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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chennai - Koyambedu Market

While going to or coming from deep South, I make it a point to make a prolonged halt at Chennai to corner some comforts at my younger brother’s place.  Apart from my rendezvous within and around the city with a chauffer driven vehicle, I enjoyed going to the market with my sister-in-law and my niece as well on few occasions. I am not talking about the Super Bazaars or Malls but the real Indian market selling vegetables, fruits and flowers. Did I mention that my brother stays in the SAF Games Village in Koyambedu (an upcoming suburb), perhaps I forgot in my anxiety to let you know the kind of treatment I had.  So there I was and very close to the largest Market in Asia.

Koyambedu is a wholesale vegetable/fruit/flowers market on which the whole Chennai city depends. The market itself is spread out in 295 acres (1.19 km2) and is named as "Koyambedu Wholesale Market Complex (KWMC)". The market has two blocks for vegetables and one each for flowers and fruits. In fact the activity begins here with the arrival of lorries/trucks with perishable goods around 3.00 in the morning and by 4 or 4.30, thousands of retailers from the city come and get the stuff for their own outlets within the city. There are more than 3000 shops within the complex and during the day time, it’s the retailers there who take over while wholesalers have a nap. On an an average some  1,00,000 people visit this market everyday.

Some kind of religious function was organized at home and a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers were needed. This kind of shopping is generally in the domain of the 'Lady of the House' but she was kind to take me along. I was also too eager  lest the opportunity of taking some photographs gets lost.

To begin with, we entered the sprawling complex (not in terms of imposing structures but area wise), from its left side which was closer to the Vegetable blocks. I was just amazed. I could not believe that there could be such a large area only for vegetables. I got reconciled soon for they needed space for parking trucks in the morning and in fact some were still there. There were rows of shops outside as also within and you need to seek directions for a particular item because they seem to specialize and feel comfortable in dealing in a single item  as the photographs here would suggest. 
Pumpkins of various kinds
We needed pumpkins but not as large as those displayed. They were also reluctant to make a piece out of one to serve our limited purpose. We moved out and saw watermelons at one place but here again they were too big.
Then we sought directions and finally reached a place where we could get in smaller quantities.While finding our way we had to pass through a line of shops where the pathway was full of filth. They are the left overs after the morning sales. I felt too bad for this kind of littering but later on discovered some information which consoled me.
When I talked to the people sitting there, they apprised me that the collection van is yet to come who will collect the waste and clean the pathway.

A bio-methanation plant at the market complex set by Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority generates power from vegetable and fruit waste collected from the wholesale market. The plant has the capacity to convert 30 tonnes of waste per day into 2,500 units daily. About 150 tonnes of waste is collected daily and after meeting the requirement of power generation, the rest is converted into manure for which a separate area of about 1.75 acres is made available. Some of the waste like banana stems gets recycled.

After making our purchases we summoned our vehicle and drove to the other side where the fruit market was located. Since it was midday there were not many people around. Although many photographs were taken, I am placing them selectively. The fruits follow.
When we came out of the fruit market, there was a person selling the above stuff on the outer pathway. We could not understand what it was and the explanation given was too inadequate. On a reference being made to one of  my nieces working with All India Radio, Chennai,  she advised  “they are the roots of the  palm tree. People generally dig under the roots of the palm  or when the palm is cut they take out the tuberous roots. Palm roots are tuberous as tapioca etc. and they sell them. I my self have eaten them. It is said the palm roots are cheaper but richer dietary supplement, richer in in fibre. It is steam-boiled to  cook.The outer layer of the skin is peeled off and is taken. Not particularly delicious, but ok. In Tamil it is called 'panam kizangu' ”

Once again we move to a different wing which is square in structure with pathways as usual but you will only find flowers. Incidentally South Indian ladies are very fond of flowers which they use for dressing up. There is a lot of demand for worship in temples as well. This too is one of the largest flower markets in India.
The vendor is hiding his face
Now it was time for us to move out and stood outside waiting for the vehicle to come and fetch us. My niece trying to shield her from the scorching Sun with that piece of cloth known as Dupatta. Probably she did not relish being photographed in that attire.
We did not venture into visiting all the wings as it seemed to be formidable at that time. May be we were hungry.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Temple festival at Tripunithura (Kochi)

I happened to be in the native town of two of my blogger friends. One is Mr. Joseph Pulikotil, a man on the move and Ms. Chitra who writes about her pilgrimages. She is also a fashion jewellery designer who hails from that place but presently resides at a place known as Dindigul. I am talking about Kochi an important seaport on the south western coast of India previously known as Cochin which falls in the state of Kerala, also known as Gods own Country.

There is a suburb known as Tripunithura which is on the mainland and was the residence of the medieval kings as also their capital. Their family deity was the Hindu God “Vishnu” for whom they created a temple which is referred to as “Poornathrayeesa”. Amongst all temples in Kerala, this one is significant. Here the Lord Vishnu is seen to be seated under the hood of his adorable serpent known as “Sheshnag”. The sanctum sanctorum is round in shape wherein bronze idols of all the incarnations of Lord Vishnu are also kept. Childless couple come and pray here and there is a strong belief that they have children thereafter.

Round the year there are many temple celebrations but the one that is dearer to the hearts of the people is known as “Vrishchikolsavam”. This festival lasting 8 days falls in the month of November/December. Last year when I was there, it commenced on the 23rd November with the holy ceremonial temple flag going up. Incidentally elephants are an integral part of temple festivities in Kerala and on the 26th November they were dressed up in their outfits made of Gold. It was a special day known as “Trikettai” (Planetary position and not based on English Calendar) and many rituals followed. A Gold bowl is placed wherein the devotees drop their offerings termed as “Kanikya”. Thousands of people were queued up awaiting their turn. Though it seemed that it would take a long time to reach the Golden Bowl, the clearance was much faster.

Normally Foreigners are not allowed to be in the temple precincts but things have changed and I found quite a lot of them enjoying the cultural extravaganza. As a matter of fact tour operators to remain in business discovered a way out.  There is an organisation known as Arya Samajam and they help converting people to the Hindu fold with proper certification. Some visitors opt  this method to gain entry into temples as a temporary measure. But now, barring the sanctum sanctorum, in most of the temples, all other areas are accessible to all.

During temple festivals, the replica of the main deity (Tidambu) is carried around in a procession and every temple has at-least one Elephant over which the deity is seated. The temple at Triupunithura, I am talking about, engages some 25 elephants out of which 15 take part in the festivals and others are stationed as stand byes. The elephant at the centre performs the duty of carrying the deity (Tidambu) over its head along with a “shield” known as “Kolam”.

During these eight days, and for various rituals, various renowned groups of artists exhibit their talents in handling a plethora of musical instruments. The performances have different styles  are known as “Tayambaka”, “Melam”, “Panchavadyam” etc. They last for over 3 hours at a go with a slow beginning gaining momentum with faster beats and the climax is nothing but ecstasy. Thousands of people enjoy the performances and some of them seem to be well acquainted with the intricacies of the rendering. The mob frenzy is some thing to be seen to believe.

On one night the famous “Kathakali” was scheduled and the artists were busy dressing them up while a Bharatanatyam performance was going on within the campus. It was interesting to observe the intricacies of the Kathakali make up which takes couple of hours to complete. It looks like a sort of endurance test for the artists for their facials to be completed. In between there was also a performance of vocal music (Carnatic) in a separate hall. The variety of things going on within the temple campus was most intriguing as there were many options to choose from which was not too easy. Interestingly, there is no entry fee to savour any of these performances.

Tripunithura has thus become a cultural centre where you find all sorts of cultural activities year round with emphasis on cultivating and continuing the various art forms to which Kerala is home. 

Here is a small video just to enable you all to appreciate "Melam"