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Kumbakonam connections

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By Sharon St Joan

 

On the granite platform just in front of the deity Mangalambika, in the Kumbeshwarar Temple in Kumbakonam, Smt. Saraswathi Pattabhiraman used to sit, sometimes for hours, in contemplation, lost (or rather found) in the transcendent presence of the Great Goddess, whose peace pervades the universe – perhaps not on the level on which most of us generally live our lives, but on a higher level where conflict and discord have faded away, and the oneness of God prevails.

 

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Her husband, called Anna (which means “elder”) by his extended family, served as Member of Parliament from the Kumbakonam District, in east central Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. Chetpet Ramaswami Iyer Pattabhiraman (C.R. Pattabhiraman) served as Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as well as holding many other government posts. He was a lifelong Member of the Congress Party and served as its Secretary.

 

His term in the Ministry saw the advent of the first television show ever broadcast in India. It was an important event, one for which his entire family traveled to Delhi to be there for the momentous occasion.

 

His granddaughter, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a child at the time, recalls, laughingly, watching a program in grainy black and white, with a woman sitting motionless on the set, expounding at great length on the topic of the price of agricultural produce, followed by a man explaining, equally at length, how cotton grows in the ground. No actual cotton fields were shown, and there was much to be learned about how to captivate a television audience – still it was a noteworthy beginning.

 

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Born on November 11, 1906, to C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar and his wife Seethamma, C.R. Pattabhiraman grew up in Madras, then studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He practiced as a lawyer, and during his brilliant law career, he had the very rare distinction of never losing a case. In 1938, he became an advocate for the Federal Court in Delhi, now the Supreme Court. He was often in Kumbakonam and he ran for election there. From 1957 to 1967, he served as Member of Parliament for the district of Kumbakonam. The greater Kumbakonam area extended to the coast – to the Shiva Temple at Chidambarum, and further south down along the coast of Coromandel.

 

He loved sports, and like his father, C.R. Pattabhiraman played cricket. In 1931, he played for the combined Oxford and Cambridge team that toured Yorkshire and Lancashire. Later, he captained the Madras Presidency team and became the Founder and President of a number of cricket associations and teams.

 

Cricket is the national game of India. During the recent first match of the world cup games in February 2015, in Adelaide, Australia, when India won a resounding victory over Pakistan, many of the fans were so enthusiastic that they cheered for both teams. In the stands was one Pakistani gentleman who travels the world attending Pakistani cricket games — always carrying two banners – one for Pakistan and one for India. Whenever the Indian players scored major points, all the Pakistanis, as well as all the Indians, rose to their feet cheering and waving banners – a sort of good natured sportsmanship that one does not see in every country or every sport.

 

The rivalry between the two countries is intense though, and back home some Pakistani fans broke their television sets in frustration after losing the match to India.

 

C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar’s family’s association with Kumbakonam extended back to the days of his great grandfather, Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, who was a colorful adventurer. Rudra Krishna’s novel “The Onus of Karma” is based on the life of Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar. Growing up in the north of Tamil Nadu, in a small Brahmin village, he was the seventh of seven sons. All the family property would be divided up on the death of his father, and as the seventh in line, the amount of land and wealth he would inherit would be small indeed.

 

Instead of staying put in this situation which offered so little to him and so few prospects, he set out to make his fortune. Leaving his home and family, he traveled to the great city of Madras, nearly a hundred miles away. This was in the 1700’s and it was a huge journey at the time. He found work as a police officer, and hearing of a bounty that was being offered of for the capture of an infamous outlaw, he spotted a good opportunity to gain a substantial reward. He hunted the outlaw down, captured him, and put him in jail.

 

Unfortunately, within a few months or a year, the outlaw was released from jail, and he was out free again, seeking revenge against the officer who had sent him to prison. Catching up with Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, he attacked him late one night along the road and severely beat him. The police officer escaped with his life only by recalling his training in yoga. He was able to control his breath for many minutes at a time and, badly beaten, he held his breath so as appear dead and lifeless to the outlaw, who left him for dead, so that way he managed to escape.

 

A while later, he captured the outlaw a second and final time and turned him over to be tried and imprisoned. This time the outlaw was jailed for good. The British authorities in the region were so relieved to be rid of this fellow who had caused a lot of pain and difficulties, that they rewarded Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar with the gift of the city of Kumbakonam.

 

How can you give a city to someone? The feudal system was still in place, encouraged by the British, who made use of it for their own ends in order to consolidate their power in India. The gift of a city meant that the holder of the zameen, or the district, was empowered to collect taxes from the people who lived there. He received a share of the revenue derived from their farming produce or their businesses.

 

Later on, his son, who did not wish to profit by collecting taxes returned the city to the people of Kumbakonam. However, the link between the family and the city did not vanish, it was carried on by the family, and C.R. Pattabhiraman, who they elected as Member of Parliament, continued to represent them and serve that district in Parliament.

 

He died at the age of 94 after a long and highly distinguished career.

 

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Top photo: Courtesy of C.P. Ramaswami Ayar Foundation /A portrait of C.R. Pattabhiraman

 

Second photo: Arian Zwegers / Wikipedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / Kumbeshwarar Temple

 

Third photo: Legaleagle86 / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / This Supreme Court building dates from 1954.

 

Fourth photo: Yoga Balaji / Wikimedia Commons /” This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.” / The Madras High Court; the building was built in 1892.

 

 

© 2015, text, Sharon St Joan

 

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By Sharon St Joan

 

Peering around a screen to catch a glimpse behind the stage, the eight-year old boy saw a man smoking. Startled, he burst into tears. The problem was not that a man was smoking – the problem was that it was Rama, the great cultural hero and god-king of India who was smoking. Standing off stage and out-of-sight of the audience, taking a break during an intermission in the performance, there was Rama, with his blue skin and regal bearing, smoking a cigarette. How could Rama be smoking? The young boy Jagam with tears streaming down his face, told the other boys what he had seen, and they started crying too.

 

What would otherwise have been an inspirational performance of the life of Rama had turned into a disappointment. Over time, the shock of the actor smoking faded into the background, and only the heroes of the Ramayana remained in the forefront of the boy’s consciousness.

 

The impact of the story of Rama and his wife Sita on the people of India cannot be overstated.  Their influence extends across all strata of society and every region of the country. In every rural village there may be found among the fields, nestled under a tree, stone icons of Rama and Sita – worshipped and cared for. Rama is the divine figure who lived maybe 5,000 years ago, maybe much earlier, who exemplifies the deeply-rooted Indian concepts of truthfulness, selflessness, and absolute devotion to duty.

 

Rama, unjustly exiled into the forest for fourteen years by his father, at the demand of his step-mother, went willingly and graciously, placing his duty to obey his father above all other considerations.

 

To this day, Indian children are taught to obey and respect their parents and all elders – not only while they are children, but throughout their entire lives – this is the glue that holds Indian society together. The ideals that are intrinsic to their society are not, as in the west, the values of freedom, of seeking one’s rights, and the pursuit of individual happiness, but rather, devotion, respect, and reverence for those who came before them. Uppermost is the concept of placing the welfare of others before one’s own personal wishes and desires.

 

Obviously, in the world as it is today, one finds exceptions; in India there is immense western influence, and age-old traditions have suffered much erosion over the centuries. Yet, despite all this, one still finds, even now, in the heart of nearly every Indian, deep within the psyche, a fundamental attitude of reverence and humility that has never been entirely extinguished – a wish first and foremost to carry out one’s duty in life and to fulfill one’s sacred obligations.

 

Every character in the epic story of Rama and Sita offers either an example to follow, or, instead, a lesson in patterns of behavior to be avoided. All are instructive and are remembered by children for the rest of their lives.

 

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Jagam carried throughout his life a reverence for the Ramayana, and especially one of the great heroes of the story, Hanuman – the divine monkey God, much beloved all over India. Every day of his life he read at least one passage from the Ramayana.

 

Many see Hanuman as the real hero of the Ramayana.  He is worshipped for his unfailing loyalty and devotion to Rama.  It is Hanuman who enables Rama to cross the sea to rescue his wife Sita who has been abducted by the wicked demon-king of Sri Lanka, Ravana.

 

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The boy who was dismayed by Rama smoking became a man, A.R. Jagannathan. His daughter, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, recalls her parents taking her on a trip when she was a child to the island of Rameshwaram, where floating in a boat over the sea, her father lowered her into the waters (much to the alarm of her mother!) so that she could experience firsthand the waves of the ocean where Hanuman and Rama had so long ago stood on the shore planning how to rescue the beloved Sita, how to build a bridge to Lanka, and with what strategy to conquer the armies of Ravana.

 

Nanditha Krishna also credits her father, as well as her mother’s father and her great-grandfather, with instilling in her a great love and reverence for the world of nature.  He took her when she was a child on countless trips to the forests and wildlife preserves of India, pointing out the graceful beauty of the trees, plants, birds, and animals, imparting a profound love of the wild places and the living beings who find their home there.

 

In his public life, A.R. Jagannathan was Founder Managing-Director and Vice-Chairman, Tata Projects Ltd. A very wise and conscientious man, he was a beloved counselor to this extended family, who sought out his advice for all the important decisions of their lives: marriages, careers, businesses, and any important decisions. Kind and always thoughtful, his counsel was given sincerely and was of great benefit.

 

One of his favorite songs, which he loved to listen to all his life was one of the songs about the God Kartikeya. The song told the story of how the heart of his beloved was filled with love for him. Kartikeya was radiant as the moon.

 

He felt a great love for wildlife and the forests, while his wife, Shakunthala, felt a tremendous appreciation of Indian culture and tradition. They complemented each other beautifully, in a marriage made in heaven.

 

He often told the story of when he was a boy, walking with a group of people, 40 kilometers through the forest, up a hill towards the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. They walked all day, gradually climbing higher along the jungle terrain. As they walked, they saw movement off to the side in the brush. They became aware that in the underbrush there were tigers walking along with them, just out of sight, visible here and there, gliding through the spots of sunlight and shadows of the thick forest. The number of tigers grew over the hours, as more tigers joined them.  They were curious, but never threatening. The tigers were simply walking with them, keeping them company. It was a beautiful experience of harmony with nature and the profound peace of the forest.

 

Top photo: Sumeet Moghe / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / A Bengal Tiger in Jim Corbett National Park

 

Second photo: Raja Ravi Press / Wikipedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired.” / A painting done in the 1920’s / Rama, exiled to the forest, accompanied by his wife Sita and his brother Laksmana.

 

 

Third photo: CC-by-sa PlaneMad/Wikimedia /”This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.”/ The bridge near Rameshwaram.

 

© 2015, text, Sharon St Joan

 

 

 

 

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Lord Shiva meditating in bliss while Devi Parvati plays the vina

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