Tag Archives: South India

Annatto (Bixa orellana L.)

Mysore is a famous city in Karnataka. It has a rich history and also pleasant climate. Due to this there are always flowers everywhere. It is city of gardens. There are numerous monumental buildings and temples. Near by is the Sangam where Cauvery river segments again merge. Also the famous palace of Tipu Sultan and his fort which was surrounded by a deep moat on all sides. But he was killed there.

I came across these shrubs first time in the campus of CFTRI Mysore. The institute is doing  research to increase the yield of flowers and seeds. Seeds are used as natural dye for food coloring. Seed coating contains carotenoids which impart red color and terpenes give the scent.

The trees are natives of South America. Small numbers grow in Karnataka and adjoining states of South India. Flowers come in bunches and have tough spiny hairs. When you open the the flower case, inside are seeds and your hands will be colored red with the dye. South Americans used it for many purposes like lipstick, body painting and medicine. I took some photos.


Seeds inside the flower


Shrub with flower





The more the Merrier

When Dharmendra wanted to wed Hema Malini, which was illegal as he already had a wife, he took recourse to convert to Islam which allowed him to have more than one wives.  If you are affluent, you can circumvent any obstacle and do whatever you want to do. The original woman did not have the courage to oppose and was resigned to her fate. These type of social aberrations occur regularly but go unreported unless the person involved is a celebrity. There are arguments for and against for this kind of behavior but such stories provide the entertainment and public is always eager for such stories. The interest wanes as soon as the new story breaks out.

This is not new to Indian subcontinent. In the mythology, Kings invariably had many wives. In addition to these, many of them kept many women in the harems for their carnal pleasures. Everyone is aware of the hundreds of keeps of a particular King of Patiala. Arjuna had many wives in addition to Draupadi. Affluent people try to emulate them though they have to manipulate the things and pull the strings at the higher echelons. It must be emphasized that the roles of every class in the society was clearly demarcated. No one could do what the King wanted to do.

But what about those who are supposed to be the lodestars and guides for the public which elects them to govern the country. For example in South India, many men have more than one wives.  For example, Suryanarayana had two wives became public only after his murder in Afghanistan, but the revelation isn’t surprising in Andhra Pradesh, indeed in most of south India.

In Tamil Nadu, bigamy is commonly accepted and has a term reserved for it. It is called Chinna veedu, which translates roughly to “Small Home” or the second home. And it is rampant despite being as illegal and is an age old tradition.

In the case of ruling politicians, the state has to provide security cover at the main house as well as at the Chinna Veedu.It may not be surprising that the politicians stop at only two. They are entitled to enjoy at the cost of public expenses. After all it is not theirs but public’s fault to elect them and empower them for 5 years at least.

All the great personalities like late M G Ramachandran, or M Karunanidhi, they have all had it, and flaunted it. Karunanidhi has married at least three women, the first of whom is dead.

The DMK chief now divides his time in the houses of both wives – spending mornings at the Gopalapuram residence with Dayaluammal while moving to the house of his other wife, Rajathiammal, at CIT Nagar in Chennai in the afternoons.

Another towering Tamil actor, Gemini Ganesan, married five times while his first wife was alive. The Chinna veedu concept is fairly common in Krishnagiri and Salem districts of TN, where males believe in more the merrier.

Actor-director K Bhagyaraj even made a Tamil movie called Chinna Veedu.

At least one top Union minister from Tamil Nadu is known to have two wives and so does a senior DMK official, who married his daughter’s classmate. An academic said, “The social sanction for two wives can be traced to religion and mythology. Lord Muruga, for instance, had two wives.”

In Andhra, bigamy doesn’t have the traditional sanction it enjoys in TN, but the practice is fairly widespread among the powerful and even a status symbol.

Chhatrapati Shivaji: Simply Extraordinary

Maratha are a very sturdy and brave people. They inhabited the region of India called “Deccan” which is modern day Maharashtra and Northern Karnataka and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Andhra.
But extent of their valor is reflected in the fact that once they ruled even Delhi and many parts of South India. The foundations were laid down by the Great Shivaji. It fills one with awe to know that Shivaji occupied many areas in the Tamil Nadu which so far away from Deccan. What strength and grit these people must had possessed. Shivaji captured the famous fort of Gingee which is located in the Viluppuram district of Tamil Nadu. Shivaji described the Gingee fort as the toughest he had won in the battles. Gingee is more of a temples cluster inside a fort on a hill. From this hill, the whole plain below are clearly visible and thus it is best suited for guarding the place below as well as taking shelter in the circumstances of emergency.

The history of their forays into deep south begun with Shivaji father Shahaji Bhosale capturing Gandikota in the present day Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh. At that time he was a commander in the Army of Bijapur Sultan. Sultan bestowed a large Jagir upon him in the North Karnataka which included the present day areas Bangalore, Kolar and Tumkur. This was the beginning of the strong presence of Marathas in the South India although many maratha families were employed in many Muslim kingdoms of South and Vijaynagar empire.

Shahaji Bhosale was almost an independent ruler of the Jagirs. He died suddenly in 1664 and his son Venkoji took over the administration of the Jagirs. Venkoji was the son of Tuka Bai Mohite whereas Shivaji was the son of Jija Bai, the first wife of Shahaji. This way he was the brother of Shivaji. Venkoji lost no time in shaking off the allegiance to Bijapur Sultan and took campaign to Tanjavore in 1675 marking the beginning of Maratha people’s absorption into the alien culture of Tamil Nadu. These people are called “Raoji”. For centuries they are living there and have almost lost all the links to their relatives in Maharashtra. They speak fluent Tamil and their Marathi has taken different connotations. Original Marathi has undergone a sea change. The feminine gender has almost been replaced by neuter gender (“Gaadi aala”). The pronunciation veers towards Tamil, Telugu or Kannada.

Although Venkoji and his successors were no match to the military genius of Shivaji, they were great patrons of arts and literature. Venkoji himself was a writer of sorts but his sons were versatile writers who wrote in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. Tukoji in fact was a great linguist with mastery over these languages. During their regime, the place became a great centre of Carnatic Music. The great saint Thyagayya lived in their time.

The marathi influence is attested by the use of gottuvadya and jal taranga. They introduced Kirtan in the Tamil culture. Before this the Tamil had Bhavataras giving religious discourses without the accompaniment of music. During the reign of Marathi kings, Buvas and kirtankars introduced the kirtaan there.

Bits of our History

History they say is not the absolute truth. The human interactions and desires are so complex so as to be easily comprehensible. Everyone tries to interpret the past in its own way. The science is now being used to reconstruct the past from the remnants of the things used by people in the past like the inscriptions on the stones, remains of the dead, pottery, tools used by the people of those times. History is also layered with seams representing the different chronologies.

I was going through the books at Books.google.com, reading the preview of some books on history by Romila Thapar. She seems to do the things very thoroughly and putting across these very legibly. Theories of invasion of North India and then whole of Gangetic plains during the course of time also lack evidence and are not fully convincing.

Another book detailing the history of Maratha people by an British author who spent considerable time in India tells us that it was easy for the Aryans to spread across the Ganges plains because of easy terrain and fertile land for agriculture and availability of water for survival. After reaching and settling up to East of India, they moved towards South India across the Vindiyas. This delay seems due to difficult terrain dividing the south and north of India.

But their entry into the Maharashtra was the last.


I live in a place called Panvel which is about 50 kilometers away from Mumbai. I am serving in ONGC and am not the original inhabitant of the place. But I have lived in this place for the past 16 years. This place has rich history. Its municipal corporation is the oldest in the Maharastra. It is a junction for going to Goa, Pune, South India. It is full of geographic features. Hills dot the panorama all around. There are many rivulets. It is on the sea coast. The soil is hard and rocky and is not fertile. Once upon a time, Shiva Ji, the great Maratha King, had a jetty and naval unit here. The express highway going to Pune crosses this city.

Today, when I was on my way to home from my office, it was getting almost dark but still it was twilight. Street lights have not come up yet. It is November and the weather is getting slightly cooler in the mornings and evenings. By the standards of North India this cannot be called cool. For some reason, I was not feeling like going to home.

What a person do in such settings? I was looking towards the heavens. There were stars here and there. If you continue to look longer and concentrate at a particular location in the sky, the stars seem to being born like the seeds sprouting. Soon the whole sky will be covered with the crop of stars.

Anyway, leave aside this poetical musings. I noticed a very strange phenomena. Huge bats, the size of big crows, were heading towards the colony from Panvel city side. Some of them were flying so high and crossed the colony trees which are in plenty. Though I was quite sure about the identity of these creatures, I for a moment confused them with crows. Also, I thought that they may be some stray animals. But they kept coming. As I reached beneath the big tress-again I am sorry I don’t know the name-some of the them were landing on the branches of these trees. Some were making sorties between the trees. There were sounds of nibbling and falling of the partially eaten fruits which these trees bear. These fruits are not palatable to humans, but they are favorites of parrots in the day time and bats in the night. You will always find the partially eaten fruits beneath the trees.

These bats were not of the small size usually found in the cities which were also there in few numbers in the trees.  These might be Indian flying fox variety which gorge themselves on fruits. It is known that these bats live in the coastal areas which are many here because the Panvel is coastal area. I suspect that these bats must be sleeping inside some holes of older trees or rocks and visiting for food in the night on the trees in our colony and beyond where there are more trees in the rural areas. Because our night is day for them and our day is night for them.

The bats are true flying mammals belonging to chiropetera order. Forelimbs have developed into webbed wings making them unique mammals capable of sustained flight in contrast to flying squirrels, possums which don’t fly but glide in air for short distances as the distance between two trees. I have seen the squirrels in Assam jumping a distance of about 8 feet from one tree to another.

Bats are awe inspiring creatures and frequently mentioned in literature especially mythology. There are vampire bats whose diet is blood. They suck the blood from the animals like buffaloes during night time. Bats locate their pray through the echolocation technology which is also employed by dolphins and whales.

There are certain moths, tiger moths to be precise, which also emit ultrasounds  by clicking warning the bats that they are chemically protected and thus fool them and avoid being becoming the food of bats.  I think I will look for them again tomorrow to confirm there activity.

Panvel Railway Station

Panvel has a very important strategic location. It is a crucial link between Mumbai and South India. All the trains running on Konkan railways between Kerala and Mumbai and North India pass through Panvel railway station. Trains as important as Rajdhani and Satabadi are passing through Panvel. It is also the last station of Harbour Railways link between Mumbai and Panvel catering to thousands of travelers everyday.

There was a time few years back when only a few services operated on the local line. The train was almost empty till it entered the main Mumbai. Many passengers came sleeping on the seats. The situation was such that security  guards were posted on the ladies compartments.

The situation is now completely opposite. Both Mumbai bound and Panvel bound local trains are full to brim. If you don’t board them at the starting station, chances are that you will have to keep standing during entire journey.

This reason this has happened is the migration of thousands of families of working class living in the crammed shanties in Mumbai to New Mumbai.  Mumbai city is ever hungry for land. It gobbles whatever land comes its way. Skyscrapers are sprouting from the bosom of earth like the vegetation in the rainy season.  The rates in Mumbai are sky high and after selling even a small house one has enough money to purchase a reasonably good house in New Mumbai and purchase cars to ply as taxis or open some mart. But the biggest factor is some good space to breath after getting suffocated in Mumbai for years.   People are ready to undergo suffering due to traveling to far off Mumbai in return for the good living space for their families. So the introduction of  trains is the prime mover of all this change. The rates of property have begun rising in New Mumbai and Mumbai is extending its tentacles like an octopus.

But, the amenities at the railway platforms are pathetic. Take for example Panvel station. There are lots of passengers coming and going to the station. There is no temporary parking for the people waiting with their vehicles to fetch their relatives which get down at the station. There is a long line of auto rickshaws occupying the one side of narrow approach road to the station. On the other side, local buses come and go and stand there waiting for passengers creating a total mess. The scene in the night is even more strange. In the pucca place between the road and station, so many people sleep in the open. There are dogs foraging inside the dustbins. They shit everywhere. Donkeys squat amongst the sleeping people. In short, the station is bursting at the seams.

Talking about the approach roads to the station from local bus stand, from Hanuman temple near the city rest house, the road passing in front of Sai Baba temple, the less said the better. Take for example the road passing through Sai Baba temple, from main road to just short of the temple, the path looks like a hell. It is not a road at all. It is full of potholes. The inhabitants living on both sides in the shanties live almost on the path. They wash outside. They are almost sitting on the path. Children run here and there and before any warning dart in front of vehicles. It is irony that such conditions prevail near the Baba’s temple. So many affluent people visit this temple everyday but nobody seems to care because they come in the air conditioned cars with the windows rolled up. Baba who was the emancipator of the poorest of the poor seems helpless in this matter. Since he used to stay among the poor and downtrodden people, it may that the same ambiance has been created by not doing anything to alleviate the lot of these poor people.

Similarly the road coming from the highway near Hanuman temple cannot even pass for a road. It is in very bad condition. There are big sections which are totally the potholes. Businessmen are using the  roadside for parking the loaded trucks. These vehicles are battering the already threadbare road. Builders who are building the houses on the sides use the road to stock the building materials. After the job is over, nobody bothers to clear the mess they created. Big mounds of sand and pulverized stones lie on the road. These mercilessly damage the tyres of the vehicles. There are so many bumps and potholes that the vehicles as well as the owners groan with pain.

This is not the end of the story. Just at the confluence of all the roads leading to the station, there is big circular place between them. It has been totally occupied by the caravan people. They have pitched their tents there. Around the area emanates the smell of shit as these people have turned the whole area around into a big open lavatory. Administration seems to has turned a blind eye towards all this. Nobody seems to inspect the roads. The users of the road are paying taxes in turn of such badly conditioned roads. There is no sanitation around the station. It is all running by itself on a fluke or on a chance.