Elephants, Gods, and Elephant Gods

I went on Google with my mom today, and we searched ‘land of festivals’. Believe it or not, every single link on the first page had something to do with India, except for one somewhere in the middle there about Wisconsin. And though you might really want to hear all about Wisconsin, I’m going to tell you about India instead, and (if you hadn’t already figured it out yet), India is also known as Land of Festivals (sorry Wisconsin).

Yes, India is the land of Festivals. For every type of occasion, India is filled with great celebration, a splash of color, and dancing, and singing and rituals! Here we celebrate everything, from the harvesting of crops, to the birthdays of gods and goddesses.

Today, we celebrate Pillayar Chaturthi, which is also known as Ganesh Chaturthi and Vinayaka Chaturthi. Pillayar is the god of Wisdom. There are many stories of how wise he is, and also many stories as to how he had gotten his elephant head. The story that I’ve heard is this one: Pillayar’s mother was taking a bath, and told him to guard the door, and not let anyone in. Then, Lord Shiva (Pillayar’s father) had wanted to go inside, and since Pillayar didn’t let him, Shiva was enraged at him. Lord Shiva cut off his son’s head. After his anger subsided, Shiva felt immensely bad about what he had done, so he found an elephant head and attached it to Ganesh instead. Thus, Ganesh has an elephant head. The celebration of Vinayaka Chaturthi is on Ganesh’s birthday. Well, what do we do on that day? Here’s me explaining it to you through my own experience:

The day before Vinayaka Chaturthi, we went down to Mylapore to do some shopping. Mylapore is the part of Chennai where my mom grew up as a kid. It has a really big temple and a kulam (a small man made lake) next to it. Around the kulam there are many street-side shops with fruit stands and people selling fake jewelery and all kind of things. Whenever there is any kind of festival, the shops on the street sell statues, and other things for the Pooja (a pooja is when you pray and offer to god).  One of the things on our shopping list that day was clay. The clay was for making our own Pillayar statues for the celebration. Really, the clay was just mud. Thats right! We played with mud for half of the day on Friday! And with the mud, Bharat and I (my mom chose to video tape) created awesome Pillayar statues of our own. But back to Mylapore, when we were there it was unbelievable! Buzzing with people! There were so many stands on the street side selling ready made mud Pillayar statues, clay, and small paper and string umbrellas that you set over the statues on the day of the celebration! Also, flowers that you put in your hair, beads, necklaces, and fruits! By the time we left, the streets were getting so crowded with people buying statues that we could barely walk! It was such an experience, and I saw so much thats really new to me here, including a street fight. I have videos, but (unfortunately) I didn’t post them, because my mom says that I should respect the privacy of those having public street fights!

Later, we, as I said earlier, created our own mud Pillayar statues. I’m very proud of mine, it looks so nice! And with these statues, we did the Pooja the next morning, which wasn’t really too much, as it was only the three of us. After that, we all went to the close by small temple. This was my first actual time at that temple in the morning!

Later that day, we were all sitting in the apartment, and we heard loud noises and singing. My mom and I went outside with the video camera to see what it was. Circling the square where the temple is, was a small chariot, pulled by a couple of people, with the idol Ganesh sitting inside. There were so many people following it! The singing and drums and music were so loud, and it was so bright and it had a certain cheerful and happy air to it.

The next day, it was time to take the Pillayar statues that we made into the ocean at the beach. This symbolizes putting Pillayar back into the Earth. There were some boys over at the beach who offered to do it for us, and since they were actually jumping into the deep parts of the water, and we weren’t sure about doing that ourselves, we let them. I have a neat video of them doing it too! Make sure you watch the video everyone, so that you can see for yourself what my Vinayaka Chaturthi was like!

More Soon!                                                                                                                                       Kausi


Our Trip to Thanjavur (The ‘Big Temple’)

BEWARE!!! this is a long post! 🙂

A few weeks ago, my family and I went, on part of our vacation, to Thanjavur, which used to be the capital of Tamilnadu in 1790. In Thanjavur, we visited the ‘Big Temple’ (which was truly big) and we also went to a couple of other places, like the monument of Thiyagarajar (the famous Carnatic composer (one of the great trinity) near Thanjavur. The ‘Big Temple’ in Thanjavur was built by the highly famed king called Raja Raja Chola. There is so much history about the Chola Dynasty, especially during the reign of Raja Raja Chola, because when that king built the great ‘Big Temple’ he also carved into the floors, walls and pillars the story of his entire reign as king, every small thing he did, and every thing he had ever accomplished as a king. Those carvings are a huge source of what we know in history today. In short, it is unbelievably interesting to see this temple! There are also paintings on the sides of the temple, highlighting Indian myths and stories.

Lets start off with just a bit of history first:

The Cholas are one of the earliest and most ancient among the South Indian royal houses. The Chola Kingdom is so ancient, that there have even been references made in the Mahabharata and even in Ashokan inscriptions (old!). It is known that Karikala was the Chola ruler who reigned in the 2nd century AD. During Karikala’s reign, the capital city was moved from a place called Uraiyur to Kaveripattanam. Nedumudikilli seems to have been the successor of Karikala. The frequent attacks of the Pallavas, Cheras and Pandyas declined the Chola power but in the 8th century AD, the Chola’s glory began to glow while the Pallavas power weakened.

At around 850 AD, a man called Vijayalaya founded the Chola dynasty, probably by starting off as a servant or vassal to the Pallava king. With the conflict between Pallavas and Pandyas, Vijayalaya occupied Tanjore (Thanjavur) and made it his capital. He was succeeded later by his son Aditya-I. Aditya-I defeated the Pallava king Aparajita during his reign and also Parantaka Viranarayana, the Kongu ruler.

Aditya-I was then soon succeeded by his son Parantaka-I and ruled between the years of 907 to 955 AD. The Chola’s power had reached supremacy under his reign. He seized the land of the Pandya King and soon conquered the Vadumbas. He swept away all the traces of Pallavas power, but then received a set back at the hands of Rashtrakutas ().

One of the most powerful rulers of the Chola kingdom was Raja Raja Chola- the Great. He ruled from 985 – 1014 AD. His army conquered Venginadu, Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi, Nolambavadi, Kudamalai-nadu, Kollam, Kalingam, and Ilamandalam of the Singalas! His first triumph was achieved early in his reign by destroying the Navy of Cheras at Trivendrum. He invaded the North part of Ceylon and added it to his kingdom, then destroyed Anuradhapura. Under his rule, Polonnaruva was made the capital of the Chola province of Ceylon. Political divisions of the Western Ganga’s Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi and Nolambavadi were conquered in 991 AD and remained under them for the next century. The union of Eastern and Western Chalukyas was stopped by helping the Eastern Chalukya ruler. Towards the end of the reign, the Cholas were attacked by the Western Chalukyas, but Raja-raja Chola won the war. Another achievement of Raja Raja Chola’s is building the great ‘Big Temple’ in Thanjavur, but more on that later.

Later on, Rajendra-I founded his new capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. He set up Vaishnava center and the Vedic college (for teaching the Vedas). He had a friendly relationship with the China emperor, and had a peaceful reign of 32 years. He extended the territory inherited from his father, and subdued the power of the Pandyas and Kerala. He performed the Asvamedha sacrifice too (). Though he was very successful at the beginning, he later lost his life in the famous battle of Koppam on the Tungabhadra. The next ruler Rajendra-II (1052-1064 AD) just managed to maintain the Chola Empire though he had to struggle with the troubling Chalukyas.

Vira Rajendra (1064 – 1070 AD) was the elder brother of Rajendra-II. Vira succeeded his younger brother’s reign for 7 following years. He met the invasion of the Chalukya King and defeated the Chalukya ruler. He re-conquered Vengi and foiled the efforts of Vijayabahu of Ceylon who was trying to drive the Cholas out of the place. When Someswara-II succeeded the Chalukyas throne, Rajendra later on built friendly ties by giving his daughter to Vikramaditya. Soon after the death of Vira Rajendra in 1070 AD, there was a contest for the throne and Adhi-Rajendra, the apparent heir, took it. He had a short uneventful reign, but Vijayabahu assumed independence in Ceylon.

At around 1073, the Kalachuri King Yasahkarana invaded Vengi but did not gain anything. The Pandyas and Chera’s attack were put down by Kulottunga. The southern Kalingam revolt was put down too. In about 1118 AD, Vikramaditya VI took control of Vengi from the Cholas and thus succeeded in separating the Cholas from the Eastern Chalukyas. Gangapadi and Nolambavadi were lost to Hoysala’s Vishnuvardhana.

Vikrama Chola was the next successor, as the son of Kulottunga-I restored the Chola power by reconquering Vengi and by taking control of part of Gangapadi. His reign was somewhat peaceful to his subjects though there were floods and famines in the Southern Arcot. The Hoysala’s expansion took control of Chola power slowly and subsequently. The last rulers (Kulottunga – II, Rajaraja – II, and Rajadhiraja – III) could not stop the Hoysala’s capture of the Chola Kingdom. In about 1243, the Pallava chief declared independence. The Kakatiyas and Hoysalas partitioned among themselves the territory of the Chola Empire and Chola Empire ceased to exist for ever.

There’s still a lot more history on Thanjavur, but I decided not to bore all of the people reading this who believe they’ve got enough of it at school. I find the history of Thanjavur really interesting though!

A special thing about Thanjavur now is the ‘Big Temple’ we visited there a few weeks ago. A little more history for you, on the Big Temple built by Raja Raja Chola- the Great.
Rajaraja’s great reign is remembered by the outstanding Shiva temple in Thanjavur, sometimes called Raajarajeswaram (but to most people, the ‘Big Temple’), which is one of the finest monuments of this period of South Indian history. The temple is significant for both its huge size and for its simplicity of design.

When Raja Raja Chola went on a battle to the Maldives he returned home with a great plan of constructing the great Thanjavur big temple. He probably thought, after returning from the battle, that he wanted to record all of his accomplishments (in a way as great as building a temple). The temple is actually one for Lord Shiva, but his story carvings are all over the place, so it’s a theory to think about. The temple is for Lord Shiva because Raja Raja Chola was actually one of the biggest devotees to Shiva.

The construction of the temple is said to have been completed on the 275th day of the 25th year of Raja Raja’s reign. After its celebration, the great temple and the capital had close business relations with the rest of the country and acted as a center of both religious and economic activity. Year after year villages from all over the country had to supply men and material for the temple maintenance!

This temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst stimulated walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The ‘Vimana’ – or the temple tower – is 216 ft. (66 m) high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kalash or ‘Chikharam’ (the rounded structure on the top) of the temple is not really carved out of a single stone as widely believed. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high! We saw it and took pictures with it (fortunately cameras are allowed inside the temple walls!). The entire temple structure is made completely out of hard granite stones.

Did you know, also, that the temple was built in a way so that the shadow never falls on the ground, but only on itself? It’s really cool. If you don’t believe me then go ahead and sit by the Big Temple all day and wait for a shadow to appear on the ground, though you’re wasting your time and it is definitely not going to come.

Now pictures of our trip to Thanjavur! 🙂

Chennai Sangamam (Street Festival)

One thing about Chennai (and probably all of India) is that there’s rarely a dull moment. Even the rides to all our classes are hugely interesting! Yes, through our many trips outside, I have discovered many things about Chennai including the fact that dogs squat to pee here, while over there I’ve only ever seen them lifting one leg up! Today there was a street festival in Besant Nagar (the small town in Chennai we live in) called Chennai Sangamam. This festival was so much fun! At first, we didn’t even know what was going on, and we heard all this loud drumming outside and went out to the balcony to see (and couldn’t see anything because they were around the corner), so we went outside to check out what the (hugely) loud sound was, and it turned out to be the street festival there were so many banners (like the one up there ^) about! The sound was mainly coming from the hundreds of drums, songs, and dancers there, and a lot from all of the people around. It was all like a huge parade with hundreds of costumed people doing folk dances to all the beats and the music. They went all the way to the beach (from the street) and the beach was definitely the most crowded. The sides of this place were lined with food stalls (yum) and it was entirely packed with people sitting on the beach and the roads watching! It was very hard to maneuver. 🙂 I have a lot of this part on video: people dancing with swords, big decorations on their head (you cant imagine), stilts, drum dancing with Indian costumes and all that! After this (the part I did not get on video) came the folk singing, along with the dancing, on an outdoor stage on the beach! And to think all of this was so close to our house. There were also people dancing below the stage to the fun and fast Indian folksy tunes. If you want to hear about a few more dance forms visit this site: http://www.chennaisangamam.com/?page_id=43 (this is the Chennai Sangamam official website)

The Chennai Sangamam (on their website) had a few ideas about what they think the whole thing is about:

  • An inclusive city festival that belongs to all people
  • To strengthen and nurture the bonds of community
  • Protect, revive and promote endangered art forms, mostly folk which are intangible heritage, cultural assets
  • To bring performing arts and artists closer to the community
  • To provide a common platform for varied art forms
  • Cross cultural dialogue through art & culture focused international tourism promotion

Those were pretty much what it really was like! I had a lot of fun and watching all those dances really did make me feel closer to the community, as in, closer to India (especially Chennai). Things like this really don’t happen very much in California!

There really isn’t much more to say, other than that there were fireworks by the end of it (we weren’t there for that part but we could see it (and hear it) from our balcony). So, now for probably the most interesting part to all of you readers: the video! (but first a few pictures!) 🙂

now the video! 🙂

Kuttalam Waterfalls

A few weeks ago, my family and I took a few days of our vacation to go to the Kuttalam Waterfalls. The Kuttalam Waterfalls pass through many different kinds of herbs, which makes it great smelling as well as having medicinal value (I was sick though, so no smell for me, but medicinal value great!). The falls are only there during the monsoon season (the season of rain in India), because the water is all basically just monsoon rain water. People bathe under it all the time, and it’s a quite large tourist attraction, which means that if you go to Kuttalam at the main part of the monsoon season (unlike us, who went near the end of it), I doubt you would even be able to get under the water.

There are 8 waterfalls in Kuttalam (the 5 falls, the old falls, the main falls, etc.) and there are more waterfalls at a place in Kerala, which is driving distance from Kuttalam (Kerala is a more tropical zone in South India). The waterfalls there were actually over a lake (which we swam in). I had so much fun!

The water, in Kuttalam, is also unbelievably cold when you first step under it, but after a little while of being under you get used to it and it starts to feel super incredible. There aren’t any stories about the Kuttralam falls really (except my own), so this post is sadly short, but I have a few photos of us there so check them out (i don’t have any pictures of me actually under the falls, because I think I’m the only one who took the pictures, but I have other pictures to show you) enjoy!:


About a week ago, we celebrated Diwali in Bangalore, and it was unbelievably fun. We lit loads of crackers and wore new clothes and ate great food! I have lots of videos of the fireworks and sparklers (look down) and a couple of pictures.I wanted to tell you about the stories of Diwali though too so I’ll do that first and then tell you about my experience.

There are many different stories about Diwali and why it’s celebrated, and so I’m going to tell you one of them (a very popular story here):

Lord Krishna Destroyed Demon Narakasur
Lord Vishnu once had a son by the name Narakasur. Though he was the son of a deity, Narakasur had an evil nature. He brought all the kingdoms under his control and looked up at the havens. Not even mighty Indra, the head of all the gods, could stop him. Soon Narakasur had gained control over both Earth and the heavens. Addicted to power by this point, he kidnapped 16,100 daughters of gods and saints and kept them in his personal harem. He also stole the beautiful earrings of the heavenly mother goddess Aditi. Everyone went to Lord Vishnu for help, and thus he took the form of his avataram Krishna. You’ll find out more about Krishna in a later post. Narakasur had gained a boon from Brahma at his birth that he would only die at the hands of his mother, so Krishna’s consort, Satyabhama, transformed herself into the avatar of Bhudevi (Narakasur mother) and went to war with the demon. During the war, Krishna couldn’t defeat Narakasur, so spotting the chance, Satyabhama (as the avatar of Bhudevi) fired an arrow to Narakasur’s head and killed him. Before dying, Narakasur requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on Earth, thus the first day of Diwali (called Naraka Chaturdashi) is really celebrated as the death day of Narakasur.

There are also man many other stories, about why we light candles on Diwali and why it’s the festival of lights, but I have no time to give you all the full details, as I have so many different posts to finish within the week (you’ll see).

So, I’m going to start telling you about my fun with fireworks on this festival of lights: On the actual day of Diwali, each of us wore brand new clothes and lit candles all over the house. We ate delicious South Indian food for lunch and soon after we went outside to start the fireworks, which was tons and tons of fun! There were fireworks like rockets that we shot into the air and exploded but there were also simpler ones such as the firework that spins and shoots sparks out on the floor like a top, and fireworks called flower pots which you light and a fountain of sparks comes shooting about five feet up into the air. I have videos of almost everything (including, at the end, a 5000 pack of explosives that, in turn, each exploded the next one into a long chain of booms). Even before that, one of the rockets we sent actually stuck to the ground and shot purple sparks all over us (which made me think it would have been really pretty if it actually went into the air). And guess what? I have videos of everything…

Navarathri (DAY 3 – 9) — Stories

For the rest of my Navarathri posts, I decided to fill up all the left-over days with stories of the gods and goddesses of India. Hopefully, by the end of this, you will have learned a lot. I don’t know half these stories myself yet, so I’ll be learning too as I do research for these blog posts. This is only part one of all the stories, and over the rest of the year I’ll add more and more.

I’ll first start off with the 10 forms of Vishnu. These 10 forms are called the dasavatars, and each dasavatar was created by Vishnu to destroy evil or just a certain evil. The first of the dasavataras was called the Matsya avatar, who was Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish.

Story of the Matsya Avatar:

Every 4320 million years (one cycle of existence: according to Hindu mythology) is equal to a day for Brahma. At the end of the ‘day’, Brahma falls asleep and when he does so, all of creation dissolves into his sleep with him, signifying the end of creation (destruction). Only the Vedas (the sacred text and scriptures of Hinduism) are beyond destruction, because they are inside Brahma himself. Their habitat is in Brahma, so once, near the end of the 4320 years of existence, Brahma yawned and the precious Vedas came floating out of his mouth. Soon after, Hayagriva (a devil), who wanted immortality, found the Vedas and swallowed them. Lord Vishnu, who was pretending to be asleep, watched the whole thing in horror. As Lord Vishnu was wondering how he could get the Vedas back, he located a king called Satyavatra, who was offering prayers to him, and was waist deep in water. Vishnu took the form of a very tiny fish and swam into the kings hands and asked the king to save him from being eaten by the bigger fish in the ocean. The kind Satyavatra agreed and brought out a small vessel of water to keep him in. The fish kept growing and growing, soon becoming too big to fit in the vessel, a pond, or even a lake! So, in the end, the king put the giant fish back into the ocean, where the fish said again ‘do not leave me in the ocean, the bigger fish will eat me.’ The king was amazed at the fish, and how fast it had grown, so he pledged it to disclose its identity.  Then, Lord Vishnu took his true form, in front of an awed Satyavatra, who immediately bowed deeply. Lord Vishnu told the Kind about the upcoming end of the world and said ‘I have manifested for the protection of this universe and for the destruction of wicked. A week from now, the ocean will rise and drown the entire universe. At that time, you will see a large boat approaching you. Collect all the seeds, animals, and plants needed for the next spell of creation.’ As the king collected all the plants and animals needed, the Matsya dasavatar (Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish) found the devil Hayagriva and tore him apart to collect the lost Vedas. Soon after, a boat appeared, as Lord Vishnu had said it would, and the King placed all the animals into it. When everybody had boarded the huge boat, it was fastened to the Matsya avatar’s horn (with the King of Snakes (Vasuki) serving as the rope) and they sailed through all of Brahma’s long night, thus Lord Vishnu rescued life from seizing and saved the Vedas from the devil Hayagriva.

It’s sort of like Noah and the Arc isn’t it (to tell you the truth, I’ve only seen the movie, but I get the general idea). Vishnu and the King both saved all life from ending forever by collecting all the animals and plants, and recovering the Vedas. That was the story of the first of the 9 avatarams of Vishnu (the fish).

The next story is on the second avataram of Vishnu, which is the turtle. They aren’t all sea creatures, but you’ll see the necessity of this one as you read.

Story of the Kurma Avatar:

The Devas (sort-of gods) had lost all of their power, because the kind of the Devas (Indra) had once insulted the sage Durvasa and invoked his wrath with a curse. Almost instantly, the demons, knowing their weakness, dethroned the weak Indra and his associate Devas. The Devas, powerless and weak, had no choice but to see the Holy Trinity (Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and Brahma). Lord Vishnu suggested them to get the elixir life by churning the milk ocean. During the churning of the ocean, the Amrit Kumbh (pot of ambrosia) will come out and bless them with the gift of immortality. The churning of the ocean is a very difficult task, so Lord Vishnu advised that the Devas get an allegiance with the Devils for help. The churning would be executed with the Mandar Parvat (mountain) as the churning rod, and the great king of snakes (Vasuki) as the rope. Soon after, the churning commenced, but the mountain Mandar had no support on the bottom, and began to sink. Lord Vishnu took the form of a giant tortoise (the Kurma dasavatar) and held the mountain up on his shell. Later on, the pot of ambrosia came out, with elixir of life within it. The Devas drank and overpowered Durvasa, gaining back their rule with their curse lifted.

That was the story of the Kurma avatar, and how the Devas (gods) became immortal. Thats all for today, because I have so much more to write about at the moment (like Diwali) so I decided top leave the rest of the stories for times when I don’t have anything to write about at all.

I’ll be posting soon!

Navarathri (DAY 2)

It’s already been a couple of days since Navarathri ended, so I’m really sorry that this post took so long, but we’ve been in Bangalore and there wasn’t any internet there.

On the second day of Navarathri, we did a bit more street-side shopping and we also went to a really cool doll shop close to our house. I have videos of the street shopping (in Mylapore: the same place that we did our Pillayar Chaturthi shopping), but no videos of the store, but I will take some today (we’re going back) and post them with this post.

To know more about Mylapore, have a look at the post called Elephants, Gods, and Elephant Gods. The streets last time were filled with statues, though not as many. Back then the statues were all full of Pillayar, but now they are of everything! They have little scenes of weddings and villages, fruit  sellers, and all the gods and  goddesses. We bought a lot  of them too. So much, in  fact,  that we decided to  make our own small golu at our apartment.

We made the steps out of books and boxes, and we put one of my mom’s scarves over it to make it look really nice. I have a lot of pictures of this, so I’ll post a couple here. It’s not really anything big, but more of a tester golu. We’re planning on having a bigger one next year back in America.

First a video and some pictures (in the video) of the golu we made:

I can’t put up any more videos for a short while, because this computer can’t take so many saved videos and there isn’t anything I can delete here, that I know of yet, but I put up some pictures of Mylapore earlier in this post and here are some pictures of a different doll shop I went to a bit before Navarathri actually started:

The next Navarathri posts are going to be combined as stories and myths of the different gods and people that everyone collects statues of.

I hope you had a very happy Navarathri and watch for the stories, which I am planning on posting soon!