I miss in USA Aalthara or platform bases of peepul or other big trees, we see in temple premises, street corners or pond banks in Kerala . It is not that we don’t have big trees here; we have plenty . But the culture of worshiping trees and giving prominence, is not here. Althara is basically our cultural heritage, not West’s. You will realize their importance only when you miss those.
Seated on the safe and secluded althara, in many places, I have waited for buses, enjoying the cool wind and shade provided and have silently worshipped, with head -bow the idols of Ganapathy or Nagadevada installed there, while passing through. I have composed a Malayalam folk song, Standing before the idol under the tree opposite to Sreekanteswaram temple by my wife’s house.
The Ganapathy at the peepul tree base is my Lord,
The Ganapthy at the peepul tree base is my Way.
‘ Arasum moodu Ganapathy mama pathy
Arasum moodu Ganapathy mama gathi’
I have participated in the pooja performed at the tree base near Perinkulam pond, on the concluding day of the car festival in our village. I have sat and dreamed alone and at times with my friends below the huge tree on the bank of the Kalpthy River behind the Chathapuram temple in Kalpathy. That lovely river bank and tree base from where I get a good view of the Western Ghats was the soil where my story, ‘Kamu, my childhood friend’
The aaltharas in our country used to provide an excellent meeting ground for people, to sit under, relax, discuss issues and debate. In the olden days great religious debates and classes used to take place under the tree bases. The picture of the SatchidAnanda roopa Dakshinamoorthy facing his disciples, much younger to him in age and conveying great spiritual thatwams, silently, is a familiar imaginative sight for Sanskritham lovers.
चिद्घनाय महेशाय वटमूलनिवासिने ।
सच्चिदानन्दरूपाय दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः ॥६॥
Cid-Ghanaaya Mahe[aa-Ii]shaaya Vatta-Muula-Nivaasine |
Sac-Cid-Aananda-Ruupaaya Dakssinnaamuurtaye Namah
चित्रं वटतरोर्मूले वृद्धाः शिष्या गुरुर्युवा ।
गुरोस्तु मौनं व्याख्यानं शिष्यास्तुच्छिन्नसंशयाः ॥३
It is indeed chitram- strange to see the aged disciples seated
At the root of a banyan tree, in front of an young Guru, who is silent and that silence is his exposition of the supreme knowledge. That automatically dispels all the doubts from the minds of the disciples.
Pages and pages have been written to explain each sloka of the Dakshinamoorthy stothram by great scholars still much more remain to be said. Sankaracharya’s every hymn has inexplainable beauty and enduring essence of devotion and spiritual guidance. But, Dakshinamoorthy Ashtakam stands high and above .
The people of villages used to assemble on aalthara, discuss and decide important decisions concerning common good, under a Village elder. Collector, Thasildars, police officials etc on their transfer to a particular zone used to visit the village head first and take him into confidence.
As a social and cultural center, altharas had much importance. It served as an open theater and thanks to the divinity label attached to the aal tree, the base was kept clean. None spat chewed tobacco juice over there!
And the elevated Peetam or base itself, gives the tree and premises a status. An elevated place has a dignity of its own.
My father gave a few suggestions when I told him about my plan to construct a house:
1. Elevate the base, at least three feet above the ground level, build steps to clump up, but provide a side entry on the ground level for old people like me, which is possible as I have seen the area of your construction.
2. Provide high ceiling. When you enter your house, you should look up.
3. Provide for cross ventilation, plenty of fresh air should come in.
4. You house is facing East. Provide a ventilator above the front door so that the morning sun rays enters your hall.
The morning sun rays reaches my pooja room through the top ventilator now.
5 . Living room should be big. You should have the feeling that you are big. Others who enter your house too should have the same feeling, not only about you but about them too.
I did construct the house as per my father’s direction but we were not lucky. He didn’t live there. But I have a satisfaction that he visited my house after the construction and remarked seeing the two big halls:
‘Besh, Konthai. At a time you can feed 80/100 people.
The people of old days thought always about feeding others. That is how, today, we are not suffering for want of food and water.
Now, for the Malayalam literates, a folk song :
Aalaayal Thara venum- that is how it starts. If there is a peepul tree, it should have a base.
I add :
Yes, if there is a man, he should have a woman. That elevates his status, gives him respects and people will enjoy his hospitality and no body will venture to spit chewed tobacco juice..😄😄😄
ആലായാൽ തറ വേണം അടുത്തോരമ്പലം വേണം
ആലിന്നു ചേർന്നൊരു കുളവും വേണം (ആലായാൽ)
കുളിപ്പാനായ് കുളം വേണം കുളത്തിൽ ചെന്താമര വേണം
കുളിച്ചു ചെന്നകം പൂകാൻ ചന്ദനം വേണം (കുളിപ്പാനായ്)
പൂവായാൽ മണം വേണം പൂമാനായാൽ ഗുണം വേണം (2)
പൂമാനിനിമാർകളായാലടക്കം വേണം (പൂവായാൽ)
നാടായാൽ നൃപൻ വേണം അരികിൽ മന്ത്രിമാർ വേണം (2)
നാടിന്നു ഗുണമുള്ള പ്രജകൾ വേണം (നാടായാൽ)
യുദ്ധത്തിങ്കൽ രാമൻ നല്ലൂ കുലത്തിങ്കൽ സീത നല്ലൂ (2)
ഊണുറക്കമുപേക്ഷിപ്പാൻ ലക്ഷ്മണൻ നല്ലൂ (യുദ്ധത്തിങ്കൽ)
പടയ്ക്കു ഭരതൻ നല്ലൂ പറവാൻ പൈങ്കിളി നല്ലൂ (2)
പറക്കുന്ന പക്ഷികളിൽ ഗരുഢൻ നല്ലൂ (യുദ്ധത്തിങ്കൽ)
മങ്ങാട്ടച്ചനു ഞായം നല്ലൂ മംഗല്യത്തിനു സ്വർണ്ണേ നല്ലൂ (2)
മങ്ങാതിരിപ്പാൻ നിലവിളക്കു നല്ലൂ (മങ്ങാട്ടച്ചനു)
പാലിയത്തച്ചനുപായം നല്ലൂ പാലിൽ പഞ്ചസാര നല്ലൂ (2)
പാരാതിരിപ്പാൻ ചില പദവി നല്ലൂ
Enjoy the Altharas in your place.