132 steps to Vaikuntha

I was introduced to board games as a child by my maternal paati (grandmother in Tamil), Meenakshi R. She loved them and could spend the whole day playing different games with her grandchildren or whoever was free and willing. I wasn’t always free, but I was always willing 🙂

We played games like pallankuzhi (a traditional game played with shells and cowries), ludo, snakes and ladders, etc. If I ever got bored playing the same games, she would quickly improvise games on the floor with some pieces of chalk, some string, and other odds and ends that would magically appear from her cupboard. The games were never just games—they were also stories, anecdotes, strategies, wins and losses, all delivered while playing.

Paati died when I was 8, and after her death, playing board games was never the same again—none of my family members or friends could match her enthusiasm and delight for the games. Besides, with school and other growing up activities, playing board games took a back seat.

I resumed my love affair with board games some years back after a chance visit to The Design Store in Bangalore. Tucked away amongst all their furniture and furnishings and knickknacks, was a shelf displaying traditional games from Kreeda. One of the games was Parama Pada Sopanam. Intrigued by the name, I opened the display pack.

Top: The "boxed" game. Bottom: The box opens to reveal a little cloth pouch containing little wooden counters, two elongated metal dies, and an information booklet (not in picture)
Top: The “boxed” game. Bottom: The box opens to reveal a little cloth pouch containing little wooden counters, two elongated metal dies, and an information booklet (not in picture)

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What’s in a name?

None of us have a say with what we are named as, do we?

It depends entirely on what our parents (or whoever else had a say in this matter) wanted to name us. But sometimes, even the parents (or whoever else had a say in this matter) do not have a choice in choosing their child(ren)’s name(s). For instance, the Tamil Brahmin (a.k.a. TamBrahm) Iyer community from Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, follows certain pre-ordained rules. You wouldn’t find these rules in any book or magazine, as it is part of the oral traditions of the community passed down from generation to generation.

I make an attempt (albeit a tongue-in-cheek one) here to codify these “scientific”, and quirky, rules on naming children born to the TamBrahms of Tirunelveli district. My qualifications for doing so are due to my being (i) a TamBrahm from Tirunelveli District, and (ii) a recipient of this oral tradition. 🙂

Some common TamBrahm names. Designed with the help of Wordle

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Stories from my home – 1: Meenakshi’s lamp

We don’t always have to travel to seek stories; they are right there in our homes too. In “Stories From My Home“, I examine the many objects surrounding me at home and attempt to document and share the memories associated with them, one story at a time. 

When a Tamil Iyer girl gets married, she is given brass and silver lamps, or vilakku as they are known in Tamil, to aid her in the many rituals and ceremonies associated with her being an Iyer wife, an Iyer daughter-in-law, etc. It is a tradition that is followed even today by many Iyer families, the community that I belong to.

When my paternal grandmother Meenakshi N (1910–1989) got married in 1922, she too was given her own brass and silver vilakku. Among the 6–7 vilakku given to her, is the one featured here in this blog post. Nearly 3 feet tall, this bronze vilakku was not bought off the racks in a store, but was specially commissioned and made at her house. That is, the lamp-maker came to Meenakshi N’s father’s house with his implements and made it as per the specifications given to him.

My mind still boggles at how this must have been done and the preparation that would have gone into making the vilakku. To begin with, an auspicious day and time would have been set after consulting the panchangam or the almanac. A coconut would have been broken before the start of the lamp-making process, prayers offered… As for the lamp-making process itself, I wouldn’t even know where to start imagining!

Meenakshi’s Lamp

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