Tuning in to time

The tamboora landed up.

It was packed in a man-size cardboard box, and held in a cage of wooden boards hammered to perfection. The tamboora was a family heirloom, and I have ancient memories of the “songs teacher” strumming it, as he taught Carnatic music to my father, and then to my sisters, and me.

Btw, tamboora (a.k.a tanpoora) is a musical instrument, which is strummed to provide the background drone, with proper intervals, that helps give a resonance and richness to the music. With the invasion of electronics in music, one doesn’t have to pull strings anymore, and Tamboora is not seen much nowadays. Yet, there is something permanent about the look and feel of this instrument (you can’t picture Tyagaraja without it), and so my father’s tamboora, although down, was not yet completely out. My younger brother decided to help it on its journey of resurrection, and cargo-ed it to me, a couple of thousand miles away.

And when I received the caged box, I also got a call.

This was from one of my father’s cousins, and she, an elderly lady, wanted to know if I was game to come to Pinayur (pronounced Punayur, or P-NAyoor), a village somewhere out there. This was a place, god surely knows where, wherefrom her grandfather (who was my father’s grandfather too) hailed from, once upon a long-gone time. Some branches of the old family tree still had some roots out there, and a fraction of the old lands was being managed by some distant cousins.

And these cousins were planning to repair / reconstruct an ancient temple in that village. Now this is a long drawn affair that can take many years, but there are well laid out procedures for this. First, there is the ceremony of Balalayam. In this, the divinity in the idols is drawn out by the power of Vedic chants, and stored in holy kalash (water vessels). The idols then are no longer charged with the divine. Until the temple reconstruction is completed, worship is offered to ‘ceremonial icons’ or ‘pictures’ kept elsewhere. When the temple reconstruction is complete, the waters of kalasha are recharged in powerful vedic ceremonies, and poured on the idols during the kumbhabishekam ceremony, re-energizing the idols with divinity.. The first part, namely the drawing-the-divinity-and-storing-it-in-water ceremony was scheduled to be done on 27-28 May.

It would be a good opportunity to visit the place and meet some unknown cousins thrice removed, said my Grand-aunt.

Time called.

The Sun was blazing when we set out at about 2:45 pm, on Sunday, 27th May.

We zoomed down NH45 national highway, and got off on a fork somewhere near Chengalpet. Drove down towards Kanchipuram and got off into another fork somewhere, from where the roads went back to middle-ages. We crossed the dry river bed of Palar – another piece of geological memory that is waiting for waters to come back some day.

Some hills punctuated the landscape, and there was a ‘police shooting range’ out there. Looked as if it had been forgotten, if not abandoned. Or maybe it was because of Sunday. But the place sure looked as if it was an exhibit of Pompeii.

Time was around 4:30 pm, and the Sun was still up there, high and fierce. We managed to find village P-Nayur proper, and the homes of our hosts. Three modern cars were parked in the courtyard.

It was nice to be back in village settings. Felt good to be back to the place that my long gone grandmother reminisced about. 

I walked into the new home that had been constructed in place of the old one that had stood there during my great-grand-father’s time. The compound walls were of the previous vintage though. Kamu, the hosts mother, was 85 years old….She was overjoyed to meet me (first time we were meeting), and insisted that I looked just like my father used to at my age. We ate some hot uppuma-bonda-sambar-chutney, served on plantain leaves, sitting on a brick platform, beneath the shade of a spreading tree, just by the side of a nice little pond.

They had a small factory nearby, where mineral water sachets were being packaged. Ground water here is very pure, they said. It was treated and packaged and taken away in trucks to quench the thirst of city folks. Sales was good.

6 pm found us in the Brahmeshwara temple, few hundred years old. My hosts family have been natives of this village for eight generations. The next generation fellow is a software engineer and works for Oracle Consulting. He was there too, with his video camera. 

The temple had shrines for Brahmeshwara, Tripurasundari, Vinayaka, Murukan, chandikeswara. Electricity was playing truant, and one had to peer at the idols in the light provided by oil-lamps. Which is much better, really….I lisped a few hymns that I know…

Balalayam ceremony was about to commence.

Kalasha patra-s (vessels) were kept in rows, and the ceremonies began. The priests started chanting Varuna Sooktam, Vedic hymns extolling the God of waters…

The sky darkened, and it started to drizzle. 

I looked up at the sky and let the rain drops sting my face. 

Somewhere in my mind, the old Tamboora was playing again.


5 Responses to “Tuning in to time”

  1. srinilakshmi Says:

    gustakhi maaf, what is the conenction between the tamboora and the old village temple? You mean both of them were a case of time calling? You do not say that the tamboora had stopped playing – for it to start playing again, as in the last line. A few lines of description before ‘though it was down, it wasn’t completely out’ attesting to its being out of tune, decrepit etc would have helped greatly.

    Similarly, a few lines of description of that old temple flling apart would have been very helpful.

    But it’s a very nice piece – there’s a lot going on here, lot of potential


    Here’s a description of stillness (time standing still). Hope this is helpful


    इस तरह है कि हर एक पेड कोई मन्दिर है
    कोई उजड़ा हुआ बेनूर पुराना मन्दिर
    ढूढंता है जो ख़राबी के बहाने कब से
    चाक हर बाम हर एक दर का दम-ए-आख़िर है
    आसमां कोई पुरोहित है जो हर बाम तले
    जिस्म पर राख मले, माथे पर सिन्दूर मले
    सर निगूं बैठा है चुप चाप न जाने कब से

    इस तरह है के पस-ए-पर्दा कोई साहिर है
    जिस ने आफाक़ पर फैलाया है यूं सिहर क दाम
    दामन-ए-वक़्त से पैवस्त है यूं दामन-ए-शाम
    अब कभी शाम बुझेगी न अन्धेरा होगा
    अब कभी रात ढलेगी न सवेरा होगा

    आसमां आस लिये है कि यह जादू टूटे
    चुप की ज़ंजीर कटे वक़्त का दामन छूटे
    दे कोई संख दुहाई कोई पायल बोले
    कोई बुत जागे कोई साँवली घूँघट खोले

  2. gkamesh Says:

    yes there is more here than communicated. And yes, the link is in the renewal, the resurrection, in a time-play kind of way…i actually began the ‘tamboora’ bit, saying ‘coffin sized’ box…and then felt it to be too sepulchral and changed it to ‘man-sized’…the cage was there in any case….

    and aap kaa yeh kavita pasand aayaa…the imagery of aasmaan – purohit is fascinating….tx

  3. LNS Says:

    That is by the late Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Pakistani poet. The stillness is so palpable. The last two lines is a consummation to be devoutly wished for

  4. gkamesh Says:

    ah…the master himself…i thought it might be sahir ludhianwi…what a poem…thanks….

  5. A Grama Koil Kodamuzhukkam - 1 « athato Says:

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