March 2007


The onset of summer indicates the arrival of the Mukkanis – Maa, Palaa, Vaazhai – (Mangoes, Jackfruits and Bananas). Of course, bananas are available throughout the year. The other two are not as plenty as bananas. The Jackfruit, called Palaa Pazham, in Tamil is the second of the Mukkani. The sweetness of the Jackfruit is a hallmark of its popularity. The Jackfruit is available throughout the summer season and once the rain arrives, the jackfruits are not available and the onset of rain decreases the taste in the fruit and are not tasty as the ones in the mid-summer. Biologically, a multiple fruit, the jackfruit forms part in auspicious festivals, esp the Tamil New Year, that usually falls on April 14th, where people offer the Mukkanis, esp the Jackfruit. The mirror is placed as a God Image and the Mukkanis along with other sweet and auspicious offerings are kept the night before the Tamil New Year and people wake up looking into the mirror. This practice has many indepth meanings. First, when people wake up looking into the mirror, it shows their reflection, it means to search the God within themselves and not elsewhere. Second, let the reflections of the auspicious things placed in front of them mirror bestow happiness throughout the year. Third, as the mirror that reflects the whatever is placed before it, let your presence reflect all happiness and sweetness as the Mukkanis in front of the mirror. And so on…

The Jackfruit takes a predominant position as a fruit in the South Indian delicacy. Even the tender Jackfruit, called the Palaa kaai, is used as a spicy recipes like Kootu and other cuisine. The presence of jackfruit trees, each with a bunch of jackfruits, in a country indicates the country’s fertility in those good old days. And in many songs, the jackfruit is mentioned as a part of fertility and the richness of the plant life in the country. Even in many pasurams by Thirumangai Azhwar in Naalayira Dhivya Prabandham, he mentions about jackfruit soaked in honey. Well that is one good combination to eat jackfruit. The taste of jackfruit soaked in honey is unmatched and out of this world. There is yet another comibination in which people eat jackfruit, they pour a teaspoon of ghee, and that too the ghee taken from cow’s milk and not from buffalo’s milk, in each fruit and then eat it. These combinations really make many mouths to water.

There is even a short fable from the Mahabharatha, when the Pandavas were on an exile. They had to live in the forest for a year and they had the magical vessel, the Akshaya Paathiram, that would give any food item they wished. And during lunch, Bhima would request the jackfruit soaked in honey from the Akshaya Paathiram. So that itself explains the combination of jackfruit with honey.

There is a riddle that would mean the jackfruit. The riddle goes like this

“Appan Soriyan
Aathaal Sadaichi

Pullai Sakkaraikutti”

meaning the father is a man with itches, the mother is a woman with a lot of hair, but the kid is as sweet as sugar. This riddle is told to indicate contradictions of things. Like a father with itches and mother with lots of hair have a sweet kid. But this neatly explains the structure of a jackfruit. The coarse rough, thorn like outer skin, that is the protecting layer like the father for the fruit inside. The string like things that is between the fruit that feeds the fruit that grows inside is like the mother. And the kid, the actual fruit, called the Palaa Sulai, sweet as sugar.

Not only the fruit, but all the seeds and sometimes even the outer skin is used in the cuisine. The seeds are cooked, roasted and used in combination with Pulikkulambu (Tamarind Gravy), Karuvaadu Preparations (Dried Fish) and of course other spicy varieties like Sundal etc, but the only problem with the seeds is that is creates Vaaivu, that is it forms gas inside the stomach. So people add ginger and garlic to mitigate the effect of gas formation by the seeds .

The Jackfruit grows in the plains as well as the mountains. But the ones that grow in the mountains are more tasty than the ones that grow in the plains. The jackfruit grows at various places in the jackfruit tree, in the branches, near the stem and even in the roots, below the ground. The ones that grow in the roots are called as Vaer Palaa. Vaer means root, so Vaer aa means the one the grows in the root. This is not known until the aroma of the jackfruit comes from the underground. This Vaer aa is very rare, unlike the ones in the branches, because it could be easily reached by animals and those animals would eat them once they detect the aroma of the ripe fruit inside the ground. Also being inside the ground adds more taste to the fruit when it ripens.

The Jackfruit arrives to the market from various places, but the ones from Panruti is famous. Those varieties have big Sulais (single fruit of the jackfruit) and are more tasty than the other varieties.

There is even one song that is taught for the kids in the kindergarden that mentions about the jackfruit especially the Vaer Palaa. Sorry that I could not recollect the entire song. I am posting what I could recollect. I would be thankful to the reader who remembers that song and posts it in the comments. The song goes like this



“…
Enna Pazham? Palaa Pazham
Enna Palaa? Vaer Palaa

Enna Vaer? Vetti Vaer

Enna Vetti? Viragu Vetti

Enna Viragu? Mara Viragu

Enna Maram? Maa Maram

Enna Maa? Amma”

The song goes like a chain riddle that ends with the word that means mother. The rough translation is as follows

What fruit? The Jackfruit (Palaa)
What Palaa? The Vaer Palaa (The jackfruit that grows in the root)

What Vaer? Vetti Vaer (An aromatic root soaked in water to prepare a juice that cools down the body heat during summer)

What Vetti? Viragu Vetti (Vetti also means cutter, so the question is which cutter, the answer is Wood (viragu) cutter)
What Viragu? Mara (Tree)
Viragu
What tree? Maa Maram (Mango Tree)
What Maa? Amma (Mother)

Though this song is rhymes with the last word of the previous question, it emphasizes the jackfruit and especially the Vaer Palaa. So the Jackfruit has pervaded the minds of many since the good old days. So lets try the combination of jackfruit with honey and jackfruit with ghee this season. There yet another combination the one with coconut oil. It adds a good taste to the jackfruit clubbed with the aroma of cocunut oil, but too much is not recommended as it might add cholestrol. So, only little quantities in this comibination are recommended. Lets taste these combinations with the gifted jackfruit and enjoy this season of jackfruits before the rains arrive.

More to come, until then…

Come summer! bring the sweetness of Mangoes to the country. Mangoes, the first of the Mukkani (The three prime or sweetest fruits, the others being Jackfruit and Bananas), forms a major part in the Indian delicacy, esp Tamil Nadu. Being a seasonal fruit, both ripe and unripe forms take a major place in everyday cuisine during the season. Apart from that Mangoes have sayings that are both favourable and against it. It has been a main fruit since the good old days where there was a split in Lord Shiva’s family. That is one good story that has been passed on for generations and the main reason for Lord Murugan establishing Palani as one of his Arupadai Veedu (Six houses).

The story goes like this. Saint Naradha brought a special mango for Lord Shiva and both Lord Ganesha and Lord Muruga contested for the mango. And Lord Shiva announced, whoever circles the world first would receive the mango. Lord Murugan shooted first with mount the peacock to go around the world and win the fruit, but Lord Ganesha with his hefty body and a small mount the Moonjoor Rat, thought for a moment and went around Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi considering them to be the world. Lord Shiva pleased with the wisdom of Lord Ganesha, gave him the mango. And when Lord Murugan returned, he felt deceived because he was the one to encircle the world first, and he gave away all the wealth and position he had and stood as an Aandi (person who has nothing to his name) on top of a mountain called Palani, a place near Coimbatore. This story is told in order to emphasise the importance that one’s parents must be revered and worshipped in the first place. But a mango getting a place in this story is its taste and the importance being given in the cuisine.

The ripe mangoes form an industry themselves and yields a major revenue for the country through exports too. Senthuram, Neelam, Malgova, Salem Gundu, Aapoos, Roomania, Imambus, Banganapalli, Alphonso, Gudhadhath, Manjal Naari are some major varieties that are sold both inside and exported out of the country. And India is a largest producer of mangoes in the world.

The ripe form, Maambalam, does not need a reason to be the prime fruit, but the unripe mangoes, Maangai, are also a major part South Indian cuisine. It forms part of the cuisine in various forms

Vadu Maangaai – Small mangoes that haven’t grown yet, the ones that are a few days of forming into a fruit, rather tender mangoes. The preparation is almost similar to the spicy pickles, but they are just soaked in spicy water that is a mixture of chilly powder, mustard and fenugreek powder, gingelly oil, turmeric powder etc. This forms a good combination for all recipies prepared out of curd – plain curd, More kulambu etc. It really makes the mouth water for many people when they hear this combination, because the taste is irrestible. There are many varieties in Vadu Maangai like the Thirumoorthi variety, Palakkad variety, Go Maangai variety, but the Thirumoorthi mountain variety (Thirumoorthi malai vadu maangaai) is the most aromatic and tasty. The others are equally tasty but Thirumoorthi mountain variety is more popular. Even Kaalamega Pulavar has
mentioned about the Vadu Maangai, his song goes like this.



“Thinga Nudhalaar Thirumanam Polae Keeri
Pongu Kadal Uppai Pugatiyae Engalida

Aachaalukku Oorugaai Aaagamal Yaarukku

Kaaichaai Vadu Maangaai”

meaning, the ladies with the forehead, that resembles the moon after 3 or 4 days after the new moon, would split the vadu maangai and put the salt that is obtained from the uproarious seas, and then prepare the pickle for the elderly
mother. But the trees that Kaalamegam saw had vadu maangais still left in the
branches. So the poet asks, for whom did the mangoes grow in the tree and whom
are they waiting for instead of being a vadu maangai pickle for the mother of
their place

Mango Pickles – The next form of cuisine is the most common form – pickles. This does not need much explanation as mango pickles are popularly available. Avakkai – The most popular form of mango pickles, where raw mangoes are cut into small pieces being soaked in spicy masala.

Maangai Thokku – This form is more or less a pickle, but in this, mostly the fleshy part of the mango is used, boiled and cooked with spices and salt added. And this is great combination for all food items.

Maangai Vathal – Mangoes are dried out in the sun after soaking in salt water. And used in various food items whenever required. This form will be best for use, for many months, even years.

The other preparations include Maangai Pachadi, Fish – both dried and fresh – Kulambu, More Kulambu, Aviyal and many other mouth watering recipies that are seasonal as the mangoes are. Though recipes like More Kulambu, Aviyal are prepared without mangoes too, but the sour taste of the Maangaai, added more flavour that is irrestible to many mouths in the country.

Apart from it, Maangaai, is used as a cure for cold. This might sound counter-intuitive, because most people say that eating maangaai (unripe form) makes people catch cold, but there are people who use it for a cure too. The preparation is that the mango is cut and cooked in plain water. After being cooked, the cooked maangaai along with the water being used to cook and it is said to relieve people of cold.

Well, enough of this mouth watering cuisine! We have aberrated too much from what we were about to look, the sayings that are both favourable and unfavourable to the mango. First, lets look into the favourable saying. It goes like this

“Maatha Ootadha Soru, Maangaai Ootum”

meaning, The mango will feed the food that one’s mother does not feed. This had two meanings in it. The first one being the quantity of food intake, esp by children. The taste of the various forms of mango cuisine makes people, esp children to take in more food that helps them in their growth. The saying is because, the children or people who don’t listen to their mother’s request to eat a little more food would eat just for the taste of Maangaai. The second meaning being, the richness minerals and vitamins that the mango delivers is not attained by the normal food that one’s mother provides.

Maatha – Mother
Ootadha – negative Ootum meaning Feeding

Soru – Food

Maangaai – unripe mango

Ootum – feeding

How true about the aforesaid saying. Now what is it about the saying that is unfavourable. The saying goes like this

“Naa Ularum, Pall Koosum, Maangai Unbaare Maru”

meaning, the tongue will start to blabber, the teeth will feel more sensitised. So, the eaters of mango please avoid it. This might be counter-intuitive about the mango, but it is indeed true. The sourness of the mango makes the tongue stiff that is will not be able to utter some words that requires turning and curling of the tongue. Also the sourness will make the teeth feel more sensitised and to most people it is not tolerable, however they cannot resist the taste and will not stop eating.

Though both the sayings are true indeed, Mangoes are a primary part of our daily delicacy during the mango season. As rightly classified by our ancestors as the first of the Mukkani (Maa, Palaa, Vaazhai – Mango, Jackfruit, Bananas), the mango is truly a great fruit to be relished when it is becomes available. Don’t miss the mangoes this season!!!

More to come, until then…

Dasavatharam meaning The Ten Incarnations. No we are not talking about the movie, but the legend that has been passed down for generations till date. The legend about the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu to save the life and humanity on earth from the monstrous demons and ruthless giants. This might sound like this is for the persons interested in mythology. But to me, these avatarams or avatars are not just legends, they carry a message that is so indepth and subtle. The subtlety of the message is that it might superfically seem to convey that God is here to save people in trouble, but actually, it contains the message about the origin and the evolution of life on the planet that lead to the humans. The avatarams are not just incarnations but has to be construed as transformations that life forms took in the planet over time. The avatarams are

  1. Macha Avataram
  2. Koorma Avataram
  3. Varaaga Avataram
  4. Narshima Avataram
  5. Vamaana Avataram
  6. Parasurama Avataram
  7. Rama Avataram
  8. Balarama Avataram
  9. Krishna Avataram
  10. Kalki Avataram

The Macha Avataram is the Fish Avataram, Macha means fish. So life on the planet start from aquatic creatures like fish and so on that live solely on water. This also means that life existed in the planet even before fish took form, so the major transformation is a complex living being, that had a skeleton and a spine that formed the basis of evolution, Vertebrae and Invertebrae.

The Koorma Avataram means The Turtle Avataram, Koorma means turtle. The next transformation is of course the amphibian, that was able to live in both land and water. This was a great change that became the beginning of diverse life forms on earth

The Varaaga Avataram mean The Boar Avataram, Varaaga means boar. This evolution is about the beings that got totally transformed into land living creatures, so that their aquatic past got erased completely from their creation. These are the primitive herbivores that lived on eating plants.

The Narashima Avataram means the Human Lion. This is about the species that is a hybrid from of the previous evolution, but that which created the Predator-Prey relationships. These creatures started hunting other creatures for their living

The Vaamana Avataram means a short human Avataram. This was a missing link in the evolution chain. They were mythological creatures, until scientists found the Hobbits, that form part of the early human ancestry. More about Hobbits, here and here.

The Parasurama Avataram is the avataram depicted as a man carrying an axe to take revenge of demon ancestry. This avataram indicates the early primitive humans using primitive tools like axe, spears. Rather the old stone age and the new stone age.

The Rama Avataram, depicts a more civilised human with better tools like bow and the arrow and other mechanical tools to make life easy. This is the beginning of the societal nature of living of humans, that has the social welfare of their groups and clans as the prime motive.

The Balarama Avataram, is the next avataram, depicted as a human carrying a plough. This indicates that advancement of humans into cultivating their own food for their living. Until then humans had been hunting and eating fruits from trees until this transformation, where the humans learnt how to cultivate their own food.

The Krishna Avataram is the avataram that is more concentrated over diplomacy, art of war, conquests and where humans started to use their brains to invade and conquer territories. More of industrial and organised growth was in this transformation.

The Kalki Avataram, the most modern of Avataram. People say that this avataram is yet to happen. And this avataram is where humanity is heading towards. The avataram is depicted as a human on a horse with a sword and other costumes of war that is considered to be more modern. We do not know how that form is going to be in reality. Time has to tell the answers.

All these avatarams have a legend behind them, when Lord Vishnu saves the world. The motive of the aforesaid explanations are not to dispute that those legends are false. But to explain that they contain a hidden message along with all the virtues that the legends about the Dasavatarams have. I believe that those legends have happend and there are proofs that exist even today about the happenings mentioned in the legend like the bridge to Sri Lanka (The Rama Avataram), the Kurukshetra war (Krishna Avataram).

Our ancestors have been so intelligent enough that they were able to including the message about the evolution of life, in the form of legends. The rigorous statements and discoveries might fade away over time because all might not be able to understand what those discoveries state. But these legends and fables will convey this hidden message and the legend for generations to come without any change and will not fade away over time.

More to come, until then…

Another feat of Kaalamegam in his pun filled songs is the ability to compare and represent different things in the same song. He uses the words so gracefully that he describes two things in the same song, like Castor and Elephant, Hay and Elephant, Snake and Banana, Snake and Gingelly seeds, Snake and Lemon etc. This feat is really remarkable and this is what has earned Kaalamegam his reputation. Lets see two of those songs.

The first song goes like this

“Vaari Kalathu Adikkum Vandhu Pinbu Koattai Pugum
Poril Sirandhu Polivaagum Seerutra
Sekkola Maynee Thirumalai Raayan Varaiyil
Vaikolum Aal Yaanaiyaam”

The first meaning, refers to hay, Hay is being beaten in the fields after harvesting (Vaari Kalathu Adikkum) and then the hay stack is brought into the fort (Vandhu Pinbu Koattai Pugum). The bigger the haystack the brighter and better it looks and it also indicates a good harvest (Poril Sirandhu Polivaagum). The haystack is big indicating the fertile nature of the bright coloured mountain regions of Thirumalai Raayan’s territory (Seerutra Sekkola Maynee Thirumalai Raayan Varaiyil).

The second meaning is about the elephant. The elephant in the war field, thrashes soldiers on the ground (Vaari Kalathu Adikkum). After the war it goes into the fort victoriously (Vandhu Pinbu Koattai Pugum). Being a war machine, it has a very good reputation in times of war (Poril Sirandhu Polivaagum). The elephant being in the army indicates the power of the Thirumalai Raayan (Seerutra Sekkola Maynee Thirumalai Raayan Varaiyil).

So the delicate use of the words that convey different meaning that is applicable to both haystack and elephant respectively makes the poet to compare them as equal Vaikolum Aal Yaanaiyaam), because the usage of the same words to describe them

Vaari – Pull and lift by holding the legs or the bottom most part of the thing
Kalathu – Rice field (context of haystack), War field (context of elephant)
Adikkum – Beat, Thrash
Vandhu – Come
Pinbu – Later
Koattai – Fort
Pugum – Enter
Poril – haystack, War (context of elephant)
Sirandhu – Best
Polivaagum – Glitter, look better, have a reputation
Seerutra – Orderly
Sekkola – Bright looking
Maynee – Body, landscape
Varaiyil – Territory
Vaikol – Hay
Aal Yaanai – Aggressive Elephant

The comparison has nuances are seamlessly intricate, and are really out of this world.

The next song is about Snake and Gingelly.

“Aadi Kudathadaiyum Aadumbodhay Eraiyum
Moodi Thirakkin Mugamkaatum Odi Mandai
Pattril Parapara Vennum Paaril Pinnakkum Undam
Uttridum Paambu Ell Enavae Odhu”

The first meaning is about the snake. The snake dances and then goes into the pot that the snake charmer has (Aadi Kudathu Adaiyum). While dancing it makes a hissing noise (Aadumbodhay Eraiyum). When you open the lid it shows it face (Moodi Thirakkin Mugamkaatum). If you run behind it and catch its head it just curls around the person catching it (Odi Mandai Pattril Parapara Vennum). In this world, snakes have a split tongue (Paaril Pinnakkum Undam).

Now the meaning for gingelly. Gingelly will get crushed in the oil mill and will reach the pot as oil (Aadi Kudathu Adaiyum). When it is being crushed, it makes a noise (Aadumbodhay Eraiyum). When the lid of the pot is being opened, it shows face of the person opening of the lid as a reflection (Moodi Thirakkin Mugamkaatum). When you pour it in the head and rub it cools the body immediately (Odi Mandai Pattril Parapara Vennum). In this world, the oil cake remains after crushing (Paaril Pinnakkum Undam).

Aadi – Dance (context of snake), Crushing (Context of Gingelly)
Kudathadaiyum – Kudathu (Pot) + Adaiyum (Reach and settle)
Aadumbodhey – while dancing
Eraiyum – Make noise
Moodi – Lid
Thirakkin – Open
Mugam – Face
Kaatum – Show
Odi – Running (while chasing for snake, and pouring in the head)
Mandai – Head
Pattril – Catch
Parapara Vennum – Curls around for snake,
Paaril – In this world
Pinnakkum – Split tongue for snake, Oil cake after crushing
Undam – Having
Uttridum – Existing
Paambu – Snake
Ell – Gingelly
Enavae Odhu – Tell as so

Kaalamegam, truly a great poet of all times and his poems truly represent his literary knowledge and eloquence. He stands out of the crowd and his name will live for ages in the minds of all the people who read Tamil Literature.

More to come, until then…

Kaalamegam being well know for his pun in his song, did not spare even the Gods from his pun. His pun also includes a form of poetry in Tamil Literature called the Vanja Pugazhchi Ani, in which the poet would seem to have sung a song in praise of someone but actually the inner meaning of it would have cursed or denigrated the image of the person; and vice versa. Kaalamegam has sung many such songs and two of such songs fascinated me, just because of the use of language in it.

The first song is about Lord Murugan. Though the song might sound very insulting in the first look, the more indepth study has a good meaning in it. The song goes like this

“Appan Iranthunni Aathaal Malai Neeli
Oppariya Maaman Uri Thirudi Sappaikaal

Annan Peruvayiran Arumuga Thaanukku
Ennum Perumai Ivai

The superficial meaning is His father is a beggar who lives by begging food. His mother is a mountain devil. His incomparable uncle is a great thief. His flat footed brother has a large tummy. These are things that Lord Murugan has to be proud of.

But the actual meaning is His father took the form of Bichaadanar, meaning person begging food. This means that He did away with the feeling of acquiring wealth and lives a simple live getting food what others provide. His mother Parvathi, means mountain Goddess, is a queen of the mountains. His incomparable uncle, Lord Vishnu, stole butter from the pots called Uri, which is the major play of Lord Vishnu in his Krishna Avatar. His brother, Lord Ganesh, is an elephant that has flat feet and a big stomach. These are the things Lord Murugan has to be proud of. Because His family, has people who are all popular, which is not easily got by others.

Appan – Father
Irandhu – Beg

Unni – Person who eats

Aathaal – Mother

Malai – Mountain

Neeli – Mountain devil, another name for Goddess Parvathi, a plant called Karu Nochi
Oppariya – Incomparable
Maaman – Uncle, either Brother of mother or Husband of Father’s Sister.
Uri – Stacked up pots that are used to store butter

Thirudi – Thief
Sappaikaal – Flat feet

Annan – Brother
Peru Vayiran – Peru (Big) + Vayiru (Stomach); Vayiran – person with a big stomach
Arumugan – another name for Lord Muruga, which means Six faces
Ennum – Thinking

Perumai – Pride

Ivai – Pronoun to describe a group of things

There is another song that has a similar impact, but that was sung to denigrate, but when the person concerned came and apologised for his mistake, the meaning was totally the opposite and was in praise of him. The song goes like this


“Kaththukadal Soozh Naagai Kaathaan Thann Sathirathil
Aththamikkum Podhil Arisi Varum Kuthi

Ulaiyil Ida Oor Adangum Ore Agappai Annam

Elayil Ida Velli Mulaikkum

The first meaning is, In the Sathiram of Kaathan in Naagapattinam which is surrounded by noisy sea waters. Rice will arrive only in the evening. The people in the town would have gone to sleep when the rice is being put in the boiler after husking. The pole star called the Vidi velli, that indicates dawn, will rise when a scoop of cooked rice is being served.

The people working in that Sathiram, told this song to Kaathan Varunakulaadhithan, the owner of that Sathiram, who realised his mistake of not providing food correctly to the people who come to his Sathiram, went to meet Kaalamega Pulavar and apologised his mistake and asked him to rewrite that song. Kaalamegam told that there is no need to change the song as the song has the following meaning .

In the Sathiram of Kaathan in Naagapattinam which is surrounded by noisy sea waters. Rice will arrive throughout the day till dusk, normally in other places, it arrives only in the morning. This shows how busy that Sathiram would have been and how many people would have been fed by the Sathiram. When the rice is put into the boiler for cooking after husking, the noisy crowd of the town will become quiet expecting the food any moment. And when the scoop of food is being served, the smile that is comparable to a bright star will be found in the faces of the people who are waiting for the food

Kaththu – Noisy, Making noise
Soozh – Surround

Naagai – Nagapattinam
Kaathan – Kaathan Varunakulaadhithan
Thann – one’s own
Sathiram – Place where free food and accommodation was available
Aththamikkum – Dusk
Podhil – Word indicating time

Arisi – Rice
Varum – Arrive, come
Kuthi – Stab, Strike, Punch, in this context husking

Ulai – Boiler
Ida – Put

Oor – Town, city
Adangum – Settle down, Sleep, Become silent

Ore – One

Agappai – Utensil used to serve food, a scoop

Annam – food
Elayil – Plantain leaf
Velli – Silver, Pole star, in a funny context, Shiny teeth

Mulaikkum – Grow, Raise above

Awesome work by Kaalamegam, how eloquent he should have been to sing a song that has two diametrically opposite meanings. He is really a bestowed person with the gifts that most of us yearn to acquire. He is true a remarkable person whose name will stay in the hearts of millions for the ages to come

More to come, until then…