The month of Markazhi always brings nostalgic memories. With its early morning bhajans, kolam decorations in the front yard, Thiruppavai renderings in the radios and temples and of course early morning temple visits.
These things were happening during my high school days in T.V.S Nagar also. But that had limitations due to half-yearly exams looming large in the early parts of the month and the call of blissful sleep taking over in the latter parts.
It was during my Karaikudi days in the beginning of my official career that the Markazhi days were more memorable.
I still remember well the water boiler my mother used to keep warm, rather hot, water ready for a bath at 4 a.m.
Many might not have seen the cylindrical brass vessel used in homes those days for the purpose. A cylindrical vessel is kept on a three legged iron stand. The lid would be opened for filling water inside. There would be a wide tube like device running from just a little above the top of the vessel to the bottom. A perforated plate with a handle will be inserted at the bottom which would hold the charcoal dropped through the top of the tubular device and lighted. The flaming charcoal would heat up the water and you can collect it through a tap fitted in the bottom of the vessel. A nice piece of an engineering design. It can be seen in roadside coffee shops in Madurai even today. The vendor would keep the brass vessel cleaned and the shining piece would be decorated with three stripes of holy ashes with kumkumam in the middle. And you can be sure that at least one such shop would be open, offering you a cup of hot coffee even at the wee hours of the night, be it 11 p.m or 2 a.m. and that is Madurai. Babu Chittappa had one such shop, Visalam Coffee Bar as his favourite shop whenever he visited Madurai on official work or otherwise.
Back to the Markazhi track.
Mother and I would get up at 4 and 4.30 a.m in that order and have a nice cup of coffee and prepare the front yard for drawing huge kolams and do the kolams half way. The boiler water would be ready by now. After having a satisfying bath in the early morning cold weather we would start off to temples. My younger brother and sister would join us on days they could muster the will to part with the coziness of the bed. Appa would have also got up for sure and had his cup of coffee and on his round of morning walk. The pleasure of walking in the time just before dawn, (விடிந்தும் விடியாத காலைப்பொழுது) is something splendid and has to be felt to be believed. Devotional songs from temples at soothing volumes through the loudspeakers would always accompany you. Thiurppavai from this temple, Murugan songs by my favourite singer T.M.S from that temple and Ayyappa songs, due to Sabarimala season coinciding, making the air pious and pure. And when you hear Karpakavalli by T.M.S, his masterpiece, the day is blessed, you are sure to feel. Then you can have a peaceful darshan at the temples amidst a disciplined crowd. Prasadams of venpongal, Sarkarai pongal or puliyodarai on special days of Thiruavdirai etc., were added attractions. You return from temples to complete the kolams that were waiting for you. Big and beautiful kolams with different designs for each day throughout the month. There are certain specific types of kolams for certain days. While making the to and fro trips to the temples if you saw a new design of kolam attracting you, you are sure to try it the next day.
Vaikunda Ekadasi when you fast for the whole day with only a non-rice, one time only meal (having ten pooris is not barred, though) also falls in this month, followed by dwadasi. On Dwadasi, you are supposed to break previous day’s fast after having Tulsi water from temples and having a sumptuous meal in the early hours, say 6.30 or 7 a.m.
Markazhi was not well received by my father. He would say it is Soonya masam(void month?), though Lord Krishna is supposed to have said that of the twelve months he is markazhi. Appa had his own reasons for fearing Markazhi. He would cite a list of important persons who died in this month. The list would include E.V.Ramasamy Naicker, a staunch non-believer and M.G.R. and Balachadar recently. There was a great loss in our family also in one markazhi way back in 1975. Shankar chittappa passed away on Thiruvadirai day very peacefully in his afternoon nap. He was very dear to all in the family and was especially fond of me. I still preserve a sari he gifted to me. His was the first death of a close and dear relative. It took me months to recover from the shock. Even attending to office work was difficult for a long time. I thank a friend in my office who helped me in recovery. Never does a Thiruvadirai passes without my remembering him and keeping silence for a few minutes.
Enough of sentiments.
Markazhi mahotsav culminates with the onset of the month Thai.Pongal day. Uzhavar Thirunal—Farmers Festival. Makara Sankranti, it has different names at different parts of India. The day on which Sun is supposed to enter the northern hemisphere. Though there is some scientific significance, my little knowledge of astronomy tells me that there is some miscalculation. Leaving that side three days bank holiday is reason enough to celebrate. In the place of one big kolam for thirty days, as many big and small kolams as there is space in the front yard are drawn leaving no space to move about without stepping on one of them. Sometimes we would start in the late night and continue till the morning. Then Thai is welcomed with whole sugar cane, little turmeric plants and pongal, a sweet dish made of rice and jaggery with a rich supply of ghee, cashew nuts, dry grapes and grated coconut. Some families make pongal in the front yard so as to offer it to Sun god directly.
The scene shifts to Sankar nagar, Trivandrum after my marriage.
Running a family and taking care of kids leave their marks on many a thing. Visiting temples in the early mornings of markazhi started as one such casualty. Only drawing big kolams on all thirty days continued. People used to go round the streets singing bhajans in the early hours and my elder son used to be crazy about it when he was young,4 or 5 years old. Even though it was his grandma who inculcated the habit in him, he used to pester her on days she felt reluctant due to cold weather and would somehow take her or go on his own.
Well times change and we move on.
Lack of available time or change of perceptions may alter the Markazhi routine. But the memory lingers on as vivid as ever.
I can hear a few murmurs as to why all this when Markazhi is long gone and Thai is well settled.
ஆடி கழிஞ்சு அஞ்சாம் நாள் கோடி உடுத்துக் கும்பிடத் தான்.