Tag Archive: Kumbakonam

Mists of Kumbakonam



By Sharon St Joan


There was not always mist in Kumbakonam, on most days it was clear, but on the mornings when there was mist, it lay over the ground, over the rice paddies extending to the horizon; the mist lay entwined around the trees, it spilled over the waterways in ethereal clouds, shrouding the past and the present, veiling all the mysteries of this world and the worlds beyond.


Above, a tower rose next to a house, shrouded in mist. People walked along the narrow road; there were no cars then, but people walked, and carts were pulled by bullocks. The people’s lives took place on many levels, shrouded by magic that swirled like the mist, coming and going – intertwined on many levels of reality; some levels were heavenly, and some were hellish, depending on one’s karma — or on the stillness or agitation present in one’s head. But there was a peace that lay over the land like the mist, never too far away. Always hovering just above, and not impossible to reach if one really tried. A peace that grew in the trees, in the plants, in the wild birds, the animals, and the rivers. A peace that lived in the moon, in the sky, in the clouds, and in the presence of the Gods who watched and moved across the layers of the heavens among the mountains of the skies, and the earth beings below who dwelled in the sacred ground.


A peace that was to be scattered and disrupted centuries later by the chaos of cars and trucks zipping this way and that, broken by the blaring of horns and discordant music, by the noise and rushing of foreign armies and foreign thoughts bringing greed and terror, and assaulting the order that had been meant to be, that took over the kingdoms of the air and the minds of human beings.


Before all this happened, there had been simplicity and harmony. Then all life was encircled in the same ring, all connected – the cows and the deer, the eagles and the vultures, the snakes and the river dolphins, and the humans who walked on foot along the dirt roads, on the pathways of time, among the stories and the realities expressed in the myths handed down through generations. Many kinds of beings lived at that time, from the yakshas, who were the spirits of the trees, to the races of those who were not human, who lived in other dimensions that crisscrossed the forests and the hilltops, sometimes seen and sometimes gone, elusive as the sparkling rain in the sunshine.




Yet, even among all the broken, shredded strands of history, an unbroken thread runs still; while it may be denied, rejected and belittled, it is not gone. It is an unbreakable tie, and it links the essence of India to the farthest beginning, to the very source of the cosmos, the eternal ground of all being, which is born and reborn, ever changing and ever the same, the oneness beyond all the realms of existence and non-existence. An unbroken line to the truth remains.


Even in these modern times many young people remain faithful to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Some years ago, a young girl, A. Kala, got up early every morning. She lived in a green house which stands quite near the temple at Alangudi, near Kumbakonam. Each morning when it was barely light, she got on her bicycle and rode for over an hour into Kumbakonam to attend school. After a long day studying she rode back home, but her day was not over yet. There was no electricity in the house, so every evening she went to the temple, and, by the flickering light of the small votive fires lit by devotees, she did her homework, with great perseverance. Her father was the Village Headmaster. She went on to get her Masters in Commerce and a Batchelor’s in Education; she married and moved to Madras. Today, A. Kala is much trusted and relied upon as the Assistant Director for Accounts and Administration at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.




Kubakonam means “site of the sacred vessel.” At the end of every age, Shiva, because of the corruption to which the world has descended, destroys the earth. At the conclusion of the last age before this one, as enormous waves rolled over the earth, sweeping away all that lay before them, a kumba (which means a pot, a vessel, a jar, a container, or a sacred vase) was carried along on the giant waves. Within the kumba, placed inside it by Shiva and mixed together with sand were the seeds of immortality of every living being. As decreed by Shiva, when the inundation subsided and all the oceans quieted down, the kumba came to rest at a pre-ordained spot, now in the city of Kumbakonam. Then Shiva shot the kumba with an arrow, which broke the pot, releasing and scattering all the seeds of immortality, which landed in the various sacred sites around Kumbakonam, where temples were later constructed. The most sacred site is the temple that stands today as Adi Kumbeswaram, the Original Lord of the Kumba, where the kumba settled after the floods.


This is one of the most sacred abodes of Lord Shiva and his wife, who is known as Mangalambika, which means “born of the mango of well-being.” It is a place of transcendent peace.


© Sharon St Joan, 2015




Top photo: © Shariqkhan / Dreamstime.com


Second photo: Sharon St. Joan


Third photo: © Alisali / Dreastime.com



Kumbakonam connections



By Sharon St Joan


On the granite platform just in front of the deity Mangalambika, in the Kumbeshwarar Temple in Kumbakonam, Smt. Saraswathi Pattabhiraman used to sit, sometimes for hours, in contemplation, lost (or rather found) in the transcendent presence of the Great Goddess, whose peace pervades the universe – perhaps not on the level on which most of us generally live our lives, but on a higher level where conflict and discord have faded away, and the oneness of God prevails.




Her husband, called Anna (which means “elder”) by his extended family, served as Member of Parliament from the Kumbakonam District, in east central Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. Chetpet Ramaswami Iyer Pattabhiraman (C.R. Pattabhiraman) served as Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, as well as holding many other government posts. He was a lifelong Member of the Congress Party and served as its Secretary.


His term in the Ministry saw the advent of the first television show ever broadcast in India. It was an important event, one for which his entire family traveled to Delhi to be there for the momentous occasion.


His granddaughter, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a child at the time, recalls, laughingly, watching a program in grainy black and white, with a woman sitting motionless on the set, expounding at great length on the topic of the price of agricultural produce, followed by a man explaining, equally at length, how cotton grows in the ground. No actual cotton fields were shown, and there was much to be learned about how to captivate a television audience – still it was a noteworthy beginning.




Born on November 11, 1906, to C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar and his wife Seethamma, C.R. Pattabhiraman grew up in Madras, then studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He practiced as a lawyer, and during his brilliant law career, he had the very rare distinction of never losing a case. In 1938, he became an advocate for the Federal Court in Delhi, now the Supreme Court. He was often in Kumbakonam and he ran for election there. From 1957 to 1967, he served as Member of Parliament for the district of Kumbakonam. The greater Kumbakonam area extended to the coast – to the Shiva Temple at Chidambarum, and further south down along the coast of Coromandel.


He loved sports, and like his father, C.R. Pattabhiraman played cricket. In 1931, he played for the combined Oxford and Cambridge team that toured Yorkshire and Lancashire. Later, he captained the Madras Presidency team and became the Founder and President of a number of cricket associations and teams.


Cricket is the national game of India. During the recent first match of the world cup games in February 2015, in Adelaide, Australia, when India won a resounding victory over Pakistan, many of the fans were so enthusiastic that they cheered for both teams. In the stands was one Pakistani gentleman who travels the world attending Pakistani cricket games — always carrying two banners – one for Pakistan and one for India. Whenever the Indian players scored major points, all the Pakistanis, as well as all the Indians, rose to their feet cheering and waving banners – a sort of good natured sportsmanship that one does not see in every country or every sport.


The rivalry between the two countries is intense though, and back home some Pakistani fans broke their television sets in frustration after losing the match to India.


C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar’s family’s association with Kumbakonam extended back to the days of his great grandfather, Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, who was a colorful adventurer. Rudra Krishna’s novel “The Onus of Karma” is based on the life of Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar. Growing up in the north of Tamil Nadu, in a small Brahmin village, he was the seventh of seven sons. All the family property would be divided up on the death of his father, and as the seventh in line, the amount of land and wealth he would inherit would be small indeed.


Instead of staying put in this situation which offered so little to him and so few prospects, he set out to make his fortune. Leaving his home and family, he traveled to the great city of Madras, nearly a hundred miles away. This was in the 1700’s and it was a huge journey at the time. He found work as a police officer, and hearing of a bounty that was being offered of for the capture of an infamous outlaw, he spotted a good opportunity to gain a substantial reward. He hunted the outlaw down, captured him, and put him in jail.


Unfortunately, within a few months or a year, the outlaw was released from jail, and he was out free again, seeking revenge against the officer who had sent him to prison. Catching up with Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar, he attacked him late one night along the road and severely beat him. The police officer escaped with his life only by recalling his training in yoga. He was able to control his breath for many minutes at a time and, badly beaten, he held his breath so as appear dead and lifeless to the outlaw, who left him for dead, so that way he managed to escape.


A while later, he captured the outlaw a second and final time and turned him over to be tried and imprisoned. This time the outlaw was jailed for good. The British authorities in the region were so relieved to be rid of this fellow who had caused a lot of pain and difficulties, that they rewarded Tharruppukkal Ramaswami Aiyar with the gift of the city of Kumbakonam.


How can you give a city to someone? The feudal system was still in place, encouraged by the British, who made use of it for their own ends in order to consolidate their power in India. The gift of a city meant that the holder of the zameen, or the district, was empowered to collect taxes from the people who lived there. He received a share of the revenue derived from their farming produce or their businesses.


Later on, his son, who did not wish to profit by collecting taxes returned the city to the people of Kumbakonam. However, the link between the family and the city did not vanish, it was carried on by the family, and C.R. Pattabhiraman, who they elected as Member of Parliament, continued to represent them and serve that district in Parliament.


He died at the age of 94 after a long and highly distinguished career.




Top photo: Courtesy of C.P. Ramaswami Ayar Foundation /A portrait of C.R. Pattabhiraman


Second photo: Arian Zwegers / Wikipedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / Kumbeshwarar Temple


Third photo: Legaleagle86 / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / This Supreme Court building dates from 1954.


Fourth photo: Yoga Balaji / Wikimedia Commons /” This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.” / The Madras High Court; the building was built in 1892.



© 2015, text, Sharon St Joan