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    April 18th, 2014adminLeaders, Records, All, Sports, World Opinion
    Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    There were a number of contenders for bowler of the month for March, but none could top Ravichandran Ashwin.

    Imran Tahir finished as the top wicket taker of the World Twenty20, taking a wicket once every 10 balls.

    Samuel Badree kicked dust in Sunil Narine’s eyes, Amit Mishra was a leg-spinning bundle of joy and Rangana Herath had one really rather good spell.

    Even Dale Steyn could stake a claim after a very good run in the World T20.

    In the end, though, it was Ashwin who came up trumps. He took 11 wickets in the World T20 at an average of 11.27.

    Although his performance in the final of the World T20 against SriLanka was somewhat underwhelming, he was superb overall. It’s not only his ability to take wickets that made him the top choice, but also his ability to stifle the scoring rate, forcing pressure to build and batsmen to lose their minds.

    Not once in the entire tournament did he concede more than 30 runs and his 4-for-11 against Australia was fantastic to watch. There was also the carrom ball to dismiss Hashim Amla in the semi-final, a fantastic delivery that would fox any batsman in the world.

    Ashwin is the kind of bowler who likes to experiment and who likes to keep on changing and learning. In the lead up to the World T20 during the Asia Cup, Ashwin had a new approach once again. After two average tours against South Africa and New Zealand, Ashwin had to try something, so he tried to model his action after Sunil Narine.

    The results weren’t immediate, and he finished the tournament with nine wickets in four games at an average of 18.55. The change in action caused much criticism from some quarters. Maninder Singh was one of the most notable critics. He was quoted by The Times of India as saying the change in action could destroy Ashwin’s career.

    ” What is he trying to do? He was a wicket-taking bowler for us, but this is going to kill him. I don’t know how the coaches are allowing him to do this. Don’t forget Narine is a freak and his action has always been like that. If a spinner tries to copy Narine at the age of 25, he will not last in international cricket for too long. “

    Ashwin, clearly not one for taking note of the naysayers, obviously wasn’t bothered. On the eve of the game against Australia, Ashwinrevealed why he was flirting with the newly adopted action. He was quoted by the Indian Express as saying:

    ” I want to do something different. I want to keep trying something—unless you try you don’t go and venture and find out what can work or not. I’d never bowled in full-sleeves before. So I wanted to see how it would feel. And I just wanted to see if you can get more revs on the ball if you can do a little bit with your elbow, as much as that is. That’s what it was all about. You can get a lot of advantage with these things—so why should I lag behind if someone else is getting a competitive edge? “

    Brief change, innovation, foolish—call it what you want—Ashwin is clearly the type of player who always wants to push himself no matter what. His performance in the World T20 was down to some old-school spin bowling and his carrom ball. That ball, which made him so effective in the first place, proved to be his most potent weapon.

    It’s not the first time Ashwin has tried something new; he has admitted in the past, as per ESPNCricinfo, that he uses tennis ball cricket to help him learn new tricks and improve his game.

    Spinners are the most effective bowlers in T20 cricket. They are transformed in the format because batsmen are forced to attack instead of just being able to see out the overs. The bowlers likeAshwin who combine the ability to take wickets with the ability to stifle the runs deserve the most credit, though, and if that requires a little bit of innovation here and there, who are we to judge?

    Data and stats via ESPNCricinfo.

    source: http://www.bleacherreport.com / Bleacher Report / Home> Cricket> India / by Antoinette Muller, Featured Columnist / April 08th, 2014

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    Madurai :

    Vaidyanatha Iyer Road in Shenoy Nagar is named after a great son of Madurai – A Vaidyanatha Iyer (1890 – 1955). Other city landmarks that are named after Iyer are Mela Vaidyanathapuram near Thathaneri and Keezha Vaidyanathapuram near Mahaboobpalayam. His statue, which is installed near the Meenakshi Temple, recalls his leadership in securing the entry of dalits to the popular temple on July 8, 1939. This act earned the wrath of the orthodox Brahmins who excommunicated him from his community. Known popularly as Madurai Iyer, he worked tirelessly for the upliftment of dalits.

    Though belonging to Thanjavur, the Iyer family moved to Madurai during his childhood. Iyer studied at the Sethupathi School in Madurai, and later in Madura College. After graduating in Law he started his own practice and soon rose to become one of the reputed lawyers of his time.

    Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Iyer participated in the Indian Freedom Movement and took up the cause of dalits. Mu Chidambara Bharathy (54), provincial Congress committee member and state convener of the OBC wing of Congress in Madurai, said Iyer and his wife Akilandammal worked in the slums on weekends. Over a period, they turned out to be the foremost champions of dalits in the city. Iyer organized the historical temple entry movement which is commemorated ever year here.

    “As he led the dalits into Meenakshi temple, orthodox Brahmins locked the temple for three days. They installed “Balameenakshi’ (Infant Meenkshi) on Tamil Sangam Road and filed a court case against the temple entry. C Rajagopalachari, the premier of Madras Presidency, intervened and passed a special ordinance turning temple entries legal. “Rajaji’s special ordinance could be termed as an achievement of Iyer because the government led by him collapsed shortly and the temple entry bill would have not come up later,” Bharathy mentioned.

    “When Iyer passed away in 1955, dalits thronged the funeral in large numbers and mourned his death more than others,” he remembered.

    As MLA representing Melur from 1946 to 1951 he was popular, especially among dalits in the constituency. The Harijan Sevalaya in Shenoy Nagar came up during the joint efforts of Iyer, noted Gandhian N M R Subburaman, woman Congress leader Thayammal and the TVS Group. N Pandurangan, a 77-year-old Congress functionary residing in Shenoy Nagar, said the free hostel for dalit students benefitted many. Former Tamil Nadu Minister P Kakkan and former Melur MP Maruthiah were its inmates.

    “When Shenoy Nagar was created in 1951, the streets there were named after Iyer and Kakkan. TVS Group used to operate buses on the wide streets there,” Pandurangan recalled. “Iyer was a simple man and stood for the cause of dalits till his last breath,” he noted.

    source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> City> Madurai / J. Arockiaraj -TNN / April 13th, 2014

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    Madurai :

    Marking the completion of 160 years of the Indian Railways, the Madurai railway division has organised a photo exhibition with a set of 28 posters narrating the history, heritage and salient features. The exhibition, which began on Sunday will go up to April 2 and is arranged at the concourse area of the eastern entry.

    Addressing reporters, divisional railway manager, A K Rastogi who inaugurated the exhibition said the photo exhibition showcases the evolution and growth of the Indian Railways from 1853. The exhibition is divided into topics such as interesting information on Indian Railways; evolution and heritage; cultural significance and the resources displaying its indigenous production units which keep the railways self-sufficient among others.

    The segment of interesting facts contains information like 11,000 trains plying across the country on any given day carrying 2.20 crore people. With 63,940 km track route, it is the fourth largest in the world connecting people across the country as well as the backbone of the economic growth.

    The heritage and evolution part shows the picture of the first train that chugged between Bombay and Thane – the 34 km stretch – in 1853 and its earlier versions of coaches hauled by bullocks. The consecutive pictures show how the railways transformed from steam engines to electric locomotives at present.

    The pictures under the title Railways connecting cultures, show that how the tracks traverse across the cultures in the country with a special mention of Vivek Express, the longest train connecting Kanyakumari with Dibrugarh in Assam. The train covering 4,200 km connects Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar and Assam in its 82-hour journey.

    The heritage section also includes luxury trains such as Palace on Wheels, Golden Chariot and the Deccan Odyssey. The last segment of the exhibition displays the assets of railways like Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW), Diesel Locomotive Works, Varanasi (DLW), Integral Coach Factory (ICF) Chennai, Rail Coach Factory (RCF) Kapurthala and Rail Wheel Factory (RWF), Bangalore.

    One of the pictures shows the international collaborations of Indian Railways at Tanzania, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Mozambique and the export of locomotives to countries like Vietnam, Tanzania, Mali, Senegal, Togo and Sri .

    The exhibition is open from 8.30am to 6pm and entry for the visitors is free.

    source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> City> Madurai / TNN / March 31st, 2014

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    Mugaiyur village in Villupuram district (native place of slain soldier V.Anthony Nirmal Viji) is abound with ex-servicemen and personnel serving in defence services./ Photo: T. Singaravelou / The Hindu

    Mugaiyur village in Villupuram district (native place of slain soldier V.Anthony Nirmal Viji) is abound with ex-servicemen and personnel serving in defence services./ Photo: T. Singaravelou / The Hindu

    For a population of 5,000, there are over 600 soldiers

    For hearing exploits of soldiers on the war front, one must go to Mugaiyur village. The otherwise non-descript place tucked away in a corner of the Thirukkoilur block in Villupuram district is full of war veterans and serving defence personnel.

    What is unique about the village is that the patriotic fervour and nationalism seem to be naturally running in the veins of the young and the old, and, men and women. It has acted as a trigger to inspire more and more residents of Mugaiyur to join the Army.

    The village hogged the limelight when its “proud son of the soil” V. Anthony Nirmal Viji (31), a Lance Naik in Artillery 111 Rocket Regiment, was killed by terrorists at Jammu recently. By laying down his life, he has become the hero of the place and it is most likely that he would become part of the folklore too.

    For a village with a population of about 5,000, there are no less than 600 soldiers. Some of them have tagged on the prefix ex-servicemen to their names for, they had served in the India-China war, the India-Pakistan war and the recent Kargil war.

    Elevated ranks

    A few of them occupied elevated ranks such as Captains and Junior Commissioned Officers. They are proud to be seen in their starched uniforms decorated with medals. They were seen strutting here and there, regulating the mourners who had turned up for the funeral of Viji.

    Unlike in other mourning places the village looked different on the day the body arrived there. A. Lourdusamy and Irudhayanathan, ex-servicemen, told this correspondent that the village had the long tradition of swelling the ranks of the military from the days of World War II. Therefore, for generations, they were willingly joining the Army, with the fullest support of women.

    The boys in turn got inspired by the elders, and from young age, they start equipping themselves for the task.

    While the elderly persons had acquired remarkable brisk gait in their walks thanks to the strict regimen in the Army, the youths look like ramrods with erecting chest and bulging biceps.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> National> TamiNadu / by Special Correspondent / Villipuram – March 31st, 2014

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    Students explaining the newly developed solar hybrid bike to their faculty members. / The Hindu

    Students explaining the newly developed solar hybrid bike to their faculty members. / The Hindu

    They are justifying the need for application-oriented studies

    From simplifying tasks in fields such as agriculture to improving infrastructure to cost-efficient models, students of engineering colleges in and around the city are developing innovative projects, justifying the growing need for application-oriented studies.

    A Solar-Assisted Hybrid Bike developed by Mechanical Engineering students from Kamaraj College of Engineering is one such shining example. The students, K. Abdur Rahmaan Siddik, P. Saran Raj and M. Bharathi Raja, developed the model on a second-hand motorbike with the assistance of R. Manikumar, a faculty.

    “In the wake of frequent petrol price hikes, we wanted to develop some cost-effective hybrid model of a bike,” says Mr.Raja, one of the developers of the hybrid bike which costs less than Rs.40,000.

    “We have applied for a patent as well,” he adds.

    The developers say that the rider will have the option of using either battery-run front-wheel drive or petrol-engine-run back-wheel drive. “During the day time, the battery is charged by solar panels and at nights by the dynamo connected to the rear wheel,” they explain.

    Ragul Kumar, a final year Civil Engineering student of KLN College of Information Technology, is in the process of developing a movable ruler.

    “The multi-speciality ruler can be used to draw linear dimensions, angular measurements, preliminary building plan drawing, tabulations and as trisquare, T-square and longer dimension ruler,” he defines.

    K. Ramesh, a faculty of the college, who is guiding Mr.Kumar says that the movable ruler will be very useful for school students as well.

    “Rulers are mostly developed in China. When our student came up with the idea, we extended our help. Some of our students also did a project on solar panel road and we have applied it on our campus to test its efficiency before applying for patent,” he states.

    Velammal College of Engineering and Technology has a Centre for Innovation and Product Development, which has supported projects such as a saline water alarm system and children-friendly toilet system.

    “We assist students who bring in ideas with faculty guidance,” says P. Rajesh Kanna, faculty advisor of the centre.

    A Green Robot, which will assist farmers in ploughing land and harvesting banana, is currently being developed at the centre.

    “It took six months for the students to develop the prototype of the robot and it will cost half the price of models available in the markets,” says N. Dinesh Kumar, a faculty member.

    The students, who developed the robot, are now in Punjab to present their project at a competition, he adds.

    M. Palaninatha Raja, Registrar of Thiagarajar College of Engineering, says that a few months ago students developed a solar rickshaw, funded by Madurai Municipal Corporation.

    “Multinational corporate firms are conducting a series of contests, encouraging the students to develop innovative models. Our students have won several contests,” he concludes.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Madurai / by  M. Vandhana / Madurai – March 25th, 2014

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    April 4th, 2014adminBusiness & Economy, Records, All
    Brand Coimbatore Ambassador awardees (from left) Ramesh Kumar Tibrewal, Managing Director, Jagannath Textile Company Ltd., G. Soundararajan, Vice-chairman, CRI Pumps, P.R. Krishnakumar, Managing Director, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, at a function organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and The Advertising Club jointly with PSG Institutions in Coimbatore on Saturday./ Photo: M. Periasamy / The Hindu

    Brand Coimbatore Ambassador awardees (from left) Ramesh Kumar Tibrewal, Managing Director, Jagannath Textile Company Ltd., G. Soundararajan, Vice-chairman, CRI Pumps, P.R. Krishnakumar, Managing Director, Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, at a function organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and The Advertising Club jointly with PSG Institutions in Coimbatore on Saturday./ Photo: M. Periasamy / The Hindu

    “The awards recognised the brands that were successful at national and international markets and have also branded Coimbatore”

    These brands have a presence in the national and international markets; they have brought laurels to Coimbatore; and, motivate other companies in the city to focus on branding.

    The Arya Vaidya Pharmacy (Coimbatore), Crusoe, and CRI Pumps received the Iconic Brand of Coimbatore, Emerging Brand, and Brand Coimbatore Ambassador Award 2014 respectively here on Saturday, presented by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Coimbatore and the Advertising Club, Coimbatore, jointly with PSG Institutions.

    R.R. Balasundharam, president of the chamber, said that the awards recognised the brands that were successful at national and international markets and have also branded Coimbatore.

    “Efforts are on to promote Coimbatore brands at national and international levels,” he said.

    According to N. Krishnakumar, president of the Advertising Club, over the years the city has excelled in the areas it has focused on.

    “We need to tell the story of our brands.” The purpose of the awards is to give greater focus to branding. The Emerging Brand award was introduced this year.

    Jagannath Ramaswamy, the lead jury member, said some of the criteria for selecting the winners were the brand’s performance as it developed from a commodity to a brand, its familiarity in the market, performance against competition, and uniqueness.

    Centre of excellence

    L. Gopalakrishnan, Managing Trustee of PSG Institutions, said that Coimbatore is a centre of excellence in sectors such as healthcare, education, small and medium-scale enterprises. The winners of the award have made the city and the country proud.

    Idhayam V.R. Muthu, chairman of Idhayam Group and chief guest for the event, said that two elements essential for the success of a business are marketing and innovation. With opportunity and preparation, business can be successful.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Coimbatore / by Special Correspondent / Coimbatore – March 23rd, 2014

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    A large number of ancient copper plates, coins and nails, totally weighing 90 kg, have been unearthed from the premises of Lord Amirthakadeswara temple at Tirukkadaiyur near Porayar in Nagapattinam district, Archaeological Department sources said today.

    The treasures were found in a pot recently by the those engaged in construction work which was progressing in the northern part of the outer of pragaram of the temple. They found the pot at a depth of about four-and-half feet and immediately informed the temple authorities.

    Tarangambadi Tahsildar Azhagirisamy said the pot contained about 90 kg of copper articles, including plates, coins and nails.

    The copper plates measured about 30 cm long and 30 cm wide. The plates, numbering a few hundreds, contained light green painting. They did not have any inscriptions. The coins are very small and contain inscriptions. The nails are sharp and small in size. The huge pot was in a damaged condition, Archaeological Department sources said.

    Informations to which era the articles belonged would be known only after detailed study, they said.

    Amirthakadeswara temple is among the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu. Though it is not exactly known when the temple was constructed, inscriptions at the temple state that it was during the period of Kulothunga Chola I (1075-1120 A.D) that the temple was renovated with stone walls.

    source: http://www.business-standard.com / Business Standard / Home> PTI Stories> National> News / Press Trust of India / Nagapattinam (TN) – March 19th, 2014

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    Temple Trips, South India, a travel guide by Janaki Venkataraman (seen in picture) and Supriya Sehgal, was launched on Friday. / Photo: K.V. Srinivasan / The Hindu

    Temple Trips, South India, a travel guide by Janaki Venkataraman (seen in picture) and Supriya Sehgal, was launched on Friday. / Photo: K.V. Srinivasan / The Hindu

    Kapaleeshwarar temple is world-renowned, and yet few are aware of an inscription beside the main door which has references to Chinese and Greek travellers having visited the temple.

    The idol of the presiding deity at Parthasarathy Temple, Triplicane, has a moustache, but does not bear any weapons, a distinguishing feature from other Vaishnavite temples.

    Such details, often not spotted by the casual visitor, are among the many interesting facts brought out in Temple Trips, South India, a travel guide launched by Lonely Planet on Friday. It is the culmination of several months of temple visits and meticulous research by authors Janaki Venkataraman and Supriya Sehgal.

    Launching the book, N. Ravi, editor-in-chief, The Hindu, said south Indian temples were a treasure house of “Indian religious, artistic and cultural heritage.” Stating the book was rich in content and offered information to those not familiar with the religion and its traditions, Mr. Ravi added that with the launch of the book, a new sphere of temple tourism of south India was opened up by Lonely Planet.

    Sesh Seshadri, director and general manager, Lonely Planet India, said the book offered specific information on hotels, transport, accommodation and the region’s cuisine. It also has special features by Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna, Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli, temple historian Pradeep Chakravarthy, architectural expert Chitra Madhavan and journalist Nalini Rajan.

    Prior to the book launch, there was a rendition of songs associated with temples of the four southern States by Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Special Correspondent / Chennai – March 29th, 2014

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    Anglo-Indians in the city gathered on Friday to celebrate their culture with the launch of a book titled Contemporary Facets of the Anglo-Indian Community.

    Written by Geoffrey Kenneth Francis, the former principal of A M Jain College, the book is a chronicle of the Anglo-Indian community’s history in India, the formation of the Anglo-Indian Association and remarkable moments in history, cultural, social and economic issues of the community, and case studies of certain members of the community

    “It is basically a SWOT analysis of our community. I hope it will make other people, especially the government, realise that we are a unique community that does not get any support,” said the author. “Many Anglo-Indians have emigrated abroad but our future and strength lies in allegiance and commitment here in India,” he added.

    The book was released by Bishop Prakash, chairman, State Minorities Commission, and the first copy was received by historian S Muthiah.

    Drawing comparisons with his community, the Naatu Kottai Chettiars and the Anglo-Indian community, S Muthiah appreciated the progress in education achieved by both the communities. “We no longer have to become secretaries and nurses or look to the railways for jobs because education can empower our communities to achieve greater heights,” he said.

    Bishop Prakash appreciated the work of the author and said that he would present a copy of the book to the Chief Minister as it provided a great insight into the history and culture of Anglo-Indians. Eminent persons from the Anglo-Indian Community, including Oscar Negley, former MLA, were also present during the book launch.

    source: http://www.newindianexpress.com / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Chennai / by Express News Service – Chennai / March 11th, 2014

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    StThomasMount01-26mar2014

    It’s the holy hill, the miniature mount of miracles, the anchor you rely on when adrift in foggy doubt. Close to two thousand years ago an apostle was martyred on its summit, his gore reddening the soil. On the western outskirts of the city of Chennai (formerly Madras) on the southeastern coast of India, the hill called St. Thomas’ Mount juts up 300 feet above the sea level. The city’s airport lies just beyond the hill and, depending on the time of day and the flight path, one can get an aerial glimpse of the hill from within an aircraft landing or taking off, just as one can watch planes land and take off from atop the hill.  But the hill looks so ordinary, so nondescript, that passers-by on the ground or travelers in the air scarcely give it a glance.

    The hill was once wooded but today, as I trudge up the stone steps, I see bedraggled vegetation fighting valiantly to root and thrive in those few parts that are not built up with houses. Construction is in progress; newer buildings are sprouting up like kudzu along the slopes. The climb is a test of stamina; I find myself breathing strenuously and I am only a third of the way to the top. But there are convenient ledges running alongside the steps where I can sit, regain my breath. Brick-paved terraces interrupt the steps at intervals. There is the occasional flat, gray stone slab embedded in the ground, almost flush with the surface. Some bear elaborate inscriptions in Armenian. The people in the church on the hill, let alone the visitors, have little idea of what these inscriptions mean.If stones could speak, I would engage them in spirited conversation, and their answers could shed light on many things. There is much that is mysterious on this hill.The Apostle Thomas is believed to have been martyred on the summit of this hill, hence the name St. Thomas’ Mount. Thomas (the “Doubting Thomas” of the New Testament) is believed to have travelled to Northern India following Christ’s crucifixion, then by sea to Malabar (present-day Kerala) on India’s southwestern coast where he landed in AD 52, and then across the land to the opposite coast where he lived and preached until his martyrdom on the mount in AD 68 (or AD 72, depending on which historical account you buy into) where he was speared to death by an emissary of the local Hindu king while he knelt in prayer before a cross he had carved into the rock. More about this cross later.The mount subsequently became a place for pilgrimage, albeit one that tested the pilgrims’ faith and resolve for they had to surmount rock and brush and clamber across slippery slopes covered with loose, treacherous gravel.  In the early 18th century, an Armenian merchant and philanthropist, Khojah Petrus Woscan, hewed out a flight of 135 steps on the wild and woody northern side of the hill. Woscan also built a bridge across the nearby Adyar River to further help pilgrims, who now no longer struggled to ford the river. People came from afar to the Mount in larger numbers now – but they always had, steps or no steps. A Latin medieval text suggests that in the 9th century King Alfred the Great of England sent an embassy to this tomb in India, long before the steps to the summit were in place. Marco Polo also visited the Mount on his travels in India.
    Historic picture of St. Thomas Mount, with the steps leading to the church, in the days when the neighbourhood was largely undeveloped.

    Historic picture of St. Thomas Mount, with the steps leading to the church, in the days when the neighbourhood was largely undeveloped.

    On the summit of the hill stands a church that is a hybrid of Armenian and Portuguese architecture, both peoples having contributed to its building over periods of time. Its elegance lies in the simplicity of its structure. The cool, black flagstones that pave its floors and its high arched ceilings give welcome relief from the rippling heat waves outside. That this is sacred ground and must be treated as such and not regarded as a picnic spot for romancing couples is highlighted by a sign on a wall: ‘The holiness of this place does not permit the pairs to misuse this place for their merriment.”
    As my eyes adjust to the dimmer light, they are drawn to the high stone arch on the ceiling that separates the sanctuary from the nave; on the arch, the name of the church in Portuguese: Senhora da Expectacao (Our Lady of Expectation) is emblazoned. The upper part of the exquisitely ornate white and gold altar has a painting on wood of St. Thomas praying before a cross carved into a boulder. The lower part of the altar has the cross itself, sculpted on a chunk of grey rock. Thomas, so it is said, carved it himself, or at any rate, was speared to death when praying before it, drops of his blood spattering it like rose petals during his death throes.
    The cross has an extraordinary reputation. It is said to have “sweated blood” — exuded fluid, which on some occasions was crimson colored — several times between 1551 and 1704, usually an annual event occurring in December. Since 1704, though, the cross has neither “sweated” nor “bled.” Yet the crowds throng to the church in December during the Feast of St. Thomas, eager and enthused, hoping that this will be the year when history repeats itself, and they will be the fortunate ones to bear witness to the miracle that has not recurred for three centuries. Bleeding crosses and other miracles, and angels making divine visitations are all part of being within the church, of accepting its faith. If you are not within the church, then you are outside of it, and have to drift and paddle around on your own. That leaves you vulnerable, unless you have developed your own spiritual muscles. So the throngs come at the Feast of St. Thomas and if the cross remains dry, then they wait with the patience of an elephant as the seasons change and the next anniversary comes around, ready to attend the festival any number of times.
    The Bleeding Cross

    The Bleeding Cross

    Yet there are others who doubt that the Bleeding Cross ever bled a drop, or even that Thomas engraved such an elaborate stone carving. And the discovery of several similar carvings in Kerala on the west coast of India raises further questions about whether the attribution to Thomas is true. Scholars have designated these cross carvings in Kerala as the Nasrani Menorah.A cross designated as a menorah? Or vice versa? How could either of this be?To understand this better, we must time-travel to the fourth century AD, and meet Thomas Canneus, also known as Thomas of Cana (Canaan), who changed his faith from Judaism to Christianity. Thomas of Cana landed in Malabar [Kerala] on the west coast of India along and founded the community popularly known as the Syrian Christians. They had other names as well: the Thomman Christians or the Knanaya, that is, Knai’s People (after Knai Thomman, the name for Thomas of Cana in Malayalam, the local language; it also means Thomas the Zealot). In 345 AD, under Thomas’s leadership and with the blessing of Mor Yusthedius, the Patriarch of Antioch, 72 families sailed to India in three ships, the first of which bore the flag of King David. They spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, hence they were called the Syrian Christians; there is no connection with the present-day nation, Syria. They were also called the Nasrani (a variation of the word Nazarene) to indicate they were Jews who had embraced Christianity and to distinguish them from Jews who were already living in Kerala in a thriving community centered in the town of Cochin.

    Painting of Thomas of Cana and a ship supposedly similar to the one he sailed in to India

    Painting of Thomas of Cana and a ship supposedly similar to the one he sailed in to India

     

    Converting from one faith to another is not such a facile exercise as is thought. While you might harbour the conviction that the new faith is propelling you towards salvation, can you so easily let go of old customs and relics that comforted you so often and so much down the years? And so the Nasrani designed their cross after the Jewish menorah, the stand of seven candlesticks.

    In the Jewish tradition, the central candle is the main candle from which all the others branches are lit. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word for branch is Netzer, the root word for Nazareth and Nazarene – and therefore, also for Nasrani.) The Nasranis converted the middle candlestick of the menorah into an ornate cross, with three candlesticks (or images representing three candlesticks) flanking the cross on either side. These six branches represent God in the form of the burning bush. Flying vertically downward towards the cross is a dove, its beak touching the top of the cross; this represents the Holy Spirit. This menorah-cross is known as the Nasrani Menorah. It is also referred to as the Syrian Kurishu (the Syrian Cross).

    The menorah is not the only aspect of Jewish tradition that the Nasrani Syrian Christians have retained. Another tradition that lives on is the partaking of the Pesaha-Appam, or unleavened Passover bread, along with Pesaha-Paalu, or Passover Coconut Milk, often flavored with unrefined brown sugar, ginger, cumin and cardamom. The Nasrani church has separate seating for men and women, and the sanctuary is partitioned off by a thick red drape until about the middle of the Qurbana (the Nasrani Mass). Until the 1970s, the Qurbana was recited in Syriac-Aramaic; the Nasrani baptism is still called by its Syriac name, Mamodisa, and follows many of the original rituals associate with this rite of passage. The Birkat Hamazon is recited after the blessing of the Holy Eucharist, and as a Thanksgiving blessing. Marriages invariably take place within the community.

    As noted previously, in Malayalam (the language of Malabar/Kerala), Thomas of Cana became Knai Thomman. Could this community bearing the Thomas name, then, have got mixed up with the Apostle Thomas? The distinctive Nasrani menorah crosses, carved by the early Syrian Christians in Kerala, may have been attributed to the Apostle Thomas, since it is quite possible to get confused with two names that are similar. That would explain how the Nasrani Menorah in the church on St. Thomas Mount, the cross that sweated blood, got linked to St. Thomas though it is unclear how it travelled coast to coast, from Kerala on the southwestern coast to St. Thomas’ Mount on the southeastern.

    Could St. Thomas have carved it? The Nasrani menorah is very distinctive; it came to southern India only around 345 AD, whereas St. Thomas was said to be there three centuries earlier, between the years 52 and 68 (or 72) AD. Also, if St. Thomas had carved a symbol during that time, would it have been a cross at all?  Scholars say that the cross did not become a symbol of Christianity until sometime in the late second century AD.  The cross was a very visible reminder of deliberate torture, suffering and death — a hated and grisly method of public execution, besides being irrevocably associated with the death of beloved Jesus the Christ, the founder of their religion. The early Christians used, not the cross but the Ichthys (Fish Symbol) to represent their faith. Did the Apostle St. Thomas even visit the hill that bears his name?

     

    An unveiled tabernacle of a Knanaya temple, with the Nasrani Menorah in Silver in the foreground on the table and 12 candlestands in the background representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Note the close resemblance between Nasrani Menorah and the Bleeding Cross.

    An unveiled tabernacle of a Knanaya temple, with the Nasrani Menorah in Silver in the foreground on the table and 12 candlestands in the background representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Note the close resemblance between Nasrani Menorah and the Bleeding Cross.

    If stones could speak, we could whisper to each of the Nasrani menorahs scattered across Kerala, and to the Bleeding Cross, and they would whisper their stories back to us, tales of hope and fear, of bravery and cowardice, of longing and satisfaction. But as that is not possible, we must wait for historians and scholars to probe back in time to determine the facts, decipher them and solve these puzzles from the past.

    Historians and scholars, however, do not always agree with each other both on the authenticity of discoveries or their interpretation. After his martyrdom atop St. Thomas Mount, the remains of the apostle were taken to Edessa in Mesapotamia (modern-day Urfa in Turkey) and interred there. But there is a relic in the church on St. Thomas Mount, a finger bone, purportedly the one that probed the wounds of Christ. Along the way to Edessa, relic seekers seemed to have helped themselves to many of his other bones as well. Roman Catholic records say the Apostle was buried at Ortona in the Abruzzi region of Italy; the Greek Orthodox claim that Thomas’s skull rests on the island of Patmos in the Aegean, but leaves us unclear about where the rest of his body is, and when and why the two were separated. As one commentator put it tongue-in-cheek, if all the bony relics of the apostle that are on display in various churches and museums were collected and assembled, we would end up with one and a half skeletons.

    Christians in India take pride that their religious heritage can be traced to a direct disciple of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI caused a lot of angst and heartburn among many Indian Christians when, during his September 27, 2006 speech at the Vatican, he mentioned that St. Thomas evangelized Syria and Persia and then went on to Western India, from where Christianity spread to other parts of India, including the South. In other words, the pontiff seemed to be dismissing the legend that the Apostle Thomas was ever in South India. After the cries of outrage from the Indian Christians, the Vatican took the unusual step of amending the published text of the pope’s speech.

    But such doubts have been raised before, even by those in the church hierarchy. In 1729 the Bishop of Madras-Mylapore wrote to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome for clarification about whether the tomb in the San Thome Cathedral of Madras was indeed that of St. Thomas. Rome’s reply was not published. A century later, in 1871 the Roman Catholic authorities at Madras were “strong in disparagement of the special sanctity of the localities [San Thome Cathedral, Little Mount, and St. Thomas Mount, the three areas in Madras associated with St. Thomas Mount] and the whole story connecting St. Thomas with Mailapur.” But in 1886 Pope Leo XIII stated in an apostolic letter that St. Thomas “travelled to Ethiopia, Persia, Hyrcania and finally to the Peninsula beyond the Indus”, and in 1923 Pope Pius XI quoted Pope Leo’s letter and identified St. Thomas with “India”. However, historians note that many ancient writers loosely used the term “India” to refer to several territories east and south of the Roman Empire – including Abyssinia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (Persia/Iran), Arachosia and Gandhara (modern Afghanistan/Pakistan), and parts of Arabia, especially the coastal territories (modern Yemen and Oman).

    Historians have neither conclusively proved nor disproved that St. Thomas was ever in southern India.  And the stones will not speak.

    Each individual experiences two types of hunger, the material and the spiritual, in varying degrees of proportion. The most common pang of spiritual hunger is groping for answers to the eternal questions: Who am I?  What am I doing here?

    We are born with material and spiritual components, the gross and the ethereal. The material is easy to relate to, but the spiritual is more nebulous. Some see spiritual matters as concerned with our ultimate nature and meaning, not just as biological organisms but as beings with a unique relationship with the spirit that transcends time, space and the material sphere. Others view spirituality as the nurturing and development of one’s inner life.

    In a great many minds, the institutionalization of religion is now associated bloodshed, division, incredible cruelty to other people in the name of evangelism or jihad or some other form of crusade, forcible religious conversions, and so on. It also brings images of being punished for sins or erroneous ways, many of which are all too human.

    Religion aims to rise and soar above the worldly plane yet organized religions have been continuously seduced by a material focus. Atop St. Thomas Mount, you need permission to photograph the church interiors and the relics, and the granting of the permission is accompanied by a request for a donation. The staff member in charge tries to gauge where you live to suggest a donation amount.  Donors are offered a book to sign in (and record the donated amount), and a glance shows that visitors from overseas have donated far larger sums than the locals.

     

    Couples in love! No romancing or partying on these sacred grounds! If you want to date, go elsewhere!

    Couples in love! No romancing or partying on these sacred grounds! If you want to date, go elsewhere!

     

    There are two large Hindu temples north and south of St. Thomas Mount: the temple of Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati, and the temple to the Goddess Meenakshi in Madurai. The Tirupati temple is the wealthiest Hindu temple, and reputedly the richest and most visited religious shrine in the world. The Madurai Meenakshi temple is an ancient temple, famed for its stunning architectural complexity. Many such temples that draw crowds of devotees have complex queue systems to make you line up just to flit past the sanctum sanctorum and get a momentary glimpse of the deity.

    But Mammon can insinuate his way anywhere, even in houses of worship.  So in many temples there is more than one line. There is a line where there is no charge, and there is a line where you need to purchase a ticket. Since the first line is hopelessly long, people purchase tickets. They still have to wait, but for a somewhat shorter time. Then there are the super high-priced tickets that permit you to jump both lines and sneak up first.

    Now, material houses of worship do need material means for their maintenance; this is why an offertory basket is passed around at church services. And when there are throngs of hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, there needs to be some sort of regulatory system to maintain order. But the whole notion that paying more money ushers you into the divine presence ahead of those who paid less has something repugnant about it. After all the idol is not God, it is merely an image to remind you of God or of certain aspects of God. For example, some Hindu deities are depicted with multiple heads (God is omniscient) or multiple hands (God is omnipotent). An omniscient, omnipotent God is everywhere, not just restricted to the sanctum sanctorum of the temples, or on the altars of churches or synagogues. If stones could speak, this is what the idols of the deities would say, adding that those that understand this and feel the presence of the divine all the time have no need to lighten their wallets or purses to stand in line for a long time to get a glimpse of an image.

     

    Another view of the same, with the church in the background. The banyan tree alongside the church is reputed to be around 175 yrs old.

    Another view of the same, with the church in the background. The banyan tree alongside the church is reputed to be around 175 yrs old.

     

    In organized religion more attention is paid to the external aspects of religion (the appropriate vestment for priest and bishop, the proper items for a puja ceremony), and to the hierarchy within a religion, or to the rules that govern that particular faith, than to the inner experience of religion itself.  A great many cling to the outer trappings. As described earlier, the Knanaya Christians have retained their Jewish traditions to the point they are sometimes even referred to as the Jewish Christians, a term that can raise both eyebrows and hackles in other parts of the world. The throngs at St. Thomas’ Mount firmly believe that the cross will bleed once more, and attribute all kinds of explanations (including the effect of their collective sins, their karma en masse) for why the flow of blood has been stanched for three centuries. Hindus who have been proselytized to Christianity bring their caste baggage with them; once Hindu Nadars and Pillais, now they are Nadar Christians and Pillai Christians, and the old eddies and undercurrents still flow strong though all of them are supposedly One in Christ.

    But times have changed and are changing. Whether it is due to the advancement of science and technology and the new ways of thinking that this brings, or whether due to other factors, the wholesale reliance on belief is eroding. In bygone times, belief was the cornerstone of religion. Today, the numbers of people who place emphasis on individual spiritual experience rather than belief is growing. “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” — how often have you heard that phrase?

    And yet, often it is their religion that has helped to unfold their latent spirituality, and still has repositories of wisdom nuggets buried within its voluminous folds, though sometimes a spirited excavation is required to find them.

    If stones could speak, could they tell us the whole story of the two Thomases — the apostle Thomas and the Nasrani Thomas?  As the stones at one church may say, “We’ve been resting on this very spot for centuries, and we can tell you what went on here, but you’ll have to travel to other parts of the country and talk to the stones there, and then piece all the information together.”

    “All right,” you respond, but the stones then gently remind you that the other stones who might have been witness to significant events may no longer be there, either carted away to other unknown destinations, or simply blown into smithereens by dynamite and bulldozers clearing the land for new development. So many stones, blown up into enough silicon dust to fill up a valley, indeed, many valleys, taking with them all their collective memories.

    “But why,” one of the older, wiser stones may ask, “do you want to know this? What real difference will it make?  If you can trace your faith lineage down the byzantine alleyways of history to St. Thomas and directly to Christ, does that put you a cut above your fellow Christians who cannot claim such a pedigree?  Which religion do you follow — the religion of  Jesus the Christ or the religion built around Jesus the Christ?”

    People extract meaning from symbols and imagery of religious tradition. In the beginning, this may be useful in helping to focus the distracted mind on the idea the symbol represents. But this is the means, not the end.  The ninth-century Chinese Buddhist master Linji Yixuan said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him ….. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, pass freely anywhere you wish to go.”  One can replace Buddha in the quote with Christ or Moses or any other religious figure.  What is implied here is that when you convert a spiritual leader into a sacred fetish that then becomes larger than life, you miss the core essence of his teachings. And the greatest tribute you can give your spiritual preceptor is to follow his teachings. How many actually do that?

    Once you pass through the arch portal, you climb up stone steps like these. On the sides, one can see sculptures of the various Stations of the Cross. One such sculpture is visible on the right side in this picture.

    Once you pass through the arch portal, you climb up stone steps like these. On the sides, one can see sculptures of the various Stations of the Cross. One such sculpture is visible on the right side in this picture.

     

    If stones could speak, perhaps one of the wise among them would say, “Don’t hang around here waiting for stone crosses to sweat, or to gawk at pieces of bone and faded paintings. Go back to your daily routine, but reach out to other people. Forgive them if their faults have roiled you, bless them, see the innocence in them, give them a real loving hug. Those are the kinds of things it all boils down to.”

    And another stone might add, “We have learnt much by sitting still in the silence. And so should you. Walk barefoot on the dew-bedecked grass in the early morning, and feel it caress the soles of your feet. Enjoy the sunlight filtering through the leafy trees, and the clouds rolling across the bright blue sky. Gaze at the stars at night, pierce through space and permit yourself to soar heavenwards until you are one with them.”

    source: http://www.praguerevue.com / The Prague Revue / Home> In the Stream by Vishwas R. Gaitonde / January 01st, 2014

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