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    June 30th, 2016adminRecords, All, Science & Technologies

    June marked a record in cadaver transplants in Tamil Nadu with a total of 21 donations, said Health Minister C. Vijaya Baskar.

    Mr. Baskar was speaking at a two-day national-level meeting of all Regional as well as State Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisations under the National Organ Transplant Programme being held in the city.

    “We are also planning to increase facilities for transplants in major medical college hospitals in the State. Our priority is to ensure the poorest of the poor can access transplants,” Mr. Baskar said.

    He added that a total of 4,584 organs from 820 donors have been donated in the State so far.

    Sudhir Gupta, additional deputy director general of health services said that the demand for organs continued to remain high because of non-communicable diseases.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Special Correspondent / Chennai – June 30th, 2016

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    June 30th, 2016adminArts, Culture & Entertainment
    Fond memories:Saranya Jayakumar (right) says the charming demeanour of Neil O’Brien brought a certain classiness to his quizzes.— File photo

    Fond memories:Saranya Jayakumar (right) says the charming demeanour of Neil O’Brien brought a certain classiness to his quizzes.— File photo

    Neil O’Brien, the legendary quizmaster and educationist who died in Kolkata on Friday at the age of 82, left an irreplaceable legacy for a whole generation of people who took to the mind sport.

    Saranya Jayakumar, a Chennai resident who has been called the ‘Mother of Indian quizzing’ by Neil’s son Derek — a popular quizmaster himself — was a regular on the Calcutta quizzing scene by the time Neil laid down its framework. “It was between 1978 and 1985, when I was part of a team called Motley Crew, that I came into contact with people like Neil O’ Brien and Sadhan Banerjee (who did the annual North Star quizzes),” said Ms. Jayakumar, now 76.

    “Neil was a legend in the Calcutta quizzing scene. Most of the time, his team DI (Dalhousie Institute Club) was unbeatable. He was also the quizmaster for the annual DI quiz. It was because of him that Calcutta was the quizzing capital of India for a long time, before Bangalore, Chennai and other cities came on the scene.”

    But what set Neil apart was his charming demeanour that brought a certain classiness to his quizzes. “As a quizmaster, he was always in control — others would lose their cool and get a bit worked up if the audience was a little unruly. Nothing like that happened when Neil conducted it.”

    And he always had the right mix of questions. Given his English Literature degree, there were always questions on the origins of words and phrases. “I used to like them because I too had an English Literature background,” she said. “But Neil had something from everything: religion, mythology, art, the Raj period, the history of Calcutta, and more.”

    The secret of a good quiz question, she said, was that it shouldn’t be too trivial. “The sort of questions that Neil asked back then were worth asking. They were never trivial.”

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Ramakrishnan M / Chennai – June 30th, 2016

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    Chennai  :

    California-based broadband services and technology company VisSat  has set up a R&D centre here – its second facility outside the US – to tap the high-speed Internet connectivity potential in the region.

    The research and development (R&D) centre, which now has about 40 people, would scale it up to 250 over the next three years, ViaSat India’s Vice President Sathya Narayanaswamy said.

    “There are about 40 employees. It will grow to 250 over the next three years. There is a huge growth market. There are about 13 crore Internet connections in India. It is nearly 10 per cent of the (total) population,” he told reporters.

    Listed on Nasdaq, a US stock exchange, the company currently serves seven lakh customers in North America and Canada through the ViaSat-1 highest capacity satellite launched in 2012.

    The Chennai facility would be the global research and development centre and its second after the United Kingdom facility outside US.

    “Our first facility outside United States is in United Kingdom. So this will be second largest R&D Centre for us”, ViaSat Commercial Networks, Senior Vice-President, Kevin J Harkenrider said.

    The company, however, declined to reveal the amount of the investments made at this centre.

    He said the company planned to launch ViaSat-2 satellite broadband platform in 2017 that would more than double the bandwidth and increase coverage seven-fold over the prior generation.

    “Now, we are planning to launch our second satellite ViaSat-1 by early 2017. It will be built by Boeing and will be launched from Ariane, French Guyana. That launch will help to us to cover across North America and across United Kingdom, Middle East and Africa”, he said.

    In 2019, ViaSat will launch first of three ViaSat-3 class satellite platforms that would offer 1,000 Gbps of network capacity, making each satellite equal to the total capacity of all commercial satellites in space.

    The third satellite system was planned to cover Asia Pacific region completing the company’s global coverage.

    The company was in talks with the Ministry of Communications and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to launch their service in India, Harkenrider added.


    source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Chennai / PTI / June 30th, 2016

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    Age no bar to research

    He’s 93 now and he hasn’t stopped. That’s what he has been doing for much of his working life, and a lot more vigorously in the last 10 years over which he has brought out three books. He is is now working on his fourth. That’s S. Venkatraman of Mylapore, who retired as Stores Officer, Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi, in 1982.


    From 2010, he has self-published three solid volumes of Indian Railway history and a fourth will come out next year. In 2010 he published Indian Railways at a Glance, 234 pages with 250 photographs. Then in 2014 came his magnum opus, Indian Railways: The Beginning up to 1900. This was 534 pages with 600 pictures! Now he has just released The Madras Railway from1849, with 248 pages and over a hundred pictures and documents. He promises that next year we will have with us his South Mahratta Railway 1888 to 1908.

    The books may not be organised in the best manner possible for easy reading but what they have is information aplenty, unlikely to be found anywhere else but in the archives of the various Railway Divisions. I haven’t seen so much information, much of it with facsimiles of original documents (see first Madras Railway timetable alongside), in any publication that has come into my hands in recent times. Truly this laborious research has been one of love — and the result is a set of books that anyone interested in Indian Railways would want to grace his library.

    Venkatraman may be contacted at That ‘lali’ in Venkatraman’s email address is, I suspect, the name of his wife who passed away a few years ago.

    He tells the heart-warming story of their marriage. They passed out of high school together after getting married, got their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees together and then he asked her to do her doctorate while he concentrated on his job and hobby, the output of the latter surely deserving of a doctorate.

    Tall, slim, erect, sharp of mind and strong of voice Venkatraman belies his age. His secret of good health is walking five miles and climbing 200 steps a day till recently. He also says he eats less solids and consumes more liquids, including several bottles of water a day. Then, there’s the travelling — he travels about 10 days a month, on the railways of course. Travel has also taken him to several countries abroad. In the U.S., he discovered IRFCA, the Indian Railway Fans’ Club of America.

    IRFCA is a privately maintained website that had its beginnings when Vijay Balasubramaniam, doing his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, posted an article on the Shatabdis. Dheeraj Sanghi, doing his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, responded. Into their exchange of mails came Sankaran Kumar, doing his post-doctorate at the University of Ohio. This was sometime in April 1989 and others have joined since. Today, IRFCA members are authors of hundreds of articles on all aspects of Indian Railways. Several of them have photo galleries. As Balasubramaniam says, “The site is intended for the benefit of all those interested in learning about the railways of India and to create awareness of Indian Railways.” This too is a bit of my learning from one of Venkatraman’s books.

    Postscript: A couple of days after I came across the anagram IRFCA, I came across another intriguing American one, this one even closer to Madras. This one is CEGAANA and translates as College of Engineering Guindy Alumni Association of North America. It appears to operate out of the Bay Area. Contact:

    Two temples not one

    Dr. N. Sreedharan and M. Desikan, responding to E.P. Parthasarathy’s comment (Miscellany June 13) on what I had written in Miscellany, May 30, offer me a wealth of information about the Thiruvidavendhai Perumal temple. This temple of Sri Lakshmivaraha Perumal is near Kovalam (Covelong), about 40 km from Madras and facing the sea. The village is popularly called Thiruvidanthai.


    The presiding deity, taking the shape of Lord Vishnu’s third incarnation, Varaha the Boar, is iconised here as a nine-foot tall idol which is described by Desikan as follows: “(The Lord’s) consort Akhilavalli Ammal is seated on His left thigh, His left hand encircling Her waist, Her feet resting on the Lord’s lower palm. ‘Ida’ in the name Thiruvidavendhai refers to the Lord holding His consort on His left side (ida being ‘left side’). The Lord is holding a conch in his upraised right hand and a discus in His left. His right foot, raised knee-high, is resting on the many-hooded serpent Adi Sesha.”

    Explaining the material used in the construction — about which (‘Saligramam nay Sila Thirumeni’) I had sought clarification — Dr. Sreedharan writes that Sila Thirumeni refers, in effect, to sacred stone (granite) and saligramams are special kinds of pebbles found in and around the Gandaki River in Nepal.

    Their use in the icon could be for the garland the Lord wears, but, adds Dr. Sreedharan, that by using the word ‘nay’ E.P. Parthasarathy “seems to emphasise the former, i.e. the entire idol is in saligramam stones”.

    A special feature of the temple are the poojas conducted for those seeking early marriage. He or she wishing to get married performs archana and offers two garlands, one for the Lord and the other for his consort.

    The garlands, duly blessed, are returned to the offerer to wear and circumambulate the temple nine times, praying for a happy marriage soon. He or she is asked to take the garlands home and place them in a pooja room till the marriage happens. After the wedding, the couple is expected to bring the now-dried garlands to the temple and hang them on a tree there; a huge tree in the precincts is wreathed in thousands of dried garlands. ‘Beseech Lord Adi Varaha at Thiruvidanthai to bless you speedily with marital bliss,’ is the call of the temple near Kovalam, one of the 108 Divya Desams (pilgrim centres) of Vaishnavites.

    Inscriptions dating to between the 10th and 16th Centuries speak of Chola, Pandya and other dynasties patronising the temple. Clearing the air further — and enabling me to say this is an end to this exchange — is V. Raja Narayanan who states that it is about two different temples this exchange has been all about. Thiru-Vada-Venthai, home of the coloured Perumal, is in Mahabalipuram itself, Thiru-(V)ida-Venthai is near Kovalam. In the former, vada means ‘right’ (the Lord having the Goddess on the right side of his body) and in the latter she is on the left (ida).

    Narayanan also adds that saligramam is a kind of snail found in the river Gandaki in Nepal. It is believed Vishnu lives in the shell. Statues made out of saligramam are called Saligrama Sila Thirumeni, out of brick and mortar Sutha Thirumeni and, of wood, Sila Thirumeni. Wood is, however, rarely used. With that, I’m at last out of my depth.

    Celebrating with walks

    At a recent press conference, the catalysts of Madras Week announced that the Week this year would be celebrated between August 21 and August 28 but that, like last year, they expect programmes to start as early as the first week of August and go on till the first week of September.

    They hoped that this year there would be more walks leading to greater appreciation of the city. It was suggested that citizen volunteers lead walks in their respective areas. Some areas suggested were Mint Street, Broadway, Harrington Road, Mada Street (Royapuram), Robinson Park surroundings, and Besant Nagar.

    There are hundreds more for potential walk-leaders to think about.

    In a coincidence, just before the press meet I had lunch with Surekha Narain of Delhi who leads walks in the Capital.

    She offers 45 walks and adds at least one new walk every year. Impressive.

    But what was more relevant to Madras was that Delhi last year organised a Heritage Walks Week — and there were 85 different walks, Narain conducting one every day.

    Last year, Madras Week had about 40 walks. This year, should we aim at 100? Or at least attempt to beat Delhi’s record.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> Metroplus / S. Muthiah / June 26th, 2016

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    Umesh Sachdev, CEO, Uniphore Software Systems.- Photo : Bijoy Ghosh

    Umesh Sachdev, CEO, Uniphore Software Systems.- Photo : Bijoy Ghosh

    Uniphore’s CEO says software built around speech will change the face of technology

    : It was in 2007 that Umesh Sachdev struck upon the idea that took over his life.

    “If voice could be used to communicate with machines, we would solve massive problems. That’s when we started building speech recognition and artificial intelligence based software products, which have today become Uniphore,” said Mr. Sachdev, Uniphore’s co-founder and CEO who recently made it to Time Magazine ’s 2016 list of 10 millennials changing the world.

    After Mr. Sachdev and his co-founder Ravi Saraogi completed Computer Science engineering, they got onto the entrepreneurial stride and conceptualised the speech recognition software.

    The idea was to reach millions of users who were not part of digital revolution due to illiteracy or language constraints.

    “We wanted to use technology which allows people to interact with devices such as mobile phones in their vernacular languages and connect to the internet to access information and carry out transactions. That was the motivation to develop vernacular language speech recognition and voice biometrics,” said Mr. Sachdev, who started the venture at the IIT Research Park in Chennai.

    Citing an example, the 30-year-old Sachdev said, “Imagine a housewife in a village who wishes to recharge her cable TV (DTH). Today, she is able to do so by dialling a number and saying her command in one of 14 Indian languages and the transaction is fulfilled.

    In near future, these applications will be smarter. It will remind her that her daughter’s school fee is due and that she should also transfer it along with the TV bill.”

    Empowering people

    Having pioneered Indian and Asian vernacular languages, Uniphore is now investing in ‘natural language’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ capabilities.

    “The impact of this, we believe, would empower people in various ways in the coming years,” Mr. Sachdev said.

    The startup firm has added over 70 global languages and expanded to South East Asia, the Middle-East and the US.

    Till date, the startup has received investment from a series of investors, including IDG Ventures India; India Angel Network; Ray Stata, the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Analog Devices; and YourNest Angel Fund.

    It also received seed investment from IIT Madras’ Rural Technology and Business Incubator; Villgro Innovations Foundation; and the National Research Development Corporation.

    Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan has also invested an undisclosed amount in the firm.

    Having pioneered Indian and Asian vernacular languages, Uniphore is investing in ‘natural language’

    source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Sangeetha Kandavel / Chennai – June 27th, 2016

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    (Representative image)

    (Representative image)


    It was a dream came true for V Keerthana, a Class 9 student of Maniyakarampalyam corporation higher secondary school, when she was selected to deliver a speech at the 15th anniversary celebrations of the NGO American India Foundation at Richmond in Virginia.

    The NGO was instrumental to introducing technology-enabled learning in corporation and government schools across 10 states in the country. Keerthana was accompanied by A Anju, science teacher at P N Pudur corporation higher secondary school, who delivered a speech at a function organised in New York.

    Keerthana said she was filled with excitement and was awed at the sight of an aeroplane. She held onto her teacher’s hand as she entered the Chennai airport. She was the first in her family to have boarded a flight and to cross borders. After the successful US trip, the duo returned to the city a few days back.

    Keerthana not only represented the country, but also made the city proud as she received a standing ovation at Richmond in Virginia after she delivered the speech. “I spoke about my family and my experiences. Also, I explained as to how technology-enabled learning transformed my life and personality. After my speech, the entire audience stood and clapped. That moment will remain in my memory forever,” she said.

    Having studied in a Tamil medium corporation school till Class 6, Keerthana was introduced to English language only when she joined Maniyakarampalyam corporation higher secondary school. “But I had keen interest in the language and would watch English channels and shows to improve my spoken English,” Keerthana said. Another moment that she holds dear is the first sight of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s gates. “It is my dream to pursue my higher studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and I was overwhelmed at the sight of university gates. Everyone I met encouraged me to work hard and reach greater heights, she further said.

    Keerthana’s mother Dhanalakshmi said they were a bit apprehensive at first about sending her daugther to the US. “We were a little worried initially, but we knew that she would be safe. It is a dream came true for all of us. Since she turned 11, she has been telling us that she would visit the US and would pursue her studies there. We knew we could never afford it, but always encouraged her to study well,” Dhanalakshmi said.

    Keerthana’s father is a mill worker, while her mother is a home maker. “Many people, including my school head master, helped me for the 10-day trip. Volunteers of American India Foundation arranged everything for us,” said Keerthana.

    With just $29 in hand, Keerthana managed to purchase something for her entire family. A statue of liberty stands tall at her home that not only reminds her of the trip, but inspires her to pursue her dream.

    Anju is equally happy with the US trip. “I feel very proud and still wonder if it was a dream. We learned a lot from the trip and met many people, including the governor of Viriginia,” she said.

    Corporation commissioner K Vijayakarthikeyan said he was proud of their achievements. “I feel very happy when these children get this kind of exposure. We will continue to promote many activities and encourage students to pursue all their dreams,” he said.

    source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Coimbatore / by Komal Gauthami, TNN / June 26th, 2016

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    A game of Dayakattai in progress  Archita Suryanarayanan

    A game of Dayakattai in progress  Archita Suryanarayanan

    Chennai :

    The sound of the long, rectangular brass dice reverberates on the wooden table. “Six and two. You can cut him…and play vettaatam,” instructs 83-year-old Namagiri Lakshmi to her grandson Vijay. Welcome to Dayakattai, a traditional Tamil dice game.

    In a race-to-the-finish game (a predecessor to Ludo) you have  four rectangles filled with squares that your pieces need to traverse. You start with six pieces in your ‘home’  territory, and you have to pass all the coins through the opponents’ territories and come back home. You can bring the pieces onto the board only if you roll a dayam and you need to ‘cut’ any opponent at least once. The bonus — you get an extra roll of the dice if you get a one, five, six or 12.

    In Pagade, which is similar to Dayakattai, you can ‘cut’ the opponent’s pieces and send them back to the start box. However, there are eight safe zones where other players cannot cut you.

    Experts like Lakshmi remember playing since they were little. “It used to be a little different back then — if you rolled a 7 or 9, it was a no-play. And we used to sing folk songs as we played,” she recalls. And she can do the mental math and tell you, based on what you’ve rolled, which square your piece will end up in. “Five, two, six, three — this piece will land there,” she says.

    In fact, the association with the game runs so deep in the family that just the night before her grandson Vijay was born, his mother Usha played Dayakattai! “We played late into the night and the next morning Vijay was born in the hospital,” she remembers.

    Explaining the concept of dokka vettu, she says, “It’s a more recent and violent addition to the game. It’s when your piece gets cut just one square before reaching home. It triggered so many fights between the kids!” Vijay and Usha recall a famous punch-line from the game when one player cut another player in revenge: “Vettuku vettu. Rathathuku ratham (cut for a cut, blood for blood).

    The squares used to be drawn using maakkal (chalk-like substance) or even sandal. The coins can be anything from peanuts to cashew nuts. “Kids liked taking edible coins, because when you came back home, you could eat them! Sometimes, they would simply eat one in the middle of the game and say they had already crossed the finish line! It’s tough to keep track because there are six coins a player!” laughs Lakshmi.

    With the spirit of game coursing through this family’s veins, looks like it will be quite some time before one can forget the coins and the cuts!

    source: / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Chennai / by Varun B. Krishnan / June 25th, 2016

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    A book follows the lives and achievements of two engineering geniuses who changed the face of irrigation in India in the 19th century.

    There is a thin but bright skein that runs through, and indeed often gets obscured by, the darker history of colonial rule in India. This thread represents the work of the small but extraordinary group of colonial innovators who pushed the boundaries in a diverse range of fields — from engineering to archaeology, from botany to triangulation and mapping.

    A recent book by Alan Robertson, Epic Engineering: Great Canals and Barrages of Victorian India follows the lives and achievements of Arthur Cotton (1803-1899) and Proby Cautley (1802-1871), two engineering geniuses who changed the face of irrigation in India in the 19th century. Cautley designed and built the 700-mile Ganges Canal, and Cotton harnessed for irrigation the flow of two of the great river deltas of South India – the Cauvery and Godavari.

    Though contemporaries in India, and equally qualified, the two men could not have been more different in their approach to engineering problems. The book deals in some depth with the bitter public battle in England when they returned after their India postings, over the efficacy of their respective engineering designs in India.

    According to Robertson, Cautley was recognised and honoured by his Victorian contemporaries, although it is Cotton who is remembered over a century and a half later in the Indian mind — celebrated as he is in writing, popular lore and public statuary in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In the 1930’s Cotton built the Upper and Lower Anicut to regulate and divert for irrigation the flow of water in the Cauvery and Coleroon (Kollidam) rivers. He then turned his attention to the Godavari delta, where in the 1930s the destruction of the weaving industry was exacerbated by a famine that together resulted in the death of one in four persons. The Godavari’s flow in monsoon was three times greater than the Nile in flood, Robertson writes, therefore greater the challenge. The many ingenious solutions Cotton devised to practical problems as they cropped up during the construction of the four-mile long Godavari anicut provides a flavour of the unconventional genius and the times.

    In the same decades Cautely was making progress, though with some embarrassing reversals, on the Ganges canal. Later, in the adjudication of the dispute between Cautely and Cotton — who argued that the location of the headworks of the canal was wrong — a government committee sided with Cautely. However, “within a few years Cotton’s main criticism was quietly acted upon…” Robertson writes.

    Historical archives and private collections in Britain still hold many stories on India including those that are already known but are waiting to be enriched with new information. Interestingly, the author of this enriched biography, Alan Robertson, was a nuclear physicist with an abiding interest in history. This led him to a post-retirement MA degree at King’s College on the mid-19th century indigo industry in India and on to the fascinating lives of the two Victorian water engineers.

    Unfortunately, Robertson died before his book was published. Finding no publishers ready to accept the manuscript, it was eventually published privately by Catherine Hamilton, Robertson’s sister. Jeremy Berkoff, an irrigation expert who worked for many years with the World Bank edited and completed the manuscript.

    Epic Engineering: Great Canals and Barrages of Victorian India

    Alan Robertson / Beechwood Melrose Publishing, 2013, 254 pages

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Books / by Parvathi Menon / London – June 14th, 2016

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    • The move of the govt to create a Greater Chennai Corpn has virtually revived the ancient province of Tondaimandalam.
    • A study of the region by Colonel Colin Mackenzie says Tondaimandalam was 1st inhabited by Kurumbas, a fierce tribe .
    • Epigraphs of the region also reveal the existence of a sound administrative system
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    The move of the state government to create a Greater Chennai Corporation, bringing into its fold several areas of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur, has virtually revived the ancient province of Tondaimandalam that is believed to have existed in the last Sangam period. The Chennai region was a part of Tondaimandalam.

    With the first references to the region going back to tribal Kurumbars and the reign of King Karikala Chola in the 1st century AD, Tondaimandalam had been under the rule of the Kurumbars, Cholas, Kalabhars, Pallavas, Pandyas and the Vijayanagara dynasties for over 2,000 years. The region during the said period came under two divisions — Aruvanadu and Aruvavadatalainadu.

    Greco-Egyptian writer Ptolemy observed that the region was named Aruvarnoi and that the territory roughly extended between South Pennar and North Pennar, which together came to be called as Tondaimandalam or Tondainadu, after the conquest by Tondaiman Ilam Tiraiyan, who took over the Chola empire from Karikala Chola and Nedumudikilli.

    The Mackenzie Manuscript, a study of the region by Colonel Colin Mackenzie, the first surveyor general of India, says Tondaimandalam was first inhabited by Kurumbas, a fierce tribe — early references to whom are found in the Ashokan edicts — until their defeat by Ilan Tiraiyan.

    The tribe divided the region into 24 districts and built several forts. Historian Prof K V Raman says, “Places like Mylapore, Triplicane, Egmore, Pallavaram, Velacheri, Thiruvanmiyur and Nungambakkam among many others formed a vital part of the ancient Tondaimandalam.”

    “Even though names of places like Nungambakkam, Ayanavaram, Vyasarpadi, Villivakkam, Ambattur etc appear to be modern names of recent origin, they find mention in inscriptions dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries AD, which in turn stresses their antiquity,” he adds. Inscriptions belonging to the Pallavas, Cholas, Rashtrakutas, Pandyas, Cheras and the Vijayanagara kings that have been found in places like Pallavaram, Triplicane, Thiruvanmiyur, Thirunirmalai, Padi etc. bear witness to the political changes through which the region passed.

    Those from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries AD make it evident that the area on which Chennai city and its surroundings are situated were included partly in Puzhal Kottam and partly in Puliyur Kottam.

    “The region has been rightly called ‘the classic ground of early Paleolithic culture in south India as the first Paleolithic relic was discovered at Pallavaram, leading to the discovery of many more Paleoliths in other places. Megalithic sites and tools, dating back to the Iron Age were also discovered here,” says Raman.

    Epigraphs of the region also reveal the existence of a sound administrative system — both central and local — including active functioning of village assemblies (sabhas) in Manali, Adambakkam and Tiruvottriyur. The system was functional during the Pallava rule in the 9th century AD.

    Later under the rule of Chola and Vijayanagar kings, the function of village assemblies was extended to many other places of the region. The region had an equally significant contribution towards the fields of literature and learning. Thiruvalluvar, the author of Thirukkural, is associated with Mylapore while Sekkizhar, author of ‘Periya Puranam’ is said to have hailed from Kunrattur.

    Some of the heralders of the Vaishnava wing of the Bhakti movement were either born in this region or were closely associated with it. Pey Alvar, one of the earliest Alvars, came from Mylapore while Thirumazhisai Alvar was born in Thirumazhisai near Poonamallee. Thirukacchhi Nambi, a close associate of Sri Ramanuja, the famous philosopher of the Vishishtadvaita school, came from Poonamalli.

    Epigraphical, archaeological and literary sources reveal that Buddhism and Jainism once had a hold in this region. Monuments of the Chennai region reveal the contributions of the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar dynasties. The Pallavas built the famous cave temples in Mamallapuram, Mamandur and Narasapalayam villages near Kancheepuram and at Singaperumal Koil.

    Dr S Krishnaswami Aiyangar in ‘Madras Tercentenary Commemmoration Volume 1939’ also talks about Mylapore dating back to the beginning of the Christian era, making it over 2,000 years old.

    Historian R Sathianathaier says, “Tondaimandalam was the heart of the Pallava empire, the helmet of the Chola empire, the scene of a triangular contest among the Pandyas, the nucleus of Saluva Narasimha’s power and the grave of the Vijayanagar empire.”

    (The author is the director of Chennai 2000 Plus Trust)

    source: / The Times of India / News Home> City> Chennai / TNN / June 24th, 2016

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    Mikael Stamm, scholar from Denmark, in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam / The Hindu

    Mikael Stamm, scholar from Denmark, in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
    / The Hindu

    Denmark’s Mikael Stamm in his search for philosophical answers ended up doing his Ph.D in Saiva Siddhanta at the University of Madras.

    Philosopher Hume wrote that books on metaphysics contained nothing but “sophistry and illusion.” Most analytic philosophers were inspired by Hume’s condemnation of metaphysics. The logical positivists even tried to develop artificial languages, which, by their very nature, would make it impossible for metaphysical questions to be asked in those languages. The Vienna circle, which not only included philosophers such as Neurath, Schlick and Carnap, but also mathematicians such as Godel, also wanted to steer clear of metaphysics.

    Coming to the Indian scene, it is hard to conceive of Hindu philosophy completely shorn of metaphysics. Hindu philosophers also had linguistic concerns, but their thoughts ran on different lines.

    Grammarians such as Katyayana and Patanjali believed that language was eternal, very much like the Vedas. Speech after all, was the mode through which gods were invoked when Vedic sacrifices were performed.

    Patanjali introduced the concept of ‘sphota.’ “Sphota is that which is manifested in the mind through the agency of hearing, and that which manifests meaning in the mind,” writes Dr. Pierre Filliozat.

    Grammarian Bhartrhari (5th century C.E.) elaborated on sphota. When we say something, we enunciate all the letters in the sentence, sequentially. As each letter is uttered, the previous one fades away. How then do we get an idea of what is being said? This is where sphota comes in. Canadian scholar Harold Coward wrote: “Sphota is an object of each person’s cognitive perception.” Patanjali gave the example of the word cow — ‘go’ in Sanskrit. The moment the word ‘go’ is uttered, we get a mental image of a cow with all its features. Bhartrhari called the essence of speech ‘sabda.’ To him, ‘sabda’ is Brahman. Grammar helps us to see what errors have crept into language, and helps us to get rid of them. If speech is Brahman, then grammar is the path that leads us to this Brahman.

    So while Western philosophy was occupied with language in a negative way, in India, language was looked at through a metaphysical prism.

    My curiosity is aroused when I hear that a student of Western philosophy from Denmark, is doing his Ph.D in Saiva Siddhanta in the Sanskrit Department, University of Madras. I meet Mikael Stamm one afternoon, and he explains why he was disenchanted with Western philosophy. “I didn’t like its rejection of metaphysical questions. You don’t skirt round questions, simply because they are uncomfortable. I couldn’t accept the notion that it was the business of philosophy to clear up linguistic misconceptions for the sake of science. So I moved away from Western philosophy, and studied Computer Science, and for many years I worked in UNI- C, a government organisation, which develops service networks for Universities in Denmark.”

    But the philosophical questions kept nagging him, and he thought perhaps India might have the answers. His first trip to India took him to Goa, and there he picked up a translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Reading it, he realised that the Gita had answers to many questions that had been troubling him. In subsequent trips, he visited many other towns, but when he went to Varanasi that things fell into place.

    A visit to the Viswanatha temple and conversations with pandits there, helped him to make up his mind. He decided he would study Saiva Siddhanta, and applied to three Universities. Madras University was the first to respond, and Mikael did his Masters in Tamil Saiva Siddhanta.

    He had read books on Hindu temples in Denmark, but had seen the temples merely as architectural marvels, without connecting them to the religion. It was his many visits to temples that made him realise that here was a living culture.

    “In Denmark, our original culture was the Viking one, but within 200 years of the advent of Christianity into our country, the Viking culture was wiped out. So we don’t have an ancient, indigenous living religion and culture as in the case of Hinduism here,” Mikael says.

    Tracing the history of Saiva Siddhanta, Mikael says, “The surfacing of distinct Saiva Siddhanta doctrines started at about 800 C.E. and lasted till 1300 C.E. After this, significant expressions of Saiva Siddhanta were confined to Tamil Nadu. The most important dualistically inclined Saiva Siddhantists were Sadyojyoti, Bhojadeva, Ramakantha and Aghorasivacharya, who based their views on the Agamas, especially the earlier ones such as Parakhya, Karana, Paushkara, Mrgendra, Matanga and Raurava. Aghorasivacharya was criticised by later Tamil philosophers such as Sivagnanamunivar and Śivaagrayogin, who were non-dualistic in their philosophy. But Tamil Saiva Siddhanta was not non-dualistic in a sense like Advaita, and the Tamil Saiva Siddhantists did not subscribe to the theory that the world was illusory.”

    Mikael began studying Sanskrit from his very first day at the Madras University. Early lessons were self taught. Later, Dr. Balasubramaniam of the Sanskrit College, Mylapore, taught him Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

    “I didn’t waste a minute. I would study Sanskrit from memory cards, while waiting for buses and in between lectures.”

    Back home in Denmark, he studied under an Indian professor who also took spoken Sanskrit classes. From him, Mikael picked up an interest in Nada Karika, which is a text of 25 verses, written by Ramakantha II (11th century C.E.). It has a commentary by Aghorasivacharya. Nada Karika asks questions about the origin of sound, and how words relate to objects.

    Does Saiva Siddhanta believe in Nada Brahman or Sabda Brahman? “No. In Saiva Siddhanta, Siva and Sakti are the ultimate sources. Word and sound are not present in the highest level, which is pure, without any trace of sabda or subtle matter. The ultimate experience is without words. This is opposed to the view point of grammarians and the view of later non dual Kashmiri Saivisim, where reality and language are one.”

    Will he include a study of concepts like sphota in his work? “Yes, especially because I think concepts such as these deserve more attention from Western philosophers.” He plans to make a comparative study of Saiva Siddhanta with Nyaya, Mimamsa, and Bhartrhari’s work. He also wants to zero in on a temple and see how words are used in rituals. He wants to show how the history of the ritual and philosophy are connected.

    Mikael says he left Christianity at the age of 25. “I lost faith in Christianity. I could not believe that you lived once and then went to heaven or hell. I also could not believe in Absolute Evil and Absolute Good, conquering the evil. I have seen how this is politically used, by labelling people evil. When I was a student, there were many Communists in my class. The government was quick to label them ‘evil.’ When the Communist movement lost its steam, a similar pattern was formulated. But the new evil became the immigrants. The only concern of the Danish People’s Party, for example, is to keep out foreigners. In India, I am amazed at how a religion, which predates Christ by a few thousand years, still survives although it is not patronised by the government. I see how many temples thrive, not because of government help, but because of the bhakti of devotees. In Denmark, the Church is run by the government and all priests are civil servants.”

    Mikael says that a majority of youngsters in Denmark don’t go to Church, although Christianity is taught as a subject in schools.

    Is his interest in Saiva Siddhanta more than just an intellectual one? “Of course. I am a practising Saivite. I have also become a vegetarian.”

    Is it easy being a vegetarian in Denmark? “No, it isn’t easy. When I go to restaurants with my friends, the people in the restaurant have to scramble to toss a few vegetables together to make a salad for me. But luckily, there is an Indian restaurant in Copenhagen, where vegetarian food is served.”

    After he finishes his doctoral studies, Mikael Stamm wants to teach Saiva Siddhanta in India, preferably in Tamil Nadu.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Features> Friday Review / by Suganthy Krishnamachari / June 16th, 2016

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