தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 20

Sacrifice is something we give up. Some say in love you do not have to say "I am sorry." It means, I will give up anything for love. In the same token the one you love also will give up anything for love. Then, who will give up the giving up for love?

Clichés do not make good examples, but make for introductions to a subject or theme. Sacrificing a lesser something for a greater something sounds sensible to me. In today’s context of ‘tamiz’ national predicament, any sacrifice by a ‘tamiz’ can only be a lesser one for the greater ‘tamiz’ cause and survival. ‘tamizar’ are headed towards a subservient status, and then we know the consequences.

We have the capacity to change the inevitable consequence of our indifference. We owe it to our roots and shoots in ‘tamiz Izam.’ No ultimate sacrifice nor any sacrifice of time, comfort of American life is required. Only a minute portion of the luxury of American life to provide the basics of life, apart from daily bread, as "man/woman too does not live by bread alone." There are other basic human needs such as the right to self determination, the right to steer our own future, to move forward without being dragged down by unsympathetic, unwanted unwilling appendages.

Our ancestors within their limited scope of international intercourse made their life worth living. They appealed to a higher power through the medium of deities and symbols. Ram and rooster sacrifices in temples were more of an impersonal life sacrifice. Any personal sacrifice was time money and other replaceable resources.

I remember very well how much it cost Kannan, a friend of my uncle Jeyaraja-my mother’s ‘myccAn,’ to offer in sacrifice a Ram to the Kavanavathai Amman. Jeyaraja helped to organize the ‘tavil’, and the procession from Kannan’s home to the temple, a distance of about four miles. Security, traffic control and entertaining the entertainer’s was uncle’s responsibility. In the late forties and early fifties, it cost Kannan at least one thousand rupees that one day. He presented a champion Ram, a massive muscular fellow, fed on choice feed for at least two years since birth. He looked the size of an average Vanni bull. This must have cost Kannan another fortune every year.

On the day of the ‘vElvi’ the Champion was sacrificing his life to champion Kannan’s cause with the deities and in this case Kavanavathai Amman. Ram was taken in a decorated Austin 12-4 Tourer or convertible as is better known in these parts. The car gives the appearance of a moving palace. The palace facade was created with a couple of pillars and arches and minarets with glass beads and tiny mirrors embedded to reflect light. Ram in his black shining hairy body had a neck the size of an elephant leg. A gold chain visible whenever he acknowledged the cheering of the crowd by turning his head from left to right. Standing in the well of the car without its rear seats. He stood another foot above the doors of the open car , the roof having been dropped down.

The four mile stretch sometimes delayed due to a drunkard set up by Kannan’s enemies. Situation would be brought under control by Jeyaraja. Jeyaraja in his hay days was a member of a gang led by the notorious and by some the famous Chankanai Thurai. This gang was feared in almost all Jaffna. Initially the parental wealth rescued them from many a situation. There are several escapades and exploits in gang wars and amorous adventures.

One incident involving the then ASP Sydney Soyza(?) and Thurai stands out. In one public function, Soyza was using his horsewhip rather freely. Thurai snatched the whip and used it on Soyza and vanished in the friendly crowd. He went into hiding and was later arrested with the help of a police informer. Before Thurai returned to civilian life the gang was dismantled, his parents died of broken hearts. He was a handsome man and noted as an escape artist. At one stage he was accused of day light robberies, and retired as a foreman at the Kankesan Cement Works.

My uncle turned a new leaf married his cousin and ran a bicycle shop for a long time. He was a very muscular man , and his polio leg did not deter him feats requiring a robust body. He and his cousin, fathers were brothers, Elayaraja fondly remembered as ‘cittappA’ were buddies. The two of them were known for lifting a Clutch Ford car knee high. I have seen Jeyaraja straighten an out of truth bicycle front fork with his bear hand to the nearest tolerance. He is a widower at 74 now, and lives in Toronto Canada with his two daughters.

Ram I remember one year cheated the head chopper’s knife. The knife is a curved sword but broader blade with a long handle made of ebony. Usually one stroke of the knife placed with force on the nape of the neck beheads the animal. That day two strokes were needed and that was a thriller the talk of the town. Without considering the sharpness of the knife nor the sobriety of the chopper, the claimer was that Ram had such a large and strong neck it needed two swings of the knife! Invariably the carcass was brought to Jeyaraja’s home.

The goat was dressed and the meat portioned in such a way as to contain a piece of every part of the goat. If the meat is to be divided into twenty-five portions, the liver will be cut into twenty-five pieces, kidneys, breast legs, neck, and so on. Each portion was packaged in palmyra leaf ‘piLA’ and distributed. The skin, the head, guts go to the skinners. My aunt was one of the best cooks I have experienced among our relations. I still remember the brain fry in egg and her tripe curry with all the spices, Wah! I miss that treat very much.

Some may even wonder as to what is wrong with me? Bringing up in public such trivial or for some, uncivilized activities. These upstarts will never learn anything and never learn to enjoy living. They are worried about etiquette and table manners and forget how good food tasted? I am sure many of us had the good fortune of a grandmother, an aunt who were good cooks and lavish entertainers. Doesn’t that nostalgia help to think of ‘tamiz Izam’ and to help give those who are still alive there, the chance to live in peace with dignity and to advance to their fullest capacity?

There are several forms of sacrifices vowed to the deities. Men rolling around the ‘kOvil vIti,’ and women doing the ‘adi aLakkiratu, pAl kAvadi, Addak kAvadi, kaRpUrac caddi tUkkutal, parAvyk kAvadi, karakam,’ etc.

Murukan or Seyon the son of Siva and Parvathy, and his worship was carried into the security of the hills, mountains and deep forests. In Sri Lanka until the end of the 1970s, Murukan worship was evident in the deep forests of the Yala sanctuary in Kathirkamam hills. Pilgrims from all over the island and India, mostly from ‘tamiz Nadu’ would travel. The more devoted ones having vowed to undertake the journey on foot. From Jaffna soon after ‘pongkal’ in January, pilgrims will travel on foot via Mullitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Pottuvil, Buttala and cut across the Yala sanctuary to Kathirkamam in time for the festival season in late July or early August.

In 1970, just before the rains I was returning from Amparai to Colombo. I offered a ride in my official Mitsubishi Diesel Jeep to my friend’s brother Kirthy. He at the age of 18, joined an English couple in their yacht on a world tour. I liked his adventurous trait and became very friendly within the first few miles of our journey. I had thought of journeying to Kathirkamam across the Yala sanctuary. I could not do it partly because there is no road as such and partly because I always had company that was not very adventurous. Here was that chance .

At Butttala I asked Kirthy if he had any objection to my cutting through the unbeaten Yala track. He welcomed the idea and we turned into the road towards the forest. At the turn off, the custodian of Valli Ammal ‘madam’ and an associate were waiting for a lift to the farm. I gave the Swamy, I do not recollect his name. He was the one who took the Sinhala usurpers of the Kathiramalai to courts and lost the case. He encouraged me to take the risk of traveling along the foot path to Kathirkamam. He, on the other hand had traveled by Bus via Tissamaharama, Wirawila Tanamalwila, Wellawaya and Buttala about 100 miles , where as Kathirkamam was only 30 miles from his farm. We dropped them off at the farm, that ended the cart rack.

The Swamy insisted on our refreshing ourselves at the ‘madam’ even after hours. Justice Sriskantharaja’s son was a volunteer at the ‘madam’ and we were to tell him that Swamy wanted food to be prepared if necessary. There were gullies across the path and we made several detours and at one stage there was no other place to cross other than down and over one gully. I asked Kirthy to take the wheel and set the four wheeled drive on low 1 gear. I asked Kirthy to simply follow my lead without any adjustment or change of direction. At one stage, I had to get the right wheels to hug the right wall of the gully and the left wheels to follow the natural run of the gully bottom. Any sudden move or abrupt steering would have toppled the jeep. Kirthy was new to driving a jeep and had little auto driving experience, but a better seaman and a good student. We did not come across any wild animals, except a peacock.

About 5 or 6 miles from the temple we came across a hermit in a small ‘piLLyjAr’ temple, with holy ashes dabbed all over his body and clad only in a bandage wide cloth to cover his shame as some who do not like to mention private parts in public would say. His hair was unkempt, nails were as long as his beard and mustache.

He did not say a word but gave each of us a ripe mango. He was the only human and second living thing we encountered along the twenty to twenty-five miles foot path trek on a Mitsubishi jeep to Kathirkamam. Sriskantharaja on our arrival at the ‘madam’ adviced us to park the jeep across the river as there was a chance of the river flooding and it will take a couple of days for the flooding river to recede for any vehicle to cross. We parked the vehicle, did the holy dip in the ‘mAnhikka kengky’ paid our respects to the deities, had a freshly cooked rice and curry dinner, and left for Colombo.

It was on the 5th of April 1971, I may be wrong about the date, but I am positive of one thing. It was day one of the Che guevara insurrection and my insurrection at Collettes. Because of the change in government and the nationalization of the tractor imports and distribution, I made certain suggestions, that were not acceptable to the Chairman of the Board Sydney Harasgama, E.L. Senanayake a former U.N.P. Minister’s wife and Sydney were brother and sister. As I walked out of the Board room I learnt that a state of emergency was in effect and also learnt that it was only a few months earlier I passed through Yala, that was the main camp and training ground of the JVP.

I went to Kathirkamam in 1972 after the insurrection was interned, for the last time. The atmosphere was of a museum, where ‘tEvAram, tiruvAcakam, songs and dances of a higher order have given way to Portuguese refrains called ‘baila.’ The desecration of the place by turning Ramakrishna Inn into a hotel with young people influenced by corrupt political and religious leaders, gave Kathirkamam sectarian and political meanings. On my return home in the company of a friend Ratnadurai we drank and ate meat. A deviation from the normal practice of refraining from consumption of alcoholic beverages and flesh from and to a temple, for me.

‘Kavadi’ is in the shape of a longitudinally cut barrel. The ends carry sized to match arches of light wood and a smooth rod running the length of the barrel shaped wooden frame to form the base to carry the ‘kAvadi’ on the shoulders along or across. The kavadi is decked with peacock -the flying personnel carrier of Murukan- feathers. On either end is also tied a small pot shaped brass vessel-’cempu’- filled with milk. Remoter and dangerous the road to the temple, more rewarding the pilgrimage is another strong belief. ‘kAvadic ciNtu’ is a melody sung on the way to the temple. A sample is given below. I must admit, it is from memory as I have only heard it a few times and not read it anywhere and therefore may make mistakes. I hope those who know it and find any error will be kind enough to advise me.

‘karakak kAvadi for next.


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