57. Colonialism Continues

@Karaikal, Pondicherry, India.

This former French colony or a part of what they established in one end of their colonial empire, also known as The French Riviera of the East, also mentioned as La Côte d’Azur de l’Est by them, which consisted of four small unconnected areas of union territories in different parts of South India; Puducherry or Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam on the Bay of Bengal coast and Mahé on the coast of Arabian Sea. Puducherry and Karaikal are the larger and the more visited ones and are both enclaves of the state of Tamil Nadu. Yanam and Mahé are enclaves of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively, with the latter getting more importance these days. Even as I did visit Karaikal during my journey to Velankanni, it is not comparable to my journey to Pondicherry, as the former is kind of a pilgrim’s progress; a progress from this world to another part of this world and not to any other world or dimension. It is not to be compared with the former Portuguese colony, Goa though; not just because it is a state compared to this being just a part of Pondicherry which is a Union Territory; differences are so many, as Karaikal, just like Puducherry is an entirely different identity with a mixture of English, French and Tamil at an extent to making it a place of mixed life and also of more peace compared to the rest. Thanks to Mahe and Yanam, Malayalam and Telugu will also have it’s influence on this Union Territory, no matter how much the distance is, between them.

Being at a French colony was always good for a change, as there was more chance of being at a British colony in India than any other; but Britain was a place I had visited already, along with a good number of its buildings, churches and monuments all around India; the Spanish never really came and made an impact anywhere near India and the Dutch lost their chance so early, thanks to the great king of Travancore, Marthanda Varma and his Diwan who saved not only Kerala, but also the whole of India from a Dutch rule which would have caused a further battle of supremacy in India between the colonial powers and many more unholy alliances would have come alive out of nowhere and the subcontinent would have been separated and devastated forever. That would have also left us with another Germanic language instead of the current one; something which would have been of less use in this continent of variety and diversity; being multilingual would have been another thing, bigger and further difficult. With the Portuguese influence also restricted to Goa, Daman and Diu as well as Fort Cochin, the French influence had been more significant even as it is restricted to even a lesser area, thanks to these enclaves and all that influence which stays alive in these areas, looking to be different with the good effects.

One would have to travel very far to see something of a Spanish influence, but the trip was more than about being with that influence; it was surely spiritual, religious and intellectual as one would see it; that pilgrim’s progress from Velankanni to Karaikal; then to Thanjavur and Thiruchirappalli. The pilgrim’s progress was steady; much steadier than that of the literature and history student; the two-in-one person with the spiritual ecstasy already crept into the third spot, a union territory of the brain and the heart. There was no Vanity Fair though; and John Bunyan would complain if he had the opportunity, as there were places which came close to it, but none of them in Karaikal. There was surely no Wicket-gate; but who knows if some of those great buildings of God symbolized it and it wasn’t readily visible to the eyes. Slough of Despond and the River of Death might have had more of a presence there, but in a much weaker way than what Bunyan would have imagined for his everyman characters. The Doubting Castle would have been many things and the Delectable Mountains proved their absence. The Valley of Shadow of Death and the Valley of Humiliation would wait, creating an opportunity for another progress which the pilgrim is to make; meeting Faithful, Hopeful, Mercy, Talkative, Ignorance, Evangelist and all those people Bunyan had planned.

We know the indirect effects of the Seven Years War as well as the Hundred Years War in this part of the world even as the wars were fought mainly at the European mainlands. Just like the World Wars crossing the Atlantic ocean and reaching the United States of America in no time, these wars had such a huge effect on the British and the French Empires of India and it is a miracle that most of their colonial buildings of a long historical past still stays with the heads held high. As the Carnatic Wars used to run wild on the Indian subcontinent and the conflicts involving numerous independent rulers and their vassals on a fiersome struggle for succession and territory reached its peak with the military struggle between the French East India Company and the British East India Company which looked almost eternal with an end which was never to be. With the British East India Company establishing its dominance among all the European trading companies within India and the French trading company being pushed to a corner which was mainly Pondicherry, these wars did end and it at least saved those monuments; the contributions of the French architecture to India along with those of Britain. The British trading company’s dominance eventually led to control of India by the United Kingdom and the establishment of the British Raj though.

As we go through the fall of Dupleix and the rise of Robert Clive through that history which was written by the people of different lands across different water bodies, the geographical and cultural divergence in the small French India making the French administration weak in keeping their hold these colonies; here we slowly change our view to the tourist attractions of the area. The church of Our Lady of Angels is a beautiful creation of European architecture. The architectural beauty of French culture which was already visited at Puducherry, continued here and every year on 15th August every year has that big celebration of Virgin Mary’s Ascension into heaven. With its wonderful decorative marble altar and the beautiful stained glass windows and having that impressive look of colonial glory with its tall tower, it is the tallest landmark of the town and it is that symbol of spirituality combined with awesome architecture. There can be also seen a number of temples around the area. Just like Puducherry, the beaches of Karaikal is also a good experience, but not that much as its bigger partner in the union territory. The facilities of boating would further add to the interest of tourists.

Karaikal would impress less than Puducherry which had been less of an influence compared to Goa with the exception of that spiritual empowerment. The French flavour would be felt at a lower level compared to Puducherry too. But its proximity to Velankanni, which is less than thirty kilometres from the place, adds to its chance of being visited. A Muslim Pilgrim Centre, is also located about fifteen kilometres south of Karaikal, at Nagore. Along with so many temples not too far away from there, and many shrines of all religions around, what is this if not a pilgrim’s progress from this world to that which is to come? What is this but not an allegory? That every man without or not anywhere near his humour, that true pilgrim who has come to get rid of his burden of sins which troubled him all his life and kept him from repenting and turning to God, after leaving his pride and vanity at home would have to gain that deliverance somewhere near this place. He might be able to go to many other places, but whatever is around Karaikal also gives him that chance; that opportunity which is not to repeat every other day, how much of a survivor of faith one is; the faith, hope and belief factors are to lead when they can; later the rest has to arise by their own.

Diving out —>



56. Religious Frontier

@Kuravilangad, Kerala, India.

It should have been more than one decade since I passed through the town for the first time; for my visits to Kuravilangad might be as old and frequent as my journeys to Kothamangalam and Perumbavoor towns, unless it is slightly less. For this town situated about twenty kilometers from Kottayam, my number of visits should be kept in its silent, invisible database, in case it happens to have that big a database management system which is accurate enough to make Zeus repair his thunderbolt machinery due to its own lack of accuracy. Kottayam district is that second most visited area for me, following the Ernakulam district and preceding Trichur, Idukki and Aleppey. I am no Hermes to be visiting all these places in frequent intervals, but for Kuravilangad and to an extent Kottayam as a whole, there have been enough visits; as it is that region which looks more blessed by Demeter than Mother Earth’s favourite place somewhere near those lakes and woods, which gave Robert Frost that idea to stop and continue, realizing the universal truth about the existance of duties and the presence of ambitions, along with the realization of lack of time to stop and enjoy something which rises the level of aesthetics to such an extent that even Appollo and Athena would find difficult to explain even after watching Aphrodite so many times and attesting.

Constantine the Great, who had a significant and upto an extent, extremely magnificient religious experience following his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D against his powerful rival, and who later became a patron and follower of Christianity was late in his conversion and transformation considering how old the Kuravilangad church happens to be. Before he changed the Roman Empire from pagan to Christian and shifted his capital to that new Christian centre of learning which would later inspire the Renaissance in Florence and further Europe; then called Constantinople and now Istanbul, there was this church in Kerala; even before the Armenian Empire became Christian to become the first nation to declare Christianity as state religion, there existed this place of worship. Neither Constantine the Great or Tiridates III the Great would have been aware of it though; The Church of Holy Wisdom of God would come quite late and would just end up being Hagia Sophia, while Saint Mary’s Forane Church at Kuravilangad would remain the same in essence and would only get renovated enough to get better and still contain that spirit; not in a lesser manner, but with that devotion which would get stronger as years come with the seasons of pilgrimage effecting that cycle of joy and selfless worship.

Both Constantine and Tiridates should have been busy enough with their own empires, that they might not have had the time to explore for more of what was outside their nations and surely a place which is so far away. All roads should have still lead to Rome, and not the other way around; and in the case of Constantinople, one can’t be that sure considering it as a newer place of glory which had just arisen. Rome had its own battle in itself and also from the outside, while Armenia was not located at that good a location to establish a trade route to this side and therefore they are to be forgiven for that ignorance. Still, nothing would have been parallel to being established as the state religion of the mighty Roman Empire and that significance would be another story. There wouldn’t be any Constantinian Shift in this part of the world; it would be gradual and it would be purely spiritual and religious, not affected by anything political, social or economic; not at all of any financial character or something of material gain in the realm of unreality, the mortal world would be clearly embedded in advance, into that stage of immortality which is to arrive with all its glory.

Whatever huge church buildings might have been built in this world, mostly in Europe with the royal patronage and later in the Americas by the colonizers, blessed is this land in the centre of the state of Kerala and the South of India, as Mother Mary’s first appearance in the world, is believed to be at Kuravilangad, something which is to be noted down in golden letters. It is an event of that divinity which blesses the whole subcontinent. Our Lady appeared to a few children at Kuravilangad, who were tending their flock in the bushes and asked them to build a church at the place from where a miraculous perpetual spring came out, something which exists even today right behind the current church structure. The children reported the events to the elders and a church was built at the location, something which hallowed the grounf further with that spiritual honour which extended its arms towards unlimited perfection, not of this world, but of the other dimension of our Lord. The church has a very old bell, glorified with inscriptions and a model of a ship made from wood. The strange thing would be that it is still not that popular a pilgrim destination in the world, and even in India or Kerala, it is slightly less in fame.

One or two of my friends called Kuravilangad, the Vatican of India and the Rome of Kerala; this name it clearly deserves for not only the number of believers in the area who are religious and spiritual enough to keep the lands blessed, but also for having such a rich history, having a unique place in the history of the church in Kerala and India as a whole. It might be less known compared to many other churches, but it is actually the Colossus; or may be like the titan Kronos, as much of a giant as Alcyoneus, and its significance cannot be measured by the number of pilgrims or its listing in a random tourist map as a place for worship. If there was ever a list of the first titans of Christianity in India, Kuravilangad church would been in it; but what importance does the history of Kerala have in those History text books of French revolution, British Colonialism in India and the Mughal rule? When the great rulers like Marthanda Varma and Dharma Raja failed to have a good position in the History text books of Kerala, what can the common man do to be part of history as he carries the blame of being born at a place where History is of least importance and is considered inferior to science and commerce?

The Moonnu Nombu functions during Lent is a major feature of the church. A forty feet wooden ship has been for centuries the centre of attraction in the mid-day procession which is to take place every year. The tempest of the sea which lead to Jonah being thrown into the sea is comparable to the tempest of the people and that tempest which was cast by a depressed but determined Prospero in an effort to bring his enemies to his island and play with their minds before ultimately forgiving them; Shakespeare would be proud. The current structure combines the older style of Kerala with two tower-like structure on the front, with a curved end such as to signify a simplified, small dome. It looks less imposing with the newer white paint, but it is that older colour which I would like to boast about. The main altar is a rare and beautiful thing and so are the other smaller church structures near by. The church is located at such a good height that it could be visible from the Main Central Road itself; all that journey from Kottayam to Ernakulam would give that beautiful sight of a divine building standing with its head held high towards that heaven to which the prayers are sent.

Diving out —>


55. A Note of Sadness

@Dover, Kent, England.

As Dover faces France from the English side of the narrowest part of the English channel, one has to think about more than just water and beach; as a major port and a historic town, Dover’s relevance should be further different from how one would view it from the soul and not the brain. The administrative centre of Dover district is nothing less than a poem; what Matthew Arnold brought to us in 1867 has to be its best definition coming from someone who saw it from that viewpoint which changed what the English Literature students saw in that place, and upto an extent, in many beaches around the world. His “Dover Beach” was indeed superior; something which stood out in an English text book of poems which contained the poems of William Wordsworth, John Milton, John Dryden and John Keats. The poem was to be reflected; supposed to come back to the reader every time he visited Dover, or even saw a sign board with that name, clearly dragging the now transformed traveller and former reader right to it, giving his soul wings and making him fly, not with the wings but with those imaginations which used jetpacks. “Dangerous Dave” would complain about it, but this is that pack which needn’t expire with the missing fuel; it is driven by the ideas which comes more from the heart than the brain.

The Victorian Age wouldn’t come back to give that perfect effect provided by Matthew Arnold; what he saw would remain something which was special to him and what remains now is our combination of the same ideas with whatever we have. One would combine it with the White Cliffs of Dover, which is that sight of beauty from anywhere in the sea and the protector of that area for any attack other than from the air or heaven. It is that thing which welcomed the early visitors to the island even if they wouldn’t have to climb them, and it is that thing which symbolizes the protection of mother nature provided to the inhabitants without the need to build any ugly barricades or stone walls; protection through natural barriers is always a scene of beauty. On one side, there is science which fakes to guard the world and instead destroys the nature, and on the other side, there is the natural sentry; the guards of mother nature which protects its creatures including the human beings who repays nature with the most damage; a process which is irreversible. This would continue to be strange even for a possible group of Martian visitors who lack this much of a beauty in their planet; it might already be strange for all the other living creatures of Earth who has a mind which comes close to some thinking or reason.

The Strait of Dover should have inspired millions, and Matthew Arnold might be the best inspired of them all. The strange reflections, everlasting melancholy, abiding sadness and the delicately placed pathos of his poem would bring one closer to Dover just to look at the French coast as he did. The turbid flow of human misery which he mentioned in his poem was not something which was limited to his soul; it was everywhere and continues in a much more powerful way. He uses the mind of the Greek tragedian Sophocles for the same, but it is evident that there was no need for recollecting what he heard in the Aegean; surely no need for the same from Aeschylus and Euripides. Dover Beach would have been enough for him; for as those waves draw back and come again, the eternal note of sadness would still creep in and provide the much needed inspiration; no wonder the workd “Dover Beach” would create an impact which would challenge the best literary works of the era and beyond. The social, political, religious and intellectual disturbance of the age would still remain, years after he wrote it, and the situation would be worse; people would be more evil even with the presence of a much better conscience. The transition was from the almost evil to pretty much evil, instead of a journey towards eternal goodness.

“Oedipus the King”, “Oedipus at Colonus” and “Antigone” might be the prducts of Aegean Sea, but there is no doubting the hidden motivation in Dover. But what would make better, that sadness about the lost goodness, will be the Sea of Faith which has surely dried up for now. It was close to being extinct during Arnold’s time, but it is gone now and his work hasn’t really worked and brought it back. He could hear it withdrawing, but now it has vanished into thin air; dried up by selfish humans, the holders of a cursed mind. A small amount of it still lives in the mind of the religious fanatics, but not as goodness, but as the opium and alcohol which they need to empower their anger. The assault of science continues on religion, and in the end, the loss would be that humanity which is based on truth, justice, freedom and love leading upto heaven being replaced with perversion caused by a society lead by the loose morals or the complete lack of morals. There would be Fall, just like the fall of Doctor Faustus and the Satan himself, as it is that pact with Lucifer which science has signed with the blood of the poor and the starving when there is more money spent in research than for feeding the hungry. The exploitation of nature combined with that of the fellow humans; there wouldn’t be an easier path to perpetual hell.

The world still remains beautiful, but we are on that darkling plain as Arnold always knew; swept by confused alarms of never-ending struggle and flight; the world is where ignorant armies fight with arrogance, a world which was violent and continues to be so; only this time it is for no reason; there are no longer the direct wars between nations; there is just nonsense due to problems on small stretches of lands, water and oil. There is no humanity and there is no national unity; there is just selfishness and fake national pride among people who do nothing for their nation. Arnold wouldn’t have been able to write the same poem in this age, as it would have been an epic which would go beyond a hundred books and not to reach conclusion. He wouldn’t have been able to discuss the social and political nonsense and bring our attention to it; especially with an empty Sea of Faith. There should be no poet who is cursed enough to live in this century; as this is not their age; this is the age of selfish people of science; art exists in that corner which is less significant; it sticks to the other fields and make its mark, and the world of literature has reached that low level; fiction has taken over the next generation and it is the season of Twilight series; not of the Theban Plays, Greek Epics, Marlovian Tragedies or Shakesperean Histories.

One can still find the much needed inspiration from Dover, as there is no draining nature upto an extent to which it can’t take care of its people; for at that point, there is going to be that retaliation. One would want to visit the Dover Castle; the largest of its kind in England. It has blended so much of it nature, seemingly making it immune to the future attacks from beneath Earth. South Foreland Lighthouse of the Victorian Age might be that eye of nature which would guard the world. The shift in Arnold’s work is clearly visible there, as there is that time shift which will seem to occur for someone withe enough imagination; from that perfect world of nature to that of different worlds which seems to exist in turns. One can think about the lack of unity, but this absence of unity is what propells both the dreams and nightmares and makes thing happen in a world of less creativity and more logic. The poem is spell-binding without the unities; it would have failed in its purpose if stuck in those unities; and now it stays as if it has conveyed what it wanted to, but hasn’t changed the creature called man. The moral concern and turmoil would stay and the central problems would remain as it used to be, adding to the chaotic and turbulent world.

Diving out —>