Pondicherry Walls 2: Public Service

Here are three finds from today’s ramble through the city:

Apparently Cyclops, Sweet Toof, Tek 33, Rowdy, and Gold Pegg are anti-smoking:

The place reeked of urine:

I just liked this one:

Ok, next week I promise to post a picture of the coolest sink in the Subcontinent.



Pondicherry Walls 1

Pondicherry has some great street art.  Hopefully this will be a regular feature here:

Here is my favorite:

A rather intense mural about war and violence:


Here’s the whole thing:


Arikamedu is an archaeological site on the southern side of Pondicherry.  According to excavations carried out in the area, the mound (Arikamedu means “eroding mound”) was the site of a major trading center linked to Rome in the first centuries of the Common Era.

On rented bikes Vimal, Vipra, and I headed out to the site, which I had heard about, but never seen.  It is not easy to find.  After a few false starts a narrow road led to a chain link fence separating one jungle thicket from another.  We met a man at the entry, intently looking at the dirt path, stooping every so often to pick something up and deposit it in a paper packet.  We asked if he could show us around.  No problem.

First sight, the ruins of a late seventeenth-century French mission

We continued on through the brush to the edge of the estuary.  Blue and red fishing boats were moored to the mangroves and men stood fishing waist-deep in the water.  Here there was a marked mound mound which we climbed up.  This was apparently the boundary of the ancient port city.

Out guide, attentive as ever, leaned over to pick up bits of pottery that the ground was covered in.  Roman, he said to one piece, red on one side, grey on the other.  How about this one, I asked.  He dismissed it, and threw it back on the ground.

The farther we walked, the more times our guide stooped to pick up small bits from the dirt.  He showed us—tiny beads in all different colors, most so small as to be almost invisible.  Once our eyes became accustomed to picking them out from the soil, it was as if the ground were teeming with these tiny treasures.  Roman?  The guide gave no answer.  This one patch of the jungle, looking like any other if not for the demarcating fence hid so much.  The adventure was in looking.

My finds:

Please visit Suresh Pillai’s blog, a one man mission to gain protection and recognition for this site:


If you’re interested, more can also be found here:



And a study on the implications of the site on understanding trade relations in the first centuries of the common era from Duke University:


Tirumala 2: Darshan

Darshan means to see and be seen by the deity.  Tirumala is the home of Viṣṇu Veṅkaṭeśvara, and one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in India.  Since cameras are not allowed within the temple, please bear with me when I try to write about it.

It is all very well organized.  You get into one of the various lines.  You wait.  You get into another line.  You buy laddus.  You wait, you are pushed along into the Lord Veṅkateśvara’s presence.

My first stop was in a sort of holding cell, crammed full of people waiting for the doors to open so that they could continue to the winding line that would eventually take them into the temple.  People sat on the floors waiting in groups, some standing up, some laying down—sometimes on total strangers.  A spicy pongal was served by volunteers.  I was hungry but couldn’t bear to wait in a line within a line.  Staring at the gate and the temple complex beyond, the crowd gave a few fitful false starts. “Govinda!”

Finally after an indeterminate time the gates creak forward and the crowd surges, yelling “Govinda!” as they make their way into yet another line.  Metal railings on each side attempt to keep the crowd orderly, while families with young children with eyes rimmed with kohl and excited pilgrims from inch forward into any open space.  The line divides into stations selling tickets for laddus.  20 rupees for two.  Obligatory.

“Govinda!”  Back into a line snaking forward molded by the metal railings, first running down a set of stairs, and now pressed close to a stone wall covered in worn Tamil inscriptions. Closer.  People pressing at my back, I push back, perhaps a bit too hard, wanting some few millimeters of personal space.  I turn around to see a young boy laughing at me.  I’ve made it through the doors now, into the first sanctuary.  The line (or the Q as it is called in all of the official signs) takes a sharp turn left, past columns with carvings barely visible under thick coats of paint.  A family of cats watch the throng from above.  Closer.  Perhaps this is the feeling walking a labyrinth is supposed to give, not cool contemplation, but a frenzied expectation.

First courtyard.  Krishnadevaraya and his wife and inexplicably Todar Mal, his wife, and mother look on, towering statues in glass cases.  The line becomes a mass, stopped by a velvet rope blocking access into the inner courtyard, the great golden roof shining through the next gate.  The rope gives way and the crowd surges forward, and I am pulled along, towards the center of the temple towards darshan with Lord Veṅkateśhvara himself.  After waiting in line for hours, this part seems so fast

After being spat out of the temple, back into the inner courtyard, back into the courtyard and the crowd, no longer waiting in line but milling about, pointing out various images to one other and to me (“Look, this is Veṅkateśvara’s form as pure space…”), I am pushed out toward the exit, barefoot across a wet floor covered with remnants of prasad.  I take a handful of sugar from a young priest.  A friend, who I had become separated from before going in for darshan, asked how was it?  Did you see Lord Veṅkateśvara?

I don’t know.  Inside the temple the crowd had become more agitated, shouting “Govinda! Govinda!” those in the front trying to take a moment to see the God, those in the back trying to push forward, to have their own moment in his sight.  I remember.  I am pushed forward, my hands held high above my head, as much in an attempt to make myself as thin as possible within the surge of devotees as a gesture of adoration.  I am close.  The wave pushes me to the center.  There it all happens in a second.  People shouting the God’s name.  A man next to me, desperately wanting another second in the Veṅkaṭeśvara’s sight, hits a guard, and turns away, not caring about the counterblow soon to come, instead turning his face toward the God.  All is a single pointed chaos.  I see, for a moment, down a hallway, within a dully glowing golden frame floating in the indeterminate distance a form, a flickering darkness, darker than that which surrounds.  That one moment of sight, before being pushed, an amnesiac into the sunlight.

The temple from the outside

A Kashmiri Solomon

Lha chen Rgyal bu Rin chen ruled Kashmir from 1320  to 1323.  A Ladakhi by birth, his reign is recounted in the Rājataraṅgiṇī of Jonarāja.  I translate below a selection highlighting his justice (Jonarāja gives other bizarre examples, but perhaps that is for a later post).  The translation is perhaps a mite too free for some Sanskritists, so I put the original below.  Enjoy!

In a wood two mares each gave birth to two identical foals.  The mares belonged to two men living in Vānavāla.  One of the two had her offspring killed by a lion in the forest and began to treat the other foal as her own out of filial affection arising from the similarity of the two foals.  The owners of the horses, each exclaiming “He is mine! He is mine!,” were unable to decide and went to the king in a state of agitation.  Hearing their dispute, the ruler then ordered his men to bring the two mares and the foal into his presence.  When the foal because of its youth playfully ran away, both its mother and its foster mother lovingly yearned for it and neighed.  With the court stunned into silence and the two disputants prepared to fight,  he took the two mares along with the foal by boat into the middle of the Vitastā River.  The wise ruler had the foal thrown overboard.  His mother immediately jumped in after it, while the other neighed most bitterly.  When the king made judgments on controversial issues like so, his subjects thought that the golden age had again come.

vānavāle nivasator asuvātāṃ kayoś cana  |

aśve kiśorakau tulyau kasminn api vanāntare  ||

siṃhasaṃjñāpitāpatyā tayor anyantarā vane  |

aśvasādṛśyavātsalyād apuputrīyiṣat param  ||

madīyo ’yaṃ madhīyo ’yam ity asañjātaniścayau  |

vaḍavādhipatī kṣobhād rājāntikaṃ agacchatām  ||

sa vivādaṃ tayoḥ śrutvā svāntikaṃ svīyamānuṣaiḥ  |

vaḍave ca kiśoraṃ ca rājābhyānāyayat tataḥ  ||

tasmin kiśorake bālyād dūraṃ dhāvati līlayā  |

mātā dhātrī ca nitarām asnihyac cāpy aheṣayat  ||

sabhyeṣv aneḍamūkeṣu vādinoḥ kṣobhasajjayoḥ  |

aśve nāvānayan madhye vitastaṃ sakiśorake  ||

bālāśvaṃ pātitaṃ nadyām nāvo rājñā mahādhiyā  |

haṭhād anvapatan mātā parā param aheṣayat  ||

saṃdigdhavyavahārāṇām evaṃ niścayakartari  |

tasmin rājñi jano’maṃsta kṛtaṃ yugam ivāgatam  ||

Jonarājasya Rājataraṅgiṇī, 185-192.

Oh, and for the Sanskritists, isn’t apuputrīyiṣat an awesome verb?