The Call of the Cauvery
Continue following the course of the cauvery river
Nearby is the lovely musical township of Thiruvaiyru where the
music of Thyagraja gave unstinted worship to the river goddess.
Few are aware that this peerless composer was a nineteenth century
figure and sang in Telugu so well that this language superseded
Tamil as the court tongue. But never underestimate the sheer endurance
of Tamil of all Indian languages. This is the oldest and still
living unlike Sanskrit which for all its seniority died from elitism.
Not so the musical Tamil.
The ignorance of the North Indian of the
Southern facts of life explains why Hindi can never compete. You
do not give up an ancient, devotional and literary language in
favour of modern unmusical upstart! Even the suggestion of the
South ever adopting Hindi is an insult only the boorish Northerner
could be unaware of.
In cultural norms too the Tamil ideal differs
in many respects from that of the northern stereotype. Nowhere
is this more obvious than in the heroine of the southern ancient
epic poem The Jewelled Anklet. Kannagi unlike the simpering ideal
of womanhood in the north takes violent revenge against the injustice
inflicted on her husband. Unlike Sita who meekly accepts the
fate meted by male chauvinists, Kannagi rages and wreaks revenge.
Why this epic germane to the Cauvery is because the story is set
on its banks at the ancient port town on Kaveripoompattinam. Known
to the Romans whose coins were once used as legal tender (just
as Roman soldiers were used on sentry duty at the gates of some
south Indian cities) this resort was referred to as "Cauvery
emporium" to indicate the wealth of its trade.
Indeed the Roman senate complained bitterly that the gold of the empire was
being drained by the love of luxury originating from the
Coromandal coast -- exotic animals, spices and luxury textiles.
Thus the artistic skills f the "Cholas were a contributory
factor to the fall of Rome!
Walk along the Coromandal coast and you get an extraordinary feel
of the Tamil outward-bound instinct, so different from the North
Indian's fear of kala pani. In the south of the delta is the Portuguese
inspired shrine of the Virgin at Velankani now saying mass in
Higher along the coast is Nagore a great centre of Muslim
mysticism. Then comes Karaikal which was once a French port and
the road signs still imitate the blue enamel plaques of Paris.
At Tarangambade, formerly Tranquebar, you find Dutch and Danish
influences -- all part of this sea going culture that made the Cholans
the most adventurous of all early Indians.
Poompuhar the site of the great emporium and epic of the ancient
Tamils is the climax not just to the culture of the Coromandal
coast but to the voyage of the Cauvery. Here she meets the sea
and a statue of the goddess appears to rule the waves. It is however
The image of the Cauvery is a gentler aspect of the feminine
where their daughter of the gods and the wife of the Rishi Agustyamuni
is shown emptying her water pot. She chose to come in the form
of a river goddess so she could bless more people and the experience
of the whole course of the river is one of physical bounty.
at her source in Coorg and debouchment at Poompuhar the river is
bountiful. However squabbles over water-sharing have turned this
asset of the south into an ugly confrontation between two neighbouring
states. Energy is frittered away in tribunals that cannot increase
the finite amount of water available in any given river.
No serious planning has been done it seems since the Cholan king, Karaikal
nearly 2000 years ago lined 100 kilometres of the delta streams to
foster better harvests. Anicut is further evidence of ancient
care for water management and medieval works of a smaller kind
can be found in Karnataka.
To see the descendants of the Cholas on the shore lashing their
katamarans for the daily catch is a splendid throwback to the
glory of one Indian dynasty that welcomed challenge and did not
see the real world as maya.
Incidentally it was at Srirangam
that Ramanuja modified Shankarcharya's doctrine of maya to allow
the world affirming sensibilities of the Tamil to celebrate nature
as a real object of worship instead of as a nebulous spirit.
I was particularly happy to see the fishermen playing out their
long red nets for this very scene is captured in early Tamil literature.
The bustle, expertise and fearlessness of the Coromandal sailor
on his unsinkable craft is something to see.
The poetry of some
2000 years still comes alive where the Cauvery meets the sea, and
then the reason why the Tamil takes such pride in his language
hits you. It has outlived both Kalidas's description of the Yamuna
joining the Ganga at Prayag and Homeric Greek's homage to the
Photographs courtesy Government of India Tourism and Karnataka Tourism web sites
The Call of the Cauvery - Page 1