Category Archives: The Rose

A Tribute to Kamu Ayyar: Gone in a blaze of Brahmakamalams

My mother Kamakshi, alias Kamu Ayyar, reached her heavenly abode on Friday, August 24, 2018 after valiantly battling renal failure.

My Inspiration and first love

She has been my inspiration, my reason for writing. At times, I felt we were part of the same soul energy in two bodies. She was in my eyes the epitome of love, her love for me was not tied to any condition; it was selfless and didn’t waver no matter what I did or said. And I felt exactly the same way about her.

In 2008, I began writing When the Lotus Blooms to tell the world the story of her incredible birth, the outcome of a divine blessing from Parama Shankaracharya graced by magical Kamakshi Meru. During the writing process, I would have long conversations with her several times a day where she would bring to life the customs and traditions of the time, creating a beautiful painting in my head about all of my ancestors, some of whom I had never met. She was a natural storyteller and it is her stories that finally became the books I wrote in her honor.

In 2009, she fell ill. She was undiagnosed for several months and would call me unable to sleep or focus. I would sing to her, chant with her and guide her with meditation into slumber, night after night. There wasn’t a moment in the day when my thoughts were not filled with worries about her well being. It gave me physical pain to even think of her suffering and I focused all my energies willing her into better health. Then, in May of that year, I went to Bangalore determined to heal her with the power of my intention, the purity of my meditation and the universal force of my positive thoughts. For nine weeks I sat by her bedside editing my manuscript which I had then entitled Rajam. Having completed only half of it, there was a niggling fear within me that she may not live to read the completed book.

The Magical flower blooms

Then one night, nine Brahmakamalams bloomed in her garden and as I slipped out with a flashlight to witness its magical blooming, I knew in my heart that she would recover. And I had the title of my book; When the Lotus Blooms. I decided to create a myth about the blooming of this rare and beautiful flower and connect it to her birth. And thus was created the myth of the Brahmakamalam. So it was no surprise to me that she went out in a blaze of 11 Brahmakamalams blooming.

Her final days

For the last four months she was battling renal failure brought on by her heart condition. For six weeks that I was with her this summer, I tried to motivate her to fight and get back to her earlier health again as I had done over a dozen times in the last decade. But this time I knew in my heart that she was not going to recover. I persuaded my sister to prepone her ticket and come to care for her which she did, and was able to help Mummy get a lot better, able to speak and walk. For a while, she seemed to be recovering but in the last few weeks prior to her passing she was losing the ability to move her legs. She told me that every night my father was sleeping next to her. I knew then that I had to stop praying for her to live, but instead plead with the Universe to end her earthly suffering. She had lost the will to fight.

The Monday before she went, she told me she was tired of battling her illness and wanted to go. Lack of sleep, inability to eat and digest her food, open wounds in her leg and crippling body pain  combined with the strain of dialysis had depleted her strength. I listened to her and realized that we were all being selfish attempting to prolong her life when she was in so much discomfort. I then told her to give herself permission to die and ask Appa (my father) to help her release herself from earthly bondage. And she said “Kanchi can you teach me how to do that?” Unfortunately I had no clue.

The final blooming

That night, the first batch of flowers bloomed in my patio and I knew that she was going to pass on very soon. That afternoon in a dream, I saw my father taking her away. His face was blazing with tejas, beaming in joy. After several years he had appeared in a dream and I was at peace knowing she was finally going to be reunited with him. When she passed that Friday, August 24th on Varalakshmi Nombu, I knew that all her Devi Puja, the hundreds of songs she had written dedicated to Devi had finally borne fruit, and she had merged with the Divine.

I felt a wave of relief. She had passed, and her suffering was finally over.

Kamu’s story

Kamu, daughter of Parthasarathy and Rajam, was born on October 11, 1935 in Chidambaram. As I have described in my book she was a vivacious person and touched the hearts of anyone she came across. When she met Kandu at the age of 16, they fell deeply in love and remained that way for the next 44 years until his untimely death one Diwali night when he was hit on the forehead by a firecracker. I never thought she would survive his death, so deeply committed were they to one another, but her resilience astonished me. She learned to meditate and slowly started living once again. She had for twenty years run a

bhajan group called Shaankari, and the ladies came faithfully each week venerating her as their spiritual guru. Her love for music and her “Devi Kataaksham” (her aura as the divine mother) was perceivable, and resulted in 400 wonderful keertanamas and bhajans, compositions which will remain as her legacy. Karunai Pozhiyum Kanngal was written about Shankaracharya who had blessed her mother with Kamakshi Meru resulting in her miraculous birth. It has been popularized by the late Maharajapuram Santhanam, who was a family friend.

But it was the Internet that completely transformed her life. One day, she called the Help Line which is a directory inquiry, and told them she was 75 year old lady who wanted to learn to use the computer and could they help her. Young Syed came to the house twice a week and taught her to use Facebook and Gmail. She learned to upload pictures and for the longest time typed Like for every picture she liked on FB!! LOL. But her favorite was Whatsapp.  Every morning she sent a video or Vedio as she called it, and I really miss waking up to her messages.

In spite of not having a formal education she was a social butterfly, as much at ease throwing a formal dinner for the Chairman of Rolls Royce and shaking Prince Charles’ hand as she was conversing with her relatives in Mylapore. She had the uncanny knack of being able to discuss a wide variety of subjects (from her tamil Magazines) to people of all ages, talking to them at their level with what interested them. Her zest for life was apparent in her appearance. She took pride in dressing up and bought saris for each season. Malmals one year, kalamkari printed silks the next and when she walked into a room in a whiff of perfume, you had to stop and look at her. No one could ever ignore her. Her double Mookuthi, the silver keychain at her waist, her sari draped impeccably with matching necklaces and adornments. In her later years when she switched to colorful kaftans, she wore matching beads and plastic bangles and just last year forced my sister to buy colorful watchstraps to match.

And she took pride in her home. Everything was impeccably arranged. Each week she would bring out her collections. Bells from around the world one week, brass lamps the next, dolls from every country, quartz grapes and eggs from Mexico. She never lost her enthusiasm till the end.

Her devotion to God was admirable. She celebrated every festival  making Subbu the cook, make the necessary food items that were customarily prepared. Navarathri in our home was always spectacular with one room cordoned off for the Golu doll display. She initiated me into performing Varalakshmi Nombu and in our last conversation I told her about all of my preparations for the pooja including Maavu Kolam which I normally would skip. She had even given me the menu a few days before and even though she had passed, I still prepared each item in her honor. Instead of placing the Amman in the altar I had the misfortune of placing a photograph of Amma and worshipping her, for she was  daivam(God) for me. Always has been, always will be.

She lived a full life and enjoyed her six grandchildren and even saw great-grandchildren. She had a special relationship with each grandchild and many of her traits live on through them. She was the matriarch, the role model for all of us and we all miss her vibrant personality. All three daughters loved and cared for her in their own special way. My husband was the son she never had and he made sure that she never lacked anything. No expense was spared when it came to her comfort from getting her business class air tickets to the US to attend her grandchildren’s wedding, to buying her a bed, a TV and a computer and so much more. She only had to mention it and he would ask me to buy it.

When she lived I had the rare privilege of taking care of her completely and now I leave her in the loving care of my father, her one true love.


Her life has been immortalized in my two books, When the Lotus Blooms and A Rose from a Dream. If you haven’t already, please do buy a copy in her memory.

When the Lotus Blooms: 


A Rose from a Dream 
















Independence and A Rose from a dream

A Rose from a dream spans the decade 1942-52, a very special time in India, pre and post independence. I wrote about this particular era because for the present generation growing up in India and the US, freedom is sometimes taken for granted . They cannot even begin to understand the mindset of those who struggled and died so we could be free.

The book gives you a perspective from many angles:

Famous revolutionaries like Vanchinathan and Bharathiyar whose stories are legendary, known and recognized for their patriotic fervor  and the lesser known Swaminathan and Salih, ordinary folk who worked under the British yet longed for freedom.

The freedom movement was quite different in Bengal as compared to the south. In fact, young Kamu had no idea what was happening or that she was privy to a very special moment in time.  What  is refreshing is that for the first time you read about Indian History  from the perspective of the women of that time.

A Rose from a dream carries a piece of my heart: my love of country. Buy the book and walk through history.

Rose on Amazon


Here is a small excerpt

The atmosphere in the city was particularly festive. Thousands of people were in the streets, already holding paper tricolor flags and wishing one another Happy Independence Day, although that momentous event wouldn’t take place until midnight. Every government building in the city was lit up, the illumination particularly impressive against the darkening skies. There was a prediction of thundershowers and a collective hope that this wouldn’t dampen the festivity. In preparation for the grand moment, the entire street had been covered in a shamiana decorated with festoons of orange white and green. Tonight no one would sleep. It would be a night of celebration.

Rajam and Kunju had tears in their eyes as they watched the friends greet each other. They knew this day meant something really special to these folk. This was a group of people who had  fought for the freedom of the land with a passion. Perhaps never again would this spirit of patriotism rise in the nation against one common enemy. No one could ever understand the depth of feeling and the deep love for the land shared by this band of revolutionaries. Never again in their lifetimes would the longing for Swaraj (self-rule) inspire poetry that tugged at one’s heart strings making tears stream down one’s cheeks. These were very special people, this a very special time, and they were indeed privileged to live through it.

Cries of Jai Hind and Vande Mataram rang all around them, and then they stood, one nation, one voice. For the first time as free Bharat, they heard and sang Janaganamana, the melodic and evocative song written by Rabindranath Tagore, and adopted as the nation’s National Anthem. It was indeed a very special day, one of hope and of dreams as they stood together singing the national anthem. Every citizen, rich or poor, would have tears in their eyes, a combination of painful remembrance and visionary imaginings.

They were all in the streets greeting each other, laughing and cheering. The temple doors were open and people were pouring in to give thanks to the gracious God that had granted them the honor of this momentous day. Sweets were distributed and firecrackers lit the sky. The family was going to see the city lights, but for others, fatigue crept in and slowly the streets emptied and everyone found their way indoors, exhilarated yet exhausted from the emotional festivity.

As Swami lay down he couldn’t sleep for a long time. He led a sedentary life, and this was too much excitement for him. He thought about all the great martyrs who had died for this cause from Bhagat Singh in the north to Vanchinathan in the south, and he reminisced about his attempt to aid the struggle despite wearing a British uniform. For many, their minds had been kidnapped and brainwashed, leaving them with diminished self-esteem and questionable loyalty. Added to that was so much pain. The searing pain of communal riots and hatred, the partition of the land and the creation of Pakistan.. The nation had suffered, and it would take tremendous effort to begin the healing process. The scars of colonial slavery would take a long time to mend. But people had faith that the leaders were good and were ready to follow the guidance of stalwarts and erudite intellectuals like Nehru, Gandhi and Patel who would lead them from darkness to light. India would awaken to freedom and enterprise, to belief and tolerance, to hope and dignity.

The Devadasis

The History

The practice of dedicating young girls to temples was prevalent in many parts of India but in the deep south, the Chola kings by their patronage to the arts elevated the status of mere Devadasis to that of Rajadasis or  royal courtesans.

Rajaraja Chola I is supposed to have recruited around four hundred dancing girls from all the temples of the Chola country to be employed at Brihadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur.
Devadasis were called ‘devaradiyal’ or ‘servants of God’, which was corrupted to ‘thevadiyal,’ a derogatory term still in use. Eventually,  devadasi was a Sanskritized version of  Devaradiyal.
Devadasis were not typically Brahmin but could have patrons  from the upper classes. Most often they were mainly dancers who would have one or maybe two patrons in their lifetime, some girls born as Devadasis others offered to the temple fulfilling some sacred vow. The beautiful learned dance and music and the less endowed unfortunates, were relegated to various tasks connected with the temple.


The initiation ceremony of the devadasi began with  the pottukattu (tying of the sacred thali or thread round the neck as in a conventional marriage ceremony).  Following this the devaradiyal was officially married to the deity and considered a Nityasumangali (one who never suffers the curse of widowhood) and was specially sought after during marriages to bless the bride.

Devadasis who enjoyed the patronage of the king and the temple were women of considerable wealth in the form of gold and landed property. The community was  dominated by women under the supervision of the matriarch known as thaikkizhavi. Daughters were naturally preferred as they were an asset to the family. Devadasis were highly emancipated women and were treated with great respect. Some famous modern day Devadasis are M.S. Subbalakshmi, Balasaraswathy and Kishori Amonkar.


But the advent of the British changed everything. With no royal patronage their status was reduced to that of mere prostitutes.

For those who have never heard of or don’t know much about Devadasis, this book promises to be a real eye opener.

In “A Rose for a dream,” I have introduced a new stream about Devadasis. As usual most of my imagination is fired by my mother, who always told me really colorful stories about a Devadasi family that lived very near her growing up in Thanjavur. The “Madam” was a good friend of her grandfather Swaminathan, who used to arrange police bandobast whenever there were big events like Pottukattu ceremonies or Arangetrams. Strangely enough, although traditionally brahmin women didn’t mix with Devadasis, her mother Rajam and aunt Kunju became friends with Koviladi Valamba. This is the origin of Koviladi Kamalamba and her niece Balamani.

In this excerpt, Balamani is preparing for her pottukattu ceremony and her Arangetram, but she longs to be free and live the life of a normal girl, to love and marry and have children. But more than anything, she longs to unravel the deep, dark secret of her birth.



“I’m so tired of all this. I don’t want to do the pottukattu and I don’t want to have a patron.” Bala ranted, raising her voice in sheer frustration.

“Shh. . . .” said Vasanti quickly closing the door. “Someone will hear you.”

“Why can’t I be like other girls and have a normal life? Meena next door goes to school. I want to do that too; I want to learn.”

“Shh,” Vasanti said, cradling Bala’s head in her lap and wiping the sweat off her neck and face with a soft towel.

“You and I, we can’t do anything to change our destiny. We are born Devadasis and we will die like that. Everyone around knows which caste we belong to. Even if we try to run away, they will not let us live normal lives. Amma has so many friends in the police who will find us no matter where we run. You know how Muthu beat Vyjayanthi when she ran away last year? You remember that don’t you?”

How could Bala forget? It was she that was assigned to wiping the blood off the floor after Muthu was done with teaching Vyjayanthi a lesson. It took more than six months for her wounds to heal before she looked normal. Even before Vyjayanthi’s psychological lesions  healed, Amma had found a rich Mir?zd?r from Salem to visit her. The three girls slept together and were unfailingly woken up by Vyjayanthi’s  nightmares and sobbing. No. There was no escape.

“Don’t even think of running away. It’s just not worth it. Just accept your destiny and maybe one day you will have your own home and be an Amma like Kamalamba Amma.”

“I would never do that. I would rather die than make small girls dance and entertain fat, old men. I want to marry and have a family. Why can’t I marry like other ordinary girls?”

“You will. And what better husband than the Lord himself?”

“But he isn’t real and he can’t love me and hold me or even talk to me. I don’t see the point in that.”

“Don’t aspire for love from a man, foolish child. That is not for Devadasis. We love each other and that’s all that matters. The most dangerous situation for us is to fall in love with our patrons. They are all married men and would never consider leaving their wives for us. Don’t even entertain that thought. You know what happened with your own mother, don’t you?”

Bala stared up at her with a blank expression and Vasanti knew she had made a mistake. Amma never liked to talk about it, but the gossip grapevine held no secrets. Obviously no one had said anything to Bala, and she was not about to be the first. If Amma wished, she would reveal the story.

“What happened to my mother? Tell me.” Bala pleaded.

“Nothing. I meant to Kamalamba Amma, not your mother. You know about her first patron don’t you?”

“Why can’t you tell me? I know you are hiding something. I want to know her story.” Bala pouted angrily, annoyed at being treated like a child and kept in the dark.

“I can’t tell you. Muthu would kill me. Just know that she was fortunate to be loved by a real man and she tasted paradise on earth. Now come on, take a quick bath and I’ll rub some coconut oil with camphor on your legs. It will ease the pain.”

Bala sat up and stared vacantly across the room. She sat down in front of the large wooden carved mirror and looked at herself. A few stray locks had escaped from the tight bun and framed her heart shaped face. She leaned forward and admired her grey, doe shaped eyes with naturally curled lashes. Then she ran her fingers along her long arched eyebrows and down her pert and slightly hooked nose until they outlined her full lips and pointed chin. In the glow from the candles, her skin shone like polished ivory. She was beautiful. She turned around and looked at Vasanti.

“What do you do at night with the patrons? Do you dance for them?” she asked innocently.

Vasanti dropped her shaking head into the palms of her hands. No one had told this poor child what her destiny was. In what words could she explain to a twelve-year-old what her main occupation would be for the rest of her youth?