Magic of Margazhi

Margazhith Thingal mathi niraidha nannaalal

…starts the Thiruppavai verse rendered by Andal. Margazhi is the last month in the Tamil calendar starting on the 16th of December. This is the time when the otherwise sleepy streets rouse before the crack of dawn. Kolams, designs made with ground rice flour, adorn wet pavements, MS Subbulakshmi’s enchanting Suprabhatam wakes the God from his slumber, freshly ground filter coffee stirs the sleepy eyed human and fragrant jasmine adorns the pictures of God and oiled braids alike.

Kolam Design

(Copyright: Sridhar Rao Chaganti Flickr Stream)

Fond memories of Margazhi mornings hunched over kolam books waft before my eyes. My maternal grandmother was deft in drawing kolams and she would expertly sketch the most complicated designs without faltering on a single curve. She quickly took me under her arm and that was to be my first tryst with Margazhi. After the kolam, we would quickly bathe, deck up and walk up to the nearest Vishnu temple. My mother and granny would recite the Thiruppavai while we ran helter skelter all the while keeping an eagle eye on the prasadams.

Winter breaks during Margazhi were spent lying on my grandmother’s lap cushioned by her soft yet supple Sungundi saree. The scent of her sari’s starch, her face glowing from the daily application of turmeric and the diamonds glittering in her nose and ears were a thing of comfort. As we lay in a semi comatose state pushing our bellies that were belching from the heavy lunch, she would churn out her usual dose of mythological tales that were interspersed with events from her own life.   Her parents lived in the temple town of Pillayarpati which is famous for the Lord Pillayar temple. Her father was the temple accountant and every day after the morning offering, a huge box of kozhakattais would make their way home. My mother remembers reserving the sweet and savoury kozhakattais in case she had to run to the vaigai to fetch water. One kozhakattai was big enough to satiate their breakfast pangs. My grandmother’s vivid narration of the story of Andal during my teens still lingers on my mind. Her enthralling account of Kothai being discovered near the Tulsi plant, wearing the garland knotted for her God in an effort to become his bride and the Lord himself flanked by a thousand elephants arriving to seek her hand left an indomitable mark. Andal was born in the temple town of Sriviliputhoor and resides in the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Rangam after wedded bliss. Every time I witness a Vaishnavite wedding, my grandmother’s voice and her brilliant folklore rings in my ears.

Musical Trinity(

Margazhi also signifies the start of the music season. Artists from around the world descend in Chennai, equipped with rich knowledge to satiate the audience’s year long craving. Their renditions are a feast for the senses and food for the soul. Margazhi is when Kodambakkam plays gracious host to Mambalam. The rustle of silk, rhythm of instruments and the confluence of artists are legendary.   In the absence of the internet, we would turn to the television or Radio for the music to flow into our homes. But before we tuned in to the day’s performances, we had to freshen up. It did not matter that we were merely the passive audience. Right before six our tresses would be neatly braided, coconut oil dripping from every strand, faces scrubbed, kohl lined our eyes, a round bindi rested between our eyebrows and ash smeared above it to signal the completion of evening prayers. On Fridays, strands of jasmine were neatly pinned up to the oiled hair.   As we huddled around giggling indifferent to the ragas and renditions, she etched the story behind Jagodadharana penned by Purandaradasar in the Navaneetha Krishnan temple in Dodamallur. Tales of Saint Thygaraja’s unflinching devotion to Lord Rama and the Thiruvaiaru and Muthusami Dikshitar’s vision of Lord Muruga filled our drawing rooms.

As I stare outside my window into the snow filled emptiness, strains of Carnatic music makes its way through the miles to warm my senses. Margazhi for me is not just about the tales or the temples. Margazhi is the divine month when music and mythology intersect. The misty mornings, mellifluous music, mesmerizing rhythms and mythological Margazhi, all signify a slice of heaven. So if God decided to pick a time for a mortal dwelling, it would be during this magical month of Margazhi.

P.S: The author wishes to make a trip during one of the forthcoming Margazhis to all the temples that her grandmother filled her childhood with.

P.P.S: This piece was published in

Colors of life

We went shopping for curtains yesterday. I was adamant on buying something with color. I was bored of shades of brown, white lace or those dull half white ones. I wanted shocking colors – Brick red, sunsent orange, lemon yellow, leaf green, sky blue and wine red.

The idea of buying curtains in such loud colors would not please my husband, which is why i was harboring the colors in the safety of my mind. When i find what am looking for, i would ensure we buy it. Now dont call me cunning, this is how my gender works – atleast most of it. We dont proclaim what we want loudly and undeniably but find ways of getting it done – which is what matters.

The only pleasing color we found was a golden leaf curtain in walmart and i refused to pick anything else that was not in line with the colors i wanted. We have a brown sofa, black flat screen, brown coffee table, the house was screaming for color. P.S: We dont have a rug yet 🙂

I have always heard from tourists to India how they are shocked by the colors they see there. Personally i have never thought of it as one of the prominent features of India. There were other things that made India special(to me). But after weeks of searching for color, i realize what we dont have.

Its spring time here, the leaves are a green that is so fresh and some trees have white, pink, purple, magenta flowers, even before the have leaves. It is uncouth to miss the colors you see while you drive by but what stops the designers to translate these colors to fabrics.

I’m not sure whether its the spring or the failure of my shopping expedition but i’m going to drink in the colors on my trip to India this time, to savour and relish later.

I miss you

We had Mira Nair as a guest lecture in our city last week and i have to say, the lady can speak well.
The crowd was mostly caucasians sprinkled with desis and most of them have watched monsoon wedding, salaam bombay & missisippi masala. The effect Slumdog Millionaire has on people. Let me clarify, i’m not going to patronize that slumdog is an Indian film or that India has finally arrived. How many times can India arrive at the global stage?

Mira Nair’s talk on Namesake rang a bell closer to home. When we were heading out of the hall, i was thinking to myself, what is it with us that we want to fit in? For me India is always home. I can live here till i die but i would never feel nor call it home. The heat of Chennai, the madness of Rajni, the blaring of Sun TV, the buzz of vegetable vendors, friendly neighbours, not so friendly neighbours, gossiping aunties, swarming relatives, exotic weddings, colorful dresses and a piece of me. I would miss all that eternally. But this post is not about that.

When we are here or in any other part of the world, the first thing we do is google fellow indians in the neighbourhood. We try to find a community, make a close knit group of Indians. I dont suppose there is anything wrong with that but i have always frowned upon the clannish behaviour. Yet i would happily be a part of it here. The joy of finding a Indian grocery store, googling theaters that screen indian movies, finding meetup groups, visiting temples i have done it all.

There is also a group of Indians here who have a chip on their shoulder. They would not smile at you at restaurants acknowledge your presence at the grocery store(not necessarily Indian). This breed of Indians think they are “smarter” and more “modern” . They would not want to socialize because we are prob a class lower. It makes me grin, sometimes at their perceptions and sometimes at their ignorance. Wearing shades, straightening your hair, wearing tighter clothes(sometimes much too tight and much too short) does not make you cooler. Infact it makes you insecure. (Pardon me, but i’m not generalizing). It makes me wonder if i trace back the roots, then we would prob be even related.

I’m not condemning indians who wont socialize with fellow indians not am i appreciating the people who do. We have our own battles to fight,  our own principles and our own lives to live. So strictly no name calling or judging the people who are not like me. It just makes me wonder if we have finally reached a stage where being in a foreign place does not make you special. I have always remembered my cousin who use to fly back from US every two years and the entire house would go crazy on his arrival. I would wonder why is it so special when people return?

I can strongly say this craze has finally ended. Being in India is a choice many people take voluntarily. Going to a foreign land is what many people choose not for better living but for a better experience. Somehow i can see the changes happen right before me. The next generation would prob choose to be home and that would be a better option. That is why my friends, India has finally arrived.

Being at home still makes you special and content. We dont have to change our outlook, make excuses for the accent, wonder if the neighbours can smell our curry powder or even change our wardrobe. Everybody knows what it takes to come from a country of myriad colors and diverse traditions. The better part is we feel proud about it. You dont realize how much you miss something until it is really missing!!!