The Vale of Arjootz

A Hindu colony in ancient Armenia

Many years ago, an article in the TDN (Turkish Daily News – our English newspaper in Istanbul) mentioned a village in Turkey where some Indians had once lived. I faintly recollect that it had something to do with people from Malabar and possibly Khilafat, but I have since then failed to find any detail or a link to that article to corroborate. However some months ago, when fellow blogger and friend Nick Balmer tipped me to this story, I was not sure what to expect. But when I finished reading a few articles and Dr.Mesrob Jacob Seth’s article as well as his book Hindoos in Armenina, I was, so to say, stumped.

Since historic times, there have been all kinds of people visiting and living in what they called mystic and rich India, for in the old times, information and trade flow was quite free and we did not ask for visas and passports as others demand from Indians these days. But well, that was another time, I guess, and Armenians used to come to India as they did since the time of Semiramis and Indians used to go there, if they had to. Many a troubled person or ostracized tribe found their way to India like the troubled Syrians, Jews, Armeninas, the Parsis and so on and so forth. We accepted all, asked nothing in return. They lived their times in their chosen areas, and some like the Jews decided to leave back to Israel. The Armenians who thrived in India, especially Calcutta, Madras and Bombay vanished slowly, also leaving for other flourishing cities, after the British left. As Dr Seth Stated: They were hardly interested in politics, and rarely took part in intrigues, their field of action lay, rather, in the bazaars, the commercial marts, and the emporiums of India, over which they exercised vast influence, in the absence of any foreign commercial element, and thereby monopolized the greater portion of the export trade, which they carried on for a considerable period.

However I will just detail here an interesting account of the Hindus who once lived in a region in ancient Armenia, now part of Turkey. Having lived in Turkey, I had heard quite a bit about Armenia, though I had no clue about this until recently (Was this the village the TDN reporter mentioned? Perhaps it was and my memory is on the decline!). Further reading of the original article and work of Johannes Advall and Naira Mkrtchyan helped me understand the legend better.

To get to the bottom of this story or as many put it, legend, I have to take you to a remote place called Taron or Tarawn. Taron was a canton of the Turuberan province of Greater Armenia, now part of the Muş Province, Turkey. Mus (pronounced Mush) situated on a large plain in Eastern Anatolia, is a small city on the road from Bingöl to the Van Lake, near the Murat and Karasu rivers. Set amidst high mountains on all sides, lakes and lush green plains, it offers a weary traveler serene surroundings and a rarified air. The surrounding hills are covered with vineyards and oak scrub. Called Tarun by the Arabs, the town came under Ottoman domination in 1515 and was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1966. Sorry that all this sounds like a tourist brochure, but well, as you will soon see, the history of this small city starts in curious fashion. The story is known to us through the records of King Mamikonian and cleric Zenobius (Zenob Glak) titled History of Taron.

Interestingly the history of Taron began with the arrival of two Hindu princes from India, fleeing some 1500 miles from their home kingdom. This is the story of the Hindu colonies they established, and we will explore a bit of their life and times and the final decline after they and their priests were decimated and the reminder converted to Christianity by St Gregory the Illuminator. The final remenants can probably be found under the remains of the famed Saint Karapet monastery at Mus.

I have to take you back many centuries, this time to 149BC - Two princes named Gissaneh and Demeter after a failed conspiracy against King Dinaks pal (Pushyamitra?), the King of Kanauj, flee to Armenia, some 1500 miles away (must have been a mighty long and tiring journey through the mountain terrain) and request asylum from King Valarsaces (a brother of Arsaces the Great) and the founder of the Arsacidae dynasty which ruled Armenia as the story happened.

Let’s look at North India circa 149-148BC –Kannauj was an ancient city in UP, in earlier times the capital of Emperor Harsha. It was the tail end of the Mauryan dynasty’s rule. The Sungha dynasty was coming up after emperor Ashoka’s death and Pushyamitra was the king around 151BC (assuming that the brothers travelled for a couple of years to reach Armenia) and there were many wars afoot a period when apparently Buddhists were being persecuted (perhaps these two were actually Buddhist princes, but that theory does not hold forte for they raised statues and idols of worship at Taron). This was a time when the remaining Mauryans were conspiring against the new king Pushyamitra. It is surprising that the princes travelled westward instead of south or east where Buddhism was more prevalent, and which would have been more conducive, but the Sunga empire was vast and the borders far and wide. The name Gissaneh gives you a feeling that it was probably Yajnasena of the erstwhile Maurya dynasty, who according to historians later enters into a truce with Agnimitra (Kalidasa’s Malavikagnimitra), but as Dr Seth will explain later, may turn out to be somebody else, entirely.

Zenob, describes the Hindus whom he sees for the first time on his arrival in Armenia, with St.Gregory, the Illuminator, in the year 301 A.D thus – “These people have a most extraordinary appearance for they were black, long-haired and unpleasant to the sight, as they were Hindus by race”.

Gissaneh and Demeter settled down at the province of Taron where they built a nice city called Veeshap (which in Armenian means a Dragon) and a snake temple. They then moved to Ashtishat there they set up the gods which they had worshipped in India. But sadly, they were destined to die in this far away place, for they were, 15 years after their arrival, put to death by the king for which no reasons or motives are assigned by Zenob. These two were succeeded by three sons whose names were Kuars, Meghtes and Horean, and the Armenian king (I wonder why for the king had put their fathers to death in the first place, maybe he realized his folly later and repented by gifting to the sons), bestowed on them the colony and the principality of the province of Taron. Kuars built a small town and called it Kuar after his own name. Meghtes similarly built his town and named it Meghti after himself, whilst Horean built his town in the province of Poloonean and called it Horeans. They then went to a mountain called Karki (Ararat province aka Tigranashen in Azerbaijan) where they built their big temple and put up two gods named as Gisaneh and Demeter, after their murdered fathers.

These idols were apparently made of brass, the former, according to Zenob, was twelve cubits high, and the latter fifteen cubits and the priests appointed for the service of these gods were all Hindus. The Hindu colony thus flourished for a considerable time in Taron.

As Naira explains - Within a short period of time, the Indians built 20 towns, and in each of them they erected temples. Some of these towns, mentioned by Zenob, retained their names and existed till the middle of the nineteenth century. Until the early twentieth century, one of the villages in Taron was called Hindkastan (Armenian name for India). The names Hindubek, Hindu, Hindukhanuln, Hindumelik were often used by the Armenians of Taron. The Armenians of those districts, where the Indians were settled, used to enact the dance of Demeter and sing Indian melodies. Some scholars argue that the cult of Vahagen (the Armenian god of fire, as well as the conqueror of dragons) was introduced to the Armenians from the Indians, through the Indian god Agni. The Hindu population comprised over 15,000 members.

But it was not to last, for St.Gregory the Illuminator arrived with his troops, and had the many famous temples of Gisaneh and Demeter razed to the ground, the images broken to pieces whilst the Hindu priests who offered resistance were murdered on the spot, as faithfully chronicled by Zenob who was an eye-witness of the destruction of the Hindu temples and the gods. The Christians believed that the temple of Kissaneh was the "Gate of Hell and Sandaramet, the seat of a multitude of demons. On the site of these two temples at Taron, St.Gregory had a monastery erected where he deposited the relics of St John the Baptist and Athanagineh the martyr which he had brought with him from Ceaseria, and that sacred edifice, which was erected in the year 301 A.D., exists to this day and is known as St.Carapet of Moosh (Mus). This monastery was a place of pilgrimage for Armenians from all parts of the world, but that too was not to last for it was destroyed soon.

The story of the massacre can be read in detail in the e-links provided under references and I will not go into the gory details. The survivors in many thousands were converted to Christianity. Some of these converted Hindus adhered tenaciously to their old customs and religious practices. They went even further and taunted the Armenian princes by telling them that if they lived they would retaliate for the harsh treatment they had received at their hands, but if they died, the gods would wreak their vengeance on the Armenians on their behalf.

As Seth puts it, ‘Upon hearing this, the prince of the house of Angegh ordered them to be taken immediately to the city of Phaitakaran where they were incarcerated and their heads shaved as an insult and a sign of degradation. These prisoners numbered four hundred’. With that all rebellion stopped and these Hindus, who up to the advent of Christianity in Armenia had remained a distinct community gradually merged into the native Christian population, as no reference is made to them by any of the Armenian historians who came after Zenob.

Anyway, many would ask what happened to the many thousand of those Hindu setters in the region of Taron. Naira has some theories - There are some hypotheses on the fate of these Indians. These are: (i) they moved to the north and founded the city of Kyiv (or. Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine); (ii) they were absorbed into the Armenian population;(iii) they returned to India; and (iv) Armenian priests with their followers headed by the head priest Mamgoon joined the Hindus, taking with them ancient Armenian books. This last is a crucial fact for Armenia, as there are no books of the pre-Christian period in Armenia. Recently, it has been stated by some scholars that these Armenians came to India and settled in the Punjab and Kashmir. This statement could be true, given that Punjabis and Kashmiris look like, Armenians in their appearance and are similar in their habits and character. The people of the region believe that some remnants joined the gypsies or the Kurds, and that many of them spoke Sanskrit.

As for the Armenians, I wonder if the curse of the priests is still on their head. The monastery is gone, Taron was razed by an earthquake and the people of the region underwent much sorrow through the centuries. But one temple may have remained, as a chapel, as explained by Romesh Bhattacharji in his Frontline article.

Indian Settlement in Armenia and Armenian Settlements in India and South Asia - Naira Mkrtchyan
Armenians in India: from the earliest times to the present day - Mesrovb Jacob Seth
Memoir of a Hindu Colony in Ancient Armenia. - Johannes Avdall
Turkish Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor  - Henry Fanshawe Tozer
The Heritage of Armenian Literature: From the sixth to the eighteenth century - Agop Jack Hacikyan, Gabriel Basmajian, Edward S. Franchuk, Nourhan Ouzounian
History of Taron – John Mamikonean 

Check here for photos & videos of Mus

Google pics & Wikipeida– thanks
Mus pics – Adem Sonmez

1. Now what did Demeter and Gissaneh mean in the first place? Dr Seth believes that Gisaneh may have been the corrupt form of Krishna, and Demeter possibly Ganesh. As for the sons, Kuars according to him may be identified with Kailash, Meghtes with Mukti, Horean with Harendra and Artzan with Arjun, all of which are Hindu names of Ancient India. Arjootz was the term used for Hindus (Possibly people under the leadership of Arjun – Ajuwn mentioned in the Hindu article)

2. John Mamikonean (Hovhannes Mamikonean) is the author of the 7th century History of Taron, a continuation of the account of Zenob Glak (Zenobius). Zenob Glak was a 4th century Syrian who became the first abbot of the Glak monastery (also known as Surb Karapet Monastery) in the Taron region of Greater Armenia. He began the chronology that would become the History of Taron. The editors of the Heritage of Armenian Literature feel that both Zenobious and Mamikonean are pseudonyms of a court writer.

3. The St. Karapet Church of Mush doesn't exist anymore. The Kurdish village of Changly is there now. The village has sprung up right where the church used to be. And the church has disintegrated in the village – over the decades the church stones have been used to build new Kurdish houses. The Mayor of Changly says, “I feel very sorry. What fools our fathers were to destroy this church. If the church were still standing our villagers would make their living selling tan to tourists. If you can give us old pictures and drawings of the church we could rebuild it even partly to attract tourists to the village.” The Varagavank, partly destroyed, has become a very important source of profit for the Kurdish village. They sell needlework in the chapel. The church has turned into a kind of art gallery.

4. Check out this Frontline article on Romesh Bhattacharji’s trip to those regions.


What is your (New) Rashi?

The debate about Ophiuchus

I seem to have developed a healthy fondness for Punjabi heroines, first it was Juhi Chawla, then it was Priety Zinta and now Priyanka Chawla Chopra. Ah! well, this has nothing to do with Priyanka’s role in the movie ‘what is your rashee’ or the other heroines, but I do promise you that this will not be a heavy article.

I must admit that this bit was picked up upon inspiration by an article in our local “News and Observer’ paper and after seeing a lot of furor over the matter. As I read on, I saw that the western world has been taking this virally the last 3-4 days after the story hit the papers and news wires. Incidentally this same furor has happened a few times before the last major one being in 1995.Well, to dive directly into the gist of the matter, one paper started off by announcing that based on an astronomer’s comment, you really had to redefine and even consider a change to your zodiac sign, all due to a wobble in the earth’s spinning.

What actually happened? Well, some days ago, an astronomy instructor named Parke Kunkle talked about the earth’s spin and the fact that astronomers believe that 13 constellations ought to be considered instead of 12 in the Zodiac theory. Somehow starting with the first report, the story spun completely off course. Kunkle's brief comments in the Star-Tribune article were later spun into an ‘astronomer says the zodiac has to be revamped’ situation. People were flabbergasted, lovers were taken to an attack of nerves, people who followed their star signs every morning were confused, news spread through the blogosphere and news media and those possessive and concerned with their signs reacted with lots and lots of emotion. Ophiuchus was reintroduced into the news world. As I read, , I wondered, the word itself not sounding more complicated than Sagittarius, does make you feel like you were on a Mediterranean cruise through a bunch of remote Greek islands.

Well as news went, some were happy that their bad star became a good one and quickly changed their outlook, facing the world with a happier facade; others sank into foul moods hearing that they were not for example the fiery Leo any longer, but something else. And relationships soured, divorces increased…(Not really! I am joking, at least for now). But if you Google this, you will find that many of the media big guns have picked this story up and you can follow extensive discussions and rebuttals underway. I am not sure if the story has yet been picked up yet in India or if it will have any effect, for our world out there is even more confusing with the multitude of gods, rituals, practices and many beliefs. But I can imagine how it can be taken up by the media there, they can make you feel that the world will soon spin into flames and perish.

Anyway over the last week, this news disturbed the calm and cozy astrological world where life was simple as a normal Leo or Aries and where the many astronumeroquacks (my own classification of these characters) and ‘suddenly thrown into limelight’ babas minted money as usual telling you that you were not and that the influence of some long lost star was surely and steadily taking you down the path to ruin unless you paid them to steer you away from it.. (how they reverse the magnetic fields and effects in ‘7 days guaranteed’, is a different thing altogether)

But well, it has always been a bewildering thing for the younger people in India, especially matters concerning astrology and sun or lunar signs. They had to contend with both the Eastern and Western systems. Everything in Apna desh is connected to astrology and the influence stars and planets have on you where you have your Rashee (defined in your local tongue) and for the ‘hep’ crowd you have your sun sign…

I will not get into the differences between the three major systems in use around the world today, them being the Vedic or Indian charts, the western charts (largely based around the Greek) and the Chinese charts. In astrology, the zodiac denotes those signs that divide the ecliptic into twelve equal zones of celestial longitude. It is known to have been in use by the Roman era, based on concepts inherited from Babylonian astronomy of the Chaldean period which, in turn, derived from an earlier Sumerian system of lists of stars along the ecliptic. The construction of the zodiac is described in Ptolemy's Almagest (2nd century AD).But to put it all simply; the 360 degrees are divided into 30 degree segments in the western system meaning you have 12 zodiac signs. In the Indian Hindu system you have a more accurate 27 star division, based on the sidereal system where the 360 degrees are divided into 27 parts of 13°20’degrees each.

But then the clever guy would say, what you are talking about is Nakshatras, not Rashees and he is right. The Nakshatras are further grouped into the 12 rashis. The Rashi system was incidentally adopted by Indian astrologers based on Greek systems, after the arrival of the great Alexander. The picture would illustrate the way the Hindu system is set up and how the Zodiac system falls under it. So for the past 2500 or so years, both systems worked side by side, everybody was seemingly happy, though some modern astronomers were not, for there were actually 13 or even more constellations from what they knew.

The most apparent miss out was a constellation called Ophiuchus that the Babylonians had mentioned and the Greeks knew very well. But they took it out. Why? First we get to the uproar today. Ophiuchus has been reintroduced into the discussions after these thousands of years and the Zodiac system redefined as below. Ophiuchus (Ophis = Snake) means serpent (serpent killed by Hercules) holder as the picture depicts. During Ptolemy’s time Ophiuchus was also known as Asclepius or Serpentarius. Ophiuchus incidentally learnt the secret of the elixir of life from the serpent.

The reasons for Ophiuchus fading away from the old list are many. One of them goes thus. It appears that the main problem was Ptolemey’s mania for symmetry. The Greek system was defined as a tropical system based on seasons of which there are four. The calendar comprised 12 months. Now what if we had 13 months what would you do? A calendar of 13 months does not divide into four seasons, and 12 was the favored number for all ancient mathematical systems, as it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. On top of that, the number 13 was considered an unlucky number, and so Ophiuchus was unceremoniously dropped from the system.

But that does not quite convince me. Why Ophiuchus, why was it chosen as the star to be dropped? Why did Ptolemy not consider it in his tetrabiblos? Was it connected to evil? Was it because Serpentarius was a galaxy which was home for many comets as well? As I checked further I found that the dropping may have had something to do with non traditional worship.

One theory attributed is that it (Ras Al hagues or apheiucus of the Arabs) was apparently connected to a number of evils such a mental depravity, loose morals, misfortune through women, death from snake bite, malice, deceit, death by poisoning etc.

The other theory is Ophiuchus’s connections to matrilineal descent, snake worship and goddess worship. It appears that even though the symbol attributed is that of Acsclepios, this was after the original female deity was altered. The original deity was A or Aa, or Aya or Innana in Chaldean and Babylonian texts, a goddess whose symbol was a disc with 8 rays. In ancient lore she become eve in the Garden of Eden (also connected to the serpent in the tree of life) and later Isis (Magdalen) in Egyptian mythology (The Egyptian Dendera zodiac had 13 zodiac signs). As the theory goes goddess worship, snake goddess etc were not well appreciated. Anyway it was also related to Masonic symbolism, and serpent worshipers were termed Ophites practicing Ophism.

And of course many of you will know that 13 was a favorite of occultists and plain unlucky. Nevertheless, it appears that properties such as evil influence were attributed to Ophiuchus and it was dropped. Or so it seems, for all the text related to this is pretty vague and unsubstantiated, like most of astrology is.

Interestingly it was just a couple of months back that a doctor friend of ours asked us what the story behind the doctor sign was. Well, that is the sign of Ophiuchius, depicting the Asclepius staff, today’s motif of the AMA

So what does the Zodiac with Ophiuchus look like? Look at the chart below to determine where you fit in as of now and erase the thoughts you had until now. Or is that all right? Should you get rid of that Pisces fish tattoo you had in the nether regions, waiting to be shown to the right girl? Is that the end of it? No, there is no end to all this, as new ideas keep popping up. Cetus (May 12 to June 6) the 14th sign is another possibility that would be talked about.

The arguments will go on and on, so the learned people say that you should just disregard all this, forget that you wasted a perfectly good 30 minutes of your valuable time reading this ‘rubbish’ and stick to what you are happy with. If you want a 13th and a 14th zodiac sign, go for it. If you want a more precise one, go for the 27 Nakshatra Hindu systems. If you don’t like that as well, try the Chinese system.

May all the clairvoyants and astrologers make more money and may you be at peace.

Mars/Earth Enigma: A Sacred Message to Mankind - DeAnna Emerson
The wandering astronomer - Patrick Moore

Pics - Google images thanks

The Mappila Lamayana

An introduction to the ‘The Mappila Ramayana of Malabar’

Many years back, when my second son was still a child, I used to translate and playfully sing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ in Malayalam for him often as he was always amused by it. One day, some months later, we met his class teacher, a petite Aussie lassie who remarked that she quite enjoyed the Mary version in our native palindromic tongue. I was a bit taken aback, trying to figure out what she was talking about, when realization dawned.

Well, that is how it is, you hear something, you like it, you then assimilate it and then pass it on to somebody else in the natural course…and this was pretty much what Piranthan Hassankutty (The Mad Hussein) did a hundred years ago in North Malabar. This wandering mendicant would go from place to place, with a stick supporting him, and a cloth bag on his back to sing an ‘off the norm’ ballad. Audiences were similarly amused by the playfully sarcastic or gentle ironic take on a famous epic, but sung in the Mappila Pattu style. People humored him and many of you will agree that Malayalees have always enjoyed humor & sarcasm. Even the late writer Kadathanattu Madhaviamma it appears hosted his session at her house, during her times. But then that was many years ago when religion was not ‘all consuming’ as it is in some parts of the world today.

As the story goes, one teenage lad, none other than the famous Vadakkan Pattu exponent TH Kunhiraman Nambiar listened to the Mad Hassan a few times around 1926 and committed some 700 lines to memory. Soon Hassankutty was gone from this world but Nambiar made it a point to narrate and popularize these lines in his private musical gatherings. Many a year later, K Karunakaran, tipped research scholar, writer and academician Dr Prof MN Karassery about this ballad. Dr Karassery, completed his thesis and decided after discussions with his colleagues and mentor VC Sukumar Azhikode to bring this story to light. This was around 1976. The text as he heard and recorded it, was published both by Dr Karassery in Kurimanam and another book of Northern ballads by Kunhiraman Nambiar was later released. The ballad did have a formal title, for it was a take on the Hindu epic Ramayana. And so with this background, let me introduce you to what some people know as the Mappila Ramayana or Muslim Ramayana of Malabar.

When the text was first published, there was some uproar from both communities, for it was somewhat beyond religious borders. But the scholars explained to the public that this was a prime example of a product of religious amity of that period, people agreed and we are richer from the knowledge of this special version.

Now we all know that there are so many versions of Ramayana available today around the world, there is the staple Valmiki version, then there are the Ananda, Adbutha, Vedanta, Kritivas, Damba, Dasaratha versions and so on for the list goes to some 300, but this one is a special version, for it is a commentary on the contents of the Ramayana, as seen by an observer of the another religion during the late medieval in Kerala. He compares and asks questions, but in a jocular and humorous tone.

But let us look at some parts of the text to get a basic feel. I will use here quite a bit of input provided by Dr Karassery for I had the chance to listen to the commentary by Dr Karassery in the Kairali TV Patturumal program

Interlude Excerpts

പണ്ട് പണ്ട് താടിക്കാരെന്‍ ഔലി പാടി വന്നൊരു പാടു
കണ്ടതല്ലേ ഞങ്ങളെല്ലാം ല)മായണ കഥ പാട്ട്
കര്‍കിടകം കാത്തു  കാത്തു  കാത്തിരിക്കും പാട്ട്...........
Translation to English
This is the song the old bearded saint sang a long time ago
The song that we saw as depicting the Lamayana story
We wait to hear the song every (monsoon season) of karkatakam……………

Dr Karassery and many others have talked at length about this version, and have concluded that the text is of indigenous origin, which it is from a language and custom point of view. It also follows the established story line as well. But the usage of the syllable L instead of R made me think, why is it laman and lamayana? Now how could that have come about? Did the usage come from Arabic or perhaps from the Far East? It is certainly a conjuncture that some of the Malabar Muslims migrated from the Tamil Coromandel areas, especially the Marakkars as I wrote some time ago, in a detailed article on that subject. But how would they have imbibed the pronunciation of L instead of R?

We do know that this is exactly how it is in the Chinese sections of South East Asia and China, since they pronounce R as L. We also know that eastern nations had trade intercourse with the traders of the South Coromandel. We know as well that they had their special versions of Ramayana (Malay, Thailand, Indonesia) including an Islamic version. So did the Mappila Lamayan concept originate there? Or was just a natural Arabic slant to R? Not really, for R is present in both Arabic based Beary and Mappilah dialects as a syllable. So as a quick logical conclusion, it does appear that this came back from the Malay or Indonesian regions through one or more of the traders. We do not know, but let us poke around that hypothesis for awhile and see where that leads.

And so I directed my research to the SE Asian areas and after wading through many stories and corollaries of Ramayana as the SE Asians saw it, and I settled down to study the shadow puppet play of Lama called Wayang Kulit. This is a very popular puppet theater in those areas and versions of the Indonesian Wayang Kulit became popular in Balinese, Malay, and Siamese cultures. Wayang simply means theatre in Indonesian and kulit means leather or hide. Wayang obviously follows the pattu tradition that we know in ancient South India and appears to have originally followed Indians to Indonesia from perhaps Kerala. (If you recall we have a similar one involving leather puppets at Palghat near Kavalappara called Tolpavakoothu – See my article on the subject and note this kind of South Indian Theatre was the forerunner to the Wayang).When Islam began spreading in Indonesia, the display of gods in human form was prohibited, and thus this style of painting and on stage play was suppressed and instead of the forbidden figures, their shadow pictures from leather puppets were displayed, and thus Wayang kulit (it was wayang Golek and wayang purva earlier) as we know it, was born. Wayang kulit was later even given Muslim characters and the Hindu myths of Ramayana or Mahabharata were "Islamised" over time. Ramayana became Seri Rama and Mahabharata became Pendawa Lima. And as I also read, the conductor of Wayang called Dalang has a duty to make it very interesting (like a person doing Chakiar koothu or Katha prasangam) and thus comes up with interesting observations, perhaps as we see and hear in Mappila Lamayanam.

But how would that connect up with Hassankutty? Perhaps, a Marakkar or mendicant who went to Melaka or Java brought back the SE Asian version or tradition, perhaps Hassankutty or his forefathers worked in Malay or Burma or Java in the 19th century with the British. So maybe the origin of the Lamayan and the humorous singing comes from SE Asia, in a full turn around, back to India. But well, my friends, this could all turn out to be just irrelevant thoughts of a lazy wandering mind, so it would be better that I leave it to experts. The origin of Mappila Ramayan was really not the theme of this article, anyway.

Mappila Pattu incidentally is the folk song tradition of the Muslim community of Kerala. The tradition is supposedly some 700 years old. These songs are sung to reflect and characterize the day-to-day life of the community. They have the peculiar Arabic Malayalam fusion as the base language and are sung during rituals and occasions. TK Hamsa (he can be seen with Karassery in the video) who wrote the book Mappilapattinde madhuryam, says that he has also traced the similarity of style between `mappilapattu' and `Kilipattu' of Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan. He adds “They belonged to a similar style in time and content. This poetry genre touches on every aspect of life, and the songs formed the basis of learning of the community. It captured their joys and sorrows, hopes and despair. In olden times, women of the community sang `mapillapattu' before going to bed. The songs were an integral part of their life touching on aspects of love, romance and passion. Modern poetry has borrowed from here too."

Mappilapattu is sung among and for a simpler Moplah audience, so there would be quite a bit of transliteration in the text. This Mappila Ramayana, as you can see is a playfully sarcastic version of Ramayana, mocking the alternate religion of the people coexisting with them, according to Karasseri. The Mappila Ramayana covers episodes such as ‘Hanumante Poonkavana Pravesam’, ‘Ravanante Pranayabhyarthana’, ‘Shoorpanakhayude Chamanjorungal’, ‘Shoorpanakhayude Pranayabhyarthana’, and ‘Hanumante Poonkavana Naseekaranam’. Many other stanzas may have been composed, but are lost for now. Let us look at some examples.

Aranya kandam - As you may know Rama and Lakshmana (accompanied by Sita) were doing their penance at Panchavati on the banks of Godavari, as exiled princes. Shoorpanakha with devious or amorous intent, in the guise of a pretty damsel comes to Rama who immediately spurns her and sends her to Lakshman. Lakshmana also refuses her advances and sends her back to Rama. Noting that the brothers are playing with her, Shoorpanakha pounces on Sita only to have Lakshmana slash at her with his sword and she gets her nose loped…and gets Ravana mad.

ശൂര്‍പണഖയുടെ  പ്രണയ അഭ്യര്‍ത്ഥന
ശൂര്‍പണഖ - അണിനുപെണ്ണ്, പെണ്ണിനോരാണ്  ശേരിയത്തില്‍ നേമം
രാമന്‍ - അപത്താനെ പെണ്ണെ മോളെ മുല മാറ്റി പാല് (കുടിച്ചാലേ)
തേക്കൂനെണ്ണ പിടിച്ചിലെന്ന്നു മാറ്റി കാച്ചണോ
ലങ്കസിങ്ക പോടുമോളെ പാട്ടും നോകീ.....
ശൂര്‍പനഖ - അണിനു പെണ്ണ് നാലോ അന്‍ചൊ വെച്ചാലെന്താ
പെണ്ണിനങ്ങനെ പാടിലെനനാ ശരിയത്തിലെ നേമം 
Shoorpanakha’s Overture of love
Shoorpanakha- – For a man, one woman, for a woman, one man that is the law of Shariyat
Raman – It is dangerous to sip milk form more than one woman’s breast and it is not right to just change the oil if it does not suit you, so get lost you Lankan lioness
Shoorpanakha – A man can keep 4 or 5 wives, but a woman cannot keep more than one man according to Shariyat

As you hear the words, you realize that the person who created the ballad studied the original Malayalam or Sanskrit Ramayana stanzas (Which seems a bit strange for a learned Arab or Mappila cleric would possibly not have bothered to pass on a Hindu epic text to the Mappilas. So there is even more likelihood that this came from across the Eastern seas, but then again one wont to argue could say that Hassankutty just listened to a Ramayana recital somewhere, probably a few times at Kavalappara and made the new ballad up) carefully, compares them to Islamic practices and asks pertinent questions. And from the words there are many other things like king becoming a Sultan and Surpanakha’s friend named Fatima, Manthara becomes Kooni and so on..

And that friends, was yet another ‘something’ for you to narrate to your friends, children or grandchildren, some opportune day. And ironically it tells you of a time when tolerance was in vogue, when the borders of languages and religions merged and resulted in some sort of creativity. But before you go, click on the Patturumal episode link to get a feel for the poetry and the narrative style and the dialect of this folk music from Kerala.

And maybe, I will, some other day cover the Malabar rites of the Nazrani’s and the difficulty the Pope and Rome had in approving it (I had briefly mentioned it some years ago in connection with Robert Nobili)

Ramayana Stories in Modern South India – Paula Richman
Hindu article – Aug 12, 2005
Indian express article – 3rd July 2002
Humor and comedy in puppetry: celebration in popular culture - Dina Sherzer
Muslims of Kerala – Dr M Sharafuddin

Suggested reading
Dr KM Karasseri – Kurimanam
Vadakkan Pattukalum Mappila Ramayanavum – Kunhiraman Nambiar

Notes on Arabi Malayalam - Learning Arabic was a religious necessity for Malabar Muslims as the Holy Quran is written in Arabic. To give voice to their creativity however, they had to use Malayalam. There are 28 letters in Arabic alphabets but 13 of these do not have phonetic equivalents in Malayalam. Even words like “Allah” and “Muhammad” cannot be phonetically written in Malayalam. Similarly, Arabic’s 28 letters were not enough to represent all 53 letters of the Malayalam language. The solution that Muslims came up with was a language called Arabi-Malayalam. It is Malayalam written in a modified Arabic script that can account for all Malayalam sounds and still represents Arabic words in the original script in order to preserve correct pronunciation. Different scholars have dated the origin of the script differently; estimates vary from 1500 years ago to 1000 years to about 500 years ago. Arabi-Malayalam became the language of choice for Mappilas. It wasn't until recently that they began to learn Malayalam in its original script. Mappila literature was written in this new language, and was taken to new heights in both poetry and prose. Mappila Pattu are the folklore songs in Arabi -Malayalam language and are generally devotional in nature. This continues to be a popular art from in Malabar. (Above notes extracted from Mappila Culture – by Kashif-ul-Huda,
M Sharafuddin says in his book Muslims of Kerala - However though some clerics knew Arabic, the common man spoke his mother tongue being Malayalam, which was dissuaded and frowned upon these clerics, calling it Aryanezhuttu. It was the love for Arabic and indifference to Malayalam that led to the development of Arabi Malayalam which utilizes Arabic script.

A small rejoinder about R & L in the East – Japanese can't pronounce L's because the sound doesn't exist in their language. Forming the R sound is the next closest mouth movement to the L sound, which is why R's replace L's. Chinese people, however, have problems pronouncing R's, so they do the opposite and replace R's with L's. This is prevalent also in SE Asia where there is a large Chinese influence.

Dr Karassery also mentions the peculiar aspect related to R & L as something that even Sanskrit permits, i.e. the exchange of R & L.

As you know, these things evolve over time. After 7500BC, changes occurred to the epic on a constant basis, with the above Mappila version probably dating to circa late 19th century or thereabouts.

Today we have the latest US NRI version which goes thus

Introducing NRI Ramayan

A young second generation Indian in the US was asked by his mother to explain the significance of “Diwali” to his younger brother, this is how he went about it..."

So, like this dude had, like, a big cool kingdom and people liked him. But, like, his step-mom, or something, was kind of a bit*h, and she forced her husband to, like, send this cool-dude, he was Ram, to some national forest or something... . Since he was going, for like, something like more than 10 years or so..... he decided to get his wife Sita and his bro along.... you that they could all chill out together.

But Dude, the forest was reeeeal scary shit... really man...they had monkeys and devils and shit like that. But this dude, Ram, kicked with darts and bows and arrows.... so it was fine. But then some bad gangsta boys, some jerk called Ravan, picks up this babe (Sita) and lures her away to his hood.. And boy, was our man, and also his bro, Laxman, pissed... all the gods were with him... So anyways, you don't mess with gods.

So, Ram, and his bro get an army of monkeys.... Dude, don't ask me how they trained the damn monkeys... just go along with me, ok...So, Ram, Lax and their monkeys whip this gangsta's ass in his own hood.... Anyways, by this time, their time's up in the forest... and anyways... it gets kinda boring, you know.... no TV or malls or shit like that. So, they decided to hitch a ride back home... and when the people realize that our dude, his bro and the wife are back home... they thought, well, you know, at least they deserve something nice...and they didn't have any bars or clubs in those days... so they couldn't take them out for a drink, so they, like, decided to smoke and stuff ... and since they also had some lamps, they lit the lamps it was pretty cooool... you know with all those fireworks... And this is how Diwali started……………