Puliyodharai is known as Tamarind Rice. (Sensitive to the fact that most Naarth Indian say Dhosa ( ढोसा) when they should be saying Dosai (दोसाई) and Sambhur (सांभर) when they mean Sambar (साम्बार) I will save you the trouble of turning Puliyodharai into something unrecognisable for us Madrasis by doing the needful in advance, पुलियोधरै, Welcome!) 

Puliyodharai! Puliyogare! Pulihora!

For those who came in late, Puliyodharai is a paste made out of a combination of Tamarind Puree + Seasonsings + Spices + plus such similar ingredients. This paste, known as Pulikachal is then mixed with rice and Lo and Behold! This paste of course can rest in the refrigerator for fairly long periods, like jams or pickles and come out on days when it is auspicious for it to mate with rice!  

My introduction to Puliyodharai happened when………..well much to your and my disappointment, quite randomly. Like most other things that happened to me, my mother fed me this too when a child just as she did most of her other experiments in the kitchen! (I concede you your moment of WT…..! I agree it is quite an anti-climax when the hero’s entry scene is not like those in Tamil Cinemas, a highpoint of the film. This must have felt like a Superstar Rajnikanth’s entry  where he simply walks into the screen and says ‘Amma! I am hungry. Gimme some Puliyodharai to eat!”)  

However my love for Puliyodharai started when an Iyengar friend of mine gifted me a jar of homemade Pulikachal. (For those who look askance and go, “Iyengar who?” here is the data. Iyengars are a sect of Tamils who subscribe to Vaishnavism)  Bangaloreans will agree when I say that Iyengars are best known for their Bakeries. Every second bakery in Bangalore sports Iyengar on its signboard. So popular are Iyengars and bakeries that there was/(is?) a Rehman’s Iyengar Bakery on Hosur Road! But what even the Bangaloreans might not know well enough is that much before the bakeries, Iyengars were tied to by their umbilical cord to Puliyodharai. Laddoo and Tirupathi are an exception. The preferred meal of Lord Vishnu in most of the Temples in Southern Inda is, you guessed right, Puliyodharai. Why it is so, I wouldn’t know but I second Lord Vishnu’s choice just as I salute his taste buds. 

Iyengar Pulikachal!

There is a Legend too which ties up Lord Vishnu and Puliyodharai and by extension Iyengars in a holy triumvate.  Uppiliyappan Temple in Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu. Legend says that the prasadam served in the temple, i.e., the hero of this story, Puliyodharai, is prepared without using salt. Despite this fact, the Puliyodharai tastes as though it has been cooked using this ingredient, when the same is consumed within the temple precincts. However the Prasad turns tasteless once it is consumed outside the walls of the temple!  (Uppiliyappan, aka Vishnu, named after Uppu, Salt in Tamil. So named to suggest, the Lord is what adds taste to your life! But then I digress), I have been to the Uppiliyappan temple. I have had the Puliyodhrai prasadam. Both when I was inside and outside the temple premises. And I can confirm that the Puliyodharai tasted divine.  Both when I was inside and outside the temple premises. So much for the Legend. Or is it a case of so much for my love for  Pulioyodharai!

Lord is the Salt! Uppuliyappan Temple!

Puliyodharai is mostly had as a standalone food. It is also often consumed with vadaam/vadagam and/or appalappoo. I however recommend try Puliyodharai with Deep Fried Baby Potatoes. Round off the meal with an extra large glass of Sambaaram. Heaven! (And on my way out dear Naarth Indians, it is Sambaaram, सम्बारम,  buttermilk mixed with green chilli paste. not to be confused with your  सांभर !

PS: Junior loves Puliyodharai too. Is it a case of Genes or great folks have the same evolved taste? Both I think ; nay I am sure!

Thanks @hsejersa for reminding me of Pulikachal!


Vadaagam/Vadaam :

Appalam Poo:

 Prasadam : Offerings in temples