Changing face of South Karnataka… are we headed for a severe drought?

I hope i’m wrong about the title’s question, but the signs are everywhere. Kodguku poopo (going to Coorg) always brings me a feel-good feeling. It’s like melting chocolate to the mind.  As soon as we enter the Anechowkoor border gate, my husband will say do you feel the change? Then I would add I was about to ask you!! The sight, the smell & the sounds stirring suddenly awakens something coiled up somewhere perhaps in a Pandora’s box. Nostalgic memories are unique to each individual, once a Lebanese colleague of mine told me, you will not believe me if I say I love the smell of burning garbage… it’s the smell of childhood freedom from before the Civil War. Now if I see anywhere the burning garbage, her face pops in front of me reminding the word freedom!

Even though I keep visiting India, I have been away from home for too long & so much has happened in between & unfortunately the total scenario is different today. What Kodagu once was seems like from a different dimension altogether. Kodagu, once the green paradise is painting a different scenario today. I had to make trips to Mangalore, Kodagu & Chennai within a short span lately & the change in topography made me wonder if there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

While driving from Mysuru to Kodagu almost all the keres (lakes) have dried up. Belikere, once filled with original pink lotus dried up more than a decade ago but many others have joined the wagon in recent years. The big kere near Periapatna which always stood the test of time has lost its battle. So does many small ones. Some of them practically bone dry without a trace of its past. So what is going to be the future? There is practically no flow in the pole (rivers) & todu (creeks), the wells are showing the signs of drying unless they are close to the rivers. The Lakshmana Tirtha River flowing through Hunsur looks like a river from Mars with big boulders popping out & the almost stagnant water exploding with unlimited green weeds. I have no idea if it is good as it prevents the evaporation or if it is bad which might contaminates the drinking water. On the other hand the South Canara seemed greener & the lakes still wet, if not in a larger scale.

The scenario from Bangalore to Chennai is worlds apart & paints a different story. Most of the water clogged paddy fields are green & smiling with freshly transplanted paddy. More over almost all the Lakes are alive & pleasure to tired eyes. Some of the lakes might be fed from the Kaveri River but I am sure all of it is not. Even though Chennai is warmer than Kodagu, the evaporation seems to be less… that means it’s not Mr. Sun to be blamed but the depleting ground water level. So why is it losing the ground water so rapidly?

On the 11th of February 2017, we traveled from Madikeri to Mythadi around 11:30 pm after attending a wedding. The visibility on the way was almost near zero making it very, very difficult to drive. However I was happy to see the fog (or mist?) but when realized that the fog was sans moisture I could not believe my eyes. It was the first time I saw something like that as fog & mist known to me always left droplets on the plants & grass which gleamed like diamond in the rising sun, windows & wind screen. The weather pattern is surely changing.

River Kaveri originating from Kodagu joined by several tributaries becomes the life line of Karnataka & the Tamil Nadu. If the source is dried up or supply is curtailed then both drinking water as well as the crops will be disastrous. So I had to make a trip to KRS to check for myself the status of water level. In front of the nearby petrol station, the Nale (canal) seems to be barren & someone (a trader) was using the bridge to dry their consignment of blankets or carpets while hung as a colourful display as the herd of goats walked past with their herder. There were few transplanted wet lands dotting here and there. The dam level has retreated drastically & a gang of young men in trunks who had gone to take a dip were seen as little dots. On the way to new Kannambadi, a little drama was amalgamated on a pool of water with water tankers (supplying drinking water) moved on the rugged surface shaking its butt, men & women washed their cloths, someone was having bath, while someone else washed the buffalo, yet another washed the vehicles, as what seemed like few army personnel looked on. God protect the ones who drink that tanker water!! Meanwhile as usual my husband & I argued over taking a picture!

On the rugged tar road, 3 men were drying the hurali kalu (pulse) in the old fashioned way depending on the occasional vehicles going to the new Gopala swamy temple. We had a chat with them & as well as a group of men & women from the nearby village who came to spend time at the new temple (idols are not consecrated yet). They were telling there is no water in the bore well & new ones even upto 500 feet no water!

Even though certain level can be seen in the reservoir how much of the water can really be used? How much of it is silt deposit? No one can tell precisely.. sadly I don’t see any where anyone is controlling the consumption of water… seems like business as usual & everyone virtually behaves like there is no tomorrow.

Interestingly the Kukkahalli keri within the premises of Mysore University Campus, home to many migratory aquatic birds, which used to be full for as long as I can remember is been shrinking drastically. Inspite of that there are plans to turn it into money making machine by introducing boating, kayaking, etc. Bangalore is gone to dogs with the greed of blind politicians & builders, & ever increasing human waste & plastic. Sadly Mysore seems to be the next victim…

While I was growing up, my dear Kodagu had a good environmental balance. This balance was achieved by practicing harmony with the nature & flora & fauna in the form of a good relationship between human settlements, forests & water resources. The traditional cultivation of cardamom & coffee had kept the trees standing tall. The floor of the cardamom plantation never even saw sun light in the mid afternoon… kept the moisture safe {of course along with umbulu (leech)}. Deva-kadu (sacred groves) along with the reserved forest by the government made the district green & kept the fresh air intact. Punda pada (Bamboo bush) along the River & Creek banks kept the water from heavy evaporation & the banks being eroded. The expanse of paddy cultivation helped the ground to absorb the water leisurely along with the grass from the plains acting like sponge to retain the rain water. Cattle grazing maintained the bane (plains) like mowed landscape along with producing milk & organic fertilizer.

Birds sang & bees buzzed… The beautiful sound of everything happened around at dawn & dusk were a synchronized/rhythmic act of people & the nature in harmony. Evening watching the flock of birds flying home was a feast to eyes & their murmuration echoing around still echoes in my ears. The sunset had its own rhythm with the walking home of the herds of the cattle, mothers sometimes calling for their calves & the gante-mani (bell in the neck) ringing along their movements & the cicadas announcing their presence with tymbals. Early morning along with the fresh cool breeze came in the dawn chorus of birds creating an unusual melodious symphony with so many different specifies, as if they competed with each other in announcing to the universe I am the happiest & I am the happiest… the drops of water collected on the leaf of grass from the night long mist gleamed on the early morning sun like diamond with myriad of colours…

However sadly the entire scenario has almost vanished or vanishing into thin air like the moistureless mist I experienced on 11th February 2017 night. Now the excessive use of artificial fertilizers & pesticides seems to have not only sucked the insects & birds but also the land out of its natural immunity along with increased usage of land with ever increasing population. Cattles are a thing of the past & even the crows do not come for the rice offering for the soul.

So where does the fault line lies? Whom to blame for this environmental disaster? The human lives have become like the plastic flowers without smell or texture or soul. Should we blame the people who have changed everything around them in the name of modernization? Should we blame the pesticides & artificial manure & the countless hybrids popping around? Should we blame the increasing tourism & the ever increasing garbage & plastic? Should we blame the politicians for the greed of money-power-votes changed the scenario or the sand mafia or the paper making & matchbox making or uncontrolled population growth? I remember my parents grumbling every time a loaded timber or bamboo lorry passed by making a heavy engine sound while climbing uphill… there goes another load & mercilessly cutting the mother’s womb, chopped as if their father had planted them.

Either the strategic importance of Kodagu is underestimated or it is utter ignorance & short sighted, the use-misuse-abuse on Kodagu haven’t seems to be ending any time soon. Sadly in 2015 the state government played havoc with Tippu Jayanthi, hurting the psyche of the Kodavas & death of an innocent person in the name of vote banking drama. Now they want railways then high tension wire to pass through which will result in tree felling & link the streams & rivers, perhaps flooding part of the Kodagu in the bargain… The unreasonable state government (blinder than Kaurava parents) plans does not seems to ending any time sooner. There is a say that one life is not enough to make all the mistakes & learn from it… I think it’s time to use the God given common sense & work wisely than filling their coffers.

Last but not the least, to add further from old fashioned thinking, there is a belief in Kodava culture that Goddess Kaveri had promised them to keep Kodagu blessed with all her grace as long the Kodavas lived there. Now that many Kodavas moved out of Kodagu & also the traditional culture seems to be taking a big U turn. Did the rush to modernization & beautification of Talacauvery back fire?

Or perhaps a major earth quake is brewing underneath? Or perhaps even heather to unknown underground volcano sucking the moisture? Whatever may be the reason if the rain God does not smile on us, & no proper planning for the future (whatever left of it) is done, Karnataka’s future is seems bleak… no drinking water.. no food.. no electricity.. while the population fought with each other, the jobless politicians can either sleep or instigate naked rain dance.

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Origin of KODAVAS (Coorgs) – is it still a mystery??

The origin of Kodavas has been an anthropological puzzle… shrouded in mystery & yet to be decoded… why do they look different & standout in the crowd?? Why do they guard their custom so proudly & closely? And of course, why do Kodava women command great respect & have a large say in raising the family? Perhaps the mystery is hidden in their own day to day lives????

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Have you ever wondered why, unlike the rest of the Hindu communities, Kodavas have the unique custom of Bride’s Mother tying the ‘Pathaak’ (Kodava equivalent of Mangala-sutra) to the bride? It’s a known fact that in every Hindu marriage, the husband ties the ‘Mangala-sutra’ (aka thali) to the bride on the big day. However, according to Kodava custom it is tied by the bride’s mother on the night before the official wedding. There is a very interesting legend to go with… which perhaps might shed some light on the much debated origin of Kodavas as well.

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In the yore… at the period when the earth was visited by Gods & Goddesses, a lovely Devi-kanye (Apsara) fell in love with a man from the earth. The man, a prince** new to the area, was lost while hunting & was resting under a tree mesmerized by the beauty & serenity of the Kodava land. Leaning on the tree, surrounded by nature bathed in all her magnificence, the misty clouds, the mating call of the birds & animals echoed the silent valley below, the air filled with passion & the sight of beautiful maiden took him by surprise. The Prince also fell in love with the gorgeous Apsra instantaneously…. how could he not? Without realizing that she was not in his league he fell in love passionately. Love has no boundary & love is blind after all.

Forgetting his tiredness, his missing entourage, & kingdom, they spent some beautiful moments together. However, both the Devi-Kanye & the Prince were fully aware of the fact that Her father & family would oppose & forbid her from marrying him. They would stop her from leaving the heaven again & any effort from her to meet him would cost her status of the Devi-hood. The thought of separation would be unimaginable… he would rather die than separate from his love. She felt the same way too… she would not give up easily on her love. She made him promise to take care of himself & she promised that she would return to him one day. He was also aware that unlike the Apsara, he could not wait forever because for a mortal like him, death would be inevitable.

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There was no choice but to part from each other & when it was time for her to leave she started crying. She treaded the path back home with heavy heart & tears in her eyes, looking pathetic. On the way she met her old acquaintance, the Naga-Deva & Devate (Snake God & Goddess). They chided her saying why the usual cheerful maiden had tears in her eye & said that crying definitely never suited her beautiful face. If there is any way they could help her to make her happy?

Upon hearing her story, they wanted to help her & the wise couple comes up with a solution to her problem. They said there is a way for her to marry him without him tying the managala sutra & be his wife but with one condition. As a human her husband cannot tie the Mangala-sutra to her but someone from her world can tie the knot on his behalf & she can retain her Devi-hood. But that someone has to be very unique because they should love & care for her more than anyone that ever existed in the three worlds does without expecting anything in return. They suggested that she ask her mother to tie the Mangala-sutra & sanctify her relationship with her prince charming. They also promised her that both of them would stand guard for her protecting from all the evils & perils in the human world.

Her kind hearted, sympathetic mother agreed to tie the Mangala-sutra & symbolize the marriage so that she could go & live with her lover. Her father & the rest of the family also agreed to let her go too. Hence she got married in heaven by her mother with family blessings & left to her husband’s house the following day. Even today Kodavas have two Muhurthas**** on same day. One is separate with each one’s family & the other one “Dampathi-Muhurtha” (dampathi means couple) with the presence of both the families, something perhaps is one of its kind!!

Both lived happily ever after till the prince died of natural causes, raising beautiful family of eleven sons. The eleven sons had hundred each of their own sons, expanding the families further. Years passed & seasons changed & so did her family; her husband died, children died & when her grandchildren started growing old, unbearable at the thought of losing them she returned to heaven*** with sad heart.

The descendants of Apsara & the prince still maintain the tradition to this day… Kodavati women get their Pattak tied by their mother a day before she gets married in the presence of all the elders of the clan & goes to her husband’s house the next day. Priest is absent in Kodava weddings. Each Kodavati is treated very special like the Devi-Kanye. To this day the Pattak holds a Snake Hood on top prominently as protection. Kokke-thati the traditional & compulsory second jewelry worn at the wedding also has a Snake Hood as tribute to Naga Deva & Devate.

So now you know from where the Kodavas originated…. Am I kidding?… is it a fairy tale?… NO Sir it’s the living fact… attend a Kodava wedding & see for yourself… Have a good day.

*The word Mangala-sutra (mangala meaning holy/auspicious & sutra meaning thread) is a sacred necklace that the groom ties around the bride’s neck on the day of the wedding in a ceremony called Mangalya dharana (wearing the auspicious), there by giving her the status of his wife & life mate. Thereafter, the wife wears the Mangala-sutra all her life or till the time the husband is alive as a sign of their marriage, mutual love, goodwill, understanding & faithful commitment to one other. She discontinues wearing it if she is widowed.

** Some say the Prince was none other than Chandravarma, youngest of the four sons of Kshatriya King Siddhartha, the Emperor of Matsya Desha of Chandravamsha (Lunar lineage). He was both pious as well as a great adventure seeker. His eleven sons married the princesses of Vidarbha.

***It is also said that the Deva-kanye was on earth due to a curse & when the period was over, she returned to heaven.

**** Muhurtha (equivalent to mangala) in Kodava custom is the auspicious moment on which stipulated time, the bride or groom is made to sit & seek blessing from the elders. You can read more about it in one of my future articles on Kodava marriage.

Based on the Legend which I heard when I was very young.