The mythical world of Suryapuram

The tale of how (and why) Uma Maheswaran is bringing to the fore the socio-cultural intricacies of agraharams in Palakkad through his imaginary townscape
 Suryapuram is an imaginary township where a landmark of a culture firmly rooted in the Vedic way of life.
Suryapuram is an imaginary township where a landmark of a culture firmly rooted in the Vedic way of life.Photo | Express

KOCHI: Onnodu saami ennodu saami ennu illai da kanna,

Namma graamam Suryapuram, Namukkellam, ulakuthukke Suryan taan saami...

(There is nothing called my God and your God; Our village is Suryapuram and for us, and for the world, there is only one God...the Sun)

Annapoorni Ammal, a musician and a teacher, says this to Azeez, who comes to give her flowers every morning for her pooja. He stands outside singing a beautiful tune which she realises is what she herself was singing in the morning...the Mayamalavagowla raga.

The talk that ensued had her acknowledging his diligence in providing flowers to the agraharam much like his father Mohammed did. She bids him adieu for the day with the promise that her prayer today would be for Ayisha, Azeez’s daughter who is to write her medical entrance exam.

The scene is set in Suryapuram, an agraharam (a Brahmin township). Now if one goes to spot Suryapuram on Google map, it would be akin to spotting Malgudi or a more recent, Hogwarts. For Suryapuram is an imaginary township where homesteads of Brahmins remain as a traditional cluster and a landmark of culture firmly rooted in the Vedic way of life.

The township came alive in the minds of two young men who were in college some 30 years ago — P B Uma Maheswaran and Babu K B. They wanted to create a world synchronising everything that they saw and experienced as they grew up in the agraharams of Kalpathy and adjoining areas of Palakkad.

They began to pen down whatever they saw and lived, from the chants with which the homesteads wake up every morning, to the steaming tumblers of filter coffee that enliven souls to a dawn of rice flour diagrams made on the courtyard of every home, to a lifestyle where music, education, prayer, vegetarianism, modernity, technology, language, food, social connect, and every aspect of daily life centres around one universal theme — finding the truth of why things are the way they are.

“Even the smallest act done in agraharams subscribe to a larger truth. The lifestyle ascribes to ways that are in tune with nature in a deep sense. Unfortunately, this aspect has not been understood fully by even the people who live it every day, let alone those outside the communities. The result of it all is that the lifestyle which actually represents universality has come under silly scrutiny of class and creed nowadays,” says Uma Maheshwaran.

Such on-ground scenarios gave Uma Maheshwaran and his friend the idea to portray the way an agraharam should be or was conceived to be. “We wrote about how life was in agraharams deriving from the characters we grew up with. So, there is the Adishesha Bhagavathar, a musician and a teacher, who has the conjoint qualities, quirks, fads and positive vibes of several people I know.

Then there is the character of Anantharama Deekshitar, a scholar who delves deep into the spirituality of the Vedas and is known for his flawless renditions of Rudram and Chamakam and such intrinsic chants that an agraharam reverberates regularly. We also have Sahasranaman, who is the editor of the weekly Suryapuram Patrika, who also owns the largest book collection in Suryapuram. These characters, we derived from almost every person in the agraharam clusters around us where discussions on technology and recent developments across the globe are as rife as those on philosophy and scriptures.

The women characters are equally formidable — from Alamelu, nicknamed Akashavani, who reaches out anywhere on her Honda Activa — from the Coffee Club in Suryapuram where she delivers steaming vada every morning to her other PR ventures. There is also Kavasseri Maami, whose character is derived from the real-life Achar Maami of Kalpathy who shot to fame for her mouth-watering pickles.”

Uma Maheswaran and Babu cuddled the idea in their hearts for 30 years, during which they gave it some expression as notes and anecdotes brought out as periodical articles. They later moved on in life to be professionals, one stationed in Palakkad and the other in Bengaluru. However, Uma Maheshwaran took the dream further, gathering materials on the topic which now has grown to the extent of taking shape as a volume of work that is being serialised as posts on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The strength on both these platforms is over 300 and the members are treated to not just stories written along the way but also to their visual interpretations.

Uma Maheshwaran
Uma MaheshwaranPhoto | Express

“When there is a temple festival in one of our agraharams, we try to give it a Suryapuram touch and name it ‘Suryotsavam’. The entire process, the music held during the fete, the car festival, et all gets a Suryapuram narration. We even take videos of the events and project them as Suryapuram events. By this, the youngsters understand the gist behind the rituals such as the car festival, the oneness the Vedic chants try to encapsulate, the reach of music that transcends worldliness to become emotional treatises to the soul, etc.,” Uma Maheswaran says.

The everyday rituals of agraharams also get such an in-depth treatment, and the spiritual attributes behind them that stand for the ‘welfare’ of all entities in the universe are laid bare through the dialogues or observations of the characters.

For example, the picturesque geometrical designs or ‘kolams’ that are found at every doorstep of an agraharam house are the family’s way to care for the small living beings that populate the ground — the microorganisms, the ants, et al — who are fed first, even before the day breaks, through the rice flour used to make the designs.

The Gayatri Mantra may be a routine that is parroted by young and old of the agraharam but the chant is actually an ode to the energy of the sun that lights up the world and is the first blazing example of the Brahman or the Supreme Godhead worshipped in different names by different faiths.

The prayers that form the Upanishads are for peace to dawn and for intellect to rise up towards understanding the truth of universality. “These are what agraharams are about. These are what we wish to portray because this aspect is getting eroded from the cultural psyche of people with the slow fading away of agraharams,” says Uma Maheshwaran.

He wants to take the project forward and plan a book series on the idea that has undergone nurturing for all these years. He also hopes to one day make a series of it or even a film, a la Malgudi Days or a Harry Potter.

“But what I want is even more. Even if the books or visual projects take off, I want the Suryapuram Patrika, the periodical that Sahasranaman runs in our fictional world, to be an actual publication that is issued in a periodical manner bringing stories of culture from a corner of the world that stands for equanimity, universality, and a life that is supposed to be aligned to the search of the self.”

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The New Indian Express