Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Tamil Mahabharatams

Have you heard about the Tamil Mahabharatams? Although the physical locales of the Mahabharata are primarily located in north India, there's more than one version in Tamil.

Researcher Vijaya Ramaswamy says that the epic reached south India somewhere in the early Christian era (corresponding to late Sangam period). The earliest Tamil version is by the Sangam poet Perunthevanar, who wrote something called Bharatam referring to the Pandava-Kaurava war. But this version has not survived.

The next oldest version appears in the 9th century, when a version of Bharatam was written in the Pallava Kingdom (during the rule of Nandivarman III). It was in "Champu" style, which is a mix of prose and poetry.

In the 10th century, the Pandya king Rajasimha commissioned another version in Tamil. Further in 14th century, Villiputturar wrote a version called Villi Bharatam. This is the version used in Villupaatu, one of Tamil Nadu's folk performances (featured in the photo).

Villupaattu performance in progress, photo by Praveenp [Public domain]
The Villi Bharatam ends with Ashwathama killing Draupadi's children. After that, the same Villi Bharatam was extended by two poets called Nallapillai and Murugapillai who added 11,000 poems in the 1800's. You can see several Villipatu performances even now on youtube; and there are often performances on televisions as well.

Also, somewhere in 16th century, yet another version emerged, written by Pugazhendi Pulavar, which is also used in folk versions and performances of the Mahabharata.

As the epic travelled into Tamil Nadu, local stories began to incorporate Mahabharata characters - thus for example, we have the story of Alli and Arjuna (about which more later!). 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Garuda Purana and the democratization of knowledge production

The Garuda Purana, composed in Sanskrit, contains 16000 verses, dealing with an incredibly diverse collection of topics.

It covers cosmology, mythology, salvation theory, ethics, Hindu philosophical schools, theory of Yoga, ancestral rites, rivers and geography, types of minerals and stones, testing methods for gems for their quality, listing of plants and herbs, disease symptoms and medicines, astronomy, astrology, architecture, grammar, literature classification etc.

It also includes statecraft and more practical matters such as charity and gift making, economy, thrift, duties of a king, politics, state officials and their roles, and how to appoint officials. Lastly, it also covers personal development and self awareness through Sankhya and Advaita Yoga.

The text is attributed to the legendary sage Vyasa, in the absence of clear authorship. It is believed to have been first composed at least a thousand years ago, with the core being even older. The versions that survive today contain different lengths and different sets of scriptures, pointing to diverse authorship over time as it gained popularity.

Garuda Vahana, at Chennai airport, a beautiful wooden sculpture 
used for temple processions. It is likely from Tanjore.
One of India's unique features is the way in which many of our scriptures co-opt and include multiple authors. Imagine a book, with many chapters by different writers, all of whom help to grow the book continuously over centuries. As it spreads, more chapters appear, more commentaries and discussions take place, and diverse versions grow and become popular in different parts of the land. The closest parallel is a river, with a single origin but which branches into thousands of tributaries, ending in many lakes and ponds, and watering many fertile lands as it goes along. One could also draw a parallel to the way the internet functions, democratizing the production and dissemination of knowledge. In the case of scriptures, the dissemination takes place in thousands of sabhas and temples, where readings and recitations bring different versions to the people. Confusing? Yes. That is the nature of a cooperative effort at knowledge production. But it is also very appealing, that there is no "one book", no single authority.

#hinduliterature
#magictoursofindia
#chennaimagic

Monday, December 16, 2019

Curry Leaves chutney (Karuvepallai Thuvaiyal)

The problem with ordering curry leaves online is that you have more leaves than you know what to do with. Meenakshi Ammal came to my rescue with "Cook and See" (Samaithu Paar), the go-to recipe book for all Tamil kitchens.


I made Karuveppalai Thuvaiyal, a thick coarsely ground chutney of curry leaves, tamarind, red chillies, urad dal, mustard and asafoetida. Curry leaves pack a wallop in terms of nutrition. They contain calcium, phosphorous, irons and vitamins (C, A, B, E). But the damn thing can be bitter, so Meenakshi Ammal advises using tender leaves and enough spices to offset it. The asafoetida, tamarind and mustard give it a kick, the red chillies and salt give it bite. I didn't have tender leaves, so I cheated and added a teeny bit of sugar. Shhhhh. No one will know! 


- 4 big handfuls of leaves (only one handful is on the plate in the photo) 
-Marble sized tamarind 8 red chillies 
- 2 teaspoons urad dal 
- 3/4 teaspoon mustard 
- Hing (asafoetida to taste) 

 Wash leaves. Fry chillies, mustard and lentils in oil. Grind with tamarind, salt, hing. 

Pro tip: grind masalas coarsely and then add the leaves to grinder. This one works best if ground by hand on a stone, the old fashioned way. The mixer doesn't quite help with the sort of coarse consistency you want. I ended up doubling the urad dal because I wanted more of that lentil feel. I also added sugar like I said, and a twist of lime because I thought the tamarind was not tamarindy enough. 

If you'd like to learn how to make a range of pickles, preserves and chutneys, we have workshops in Mumbai, Bangalore  and Chennai.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Karaikkal Ammaiyar - The Mother from Karaikkal

Karaikkal Ammaiyar (The Mother from Karaikkal) lived in Tamil Nadu in 6th century. She was a poet-saint, one of the 63 Shaivite Nayanmars. This sculpture is a copper alloy, about 9 inches high, dated during the Chola period (880–1279). . It is now at the Metropolitan Museum.


Karaikkal Ammaiyar belonged to the Chettiar (Nagarathar) community. She was a devotee of Lord Shiva, and said to be very beautiful. On seeing her perform miracles, her husband recognized her divine nature, and worshipped her as a goddess. She left her home, and went to Mount Kailash, on pilgrimage to Lord Shiva's abode. She prayed to Shiva to transform her into a ghoul (gana), one of Shiva's many attendants. Shiva granted her wish, changing her into a wizened old woman.

Thus she became free of the burden of social norms, and spent her life as a free spirit, composing and singing hymns in praise of Shiva. In this sculpture, you can see her holding a pair of cymbals as she sings her own compositions. The sculptor has stayed within the stylistic tradition of Chola art, with fine nose, curved lips, large eyes, square shoulders and slim waist. Thus he maintains her divinity. He has chosen to represent her ghoul transformation by focusing purely on exaggeratedly deformed breasts. He has chosen to represent her mendicant status by giving her only a single garment. And, to show her great age, her ear lobes are sagging with the weight of her ear-ring (a feature of older women).


Beginning in the 6th century in Tamil Nadu, India witnessed a widespread Bhakti movement, where several women rejected the life of a householder, and embraced a life of devotion/renunciation, Examples include Andal from Tamil Vaishnavism of the ninth century, Mahadevi Akka of Karnataka (13th century), Muktabai of Maharashtra (13th century), Mirabai of Rajasthan (16th century), and many more.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Chettiar adventures in Burma

The village of Kanadukathan is a couple of hours from Madurai in Tamilnadu. If you walk through the village, you will come across streets full of grand palatial homes. These are the mansions of the Chettiar community; built with wealth from their trading and financing businesses around the world. A lot of the wealth came from Burma, which was then part of British India.

The Chettiars had followed the British into Burma in the 1820s. Initially they were small traders and financiers. But the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 provided a golden opportunity for the growth in the fortunes of the Chettiars.


There was a great demand in Europe for rice, and the Suez Canal opened up opportunities for exports of rice from Burma. Burmese cultivators made the most of the opportunity, transitioning from subsistence farming to large scale rice cultivation. Formal bank loans were not available to Burmese agriculturists. The Chettiars provided loans, with and without collateral, for farming activities. But that was not all. They took deposits, remitted funds, discounted bills, bought and sold gold, and provided much of the necessary funding that enabled the rice trade. In other words, they became not just moneylenders, but bankers to the rice trade.

Dr. Sean Turnell, a researcher at Macquarie university says that the Chettiars gave loans to farmers at rates between 9 to 15 percent. When there was no collateral the rate could be upto 25 percent. He further says that these loans were reasonable, given the cost of business and the risks. The Chettiars look almost benign when you compare them with other local moneylenders, particularly Burmese landlords who offered their tenants something called sabape, a loan made "in kind" rather than in cash, at usurious rates of over 100% per annum.

Burma went on to become the "rice bowl" for Europe in the second half of the 1800s and in the 1900s. Exports grew. But as is common among British colonies, the people of Burma had very little share in this prosperity. Rangoon's wealthy elite were foreigners - the British and their Indian merchant partners. As the wealth of the Chettiars grew, they invested in building lavish mansions in their hometowns in Tamil Nadu.

But the global depression of the 1930s badly affected Burma, resulting in the near collapse of paddy prices. Vast tracts of cultivable lands passed to the Chettiars, as farmers defaulted on their loans. It was a time when a wave of anti-foreign sentiment grew in Burma, and the Chettiars were the target of much vilification.

Then came WW-II, and with that, the fortunes of the Chettiars took a further turn for the worse. In 1942, Rangoon fell to the Japanese and the Chettiars fled Burma along with the British, travelling overland from Rangoon to Assam. Many are believed to have perished in the journey.
Eventually the British declared Burma independent in 1948. Although they had rightful title, the Chettiars could not successfully claim compensation from the new government which took over agricultural land. In 1962, when a military coup ended democracy in Burma, they lost their claims, and Burma became just a memory.

The Chettiar mansions remain a lasting legacy of those times, with their Burmese teak and antiquities.
#chettinad
#tamilnadu
#magictoursofindia
#chennaimagic
#maduraimagic

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Grave of Emperor Aurangzeb, Khuldabad

From Johnson Album 3, 4, painted 1660-70
Featured in the British Library exhibition,
Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire.
Emperor Aurangzeb - the sixth Mughal ruler - had a long reign of nearly 50 years.

During his rule (1658 to 1707), the Mughal Empire reached its largest extent, covering almost the entire Indian subcontinent. In 1700, India's GDP accounted for one-fourth of world GDP, with textiles playing a major role. Nearly 15% of the population lived in urban centres; it was thus more urban than Europe at the time, or even more urban than British India in the 19th century.

Among the urban centres in the Deccan was Aurangabad. Earlier it was a village called Khadki; but it grew into a city under the patronage of Malik Ambar and the Nizamshahs of Ahmadnagar. When Aurangzeb took over the city, as the Mughal viceroy to the Deccan, he named it Aurangabad.

Aurangzeb spent the last 26 years of his life in an attempt to conquer the Deccan. He died at his military camp in Bhingar, near Ahmadnagar, at the age of 89.

His modest open-air grave in Khuldabad expresses his deep devotion to his Islamic beliefs. He desired in his will that not more than 8 rupees be spent on it - in marked contrast to the ostentatious splendour of the tombs of his predecessors.
Grave of Aurangzeb, painted by William Carptenter between 1850-56, British Library
Aurangzeb's tomb is in the courtyard of the shrine of the Sufi saint Shaikh Burhan-u'd-din Gharib, who was a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi.

The epitaph reads his own couplet in Persian:
Az tila o nuqreh gar saazand gumbad aghniyaa! 
Bar mazaar e maa ghareebaan gumbad e gardun bas ast!
Translation: "The rich may well construct domes of gold and silver on their graves!
For the poor folks like me, the sky is dome enough!" 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"Daan Paatra" at Pushkar

Spotted at Pushkar: a collection box (Daan Patra) for Gau Seva (the welfare of cows). A young bull stands next to it, looking quite annoyed with life :)
Holy Cow Container, India -
Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia [CC BY-SA 2.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The cow is depicted with a peacock feather decoration for her horns, indicating the linkage of cows with the cowherd God Krishna of the Braj region. The Braj region (Brajbhoomi) is the land associated with Krishna's birth and major events in his life. While there is no official geographical demarcation, it lies more or less within the golden triangle circuit that is popular with tourists. Pushkar is nearby.

The cow is depicted with auspicious symbols (the Om and the Swastika) on her body. She is adorned with jewellery, denoting her special status. Similar decorations can be seen in many Rajasthani miniatures, particularly the Pichhawai paintings depicting Krishna as a cowherd. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Portuguese Church Bells of Maharashtra

This week I read a story in Hindustan Times about Portuguese church bells, which are being used all over temples in Maharashtra.
Temple bell at Naroshankar, Nashik. Photo Credit: Hindustan Times
The bells were acquired by the Marathas from various churches, during their conflicts with the Portuguese. The 17th and 18th century were full of many conflicts, with the Marathas, Siddis, the French, the English and the Portuguese, all jostling for supremacy on the Western coast of India.

Fr. Francis Correa, a priest based in Vasai (Bassein) says discovering the bells has broadened his view of India. He says: “Seeing the bells for the first time, I initially felt like it was my community’s property and that I should work on restoring them to the church. But over time I’ve realised that in Hindu temples, they’ve been given a new life, with new missions to perform. They are our shared heritage.”

When I read this quote I couldn't help thinking that if more of us had such enlightened views we would be living in a much happier world!

For many years now, we have been sitting on this Ayodhya mandir-masjid controversy. Was it originally a temple or a mosque? Now that the mosque is broken, what should we build there? Whose monument is it now? ... All these questions could be more easily resolved if we thought of it as our country's shared heritage!

Whether we like it or not, we cannot wish away history; nor can we turn back the clock. If more politicians had the guts to celebrate the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb (cultural diversity) of this land, India would be a different place. Come to think of it, every time we eat a biryani, it is a Ganga-Jamuna celebration. Every time we wear a salwar-kameez, it is the same celebration. The notion of India as belonging only to only one community is really impractical, not to mention immoral.

Magar yeh ghanti kisi ke dimaag mein bajti hi nahi!
(but this bell does not ring clear to anyone!)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rajsamand and the Golden Age of Flying Boats

Have you been to Rajsamand Lake? It is just an hour north of Udaipur, past the religious centre of Nathdwara.

Rajsamand Lake, Wikimedia Commons
Rajsamand was built in the 17th century by Raj Singh, the ruler of the Mewar kingdom. Not surprisingly, he named the lake after himself (I like to believe it was not megalomania, but the desire to be permanently remembered for a great dharmik task of religious and social significance).

Raj Singh rather poetically used the word 'samand' (ocean or sea) to describe the lake. If you visit the lake, you will see why. It is a large lake, about 6 kms long, and 3 kms wide, with a depth of 60 feet. In a land-locked state that receives only 1% of India's total rainfall, the lake does seem like an ocean.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the lake was a blessing to the local populace, for irrigation and as insurance against drought.

But in the late 1920's, Rajsamand suddenly became a very glamorous place. Seaplanes of the Imperial Airways began landing in Rajsamand, on their way from London to Singapore or Sydney. They carried the rich and famous of Europe. After the horrors of WW-I, wealthy Europeans travelled around the world in luxurious seaplanes, celebrating life. It was the Golden Age of Flying Boats. Seaplane flights were long and slow, but offered passengers lots of space, comfortable beds and 5-star service. The all-male cabin crew were usually poached from luxury steamships and knew how to pamper their clientele.

Poster for Imperial Airways, 
Imperial Airways seaplanes had very little fuel capacity. On a typical trip from London to Sydney, there were 31 stops, and the journey took 16 nights. To make each stop worthwhile, Imperial Airways tried to find lakes that were not just fuelling stations, but also beautiful and exotic. Landing in Rajsamand, passengers were ferried to the shore by boats, and then took the train to Udaipur, where they stayed the night. Meanwhile, the plane refuelled and took in fresh supplies.
Seaplane at Rajsamand
The "airport" at Rajsamand had a passenger lounge, a weather station, a wireless station, fuel depots and two residential bungalows. Planes were anchored to the lake (one of the anchors was found a couple of decades ago, when the lake dried up, but it was then tossed back into the water and now no one knows where it is).

For nearly 2 decades, Imperial Airways seaplanes flew into India, stopping at Karachi, Udaipur, Gwalior and Calcutta. In those days, there were not many long runways, so the seaplanes, which could land pretty much anywhere with a nice stretch of water, became hugely popular.


But after WW-II, there were a lot more long runways available in military bases around the world. And there were many military aircraft too, that became available for passenger use.

In nearby Jodhpur, Maharaja Umaid Singh created a small air-strip in the 1920's, which was expanded and used in WW-II by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Umaid Singh himself was a Level A certified flyer, and as Air Vice Marshall, he was in command of the Jodhpur base during the war.

After the war, when passenger flights resumed, Jodhpur became the airport of choice for Imperial Airways, and Rajsamand's glamorous days came to an end.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Jatar Ghat and Raja Gwalior Ghat in Varanasi


Continuing the series on the ghats of Varanasi; Jatar Ghat was built in the mid 1800's by the finance secretary of the Gwalior Estate, Balaji Cimadaji Jatar. There is a Laxminarayan temple here, which is in disrepair. The Gwalior Ghat was built by Jayajirao Shinde, the raja of Gwalior. The 1800's was a period when the Maratha empire was prosperous.


This area of Varanasi even today has many Maharashtrians.

The English scholar and architect James Prinsep, who arrived in Benaras in the 1820s, refers to this ghat as Chor Ghat (Thieves Ghat). Apparently in those days it was known for the disappearance of pilgrims's clothes and belongings :)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The songs of Phulkari

Phulkari meri reshmi
Rang na aiya theek
Chheti darshan devne
Main rasta rahi udeek

My phulkari is silken
But the colour doesn't seem right
Come quickly now, my love (let me see you)
My eyes search the road.

Phulkari is an embroidery technique from the Punjab region, and is practised both in India and Pakistan, by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. The word 'phul' means flower and 'kari' means craft, thus Phulkari literally means floral work or floral craft. Exquisite and labor-intensive, Phulkari embroideries have been produced by Punjabi and Haryanvi women from at least the early 19th century. Phulkaris are traditionally done in brightly colored silk thread on rough, earth-toned cotton fabric. The cotton was local, but the silk came from far off places via nomads, and was dyed in the Punjab. Phulkaris are deeply ingrained into Punjabi culture and several folks songs sung by women have Phulkari as the motif.

When done for domestic use, Phulkaris function primarily as women’s wraps (odhnis). Originally, they signified a woman’s material wealth and were deemed an important part of her wardrobe. In addition to being worn, phulkaris are also placed on woven cots (charpais) as seat covers for special guests, or draped on dowry chests or hung in the home as decoration during religious festivals. They are presented to temple deities, or to gurudwaras as a cover for the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book).

During colonial rule, Phulkaris became part of gift basket locally described as “dali” that were presented to the British and other high officials on Christmas and also as a gesture of gratification.

Following Punjab’s devastating partition in 1947, many treasured Phulkaris were lost or left behind in the traumatic events of the Partition. The Partition Museum in Amritsar has a Phulkari placed on a well, representing the tragedy of the many women who threw themselves into village wells in attempted suicides. To me it seems as if the death of all that was beautiful in the Punjab has been portrayed very poignantly via the Phulkari.

Today in Amritsar, there are plenty of machine-made Phulkaris, but they lack the beauty of the women's voices that made them unique.

Kawal phool main kadhke
Kardi han ardas
Chheti aa mere sajna
Bhul-chuk maaf

Having embroidered a lotus
I petition you
My love come to me quickly
All is forgiven/Forgive me

In May 2017, the Philadelphia Museum of Art showcased ‘Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab’, with phulkaris from the collection of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz. The collection contained all types of Phulkaris:

- Baghs (all-over embroidered phulkaris, almost like a floral garden),
- Darshan Dwars (architectural motifs, meant to be presented at gurdwaras)
- Sainchis (narrative embroideries which depicted scenes of routine village life and included human motifs)
- Thirmas (embroidered on plain white khaddars for elderly women and widows)
- Chopes (presented to a girl by her maternal grandmother on her wedding day)

The Museum also showcased two gowns made especially for the exhibition by Indian designer Manish Malhotra, in an effort to highlight the couture culture and the new stories developing around phulkari. With the ace designers employing materials such as velvet and silk, a new set of audiences is being inspired to embrace the warmth of the textile tradition.

Photos Courtesy: Philadelphia Museum of Art, sourced from Architectural Digest

The information and text for this post came from this page, which has more about the show, and different types of Phulkaris is here: https://www.architecturaldigest.in/content/philadelphia-museum-art-showcases-history-punjabs-rich-embroidery-craft-phulkari/

Monday, May 28, 2018

Bazaar Thaterian - The Market of the MetalWorkers



No automatic alt text available.
About 10 kilometers south-east from Amritsar, along what used to be the historic Grand Trunk Road, there is a nondescript town called Jandiala Guru. No one knew much about it until 2014, when it suddenly received international recognition by UNESCO for its metalwork craft. The metalworkers are called Thateras.

If you walk into Jandiala Guru, you can find the Thateras in a lane called 'Gali Kashmirian' (Lane of the Kashmiris). I was a little puzzled by this name. Why were there Kashmiri Thateras in a little nondescript Punjabi town?

It turns out that in the late 18th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh invited skilled metal workers from Kashmir, primarily Muslims, to settle in his kingdom. They established themselves in Gali Kashmirian, and began making brass and copper utensils.

Bazaar Thaterian (the Metalworkers Market) became a thriving market for all sorts of utensils, including those for household use as well as for community cooking (have you seen the huge cauldrons at gurudwaras?).

During the partition of India, the Muslim Thateras of Jandiala Guru migrated to Kujranwala in Pakistan (another metalwork town). Hindu and Sikh Thateras from Kujranwala arrived in Jandiala Guru and began practising their craft. Thus, the metalworkers in Jandiala Guru today are either Hindus or Sikhs. But the name of the lane has endured. Gali Kashmirian. The Lane of the Kashmiris.

The Thathera community has a long oral tradition of craft. Knowledge is passed through apprenticeship, usually within the family. Designs are made by skilfully hammering a series of tiny dents into the heated metal. Even the tools they use are handmade.

In spite of being inscribed in 2014 on the UNESCO representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity, the Thateras are struggling to make a living. The popularity of steel, aluminum and plastic has killed the market for brass and copper utensils.

There's a very nice video here, of the Thateras. It appears from the interviews that that Bazaar Thaterian is dying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SXc7L9d0ds

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ranthambhore Visit April 2018

My fourth visit to Ranthambhore in the last 10 years, and great sightings of tigers.

Here is one of the young tigresses we saw. Look at her alert face, ears pricked, stalking!

Summer (April-June) is a great time to visit this park, so what are you waiting for?





Saturday, March 3, 2018

CCIE at Temple Towers, Nandanam, Chennai

The government run Central Cottage Industries Emporium (CCIE) is a great place to buy crafts and textiles from all over India. Service is excellent and prices are fixed and fair. 



Bought a lot of block print textiles. Loved their small collection of Bengal kantha work and tant. A very nice ikat section also. Bought couple of sarees. Applique, block printed and embroidered section of bedsheets, bedcovers, pillows also nice; bought white and blue bedspread for daughter. Their section of kalamkari artwork is lovely and they have handpainted kalamkari sarees and dupattas also. A good place to visit if you are in Chennai. Posters of Gandhi and many nowadays "old fashioned" quotes are there.

How to identify CCIE: The logo is the Bankura horse. See website. http://www.cottageemporium.in/ Beware of similar sounding fake names. Too many of those trying to fool tourists and locals! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Vintage poster, Sarnath

I was looking for vintage posters on travel to India, when I came across this one:

It's from the 1930's, for travel to Varanasi (to the holy Buddhist site of Sarnath). Commissioned by the Railways, it is part of a series designed by the artist Dorothy Newsome. She signs her name as D. Newsome, so of course, true to stereotype, I assumed it was a male artist. You think you're a feminist, and then this sort of thing comes along and trips you. I live and learn. Printed at the Calcutta Chromotype Ltd at Bowbazaar in Calcutta.

The word the poster uses for Sarnath is "Isipatana", the ancient name for the Deer Park where the Buddha preached his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of Dharma (Dhamma Chakka).

Isipatana is an open space near Varanasi; it is the site of the famous Migadāya or Deer Park. After his Enlightenment, the Buddha joined his friends, the Pañcavaggiya monks, who were in Isipatana. To them he preached his first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, on a full-moon day.

The name "Isipatana" is derived from the belief that sages and divine beings, as they fly to/from the Himalayas, alight here. In the Pali canon, the phrase "isayo ettha nipatanti uppatanti cāti-Isipatanam", means, "the place where the divine beings fly down to and alight/stay, that is known as Isipatana".

Isipatana is not just where the first sermon was preached. It is also the place where the Buddha spent many rainy seasons. Thus, many sermons originated here.

Isipatana was a very large and thriving Buddhist centre. We know from written records that there was a large community of monks at Isipatana in the second century B.C, when at the foundation ceremony of the Stupa in Anurādhapura, Sri Lanka, twelve thousand monks went from Isipatana,  led by the Elder Dhammasena. The Chinese traveller Huen Tsang, in the 7th century AD, recorded that 1500 monks were studying the Hinayana form of Buddhism in Isipatana.