Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Madurai a Village ? - Change your Wrong Perception

Hi Friends, I am happy to revive my blogging interest !! Good to see you all again !!

I'd come across many in my life blaming Madurai as a Big Village, which in turn cost us much in terms of our Industrial growth. Tamil Cinemas, for its part, always portray Madurai as a heaven for rowdies, Illiterates, Murders, Aruvals and many which prevails in almost every place in India in various forms.

Most of the Kollywood directors think that Madurai sees people speaking English as Aliens.They must know that the most Companies in Metros are using the Brains of Southern TN people only for their development, especially in IT. Madurai receives approximately 1300 foreigners per day as tourists with whom our people're blending their life everyday. Madurai's Contribution to Tamil Cinema is Very big and most of the legends like TMS, Maniratnam, MS.Subbulakshmi, Cheran etc belong to Madurai soil.

I hope, reading my blog,many will change their perceptions over Madurai and Kollywood will not damage Madurai anymore.I thank Mrs.Padmini Sivarajah madam from "Times of India" , Madurai Mosaic writer Mr.Abraham Mills sir and my friend Mr.Shrikumar Arjunan from "The Hindu-Metroplus" who took pain-taking efforts to collect all the details to prove the Cosmopolitanity of Madurai.Let me share their collections with you all !!

In the times, the entire world is calling Madurai as a "Big Village", the temple city silently remains a Cosmopolitan, giving shelter for Multi-lingual communities from various parts of India.

Madurai remains home, not only to its native Tamil people, but also to :

1. Marathis
2. Sindh
3. Telugu people
4. Saurashtrians
5. Gujaratis
6. Malayalees
7. Rajasthanis
8. Kannadians (Uduppians)

9. Urdu Muslims
10. Anglo-Indian Christians
11. The Halai Memons
12.Srilankan Refugees

13. Bengalis
14. Haryanis (Agrawals & Maheswaris)
15. Punjabis 

and Labours from :

1. Assam & North-east
2. Bihar and
3. Orissa
 are being the main work-force in Granite Industries, textile Industries and hotels.

When people think Madurai, they think temples and everything religious. But Madurai, now is beyond all that. Growing to be more than just a temple town, this city has flourished, bringing about a cosmopolitan feel to it with each day. 

This year, youngsters seemed to have discovered a whole new perspective of the city. From classy vintage car collectors to fossil enthusiasts, Madurai had it all! Pets stole the limelight as well with the opening of pet hostels and the new-found pug craze. Banumathy Mathiharan, a professor was more than relieved about this new development. "Whenever I visit her in the hostel, she jumps out with joy and greets me. After all, my dog also needs some socialization with her fellow mates. She feels comfortable and I am contented to give her a balanced life," says she. Antique markets have a unique charm about them. Perhaps the sole reason why they gained popularity in the city. Malathy M, an antique lover says," I have purchased a peculiar type of gramophone that is adorning my living room corner. Also, I have come across a very old system of lock that has the 'Made in Britain' seal and that dates back to the previous century. The shopkeepers keep us well informed about such arrival of antiques to the market." 

Interestingly, Madurai this year was more than just the Jikarthanda and the aruvals. With a history so rich, we focussed on the old theatres here and the quaint flea markets and book shops. Bibliophiles in the city must have had a field day, picking out books and adding more to their collection.Madurai also saw the ladies making quite an impact with women entrepreneurs setting up business and showing off their marketing skills. The city witnessed a whole new set of activities that the adrenaline junkies could indulge in with bird watching, bike treks and film festivals. 

You know it's a sign of progress when we have something as massive as the LGBT movement making news in the city. This year, Madurai had its first Rainbow Pride Festival which also include a film festival and seminars on gender identity issues. Gopi Shankar, Director of Srishti says "This place is a collective village. Earlier there was so much ignorance. Now we have evolved. We plan to provide moral support to all those who seek our help." Youngsters also turned environment friendly with the growing trend of terrace gardening, and corporate social responsibility. 

So, Madurai has changed, yes, but most importantly, it's identity remains the same. The people are still affable and affectionate, the food delicious and the sights and sounds still something to savour.

As Maduraiites will vouch for,Namma city dhan top always! Enna solrenga?

Keeping up with the Kannadigas

Visit some of the homes of the Kannadigas in Madurai and you will be pleasantly surprised to see a few people silently browsing through magazines or looking for a particular book on the shelves. "These are home libraries, that cater to the needs of our people, who live here and miss reading books in Kannada," says N Krishna Joisa, who has a large collection of books in Kannada.

There are about 300 families who are members of the Karnataka Sangha in Madurai which was founded in 1960. However, only a handful of these families are permanent residents of Madurai while the others continue to shuttle between Karnataka and Madurai. N Ramakrishna Rao, the vice president of the association belongs to this category of Kannadigas, "My father Narasimma Rao started the Udupi hotel in Chinnakadai street in Madurai, in 1942. These hotels were famous for their hospitality and were patronized by many famous persons," he says.

Professor V Mohan, Thiagarajar College of Engineering is the president of this sangha, which is now in the process of constructing its own building in Rajampadi near the Madurai Kamaraj University, which is expected to be completed in another six months. Former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa donated Rs 10 lakhs for this cause.

The Kannada Department at the Madurai Kamaraj University, is among one of the best departments in the country for this language with students from many parts of Karnataka, including Mysore. Once constructed, the association building will also provide accommodation for students in the rooms on the top floor in order to ensure that they do not miss their homely atmosphere while continuing their higher studies in Kannada.

Many Kannadigas who live in the temple city, have converted rooms in their homes into libraries of Kannada for the benefit of those who miss keeping up with the happenings of their homeland. However, the books will be transported to the new association building once inaugurated. Shipla Kumar, a young house wife says that she used to ask her parents to mail the local magazines, every week after she came to Madurai two years ago. The home libraries had then proved to be a big boon for her.

People from this community celebrate festivals like Ugadi, Basava Jayanthi, Sarvajna Jayanthi and Kanakadasa Purandaradasa Jayanthi in a big way with a lot of fervour. "Our sambars and sweetmeats are very much a part of our daily diet, though we also relish the spicier Tamil Nadu sambar," says Krishnammal, a housewife. She travels with her family to Karnataka at least twice a year and most of their weddings are held in their native villages even if the bride or groom live in Madurai.

As Kannada is spoken at home, young people from the community can converse in their native language but the written form is slowly becoming lost to them. Now, the association is conducting regular classes in Kannada at the university department for their benefit.

Most people from this community are employed in banks and private companies, but there also persons like industrialist B T Bangera and educationist M S Iyengar, who have contributed to Madurai's growth in many way

Source - TOI

Friday, September 7, 2012

One land, many tongues - KANNADIGAS in Madurai

The Kannadigas find it easy to merge with the mainstream here than their distant motherland.

Think Karnataka and the first thing that comes to mind is the chain of Udupi hotels and restaurants identified by their simple vegetarian fare with a hint of sweetness in everything they prepare (there is a dash of jaggery in all dishes, except rasam ).

Madurai had quite a few Udupi hotels run by the hotelier-community, who migrated in the 1940s from undivided South Kanara district in Karnataka.

According to N. Ramakrishna Rao, whose father R. Narasimha Rao, started the Sri Jaya Vilas Coffee Hotel in 1942 on Chinnakadai Street, though there were many Udupi hotels in Madurai, the Udupi Boarding & Lodging on West Masi Street was the biggest till it closed shop in the 80s.

“Till Pandyan Hotel came up, all the visiting VIPs – from MGR and Sivaji to Kamaraj — used to stay at this hotel, started in 1939 and closed in 1975.” Other popular Udupi hotels were ‘Central’ Udupi (1932-67)) and ‘Chinthamani’ Udupi (1929-73), denoting the cinema halls adjacent to them, and Dhanalakshmi Hotel (1947-91) on Kamarajar Salai.

The Chinnakadai hotel is the only relic of a glorious past.

The city is home to about 250 families from Karnataka, excluding a 10,000-strong Kannada speaking Devangar Chettiars from the Hampi region. While all of them speak Kannada, their mother tongue differs.

While majority speak Tulu (Aishwarya Rai and Shilpa Shetty’s mother tongue), some speak Konkani.

V. Mohan of Thiagarajar College of Engineering opines that initially Harvey Mill (Madura Coats), TVS group of companies etc., attracted the Kannadigas to Madurai. Next came the hoteliers followed by bank employees since major banks such as Canara, Vijaya, Syndicate, Corporation and Karnataka banks were started by Mangaloreans (Konkani-speaking Gouda Saraswaths) only. Later on, professionals such as doctors and engineers came and settled down in Madurai.

N. Srikumar of K. Pudur says, “ Despite Madurai becoming our natural home, our marriages are conducted in our native place to make it convenient for our relatives there to attend the ceremony. Also, temples of our family deities are there.”

In order to keep the bond with their motherland strong, the kannadigas get together for Ugadi, Vishu and other festivals under the Karnataka Sangha-Madurai banner. Some times they bring the ‘Yakshagnana’ troupe or else screen Kannada classic movies. But such entertainment highlights have become rare over the years owing to dwindling audience.

Dishes :

Says Harikrishna Bhat, Head, Department of Kannada Studies at Madurai Kamaraj University, “Our people merge with the mainstream wherever they are, identifying more with the local culture than the distant motherland.” Mr. Bhat, from Puthur in Kasaragod district, who has written a book, ‘Madurai nenappugalu’ (memories of Madurai) is now translating Tirukkural from Kannada to tulu.”

Some like K. Krishna Joisa, who is always on the lookout for new Kannadigas to rope them into the association in his capacity as its secretary, rue that Karnataka delicacies like Maddur vada, cherooti and Mangalore holige (boli) are not available in Madurai.

Besides the Kanara people, there are some wholesale coconut merchants (Basappa Mandi in Mudakku Salai and another opposite Cinepriya theatre complex) from Hubli-Dharwad region and few professionals from the Mysore-Bangalore belt.

Industrialist B.T. Banghera and renowned architect Y. R. Ramnath also hail from Karnataka.

Their association has bought a land near university for constructing a building with all facilties.

Dr. J. Vasanthkumar Bhat from Mangalore, who is the president of Gouda Saraswath Community of about 100 families in Madurai, says: “Initially our people came here to make pappads. My father J. Vasudeva Bhat was a Superintendent of Police for Madurai North in the 60s. We originally belong to Kashmir from where we migrated to Bengal and thence to Mangalore. Nowadays, many of our people here do not even speak Konkani.” Some of these strict vegetarians eat fish due to the Bengal interlude in their journey down south.

Shyamala Bhat, who hails from Kumble, says she misses ‘southakai’ (similar to cucumber but bigger) and kovakkai but is all praise for cotton saris here.

By and large, Kannadigas here are a contented lot.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Unity in Diversity - Madurai - Abode to Multi-linguals

Integrating into Madurai's melting pot

A large number of Telugu speaking people from various parts of Andhra Pradesh started migrating towards Tamil Nadu during the 16th century and when the Nayak rule flourished in Madurai, they started settling in this part of the state as these rulers appointed them to various posts in their administration.

Professor T S Giriprakash, former head of the department of Telugu and comparative literature, Madurai Kamaraj University says that today, 40% out of the total population of Madurai has its origins in Andhra Pradesh. They are distinguished by various castes such as Naidus, Reddiars and Arya Vysyas and collectively known as the Arava Telugus. But they have no common association to link them at present. According to Professor Giriprakash,he made an attempt to bring them under a single umbrella by forming the Telugu Cultural Association, way back in the year 1983, "but it died a slow death due to the lack of interest among the people, in a span of just six years," he says.

People from this community are fluent in both Telugu and Tamil and have become so integrated with the local society that most of them follow many rituals and customs as the Tamils. They came in large numbers during the initial migration and were assigned all types of jobs from the top most posts in the armed forces to even doing small jobs, like cleaning and sanitation. It is said that people from Andhra Pradesh helped the people in these parts to take up well irrigation for agriculture and tide over the drought situation.

Dr Prajna of a reputed city hospital says that the community had become very integrated with the local Tamil culture over the last 400 years and do not have many connections with their original Andhra Pradesh roots. "When we get patients from Andhra Pradesh, I talk to them in Telugu only to have them say that they do not understand Tamil, that is the extent to which our Telugu has changed from its original version," he said.

Lakshmi Naidu, a sanitary worker says that though he has lived in Tamil Nadu for many years, he learnt to speak his mother tongue as it was the language spoken at home. He adds that he knows other people in this job who also speak Telugu even without any connection with Andhra Pradesh today.

But some festivals are still celebrated with a lot of fervour. The Reddiars have their Ugadi and the Arya Vysyas participate in their form of celebration for the New Year. The 'Varalakshmi nombu' is something that the women celebrate without fail with all its religious zeal. "I invite my neighbours for the prayers, where we make our own idol of the goddess as the local non Brahmins do not celebrate it," said L Kala.

People from this community enjoy spicy foods as per their genetic set up. "I would give anything for a good spicy Hydrabadi biryani and always have a green chilli with my lunch," says Kumar, a Telugu speaker. It is very difficult to differentiate these people from the local Tamils and they have performed wonders for the growth and development of Madurai.

Source - TOI

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Malayalee multitude

The family system, customs and traditional practices of Tamilians and Keralites are indistinguishable

There’s this old and tired cliché about Malayalees and migration — when Armstrong landed on the moon and before he could find his bearings, there was this Nair guy asking from his teashop whether he needed a hot cuppa!

But then why is it that the omnipresent Malayalee tea shops, found all over the place in any other city, are not to be seen anywhere in Madurai, one may wonder. Reason: they are everywhere, but without the telltale signs of fluorescent-coloured lungis usually worn by the menfolk and ceramic crockery neatly arranged on shelves. It is estimated that there are more than one lakh people of Kerala origin in Madurai.


According to a retired railway man T.C. Thomas, who came from Kalluppara in erstwhile Tiruvalla district in the early 50s to Madurai, migration of people and trading of commodities from Kerala to Tamil Nadu and vice versa have been happening for many centuries, from the days of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. Businessmen from Kozhikode and other places in the Malabar coast have been trading in textiles since time immemorial.

“There was a spurt in the migration from the start of 20th century when people from many parts of Kerala, particularly from the Malabar coast, joined as labourers in the Harvey MillsFenner and numerous other textile mills here. At the same time, pappad makers from Kunnamkulam and nearby areas in Trichur district also set shop in Subramaniapuram and Jaihindpuram areas. Weavers in large numbers settled down in Sellur and surrounding areas.”

Mr.Thomas says Malayalee craftsmen are known for their intricate workmanship, an eye for detail and aesthetics. A lot of coppersmiths and mirror makers also descended on Madurai. Many of them are found in Anaiyur. “Since they’ve merged with the locals through the generations, they’ve lost their Malayalee identity. Only a persistent prodding will reveal their lineage,” he says.

Many Malayalees also occupied important posts in Madurai. Some are: the first District Congress Committee president George Joseph (1940s), District Collector E.C.P. Prabhakaran (late 50s), many principals of American College and top executives of Madura Coats and Fenner. At one time, almost all nurses in Mission Hospital and head nurses in Erskine Hospital (Government Rajaji Hospital) were from Kerala.

Among the Malayalee Christians from the Chengannur-Tiruvalla-Changanassery-Kottayam belt, there are people belonging to denominations such as Orthodox Syrian with a church on Bypass Road, and Marthomites, who conduct their service in Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary inArasaradi, besides a good number of Roman Catholics from Kollam coast, who’ve settled down in Mahaboobpalayam, and very few Anglo-Indians.

According to S. Jayanarayanan, secretary of Malayali Samajam-Madurai, “You’ll find Malayalees from all walks of life in Madurai. Since many hide behind a ‘local’ identity for business or survival purpose, it is hard to pinpoint one as a Keralite. The family system, customs and traditional practices of Tamilians and Keralites being indistinguishable from one another, it is all the more difficult. Moreover, those who settled down here long back think and act like the locals do, be it religious ceremonies or social functions.”


The weavers of Kerala ancestry belong to the Kaikula Chettiar community. Right from well-known restaurants, furniture shops and top-notch shops on Town Hall Road run by Malabar Muslims to shops inside Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple (Kovil kadai), Keralites run all sorts of business in Madurai, Mr. Jayanarayanan, who is a native of Palakkad, says.

“Except for the first-generation migrants whose accent is a give away (sometimes mistaken as Kanyakumari Tamil), the rest pass off as locals. The Namboodiri-Iyer-Iyengar-Nambiar-Menon-Nair-Ezhava … caste system and hierarchy prevalent in Kerala is totally absent among Madurai Malayalees. More heartening is the resultant inter-caste marriages among our people,” says Guruvayur-born K.R. Sankaran, president of the Samajam.

The association, started in the 60’s, lost its moorings over the years and is back on its feet. It is enlisting members and plans to start a primary school with Malayalam medium of instruction. It has a small library at its office off Bypass Road.

Food they love

Madurai Malayalees, who maintain contact with their homeland, do miss some things. Berley Peter from Thalavady near Tiruvalla says most of the typical Kerala vegetables, rice varieties (red rice or kutharisi) etc., are available here, though not of the desired quality. “But ‘karimeen’ (sort of ‘jilebi kendai’), a much loved delicacy of all Malayalees is not available at all. Same is the case with ‘kappa’ (tapioca) and the overpowering kandhari chilli that is needed for preparing the sammandhi to go with it.”

She says even the ethakkai (plantain) that is available here is of ‘pandikkai’ variety and inferior to the yellow ‘naadankai’ which does not need turmeric while making chips. Same is the case with ‘karivellari’ (big cucumber) that is used as a vegetable in Kerala.

“Otherwise, all the eriseri, puliseri etc., take different names here while the ingredients and the cooking methods have subtle difference,” she says.

As for saris and churidars, Keralites prefer lighter shades while Madurai shops are awash with dark ones, Ms. Berley rues.

Malayalees of all faiths come together every year to celebrate Onam while Vishu and Deepavali are celebrated by the Hindus.

Source - The Hindu MetroPlus

Colourful community

GUJARATIS have pioneered many a business not only in the city but in the country and abroad too

A decade after the end of World War I, a 21-year-old Kutchi youth from Bombay, decided to make it big in Japan and without informing anybody at home, he came South by train to set sail from Dhanushkodi to Colombo and thence to the Far East.

With Rs.350 in hand for the passage, he learnt at Dhanushkodi that one needed passport and Visa to go abroad. Days later, he found himself wandering in the streets of Madurai and was bowled over by the thriving textile business and decided that it was the place he wanted to do be in. The year was 1929.

As a hawker

G.P. Sangoye started his life in Madurai as a hawker carrying head load of dress materials. What he started as a small shop (Truthful Company) on Town Hall Road, grew into a mammoth organisation, giving employment to hundreds of fellow Gujaratis, besides the locals over the years.

Says his son Shantilal, “After finding perchance a huge market lying untapped, my father introduced readymade garments in Madurai and also pioneered the registry of the Clothing Manufacturers’ Association of India (CMAI), an apex body in Mumbai. At one time, there were 600 tailors and 40 cutters working at our unit in a building we bought from the Palayampatti zamin on Kamarajar Salai, where now the Nirmala Girls Higher Secondary School is.”

Adds Mr. Shantilal: “Though we played a major part in the influx of Gujaratis, Kutchi Memons landed in Madurai much before us. Some of our employees at that time initially came to the South to work on railway contracts such as laying Madurai-Bodinaickanur line and civil works like construction of the Collectorate and Ellis Nagar rail over-bridge and stayed back to work with us. Shivji Vira, a contractor, came to Madurai way back in 1890. His descendants are living in Arasaradi now.”

A big community

There are about 200 families – 70 per cent Hindus and 30 per cent Jains - from Gujarat in Madurai. Most of the Gujaratis from the Kutch, the biggest district in India and larger in area than Kerala, are into the business of readymade garments. Amman Sannathi is choc-a-bloc with their showrooms.

Says Nitin S. Shah of Classic, “Many of us were dealing in handloom goods, like towels made in Sellur, once. But when cheaper power loom towels from Sholapur in Maharashtra strangled the handloom sector, we switched over to other businesses.”

Their success can be borne by the fact that one of the leading hoteliers in the city, R. Surendra of Hotel Supreme, developer of the first mall in Madurai, Lalji Vora of Milan, Dilip Patel, founder of Torino, a popular soft drink company and keeping pace with the MNCs at Vilangudi and Kishore V.Sangoi of Remuki, a leading departmental store, are all Gujaratis.

According to C.R. Patel of Kwality Sales Agency, “Gujaratis are known for their craftsmanship and masonry work, the reason why they were sought after everywhere and came down to Madurai also. After the country’s independence, handloom and chemical businesses attracted Gujaratis to Madurai. Like in the U.S., motels and Patels are inseparable, back home they rule the timber business across the country and Madurai is no exception. Most of the shops that sell timber, plywood, tiles and other construction materials on West Perumal Maistry Street, Sellur and Bypass Road are run by the Patels.


Behind the soft-natured disposition of these vegetarians is sharp business acumen. Unlike the go-getter Marwaris, Gujaratis are known to take calculated risks. They attach importance to business integrity and serving the society. Through Shree Madura Gujarati Samaj, they’ve been donating 20,000 to 30,000 notebooks to poor students in the city every year. From this year, fabric for uniforms has also been added. The Gujarat Samaj has a library with a collection of about 5,000 books in Gujarati and other languages.

To keep their customs and traditions alive, the community never misses their calendar of events. With all their shimmering ghagras and cholis, Gujaratis enthrall with dandiya rass/garba during navaratri. The function is held at five places in the city. The Jains celebrate Paryusan with Marwaris, and the Kutchis their new year on June 24.

Source - The Hindu MetroPlus

Preserving culture

Some things quintessentially have a sense of belonging to a particular place and people. Take pongal, for instance. It is sold everywhere - from roadside eateries to famous restaurants - in the city. But still it is hard to come across the right, tasty and inexpensive variety of pongals tamarind, tomato, coconut - than at small eateries in the Dinamani Talkies area, which are run by the Sourashtras, the founders of this fast food of a busy handlooms age.

King of pongals

Pongal and Sourashtras are like synonyms. The king of their pongals is "puliyodharai" or "ambhad bhath" in their language. Non-Sourashtras somehow fail to make this simple dish to perfection.

Of all the vegetarian eateries, including those without a name board, the famous ones are Nagalakshmi Annexe near Alankar Theatre and Revathy Tiffin Centre on Krishnapuram First Street. Till two decades back, it was Mangala Vilas that ruled the roost, old timers say. With their huge numbers, these joints have silently drowned the noisy parotta stalls in the Keezha Vaasal area.

The Sourashtras have made a mark in the non-vegetarian milieu as well. Panaimarathu biriyani hotel off Thavittu Sandhai is renowned. It is a routine for people in the busy wholesale areas of East Madurai to start their evenings with another invention of Madurai Sourashtras, `pangara paan bhairi' or `mullu murungai elai adai,' bought hot and soft off pushcarts. It is believed to be an instant cure for dry cough.

Bun halwa

Says businessman K.S. Ramasamy: "We do not use much coconut in our food." Whenever former Chief Minister Kamaraj visited Madurai, he used to ask for idlis made in mud pot (tovli phalar) at a place near DM Court," he recalls. The "bun halwa" made from big rusk bread - a delicacy prepared during special occasions at home - is another sell-out. These days it is available at a sweet shop near Therkku Vaasal bus stop.

After food, comes cinema. Tamil films have always provided the much-needed respite to working men and women after a hard day's toil in the looms. It is no surprise then that Sourashtras have built many of the famous theatres in the city.

Says T.K. Subramanian, retired Tamil professor and pattimandram speaker: "Sourashtras have been not only a faithful audience of music and movies all along, but performers par excellence too. Apart from playback singer T.M. Soundararajan, who stands tall among all famous Madurai Sourashtras in the film world, there are many others who have been enriching the cultural scene. Many were exponents in violin, mridangam and veena. But with police restrictions and other avenues of entertainment like TV and cinema, the audience to the late night events is dwindling now."

Freedom struggle

Sourashtras have taken active part in the freedom struggle as well. When Rajaji took out a padayatra from Tiruchi to Vedaranyam from Tiruchi, 10 of the 46 participants were Sourashtras. Says G. R. Mahadevan, retired former vice principal, "N.M.R. Subburaman, fondly called as `Madurai Gandhi,' though coming from a family of high standing stooped to clean the toilets at a Dalits colony in Madurai, following the Mahatma's ideals not only in words but also in deeds."

"His benevolence could be gauged from the fact that he let Madurai Kamaraj University use his sprawling bungalow in posh Chokkikulam for a rent of Re. 1 a month on a 99-year lease. Yet another noteworthy and widely prevalent practice in our community is eye donation," he adds.

Another amazing fact is that the Sourashtra language has thrived for several centuries despite being only a spoken language. Not many new materials are written in Sourashtra to keep the language of this oldest migrant society of Tamil Nadu alive. The only solution, perhaps, is the wide promotion of a well-structured `lipi' (script) to the language.

Similarly, the traditional methods in textile production are fast fading into oblivion. Points out Mr. Ramasamy, "There used to be a time when women used to sit at their doorstep tying the knots on cloth (for dyeing to make the Sungudi sari) over a chat with neighbours who'll also be doing the same. These women passed on the laborious technique from one generation to another."

Likewise there were many techniques - like boiling senna leaves (alla paan) in water in the dyeing process to get fade resistant fast colours. Now, the younger generation is more interested in IT and other fields. So, many skills of our old people are dying with them."

Source - The Hindu MetroPlus

From the desert country

Shops or temples, food or festivals, they have brought their world to Madurai and settled well here

Madurai’s reputation as a commercial hub is accentuated by the presence of the large number of wholesale merchants, majority of them north Indians who started settling down in the city from the 1930s.

Among them, Rajasthanis form the bulk, with a population of 25,000. Since most of them hail from Marwar region (Jodhpur area), they are collectively called ‘Marwaris’, though some are natives of other parts of Rajasthan.

A majority of Marwaris in Madurai are Jains who run about 400-odd shops. The Hindus from Rajasthan — Raj Purohits, Choudharys, Rajputs (once the ruling class and the only non-vegetarian sect) and others — run another 500-odd shops.

These shops are situated around Meenakshi temple — on Valayalkara Street (old and new), Hanumantharayan Koil Street, West Avani Moola Street, West Masi Street, Netaji Road, West Vadampokki Street, Vilakkuthoon, Lakshmipuram and Khanpalayam.

Variety business

While Jains are always the owners of the shops, they employ Hindus from their State and sometimes locals too. Marwaris dabble in a variety of wholesale businesses such as electric goods, bangles and cosmetics, fancy goods, stainless steel utensils and sheets, readymade garments … the list is long.

But not pawn broking! According to U. Hari Singh, a metals trader whose native place is Vandar in Pali-Marwar district, “In Tamil Nadu, you will find Marwari pawn brokers only in Chennai and northern districts where the locals are docile. Beyond Vriddhachalam down south, it is tough to do business with some communities. The very few shops that were running in the southern districts downed their shutters more than a decade ago.”

“Unlike other migrant communities in Madurai, we rely on integrity and never change our line of business,” asserts Mr. Hari Singh.

According to Vimalchand Jain, who hails from Siwana, Barmer district, “We act as a bridge between factories in north India and consumers in south India. They give us goods on credit which cannot be availed by the locals.”

Strict vegetarians

Being strict vegetarians (they do not even eat root vegetables such as onion, garlic, potato and carrot), the Jains have a bhojanalaya near the Main Guard Square exclusively meant for their travelling folks.

The Hindu Marwaris have a temple, Ramdev Mandir on Velliambalam lane off South Chithirai Street.

The Hindus run many eateries in Madurai. While Sankhwala on Jadamuni Koil Street, Mohan Bhojanalaya on Dhanappa Mudali Street and Ramdev Bhojanalaya opposite Central Theatre are popular among the locals as well, there are many other rustic joints which cater to the migrant populace, mostly workers at shops, with typical Rajasthani fare.

Another favourite with the locals is the Choudary’s milk shop near Arya Bhavan on West Masi Street. One cannot get the sort of lassi the Sawai Madhopur men serve in the day and hot badam milk at night anywhere else in the city. This shop and the paan shop on Netaji Road serve as late night meeting places for the migrants.

Two sects

Among Jains, there are two sects — Digambars (conservatives, the ones who run marble business in Madurai) and Shwetambar, who form the majority. While a Digambar temple is in Gomathipuram, Shwetambar temples can be found in Main Guard Square, near Iyer Bungalow (both built in Shikarbandh style with vimana), Jadamuni Koil Street (Ghar Mandir style), Appavu Pillai Lane and Mela Gopura Vaasal.

The Jains celebrate Paryusan, an eight-day festival that culminates after a fast to coincide with Vinayakar Chathurti. On that day, they take out a procession from their temple in which the deity is any one of the 24 tirthankaras, the enlightened ascetics (there is no temple dedicated to the 24th tirthankara, Mahavir, in the city).

The Marwari Hindus, so also the Jains, celebrate Deepavali, Navaratri and Holi.

The Jains and Hindus share a common language, Marwari, and mingle with each other during festivals.

At times of crisis, Marwaris help one another through loans with very low interest, but only once.

Their only grouse is: with so many Marwaris in Madurai and down south (5,000 in Tirunelveli and 2,000 in Nagercoil), there is no direct train to Rajasthan. At least, the Chennai Egmore-Jodhpur weekly express can be extended to Nagercoil or Madurai. It will also be useful to Tamilians who serve in the massive military base in Jodhpur, they say.

Source - The Hindu MetroPlus

The united colours of food and festivals

Enter any bustling wholesale bazaar or shopping area, any street or lane in Madurai -- but for South Avani Moola Street where jewellery shops are located -- you are sure to find more than one shop owned by a north Indian.

Though Marwaris form the bulk, followed by Gujaratis (a distant second) among the 20,000-plus north Indian populace in the city, there are a handful of other communities as well.

According to C.R. Patel, vice-president of Madurai North Indians’ Welfare Association (MANIWA), Madurai is home to Sindhis (Rachna’s beauty salon, money lenders), Punjabis (Popli Bros, Punjabi Dhaba) from undivided Punjab, Agrawals (Arya Bhavan group of restaurants, grain and steel merchants) and Maheswaris (Sri Krishna Cut-Piece Junction etc) from Haryana, totalling about 1,000 people.

Besides, there are 400 Marathi goldsmiths, who are experts in melting gold and settled down in Madurai more than 50 years ago, and nearly 400 Bengalis, recent migrants and proficient in making intricate designs on jewels, These two communities do not come under MANIWA, a federation of 15 north Indian associations in the city, formed two years back.

A recent phenomenon is the migration of labourers from Bihar. They are engaged in construction work such as roads, bridges, and stone quarries. Mr.Patil says unassuming Madurai and the rest of Tamil Nadu offer a lot by way of business and employment opportunities to those from other States.

Mahesh Chhabria, whose forebears are from Shikarpur in Sindh in undivided Punjab (now in Pakistan), says the Sindhis started settling down in ‘peaceful south’ in the wake of partition turmoil in the Indo-Pak border regions.

His father Bhojraj Karamchand Chhabria came to Madurai in 1947. Mr. Chhabria says the 125-odd staunch Hindus have their own temple on Pappankinathu Street off South Masi Street to cater to the Rahejas, Hindujas, Bajaj and Bathijas! (yes, these celebrated surnames form the tail to the names of some of the Sindhis in Madurai).

Though the affluent Sindhis as well as the early migrants from north Indian States have totally assimilated to the local culture and become a part of Madurai, they have not lost touch with their own culture and traditions either.

The Sindhis in Madurrai congregate at their temple to celebrate Chetti Chand during March-April to celebrate their new year and birth anniversary of their river-deity, Jhulelal.

They also have a fetish for sev poori, kadi chaaval, malpua and make them especially during the festival season and wedding ceremony, which is usually an elaborate three-day affair.

Dearth of ‘chaat’ corners

However, Mr. Chhabria rues the dearth of north Indian joints serving ‘chaat’ and other typical tangy snack items though Remuki at K.K.Nagar brings in the ‘dhoklas and kachoris’.

There are provision stores like the Vohra Traders in Simmakkal and another in a lane adjacent to Arasamaram Pilliyar Koil on Kamarajar Salai exclusively catering to the needs of people from northern States. “Still very few north Indian restaurants in Madurai serve the ‘khana with asli swaad’, he laments.

The North Indians, otherwise, collectively celebrate the holi, the festival of colours wuith much fun and gaiety. If the boisterousness of holi or dandiya during navaratri is the same as seen in our native places, it is with equal passion we also join in all the major south Indian festivities like Deepavali and Pongal,” he adds..

As a gesture of serving the city that gave them a living, all the migrant communities have also been helping the needy by way of charitable activities through their respective associations.

Social service

Being an umbrella organisation, the MANIWA on its part has donated calipers, wheelchairs and tricycles to the physically challenged people from southern districts through two health camps.

Its general secretary P. Mohanlal Choudhry says they’ve drawn up a plan to establish a goshala for stray cows and are scouting for 5-10 acres of land within a radius of 20 km from the centre of city.

“All successfully running goshalas in the State are maintained by north Indians only. On the lines of the one in Coimbatore with 900 cows, and in Erode with 450 animals and five goshalas in Chennai, we want to establish one in Madurai,” he says.

“Though we have the money and wherewithal to go ahead with our plan, we welcome philanthropists to give free land with good water facility and scope for vegetation and the money thus saved could be ploughed back for the operational expenses of the goshala,” says Mr. Choudhry

Source - The Hindu MetroPlus