Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An appeal to the authorities and public on the occasion of International Day of Forests.

Today is the International Day of Forests. The International Day of Forests was established on the 21st of March, by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on November 28, 2012. Each year, various events celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests, and trees outside forests, for the benefit of current and future generations. Countries are encouraged to undertake efforts to organize local, national, and international activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns, on International Day of Forests. The Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization, facilitates the implementation of such events in collaboration with governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, and international, regional and sub-regional organizations. International Day of Forests was observed for the first time on March 21, 2013. This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us.
While most countries of the world are concerned about depletion of forests and are doing their best to improve the situation there seems to be very little effort in our country. In some States of India where lakhs of tree saplings are plated during rainy season with lot of fanfare are not cared for later and eventually most of them get dried up. In our State of Telangana the forest area is just 18.22% of the total State area. And since 2015 it is reported that there is hardly an increase of 0.5% in forest area. Our country’s forest area is 21.54% while that of Russia is 45.40%, Brazil 56.10%, Canada 31.06%, USA 30.84%, Argentina 34% and that of Indonesia is 46.46%. Such is the position of many countries,  a much higher forest area than ours. These few statistics provided by me tell us how much our Central and State Governments and people have to do to save and grow more trees wherever possible.
Some Key Messages on this important day! To remember forever, by us and our future generations:
One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.
Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas.
Trees also improve the local climate, helping to save energy used for heating by 20-50 percent.
Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30 percent.
Urban trees are excellent air filters, removing harmful pollutants in the air and fine particulates.
Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.
Local populations use the fruits, nuts, leaves and insects found in urban trees to produce food and medicines for use in the home, or as a source of income.
Wood fuel sourced from urban trees and planted forests on the outskirts of cities provides renewable energy for cooking and heating, which reduces pressures on natural forests and our reliance on fossil fuels.
Forests in and around urban areas help to filter and regulate water, contributing to high-quality freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Forests also protect watersheds and prevent flooding as they store water in their branches and soil.
Well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.
Forests in cities and surrounding areas generate tourism, create tens of thousands of jobs and encourage city beautification schemes, building dynamic, energetic and prosperous green economies.
Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Today is World Sparrow Day.

On the occasion of ‘World Sparrow Day’ I am making an appeal through my blog to save the sparrows and I have posted the following message on my facebook status:
“It is long since the sparrows have vanished from our house and garden and we rarely get to see them nowadays, that too when we move far away from the city; at some temple, dhaba or in the villages. I really miss these birds, which lived in our garden and inside our house too!
Wherever you may find them, please do everything possible to help these lovely birds survive”.
Reminiscing old times, I really miss these birds. Any given time of the day; from dawn to dusk, these birds were available and easily visible at our house. Their chirping could be heard intermittently. However much we tried to stop them, they found ways to enter our house and make nests on the ventilators and top canopies of ceiling fans. They moved about freely in the house picking up something or the other to eat, especially from leftovers on plates at the dining table and at the kitchen sink. It appeared as if they loved our house as much as we. They maintained distance from us but never seemed afraid of us until we were shoving them away. We and our children grew up seeing these birds every day.
At our house, mothers used to feed babies and small children by diverting their attention to the activities of these birds, which came very close to them for some food. There was a musical way of calling these birds in Telugu for the sake of children – “Dhayi dhayi Pitta” or “Pittamma ravay”. The birds living in the house sometimes caused nuisance with their droppings, their eggs falling out of the nests and sometimes the chicks falling out of the nests and then the birds accidentally getting killed by the ceiling fans. And outdoors in the garden their numbers were huge. On clothes lines and tree branches we could see rows of sparrows at any time. These lovely house sparrows have gradually vanished from our house and the city. Now we can only see them when we move out of the city to far off places.
I am happy that the world is sincerely concerned about the survival of these once common and popular birds, and I hope they would certainly find ways to save these birds and prevent their extinction. Let us also do everything possible to save these lovely birds.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Happy to see Hyderabad Metro Rail’s Progress Report of First 100 Days!

Hyderabad Metro Rail has completed 100 days of successful operations a week back and has released statistics of their performance yesterday, 18th March…perhaps as a part of their Ugadi celebrations.
I am impressed with the statistics. Hyderabad Metro Rail has announced that they have covered a distance of 10.2 lakh kilometres in its first 100 days of operation and have been 99.2 percent punctual. The total number of trips made by the 18 trains in operation along the 30 km long Nagole – Miyapur stretch is 36,186!  And in these 100 days, over 80 lakh passengers have traveled in the Metro Rail.
I hear that the Metro Rail is becoming very popular by the day. Some acquaintances have told me that in the early days there was rush during peak hours and not much in between but it is not so now, there are many passengers all the time.
After the inauguration of Metro Rail by Sri Narendra Modi, our Prime Minister on 28th November 2017 many works were unfinished like the pavements at some Metro Stations and within the Stations itself and very significantly from my point of view the Paradise Metro Station’s landing towards the Fire Station. But today most works are complete and other works are progressing rapidly.
Though Paradise Metro Station is just a few metres and minutes away from our house, this mode of transport is not useful to us as of now on daily basis, because our area of activity is in other parts of the City. But it is certainly very convenient for us if we have any errands or invitations to attend along the existing Metro Stations and in future along new Metro routes coming up.
I have traveled by the Metro Rail twice so far. First time it was from Paradise to Miyapur with changeover of trains at Ameerpet and back to Paradise just to enjoy the Metro experience. And the second time it was in the opposite direction from Paradise Station to Stadium Station to attend a function at the nearby Little Flower Junior College and of course back. Driving along these routes especially during peak hours would have taken me a very long time; with lots of traffic related inconveniences. But not so now, on the few occasions I may get to travel by Metro Rail.
I wish the world class Metro Rail of Hyderabad will continue to do well, to the entire satisfaction of the commuters.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Telugu New Year Greetings! - Happy Ugadi!

Today, 18th March is Telugu New Year’s First Day. On this occasion I wish you all a very happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.
All Telugu festivals (except ‘Sankranti’) are celebrated according to the lunar calendar and hence the Telugu New Year’s Day does not match with the western solar calendar - a fixed date. The Telugu New Year commences from the next day after the new moon in March or April every year.
The Telugu New Year’s first day is celebrated as Ugadi FestivalUgadi in Sanskrit is Yugadi (Yuga+Adi). Yuga means Era and Adi means New, so Yugadi or Ugadi festival is the celebration of the New Year. Yesterday 17th March was the last new moon day (Amavasya) of the previous year and today 18th March is the first lunar day – Shukla Padyami of the first Telugu lunar month Chaitra Masam and the New Year.
Every Telugu Year has a name, there are sixty such names in a chronological order. At the end of sixty years the names would be repeated once again. The name of this New Year is ‘Vilambi’ and this year would always be called and mentioned as ‘Vilambi Nama Samvatsaram’.
In short, Ugadi Festival which is celebrated on Shukla Padyami of Chaitra Masam is on 18th March this year. And the name of the New Year is Vilambi Nama Samvatsaram.
The festival is celebrated with great fanfare. Ugadi greetings are exchanged with all near and dear ones. Prayers are offered to the deities at home and blessings sought for a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Kankanam/Talisman is tied on to the right wrist of every member. Wheat grains placed in front of the deities are picked up in a small quantity by every family member using just three fingers to foresee how the year ahead is going to be for them. If an even number (Sarri) of grains is picked up, the year is going to be normal and if an odd number (Baesh) of grains are picked it will be an excellent year. Then Ugadi Pachhadi a unique drink offered as Naivedhyam to the deities is consumed. Ugadi Pachhadi is prepared using water, Jaggery, Tamarind, raw Mango, Neem flowers, Salt, Oma/Tymol seeds, dry Coconut, dry fruits – Cashew and Sara palukulu/Chironji. Ugadi Pachhadi has Shadhruchulu - meaning six different tastes that are sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, hot and saltish.  This tasty drink which in some houses is prepared as chutney is a symbolic reminder of the myriad facets of life one would be facing in the year ahead. Later, the festive lunch is a sumptuous one with some traditional items like Polelu/Bobbatlu. People also visit a Temple in the neighborhood to seek blessings for a very good year. Either at the Temple or on TV one also listens to Panchanga Shravanam that is listening to the predictions for the year from the Telugu religious almanac which covers all people, occupations, weather, agriculture, calamities and so on.
New Year commences today for Karnataka and Maharashtra States as well. It is celebrated with almost the same rituals and fanfare in Karnataka as Ugadi and in Maharashtra as Gudi Padwa

Friday, March 16, 2018

Chidambaram Nataraja Temple.

I first visited Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram in 1970 when I was at Annmalai University Engineering College. I left the College within few days due to various reasons and then completed my Bachelor of Engineering Course from MIT, University of Mysore. Subsequently as a professional working for Praga Tools Ltd., a Government of India Company under Ministry of Defence; I visited Pondicherry officially a number of times. And as Chidambaram is just 75 km away from Pondicherry, I always made it a point to visit the Temple. Very recently I have visited Nataraja Temple with my wife. This is a very important place of pilgrimage for us and we have returned home very happy after the pilgrimage. Having written about many other Temples spread over the country, I should have written about Chidambaram Nataraja Temple much before…better late than never and hence this article.  
Chidambaram Nataraja Temple is also known as Thillai Nataraja Temple. It is 75 km from Pondicherry and 235 km from Chennai. The temple complex spread over 50 acres is in the heart of Chidambaram city. It is an ancient and historic temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Govindaraja Perumal, one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place. To the followers of Shaivism (Saivism) or the saivaite, the very word koil refers to Chidambaram. In the same way, to the followers of Vaishnavism it refers to Srirangam or Thiruvarangam.  The Sangam classics refer to Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan, respected clan of traditional Vishwakarmas, as being the chief architects of the temple renovation. There have been several renovations in its history, particularly during the days of Pallava / Chola emperors in ancient and pre-medieval periods.
The temple has 9 gateways and four of these have towering pagodas or gopurams each with 7 levels in the East, South, West and North. The eastern pagoda has all the 108 postures (karnams) of the Indian classical dance form – Bharathanatyam sculpted on it. 
There are 5 sabhas or diases or halls:
The Chit sabha is the sanctum sanctorum housing Lord Nataraja and his consort Goddess Shivagamasundari.
The Kanaka sabha is in front of the Chit sabha, from which the daily rituals are conducted.
The Nrithya sabha or Natya sabha is to the south of the temple's flag mast (dwaja sthambam) where the Lord is said to have danced with Goddess Kali – an embodiment of energy and established His supremacy.
The Raja sabha is a 1000-pillared hall which symbolizes the yogic chakra of thousand pillared lotus or Sahasraram which in yoga is a 'chakra' at the crown of the head and is a seat where the soul unites with God. This chakra is represented as a 1000-petalled lotus. Meditating by concentrating at the Sahasrara Chakra is said to lead to a state of union with the Divine force and is the pinnacle of yogic practice.
The Deva sabha houses the Pancha moorthis (pancha - five, moorthis – deities) namely the deities of Lord Ganesh - the remover of hurdles, Lord Somaskanda, a form where the Lord is in a seated posture with his consort, the Lord's consort Sivananda nayaki, the Lord Muruga and the deity of Chandikeswarar - the principal and chief of the devotees of the Lord.
The 9 gateways signify the 9 orifices in the human body. The Chit sabha or Ponnambalam, the sanctum sanctorum represents the heart which is reached by a flight of 5 stairs called the Panchaatchara padi - pancha meaning 5, achhara – indestructible syllables – "SI VA YA NA MA", from a raised anterior dias - the Kanaka sabha. The access to the sabha is through the sides of the stage (and not from the front as in most temples).
The Ponnambalam or the Sanctum sanctorum is held by 28 pillars – representing the 28 agamas or set methodologies for the worship of Lord Shiva. The roof is held by a set of 64 beams representing the 64 forms of art and is held by several cross-beams representing the innumerable blood vessels. The roof has been laid by 21600 golden tiles with the word SIVAYANAMA inscribed on them representing 21600 breaths (that one takes in a day). The golden tiles are fixed using 72000 golden nails which represent the number of nadis (nerves) that exist in human body. The roof is topped by a set of 9 sacred pots or kalasas, representing the 9 forms of energy.
Apart from the five sabhas are, the shrines for the original Shivalingam worshipped by Saints Patanjali and Vyagrapathar – called the Thirumoolattaneswarar and his consort Umaiyammai Umaiya parvathi, the shrines for the 63 prime devotees of Lord Siva – or the Arubathu moovar, the shrines for Sivagami – an embodiment of knowledge or Gyanasakthi, for Lord Ganesha – in his manifestation of one who removes hurdles, for Lord Muruga or Pandiya nayakan – in his manifestation of one who holds the three forms of energy – Itchai or "desire" represented by his consort Valli, Kriya or "action" represented by his consort Deivayanai and Gnana or "Knowledge" represented by the spear He carries to destroy ignorance.
There are also several smaller shrines in the temple complex and there are water bodies in and around the temple. The largest water body is Sivaganga. This large tank is in the third corridor of the Temple opposite to the shrine of Goddess Sivagami.
The Chidambaram temple complex houses a shrine for the Lord Govindaraja Perumal and his consort Pundareegavalli Thaayar. This shrine is claimed to be the Thillai Thiruchitrakootam and is one of the 108 divyadesas – or the key shrines of Vishnu, which have been sanctified (mangala saasanam) by hymns (the Naalayira divya prabantham) sung by the chief devotees of Lord Vishnu (called the Aalwars).
Chidambaram Natraja Temple is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each representing one of the five natural elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether). The other four temples in this category are: Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara, Trichy (water), Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth) Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire), Thiruvanna malai and Kalahasti Nathar (wind), Kalahasti.
The word Chidambaram is derived from chit, meaning "consciousness", and ambaram, meaning "sky" (from aakasam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to all the Vedas and scriptures. Another theory is that it is derived from chit plus ambalam. Ambalam means a "stage" for performing arts. The chidakasam is the state of supreme bliss or aananda and Lord Nataraja is the symbolic representation of the supreme bliss or aananda natanam. Saivaites believe that a visit to Chidambaram leads to liberation. Yet another theory is that it is derived from the word chitrambalam, from chithu meaning "play or dances of God" and ambalam meaning "stage".
A unique feature of this temple is the bejeweled image of Nataraja. It depicts Lord Shiva as the Lord of the dance Bharatanatyam and is one of the few temples where Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic murthi rather than the classic, anionic Lingam. The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolises the motion of the universe as sustained by Lord Shiva.
Aragalur Udaya Iraratevan Ponparappinan (alias Vanakovaraiyan) rebuilt the Siva temple at Chidambaram around 1213 AD. The same Bana Chief also built Tiruvannamalai temple. The temple has been traditionally administered by an endogamous group of shiavite brahmins called Dikshitars, who also officiate as its priests.
The story of Chidambaram begins with the legend of Lord Shiva strolling into the Thillai Vanam (Vanam meaning forest and thillai trees - botanical name Exocoeria agallocha, a species of mangrove trees - which currently grow in the Pichavaram wetlands near Chidambaram). The temple sculptures depicting the Thillai trees date back to the 2nd century CE).
In the Thillai forests resided a group of saints or 'rishis' who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals and 'mantras' or magical words. The Lord strolls in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of 'Pitchatanadar', a simple mendicant seeking alms. He is followed by his Grace and consort who is Lord Vishnu as Mohini. The rishis and their wives are enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of the handsome mendicant and his consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis get enraged and invoke scores of 'serpents' (Sanskrit: Nāga) by performing magical rituals. The Lord as the mendicant lifts the serpents and dons them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the rishis invoke a fierce tiger, which the Lord skins and dons as a shawl around his waist. Thoroughly frustrated, the rishis gather all their spiritual strength and invoke a powerful demon Muyalakan - a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. The Lord wearing a gentle smile, steps on the demon's back, immobilizes him and performs the Ánanda Thaandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and discloses his true form. The rishis surrender, realizing that this Lord is the truth and he is beyond magic and rituals.
About Ananda Thaandava: Adhisesha, the serpent who serves as a bed for the Lord in his manifestation as Vishnu, hears about the Änanda thaandava and yearns to see and enjoy it. The Lord blesses him, beckons him to assume the saintly form of 'Patanjali' and sends him to the Thillai forest, informing him that he will display the dance in due course. Patanjali who meditated in the Himalayas during krita age joins another saint, Vyagrapathar / Pulikaalmuni (Vyagra / Puli meaning "Tiger" and patha / kaal meaning "feet" – referring to the story of how he sought and got the feet and eyesight of a tiger to help climb trees well before dawn to pick flowers for the Lord before the bees visit them). The story of sage Patanjali as well as his great student sage Upamanyu is narrated in both Vishnu Puranam as well as Siva Puranam. They move into the Thillai forest and worship Lord Shiva in the form of Shivalinga, a deity worshipped today as Thirumoolataneswarar (Thiru - sri, Moolatanam - primordial or in the nature of a foundation, Eswarar- the Lord). Legends say that Lord Shiva displayed his dance of bliss (the Aananda Thaandavam) - as Nataraja to these two saints on the day of the poosam star in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan – Feb).
The Ananda Tandava posture of Lord Shiva is one of the famous postures recognized around the world by many. This celestial dancing posture tells us how a Bharathanatyam Dancer should dance.
The demon under Nataraja's feet signifies that ignorance is under his feet
The Fire in his hand (power of destruction) means destroyer of evil
The raised hand signifies that he is the savior of all life.
The Ring at the back signifies the cosmos.
The drum in his hand signifies the origin of Life.
These are the main things that the Nataraja murti and the celestial dance posture depict. A rare type of thandava posture is seen in Melakadambur temple nearby, 32 km from Chidambaram. Here in Karakoil, Nataraja is dancing on a bull.
Chidambaram is also referred to in various works such as Thillai (after the Thillai forest of yore in which the temple is now located), Perumpatrapuliyur or Vyagrapuram (in honour of Saint Vyagrapathar).The temple is supposed to be located at the Lotus heart of the Universe": Virat hridaya padma sthalam. On the spot where the Lord displayed his dance of bliss, the Änanda Thaandavam - a spot exactly south of the "Thirumoolataaneswar temple", today is the Ponnambalam/ Porsabai (Pon meaning gold, Ambalam/Sabai meaning stage) housing the Lord Shiva in his dancing form. The Lord is also hence referred to as the Sabhanayakar, meaning the Lord of the Stage.
This gold-roofed stage is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses the Lord in three forms:
The "form" - the anthromorphological form as an appearance of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni.
The "semi-form" – the semi-anthropomorphological form as the Crystal linga of Chandramouleswarar, the Sakala nishkala thirumeni.
The "formless" – as the Space in Chidambara Rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the Nishkala thirumeni.
Chidambaram also is one of the five places where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed his dance and all these places have stages / sabhas. Apart from Chidambaram which has the Por sabha, the others are the Rathina sabha at Thiruvaalangadu (rathnam – ruby / red), the Chitra sabha at Courtallam (chitra – painting), the Rajatha sabha or the Velli ambalam at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (rajatha / velli – silver) and the Thaamira sabhai at Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli (thaamiram – copper).
May Lord Shiva shower his blessings on you and your family,
May happiness and peace surround you with his eternal love and strength.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A surprise at this fine dining restaurant brought out smiles and memories.

Everything at a fine dining restaurant is impressive. Everything is attended to in detail and to please us, the guests. The entire ambience and the food are excellent. The lobby, the overall décor, the reception, the dining hall, the guest tables, the seating, the music, the lighting, the art on the walls, the flowers at the table, the crockery, the cutlery, the waiters, the stewards, the menu card and the items in it are all top class, to please us. If it is a buffet spread, it would be a feast to our eyes with virtually countless colorful and delicious foods…Indian, Continental, Italian, Chinese…salads, fruits, starters, soups, variety of beverages and a grand spread of main course and desserts. There would also be some live cooking stations involving us and making foods to suit our tastes.
At one such restaurant to which we have been recently there was a surprise. It had a live South Indian Filter Coffee Station. Filter coffee was being made here just as we have seen it being made in Tirumala and few places of Tamil Nadu. As is common the coffee was made mixing it by pouring it and pulling the beverage from one tumbler to another, stretching it to as much as one to two meters, as you can see in the picture below. A very fascinating sight indeed and it was served to us in the traditional style, in a Stainless Steel Glass/Tumbler and Dabara.  As we were sipping the marvelous filter coffee it brought forth memories of having such coffee at houses of some orthodox families and friends from Tamil Nadu and the South Indian places I mentioned above. Having coffee in such a modest, a little inconvenient but traditional style and talking about our similar coffee memories was the highlight of our fine dining experience at this restaurant.
This rustic South Indian Filter Coffee Station was a real surprise.

An appeal to the authorities and public on the occasion of International Day of Forests.

Today is the International Day of Forests. The International Day of Forests was established on the 21st of March, by resolution of...