Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blorglary - Copying from This Blog

Blog burglary or blorglary, as I call it, has affected too. I am gathering data of my writings that were or are being copied shamelessly by unscrupulous elements in part or full. This page will be updated frequently. Fruits of my labour are being reaped unethically by blorglars.

Changanasseri (y): A few years ago I found that a knowledge-base site very popular in the web had only a skeletal sketch of this small town in Kerala, south India.

After over one year's efforts - referring to rare books now out of print, meeting old people and residents in different localities and brushing up my own memory -   I could gather a lot of information about its history. I also realized there was not a single book about this town. Unlike in the west, there are no local historians in India. I had also discussions with historians and Professor Mohandas of History Department, NSS College, Changanasseri about some issues I had to deal with.

I published my work in the knowledge-base site. Lo! in a couple of days, blorglars were in action! I could convince few of them to delete the contents. Below, I will publish the list of such blorglary sites, in the order that I come across them. If others copy my writings from this blog without reference or acknowledgement, their sites will also find a place in the list. Unfortunately lifted vesions are now available in Facebook too.

[Meanwhile, I have extended my research and collected more on the history of the town. It's being readied for publishing in this blog, with some revision of my previous article].

2. (paragraphs used)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thiruvalla P. Unnikrishnan Nair (1936-2011)

Patriarch of Temple History

Over a decade ago, I was sitting with Mecheril V. Sivarama Iyer, a highly respected Sanskrit scholar and educationist, at his residence in Kaviyoor, Kerala, South India, discussing Kanakadharasthavam, a Sanskrit hymn in praise of Hindu goddess Lakshmi believed to have been the work of the Hindu sage Sanakaracharya, when a short, bald, bespectacled man barged in. After the customary introduction, he joined the discussion.  He told us of his visit to Swarnath Illam, near Kochi, where the sage had extemporaneously recited the entire hymn.  I realized gradually that I was sitting with somebody who had extensive knowledge about Sanskrit literature, history, culture, religion and science. What amazed me was that he was a specialist in local history too. Even eminent historians of Kerala dwelt only on rulers and dynasties, ignoring totally the relevance of the history of villages, towns, temples, churches etc. Not only was I drawn towards his erudition but was also impressed with his perseverance for gathering information for posterity, covering long distances on his two-wheeler. He had come to meet Sivarama Iyer in connection with his latest assignment - History of Kaviyoor Temple. That was my first meeting with Thiruvalla P. Unnikrishnan Nair. We met frequently thereafter at Kaviyoor and his home at Thiruvalla. He sincerely appreciated my suggestions and the data/information I had provided him with; and went to the extent of flattering me with a generous reference in the preface of the book on Kaviyoor temple.

P. Unnikrishnan Nair was born to P.N. Parameshwaran Pillai, a teacher by profession, and C. Janaki Amma, a trained musician, in Kavumbhagom, near Thiruvalla in the south Indian princely state of
Travancore , on 17th of April 1936. The family is known as Niranasseril. He had his schooling at L.P. School, Kavumbhagom, and Prince Marthanda Varma High School, Peringara, a nearby village. Enrolling at N.S.S. Hindu College, Perunna, he took his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Travancore University in 1956. Incidentally, this was the year in which the state of Kerala was created. He joined the state government’s heath department on October 30, 1957 where he continued to work till his retirement December 31, 1990.

Thiruvalla, one of the ancient sixty-four brahmin graamams (settlements of Nampoothiris, the priestly caste now known as Malayala Brahmins) is a historically important town. It was originally called Valla Vazhvu or Vallavai. Believed to be in existence since 500 BCE, this southern Kerala town has a renowned temple dedicated to Vishnu, locally referred to as Sree Vallabh, one of the trinity of Hindu pantheon.  The temple was one of 13 Mala Nadu Thirupathis (Vishnu shrines of what is now Kerala) belonging to the group of 108 sacred Vishnu temples of India frequented by ancient south Indian Vaishnavites, followers of Vishnu. Unnikrishnan Nair's family is believed to be connected with the establishment of the temple. The chief idol of Vishnu now installed at the Thiruvalla temple was found in river Nethravathi, near Mangalore, Karnataka. The idol was escorted by a Nair chieftain of a north Kerala province (not identified) all the way to Thiruvalla down south. A devotee of Vishnu, this distinguished escort belonged to a family by name Thalayar Karancheri. Instead of going back to his village, the chieftain chose to settle in the vicinity of the Thiruvalla temple. Unnikrishnan Nair is believed to be a descendant of this chieftain.

The early settlement of Brahmins in or around 7th century CE contributed to the establishment of many temples and shrines in Thiruvalla and nearby areas. Unnikrishnan Nair’s home was hardly a kilometer away from the Vishnu temple. The presence of temples, especially the dominant Vishnu temple, with all their rituals, splendorous festivals, etc. might have nudged the historian in him. The family’s historical link with the temple too might have pushed him closer to Sree Vallabh than any other temple in the area.

Being a voracious reader and an admirer of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, his first attempt in the world of letters was a novel, Snehathinte Parajyam (Failure of Love), published by the reputable National Book Stall of Kottayam. The main critics of the novel belonged to his family itself. Chided for wasting his creative skills on romantic pulp, he soon found that he was destined to do what he was best suited for - studying the origin and development of societies that formed around Hindu temples. Most areas of ancient Kerala had an administration system that was 'temple-centric'. Political and cultural history revolved around these temples which were controlled by the priestly caste of Malayala Brahmins, though there were kings above them in the administrative hierarchy. He realized that many a historian had lost out the significance of this fact. He decided to narrow down to the  temples of Thiruvalla and nearby areas to start with. His narrative skill for presenting details in a lucid and forthright way, filtering out  illogical ‘claims’, enabled him to reach readers of different strata.

Though tied to his government job, Unnikrishnan Nair found time to travel – sometimes even out of state – to investigate and collect data from various places and sources. Meanwhile, Kerala’s social setup changed from feudal to democratic as influential royals and Brahmins ceased to be revered and feared. Emphasis on science-based academic curriculum and lack of interest in teaching other subjects which offered little scope for getting employment saw a dangerous trend in the attitude of people. History was relegated to a ‘last option’ subject in colleges. There was a total dearth of people with aptitude for teaching sociological subjects. Not knowing the importance of valuable documents like copper plates, palm scriptures and scrolls etc., many people cleansed their homes of these ‘unwanted objects’. Nair was particularly sad that conservative Brahmin families, which possessed a number of such documents and records preserved over generations, had burnt them because their traditions and beliefs did not permit them to hand over these materials to others. Some of the old buildings of pre-independence days housing local government offices had priceless records of history - including copper plates carrying royal edicts - locked in their rooms and cupboards. The ill-educated employees mishandled them or destroyed them. Records were also stolen out of the country by foreign scholars. (At the same time Nair conceded that there are committed foreign professors who knew more about Kerala temples than Keralites themselves. He gratefully remembered a Canadian scholar who corrected a serious typographical error that had crept in to the note that Nair had passed on to another historian from Canada).

As sources started drying up, he ventured into frequent travels, visiting temples, offices, homes of community leaders, Brahmins etc. in his search for digging up the past. No financial help was forthcoming from anywhere. His monthly earnings and savings were spent entirely on history projects, much to the discomfiture of his family. He also faced hurdles, especially shortage of funds, for publishing his works which numbered over a dozen.

The absence of preservation of records can affect rituals and traditions. In one instance Nair recalled how he was shocked to find a priest in a famous temple chanting the wrong invocation mantra (moola dhyanam). The priest, who had no knowledge of Sanskrit, was corrected but he admitted that the wrong mantra had been in use for generations!

Ancient Keralites used different types of scripts before Malayalam, the local language took its current form and style. These were Vattezhuthu, Kolezhuthu and a crude mix of Tamil-Malayalam. Many royal edicts and inscriptions were written in these scripts. That Nair learned all these through sheer hard work without any help showed his commitment. There were only a few who could decipher such materials. One could only agree with Nair when he said that even professors of universities in Kerala were not equipped to read and interpret such sources. Regrettably, the scenario still remains so.

He had also acquired proficiency in Sanskrit through self-study and was conversant with Hindu scriptures as well.

Nair used to write for major publications like Mathrubhoomi, Janmabhoomi, Service and a number of other local periodicals. As mentioned earlier, there are a number of profound publications to his credit:

Sree Vallabha Mahakshethra Charitham (History of the Great Temple of Sree Vallabha): Widely regarded as his masterpiece, a copy of this is a must for historians and lovers of Kerala history. It took over a decade for Nair to collect the materials for the book. The work covers the entire history of the Thiruvalla Graamam (village agglomerate ruled by Brahmins) as well - obviously the history of both the place and the temple are inseparable, as is the case with almost all temples of Kerala. As you go through the book, a world hitherto unknown opens before you. There are useful anecdotes, incidents, edicts, personalities, rituals etc. that will surprise even locals. Very fortunately for Nair, financial help, though a small amount, came from a surprising hand - the Thirumala Thirupathi Devasthanam (TTD), Thirupathi, Andhra Pradesh which controls the famous Thirupathi Venkatachalapathi Temple. Extensive information on Niranam group of temples (18 of them, in fact) is available in the book. Helpful to students and scholars alike, the book covers a range of topics from Manikka Vachakar, the famous Tamil poet who was once a minister in the court of the Pandya king of Madurai, to temple danseuses (devadasis) who, Nair disclosed, appear even in the Arthasashtra of Kautilya (c. 350–283 BC). Commenting on this great work, D.C. Kurup, Mithrakari writes thus:

Hardly has there been a book born out of such meticulous research on temples in any Indian language. It is a glowing tower of rare intellect. Since time immemorial many great souls have graced the historic land of Thiruvalla; and yet none of them could even imagine of embarking on a mega project as this. About 65 Malayalam books and 19 books in English have been examined for authoring the book at various stages. He richly deserves the title as the Patriarch of Temple Historians.

It is regrettable that copies of this book are not available; nor is there any effort to reprint it.

Other published books are:

  1. Thirupuliyoor: History of  the Vishnu temple of Thirupuliyoor, one of the 108 Vishnu temples. TTD was instrumental in publishing this too. (out of print)Shabari Mala Darshanam: History of Shabarimala temple. (out of print)
  2. Sree Narayan Puram: History of the Vishnu temple in Muthoor, Thiruvalla
  3. Upaasana Moorthikal: A religious guide for devotees of various deities. (out of print)
  4. Thiruvalla Granthavari (i) and Thiruvalla Granthavari (ii): Published by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala, this work deciphers and explains the various records of Thiruvalla temple and its properties.
  5. Thelliyoor Kavu: Covers the local history of Thelliyoor and its Devi temple. (out of print)
  6. Puliyoor Granthavari: Covers records of the temple and properties of Thirupuliyoor Vishnu temple.
  7. Thrikaviyoor: Local history of Kaviyoor graamam and the Mahadeva temple.
  8. Edamana Granthavari: A treatise of the records collected from Edamana Illam,Perunnai-published by M.G. University, Kottayam.
  9. Malyankil: A thoroughly researched history of Malyinkeezh temple, Trivandrum Dist. The temple’s Sree Krishna idol was brought from Sree Vallabha Temple, Thiruvalla.
  10. Niranam Thrukapaleeshwaram: Local history of Niranam temple, the lead temple of the Niranam group of temples.
  11. Snehathinte Parajayam (Failure of Love): A romantic novel, published at the age of 21. Publishers: National Book Stall, Kottayam.

Other publications: In the 30 years before his demise, he published not less than 270 articles/papers on religion, temple, local history and culture.

Those who seek to learn more about the history of Kerala will be disappointed that some of the books are not available now. This is something that deterred Unnikrishnan Nair from publishing more books. Neither the state’s temple administration board nor the people connected with the temples have shown any interest in republishing the books.

Nair, during his long strenuous journeys, had collected a number of items which he preserved carefully for the benefit of current and future generations. One room of his house is a virtual mini-museum.

 The items include:

1.      Saalagrama shila: A kind of stones (Ammonite fossil), found only in the river Gantaki, Nepal. Worshipped as manifestation of Vishnu. It is believed to have divine properties. (Learm more on Saalagrama)

2.      Wick lamps of different shapes and size used during rituals

3.      Idols of Hindu deities in different shapes

4.      Coins widely circulated in different parts of ancient Kerala

5.      Writing instruments (എഴുത്താണി ) of different sizes, once used for writing/etching on palm leaves

6.      Walking sticks: The collection includes sticks with small hidden cells for keeping cash and valuables. Also in the collection is a walking stick made of Naga Pullu (bamboo-like grass found in the eastern mountains of Kerala, particularly, Kudamurutti Mala,the source of river Manimala. The stick is said to have a mild scent that will keep off snakes and was used by the young and the old alike in olden days. An interesting topic for botanists and historians.

7.      Mirrors, including the famed Aranmula Mirror, mirrors with long handles etc

8.      Veeraali Pattu (വീരാളിപ്പട്ട്, long warrior clothes or wraps): Only a tiny piece remains with Nair. This used to be worn by warriors of ancient Kerala, as a waist wrap. It is made not of textiles, though pattu means silk, but a mixture of herbal pastes. Wounds sustained in battles used to be bandaged with pieces of the cloth. It had healing properties because of the herbal constituents. No living Keralite knows the technique of manufacturing these clothes, nor is there any text available describing its manufacture.

9.      Ancient Chinese Clay Jars: Normally used for keeping pickle and other similar edible items for long term use. Mainly used for making uppumanga, a delightful mango-in-brine using whole mangoes. The brine's continuous use warded off skin diseases.

10.  Scriptures, including Sree Maha Bhagavatha, written on palm leaves

11.  Ancient copper vessels that did the job of a makeshift chronometer using flow of water through a pinhole at the bottom of the vessels

12.  Meru Chakra, a 3-dimensionally sculpted structure for invoking the blessings of Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the deity for prosperity (see photo above)

13.   Arms like swords and daggers used in ancient battles

There are many more items that should stun a modern visitor to his house. The awesome collection needs to be seen to be believed.

By profession Unnikrishnan Nair was a bureaucrat which virtually limited his movements. So, was digging in to the past of a society a hobby? Well, he did not have a hobby. He combined both his professional job and intellectual pursuit of opening up the doors of a closed past. But that was obviously not fructuous. His pocket became lighter and lighter as he came out with treatise after treatise, book after book, disclosure after disclosure. As even unworthy historians hogged limelight, he silently continued his pursuits and let his works speak for themselves. Even failing health induced by cardiac ailments could not dampen his spirits. His Thrikkaviyoor was done after a mild cardiac attack.

Personal compliments apart, he was honoured in 1993 by the state temple administration body called Travancore Devaswom Board. Another moment of recognition arrived when, in a survey conducted by D.C.
Books of Kottayam, his Thirupuliyoor was selected as the best book on local history. Extracts from the book also found a place in the laboriously compiled tome titled ’Kerala Charithrathhinte Kaanaapurangal’ (Unseen Pages of History of Kerala’). Nair did not grudge the lesser mortals who cornered glory for silly works. But what had hurt him was that a few of his publishers took him for a ride more than once siphoning off the entire royalty. Again, no complaints.

Though his works deal predominantly with matters relating to Hinduism, he did not blindly subscribe to many of its rituals, procedures and practices which, he felt, should not have been part of Hinduism. He was convinced that they were imposed by a particular section of the community to have political and social ascendancy. Yet keeping aside his dogmas, he managed to present history from a true historian's point of view.

Towards the end, he spent his time quietly at his home in Kavumbhagom, Thiruvalla, with his wife Kamala Devi, a retired government employee, whom he married in 1970. His son Rajesh Nair, an engineer, lives in Canada and daughter Resmi is on the editorial staff of Malayala Manorama, a Malayalam daily.

His children are not in a position to carry on his legacy. The main newspapers and periodicals of Kerala ignored him for he was not a professor; nor was he conferred with doctoral decorations from any university. Nair was in no mood either to influence the petty heavyweights of the small world of Kerala’s journalism. For a man who believed he had done what he ought to, accolades meant nothing. Professors, sociologists, doctoral students visited him frequently for his advice. Work was worship.

History of Chengannur Mahadeva Temple, another gem of a work from Unnikrishnan Nair remains unpublished. In fact, the manuscript was ready almost a decade ago.

Kerala lost a scholar and researcher when Unnikrishnan Nair succumbed to his illness on October 07, 2011.

It is unfortunate that he could not publish his magnum opus, The History of Chengannur Temple. He was hesitant to publish this, having been cheated on a number of occasions by  unscrupulous publishers. For the benefit of the public and students of history, this book must see the light of day. Hope some of us can fulfill his wish.

The Patriarch of Temple History is no more, but many have come forward to patronize local history. Serious research is being undertaken by academics and amateur historians on local towns and villages.  Let us thank this great scholar for having opened the path for them and wiping off a good chunk of our ignorance. 


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