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Friday Review » Faith

Updated: August 8, 2013 19:29 IST

Labour of love

Suganthy Krishnamachari
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S. Raman with his eco-friendly parrot for Sri Andal. Photo: S. James
The Hindu S. Raman with his eco-friendly parrot for Sri Andal. Photo: S. James

S. Raman has an unusual profession… everyday, he makes a fresh, eco-friendly parrot that adorns Andal.

In Her ‘Nachiar Tirumozhi’ (5th Decad, 5th verse), Andal refers fondly to Her parrot as ‘Paal amudhootti edutha en kolakkili’- a parrot that’s fed on milk. In Her verse, Andal speaks of three birds - the swan, the cuckoo and the parrot.

Dr. M.A. Venkatakrishnan explains the significance of this verse. In the sloka, ‘Koojantam Rama Rameti,’ Valmiki is referred to as a cuckoo -- Valmiki kokilam. Sukabrahma Rishi narrated the story of Lord Krishna. Suka also means parrot in Sanskrit. So Andal, by singing about the cuckoo and the parrot, may be said to be referring to the narrators of the stories of Rama and Krishna, respectively. The reference to the swan is Andal’s way of referring to the Acharyas, who are invariably compared to swans because of their discerning capacity.

When the Andal utsavar idol is taken on processions in Srivilliputhur, a golden, gem studded parrot adorns Her. But when She returns to the temple, she is seen holding a parrot made of green leaves!

S. Raman, who makes this parrot, says, “It takes me four and a half hours to make the bird.” Everyday, a fresh parrot is made, which adorns Andal for roughly the same time as it takes to make it. “Once R. Venkatraman, the then President of India, asked if he could have the parrot at the end of the day, and the executive officer of the temple sent it to Rashtrapathi Bhavan!” says Raman.

He twists around his fingers a bunch of fibres from the stem of the banana plant, drawn into thin strands, and shapes the threads to resemble a parrot. These fibres are covered with tapioca leaves. A pomegranate flower is cut into two, and is used to make the beak and the mouth. Bamboo sticks are used for the legs. These are covered with the petals of pink oleander and nandiyavattai (Ervatamia coronaria). Palm fronds are cut and used for the tail and wings. A glittering stone called kakkaipon, that is obtained when wells are dug, is broken and shaped to resemble the parrot’s eyes. “These days few people dig wells. So it’s difficult to get these stones. Luckily, I have a good collection,” Raman says, as his fingers work deftly.

The pomegranate flowers come from the temple garden. All the other leaves and flowers come from a nearby village called Malli. “Once in two days, I go to Malli and collect what I need,” Raman says. How does he ensure that the leaves and flowers don’t wilt? “I keep them in the shade and covered. I don’t expose them to heat,” he says. In fact he is reluctant to pose with the parrot, because the parrot isn’t completely ready yet, and he is afraid that holding it where there is sufficient light to enable the photographer to get a good picture, will make the leaves wither.

Raman is the fifth generation lineal descendant of a gentleman who made Andal’s parrots. “But long before that, people in my family made these parrots for the temple,” says Raman. What is his profession? “I am content to make the parrots for Andal. That’s all I know.”

Wealthy devotees may gift jewellery and silks to Andal, but one can’t help feeling that She will be partial to Raman’s parrots, for they are a labour of love. Raman’s work is an everyday affirmation of his faith and devotion.

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