The temple beats and the Pallavur trinity

I spent most of my childhood vacations near the temples of Pallavur, the bigger one being the Thrippallavurappan temple, with Lord Siva as the main deity and I have been lucky to see & listen to the great Pallavur trinity comprising the brothers, Appu, Kunjukuttan & Manian. I introduced them in my previous blog Talking Drums. Many of my compatriots wanted me to include & introduce some of their works to readers. Let me try.

The Pallavur temple - There is a legend that the 20' (~1.5 times the height of an elephant) high granite wall around the temple was raised in a night by Siva’s Bhootaganams. As the sun rose, an old lady saw them building the wall and suddenly the Bhootaganams left, thus leaving a small portion of the wall still unfinished. Also, there is a story of Tippu Sultan attacking the temple where he used an elephant to take out the Pratishta, but in vain. Even now, it is said that you can see the Pratishta slightly tilted as a result of the push by the elephant. The presiding deity of the village temple is Lord Shiva. Legend has it that the Prathishta of the lingam was by the Kara Asura (Thataka's brother) who was carrying three lingams with him-one held between his teeth and the other two in his hands. Stopping for a drink, he laid down the lingas. He could not wrest one of the lingams from its resting place after quenching his thirst and this place got hallowed by the name Thrupallavoor. The other two lingams were sanctified at nearby Thrupalloor and Ayloore (Some others say that the temple was built by Pallava kings). The noteworthy feature is the high stone temple compound wall built with huge and neatly cut blocks of granite (6’x2’x2’) as mentioned above. These stones are laid one on top of another without any sealing in between (in the photo you will notice cement sealants which are modern additions to the exterior). They have been standing like that for centuries just on gravity, protecting the temple.

Now to the temple drums…..

It is believed that the first drum was invented several millennia ago. It was a fascination with sound that led to this discovery. Man realized that when hide was stretched over a hollow and struck, it made a booming sound. The Chenda was born in Kerala, and thence, continued a long tradition of drumming the praises of God. It started as a temple ritual, and has since assumed a high degree of sophistication and virtuosity. Marar’s are the traditional drummers of Kerala and a caste by themselves..


As the name implies, this comprises five instruments, namely the drums of Timila, Maddalam and Edakka supported by the Kombu (horn) and Ilathalam (large cymbals). It is typically performed in temples after the Deeparadhana and has evolved into a complex art form today. In the usual routine, the cymbals maintain the beat or rhythmic pattern and the Kombu a C shaped horn kind of prolongs the drum percussion. It took Rolph Killius to explain this in a mathematical fashion. The structure of the performance is a pyramid rhythmic structure, with an ever increasing tempo and a proportionally decreasing number of beats in cycles. The orchestra normally starts with the blowing of the Shanku or Conch (Shell) three times symbolizing OM. The first stage starts with a 1792- beat cycle in a very slow tempo. The following stages have 896, 448, 224, 112, 56, 28, 14, 7 and finally 3 1/2- beat cycles. Each beat cycle has a fixed basic structure, which is made audible by the ilatalam and remaining drum players who are not at that moment in charge of a solo improvisatory part. The main part of each phase is composed; in addition the maddalam, timila and edakka drum players improvise in turn.
After the conclusion of the panchavadyam, the timila etachil (individual timila display), a kind of competition between the timila players starts. For this purpose the timila and ilatalam artists group themselves in a circle and play in chempata cycles (8 or 4 beat) in an increasing tempo.

The late panchavadyam artist Pallavur Maniyan Marar compared the melam and panchavadyam structure with the pyramid-shaped entrance towers (gopuram) of the Dravidian temples, both representing the long way from the lower human sphere towards divine heights. Although there are few Dravidian temples in Kerala, the comparison is convincing. After concluding a panchari melam performance, musicians and devotees enter the inner part of the temple complex to pay respect to the reciting deity. Similar to the symbolic meaning of the huge gothic spires, the kshetram artist creates a sonic atmosphere expressing the connection between human and spiritual spheres, the former indicated by the slow and measured rhythm, and the latter shown by the loud and extremely fast beat supported by all instruments

Tayambaka is a solo chenda performance, supported by other itantala (treble) and valanthala (bass) chenda and ilatalam cymbals. Apart from playing improvisational and compositional elements the solo artist leads the other players, who have to support him in every respect. The constant changing speed makes this task very difficult for the accompanists. Pathikal, the slow and difficult first phase, is performed in chempata (8-beat) talam in a very slow tempo. In the second phase the artist has to select one of three kooru, these are panchari (6-beat), chempata (5-beat), or atanta (7-beat) as detailed in chart-001. The other phases, itavattam, itanila, and irukita, are based on eka talam (1-beat) performed in steadily increasing speed
Kerala is a land of percussion marvels. Among the myriad percussion ensembles it has produced, Panchavadyam has a unique appeal. Strangely, Panchavadyam has always prospered under `trios.' Achutha Marar, Parameswara Marar and Peethambara Marar of Annamanada; Appu Marar, Maniyan Marar and Kunjukuttan Marar of Pallavur and Kuttappa Marar, Narayanan Marar and Chandrasekhara Marar of Kuzhur. What makes a Marar endearing to his colleagues and fans is his behavior as a pramani (helmsman) of the melam. Timila is supreme in Panchavadyam. The ‘marar’ community have a hereditary (kulathozhil) profession which is the performance of percussion ensemble at temples.

Sopana Sangeetham is a very ancient form of temple music in Kerala. The word Sopana means a flight of steps leading up to the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. Devotional recitals rendered on these steps came to be known as Sopana sangeetham. Besides, the musical notes (ragas) too have an ascending (aarohana) and descending (avarohana) nature. Even though over fifty types of musical instruments can accompany Sopana sangeetham, Edakka is most commonly used.

The Pallavur trinity

Sadly, in a span of 18 months between June 2001 and Dec 2002, the three Pallavur stalwarts of Panchavadyam, Spoana Sangeethama and Thayambaka left us.

Appu Marar

He was the eldest brother of the Pallavoor trinity, all of whom were experts in percussion. Appu Marar had headed the Panchavadyam of the Paramekkavu Devaswom of the famous Thrissur Pooram for the last few decades (1960-2002). Appu Marar won a number of awards including the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award in 1983, the Guruvayurappan Puraskaram in 1995 and the Manaveeyam Award in 2002. Cheerful in countenance and always seen wearing a long gold chain, Appu Marar was the best recognized of the three. Not only did he become an expert in his chosen trade, he trained his two younger brothers Manian and Kunjukuttan, to create that awesome trinity we all remember.

The painful childhood with an absentee father and limited traditional schooling moored in him, an unflinching faith towards Lord Shiva who he believes was his first guru, other than the short stints he had with Konthaswamy and Nanu Marar. After his arengettam at Pallavur at the age of 8, he went on to learn the Chenda, Edekka and Timila at Tiruvilwamala under Kondaswami and Nanu Marar. At 17 became a regular drummer and performed at Pallavur and various temples in Kerala. Much traveled, he has performed abroad, including countries like Russia. He left us in Dec 2002, not many months after his younger brothers passed away.

People were spellbound when he played ‘techi mandaram tulasi’ a movie song on the Edakka. He was equally at ease with Sopana sangeetham. Not only at temples, but at the Trichur pooram where thousands stood, watched & listened, the brothers reigned supreme as long as they were alive. While Appu did a double thayambaka with Tritala Keshavan, Manian did his double with Kunjukuttan!! It was only after Keshavan passed away that Appu continued double Thayambaka with his younger brother Kunjukuttan. His last wish was to do a triple Thayambaka with Mattannur Sankaran Kutty and Kalloor Ramankutty, alas that never materialized!! (Source:

When his brothers left him, he said poignantly that luminaries always had a short life span…. But sometimes, it is sad to hear things like this - When veteran percussion artist Appu Marar passed away in 2002, there was not a single album or recording of his performance even with Doordarshan or AIR, except for a live video recording of one of his performances, says Ramachandran who made a short film on him.

Kunjukuttan Marar

The youngest of the brothers, Kunjukuttan looked the most cheerful, always. He too had that ever ready smile and when you saw him, a shorter person with a small paunch, on which the Chenda rested, and you looked on with some amusement, till he started. Then his mastery of the instrument held you spellbound…. Kunjukuttan also made his entry at the age of eight and was trained by his brother Appu marar. An expert in the Thimila, Marar took over the mantle of `pramanam' of the famous `Madathil varavu' Panchavadyam of the Thiruvambady Temple 2002's Thrissur Pooram after the death of his elder brother, Pallavur Manian Marar, in June 2001. He had by then won many accolades from critics for his stirring performances. He was also a regular participant at the Nenmara-Vallangi Vela in Palakkad district. He left us at age 59, on Aug 24th 2002. Listen to him performing the Ashtapadi.

Manian Marar
Maniyande vadyam mani nadam (Manian’s drumming is like a lilting bell symphony) – said his brother Appu when asked about his younger brother. Manian mesmerized the thousands watching the Trissur Pooram while leading the Tiruvambady desam side for many years of his four decades of drumming life. If I recall right, he was the tallest and the thinner of the lot. I remember that he looked more serious than all the others. He was also an expert in the Thimila. A percussion aficionado remembers Manain Marar in this linked article. Manian Marar left us on June 20th, 2001. Manian Marar is popularly referred to as the Kulapathi of Panchavadyam.

Watch and listen to the trinity

A full Panchavadyam audio performance involving all three is available at this link.

Much of the text are contributions by others as I have always been a listener only and enjoyed the melam. I never understood the complexities and mathematics of it. Recently in June 2008, I met Pallavur Sreedharan, another popular drummer of today. In fact when I saw him with my brother and was told that he is from the famous family, I asked him if he knew Pallavur Sreedharan. Coyly he said, it is me, but brother, how on earth could you have known about me in USA? He did not even know that if you type Pallavur marar, his name is the first hit that comes up on Google and that his drumming is part of a popular CD...
Pics from the web - thanks to the uploaders...

Oh! How I need my MPG

I still remember our driver of yester years in India, with much fondness. He used a number of methods to help conserve fuel or for that matter to get more bang for the ‘small’ buck in those days where a car was a luxury and gas cost Rs 10-15 per liter in India. As a child I remember him saying “Ah! Now we have a slope, I will coast after switching off the car and save us some money”. Or he would turn the air screw of the carburetor to make the oil air mixture as lean as possible, so that mileage was increased. And he would always park the car on a slope so that it could be started by dropping it into gear while rolling and without using the starting motor (How that helped, I am not sure).In those days with few cars on the road, pick up was not an issue & there were no traffic lights in most Kerala cities. Later when I started riding my bike, I would also play with the carburetor screw to get that extra 5 kilometers from every liter, finally mastering the technique. Then came Japanese mobikes with two and four cylinders and they even joked that one or two of them could run 10 kilometers if it had a mere sniff of the air near a gas station…

Today, such drivers, like the ones who coast on a slope and do the other things our old driver did, the ones who get the last mile out of the gallon and belong to that exalted ecofriendly group, are called Hypermilers.

So where are we at present? Everybody is talking about gas prices and I thought back about my two years in the UK. I drove a Diesel Jaguar for those two years, and other than the fact that it sounded a bit loud when you were outside the car, the performance was about the same, it was reasonably silent inside, decent engine pick up, and the fuel efficiency was excellent. It provided 45mpg (highway) over the two years I drove it!! Diesel cost about GBP1.00 per liter (i.e. ~ $3.78 per gallon). Today we pay $4.80 per gallon of gasoline and get less than half the mileage on the Toyota Rav4.How does all this make sense? Well, no wonder houses in distant towns are losing value as the cost of commute gets more and more!

The attached picture outlines gas prices around the world. Today gas costs Rs 50/- to 60/- per liter or $5.77 per gallon in India. You then start to wonder, who is at fault? Gas producers & refiners, Gas distribution companies, Federal taxes or automobile companies?

Look at some statistics - USA consumes about 400 million gallons or some 9 million barrels of gasoline per day. One barrel is 42 gallons (159 liters) and roughly 20 gallons (75 liters) out of it accounts for Petrol (US-Gasoline)!! Today’s oil price is $130 per barrel. Overall, today crude oil costs $3.126 per gallon as against a pump price of $4.80 per gallon. Consider the model of EIA which is 10% Distribution & marketing, 17% refining costs, 15% taxes over a $68 bbl price. According to EIA reports, the cost of crude rose from 47% of the retail pump price to over 80% in June 08. It is also understood that distribution prices fluctuate from 5-15% over a year. So the mechanics of gasoline pricing can tend to be rather complex and the gainers and losers change over time. European nations tax gas heavily, with about 75% tax content as compared to USA, where it is about 47-60 cents a gallon (EIA states 15% taxes).

Oil companies as I read, earn about 8cents per dollar of sales according to statistics (How could that be unless their costs and investment are shooting up?) which is considered in line with averages. Until recently, gasoline and diesel fuel prices closely tracked the cost of crude oil. But over the last year the supply and demand picture has changed. Gasoline prices are driven by the realities of global supply and demand for crude oil and a weak dollar and, I am sure, by speculator pressure.Bloomberg summarizes as follows on Indian and Chinese demand - China , the world's second-biggest energy user, will consume 7.89 million barrels of oil a day in 2008. China's passenger car sales jumped 22 percent to 6.3 million last year and may rise 16 percent to about 7.3 million this year. India will use 2.9 million barrels of oil a day in 2008, more than is pumped by OPEC member Venezuela .

The average person in China consumed less than 20 percent as much energy as the average American in 2005, the latest year data is available, according to U.S. Energy Department. In India, energy use is less than 10 percent of America’s on a per capita basis. The 2.45 billion people in China and India combined used only half as much crude as 300 million Americans last year.

Compare the total Chinese and Indian demand with the US consumption of 20 million bpd (25% of global oil production). Pointing fingers at India in this case is as silly as it sounded when a remark was made that food prices rose due to larger consumption by the Indian middle class!!

For the car owner, there are a lot of snake oil type of solutions to increase mpg (miles per gallon) out there, like adding air vortex creating devices on the air inlet, various additives to the fuel, special spark plugs or even some time tested solutions like filling the tank before dawn, switching off the AC, over inflating the tires, slow braking, mixing various octane’s, stopping idling, filling on Wednesdays, special gas tank caps, parking in the shade, upgraded air filters……

All of a sudden Chevy and a number of Japanese car models have come out with 30-45 mpg compared to the previous 20-25 mpg. If they had this technology all this while, why did they wait until now? Why did they not release it all these years? Answer: Timing is the essence of good marketing. It was also not politically correct until now and the ‘fickle’ public perception was different. After all, here in the USA, gas guzzlers were more popular due to cheap gas, the heavier, flashier, fully equipped and bigger SUV and truck baddies were in vogue. On the other hand, there are new gas stingy cars coming out in the future. Ford (Prodigy 80mpg), Chrysler (Intrepid 72mpg) and GM (Percept 80mpg) have many versions coming out with as high as 80mpg, all in the works.

And there is this fact – Chrysler, Ford and GM and others already make high performance, high mileage diesel vehicles in the USA, but are only allowed to export them (mainly to Europe).They deliver between 35-60 mpg depending on the version. But even though it is costlier to produce, but with higher demand than before, diesel production volumes are not in line with gas (supply and demand issues). But it is catching up and more than a third of the cars in Europe run on diesel. Why the delay in US introduction? It is due to the critical 50-state test here. The U.S. has strict emissions standards for diesel vehicles and it must meet them in every state, most notably California, with its tough standards. Then there is the distribution problem - According to the Diesel Technology Forum (D.T.F.), only 42% of American filling stations sell diesel. State subsidy and promotion helped launch clean diesel technology in Europe. But on the whole, it is the feeling that they are clunky, smelly things, coupled with EPA restrictions that have delayed their introduction.

General Motors Corp. officially blew up its old business model recently, closing four pickup truck and sport utility vehicle factories, announcing a new small car that could get 45 miles per gallon and shedding 8,350 jobs in the process. Wagoner also announced that the board of directors has approved production of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car, which GM plans to bring to showrooms by the end of 2010. Fully charged, the Volt could drive about 40 miles without using any gasoline, and a small conventional engine would recharge the vehicle, extending its range and allowing it to get the equivalent of 150 miles per gallon.

So a lot of good news is around the corner. Diesels are coming, electric cars and hybrid models (talk of 100mpg vehicles abound) are increasing, Diesel production should increase and gas prices may decline due to less speculation. Until then, some good driving techniques and common sense are the only solutions.

Pictures - courtsey EIA and other sites, thanks

Gandhiji’s Ingersoll watch

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's one worldly possession was an Ingersoll ‘Turnip’ pocket watch, which he wore tied on a string (somewhere along, he must have lost the chain, if it had one) around his waist, hidden between the folds of his dhoti. As he bent down or stopped, the watch would spring free to dangle to reflect the setting suns rays. This one sight has been recorded by many journalists and biographers. But would somebody be interested in knowing more about that watch?Well, the watch enthusiast in me took note and here below are details that Gandhiji’s followers and researchers would be interested in. Let me start with a fact, today’s popular but cost effective (I will not use the word ‘cheap’) Timex, one that was made famous by contemporary wearers like Bill Clinton & George Bush (I myself have about 10 Timex watches) started with the Ingersoll range from the Waterbury clock company of USA.

For Gandhiji himself, the watch was important. In some ways it dictated every aspect of his wakeful life. As he sat, even while at the ashram, the gold plated pocket watch was propped up in front of him, in his line of vision. He was always very punctual and hated being late or others coming late after a time had been agreed upon.

How important was his watch to him? The answer appears in the marvelous book by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins – Freedom at Midnight. The scene is Feb 1947 and it was a nervous Viceroy Mountbatten’s first interview with Gandhiji. When the Mahatma arrived, he appeared profoundly unhappy. Mountbatten thought ‘Have we done something wrong? Oh! What a terrible way to start things? When asked is something was wrong, a slow sigh escaped the Indian leader. He said ‘They stole my watch; someone in the railway compartment coming down to Delhi stole my watch’. Mountbatten saw tears in the frail man’s eyes. But it was not probably the loss of the 8 shilling watch that hurt Gandhiji, but the loss of faith. Anyway, just six months later, in Sept 1947, a stranger who refused to provide his name asked to meet Gandhiji at Birla House, Delhi. He stated that he was the man who had stolen Gandhiji’s watch and he wanted to be forgiven. The man was taken to Gandhiji and they chatted for some time in low tones. Then Gandhiji embraced him and giggling like a child who had recovered a lost toy, called his followers to show the watch and meet the prodigal son who had returned it!!

The Connecticut based Waterbury Clock Company (founded 1857) started it all by creating a cheap range of pocket watches. Robert H. Ingersoll made the "dollar watch" famous. Ingersoll was a Michigan farm boy who arrived in New York City in 1879. He established a mail order business, engaged in manufacturing gadgets he invented, and dealt in bicycles and parts. By about 1893 he entered the watch business, selling the cheap watches that bore his name, first for $1.50, later for one dollar. He purchased 1,000 “Turnip clock-watches” from the Waterbury Company, later devising a selling plan based on common terms, common prices, a guarantee, and the Ingersoll name.. Success for the dollar watch was immediate despite mechanical inconveniences associated with the watches, best known of which was the eight or nine foot mainspring that seemingly took forever to wind. Probably the sales policies of the company, more than any other factor, led to eventual failure. The Waterbury Company sold large numbers of its watches at low wholesale prices, and they were often given away by merchants as premiums, usually with the sale of men's or boys' suits. An image of cheap merchandise, of shoddy goods at all-wool prices, came to adhere to the Waterbury; its popularity declined. The company reorganized in 1898 as the New England Watch Company, but its best efforts could not avert failure. "The watch that actually made even the dollar famous" however, ended a huge success, more than 70 million were sold by 1919, but Ingersoll's company became insolvent by 1921 and he sold its assets to Waterbury in 1922.

The Waterbury clock company later became the Timex Company. Curiously T Roosevelt once remarked while hunting in Africa that he was from the country that made the Ingersoll watches! The dollar watch was called so as a dollar was a day’s wages in the 1890’s. The dollar watch was also known as the Yankee watch. In Britain, the watch was sold as the Crown series. Later Ingersoll became synonymous with the Mickey mouse & Donald Duck series of gift watches. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 Ingersoll Limited was launched as a British public company. The new Ingersoll Gandhi Chronograph IN2700WH pictured sells for upwards of 140-200 Euro today.

Gandhiji obtained his pocket watch as a gift from his brother while studying in England. While he discarded all material other possessions, he retained the watch and was very fond of it, terming it the only useful possession he had! The watch alarm was purportedly set at 4AM every day, or so it appears, but I am not sure about this as these dollar watches never had an alarm.

Gandhiji’s watch, the watch termed very unreliable by users of that era, served him to the very end. Let us now look at the last minutes of his life
Earlier in the day someone had shown Gandhiji a clipping from the London Times, an article suggesting that the conflict between Nehru and Patel was irreconcilable. He was determined to put an end to the disunity between them, even if it meant delaying his journey to Sevagram. While the conversation continued he took his evening meal. It was now past 5 p.m., but Gandhi did not notice that he was late for the prayer meeting. Abha behn, the young wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma's cousin, held up the watch, but neither Gandhi nor Patel paid any attention. After sometime Patel's daughter reminded them that it was ten minutes past five and that Gandhi had been late for his prayer meeting, whereupon the two men rose.

As he made his way to the prayer meeting, supported by Manu and Abha, whom he called his "walking-sticks", he complained: "I am late by ten minutes. I hate being late. I like to be at the prayer punctually at the stroke of five."

They were probably his last words, not ‘Hey Raam’, as is the popular myth…

Others report the last conversation more in detail as follows - Gandhiji was upset for the delay and said to them, "You are my watches, why should I consult a watch? I do not like this delay at all. I cannot tolerate even one minute's delay for prayers."
Abha and Manu teased Gandhi for neglecting his watch and his timekeepers both. "It is your fault that I am 10 minutes late," he responded. "It is the duty of nurses to carry on their work even if God himself should be present there. If it is time to give medicine to a patient and you hesitate, the poor patient may die. I hate it if I am late for prayers even by a minute.”

At about 5:16, Godse shot Gandhi three times with his Beretta, after greeting him.

Gandhi's frail body slowly sank to the ground beside Manu, his hands still frozen in namaste as if he was greeting his assassin. In between the folds of the blood-soaked dhoti, which Gandhi was wearing, drops of blood had fallen on Gandhi's favorite eight-shilling Ingersoll watch. The watch stopped on impact with the ground, and showed the time, for the last time: 5.17 p.m. remaining the most reliable witness of the assassination. It would not serve its master or any other, anymore.

The importance of this watch is even stressed by Gandhi detractor Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s brother and partner in crime. He says- "I had not done anything for which I should repent," referring to the conspiracy to kill Gandhi. "If I had wanted to steal Gandhi's watch and I was caught, I would want to commit suicide. It would be shameful. We had not done anything of that sort."

Kantilal Gandhi has this anecdote - We were traveling in a third class railway compartment during Bapu's tour in the D. P. in 1929. Even in a moving train he used to attend to his' correspondence or write for his weeklies, Young India and Navajivan. It was about five o'clock in the evening. His watch was lying among the papers in front of him. I was sitting with a watch on my wrist just opposite to him. He asked me what the time was. I looked at my watch and told him it was five o'clock. He also saw my watch through his spectacles and noticed there was still one minute to five. Even looking at a watch for time was not a trivial thing for him. He would not do that in a cursory way. But in this case it was not lack of proper observation on my part. I had also noticed that there was one minute to five. Only I did not attach much value to that minute. He stopped writing and exclaimed: "Is it five?" I replied with a guilty conscience: "No, Bapu, it is one minute to five." "Well, Kanti," he said, "what is the use of keeping a wrist watch? You have no value of time. Do you know how many days or months thirty crores of minutes would make? What a colossal waste of time it would mean for our poor country? It seems you have not even understood why I talk of the Charkha. Again, you don't respect truth as you know it, would it have cost more energy to say: 'It is one minute to five,' than to say: 'It is five o'clock'?" Thus he went on rebuking me for about fifteen, to twenty minutes till it was time for his evening meals.

An old Time magazine issue has this Q&A on Gandhiji’s watch - Subscriber Smith & Reader Jones would like to have TIME'S explanation for the following ambiguous statement which appeared in TIME, Oct. 5: "Abruptly St. Gandhi jerked out his dollar watch, announced that it was 7 p.m.—time to pray." From where was the dollar watch jerked? GEORGE N. JONES State College of Washington Pullman, Wash. The Gandhi watch is jerked from a fold of the Mahatma's first shawl (the one next his skin) to which he secures his large ("dollar") watch by a large ("baby's") safety pin. In England St. Gandhi wears a second and often a third shawl. The three cover him tent-wise when he sits cross-legged, showing only his big toes, small hands and birdlike poll topped with stiff black & white hairs clipped to a length of ⅜-in.—ED.

Back to today - But at the Breguet (high end Swiss watch) premier in Taj West End in Bangalore, someone chose to mix the impeccable imperial history with that of the "half naked fakir" who had looked askance at the mighty imperial power: "Do you know that pocket watches are called Gandhi watches in India because he used them all the time?" An embarrassed pause before Schulthess replied: "No, I didn't know that."

The pocket watch that Gandhiji wore on his khadi dhoti (come to think of it, a pretty incongruous combination!) served him well and he was known for his punctuality as he was for unwavering faith in truth and freedom.

Pics – The Ingersoll pics come from various websites, thanks. The dollar watch is the one without the minute dial and presumably the one Gandhiji carried. The modern chronograph is the one marketed by Ingersoll UK as the Gandhi watch. Looking a the possessions of Gandhiji, you can see the Ingersoll towards the top left, unfortunately the picture is not too clear.


Blog Update – Feb 22nd, 2009Recently I saw on the headlines that the Gandhiji pocket watch, slippers and glasses have been put up for auction in New York on March 4th 2009. From pictures and press clippings that followed, it turned out that the watch on auction was not an Ingersoll, but a Zenith (see picture attached). Now where did the historians and I go wrong in writing that his watch was an Ingersoll? Or did we? Let us take a look

The auction watch shown is an alarm pocket watch. That then shows that he could have set it for a 4AM alarm as I had read before. However the report also states that before Gandhiji had died, he had given this Zenith watch to Abha Gandhi. (The expected price is reported to swing between GBP 35K to $300K).

Let us get back to the day of his death. Gandhi museum & states -

It was 5 pm. Afternoon was fading to evening as the winter sun dipped low. Five o'clock was the appointed time for prayers. Gandhi disliked ever being late, especially for prayers. But he was not wearing his familiar Ingersoll pocket watch. These days others were his timekeepers. Manu and Abha saw the hour but dared not interrupt such an important conversation. At 5.10 they could wait no longer. Abha showed Gandhi his watch. But he was not distracted. Finally in desperation Mani intervened, and with Gandhi saying, "I must now tear myself away", the talk ended.

So here we note that his watch was Ingersoll, not a Zenith.

Was it the watch he carried, the watch his brother had gifted him? It has been stated that as he fell to the ground after being hit by the assassin’s bullets, his watch hit the ground and stopped at 5:17 (yes – this sentence could have been fictional as reported by the press then) . The watch put up on sale shows the usual watch advertisers picture of hands at 10:10.

Secondly if Gandhiji had gifted the Zenith to Abha, this was obviously a second watch.

Lapierre & Collins, The Ingersoll company itself, and many others confirm the Ingersoll dollar watch was the one that Gandhiji wore

Lapierre & Collins say in page 494 freedom at Midnight - Gandhi glanced down at his old Ingersoll, then almost leaped from his pallet. " Oh," he said to Patel "you must let me go. It is time for me to go (this somehow contradicts the statement from the Gandhi museum that he did not have the watch on the day he died). Was the Ingersoll in a tray or something & not tied to his Dhoti as others state?

Louis Fisher states Finally, therefore she (abha) picked up the Mathama's nickel-plated watch and showed it to him. The Zeniths shown is gold &nickel plated, The Ingersoll is stated to be fully gold plated.

Heirs of Tradition - By Robert E. George, Robert Sencourt confirms the watch on page 68 – Large Ingersoll fixed to his Dhoti by a safety pin.

Facets of Gandhi – BK Ahluwalia – Page 175 confirms this as his legacy

Eagle and the Peacock – S chary – Page 36 confirms this observation by British agents
M Gandhi & his apostles – Ved Mahta – Page 11

Musical Chairs – Chapin – Page 51 The most arresting feature was the big Ingersoll watch pinned to his dhoti

Antiqorium Inc who are the owners of Gandhi artifacts (including the stated Zenith pocket watch) now state - Antiquorum traced these articles to Abha Gandhi‘s adopted daughter Gita Mehta, 56, who presently lives in Rajkot and works as a teacher at Rashtriya Shala, and got permission from her to auction the watch, along with a plate and bowl. Antiquorum says on its website that clock, bowl and plate are accompanied by letters of authenticity from Gita Mehta who inherited them upon Abha's death. She wrote that these were gifts Gandhi gave to her mother in the 1940s. Abha, who died in 1995, was a close disciple of Gandhi and she married his grand nephew Kanu.

Time of India also states that this Zenith was gifted to Gandhiji by Indira Gandhi and that this was the watch that was stolen

According to the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahatma wrote in a note dated May 28, 1947, about the theft at Kanpur railway station on May 25. He wrote: ``I may add that it had a radium disc... and also a contrivance for alarm. It was a gift to me. The cost then was over 40/-. It was a Zenith watch.''The footnote states, “The reference is to Gandhiji's watch, a present from Indira Nehru, which he had been using for about 20 years, and which was stolen at Kanpur station on May 25.''

The watch is dated circa 1910-1915. Indira Gandhi was born in 1917. The Zenith watch was apparently gifted to Gandhiji around 1927 (!). Indira would have been just 10 years old at that time. How on earth could she have obtained a 1910 watch and gifted this watch to Gandhiji at an age of 10??

The letter of authenticity from Gita Mehta provided by Antiquorum states -

‘Herewith, I declare that the silver pocket watch was presented by Mahatma Gandhi to my mother in the 1940s. My mother, affectionately called “Abhaben”, was the young woman on whom Gandhiji used to lean and in whose arms he died.’“

Ryyans watch blog has carried out a study on this auction list and the details can be found at the hyperlinked site

Conclusions – The whole story is still very confusing to say the least. How did the watch gifted by Gandhiji’s brother when he went to England, suddenly become a gift from Indira Gandhi? The USA Ingersoll (recorded even by British agents & seen even by Hoover on Gandhiji) turned into a Swiss Zenith. The only answer could be that Gandhiji had gifted one of his watches to Abha!!

Flickr provides a picture by Sunnywinter of a Zenith with the hands and the hands stopped at 5:17. A telegraph article about how the auction items were procured. If you read the auction notice you will find a mention that it was a watch gifted to Abha in the 40's. Then follows text about his assasination leading one to the conclusion that this was THE watch.

One question remains – If a Zenith has now been found ( let us assume that it was another watch he once had and then gifted to Abha for time keeping) and if there was an Ingersoll, where is the Ingersoll?

I was under the impression that the Gandhi memorabilia was at the Gandhi Smriti. Since I do not recall my own visit to the museum many years ago, I will go by the description given in the Gandhi museum – Martyrdom gallery. This gallery houses the watch he wore on his death day

Here is the link that proves it – Martyrdom gallery

Blood stained dhoti and shawl and the watch worn by Mahatma Gandhi when he was assassinated.

Further study of the Ved Mehta book (Gandhi & his apostles) revealed that on his last day Gandhiji had indeed pinned the watch to his Dhoti and Abha had pointed to it indicating that he was late.

So in my opinion, Gandhijis watch was the Ingersoll, this is the one still displayed at the Gandhi museum and the Zenith was one that he possibly gifted to Abha in the 40's.

A Tumultuous Week

Some weeks ago, I had commented on a couple of blogs that I was looking forward to a trip to India and that I had envied the trips others had planned. Little did I know that within hours, I would be in India to spend a fast paced and torrid week….It was an international call the wee hours of a morning that started it all.

Soon I was sitting on the SAL flight to Taiwan from LAX. The Singapore girls looked as fascinating as they did while in college, when I had collected many a hundred SAL adverts from Time & Newsweek. The flight was uneventful; I was quickly done with the Erich Segal Book ‘Prizes’ between bouts of fitful sleep. The plane was full, there were a few India families and the food was great. I managed to get authentic Indian (AVML) food from this airline, one voted many times as the world’s best. It was then that I found out that there were so many other varieties that could be ordered like Oriental Veg, strict Veg, non strict Veg, vegan, vegan western, Ovo Lacto, Hindu, Muslim, Kosher, Seafood, fruits only, low fat, low cal, diabetic and low salt meals!! Strangely, no ANVML listed!!

A stop over in Taipei reveled that it was another recent Desi destination; I could even see an IT youngster lounging at the airport bus stop…From the air, the capital looked like any other Indian city, but on the ground, the airport was spotlessly clean and virtually empty in the wee hours of that morning. Soon it was off to Singapore’s Changi airport and with that stop; I had finally circumnavigated the world. In all these years of travel, I had never completed the circle, but well, on the 1st of June 2008, I did it, crossing the Pacific. As before, Changi never ceases to amaze me, such a lovely airport, one with character compared to the standard fare you see at most places. The people waiting for the Kochi leg at Changi included a group of television crew who were taking part in some global treasure hunt. Their next stop was apparently a Neelakulangara Devi temple somewhere in Cochin.

The final leg after many hours of flying took me to the Kochi airport. From the airport, it was a blur. With my brother waiting for me, we sped to the hospital where my mother lay fighting for her life, as I had known it would be after I had heard the prognosis from my brother before I flew out. The rains poured as they do in Kerala, sounding like machine gun fir eon the car roof. When I burst into the hospital room and saw her face, I knew that she did not have much time, so waxen and tired did she look, eyes dull and unfocused, skin sallow & pale and the demeanor, listless. She did respond to voice, trying hard to focus her eyes, but it was proving difficult. Each movement was painful; the cancer was ripping away the remaining hours of her life. I stood with brimming eyes, and thought back of the life she gave us, of the good old and happy days…My brother and sister were there, so also my aunt. Now and then mom tried to pull away the oxygen tube snaking into her nostrils, probably they itched. Nurses came and went, efficiently helping her settle into morphine induced slumber. Doctors walked in and out with great authority, but slunk away without definite answers. Some time the next day, the chief and her team walked in. So impressive was this lady, a Punjabi doc who could speak fluent Malayalam, that I hoped others would learn from her on how to handle a patient. She explained to us that there was little to be done, and that the end was near.

Two days later, mom breathed her last, conscious till the very end. Sitting in the ambulance, next to her lifeless body, as the driver sped through the NH47, bound for home, I reminisced on various moments of our life together, eyes tearing now and then…

Through these two hours, I was briefly taking in the new developments in my mater-land while gazing through the windows of the ambulance…the roads were being widened and many buildings on either side were fully or partially demolished to make way for the new requirements of a fast moving populace. There were many new eating places on the roadsides, so many new cars and trucks, but then, as we reached Pallavur, our destination, it was like being back into the 60’s, where time has stopped. The roads were the same, no new buildings, but the old LP school was being destroyed, don’t know why…

The body was laid to rest for viewing – A freezer box with glass windows was arranged for that purpose, but the power supply failed within minutes as some electric post was being replaced. KSEB was true to form. A generator was brought in, and was soon chugging away. People started to arrive; offering condolences and kind words…By afternoon it was time for the cremation – her soul would soon begin its journey to the distant world of ancestors. Visitors continued to pour in the next few days.

The days were not without some mirth - An uncle had a flat tire that we had to help change…India is still the same; it takes a driver or a workshop (or an NRI as in this case) to replace a flat tire. Rarely would the owner know what to do! A bucket was lost in the well and it took collective efforts from the engineers of the house and many hours of work to trace it and to pull it out.

Sunday - It was time to return and the flight back was monotonous – this time via Tokyo. Narita did not impress, unfortunately I had assumed that it would.

Back to the chaos of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, the demands of work and the life of the living.

When Fingers Talk

During the days of the radio, we used to have a perfectly boring period when a program called Kambola Nilavaram (Market situation) was aired. They droned out the prices per quintal of spices, and all kinds of commodities. Then I heard from my Badagara friends about how these prices were set or fixed in the first place and how huge transactions were carried out on the streets using fingers under a towel. I was amazed, but having nothing much to do with these things, promptly forgot the whole thing…till I started the Zheng He (Cheng Ho – my Chinese friend tells me Ho is pronounced as hu or hm) research.

It is stated in Chinese texts that the system was taught to the Malabari traders by the Chinese, some say by Cheng Ho or Zheng He in particular. As he and his trading entourage had no clue about Arabic or Malayalam, they figured out a new method. But I am sure now that the system existed before Cheng ho. So effective was it that since 1407, the system has remained unchanged!! Even today go to the markets out there in Calicut and the process uses fingers under a towel…The language that withstood the test of time has been around for over 600 years!!!

This Time article
provides details as recounted by a Calicut trader to A Ghosh - In a sudden, unexpected gesture of generosity, Harikant inducts me into a secret ritual, practiced by spice traders for over a millennium: the bargaining of prices. Buyer and seller clasp right hands under a towel or handkerchief and, thus hidden, make offers and counteroffers with a system of finger signals. If I grasp all of your fingers under the towel, I'm offering either 5 or 50, depending on the context of the transaction. If I tug at your index finger, it means I'm offering 1 or 10; two fingers indicate 2 or 20, and so on. There are more complex signals, but these are not to be shared with prying journalists. Buyer and seller use combinations of this code at lightning speed—without exchanging a word—to do business worth millions of rupees.

This undoubtedly is how the admiral's minions conducted negotiations while they were here. (Ma Huan's account, Triumphant Visions of the Ocean's Shores, cites deals sealed by the clasping of hands.) The finger-code system was devised to allow traders from all over the world to do business here without having to learn Malayalam, the local language. The towel keeps the deal-making under wraps, a useful precaution in an overcrowded bazaar where the next man might try to undercut you. For added secrecy, the codes are commodity-specific: rice traders have different signals from spice traders. In an era of handheld computers that can exchange data by infrared beams, no spice merchant in Calicut would dream of giving up the old way. "It's a perfect system," Harikant beams. "There's no need to change what's perfect."

Now how could I check if this practice existed outside India, especially China? So I Googled quite a bit and finally hit pay dirt. This is exactly how gems, especially jade is traded in China & Hong Kong.

VB Meen who attended an auction
at the Tai Tung Hotel in 1962 stated - Presently, the auctioneers appeared and placed a boulder on the table... He gave the number of the specimen and a brief description of its appearance... Then he gave the price the owner was asking for it. Remember that this was probably many times what the owner really expected to get. Then the auctioneer draped a towel over his hand and walked through the group. If somebody wished to bid, he attracted the auctioneer's attention and they clasped hands under the towel. By appropriate pressures on the auctioneer's fingers, the bidder indicated his offer. Each bidder, in turn, did this until all had been taken care of. Then, the auctioneer went to the owner, who all this time was seated in his rooms with his stock of jades. If the owner did not accept the highest bid, the auctioneer returned... and started taking new bids... Eventually, of course, the sale is made or the piece is withdrawn by the owner and then a new one is offered for sale

Ma Huan explains the honor of this deal in his accounts on Ku-Li (Calicut) - Ying-Yai Sheng-lan or The Overall Survey of the Oceans’ Shores Circa 1433 - The chief and the Chetti with his Excellency Zheng He, all join hands together and the broker then says “in such and such a moon on such and such a day we have all joined hands and sealed our agreement with a hand clasp, whether the price be dear or cheap, we will never repudiate it or change it”
On the other hand, it chould also have been a Calicut ritual taken back by Chinese traders…Who knows for sure??? What makes me think it went to China from India?

This paragraph from the above Ma Huan account states thus, proving that it existed before Cheng Ho's arrival - In their (Ku-li) method of calculation, they do not use a calculating plate abacus, for calculating, they use only the two hands and two feet and twenty digits on them and they do not make the slightest mistake, this is very extraordinary.

Other references

PHILLOTT, D.C. (1906) A note on the mercantile sign language of India. J. Asiatic Soc. Bengal new series, II (7) 333-334. Notes that various covert buying and selling codes could be used by two parties in the bazaar, who grasped hands under a covering drape and indicated their price and offer by the number of fingers given or taken, or by the section of a finger, or other manual codes, according to a well-known practice. This reduced the level of interference from idle bystanders.

PYRARD, François [1619] The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil, ... from the third French edition of 1619, ed. and transl. Albert GRAY & H.C.P. BELL (1888). 2 vols. London: Hakluyt.II: 178-179, silent, concealed bargaining amidst the vast crowds buying and selling at Goa around 1608: "they are wont to make signs under their silk or cotton mantles, which are worn like our cloaks: so touching the hands thus privily, they give one another to understand by the fingers at what price they are willing to buy or sell, without the others knowing or being aware of anything."

VARTHEMA, Ludovico di [1510] The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia ..., in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508, ... from the original Italian edition of 1510, transl. John W. JONES, ed. George P. BADGER (1863), 2 vols, London: Hakluyt.I: 168-169, description, with footnoted additions, of Indian bargaining conducted by finger signs hidden under a cloth, at Calicut
Two accounts for those who want to read the details of the pepper trade from Malabar

Ammini Ramachandran’s brilliant site –
Where the pepper grows – Saudi Aramco World