Sathyam Cinema’s poor website design screwed my Weekend

Ask my friends how many movies I used to watch every week.There was a time ,last year when I used to watch as many as 5 movies per week,most of them Night shows.Kiki was my movie partner and had a lot of adventures like being caught by the corrupt night policemen near the Madhya Kailash signal.We even used to watch movies continously.

  • 7PM -9PM Journey to the Center of the Earth(English)
  • 9:30PM-1:30AM A Wednesday (Hindi)
  • 2 AM We were caught by a Corrupt Policeman while coming back at Madhya Kailash Signal
  • 2:03 AM KIKI dials 100 to complain about the policeman who caught us
  • 2:05 AM I give Rs.140/- to escape the cop before the other cop(whom kiki called for SOS)reach the spot

I give all the credit to the online booking system by sathyam cinemas at thecinema.in.We used to book the tickets at the end of day just an hour before the movie.The ‘Q’ was really DEAD.The website was intuitive and mostly flash based.We struggled a lot when we booked the movie tickets through mozilla , though the site worked like maska in IE browser.

It’s been around 8 months since I had visited Sathyam Cinemas though I have frequented Mayajaal , INOX and our own RAKKI [Ambattur's biggest Multiplex :) ].After a long time I wanted to watch a movie at Sathyam.I was planning to watch both ICE AGE on SATURDAY and TRANSFORMERS on SUNDAY.When I tried booking the ticket,I found the thecinema.in has undergone a complete transformation during the multiplex strike period.

The site is fully done in FLash.I suggest they could have had a LIGHTER version of the same site for people booking the tickets from low configuration systems.

Another major design fault in the site which screwed my weekend was WRONG colors chosen for the active tab in the ‘MAKE PAYMENT’ screen.Take a look at the thecinema.in’s MAKE PAYMENT screen below

PAYMENT THROUGH FUEL CARD OPTION

PAYMENT THROUGH FUEL CARD OPTION

MAKE PAYMENT SCREEN -PAY THROUGH CREDIT CARD OPTION

MAKE PAYMENT SCREEN -PAY THROUGH CREDIT CARD OPTION

I noticed that the line separating the inactive tab shouldn’t be there for Active Tab.

Minor flaw yet it spoiled my weekend

Minor flaw yet it spoiled my weekend

Second thing I noticed was the color of the inactive tab is more eye catchy than active tab, which lead to a confusion in my mind and When I wanted to switch to PAY BY CREDIT CARD MODE, I kept on clicking on the FUEL CARD tab without reading the tab title,thanks to the color of the inactive tab which looks like an Active Tab.

You call this poor Design of thecinema.in or my impatience,it took a lot of time for me to figure out the difference between the active and inactive tabs and I ended up booking the tickets for Transformers for Wednesday Matinee show.In order to compensate for the half day of work at office I burned my Sunday in my cubicle.(Remember there was no A/C on Sunday).

Hope Sathyamcinemas takes note of this simple yet weekend screwing design flaw and make lives easier.

Update: April 17,2010 I have done a storyboard that reflects my reaction to the website’s poor interface design:

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Protected: the lonely Yin and the invisible Yang

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Mc Guffin

This is something to really think about as designers beyond the curriculum and submissions.Innovation seems to be of two types :
(a) Sustaining and
(b) Disruptive
Even within the first category we have two more sub categories
(a.1) Evolutionary
(a.2) Revolutionary
Both the types of innovation Sustaining and Disruptive are about creating SYSTEMS for the betterment of people(or solving people’s problems or in more abstract sense FREEDOM from troubles).The Sustaining innovation has a natural tendency towards SYSTEMs and tends to retain the existing one and improve the current system. Disruptive innovation on the other hand has a natural dislike for SYSTEMs but in the end even disruptive innovation ends up making a system (with more degrees of freedom and bigger boundaries of destiny*).The picture here (which I took from a facebook meme), is a complementary to this argument.
Image
If freedom is the ultimate goal, sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation are constantly working towards it though their styles of operation are different and sometimes even consider each other as their competitors (this resembles the conflicts between Gandhian style of freedom struggle and Bhagat Singh style of freedom struggle).
But FREEDOM (which can also be compared with SOLUTIONS to PROBLEMS), we might never be able to achieve that because it probably doesn’t exist at all.Even if we are free from the earth’s gravitational pull we are bound by the gravity of the sun and even if we escape the solar system we are under the gravitational influence of the star cluster the Sun belongs to and even if we escape the star cluster we are under the influence of the Milky way galaxy probably it goes on like that forever.
The argument above might be sound too trivial for few, might even sound like my usual rant , might go above your head like a bullet and some might even label it as “Humbug” but believe me, I am kind of overwhelmed by the above argument which is probably the best thing that happened to be after coming to IDC. And I hope that this philosophy reflects in the games I would be making.
Why am I sharing this thought with everyone ? May be my “Throat Chakra(the chakra for expression)” is too active today that makes me to express the thoughts that implode inside my mind all the time.Had the “Third Eye Chakra” been active I would have felt the argument and kept quite.
It would be really great to have a constructive debate (newbies and veterans alike) over the topic  “Does design in India accommodates both the types of design innovation sustaining and disruptive ?”.The question is asked with an assumption that “Design is a wholistic approach to problem solving (or freedom from troubles)”
You must be wondering what doesn Mc Guffin mean ? I will be writing about it next week.

White Horses of Aiyannar 7 (A new journey begins while Summarizing)

I was skeptical of being able to get into Madurai Meenatchi Temple because it was already mid-noon.However, I rushed to the guest house and checked-out and headed towards the grand temple which is known for it’s 1000 pillars.I reached the temple south tower gate and found out that the temple is closed for the day due to solar eclipse later in the day. I started exploring the streets around the temple. At a shop which sold images of gods I stumbled upon a shop which was selling the framed photographs of various gods which also included images of Mecca and Jesus.I curiously enquired if there is any photograph of Aiyannar.The shopkeeper said yeah there is one but it is in the shelf and would be difficult to take it out.The shopkeeper wasn’t ready to open the shelf jut for a picture.I was pleading and there was a police man (some 6 foot tall, with a huge moustache) came and asked us what is the problem(he probably felt some tension between the shopkeeper and me).I asked if I can see the picture of Aiyannar just once.The policeman asked the shopkeeper to take it and show it to me and added be helpful to the students.The shopkeeper knew that I won’t be buying the picture but was scared of the police cop who was supporting me.He took a picture (was not framed) and I asked if anyone bought their pictures to which he replied that Aiyannars are guardian gods and meant to be worshipped at the edges of villages and hence no body buys the picture of Aiyannar for their homes. I couldn’t click the picture of the shop neither the picture of the only Aiyannar photograph in the shop because my camera battery was down. Few shops ahead I found a Doctor’s clinic where I asked the compo-under to recharge my camera battery to which he agreed.Meanwhile, I was checking the pictures which I had already transferred to my laptop. The drunk Rickshaw Driver rickshawman Among the interactions that I had with people around the temple while clicking pictures the most interesting was the interaction I had with a drunk Rickshaw driver.He took me around the Madurai Meenatchi temple which was closed today.I realised half-way that he was drunk and was looking at me as a foreign traveller.I had to tell him that I am a south-Indian and very much belong to Tamil Nadu.He told me that I was looking like an outsider due to the studs , long hair and on top of that a white checkered hat.I somehow got away from him by clicking some pictures of his letters which his other customers from foreign land have sent, lest he would have taken all my time that afternoon.

Summarizing

Below are random clicks I managed to get around the temple

maduraiMeenatchi

who are these people on the gopurams, some looked like belonged to the SUR and some ASURAS, are they guardians of the temple or were the ones who became one with the god ?

probably the oldest Halwa shop in the area

an old man probably talking to his granddaughter

this man came to me thinking I am a photographer and asked to click him and gave his address and asked me to send the photograph

this man came to me thinking I am a photographer and asked to click him and gave his address and asked me to send the photograph

the Nandi in front of the Madurai Meenatchi temple

the Nandi in front of the Madurai Meenatchi temple

part of the temple complex which is a busy commercial market now

part of the temple complex which is a busy commercial market now

cops on a tight security not to allow anyone inside

cops on a tight security not to allow anyone inside

some brats who were trying to find ways to get into the temple breaking the tight security somehow

some brats who were trying to find ways to get into the temple breaking the tight security somehow

disappointed devotees some even thought a humble request to the cops might get them entry into the temple but in vain

disappointed devotees some even thought a humble request to the cops might get them entry into the temple but in vain

While I was clicking random pictures of people , shops and the Gopurams I was summarizing in mind the trip so far.The first objective to strike a candid conversation is successful to some extent and I have been able to get candid shots of the temple including the central god.I have learnt so far (as per my observation) that Aiyannars are never the central gods in any of the temple which are known by their names.They are usually the guardian gods for Amman(Parvati) and he is assisted by another set of gods known as Kaaval Theivams (usually known as Karruppasamy , Pandeeswaran , Muneeshwaran etc.The story behind Aiyannar is that he is the son of Shiva and Vishnu(as Mohini) after they both restored the elixir that was stolen by the Asuras after the  Sea-churning. It looks like the legend of Aiyannar is a metamorphosis of the earlier god Sastha whose origin is also attributed to as the same.And Aiyappan seems to be a very much a Malayalee version of the same which seems to be having a lot of influence of Shiva. Never in the entire trip I got any stories which referred to Aiyannar as Indra.I was getting an impression of the following story that was emerging in my mind (although the amount of observation is not substantial enough to prove it).So I give a disclaimer that the following story could be entirely a figment of my imagination which resulted from the trip so far but it might help to throw a new light on the legend.

Questions in mind

If we look at Shiva , Vishnu and Brahma as rulers of some era  and the legends

Was the Aiyappan legend renovation of the Aiyannar with a Vishnu slant in Kerala ?

Was Aiyannar himself a renovated legend of Sastha with Shiva’s slant ?

It looks like Shiva was some stone age emperor who had an influence till the south and which then had animistic religions and the Aiyannar and Kaaval Deivam is a result of the mix of two cultures where the one tried to assimilate the other? which is probably visible in the clear hierarchy of the gods in the temple.In none of the temples Aiyannar is the central god and even for Aiyannar there is an assistant god.

All these questions were lingering in my mind while I was clicking the pictures around when I happened to click this picture.

were the guardian gods also cops of that era ?

were the guardian gods also cops of that era ?

I was all excited and one of the questions that was in my mind suddenly came to life…what are the modern depictions of Aiyannars ? Which I was about to find soon in an Aiyannar temple near my own village.

White Horses of Aiyannar 6 (The Interview)

me: How long is  this Aiyannar temple has been there ? 

Velmurugan(VM) : I think it’s the fourth generation

me: Who built this temple ?

Old priest : It was built by the Avuniyapuram and Pillayarpalayam village panchayat ?

me: Oh ..You mean two villages ?

Old priest : Yeah … this temple is for two villages because there is only one panchayat for both the villages …like you have one city council for all the different towns within in Madras

me:  Can I just record what you are saying in this camera ?

VM: Yeah yeah ! Daralamah (means conveniently) If it is for education purpose you can (while the old priest also nodded)

me: Okay …. tell me about Aiyannar ?

Old priest: From time immorial be it Avuniyapuram or Pillayarpalayam it’s only Durga’s Aiyannar who is safeguarding everyone.Be it the Madurai airport or be it any personal problems of people , Ayanpapavadi Durga’s Aiyannar has never stayed back from helping. So if anyone does wrong in Avuniyapuram or Pillayarpalayam he will be immediately punished and giventhanninnai (make him one with himself). Even today Avuniyapuram is still under his control and influence and these two villages are guarded by Ayanpapavadi Durga’s Aiyannar.   I wish his name and fame reaches all over the world and he gives us the same arul (good will) and security he has given us for ages.Arogara

me: You said Ayyanpapavadi Aiyannar ? is it his name ?

Old priest : Yeah his name itself is Ayyanpapavadi

me: And what is “Durga’s Aiyannar” ?

Old priest: That is what he is known as.He gives security to the Amman(showing the central god) here right.Durga is same as Amman.

me:  What is Thannillai ?

Old priest: The bad doer will be punished and made ayikkiyam (merge with self) with himself and not be allowed to take birth again.

thannillai

me: Ohh ! I also heard that we give non-veg to Aiyannar. Is it true ?

Old priest : Yeah it is true but only on vishasham (special occasions)

me: How is it done ? what is usually offered as ‘bali’(offering) ?

Old priest :  Well …

VM : (interrupting the old priest) On Amavasya we cut the kaeda( male goat) and give the offering.

me: Oh do you offer it to amman also ?

Old priest: No .. No…

VM: (interrupting the old priest) No no no … the central god is not offered the asaivam(non-veg).In fact once the central god’s puja is done we close the door of the central god’s shrine and then proceed with the offerings and puja for the other gods.

me: Ohhh is it ? but you did not close the door during the puja today ?

VM: (in a low tone and coming closer to me) That is only on visheshams(special occasions) that too when there is Kaeda-vettu (offering male goat to god) .Today there was no kaeda-vettu, that’s why we didn’t close the door.(he went on to explain the same procedure again)Only on occasions when we have a kaeda-vettu we perform all the saivam(veg offerings) to the central god Amman  and then close the nadai(shrine in which the central god is enclosed) and then we start the asaivam(non-veg) pujai.

me: What about the Ganesha ? is he also offered  asaivam ? his statue is outside right ?

VM: No no … none of the gods from the mael(main) gods is offered non-veg offering, it’s only for the thunai (supporting) gods who is offered non-veg and sometimes also suruttu (cigar) .Sivan , Parvati /Amman , Murugan are cenral or main gods.

Summary of the rest of the interview

NOTE: Some of the terms used by the priests were taken no known to me and slipped my attention during the video interview and also taken for granted by the priests that I knew them.

On asking about the ban on animal offering(bali) to gods

On asking isn’t the animal offering banned in Tamil nadu, the younger priest, Vel Murugan told that actually the bali used to happen inside the temple complex which was opposed by animal rights people but after the verdict given by the Tamil nadu government the bali is given outside the temple complex.

On asking what else is done on visheshams (special occasions) he mentioned about Saami-adis

The younger priest said that apart from the bali there is sami-adis dance.He further said that the Amman god comes comes into the bodies of certain people.It looked like this temple was always frequented by the same god and that god used to call itself as  ”Madurai Amman” on Sevvai pongal when theSevvai sattu (a special type of pooja) is done. According to the younger priest there are certain assigned people whom he says are living in Kila Pecheri  andMaela Pecheri (probably the localities near by, as he was pointing his fingers in some direction outside the temple) on whom the god will come and they will do the sami-attam(god dance).He added that these days there are hardly any sami-attams happen.When I was 9 years old then there used to be a lot of such instances of god coming on people’s bodies.While Vel murugan was telling this, the old priest interrupted and said that even today we can’t say when she(Madurai Amman) can come and on whom she will come. For this the young priest, Vel Murugan interrupted the old priest and said, he is asking something else and clearly said that there are no Saami-Attams these days.There was a time when it used to be frequent and whoever’s body it came they used to dance on the edge of a naked arruval (machette).The old priest looked humble enough to allow the younger priest talk but to me I felt both were talking the same thing.On asking if the Sami-Adis dancing on the naked machette will it not cut the legs.For this the old priest gave a real big smile and said “That is the power of the god coming to your body and why it doesn’t cut the legs we don’t know and no body else also knows”.

Super-Mario-Bros-Star-Power

 I quickly came back to the ethnography mode and asked few more questions.

The young priest Vel Murugan quickly also added that is possible by a special type of fasting like we have to eat just once a day for around 20-30 days.And the water which they drink should be from the tap and never from any body’s house.The Old priest then gave an account of how he once walked on a bed of nails.Vel murugan also added that on special occasions the temple entrance would be tied with banana tress and a loudspeaker with devotional songs played and the white horse on which Aiyannar is sitting would be decorated with flower.

I asked if you are allowed to climb the white horse statue which is so huge because while climbing our feet would be over the god’s statue for which he said that there is only one person assigned who decorate the statue and that might not be the priest and may be assigned randomly from the temple trust.

Then I asked if there were any set of people who are forbidden to temple to which the priest unanimously said “Muslims can’t come and people from any religion and sect can come here”.

I asked why is it so to which he said that during the medieval ages when the Nawabs of Hyderabad had conquered till Madurai there was a restriction onsilai-vanakkam (idol worship) and hence the real statues  of this temple were destroyed by the muslims.

Headless

I got little puzzled by the math behind temple’s existence.I enquired about if the temple was really just 4 genrations old to which the old priest said that this temple has been there for more than thousand years but the temple in it’s current form is just four generations old.The major renovation happened when the Nawab’ss influence faded as the British came.The local village panchayat rebuilt the temple to it’s current form.It seems like the huge horse statue in the temple complex was a much smaller statue before the renovation and the central shrine was the only part of the temple that had shade and rest of the gods were simple stone statues and the temple floor was made of mud with cow-dung wash at the surface.

Hearing this I was almost transported to that era and imagined the temple as described by the priest.

The question that came to my mind when I was recollecting the account was “If the original horse statue of Aiyannar was not that huge Since when the statues of Aiyannar statues became so huge ?” I also doubt the new construction techniques introduced by the British (cement and concrete) was behind the metamorphosis of the Aiyannar and Aiyannar horse statues.The next question that comes to my mind is “If concrete is material used for these statues what would have been the material used before the advent of concrete ?” It could not be stones because stone carved temples were a very costly excercise and only kings could afford the labour involved in it. I remember my mentor Ajit Rao sir mentioning about the Terracotta horses of Tamil Nadu.So can it be like this “The horse statues were originally made of terracotta ?” I remember seeing pictures of terracotta horses in the internet but I am yet to see any of them so far except a medium sized horse statue lying along with the abandoned idols in the same temple complex as seen in the picture in any of the Aiyannar temple.

Terracotta

Terracotta takes me back to the interview where I remember me asking what caste the priest belonged to.

me: You belong to which caste ?

VM : Velar caste. Mann-Pannai (mud pot) making community.

me: Ohhh  ! I heard that only brahmins are allowed to be priests.

VM: (lowering his tone and coming closer to me) No No … then how can we offer the non-veg offerings to god. Brahmins priests are in different temples. They have separate temples.

(this got me more interested)

me: Separate ?

VM: Yeah ! Actually there are separate temples for higher castes where you can find the brahmin priests and the higher gods are worshiped.In Aiyannar temples you will find all the thunai-deivams/kaaval deivams where you will find velar priests.

me: Ohhh . What are the other differences ?

VM: There are scriptures which only the brahmin priests have access to.Velar priests are supposed to know only the bhakti songs like he (pointing to the old priest) sang. That too is diminishing …look at me.I do not know any songs.I forgot most of them.The old priest knows because he is there even before my era.

(I was pondering over my earlier observation as to why VM was not reading any hymns or manthras while doing the puja)

(VM continued …)

There are separate manthras and hymns for velar priest also but I never seemed to be getting it and I went on like that.God should be in your heart not in your manthras.He will know a lot the hymns and manthras (pointing to the old priest)

(Old priest was having a humble smile on his face)

Reason behind the disfigured state of the central god amman

After a long pause and other discussions the topic came back to the conflict with the muslims while we were discussing the people who are forbidden to come inside the temple complex which included the prostitutes and people who have committed crimes and wrong doing.I was asking about why the central statue looked incomplete to which he said that when the temple authorities were rebuilding the temple as a rebellious step against the tyrannous rulers (Nawabs) of that time the Amman herself came and asked the temple authorities to install the statue in whatever state she is in.That is the reason many people get confused and ask me if the central god is Ganesha.On asking how did the god come and speak was it during one of the Saami-adi dance he said that she came in  the temple authorities dream and said this.The old priest added that it was only because the Amman statue was half completed and hardly recognizable the muslims didn’t bother the temple authorities much.

[It didn't occur to me that time to ask what was the state of other statues during the Nawab rule.Was there any horse statue during that time or was that also broken ? ]

Where is the other horse ?

In most of the temples which I found on the NH38 road were having two horse statues.But in this temple there was only from the beginning.One horse has the Aiyannar and the other horse has Karrupasamy (depicted in blue).Here you can see Karruppan (another name for Karruppa samy) in his own shrine.And this shrine was built by one of the temple council members whose lineage god was Karuppan himself in the year 1912.There doesn’t seem to be any specific reason as to why Karruppan in this temple doesn’t have a separate horse to himself.

karruppandepictionwithouthorse

The priest’s explanation of the hierarchy seemed to match with my observation in other temples.

Aiyannar  / Karruppa Samy

On asking who exactly Aiyannar is the old priest said Aiyannar is the father-in-law of Shiva which kind of matched with my online references about one among the Aiyannars(Muneeshwaran).I quickly wanted to confirm if the Aiyannar (Durga’s Aiyannar) is also known as Muneeshwaran the old priest quickly said “Durga’s Aiyannar is not Muneeshwaran”.He added that there are 21 Aiyannars in total.Some temples like Karkoyil and Kalayar (which I visited but couldn’t conduct any interviews) has all the 21 of them.Each Aiyannar has there ownvaralaaru(history) and each one of them is guarded by one kaaval deivams(guardian god) who is known as either Karuppasamy or Pandeeshwaran or sometimes Muniyandi or Mayandi but all of them are one and the same.In Madurai side they are known as Karuppasamy but if you go to Pudukottai side the kaaval deivams are known as Muniyandi.

The question that was coming in my mind was if Aiyannar was the father-in-law of Shiva then was the Amman / Parvati Aiyannar’s daughter and how about all the 21 Aiyannars ?

Before I could ask further question on this VM took advantage of the old priest’s humbleness and said “Actually all Aiyannars are only one, just 21 names to them”.The old priest nodded in disagreement but VM who seemed to be in control of the temple activities more than the old priest asked the old priest to keep quiet (but with respect) which the old priest accepted almost helplessly.I was trying my best to get the old priest into an exclusive mode but before I could do that the old priest got up and left because it was already very late in the afternoon.

I didn’t want to leave the old priest as he seemed to be knowing a lot but the interview was (in a way) being spolied by VM priest.I asked the old priest one last question about Karruppa samy.

The old priest felt happier and started narrating the story of Sita who lived in Valmiki’s ashram after Ram abandoned her.During that time when Sita was away from the Ashram asked Valmiki to take care of Ram’s son.But Valmiki’s son who went missing for a while caused fear in Valmiki’s mind and hence Valmiki created a child out of grass and kept it in the cradle.When Sita arrived back the missing son also came from the missing and hence now there were two kids. Valmiki said since the new kid also came from the same cradle which Ram’s son shared he should also be taken care of. Sita agreed to this and both the kids grew up in the Ashram as Ram’s sons.Then one day when Ram came to the ashram saw two sons calling Sita as mom and hence Ram got angry and asked both the kids for agni-pariksha. Whoever wins the agni pariksha will be the real son of Ram. The kid who was from grass lost the agni pariksha and was hence burnt in the agni-pariksha and was sent on exile out of the kingdom.He went on to become the Karuppasamy and there are 108 avatars of Karuppasamy.

I had read on internet that Aiyannar/Aiyappans were originally called as Sastha or Sattan and hence wanted to know about the same and asked.The old priest said Sattan is not found in Tamil Nadu but found in Kerala.Both are essentially the same but we have just a different name for the same god.I asked another quick question because he seemed to be in  a mood to leave the temple.I asked him if Aiyappan and Aiyannar are the same ? To which he said Aiyappan is again a malayala (belonging to) god and doesn’t belong to Tamil Nadu.I couldn’t ask any further because he really seemed to be in a hurry and wanted to go somewhere else.

After this the old priest left the temple much to the relief of the VM priest who later took me around the temple to show the original statues of the temples which were destroyed during the Nawab time. I asked him since there is no threat of Nawabs  now to which VM priest said that once there was some efforts taken by the temple authorities to restore the idol of the central god in the temple but during that time one of the temple authorities met with an accident and was bed-ridden.The amman came to his dream and asked him to stop the restoration of the central idol.

After this VM  got ready to close the temple and I also recharged my dieing phone and camera battery.I could charge it for only 5 minutes and the electricity went off.

VM and me closed the temple and started off to the bus stand to catch a bus till the Madurai meenatchi amman temple.On the way I learnt that VM’s son is a painter and another is working in a cloth factory in Chennai.

[It didn't occur to me that time that if his son painted the statues in the temple]

Before we caught a bus to Madurai Meenatchi temple VM took me to another temple near the bus stand which was not an Aiyannar temple.It didn’t have any of the angry looking gods except the rakshashas(with horns and potruding teeth) in the gopurams. The priests in this temple were brahmans and seemed to be higher class than the velar priests.I noted this in the way VM was interacting with the priests of this temple.I couldn’t document why I got such vibes because it was very subtle in the body language of their conversation.

While in the bus VM told me to reach the Madurai Meenatchi Amman temple as soon as got down from the bus because the temple was to close by 12 noon as it was a solar eclipse that day.

 

White Horses of Aiyannar 5 (The Puja)

I got up as early as possible in the morning and took an auto-rickshaw to avuniyapuram aiyannar temple.I informed velmurugan pujari by phone that I am on the way.It costed me 75 bucks to reach the place since it was around 5 KM from the Madurai Meenatchi temple.I had no idea if the fare was fair enough because auto-rickshaw fares differ district to district within Tamil nadu.

When I reached the temple, priest vel murugan had already started cooking pongal for the puja. He even had few kids as assistants in helping him for preparation of puja materials.Among all the kids who were waiting for the puja rather pongal to be served at the end of puja, Nagraj was the eldest and to me seemed to be a bully.

His roles were the following as an assistant priest included:

  • bringing wood for cooking pongal
  • maintain silence and peace among the other kids in the temple
  • hit the temple bell while the pujari is doing the puja

Once the pongal was done, the priest Vel murugan asked him to cut the banana leaves into small pieces so that it can be used to serve the prasad to everyone.

Nagaraj

pujamaterials2

assistantsgallore

the priest assigned few boys as his assistants

The kids as usual were restless and never sat in one place hence a constant and never ending task for Nagraj to make them sit at one place.

IMG_0818

Because it was not any festival or poornima or amavasya a few visitors would come to the temple just to pray and leave immediately.The priest would say to the rare visitor that “today I am doing a puja, so wait and watch and then go”.Some said they are in a hurry and some decided to wait till the puja is over. Puja material were the following :

  • Marigold flowers
  • two coconuts
  • incense sticks
  • camphor
  • betel leaves
  • bananas
  • lemons

The pujari did the puja to the central god amman and then did the same to all the statues in the temple complex in the following order.

  • Ganesha
  • Amman (the central god)
  • Aiyannar (on the horse statue)
  • Karruppasamy

GodsintheComplex

The pujari seemed to be going in multiple iterations of aarthi to every god in the same order as mentioned above, the logic behind which I didn’t understand.

6

Ganesha – always the first god to be remembered

5

Murugan (who also happens to be in this temple,usually not present in an Aiyannar temple) gets the second respect

4

then it is the Amman – the central god

3

it’s ganesha again

2

The Aiyannar (and also the horse of Aiyannar ?)

1

another avatar of Amman (a separate shrine, built by a devotee but not exactly part of the original temple as build by the temple trust)

Karruppan

finally it was Karruppasamy ( assisting god to Aiyannar who is guarding the central god Amman)

While the last iteration was going on, I could hear a kid sitting inside the temple complex to another kid on the road (outside the temple complex) that “Puja over da, they will give it(pongal) now ….just two minutes da …come fast”

Once the puja was done the pongal was served to every one in the temple after incense stick ash and the holy water was distributed to people in the following order

  • The sponsor (me)
  • The eldest member from the people in the temple
  • The kids
firstMe

the blessing of the burning camphor and vibhuthi first to me

a lady who waited till the end of puja

eldest person among the rest of audience

theKids

then it’s the kids

theholywater

aftter the vibhoothi the (thiruneer) holy water first to the sponsor of the puja

PrasadamtoAll

pongal prasad to everyone

prasadampongaltotheAssistantpriests

the assistants eat at the end

and I was given half of the puja material (which I sponsored) and the half was kept for the Amman along with a garland of flowers adorning my neck.

whitehorses

Singing priest

While I was shooting the puja an old man (also a priest) came and stood in front of me.He was thin and having a long beard.I backed off a little thinking he might object me from shooting the puja and almost got ready to close the camera but to my pleasant surprise, the old priest started singing almost at the top of his voice. It was evident that he was singing in the praise of lord Ganesha as the saviour of Avuniyapuram. These were the verses “Siva Sakthi Vinayaganey…Intha Avuniye kathavaney

singingPriest

Once the song was over he started singing another song.He was probably singing all the songs he knew.He sang around 7 songs on Aiyannar and Ganesha and then  stopped.I recorded all the songs and finally introduced myself before asking his identity.Before the old priest could answer , Vel murugan priest interrupted and said “he is the another priest to this same temple, like me”.I started asking them questions which I had on Aiyannar and the following are few interesting excepts from the  conversation.During the conversation I realised that Vel murugan priest is the kind of interruptive because he interrupted every conversation I was trying to strike with the old priest.Then I made it a point that I am asking the questions to both the priests to have as informative interview as possible.

interviewStarts

 For the interview click here

 

White Horses of Aiyannar 2 (the trail at a glance)

I learnt from the internet and few ethnographers whom I knew few years back that ethnography projects take years and the ethnographers almost dedicate their lives for the project.This project was a month’s project which simply got extended due to various projects I was stuck at the same time.I did travel and took interviews much to my satisfaction but couldn’t document it until now.Better late than never, following is the trail of my journey during this project.I will be documenting two journeys which I undertook during the project.

  1. Journey I  -  Dec 6 to Dec 13, 2011
  2. Journey II – August 29-September 2, 2012

Journey I

  •  6 Dec 2011 – reaching chennai from Mumbai
  •  6 Dec 2011 – Arranging travel and accomodation for myself in Madurai
  •  7 Dec 2011 – Set off to Madurai in state transport bus
  • 8 Dec 2011 , Morning – Reaching Madurai and meeting Abdullah Uncle
  • 8 Dec 2011, Afternoon – Aiyannar temple hunting on the NH38 highway
  • 8 Dec 2011, Evening – Stop at one of my relatives place who lives in Tuticorin
  • 9 Dec 2011, Morning – Thiruchendur Murugan temple
  • 9 Dec 2011, Afternoon – Return journey back to Madurai
  • 9 Dec 2011, Evening – Visiting one last temple which we missed in the beginning and made arrangements for an a puja(or archana) next day
  • 9 Dec, 2011, Night – Stay at a cheap restaurant in Madurai
  • 10 Dec 2011, Morning – Visiting the Aiyannar temple and interviewing the priests and observing the proceedings
  • 10 Dec 2011, Afternoon – Vacated the lodge where I stayed last night and headed towards Madurai Meenatchi temple which I came to know that it was closed due to Solar eclipse on that day
  • 10 Dec 2011, An eureka moment while clicking the photograph of the gopuram of Madurai meenatchi temple from outside.The eureka moment was about the idea of documenting the change in the attire of the guardian gods because I faintly remember seeing the Aiyannars depicted in army dress somewhere in the ECR road but don’t remember exactly where.
  • 10 Dec 2011, Evening – Headed towards my native place, Alakkudi a village near Chidambaram. My co-traveller, Siddiqui, in the bus was a forest officer with whom I became very thick friends on the way.He even called me almost a year later asking about my endeavours. He gives me leads which would be the target destinations in the future journeys.He even tells me about a temple near Kanyakumari which is dedicated for a british officer.
  • 10 Dec 2011, Midnight – Reach Atchalapuram a stop before my village where my aunt lives.
  • 11 Dec 2011, Morning –  Had a long conversation with my Aunt about my own Kula deivam, Periyandavar who is also one of the 21 Aiyannars.
  • 11 Dec 2011, Afternoon – Leave for my village Alakkudi to meet my Tauji and Chacha’s family.Had a long discussion about my experiences and discussed about the eureka moment I had at Madurai Meenatchi temple with my chacha and to my awe I discovered that there are many Aiyannar temples which can give me more eureka moments.The journey had a new purpose to visit atleast one temple which had guardian gods depicted in police uniform.
  • 11 Dec 2011, Evening – Showing computer games to kids in the neighbourhood and made some observations.

horse

  • 12 Dec 2011, Afternoon – Visiting the temple near Chidambaram where I found the temple surrounded with guardian gods with police uniforms.Also found paper chits tied to the legs of the statue of the white horse.Heard a very interesting story about the chits tied to the legs of the White Horse statue from a tea shop owner.Heard stories about the commotion that has stuck the devotees of Aiyappan due to the growing tension between Tamil Nadu and Kerala regarding the Periyar Dam.
  • 12 Dec 2011, Evening – Visiting the place which is said to have the place of worship of Periyandavar, our lineage god.Fear and insecurity taking over and making me switch of the camera after clicking two pictures.
  • 12 Dec 2011 , Late evening – Back to my Chacha’s place at Alakkudi. Showed the pics clicked at various places. Found the SD card missing after a while and searched the entire house for the SD card but in vain.
  • 13 Dec 2011, Morning  - While getting ready to go back to Chennai I found the missing SD card inside my camera pouch.It looked like a miracle because I saw inside the camera pouch yesterday night when the SD card was found missing but it was there now.My Chachi says it was Aiyannar god himself who returned the SD card back to me.
  • 13 Dec 2011, Midnight – Reached Chennai.
  • 14 Dec 2011 – 17 Dec 2011 – Read the book “Art of Game Design” because I was supposed to finish a report for extended P2 project
  • 18 Dec 2011 – Start for Mumbai in Mumbai Mail
  • 19 Dec 2011 – Reach Mumbai and got myself busy with the P2 project presentation till 5 Jan

JOURNEY II

Journey II was the serendipity that was still continuing after my serendipitous journey to Arunachal Pradesh which was an extension to my game design project for P3. My friend-turned-brother Saravanan who wanted to start a company has already registered the train tickets to Coimbatore.We signed the legal papers related to the company and amongst these three events which within three days.

  • 29 August 2012 – I turned 29  and also Saravanan’s uncle’s marriage function
  • 30 August 2012 – Legal papers for the company got ready
  • 31 August 2012 – Saravanan turns 25 and we signed the legal papers regarding the company. I was all set to explore the Bhadrakali amman temple the next day.Siddiqui calls me at around 9 PM and asks about the project and me.Had a long chat about the Aiyannar temples in Pudukottai and promised that I will be visiting pudukottai soon.
bakasur statue at bhadrakali amman temple

bakasur statue at bhadrakali amman temple

  • 1 September 2012 – Visiting the Bhadrakali temple near Coimbatore hoping to find few Aiyannars as well.Found some other stories of different guardian god namely Bakasur but not Aiyannar. Found  a sharp connect with the story of the british officer’s temple in Pulliyoor as told by Siddiqui with the Bakasur’s story.
  • 2 September 2012 – Leave for Mumbai without visiting my native place much to the disgust of my family members.I promised them that I will return in December or in January atleast because I had a lot of projects to be completed some of them were commercial ones which I was doing for my living.

Read further in the project at this link

White Horses of Aiyannar 1 (SOP)

What am I ?

This ethnography project on Aiyannars was a diversion from the usual me who always sits in front of my laptop and did either of the two things (a) watching TED talks and interviews of various game designers (b) fiddling with the construct game engine to make games which I believe are going to change the world for better (trust me I am a designer).Probably one of the reasons why I took up this outdoor project was my subconscious mind which seemed to have deeply inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto who is said to have gone for an evening walk when the idea for the most loved video game by mankind,”Mario”, came to his mind.But that was a subconscious reason and note the word “p-r-o-b-a-b-ly” there.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached.It often serves simply as something to aim at”

ravanaimage courtesy: http://www.deccanchronicle.com/

The reason (a conscious one) why I wanted to do this project was because I wanted to remove the monkey off my back which poked me to make a documentary of a journey in the “Lonely planet” style(which was my favorite travel documentary on discovery Channel) also I wanted to try something which I am not good at, “candid talk with people”, specially to the people from the rural.Me coming from  a metropolitan upbringing always felt this disconnect when it came to talk to people from my village.I have definitely changed a lot after a year of sabbatical I spent in Delhi  before joining IDC but I still wanted to get more of this.May be I wanted to bring the “Hippie” inside me to wake up.Another reason for this project was that I was always poked by my north-Indian friends by saying that south-Indians worship Ravana (the character representing evil in the Hindu epic , Ramayana).I always doubted “was it the Aiyannars whom they(my north-Indian friends) have mistaken as Ravana?” because both are depicted as huge scary idols.I wanted to see if there is any truth in this speculation of mine.That’s all, these were the only two reason why I wanted to do this project.

previous experiences

I had already done a user-study trip to mount abu in the year 2010 which was for finding ways to ease the use of camera mobile technology for the rural population.I never found myself there because I never believed in technology as a liberator in people’s lives.You might smell a conflict in my statements because I am from a technology background (atleast career wise). The fact is I was always seen as an eccentric guy with a slant towards art during my days as a software engineer.Similarly, I am being seen as an eccentric guy with technical slant in the design community after I came to IDC.

conditions before the start of the project

But ignoring the fingers that are pointed towards me (as I always have), I decided to work on video games which I believe is the sum total of all the creative mediums of expression ever known to man.I was really tired after a presentation spill in P2 project which was given an extension and I wanted a break desperately and hence was looking for serendipity that can save my equanimity.I felt looking within myself (into my own culture which is still an alien for me due to many reasons) would give me few moments of bliss.

For reading further in the project click here