Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hear My VOICE: Jalajakumari Selvarasa ~ "I could often feel the nostalgia"

Jalajakumari Selvarasa is convinced and lives daily with hope

Jalajakumari Selvarasa (41) is very duty conscious in a bottle green traditional Shalwar Kameez. She sits at the entrance of the women’s side of the springs, and gives the instructions in Tamil to the devotees who visit "Keerimalai" springs in Jaffna district, North of Sri Lanka. She shows the way with her shiny smile to the new comers here in "Keerimalai".

Keerimalai literally translates Mongoose Hill in English. Naguleswaram temple is one of the five hallowed Lord Sivan temples (Panchcha Ishwaram) in Sri Lanka. Naguleswaram temple is situated here in "Keerimalai", which is 50 feet above the main sea level.

I am happy to be here and help the devotees. It is a sacred place and sanctity should be maintained at all times. I am doing a small service to the community” says Jalajakumari Selvarasa while wearing a cotton cap to compete with the balmy weather here in "Keerimalai" .

Red vermilion called “Pottu” (dot) is placed on her forehead and pair of Silver toe rings on her feet show that she is married. A sharp line of holy ash on her forehead and a multi colour holy thread on her left wrist show her strong spirituality.

She has five children~ 2 sons and 3 daughters. She got displaced several times due to war. She lived in "Pandatharippu" and "Vanni". She currently lives in Alavetty in a rented house. Her house in "Keerimalai"stands still and empty with names written in English, Sinhala and Tamil and pictures painted in colour.

Displacement has become a part of my life. I initially got displaced in 1983 from our house in Keerimalai, during the heavy fighting between the security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. My house falls under the High Security Zone (HSZ) in "Keerimalai". Now, I get to see my house everyday when I come here for my duty. But I could often feel the nostalgia. I am looking forward to a day, when I will be able to live in my hometown again with my family. I hope and pray that, the day is not too far. I have a few dreams to come true, one is returning to my hometown and live with my family and serve the God" shares Jalajakumari Selvarasa with her unambiguous hope flickering in her heart.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hear My VOICE: Velupillai Yesupalan ~ “My father is my role model”

Velupillai Yesupalan feels empty and withdrawn

Velupillai Yasupalan feels empty and withdrawn

Velupillai Yesupalan (16) seems nervous and unsettled as he waits at his school during the morning break~ drinks interval as it is called here in Jaffna. He wears a pair of Dark Blue shorts, White short sleeve shirt with the school batch stitched on the pocket of the shirt on left. A pair of his Black shoes removed and kept outside the library of his school. Normally shoes are removed when entering the library, because it is compared to a shrine and considered sacred. Feet covered with a pair of Cotton socks upto his knee are fixed firmly to the Grey cement floor. He takes a while to settle down and talk to me. He is a Grade 11 student of Kondavil Hindu Maha Vidyalayam in Jaffna district, North of Sri Lanka.

I do not have a father. He was killed during the war. I feel sad and depressed, because I am fatherless. My father is my role model. I want to be like my father, who was helpful to others despite many setbacks” emotionally shares Velupillai Yesupalan as he continuously bites his right hand finger nails, and tears pour through his both eyes and roll down quickly through his tender cheeks.

His family is originally from Thellipalai, moved to Thirunelvely, Iranaimadu, Vallipuram and Puthukkudiyiruppu due to war. They are currently occupying the station master’s quarters in Kondavil.

My mother works hard to look after us carefully. She tries very hard to feed us with three meals. She is becoming old and finds it hard to do a lot of work. I have three younger brothers and a younger sister. Since, I am the eldest in the family, I have to take care of my mother and siblings. I am trying to study hard and pass the exams, but I get disturbed when I think of my dear father” continues Velupillai Yesupalan.

He rarely talks and plays with his fellow students and friends. He stays reserved.

My favourite game is cricket. I used to play with my father. Now, I rarely play with my younger brothers. My dream is to become a school teacher” continues Velupillai Yesupalan as he adjusts the school badge on his shirt pocket.

Monday, December 20, 2010

80th Jubilee Celebrations of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

The most beautiful make-up of a woman is PASSION. But cosmetics are easier to buy” ~ Yves Saint-Laurent,(1 August 1936- June 1 2008), French Fashion Designer

80” ~ Beautifully lit specially made candles decorate the venue

Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte~ Tamil neighbourhood celebrated its 80th anniversary and Founder’s day on 11th of December 2010 at the school auditorium. It is one of the oldest Hindu Women’s School in the Island. The celebration included songs, dance and drama by the students.

A Band of Hindu Women founded the Saiva Mangaiyar Kalagam on 10th December 1930 to reawaken the Hindus from their slumber and apathy under Colonial rule, they had lost their Hindu Cultural moorings.

The women with foresight, untiring effort and undaunted enthusiasm led and started a Hindu school for women. The Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam has been in the forefront of efforts to foster Hinduism and to promote Tamil culture among the Hindu women of Colombo. Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam' was established on 10th of December 1930 with the blessings of Srimath Swami Vipulananda Adigal and Muthaliyar Rasanayagam. The three founders were Mrs. Rasamuthu Sathasivam, Mrs.Sornacanthy Nallianathan and Mrs. Balambikai Namasivayam. Mrs. Sornacanthy Nallianathan was educated throughout at St. Bridget's Convent was the triad of architects.

The school which was started with seven students, now houses a few thousand students. The school excels in education and extra curricular activities.

Lives of great women all remind ,you can make your lives sublime:
When departing leave behind your footprints on the sands of time!

All power and knowledge whether secular or spiritual in Hindu thinking are inherent in the human soul

View of the main entrance of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte

The school has grown gradually over the years

Brass Lord Nadarajar and Goddess Parvathy are dressed up for the celebration

"Kolam" drawn by White chalk at the main entrance of the venue

Statue of Thiruvalluvar at the auditorium of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam in Wellawatte

Traditional Hindu welcome at the entrance of the auditorium

The school has more than 2,300 student on roll

Temple in the school which was built in 1939

Portraits of the Founders of the school

Earthen lamps are lit and placed on five fresh Betel leaves

Students for the traditional welcome

Portraits of famous 63 Naayanmars

School song is being sung

Devotional songs are sung by the students

School promotes the traditional values of our culture

Students light the traditional oil lamp

Pushpaanjali in dance form by the students of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam of Colombo

Kampavaarithy Jeyaraj gives benediction

"Kuyile..,Kaattinile" songs are being beautifully sung by the students of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

President of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam Sivanandini Duraiswamy welcomes the guests

"Kuravar" dance by the students of Music and Dance Academy of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

Member of Parliament Praba Ganeshan addresses the gathering

Scene from Sounds of Music by the students of Saiva Mangaiyar Kazhagam

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hear My VOICE: Arumugam Varatharajan ~ “I want to feel “belonged””

Arumugam Varatharajan wants to spend the rest of his life in his ancestral house

The time is 12.10PM, it is lunch time in Sri Lanka. The scorching Sun shines bright in Jaffna, North of Sri Lanka. Arumugam Varatharajan (56) wrapped in an old Blue Sarong and wears no shirt as the weather is balmy. He is seen busy stitching bags at his small tailor shop in Kondavil~ Jaffna district. A ladies’ bicycle is parked on the wall. His shop also has candy, shampoo and pen for sale. A piece of used sack is placed on the steel pedal of his old USHA sewing machine to comfort his tired feet. A straight line of White Holy ash from the nearby temple still stays on his forehead amidst non-stop sweat, which proves he is an ardent devotee of Goddess.

I left my ancestral home in Kaankesanthurai, which is in High Security Zone (HSZ), in 1990 along with my family. Ever since, I have been living in a rented house in Alavetty in Jaffna district. My ancestral house was destroyed during the war. I still treasure those old memories of living in Kaankesanthurai with all the relatives” says Arumugam Varatharajan while his fingers race with an old USHA sewing machine needle.

He was a farmer before the displacement in 1990, he followed his forefathers. Later, he turned into a tailor and began to stitch bags, dresses and footwear.

My average daily income is Rs.500/=~Rs.1,000/=. I have some regular customers. I work 365 days to earn an enough income to look after my family. I have three children who are still schooling. I want to educate them well, and make them understand the human values which are currently being forgotten” continues Arumugam Varatharajan.

People visited their houses and properties in the High Security Zone (HSZ) in Jaffna district. Arumugam Varatharajan too has visited his ancestral house a few times.

I am looking forward to go back to my house and live in Kaankesanthurai before I die. I want to continue with farming there. I feel being myself, when I am in my own house and surroundings. I easily connect myself to the place, where I was born and raised. I feel the “belongingness” whenever I visit Kaankesanthurai, which brings the most happiest memories ever. I feel lost being displaced and living in another place. I am unable to fit in another place. I neither wanted to leave Jaffna nor Sri Lanka. I want to continue living in Jaffna with my family” continues Arumugam Varatharajan while his eyes get filled with tears, but he tries hard not to let them roll down his cheeks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebrating Social Commitment ~ the MEETO memorial award for young South Asians

Portrait of MEETO ~ Kamaljit Bhasin~ Malik (1978~2006)

To commemorate the brief but brilliant life of Meeto or Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik (1978-2006), a scholar, activist and dancer, Meeto’s mother, Kamla Bhasin has decided to institute an award in her memory to honour young South Asians whose work demonstrates a commitment to communal harmony, peace, justice and human rights.

MEETO memorial award ceremony was held at Jatiya Nattyashala, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on 1st of October 2010. Several prominent South Asian activists, artists, academicians and diplomats attended the ceremony. Akeela Naz, a farmer and a woman’s leader from Punjab, Pakistan was awarded this year’s MEETO memorial award. The award ceremony is held for the second time, the first award ceremony was held in 2009 in New Delhi. This year’s award night was followed by cultural events including participants of SANGAT XVth South Asian Feminist Capacity Building Course on Gender, Sustainable Livelihoods, Human Rights and Peace sang and danced for the song “Chalte Jaayenge” at the event.

The Award comprises of Indian Rupees 100,000/=, a citation and a memento

Guests at the occasion

Professor Amena Mohsin from the Department of International Relations at the Dhaka University addresses the gathering

Dr. Hameeda Hossain, the Co-Chair of the South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) hands over the book to MEETO’s mother Kamla Bhasin

Religion: A Tool for Discrimination in South Asia? is launched at the MEETO Memorial Award ceremony which is dedicated the work to MEETO

Past and present participants from Bangladesh who attended SANGAT South Asian Feminist Capacity Building Course sing songs on stage

MEETO' mother and renowned feminist and feminist scholar Kamla Bhasin addresses the gathering
Dr.Amreen Ahmad of Pakistan addresses the gathering while this year’s award winner Akeela Naz stays on stage before receiving her award

Abha Bhaiya shares her thoughts of MEETO

Brij Bhasin, MEETO’s maternal Uncle reads her mother’s words

Sunila Abeysekera delivers the key note at the ceremony

Award winner Akeela Zaz addresses the gathering

Akeela Naz of Pakistan receives her award from Anusheh Anadil of Bangladesh~last year's MEETO memorial award recipient

A section of audience at the event

Anusheh Anadil sings songs of Peace

Hear My VOICE: Thenuja Tharmeshwaran ~ “I am always my father’s pet”

Thenuja Tharmeshwaran struggles and unable to forget the traumatic past

Thenuja Tharmeshwaran (15) waits with hope at the entrance of her school~ Kondavil Hindu Maha Vidyalayam in Jaffna district in Sri Lanka. Her eyes are full and filled with tears and roll down her cheeks while she shares her agony with me sitting closer in Jaffna, North of Sri Lanka. She wears a pristine White pleated frock which is the school uniform with Light Blue and White tie, her hair is middle parted, neatly plaited into two and tied with matching brilliant blue silk ribbon. Red stone circle ear studs add colour to her complexion. A White pair of shoes tightly tied and feet are fixed to the cement floor. She sits straight on a Brown plastic chair and makes instant eye contact. Her fingers are crossed and she keeps quiet most of the time thinking deep. Black round “Pottu” (dot) is placed perfectly between her two eyebrows along with sandalwood and holy ash on top decorating her smooth forehead. It shows her strong spirituality.

I lost my father during the war. I feel sad and helpless, when I think of my beloved father. I always feel terribly lost after his death .He is my bestest friend, and I am always his pet. My heart does not allow me anytime to speak in past tense, when I talk about my father. Because I feel he is always with me~ he loves me, listens to me, cares for me, talks to me and watches me, although he is not physically near to me. But he is always dear to me” shares Thenuja Tharmeshwaran.

She lived in Vanni, North of Sri Lanka, which was formerly controlled by the Tamil rebels known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who were defeated by the Government security forces in May 2009. She got displaced during the war and stayed in the internally displaced camp in Vavuniya in Sri Lanka. Gradually she moved to Jaffna, and she currently lives there with her extended family.

I have nightmares while sleeping, because I am unable to forget my father and the sweet memories. We used to play hide and seek and snake and ladder together. These are our favourite games. I miss him so dearly.I often dream that, my father is still alive somewhere, but it is not true in reality. He is (was) such a loving and caring father, who never failed in his duties. He attended to my needs and wishes whether he had enough money or not” her voice cracks down and tears begin to pour through her both eyes endlessly. She uses her pink handkerchief with embroidery to wipe the uncontrollable tears.

She is unable to get rid of the trauma of losing her father suddenly. But she tries to attend the school regularly, pay attention to her studies and pass the exams. She rarely mixes with the rest of the kids.

My favourite subject is Tamil. I want to study hard and become a teacher. I want to make my father’s dream come true to change the lives of the people” continues Thenuja Tharmeshwaran with hope in her eyes and heart.

Friday, December 10, 2010

“Pillaiyar Perunkathai"~To Echo Glory and Eternal Bliss

Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your weight rests. It’s a miracle and the dance is a celebration of that miracle”~ Martha Washington,(1789-1797),(American First Lady~George Washington’s Wife)

Dressed up with fresh multi flower garlands, Silver umbrella,silk shawl and ceremonial attire Brass Panchchamuga Vinayagar (Five Faced Pillaiyar) parades slowly

“Pillaiyar Perunkathai” (Story of Lord Vinayagar) ends today~10th of December 2010. Devotees used to gather at Pillaiyar temples and read “Pillaiyar Perungathai” as a group.

Normally 21 days of fast is observed and special poojas are performed are performed during this period. “Gajamugasoora Samhaaram” is held at the end of the “Pillaiyar Perunkathai” at Lord Vinayayagar temples. “Gajamugasoora Samhaaram” was held at Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitty on 10th of December 2010 amidst heavy downpour.

Traditionally decorated Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitty

Brothers Muthaiah Ravichandran and Muthaiah Ranjithkumar are seen busy making flower garlands for the ceremony

Heavy downpour stopped for a while

Beautiful sculptures at another entrance of the temple

Pigeon cage at the temple

Heavy downpour at dusk

Somaskanda Ramesh Kurukkal dresses Soorapathman

Idol is being brought out for the celebration

Soorapathman is dressed up for the festival

Ride for Soorapathman in Bambalapitty

Pigeons seeking refuge between sculptures in the temple

On reverse motion long Galle Road in Bambalapitty

A curious kid at the temple

Heavyweight Soorapathman is being carried by men

Traditional musicians accompany the idol

Men carry and wait in the compound

Pigeon walks on a cold day in Bambalapitty

Traditionally dressed men carry the idol of Lord Vinayagar

Soorapathman on forward and backward position to confuse Lord Vinayagar

"Theevatti" or coconut oil torch is carried during the procession

Many sound such as roaring are being played via loud speaker while the ceremony takes place outside

An Iyappan devotee in Black attire

Soorapathman is under many masks

Unique action by men devotees~face to face fight between Lord Vinayagar and Soorapathman

Clouds gather as night calls

Rain soaked Kopuram of Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitty

Jak fruit in the temple compound

"Stay calm, be cool, hold tight,and move slowly" men devotees exchange while carrying heavy Soorapathman and Lord Vinayagar facing each other in a circle

Men devotees rock the Soorapathman

Soorapathman is being defeated

King Coconut in a Tuk Tuk in Bambalapitty

Procession in th temple compound at night

Colourful parade in the night

Devotees for the ceremony at night

Parade through camphor smoke

Men carry the heavy Lord Vinayagar and his divine vehicle Mouse at night

Night view of the Kopuram of Sri Maanikka Vinayagar temple in Bambalapitty

Tired men devotees bring the Lord Vinayagar carefully back into the temple

Pigeons peck on a rainy day in the temple compound

Lord Vinayagar takes a ride on his divine vehicle Mouse after the victory

Variety of Dhoti worn by men for the ceremony

After a long parade outside the temple

Men devotees keep rocking the decorated Lord Vinayagar on their shoulders

Beautiful home coming for the Lord Vinayagar