The shrines at every street turning.
The fifty square feet kolams.
It looks beautiful.

The yelai sappaadu and the million varieties of everything.
The nongu and manga inji.
It tastes exotic.

The aroma of freshly ground coffee.
The incense and malligai.
It smells heavenly.

The taalams of the kutcheri audience.
The rustling of the Palm trees.
It sounds familiar.

The waves rushing towards me.
The sea breeze and the sand.
It feels like home.


“Do you like Delhi or Chennai?” My cousin’s grandfather asked me in a soft childlike voice.

“Both!” I replied.

“No, no, no. I won’t accept that. You have to choose!”

“That’s like asking a child to pick a parent!” I protested.

“Of course! And you must pick one” he replied with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“Well, I prefer Delhi. But Chennai comes a very very close second.”

He smiled. It was impossible to tell if he was happy with my answer or not.

No matter where you are, or where you’re headed, wishing you a year in the company of friends and family.

As for us, we spent the New Year in both cities 🙂


yelai sappaadu/ilai sappadu: literally, food on a leaf. A traditional platter typically served on a plantain leaf. For a more humorous explanation, check out this video.

nongu: Asian palmyra palm, toddy palm, or sugar palm (in science: Borassus flabellifer)

manga inji: literally, mango ginger.  A variety of ginger that tastes like raw mango (in science: Curcuma amada)

malligai: Jasmine. Ladies adorn their hair with garlands made of Jasmine

taalam: beats of a musical composition

kutcheri: musical performance, typically used with reference to Carnatic classical music. Audiences across Tamil Nadu can often be seen tapping their hands to the rhythm of the musical piece.


The magic of Margazhi

Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple
Stone floor of Chidambaram Temple

While I was in Chennai last year, I received a message from a friend of mine:

‘So are you coming tomorrow?’
‘I’m in Chennai right now’, I replied.
‘Ooh Margazhi. Have fun!’

I didn’t understand what she meant by that. I had visited Chennai during the winter months a few times in the past, but apart from the pleasant weather, I couldn’t think of any other reason to enjoy. I soon found out.

The Tamil month of Margazhi* is considered highly auspicious. For those who are religiously inclined, Margazhi is a month of lots of pujas — temples open much earlier and devotees visit in large numbers for the special pujas. But that was not what my friend, an ardent follower of performing arts, meant.

Margazhi is a cultural extravaganza, a haven for fans of the classical arts, with hundreds of Kutcheries — music and dance concerts — organised throughout the month. Margazhi is, in fact, now synonymous with the music festival.

Chennai takes its music seriously, and audiences don’t clap unless the performance is very good. I found that out on our last day in Chennai, when we spent close to six hours in one auditorium, listening to back-to-back musical performances (for free)!

Even those not interested in the arts — and there are probably few of those in Chennai — cannot escape the Margazhi season, for the art overflows on the streets. Take a walk in the interior parts of residential areas. The Kolams that are drawn at door-steps of every house are much bigger and colourful. The kolams at the temples, though, were my favourite. These are from the Chidambaram temple:

And if you are not interested in art, well then there’s always the sea. The cool sea breeze, on the cool sand is the perfect place to relax.

Yes, Margazhi is the time to visit Tamil Nadu.

*Margazhi begins in mid-December and ends in mid-January. The Corresponding Sanskrit name is Mārgaṣīrá¹£a. After the end of this month, the harvest festival of Pongal (which falls on Makar Sankranti) is celebrated. The festival marks beginning of Uttarayan – the beginning of the sun’s ascent, signifying the beginning of the end of winter.

The images in this post are my entries for this week’s Photo Challenge. To see more symmetrical images, check out the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.


Carrot Cake and Classical Concert

I had written this on the 19th, but I didn’t feel like publishing it. A little encouragement made me publish it now. So it’s a belated happy birthday to pati and me 🙂

It would have been just another ordinary Sunday, had athai *, (my aunt) not decided to pay us a visit without notice.

It’s always a pleasure to welcome family members, and indeed any one else for that matter. Every time we have visitors, there is such variety of conversation. There are times I wish I had secretly recorded everything that was said, every expression that was made. It would provide plenty of fodder for a blog post!

Athai brought with her, carrot cake from a famous bakery, which happened to be en route. While it is customary to bring something in hand, carrot cake was quite unusual. I had never eaten carrot cake before, and was even apprehensive about it, but nevertheless, it looked inviting. She also brought a present for me (she always likes to shower me with gifts :)), and lots’ of stories of her recent travels.

Over lunch, she told us about the music festival that she visited. Called the Thyagaraja Aradhana, it is held every year around January and February. Saint Thyagaraja is one of the three great composers of classical music in south India. He led a very simple life and travelled to temples singing devotional songs.

Athai told us that the music festival was organised on the banks of the river Kaveri in a village called Thiruvaiyaru. There were no chairs and everyone sat on the ground. To maintain the sanctity of the place, people removed their footwear. The musicians arranged for their own travel and accommodation. No one is ever paid to perform. She told us that anyone with reasonable skills could go and perform there, and for serious musicians, singing at the festival was like a pilgrimage.

Since music is an integral part of life in Tamil Nadu, people are assumed to have atleast some knowledge of classical music. Everone is given a copy of the Saint’s most famous compositions called ‘Pancharatna Krithi‘ **. And so, along with fifteen thousand people, on the banks of the river, athai sang the kritis.

Athai told us that during the festival, the doors of all the villagers were open to everyone. Anyone could enter a house and would be served a hot lunch, complete with vadai and payasam ***, which are normally prepared only on festivals and special occasions.

She said it was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t help envying her. I wished I too knew how to sing the compositions, and that I could one day go there myself and sing in unison with so many people, especially because the village lies in the district where my ancestors lived.

Our conversation then moved towards the food that we were enjoying and how it was my pati’s favourite dish. We then began sharing some lovely memories of her. And then it struck me… It was the 19th of February – Pati’s birthday. The mood at the dining table changed. Here we were, eating a dish that pati loved, and there was delicious cake waiting to be devoured!

The extraordinary Sunday, became even more special.

* athai – father’s sister

** pancharatna kriti is a collection of five musical compositions
pancha – five ;
ratna – gems ;
kriti – composition

*** vadai – a salty fried snack / side dish / appetizer / breakfast
payasam – a sweet dish made with milk (a.k.a kheer)