Monday, September 28, 2009

Bengal Tiger in Kerala

tiger, originally uploaded by Sreejith Kodoth.

The author who loves wildlife photography, clicked this photo when he was working with Kerala Government's Forest Department.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lord Shiva: Nageshwar Temple

Nageshwar Mandir is a Lord Shiva temple, and Nageshwar Jyotirlinga is believed to protect devotees from all poisons. There are many legends about Nageshwar. One of them is related to Daruka who lived with her community of demons in the forests near Dwaraka. The demons used to harass sages and they approached an enlightened sage Orvamuni. He cursed the demons for their destruction, and a war between the gods on demons followed.

To save the demons, Daruka used her special powers (boon) she had got from goddess Parvati and shifted the entire forest to the sea. From there they continued troubling the sages and once they captured the Shiva devotee Supriya, who made all other captives recite the powerful Om Namah Shivaya mantra of Lord Shiva. But when the demons decided to kill Supriya, it disturbed the Shiva-Parvati devotee Daruka. She prayed to Lord Shiva who appeared here and freed all from the demons. But Parvati granted a boon to Daruka that she would rule the region. Lord Shiva agreed to this and with Parvati stayed there, Shiva assuming the form of Jyotirlinga with the name Nageshwar and Parvati becoming Nageshwari.

According to Hindu scriptures, King Yadu of Yadu dynasty was married to a Nag girl. Skanda Purana mentions that the King Raivat of Kushsthali was an incarnation of Takshak Nag. Often Dwaraka is also named as Kushsthali in Hindu scriptures. Some historians think that the Aryans made the Nags a religious community and established Nageshwar Jyotirlinga.

The present temple was renovated by Late Gulshan Kumar, starting the work in 1996, before his assassination. The entire project cost of Rs 1.25 crores was born by Gulshan Kumar Charitable Trust.

Nageshwar Temple is visible from a distance of 2 km. A huge 125 feet high and 25 feet broad attractive statue of Lord Shiva in meditation pose greets devotees from outside the main temple. At the main entrance is a hall or Sabha Mandap. The main Jyotirlinga is situated under the Sabha Mandap floor, with a silver replica of Nag (snake) placed there. Behind the Jyotirlinga there is an idol of Goddess Parvati. Only male devotees wearing dhoti can enter and perform pooja/prayers at the Garbhagriha.

The morning Arti begins at 5 AM and the temple opens for devotees from 6 AM. Devotees can have a Sringar Darshan at 4 PM, after which entry to Garbhagriha for devotees is closed, though the rest of the temple closes only at 9 PM. During Holy Shravan, Navaratri, Diwali, Kartik Purnima and Mahashivaratri the temple remains open for longer hours.

The best time to visit is from August to September. The nearest (146 km) airport is Jamnagar. Nageshwar is situated between Okha (14 km) and Dwaraka (16 km). Visitors have to stay either at Dwaraka or Okha from where buses and taxis are easily available. Nageshwar is also on the circuit of Dwaraka Darshan tours of local tourist bus services. For nominal rates, Dwaraka Darshan offers a sight-seeing trip of five to six hours covering Nageshwar Jyotirlinga, Gopi Talav, Bet Dwaraka, Rukmini Temple.

The distance between Dwaraka and Nageshwar is only 16 km. Dwaraka, the ancient capital of Lord Krishna, is well connected with the other parts of India by railways, with more than seven long distance trains and many shorter distance trains. There are regular Government Transport buses and private buses between Ahmedabad and Dwaraka, taking nine to ten hours to reach Dwaraka. Night buses and sleeper coaches are also available.

Okha is the last stop for Dwaraka on railways and road routes. The distance between Dwaraka and Okha is 30 km. Distance from Dwaraka: by train to Ahmedabad = 471 km, Vadodara = 571 km, Surat = 700 km, Vapi = 798 km, Mumbai (Bandra) = 962 km, Puri = 2752 km, Jammu Tavi = 2154 km. Distance from Dwaraka by road to Ahmedabad = 457 km, Somnath = 230 km, Rajkot = 232 km, and Jamnagar = 144 km.

Many visitors prefer the Dwaraka-Porbandar-Somnath route, on the coastal road famous for its scenic beauty. Porbandar, the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi, is 75 km from Dwaraka. Devotees first visit Harsiddhi Mataji Temple (Harshad Mataji Temple) on seashore before Porbandar. Somnath is about 150 km from Porbandar. Private buses start from Dwaraka at 8 AM in the morning and reach Somnath at 2 PM covering Mool Dwaraka and Harsiddhi Mataji temple.

Dwaraka city has all the basic amenities for tourists and devotees. Power cut is rare. There are good hotels, guest houses and even community living accommodation (dharmashalas) at cheap/affordable rates. Food in North Indian, South Indian, Gujarati, Rajasthani and even Chinese styles are available in most eateries, including hotels and restaurants.

Lord Siva at Nageshwar in Gujarat, India

Nageshvara Jyotirlinga is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines mentioned in the Shiva Purana. There are many shrines in India which are believed to be identical to this Jyotirlinga. The major three such shrines are the Nageshwara temple near Dwaraka (Gujarat) the Nagnath temple in Aundha in Maharashtra, and the Jageshwara temple near Almora in Uttarakhand. It is believed to be the first Jyotirlinga on earth.

Shiva Purana says Nageshvara is in the Darukavana, which is an ancient epic name of a forest in India. Darukavana finds mention in Indian epics like Kamyakavana, Dvaitavana, Dandakavana, etc.

According to legends, the Balakhilyas, a group of dwarf sages, worshipped Shiva in Darukavana for a long time. To test their devotion and intentions, Shiva came to Darukavana as a digambara (nude) ascetic, wearing only Nagas (serpents). The wives of the sages were attracted towards him and ran after the ascetic, leaving their husbands. The sages got very disturbed, frustrated, lost their patience and cursed the ascetic to lose his Linga. The severed Shivalinga fell on the earth and whole world trembled. Brahma and Vishnu came to Shiva and requested him to save the earth from destruction and take back his Linga. Shiva consoled them and took back his Linga (Vamana Purana Ch.6 and 45).

Then Shiva promised his divine presence in Darukavana as Jyotirlinga for ever. Later, Darukavana became the favorite place of Nagas, and Vasuki worshipped Shiva here for long, and thereafter the Jyotirlinga came to be known as Nagnath or Nageshvara.

Also, there is a narrative in the Shiva Purana on the Nageshvara Jyotirlinga. It says a demon named Daruka attacked a Shiva devotee, named Supriya, and imprisoned her along with several others in his city of Darukavana. This place was a city of snakes and Daruka was the king of the snakes. On the insistence of Supriya, all the prisoners started to chant the holy mantra of Shiva and instantly Lord Shiva appeared and vanquished the demon and later started to reside here in the form of a Jyotirlinga.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Houseboats in USA and other countries

In the late 1940s when people were looking for staying on water for longer periods of time, recreational houseboating started in the United States. Lake Cumberland in Kentucky is considered the birthplace of houseboating in the USA. Seattle, Washington, is home to a large collection of floating houseboat neighborhoods, particularly in Lake Union and Portage Bay. Renting houseboats has also become very popular.

Houseboats have been used for commerce too. On the Northern Neck of Virginia, Chesapeake National Bank had a floating bank branch called the Boat 'n’ Bank. Sausalito, California, has one of the most noted collections of float homes that have been owned by famous musicians, film stars, authors and other celebrities.

Houseboating on Lake Powell is a popular vacation spot where the Glen Canyon Dam impounds water from the Colorado River to form 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of shoreline. Near Las Vegas, Lake Mead, the largest manmade lake in North America, New Bullards Bar Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Nevada City, California, and Lake Shasta in the mountains just outside of Redding, California, are also popular spots for houseboats. Houseboating is also common in Lake Cumberland, Lake Amistad, Trinity Lake, Lake Mohave and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. In New York, houseboats have become a major feature of the Great South Bay on Long Island.

Many thousands of people live afloat in Great Britain. Houseboats, called canal narrowboats are used as homes, and also as rented holiday accommodation In the United Kingdom, mainly used for recreation. There are hundreds of converted ships, barges and boats being used as homes by many families. The various moored houseboats stretch from Broadness Creek and Benfleet Creek in the lower part of the London Port Health Authority District up to Twickenham in the upper part.

Houseboats in Canada, generally motorized and used for recreation, are popular in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The town of Sicamous, on Shuswap Lake, British Columbia, is said to be the ‘Houseboat Capital of the World’.

There are many motorized, pontoon-based houseboats with two or more bedrooms In Australia on Murray River and in the coastline of Queensland. They are either privately owned residences or for hire, for instance, as in the safe passages of the Coomera River and The Great Sandy Straits near Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island.

Houseboats are used to accommodate tourists on the Mekong River, Laos, where they are referred to as 'slow boats'. They are either made up of wood or steel.

Houseboating is a developing holiday activity In New Zealand. Whangaroa Harbour, a land locked harbour, on Northland's east coast provides houseboating facilities.

Some of the finest and costliest houseboats of Europe can be seen plying along the canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, which even have houseboat hotels.

Situated in the neighborhood La Estrella, in Maraca Ibo, Venezuela, there is a big house called La Casa Barco, built by a former captain of the Venezuelan Navy in the last century. The building, floating on water, resembles a real ship with its anchors, lifeboats, and radars. La Casa Barco has now become a city icon for tourists.

On Lake Kariba of Zimbabwe houseboats have been in use since the creation of the lake in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is considered one of the most luxurious ways to experience the Zambezi river basin and its wildlife, as a lot of wild animals come down to the river for drinking water and to cool themselves down.


Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir are the two states in India famous for houseboats. Houseboats are commonly seen in the backwaters of Kerala. These are large exotic barges used for leisure trips and a major tourist attraction. A typical Kerala houseboat is 60 to 70 feet long and about 15 feet wide at the middle. The hull is wooden and the roof is made of bamboo poles and palm leaves. Most of these are rented out to tourists, and they provide all kinds of facilities, including food and beverages as in hotels.

The houseboats in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, are mostly stationary, in the Dal Lake and Nageen Lake, and rented out to tourists. Some of these house boats have up to three bedrooms, apart from living rooms and kitchens. They provide the unique experience of living in a freshwater lake, in cedar-paneled elegant bedrooms, with all the conveniences of a luxury hotel. About a thousand houseboats are moored along parts of the Dal Lake and Nagin Lake and the Jhelum River.

Like hotels, houseboats vary in the levels of luxury and they have been graded by the Department of Tourism. Luxury houseboats, like a luxury hotels, have fine furniture, good carpets and modern bathroom fittings, while the lowest category houseboats, like low-budget hotels, are cheaply furnished. All houseboats, regardless of category, have highly personalized service. The cost per day of hiring a houseboat includes all meals and free rides from the houseboat to the nearest jetty and back. A standard houseboat provides a balcony in the front, a lounge, dining room, pantry and three or more bedrooms with attached bathrooms. All houseboats not moored to the bank of the river or lakes provide a Shikara as a free service from the houseboat to the nearest jetty.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

View the moored houseboat on right hand side of the photo. Shikaras can also be seen plying in the Dal Lake.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Thiruvathira is observed, mostly in Kerala, India, on the full-moon day of Dhanu Masam, on the day of the Thiruvathira star (Alpha Orionis). According to legends, this is the day Goddess Parvathi met Lord Siva after her long penance. It is believed that observing Thiruvathira vratham or Thiruvathira nonbu (fasting during thiruvathira) would ensure that a woman's husband would have a long life. Women, including little girls, would get up early in the morning during the whole of Dhanu masam and go to a Kulam (pond) or a river to take bath. They usually go in a procession singing various songs. Also they sing and play while taking bath. After bathing, they go to the temple dressed in their finest clothes.

The practice of gifting bunches of bananas to the elders is observed in some parts of Kerala. During this season, huge swings (oonjal) are erected in the vicinity of most of the houses. These swings are hung from the branches of tall trees. The swings are made of ropes hung from the branches of trees with wooden planks for the seat. After lunch, the Thiruvathirakkali dance is performed. The accompanying songs (Thiruvathirapaattu) are written in Malayalam and are set in a specific meter. The dance form is also called Kaikotti Kali (dancing while clapping hands, also spelled Thiruvathira Kali) and is also performed during the festival of Onam.

Elephants for Onam procession 2009 at Cochin

Onam, the most popular festival of Kerala, falls in the month of Chingam (August/September), marking the annual visit of the legendary King Mahabali, who once ruled Kerala. Onam is closely linked to Kerala's culture and tradition.

According to the legend, Kerala witnessed its golden era during the rule of King Mahabali. Everybody in his kingdom was happy and prosperous. There was no shortage of anything, people lived a truthful and contended life and there was equality among them. Mahabali’s popularity was not liked by Gods who wanted to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged and insecure. Lord Vishnu appeared as Vamana and deceitfully defeated Mahabali. However, Vishnu granted him a boon that he could visit his people every year with whom he was so attached. So, Onam is celebrated every year to welcome Mahabali.

Competitions, dance performances, sports, etc. are organized during Onam celebrations. Some notable features of Onam are Vallamkali (Snake Boat Race), Talappanthukali (a ball game), Ambeyyal (Archery), Kayyankali, Attakalam, Kaikotti kali, Thumbi Thullal, Kummatti kali, Pulikali, etc.

On Thiruvonam day, King Mahabali is believed to visit every Malayalee home to meet his people. So, homes and surroundings are cleaned and decorated with flowers and traditional lamps. Sumptuous feasts are prepared in every household.