Palli Palagai: a telling object of South India’s maritime stories

Palagai or Palavai, like it is called colloquially, is a wooden plank which was used as a reading and writing material for Arabic language in the provincial town of Kayalpatnam, Tamil Nadu. It was used actively until the turn of the 21st century by the Palli-going kids in the town. Palli translates to ‘school’ and ‘mosques’ in Tamil. But in Kayalpatnam it has also got another meaning.  A Palli is a private residence or a public place where reading classes in Arabic are given to young kids as small as three year olds.

The Curious Journey of the Cyclopaedia

The Pears Cyclopaedia was first published in 1897. Sold for a shilling, it was originally referred to as “A Mass of Curious and Useful Information about Things that everyone Ought to know in Commerce, History, Science, Religion, Literature and other Topics of Ordinary Conversation.”

Sangeet Benode, 1913

In my possession is a manuscript that is now more than a century old, comprising of 300-350 handwritten pages. The name of the book is Sangeet Benode and can best be described as a treatise on Indian Classical Music. Written in Brajbhasha, khari-boli, and Sanskrit, it is a collection of over one hundred original bandishes or compositions in different ragas.

In pursuit of a prayer

What however caught my particular attention was the reference made to a 5-page prayer handwritten by my forefather that was included in one of the volumes. I was able to make out the invocation at the start of the text which said Ya Rab, Mushkil Kusha (O Lord, Remover of Difficulties) which certainly sounded like a universal and enduring entreaty, and the right note on which to start this voyage of discovery.

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