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‘Agnimeelea purohitham—“

Years ago, Sri. Kailasa vaadyar from Perinkulam, came to Hyderabad to participate in a Maharudra Yagnam . I was to receive him at the Secunderabad railway station but couldn’t reach there, well in time. That was his first visit and  he was not conversant with the local dialects or English. He didn’t even have my address.  I was extremely worried and dashed into the station, expecting to see him pacing up and down the platform with anxiety and anger.

I was wrong. Vaadyar, settled calmly in a corner, was enjoying his betel- leaf and nut mix. He didn’t even ask me why I was late. Moving his right hand down, he signaled me to sit down along with him and after enjoying one more course of betel leaves, he moved his hand up to signal me to get up and  lead him out.  He was as cool as a cucumber;  Many others placed in similar situation would have become panicky .While going home, I apologized for the delay in reaching the station and asked him how he could keep his cool after landing in an unfamiliar place, for the first time.

“ You  would  definitely  come, I know’’ he replied.

Many of our village folks had that certainty on their hope. “Guruvayoorppan  will save him” An old man remarked  sitting near the bed of his close relative, who was at the exit gate of his journey. “ He is struggling for his breath;  doctors are preparing to write his death certificate . How will he survive?” I wondered. Believe me, the patient did survive. It could be an isolated incident. It may not happen every time and I have no explanation to offer how it happened in that case.But I believe that when devastated by the fury of  floods, famine or epidemics  and  no visible solace available,  it was their belief and unflinching trust in an invisible agency that helped my forefathers to live through.

Ambi left his village unannounced long ago, leaving his father, a widower with none to look after him, alone. No one knew about his  whereabouts and therefore , when his father passed away, with none to mourn his death, the villagers  carried  the body to the  cremation ground, on the  river shore . ‘‘Ambi will definitely come. He is the only son and very much attached to his father”  remarked neighbor  Vembu Ayyan  who was in the procession. “Have  you gone out of your senses? He disappeared long ago and who knows whether he is dead or alive?” Others chided him. But, Lo and behold!  Ambi  did come to lit his father’s  pyre!  Driven by what we call ‘sixth sense’, he returned to his village to meet his aged  father and apologize  for his misbehavior. While crossing the river to home, he enquired  someone he met , whose body were the villagers carrying to the burning ghat. That person, incidentally, recognized Ambi.  “Ninte atchanteyada, madaya. Poi koluthu- go and perform the last rites- it is your father’s body.’’  He replied Of course, the prodigal son couldn’t apologize; but he could perform a bigger task .

There is no scientific explanation for these happenings. But you know,  as Osho says “science is not the be-all and end-all of life”  .

Let me come back to our Kailasa  vaadyar. I used to recall that completely composed posture and confident face of Vaadyar on the Secunderabd station platform,  when many of my professionally qualified friends, experts in their fields, miserably failed, while facing crisis in their life.  People like vaadyar  and  my father, with no formal education or  management training, had a unique way of facing challenges of life.. Once they arrive at a premises where a wedding or last rites are to be performed or a field where there is a lot of commotion or devastation, they instantly occupy the central stage, lead the people and handle the opposition cleverly and solve the problem amicably. How did they acquire this skill? Probably, from the tough path they had to walk through and from the rough weather they had to face. Children brought up under hardship, in many cases, are better equipped to face the life, when compared to those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Kailasa vadhayar’s father Krishna vadhayar was a lover of Kathakali, like my father. He used to come all the way from Perinkulam to Olavakkode, by walk, to watch the dance drama at Kallaikkulangara , during the Sivarathry festival. I remember him as an old man of sixty, perhaps seventy, full of energy and enthusiasm of a teenager and it was a pleasure to watch his face and body movements when he watches kathakali or talks on an interesting subject. Along with my father he used to sit at the front row, very close to the big ceremonial brass lamp-kuthuvillakku and enjoy  every action and each musical note. He used to bring with him, a bundle of new clothes, kasavumundu- dothies with bright  borders to be gifted to the best performers.  Guru Kunju kurup , Vazenghada Kunju Nair, Venkitchen baghavather  and other masters used to receive the gifts from Vaadyar and take his blessings.

Ramu vaadyar was another learned  purohit in our village. I used to watch with respect  the beauty of his performing pooja at our Siva temple. There were a few more learned pundits engaged in full time religious activities, like Thirvilwamalai vaadyar  but I had no acquaintance  with them.

Kalpathy Chuppammani vaadyar was another memorable purohit. He was our family vaadyar.  With no mechanical device to pollute his metallic voice, loudly and clearly, he used to recite the annul Mahasankalpa mantram , facing the hundreds of villagers assembled on the flight of steps descending from the temple backyard .The overflowing river below and the majestic multi-branched tree above, appeared to  repeat the mantras reverently  along with others. Like the car festival, it was another unforgettable sight. The rhythmic  recitation of vaadyar still reverberates in my ears.

The purohits, in those days, had no cell phones to ring and disturb them while performing poojas and homams. The bridegroom had no reason to worry that vaadyar’s  “mangalyam thanthuna—”  could stop in between and he had to hold on to  tie the sacred yellow thread around the bride’s neck till the conversation was over. They had no golden bracelets, rings or chain to announce their riches and their assets was limited to the knowledge they acquired from their teachers. They had no wrist watch to alert them about the next engagement and rush through the one already on hand. They didn’t even have a shirt to cover their body or a pair of sandals, to protect their soles. Their worldly possession was limited to a few pairs of  dothies , an umbrella and a fan made of palm leaf, all received along with ‘dakshinas’.  Though their remuneration mostly was  part of a rupee along with some rice,  coconuts, banana and betel leaves, they lived a rich life and received the respect of the society. They were simple and straight forward, sincere and  devoted  They kept their high and walked; they slept well.

As a child, I used to visit my village along with my father, though occasionally. I used to enjoy the bus journey, fresh wind from the paddy fields on both sides gushing through your face, and the subsequent walk through the narrow road in between the paddy fields. The village with two rows of identical houses with a big pond at the entrance itself, was an attraction.

One middle aged lady, wife of a vaadyar used to like me immensely probably because she had no male child . She was always found cheerful and pleasant looking but on a particular day she looked dull, when I went to meet her during my college vacation.

‘You could smile more” I pleaded, hoping to bring back the usual brightness on her face.

She brought from the kitchen  a bamboo basket used for storing rice  and placed it before me. There were hardly any grains in that.

“Come on! Let us smile together” she patted my back flashing a smile and breaking into laughter. I looked at her face. Her eyes were shining. The old smile had returned on her lips. That was what I longed for.

But, I could not smile. I WEPT.


  1. Subject: Sulaiman as well as the old memories of Perinkulam
    My dear mama,
    After a long time I read another of your touching articles. It is written ever so beautifully.———
    –His wife ——- was said to be the daughter of a rich family who was taken to school in a horse-cart..
    After giving birth to 5 daughters and 2 sons (with 3 more who did not survive in between) they were reduced to the same state as you mentioned at the end of the story…
    The veshti that thatha got was sewn as paavadai, blouse, dawni, komanam, and split to make mundu ..
    The maththan, Vazhakkay and rice was brought home reverently to form the meals in various combinations for a growing and often hungry family…
    Your story brought back memories that my dad shared with me of those days…
    when they used to wait patiently for their share of dosai to arrive at their elay… hot from the dosha-kallu…
    and how “thottukartukku” vegetables where really for touching and moving
    from one end of the elay to the other… as the rice/ molgootal/ rasam/ moru… were eaten… to be eaten at last
    with the last morsel of moru chaadam… and relished.
    Those memories make me a very good cook and make me impart the values of
    * not wasting food
    * and taking only what one can consume on the plate…
    * cooking whatever dish I make with total passion and mindful of taste and health.
    * and serving the hungry with a smile and total joy.
    I dont think I have typed such a loooong mail in ages. There is something in your articles, brings out the
    writing bug in me 🙂
    Take care and wishing you lots of fruitful writing years… hope you are having an enjoyable time wherever you are…

  2. Dear Siva,
    Am 72, and assume u r much younger to me in age, and hence no prefix. If not excuse me.
    I like the paras ”You could smile more” I told her, hoping to bring back the usual
    brightness on her face.
    She brought from the kitchen a bamboo basket used for storing rice
    and placed it before me. There were hardly any grains in that.
    “Come on! Let us smile together” she patted my back flashing a smile
    and breaking into laughter. I looked at her face. Her eyes were
    shining. The old smile had returned on her lips. That was what I
    longed for.
    But I could not smile. I WEPT.””
    I am touched by her love and care, and simplicity and self respect. I wish we have many ladies and men like her. But they are rare species.
    R Sahasranaman [Naman]

  3. Dear Sri Siva,
    That’s quite heart touching one.
    With regards,

  4. Dear Siva,
    Very lovable and heart touching anecdotes-
    I am really moved by the simplicity of our
    older generation

  5. Dear Sir,
    Extremely nice one. It made me recall my short visit to Kalpathy for a week during my childhood days. Especially the kind of attitude by elders in a town towards life and social harmony. And I am impressed of your values on food and I will ensure that I continue doing so.
    Best regards,

  6. “ He is struggling for his breath; doctors are preparing to right his death certificate . How will he survive?”
    It requires a bit of proof-reading/editing. I am sure it should be …write his death certificate…. and not the way it has been quoted above!

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