At the end of 2004, the Asian Tsunami brought horrible destruction to the Indian village of Anumanthaikuppam, in Tamil Nadu. Many of the children who were playing on the beach that day watched their playmates being swept out to sea. They were severely traumatized.
The C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, right after the tsunami, spent a month with the whole staff traveling up and down the coast helping afflicted people wherever they could. They rebuilt one entire village, now called Wooster Naga.
In the village of Anumanthaikuppam, with support from the Vasant J. Sheth Memorial Foundation in Mumbai, they provided relief assistance to 170 families in the form of food, utensils, blankets, stoves, buckets, and lanterns. Students were given books.
Just as importantly, they built a playground and amphitheater there for the children. While the workmen were constructing the playground, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, the Honorary Director of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, spent time talking with the village people.
Realizing that they had been sacrificing animals in the village temple, she explained to them that it was not good to do that, and even extracted a promise from them that they would discontinue the practice. Though she confesses that she did not expect them to keep their promise.
At the temple of Anumanthaikuppam, two village goddesses were being worshipped; the boundary goddess, Ellai-amman and a very bloodthirsty goddess, Kali-amman.
Just recently, in April of 2012, seven years later, village leaders from Anumanthaikuppam arrived in Chennai to let Dr. Krishna know that they had indeed kept their promise. They had given up animal sacrifices and had built a completely new temple. They invited her to attend the temple consecration, known as the kumbhaabhishekham, on May 4.
The goddess that they now worship is not at all the same fierce goddess, but is instead a peaceful, benevolent goddess.
After attending the consecration on May 4, Dr. Krishna described the new temple, “The temple at Anumanthaikuppam has been rebuilt with a huge vimaana and shrine for Ellai Amman and individual shrines for Ganesha, Subrahmanya, Shiva, Vishnu and Ayyappa. There is also a separate shrine for Kali.
“The original stone figures of the two goddesses – very fierce-looking, as I remember – have been buried under the temple and new, smiling and peaceful-visaged goddesses installed in their place.”
The village priest who used to perform the animal sacrifices had been replaced by fifty Vedic Brahmin priests. Brahmin priests study the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, and they have a tradition which goes back thousands of years of being totally vegetarian and of great reverence for animals, so their presence at the temple ensures that no animal sacrifices will ever take place there.
Dr. Krishna wrote, “It was a pleasure to watch the 10,000-strong fishing community mingling with the Brahmin priests – over 50 of them. There were lots of shops selling odds and ends. But no fish was sold on the premises.”
The village headman told her that out of respect for her wishes, the entire temple premises would be kept “vegetarian.” There would be no harm done to any animals. She wrote, “Ellai Amman and Kali have now become peaceful deities…There is a goodness in human beings which merely needs to be tapped.”
This is a remarkable event. Not only have the children of Anumanthaikuppam, who had suffered terribly, and all the village people, been helped after such an immense disaster, but they responded in return with kindness towards animals. It is a testimony to the transformative power of communication and kindness – and of how much good can come from putting the two together.
Photos: Courtesy of Dr. Nanditha Krishna