Of The Months, She Is Margazhi

Madangalil aval Margazhi

Malargalile aval malligai

Of the months, she is Margazhi

Of the flowers, she is jasmine

Why is a beautiful woman compared to the month of Margazhi? Margazhi is the much poeticised month in Thamizh calendar. Tamil Nadu experiences tropical climate with hot summers, blustery monsoons, and sweltering post monsoon heat. The Margazhi month that falls between mid December to mid January is a hiatus before the mercury picks gradually up through the months of Thai (mid January – mid February), Masi (mid February to mid March), Panguni (mid March to mid April) to climax with agni nakshatram the 14 day hot period at the end of Chithirai (mid April to mid May) and the beginning of Vaigasi (mid May to mid June).

That is for the earthly calendar. What about the calendar of the devas? In the deva lokha one human year equals one day. The six months from Aadi (mid July to mid August) to Margazhi corresponding to the southern solstice make up the night of the Gods, the six other months make up the day of the Gods. So the beautiful month of Margazhi is the dawn, the Brahma muhurtham, when the celestial beings wake up for their day. So we spend the whole of the Margazhi month gently coaxing the devas, the blue hued and lotus eyed Vishnu to wake up.

This is the holy month in the Hindu Tamil calendar when people immerse themselves in devotion, there are no marriages held in this month, men and women are expected to spend their time visiting temples, invoking bhagavath nama through japam, meditation and by singing bhajans. The mornings begin with women drawing large kolam, they then visit temples where they sing the proverbial ‘Thiruppavai’ composed by the Vaishnavite woman mystic Andal. Group of men and women sing bhajans and circumambulate the streets around temples.

Margazhi is synonymous with Andal’s ‘Thiruppavai’, a collection of 30 verses that correspond with the 30 days of the month.

Kodai,

the daughter of the devout Brahmin of Srivilliputtur,

who offers cool, fragrant, green lotus-garlands to the Lord –

Kodai is the composer of these verses.

Thirty in number,

a string of Thamizh verses

when rendered with passion and devotion

O, my friend,

secures the grace of my Lord,

whose eyes shine crimson.

He is fortune embodied,

the handsome husband of Lakshmi.

Identifying herself with the ayarpadis or the cowherd community, Andal, the fifteen year old girl sang these songs of deep and pure devotion twelve hundred years ago during the beautiful month of Margazhi in a village called Srivilliputtur not very far from the Pandya capital of Madurai. Andal the mystic poet was the adopted daughter of Periazhvar, a Vaishnava saint, who found the orphaned child in the brindavanam of the temple in Srivilliputtur. He named the child Kodai and the beautiful child grew in an ambience of godliness, she accompanied her father to the temple every day and wove the garland of flowers with great care that the devout man offered to Lord Vishnu. She spent the day in the temple with her father, listening to the songs that he sang in praise of the Lord.

Being a child of circumstances, the girl grew with an abiding love for the Lord whom she started seeing as her lover. She dreamt of visiting the Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, pined for the lord and sang songs pleading her lord to come and take her away from the binding world. Her ‘Thiruppavai’ songs are replete with the rasa of Bhakti and devotion, the plaintive cry of the jiva yearning for union with the paramatma is brought out in a simple manner as the songs effortlessly move between earthly images and the ethereal as they delineate the legend of the Govinda, the cloud hued cowherd of Gokul.

Historically the songs serve as a source for the rituals and practices followed in the Thamizh country during the eighth and ninth centuries. The songs allude to Pavai nombu, a ritual observed by young girls and women to bring prosperity to the land and happiness to all the people. It is generally believed that the nombu was observed for Katyayani (a form of Durga). Women and girls observing pavai nombu woke before dawn, bathed in the river and made an image of Katyayani with the clay found in the river bank and offered prayers to the Goddess.

‘Thiruppavai’ commences with a group of girls routing their way on a cold Margazhi morning to the banks of the river to observe nombu for the Lord who measured the world with his three strides. Andal says to her companions –

We will sing in praise of the Lord

Who rests on the waves of the ocean

We neither partake of rich foods, milk nor ghee

Having bathed we do not adorn ourselves with kohl or flowers

 We follow a virtuous life and are gentle on our words

We offer gifts to the needy

 We are blissful as out thoughts turn toward liberation.

The entourage straggling to the river wake up the girls still sleeping, chiding them for their negligence of duty towards the Lord.

Apart from the bhava of Bhakti, the poems are evocative of Margazhi thingal, the beautiful Margazhi morning laden with dew that inspired a sensitive girl to write a poem that is as much, according to me, a dedication to the Margazhi day that carries kisses of cold nights, as much as it is a dedication to her Lord. The dawn takes a long, long time to come by as the eastern skies nudge the daybreak with tinges of the purple and orange. So does her Lord takes his time, agonises the nayaki.

Illustrations: Lalitha Thiagarajan

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Whose Lake Is It?

Porur is a locality in South Chennai. Porur lake is the reservoir from which most parts of Chennai get its water. A common query at the end of every monsoon is, “Did the Porur lake fill to its optimum capacity?”  This question rings an ominous note now, for that matter Porur lake filling to its optimum level posed serious problems since last monsoon.

Last monsoon was abnormally copious. It rained from October till December, one low pressure after another brew on the Bay of Bengal, and cyclone after cyclone hit bull’s eye or whipped its tail on the coast of Tamil Nadu. Chennai reeled under the deluge, and almost the whole of Chennai lay submerged in sheets of water.

The Porur lake spreads about 850 acres and of that the 550 acres had been encroached by hutments. So only 300 acres of the lake has remained for catchments of rain water.  This shrinking of the lake has taken place over two decades. Over 4000 families lived on this encroached land. In the last two decades various bad monsoons had been experienced, even a moderate amount of rainfall can make this region waterlogged. Porur had been termed as low lying, there are various places in Chennai that get water logged and not all have encroached into lakes. The people who built hutments on the lake region, along with others in the city affected by monsoon claimed flood relief year after year.

Last year’s abnormal rains and the damage that the monsoons wreaked on the people living in these regions caught media attention.  People living in the Porur locality and in other localities close to the canals where the lake water drains into (these too have been encroached by settlements) have been complaining of the encroachment. They complained during last monsoon that people living in encroached land broke the bunds and this caused flooding of the localities like Valasaravakkam, Virugambakkam, and Chinmaya Nagar. Demonstrations and protests by the residents of these localities put a lot of pressure on the officials and ministers. This set rolling the process of reclaiming the lake, some of the families were moved out of the region but the exercise was abandoned after a few months.  

This year we received fairly good rains. All the catchment areas got filled; naturally Porur lake had filled to its “optimum” capacity. The huts, houses and shops that had encroached into the Porur lake region lay submerged in rain water.  Efforts were made to move the people marooned out of their homes. Once the rains abated steps were taken on a war footing to evict people from these regions. The house and huts were demolished and the government announced that the people will be provided free housing sites (a cent of land per family) at Nalloor village near Kundrathur and Thervai Kandigai village near Gummudipoondi.

About 4000 families of approximately 15000 people were evicted. The people gathered whatever they could from their homes and made arrangements to move to the sites allotted to them. There was a long formality involved before moving out. The people evicted stood in queues to gather tokens from the officials after showing their ration cards, voter’s id, TNEB cards, house tax receipts as well as sale agreement on stamp paper.

How does an illegal squatter have all these legal documents? To answer this question we have to understand the process by which such lands are converted into colonies of settlement. This is a common practice in many places, and there is a more or less standardized modus operandi for this. Land grabbers with the backing from political parties promise poor people a small plot of land.  To that effect money is initially collected and plots of land are allotted. Then constructions of hutments begin. No Objection Certificates are procured for these settlers so that they can claim amenities like electricity and water supply. With political pressure electricity connection, water connection and other amenities are made possible. Fake sale agreement on faked stamp papers are also issued in many cases. Money goes into the pockets of various officials to help all this happen. So the new colony emerges and grows gradually as a large Voter’s bank, free to be used by any party. Political parties compete with each other to give ration cards, to procure Voter’s id.  

These displaced people have negotiated paralegal arrangements and though on the other side of legality have powers to make the government and the political parties sanction them a reasonable settlement. Initially as people living on flood affected areas and now as displaced people who have been exploited by the greedy land grabbers with the connivance of officials, these people have an identity as a distinct population group that is entitled for certain benefits. Partha Chatterjee in ‘The politics of the Governed’ writes of the difference between rights and entitlements:

Rights belong to those who have proper legal title to the lands or buildings that the authorities acquire; they are, we might say, proper citizens who must be paid the legally stipulated compensation. Those who do not have such rights may nevertheless have entitlements; they deserve not compensation but assistance in rebuilding a home or finding a new livelihood.

This population group has negotiated their way with their power to vote. This has earned the illegal squatters a cent of land and a cash of Rs 2000. Each of the displaced will have a story to narrate, stories that will be varied, but the political society has endowed them a common identity that make them recipients of ‘governmentality’.