The Government Museum housed in Stone House, Ooty is a small museum and one of two state-run museums in Ooty. It has a delightful collection of stuffed animals and birds, mounted hunting trophies along with regular exhibits of ancient coins, metalware, rock samples, wood carvings, to name a few. It also showcases artefacts of the tribal communities of the Nilgiris, the Todas, Badagas,Kurumba and Irula tribes with separate sections devoted to each tribe.
The models of Toda hut and temple are interesting with diagrams of the architecture used in building them. This museum has to be seen at a leisurely pace to fully appreciate the exhibits on display. There are some rare and unusual exhibits like bamboo manuscripts which are manuscripts made on bamboo strips, and colorful puppets made from leather and used in traditional shadow play(Bommalaatam, Nizhalaatam).
There is a copper embossed plate with intricate details depicting Sethu Bandanam, an important occurance described in detail by Sage Valmiki in the Ramayana involving the building of a bridge across the sea by the Vanara Sena to reach Lanka and rescue Sita.
Considering the fact that the Ramayana is a documentation by Sage Valmiki on events that happened a million years ago and the Sethu Bhandanam event described in it has been corroborated by NASA’s satellite picture of the bridge beneath the sea, the importance of artefacts such as this copper plate is momentous. The exact period of the copper plate is not known. Parts of it are damaged but the sheer beauty of the embossed plate and the etching of myriad details is fascinating. These are details described by Sage Valmiki in the Yudha Kaanda of the Ramayana.
Sethu bandhanam in epics 2.1. Valmiki10 describes the construction of ‘Sethu’, which was built in a record time of 5 days under the leadership of Nala, the son of Viswakarma, in his Ramayana in 25 verses. Rama asks Nala to construct a dam on the sea to Srilanka, as advised by Samudraraja. Nala agrees and Vanaras who looked like high mountains went in all directions and brought mountain like rocks and stones. They brought trees, either cut or uprooted. The vanara sena uprooted rocks which resembled huge elephants, using machines and brought them to the seashore with the help of carrier vehicles. “The dam constructed by Nala who was as skilled and talented as his illustrious father, looked like milky way” says Valmiki. The joyous roar raised by the vanaras on completion of the dam silenced even the deadliest noise of the mighty ocean.11 92
While the museum, though small is very interesting, Stone House itself is filled with history. Its history is intrinsically connected with the history of Ooty. It was the home that John Sullivan built for himself and his family in 1822, the first European dwelling to be built in Ooty.
John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore set out to explore the Nilgiris in 1819 after obtaining an order charging him to investigate the “origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the Blue Mountains to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities”.
He first reached Kotagiri where a small British settlement was established. Ooty was still ‘undiscovered’. In April 1822 Sullivan arrived in Ootakamund, bought land from the Todas at ‘roughly a rupee an acre’ and started work on his Stone House so called because it was built entirely of stone, which he completed the following year. It was called Kal Bangala by the tribals, kal being the tamil word for stone.
In a letter he wrote to Thomas Munro,the Governor of Madras, he says, ….this is the finest country ever…it resembles I suppose Switzerland more than any other part of Europe…the hills beautifully wooded and fine strong spring with running water in every valley.
Sullivan established the hill station of Ootacamund, the first hill station of India. Convalescent British soldiers were sent here to recuperate and it became a home away from home of the British community residing in India.He also created Ooty lake by damming a stream to meet the water requirements of the new town.
Most important is the fact that John Sullivan was a progressive and liberal person who insisted that the Todas be given freedom to manage their own affairs. He was called ‘a friend of the natives’.
Sullivan was instrumental in cultivation of fruits, vegetables, barley and tea in the hills. The Ooty we see today is a legacy of this enterprising Englishman.
Stone House with its small rooms and bay windows has stood the test of time, a beautiful legacy of British architecture and British colonial India.
There was a long holiday for Vinayaka Chaturthiin the last week of August and a visit to Ooty was planned rather suddenly. We were on our way by three in the afternoon on Friday, 25th August, had reached Mettupalayam in the foothills by six or seven and arrived in Ooty by nine p.m. slowed down a bit by all the vehicles on the winding mountain road..all holiday makers like ourselves. It looked as if everyone had the same brainwave that we had.. namely a holiday in Ooty!!It was after dark that we negotiated the mountain road and passed many mountain villages. What made the journey memorable was that the villages were decked with festive lights and we passed many colorful Ganesha pandals.We passed many village temples as well which were open at that late hour and could see people going home from the temples. It was Vinayaka chaturthi after all… and I remember thinking how nice that we were travelling on this special day and could see all the happy scenes.
Ooty is one of the most popular hill stations of India. Much has been written about this beautiful town in the Blue mountains – The Nilgiris. This post and the next few ones are my memories of a wonderful holiday and I hope you enjoy reading about them.
On Saturday morning after breakfast,the first place of visit was Doddabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiris at 2636 MSL( 8,650 ft.),8km from Ooty. The flat summit has a reserve forest area around it and is accessible by road. This is a most popular tourist destination in Ooty.
The spectacular views of Ooty from the observation tower are out of this world and on clear days many important places near Ooty can be seen. The place has a cafeteria for snacks and tea. It’s a lovely place where everyone tends to linger, to enjoy the 360 degree views, the strong winds,the mists and the August drizzles and to take pictures.
On the way back from Doddabetta peak we were given discount coupons to be used in Benchmark Tea factory and Museum. So our next stop was Benchmark Tea factory which was located about 4km from Doddabetta. Tourists are given a guided tour of the factory where you can read about the history of tea and other interesting information in the beautifully illustrated pictures around the museum. You can see the tea leaves being dried and processed. You can sample nine different varieties of tea free of cost. Chocolate is made here and visitors can taste a free sample. You can buy varieties of tea and chocolates and eucalyptus oil at the retail counters in the premises.
The next place we visited was the Government museum which is the subject of my next post.
Late afternoon we went to the beautiful Ooty lake and went boating. Then it started to rain! And then one of the pedals on the pedal boat came off and back we came to the boathouse. While TTDC did ask us to take another boat we had had enough boating for the day.
These are some pictures on the history of tea taken inside the Benchmark Tea museum.
Life throws surprises our way when we least expect it. Even as I was writing the post on Arapaleeswarar temple, entirely by chance I came to know that the Mahakumbabishekam was to be performed on 7th May 2017. On the rare occasions in the past when I could visit this temple it was being renovated. On completion, a special and rare ritual called Mahakumbabishekam would be performed. This event was rare because it would be done only once in twelve years. The present kumbabishekam is being done fifteen years after the last ceremony.
The Vedic rituals preceding the Mahakumbabishekam of Arapaleeswarar Temple had commenced in April. It had been some months since I went to this temple and had no idea that so much was going on. On the evening of 6th May, I had an opportunity for a quick visit to the temple. It turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.
The late evening drive to Kolli hills, the visit to the Arapaleeswarar temple where a major event was to take place in a few short hours, the visit to the colorful and vast yagasalai, the heavenly dinner consisting of piping hot sweet kesari, upma, spicy tomato vegetable rice with chutney and sambar at the annadhanam venue, walking through the streets around the temple with brightly lit festival shops, seeing sadhus and renunciants everywhere, watching families of local people arrive with little children and old people carrying shawls and water bottles ready to keep the overnight vigil at the temple and yagasalai until the early hours, the star- studded sky, the cold mountain air, the white smoke from the yagasalai rising up amidst the surrounding forests, the chanting of veda mantras and the sivachariyar explaining what was going on, why it was so important and the subtle benefits bestowed on all who were gathered there on this magical night…all these happenings have a dream like quality when I think of it now.
The words faith and devotion had a new meaning for me that night. It was love for Lord Shiva, a love of the purest kind with no expectations whatsoever. It was the thread that connected everyone who gathered at this sacred place in anticipation of an event of a lifetime.In conclusion, this is the message that was reiterated at the ceremony:
Idhu Siddargal Bhoomi. Idhu Siddargal vazhi padum Kovil: This is the land of siddars.This is a temple where the siddars worship lord Siva.
Photos of Arapaleeswarar temple and from the yagasalai on the eve of Mahakumbabishekam. The pictures from the yaga sala show that the place was covered in smoke from the many yaga kundam.
Note: A kumbabishekam is essentially the reconsecration of a Hindu temple performed once every twelve years. It involves complex vedic rituals performed over a period of days and includes yagas that benefit the society as a whole. As a part of the procedures, the temple is restored and renovated. It is celebrated as a festival in South India, especially in the State of Tamil Nadu.
Which Tamil Nadu hill-station gets its name from the lake at the centre of town? Yercaud, of course! This little hill town was called Eri-Kadu because of the forests around the lake. Eri-lake and kadu-forest. We locals still say Yerkadu when we speak of this laid- back hill town near Salem.
The lake is the first sight that greets you once you have negotiated 20 hair-pin bends on the lovely drive on the oh-so-beautiful hill roads and enter the hill town.
Once you have arrived in Yercaud, the lakeside is a good place to spend time.
Go boating on the lake, relax on the lawns by the lakeside, enjoy the cool breeze and the beautiful scenery, and try out the tasty street food in the many eateries near the boat-house.
TTDC run boat-house opens at nine in the morning and closes at five- thirty in the evening. It is the most popular place for tourists coming to Yercaud and can be quite crowded in summer.
You have a choice of pedal-boats, motor- boats and row-boats.
Yercaud lake is the only natural lake where you can go boating among all the lakes found in hill-stations in Tamil Nadu.
Gently down the lake!
A word of caution- the lake is really deep, so just sit back in your boat and enjoy yourself (let life pass by, literally)!
The row- boats come with the mandatory boatman which is good from the safety perspective. Personally I prefer the row- boat even if there is some waiting for the allotted boat. There is something very therapeutic about the splash of oars striking water, trailing your hand in the cool lake , taking in the panoramic views as the boat moves down the lake and a chat with a friendly boatman!
Late in the evening, when the boat-house has closed and the crowds have left, take a walk on the road by the lake. It’s very peaceful and across the lake, big stars hang low in the black sky over the dark silhouette of a hill. See the stars reflected in the mirror-like water. Feel the cool pure mountain-air, breathe deeply and watch your cares fall away.
The healing beauty of nature is part of the magic that is Yercaud.
Maasi is the month (Feb-March) when the days are turning warmer after the pleasant cold weather of Margazhi and Thai. In temples all over Tamil Nadu, Maasi Magam is a special day when the deities are given a holy ritualistic bath.In the temple of Lord Ardhanareeswara on Tiruchengode hill, this ritual is called the Maha-abhishekam, the ultimate abhishekam.
On Saturday, 11th March, 2017, our group of six members joined hundreds of participants of the maasi magam vizha as they congregated in the ancient Badrakali amman temple in Tiruchengode town. It is customary to begin the procession after prayers are offered to goddess Badrakali. The participants then walked along the very narrow and winding lanes of this historic town to the main ther veethi.
At seven in the morning it was a scene of ethereal beauty as saffron clad devotees walked in silence, all bearing decorated pots of offerings of their choice for the abishekam. Folk dancers representing Siva and Parvati led the way. At the main ther veedhi, the procession stopped briefly for a dance recital accompanied by music, and beautifully rendered by the folk dancers. As police-men made way for early morning traffic the procession moved slowly along the four ther veethis (chariot streets).
The participants then went to the malai kovi (hill temple) of lord Ardhanareeswara for the maha-abhishekam.
After darshan of Lord Ardhanareeswara, everyone waited for the abishekam to begin. This was no ordinary abishekam and the offering-pots contained a wide, interesting variety of sacred things. At the auspicious time the abishekam was first performed in the main sanctums of Senkotuvelavar(Murugan) and Ardhanareeswara. The beautiful utsava deities of Ardhanareeswara and Sengotuvelar were brought to the maha mandapam and placed on the central stone platform so that the rituals could be clearly viewed from all sides.The Maha abishekam commenced after the abishekam in the main shrines were completed.
A unique sight and an experience to cherish!
An awesome 1500 pots of milk, endless pots of vibhuti,honey,sandal-paste,,grapes,choppedbananas,sugarcanejuice,riceflour,panchamitham,turmeric,kalkandu(sugarcandy),panangarkandu-candy made from palm-sugar and pomegranatepearls were poured on the deities. Most of the offerings were collected and given back to the devotees as prasadam.
Faith And Blessing
Everyone present that day must have felt as I did, a divine peace and blessing fill the heart as the abishekam progressed. Seeing the abishekam was a purification of hearts and minds and this cleansing deep inside gave strength of a divine kind, the courage to face the world with all its imperfections and trials. The divine blessing is a balm, a gentle reminder that on this hard journey of life God makes his presence felt in many, many ways.
Pictures from the Masi Abishekam
Read more posts on Maasi Magam and Ardhanareeshwarar Temple by clicking on the links below
The Palaniappar temple on Koovai malai, a hillock in the foothills of Kolli Malai, near Belukurichi near Rasipuram, in Tamil Nadu stands out against the beautiful green backdrop of Kolli hills.
The name Belukurichi is derived from the ancient Tamil words Velavan Kurinji.
Velavan, another name for Murugan is the patron deity of Kurinji which is one of the five different landscapes categorized by the ancient Tamil people. Kurinji is the mountainous and hilly regions of the land. It is inhabited by Veddar, Kuravar and Kanavar tribes who are hunters.
Koovai malai is also called Koogai Malai. Koogai is the ancient Tamil word for the Owl. The Kolli hills as viewed from this hillock does look like a giant bird with outspread wings.
The people of the Kolli hills were hunters in those ancient times and they worshipped Murugan as one of their own, a hunter like themselves.
In the popular legend of Murugan’s courtship of Valli and their subsequent marriage Murugan goes to meet Valli in the guise of a handsome young hunter, Valli being the daughter of Nambirajan, chief of the Kuravar tribe which is also a hill tribe. It is this form of Murugan as the handsome hunter that we worship in the Palaniappar temple.It is said that Murugan set out from here to Valli malai where Valli lived.
The temple is believed to have existed since more than 3000 years ago.
Saint Bhogar who lived 3000 years ago is believed to have visited this temple after which he went to Palani and created the idol of Palani Murugan.
Thus the name Palaniappar means Palanikku appar,’the one who came before Palani’.
The Tamil poetess – saint Avvaiyar is said to have worshipped here.
King Valvil Ori worshipped Palaniappar here before visiting three other temples in the region. While talking about the history of the temple, the archakar thiru. Sendilkumar said, “Come, I will show you the statue of Valvil Ori with his queen”, and led the way to a block of granite at the entrance to the temple with carvings of Valvil Ori with his queen. Valvil Ori is shown holding a bow in one hand.
As I visited temples in the regions ruled by Valvil Ori in Sangam AgeTamilagam I found that people still spoke proudly of this king who was celebrated as one of the kadai ezhu vallalgal. The power of folklore that kept alive the name of a famous king of 2000 years ago is amazing!
FOOTPATH TO KOLLI HILLS
It is significant that the images of the king and queen face the ancient footpath/bridlepath down the mountains.
Coming down from the mountains on this ancient path which is 10 feet wide, the temple is the first stop in the foothills.
This path is still used by the Palangudi indigenous people of Kolli Malai.When we visited, the archagar’s wife, pointing up the hills asked me if I could see a man going up the mountain path. Looking where she pointed I could indeed see a moving white speck way up the mountain! It was a man on his way up and further up there was another climber! I asked her how long it took to reach the top. “It may take more than two to four hours for us,” she said, “but for them (the hill people) it is a climb of 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most”. The Pazhangudi people use this path to bring mountain produce such as honey, spices, jackfruit, pineapple and so on to the Belukurichi sandhai ( weekly market), mostly as thalai sumai, meaning they carried their goods on their heads! A sturdy people they are too! The Belukurichi sandhai is very famous and is held on all Saturdays.
A forest ranger who joined in the conversation said that from Belukurichi village the distance to the temple is 3 kms. And the distance from the temple via the footpath to Othakadai village in the hills was 3.30 kms. Since the new Nariangadu- mullukurichi road was opened in the kolli hills, some of the hill people now chose to use this road after climbing down part way down the hills.
This footpath is also used by trekkers.
Palaniappar temple is the only Murugan temple in the world where Murugan is worshipped in the form of a Veddan or hunter in the sanctum sanctorum.
The way to the temple is up the flight of steps leading from the base of the hillock. This way is now closed for renovation. There is a stone- built mandapam at the foot of the hill that was probably used for resting and for utsavams and festivals. Behind this mandapam the old temple car is kept.
A short distance up the steps is the Yaanai Paali(யானை பாலி),a perennial spring on the hill. There is a colorful life- size image of an elephant and the entrance to the sunai (spring) is between the feet of the elephant! The archagar said that the spring used to be called as Pillaiyaar Paali. Later when the elephant entrance was built it came to be known as Yaanai Paali. The spring never dries up even in summer and the waters have healing, medicinal properties that are used to treat skin ailments.
Further up the hill there is another spring. I asked the archagar about it and he answered, “That spring is for the Aadu, maadu, paravaigal ( the cattle,goats and birds) that come up here to drink from the spring and the yaanai paali is for the use of humans”. An amazing but lovely tradition that taught peaceful co-existence with all living creatures!
A good motorable road goes around the hill right up to the back entrance of the temple, which in the olden days was the front entrance. The other entrances came much later.
A short flight of white washed granite steps lead to the temple. A spacious courtyard/prakaram leads to the Deepastampam and there are some more steps to the pillared maha mandapam.
Lord Palaniappar in the garba graha is one of the most beautiful deities. Facing west, about 31/2 feet tall, Murugan is in Veduvan kolam and a handsome young hunter he is! His hair is piled in a knot on the right side of his head in a hairstyle called as kondai. We can see a string of konrai (golden shower) flowers worn around the kondai. On the holy forehead can be seen the vibhuti (sacred ash) pattai and kumkum in the middle, symbols of Siva and Parvati. Malas or strings of beads, perhaps rudraakshas grace the chest.There are amulets on the arms.The Vastra worn from the waist has strings of Vilva ( bael) leaves adorning it. We can see a pichua kathi(பிச்சுவா கத்தி), a small dagger worn at the waist as well as the dagger case! In his left hand Palaniappar holds a plump rooster(சேவல்) while in his right hand He holds a long Eeti (ஈட்டி)or lance.Ornaments called thandai(தண்டை) adorn the ankles while footwear calledpaadha kuradu(பாதகுறடு) are worn on the beautiful holy feet. All these details are etched in stone, on this rare and beautiful idol. The beautiful face and the divine smile are enchanting.
On the ceiling of the Artha Mandapam an engraving of two serpents swallowing the Sun and Moon can be seen.
The temple faces west, and on a good day the Tiruchengode Hillcan be seen from the Maha mandapam.
There are small shrines for Vinayaka, Koogalingeswarar and Kumari Nayagi ambal. There is a separate shrine for Vishnu, with lord Krishna with his flute on one side and Aadhi Seshan on the other. All these are later shrines consecrated in the last century. Koogalingeswarar and ambal were consecrated by the archagar’s maternal grandfather.
Pournami pooja at midnight on full moon nights is a famous ritual of this temple attended by large crowds of people. The first pournami pooja was started on 28. 3. 1983 on a Monday in the month of Panguni of Thundhubi varusham (year) when the archagar’s maternal uncle served as temple priest. That same year, Sri Kripanandha Vaariaar, popularly called as Vaariaar Swamigal, visited and held a Sotrpozhivu or religious discourse at this temple.
Saint Arunagirinadhar composed two Tirupugazh hymns on lord Muruga of Kolli Malai. In the second hymn starting with the words Thollai tharu.., he says that Murugan went to court Valli who was guarding the millet field and that he took a gift of leaves as was the custom in those days.
In the line,’Koydhu thazhaye kondu sellum mazhava’, Murugan is called as Mazhava, or member of the mazhavar tribe.History records the fact that the Mazhavar clan ruled the Kolli and surrounding areas for many centuries. Valvil Ori was also a Mazhavar king.
கல்லுருகவே யின்கண் அல்லல்படுகோ வம்பு
கல்வருக வேநின்று குழலூதுங்
கையன் மிசையேறும்பன் நொய்யசடையோ னெந்தை
கைதொழமெய் ஞானஞ்சொல் கதிர்வேலா
கொல்லைமிசை வாழ்கின்ற வள்ளிபுனமே சென்று
கொய்து தழையேகொண்டு செல்லும் மழவா கந்த
கொல்லிமலை மேநின்ற பெருமாளே
Song 607 – Thollaimudhal (kollimalai)
kalluruga veyinkan allalpadu go am pu
galvaruga venindru kuzhaloodhum
kaiyanmisai yerumban noyyasadai yonnendhai
Kaithozha mei nyaanam sol kadhirvela
kollaimisai vaazhginra valli puname sendru
kollaikollu maaran kai alaraale
koydhu thazhye kondu sellum mazhava..kandha
kollimalai menindra perumale
These lines allude to the legend of Murugan meeting Valli as a young hunter and it is believed that they refer to Vedduva Murugan in this temple.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Renovation work is being done. The temple will wear a new look when it is completed. The peaceful isolation may become a thing of the past. When the breeze blows from the mountain in the evenings bringing the healing fragrance of the hundreds of herbs which Kolli malai is famous for, there is apprehension that all this may be lost to change. But the grace of Palaniappar will be bestowed on all who seek him.
The temple is open continuously from 7 a.m to 5.30 p.m.
Since it is 3 kms from the village there are no crowds except on special days like the full moon day and weekends. There are no houses or even shops near the temple. Offerings for pooja like flower garlands, coconuts, bananas, betel leaves and areca-nut can be bought in Belukurichi.
The temple in idyllic surroundings is the perfect place for a picnic or to spend some quiet time away from it the bustle of the city.
Koovai malai is part of Bail nadu in Kolli Hills Taluk.
Located in Reserve forest area of the kolli range, the temple can be reached by road from Belukurichi, a fairly large village right below the kolli hills, 13.6 km from Rasipuram and 13.8 km from Sendhamangalam.
Belukurichi is accessible from Salem, Rasipuram or Namakkal which have good hotels. The temple is an hour’s drive from Salem.
Nature’s palette this December in Yercaud is light and dark shades of green and vivid splashes of red and orange.
This is a busy time in the coffee plantations in Yercaud. The coffee plants are full of red berries. Plantation workers pick the ripe berries by hand leaving the green unripe ones on the plants.
The coffee berries are a beautiful shade of red and shine like rubies amidst the shiny dark green leaves of the coffee plant. Myself, I love coffee and can’t do without my morning cuppa and another in the evening. Filter coffee is always a treat, and Kumbakonam degree kaapi makes one drool. But it all starts here in the hills from the coffee berries that ripen in December. In Salem, we are proud of our very own Narasu’s coffee..who can forget the famous ad?!!
Plantation yards are a hive of activity, as the picked berries are weighed, the seeds separated from the berries in machines and then sun-dried. For many days, as the berries ripen slowly on the plants this process continues. From berry to brew is a lengthy process which starts with the picking.
Elsewhere in the hills, bright red Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) bring Christmas cheer.
The little ‘crown of thorns’ plants are not to be outdone. They are full of little red flowers making lovely thorny borders on roadsides and estates.
I have a passion to write and the best one can write about is one's own life. So here I am with my experiences, musings, travelogues,stories,my experiments with cooking and what I have learnt in the journey of my life.