Navaratri (nine nights) is one of the greatest Hindu festivals. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Navaratri takes place during the September/October timeframe. Navaratri is also known as Durga Puja.
During this period Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped as three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy.
Navaratri in Tamil Nadu (where I hail from) is celebrated for nine days during the Tamil month Purattasi (September-October). It is a celebration of the victory of Goddess Durga or Parashakthi over the demon king Mahishasura.
Ninth day of Navaratri is celebrated as Saraswati puja, dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. Musical instruments, books and other instruments are also placed and decorated before the Kolu and worshiped with flowers. Vijaya Dasami, celebrated on the tenth day of the Ashvin month, punctuates the victory of Good over Evil. It is considered to be auspicious to start any learning venture in dance, music and fine arts. There are various reasons for the celebration of this day – It marks the day when Rama won the battle with Ravana (end of Ramleela); It also marks the day when Durga emerged victorious over Mahishasura and a day when Arjuna decimated more than a million soldiers in the battle of Kuru. Various anecdotes of Rama’s life are enacted throughout the nine days in different places in North India. Effigies of Ravana are burnt on public grounds on this final day. Vijayadasami is celebrated all over the country. In Bengal, the idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the waters after 9 days of festivities and prayer. Mysore has a rich tradition of celebrating Dasara with royal pomp and splendor – actually presided over by the MahaRaja of Mysore.
Golu / Kolu / Display of Dolls
On the Amavasya day, after the usual rituals, it is customary to keep a couple of dolls on the first tier. The subsequent day (first day of Navaratri) is when the entire Kolu is setup.
Depending on the space and number of dolls, one can even erect eleven steps. A variety of dolls depicting mythological themes from epics and scriptures are displayed. The tiers are decorated beautifully with festoons.
There are many popular themes inculding Dhasavathar – the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu, Ashta Lakshmi – eight avatars of Mahalakshmi, Rajarajeswari Dharbar and Krshna Leela, Musical Trinity and the likes. On all nine days, the evenings conclude with arti, prayers and prasadham like sundal and sweet.
Families that are more austere, celebrate Navrathri with Pujas and homams to propitiate Goddess Durga. In temples, Goddess Durga is decorated as different incarnations of Paraskthi on each day.
As per tradition, a marapachi or any human figure among the dolls is put to sleep on the tenth night symbolically denoting the defeat and death of the demon in the battle with Parasakthi. The dolls are packed carefully, the next day with paper or cloths and kept in a box. Navaratri is a festival celebrated with enthusiasm and it also provides an opportunity to meet friends and promote goodwill. Navaratri also includes performing / attending music concerts, watching dance performances, temple visits, extended rituals at home.
Celebrations amidst Pandemic
This year, amidst a pandemic outbreak, the celebrations are quite different than the usual shopping for dolls, kolu hopping – dressing up in bright colored sarees, meeting friends, checking out everyone’s display of dolls, lots of singing and having variety of sundal and finally, all the interesting return gifts.
This year, we sourced some custom-made kolu dolls depicting – Tamil Nadu and it’s culture. We did an extensive search online instead of our usual visits to Kanchipuram / Pondicherry / locally source dolls from Myalpore / West Mambalam. And, we found this fantastic artist – Prathyusha. She takes custom orders and makes dolls using 3D quilling technique.
After a few back and forth interaction with her, we sent the following reference images that we wanted her to make the dolls for.
And, the final results were stunning – all done by Prathyusha.
Those who saw the kolu couldn’t find any difference from the usual clay dolls – which goes to show the level of detail that Prathyusha had taken into account and translated them on to these paper dolls with her craftsmanship.
Finally, can’t wait for all of us to experience the festive spirit like before. This festivity is all about killing the evil spirit, may this Navaratri bring an end to all our inner demons as well as the pandemic.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered this speech speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. This speech is also popularly known by the title “What’s your life’s blueprint?”
Below is the full text (edited version) of the speech by Dr. King.
…And help welcome our honored distinguished guest, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Thank you very kindly.
Principal [inaudible], Mr. Williams, Members of the faculty and members of the student body of Barratt Junior High School, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here today, and to have the opportunity of taking a very brief break in a pretty busy schedule in the city of Philadelphia, to share with you the students of Barrat Junior High School.
And I want to express my personal appreciation to the Principal and the administration for inviting me and for giving me the opportunity to see this very fine and enthusiastic group of students here at Barrat.
I guess I ought to start out with a commercial, and that is tonight we’re going to have a great night in the city of Philadelphia at the Spectrum.
I know you’ve heard of that new impressive structure called the Spectrum and I know you’ve heard of Harry Belafonte and Aretha Franklin and Nipsey Russell and Sidney Poitier and all of these other great and outstanding artists. Well, they’re going to be here tonight at the Spectrum and I hope that each of you will go home and tell your parents to be there tonight for this great freedom festival.
And I hope you will come also, for it will be a great experience and, by coming, you will be supporting the work of the civil rights movement.
Now that I’ve gotten the commercial out of the way, I’ll move on and say some things that I want to say very briefly. And I’m being very honest; I’m going to be brief because I have other engagements. I don’t have a tradition of being brief all the time. You know I’m a Baptist preacher, and we can talk a long time, but I’m going to be really brief today.
I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life’s blueprint?
This is the most important and crucial period of your lives. For what you do now and what you decide now at this age may well determine which way your life shall go.
And whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint. And that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, as the model, for those who are to build the building. And a building is not well erected without a good, sound, and solid blueprint. Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is: whether you have a proper, a solid, and a sound blueprint.
And I want to suggest some of the things that should be in your life’s blueprint.
#1: Principle of Somebodiness
Number one in your life’s blueprint should be: a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.
Now that means you should not be ashamed of your color. You know, it’s very unfortunate that in so many instances, our society has placed a stigma on the Negro’s color. You know there are some Negros who are ashamed of themselves? Don’t be ashamed of your color. Don’t be ashamed of your biological features.
Somehow you must be able to say in your own lives, and really believe it, “I am black, but beautiful!” and believe that in your heart. And therefore you need not be lured into purchasing cosmetics advertised to make you lighter, neither do you need to process your hair to make it appear straight. I have good hair and it is as good as anybody else’s in the world. And we’ve got to believe that.
Now in your life’s blueprint, be sure that you have a principle of somebodiness.
#2: Determination to Achieve Excellence
Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days and the years unfold, what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be.
And once you discover what it will be, set out to do it, and to do it well.
And I say to you, my young friends, that doors are opening to each of you — doors of opportunity are opening to each of you that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture back in 1871 that, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
This hadn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true. And so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil. I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. And I understand all of the sociological reasons why we often drop out of school.
But I urge you in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you are forced to live so often with intolerable conditions, stay in school.
And when you discover what you’re going to be in life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. And just don’t set out to do a good Negro job but do a good job that anybody could do.
Don’t set out to be just a good Negro doctor, a good Negro lawyer, a good Negro school teacher, a good Negro preacher, a good Negro barber, a beautician, a good Negro skilled laborer… for if you set out to do that, you have already flunked your matriculation exam for entrance into the University of Integration.
Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera, and sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, Be a scrub in the valley but – be the best little scrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star, For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
We always, we already have some noble examples of Black men and Black women who demonstrated to us that human nature cannot be catalogued. They in their own lives have walked through long and desolate nights of oppression, and yet they’ve risen up and plunged against cloud-filled nights of affliction, new and blazing stars of inspiration.
And so from an old slave cabin of Virginia’s hills, Booker T Washington rose up to be one of America’s great leaders. He lit a torch in Alabama and darkness fled in that setting.
Yes, you should know this because it’s in your own city. From a poverty-stricken area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marian Anderson rose up to be the world’s greatest contralto so that a Toscanini could say that a voice like this comes only once in a century, and Sibelius of Finland could say my roof is too low for such a voice.
From the Red Hills of Gordon County, Georgia and the arms of a mother who could neither read nor write, Roland Hayes rose up to be one of the world’s great singers and carried his melodious voice into the palaces and mansions of kings and queens.
From crippling circumstances, there came a George Washington Carver to carve for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of science. There was a star in the diplomatic sky, and then came Ralph Bunche, the grandson of a slave preacher, and he reached up and grabbed it and allowed it to shine in his life with all of its scintillating beauty. There was a star in the athletic sky.
And then came Jackie Robinson in his day and Willie Mays in his day with their powerful bats and their calm spirits. Then came Jesse Owens with his fleet and dashing feet. Then came Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali with their [adjudicated] fists.
All of them came to tell us that we can be somebody and to justify the conviction of the poet:
Fleecy locks, and black complexion Cannot forfeit nature’s claim. Skin may differ, but affection Dwells in black and white the same.
And if I were so tall as to reach the pole, And to grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul. The mind is a standard of the man.
#3: Commitment to the Eternal Principles
And finally, in your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. Don’t allow anybody to pull you so low as to make you hate them.
Don’t allow anybody to cause you to lose your self-respect to the point that you do not struggle for justice. However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live.
You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice.
Now in this struggle for freedom and justice, there are many constructive things that we all can do and that we all must do. And we must not give ourselves to those things which will not solve our problems.
You’ve heard the word “nonviolent” and you’ve heard the word “violent.” I happen to believe in nonviolence. We’ve struggled with this method with young people and adults alike all over the south. And we have won some significant victories. And we’ve got to struggle with it all over the north because the problems are as serious in the north as they are in the south.
But I believe as we struggle with these problems, we’ve got to struggle with them with a method that can be militant but at the same time does not destroy life or property.
And so our slogan must not be “Burn, baby, burn,” it must be “Build, baby, build.” Organize, baby, organize.
Yes, our slogan must be “Learn, baby, learn” so that we can earn, baby, earn.
And with a powerful commitment, I believe that we can transform dark yesterdays of injustice into bright tomorrows of justice and humanity. Let us keep going toward the goal of selfhood, toward the realization of the dream of brotherhood, and toward the realization of the dream of understanding and goodwill. Let nobody stop us.
I close by quoting once more the man that the young lady quoted, that magnificent black bard who is now passed on, Langston Hughes. One day, he wrote a poem entitled, “Mother to Son.” The mother didn’t always have her grammar right, but she uttered words of great symbolic profundity.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor — Bare.
But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now — For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair. But we must keep moving. We must keep going.
If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving!”
Recommend that you watch the movie before reading any further.
Super Deluxe is set with multiple narratives, all weaving into one in the end, by sheer coincidence.
Narrative 1: We see Mugil-Vembu, a married husband-wife couple trying to dispose the body of Vembu’s ex-lover from college, who dies when they both were having a private moment in the bed. Narrative 2: A group of 5 amorous teenagers decide to watch a porn film — only to realise that one of their mothers, Leela is cast as the lead porn actress. Narrative 3: Leela’s husband Dhanasekaran converts his identity to Arputham after a near-death experience with Tsunami. He lives alone and propagates his faith to near and dear ones in the vicinity. Narrative 4: Jyothi and her son Rasukutty await the arrival of Manickam — the man of the household, who abandoned them nearly 8 years ago. While the entire family prepare Jyothi to expect another woman in her husband’s life, on the day of arrival, everyone is shocked and surprised to meet Manickam transformed into Shilpa, a trans-woman.
The entire story flows through seamlessly raising hard-hitting questions on life, relationships, religion, society, political governance, gender equality, aliens and more importantly on human tendencies at the core of it. As an auteur, Thiagarajan paints a similar message from Aaranya Kaandam that there is no right or wrong – nice use of Blues / Greens or Red to denote this. Everything is seen with a perspective and based on context.
Super Deluxe paints the entire Tamil Cinema universe in glimpses. Vembu’s ex-lover looks almost similar to Arjun Reddy. Manickam turned Shilpa is asked what he was doing in Bombay. Arputham calls his faith text as – Anjathey Nambu. If coincidence and storytelling are backbone of this movie, it fits in pretty well right?
Thiagarajan proves yet again with his compelling narrative structure – heavily inspired by Film-maker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Super-deluxe, as the name suggests is grand, awesome and worth the fun ride.
The first time I heard about Kailash was while I was still a toddler. My grandparents always mentioned about visiting Kailash and attaining mukti. As I was growing up, a number of times, people from various walks of life mentioned about their inner calling to make it to Kailash Yatra.
I have heard from many a people on how it’s intense and rigorous to visit Kailash early on, say even until 10 years ago. One aunty spoke about her Yatra for over 36 days – 18 days to make the ascent journey and another 18 to return home safely.
One day, in early 2015, I heard about Kailash once again. With my already mapped picture of Kailash, I jumped with joy to visit this sacred space, sometime in my lifetime and left at it.
Then, a new chapter “Marriage” happened around December 2016. Sriram (my husband) too had this intent to visit Kailash for a variety of reasons, but somehow got skipped a few times, he planned the yatra.
Around March end last year (in 2017), I had all the eagerness to visit Kailash and Sriram instantly gave a nod. We decided to do this yatra with Isha Foundation’s Sacred Walks.
Once Isha Foundation confirms your candidature to the Yatra (based on your application form), they will share a series of Medical Fitness tests that one needs to conduct and share the results with them. Only, if deemed fit, we would be permitted into the Yatra.
Sriram and I had a decent lifestyle – includes yoga, running, cross fitness, healthy food habits (mostly home cooked food), so we didn’t have much of a change here. One change we incorporated was to drink more water than we did generally for over a month – just before our Yatra scheduled in August.
I am going to intentionally skip talking about the cost or money involved to make this Yatra happen. 1. Because, I strongly believe that cost should not come in one’s way while making a Yatra of significance. 2. It’s not fixed, it will definitely vary from year to year and it definitely varies depending on who you want to do this Yatra with. So, its best left to the reader to figure this out. =)
2 days before the trip, I had jitters. Either, it was Diamox (A tablet that helps you deal with altitude sickness. Believe me, you wouldn’t need it if you are regular with your deep breathing and yoga practices) or simply the reality that kicked in. I almost sank myself into work that week and was definitely not very confident about my own self doing the Yatra. I even told Sriram that he should proceed with the Yatra and definitely not stay back in Chennai, if I end up being terribly sick / unwell.
I was fine and we had our backpacks ready. All of our trip’s essentials were bought from Decathlon, Perungudi / Padur, Chennai.
August 10th – Chennai to Delhi (India)
I was already excited about the trip and there began my real Yatra story.
August 11th – Delhi (India) to Kathmandu (Nepal)
We arrived at Kathmandu and I almost instantly fell in love with this place. Since we reached a day earlier, we had booked our accommodation at Gaju Suite, Thamel Marg, Kathmandu. Both of us explored nearby shops, got our currency converted into Chinese Yuan for the Yatra, bought some rain jackets for Sriram, got some fruits and walked a bit around Thamel, enjoying the drizzle.
August 12th – Radisson Hotel, Lazimpat, Kathmandu, Nepal
We reached Radisson around 12 noon and were greeted with beautiful “Namaste-s” and warm smile. We met Kumaran anna and Ramya akka – who helped us with getting our room, Duffle bags and the entire Yatra kit. They also promptly mentioned about the schedule for the day. Repacking only essentials for Yatra in the Duffle bags, followed by Lunch, Sathsang with Sadguru (Jaggi Vasudev) and Dinner.
Exactly a year ago. We were at Kathmandu, with a final check list of necessary things we needed to take. And had a brilliant dinner with a huge spread. Wrapped the night with medicines and gone deep into sleep with excitement, jitters and all at once.
The following morning, I quickly ate some fruits and the entire team departed sharp at 6am.
We arrived at Kathmandu airport and departed to Lhasa (Tibet). On our arrival at Lhasa, I realised that the Chinese women at the immigration were super efficient and we didn’t get our passports stamped for obvious reasons.
The bus, that would be our home for the next 2 weeks was awaiting us and it was sparkling clean like a new bus. Sriram and I looked at each other and smiled for actually doing this. The sherpa (caretaker/everything to us during the trip) gave us instructions on do-s and don’t-s for the journey ahead and asked all of us “to-be”.
Getting to know others in our bus, managing high altitude sickness, chanting together, expression of kindness in all forms was our routine everyday. At every pit stop, we spent a day or two to get used to the shift in altitude and thus thinning of air to manage our breathing etc.
As we transcended into our journey and took higher steps in terms of the altitude, it was as well the best means to understand myself in every aspect. My physical health was constantly in check and how I coped it – with my mental strength and help of fellow friends in the yatra was truly a humbling experience. Every time, I felt this is it, I found hope and support from means that I least expected.
When at Manasarovar, I felt like I could stay there forever. The early morning view of sunrise and swans taking its dip in the lake, the steady water stream and the ripples, the pebbles along the lake and of course the view of Kailash from Manasarovar made it all special. When asked to take a dip in the lake (around 06:30am or so), I was like, really? Is this even possible by me? And guess what – I stayed in the Lake longer than I had expected. It felt very surreal and magical.
And finally, we were at our ultimate milestone – “Kailash”. It was a solitary journey filled with all sorts of conversation between me and the mighty mountains. The mountains shook me up, broke me down, made me ecstatic, helped me open up and made me experience life’s essence – that at the end, we all are a dust particle, we all are a dust particle and that too an insignificant one 🙂
Memories flash by and my gratitude goes back to Rajalakshmi patti, Ramya Akka, Gayathri Akka, Subha Akka, Divya Akka, Pawan Anna, Michael Anna, Kumaran Anna, Sriram (my husband), Suresh Anna, JP anna, Kim Cho (our driver) and every single person whom I encountered during the trip.
Thatha – a major influence in my life is no more and I have a lot to say.
He was mostly my guru, shared all that he knew musically unconditionally – not just with me, but with all his students. He made all of us complete individuals and gave us exposure beyond what we could imagine at that tender age.
He was mostly stern with me, when it came to classes and practice sessions. Instances I recollect that I’d get a share of unpleasantaries for fellow students making mistakes while singing. It used to be a rigourous 6-8 hours session per day. To compensate for his rigor, my paati would pamper all of us with delicacies and gratifying words.
Between 1998 and 2005, I’d participate in singing competitions across various sabhas in Chennai. And, by chance if thatha appeared as a judge, I know I have no chance of winning – even if I gave my best. Fellow musicians in the judging panel would encourage my performance whilst Thatha would find a gazillion mistakes in my performance – starting from the posture, to shruti, to kala pramanam, to diction and raga bhavam.
Almost until my early 20s, I’d blindly follow whatever he’d say. Because I knew nothing other than that. To support his views, my parents would never come in the way. And those years helped me see a person beyond a guru in him – an orator, an organiser, a disciplinarian, a creator, an artist and above all a bhakta of Saint Narayana Tirtha.
Thatha never said words or preached to help us learn things. He’d simply do them in action and meticulously followed them until his last breath – I can assure. Today, in his absence, I connect dots backward and know that there’s so much he has taught me in an implied manner.
He liked being challenged and deeply appreciated acumen in a person and accepted creative (non conventional) ideas readily.
He was one of the early organisers to encourage budding young artistes and would go out of his way to support and help them build a career by putting them in touch with other leading Sabha secretaries.
For those who knew him deep, they’d absolutely adore him for his straight forwardness. Despite his natural traits, he was extremely good as an influencer and loved being around like minded individuals.
From concert recitals, dance performances, stage dramas, harikatha, namasankeertanam, villupaatu, jugalbandis to talk shows, debate sessions, short films, street play, he explored spectrum of ideas to reach out compositions of Sri Narayana Tirtha.
Seen a man of dreams? Yes.
Seen an entire family beholding this man’s dreams? It’s rare. For, its seldom we witness such things.
I consider myself blessed to grow up in such an atmosphere at household. Differing views, conflicting interests, personal opinions will fall short completely when it comes to one subject – “Narayana Tirtha” – where the entire family unites unanimously.
In the recent past, we bonded beyond a guru – shishya relationship and shared ideas across subjects – food, travel, politics, history, culture, psychology, medicine, fitness, architecture. And maybe, this was when, he was more of a thatha to me and expressed his purest of sides with joy to me.
His leaving is irreplaceable but he has given us a purpose beyond our imagination – to each one of us in the family to hold onto and reminisce him in many more years to come.
P.S: His strength and love, V Rajalakshmi, my patti – is currently in loss of words to express what she’s going through. Hope and pray for her well being.
Good or noble people amplify even the little good they see in people. While, people who always like to pick up only fault in others would overlook all the good in others. So much to an extent, that they will portray even the good as negative trait in others.
And to draw an analogy, it is similar to how clouds absorb salt and dirt from the ocean to give sweet drops of water. While a snake drinks milk only to spit out poison.
Now, if you ask me what is good and bad, well, well. That’s for another blog, another day. 🙂
In Chennai, there isn’t just one spot which is my favorite, but many such places. But, I am going to pick one that I frequently visit – Marina Beach.
Marina has a charm that makes it very personal for me to connect and visit it every now and then.
Marina has seen a part of my soul – my best of laughter and sorrowful tears.
Marina is about 6.5kms long (From Island grounds to Light house) and has been my regular running path.
Marina has allowed me to sing to its waves, shiver to its thunder & lightning, dance to its uncovered rain.
Marina has made me see Chennai in its truest sense – from the rag pickers to the owner of an Audi, it treats everyone the same and takes them into its arms with no bias.
Marina is home when I need to pause and reflect on life.
Marina reminds me of a future ahead of me – for its been a witness to my life and growing up, in some sense.
Marina makes me feel I am home, everytime I land in Chennai after traveling out.
Marina, we will continue to have this bond, for we also made a deal to see you when I turn 60 years old. Probably with my special someone, Sriram.