May 27, 2006

The youth discover their roots

How did Thiruporur, a town on the Old Mahabalipuram Road, get its name?
Thiru-por-ur. Place of the sacred war!
Legend goes that Lord Murugan is said to have waged a war with an asura in the air above this region. And he won.
Today, the town is famous for the Sri Kandaswamy Temple dedicated to Lord Murugan but few know that it was once a cultural hub and is an ancient place - megalithic burial urns were found here during excavations. And it is also one of the few towns in Tamil Nadu which has detailed records of its history.
Of late, a fascinating project has been encouraged here.
DakshinaChitra, the arts and heritage centre located in Muttukadu on the Mahabalipuram Road (ECR), initiated a project whereby local students documented the town, its history, its landscape, its people and their activities.
The project began after the staff of DakshinaChitra visited the village schools and shared with them stories on the arts and crafts and cultural life of this place and of the state. This was followed by a visit to DakshinaChitra by the students. The two events set the tone for the study. Recently, this fascinating study was published as a document.
The journey of the students of Thiruporur Govt. Higher Secondary School, of classes IX and X, is a fascinating one. Every week, Geetha Kannan, project director, and V. R. Devika, a consultant at DakshinaChitra, visited the school and guided the students while Prof. Joshua of Madras Christian College helped the students tabulate the data in a scientific manner.
The groups, guided by their teacher N. Ramachandran, began by detailing the places of worship, recording even the nadaswaram artistes employed by the Sri Kandaswamy Temple, and then moved on to an area that thoroughly fascinated me as I went through this document - the section on chatrams ( public community halls).At one time, there were over sixty ‘chatrams’ built and meant for different communities, for people who came from far and near to the temple and needed a place to rest and refresh.
Some of these chatrams were grand but only ten remain.The study covers government services, private establishments, even the street corner shops, and all the communities who live in a town which in, 1772 had only 177 households of which there were 17 devadasis (temple dancers), one kanakkupillai (accountant), two washermen and one navitar (barber).
Another fascinating section of the study carries short interviews with a host of people - including the theru-koothu artiste, the Marwari pawn broker and the budding thamizh poet, teenager V. Uma Rani.
What a fascinating, timely exercise this is! Time we did this in our neighbourhoods.

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