Here they come! The energetic, electrifying dancing (demi)gods of our Valluvanad or South Malabar. With the accompaniment of the pulsating ‘chenda’ or the booming drums and the loud cling clang of the cymbals they shake the earth with their frenzied steps. Our culturally rich and vibrant Valluvanad resonates with festival tunes during the Malayalam months Makaram, Kumbham and Meenam. Soon after the paddy harvest the empty stubble fields set the stage for the many ritualistic folk art performers who pay respect to the local deities. Rituals and customs are entwined with the village life and the small festivals are a post harvest celebration and are conducted to bring blessings and prosperity to the village. The dust, the heat, the cheer, the shouts, the zeal and the colours make the barren paddy fields a kaelidoscope.
The heady scent of frangipani garlands worn around the oracles (velichapadu), the tinkling sounds of the heavy ritual ornaments, the brandishing sabres and the vigorous dancing steps of the high-spirited velichapad, karinkali, parathira, poothan, thira et al fill the festive air with excitement.
This year it all started with our annual family pooja called Ariprapattu…
One day and one night of sacred rituals, offerings, music etc are observed. This is to please the family goddess for her blessings and the welfare of the family members.
The hooked sword and the brass belt with small bells of the velichapad are kept ready on his peeddam or four-legged stool.
The frangipani flower garland of the velichapad
The intricate design called Kalam made of natural organic powders is an integral part of Ariprapaattu.
The brass ‘vaalkkanadi’ that represents the goddess
A blog on Tet, the Vietnamese new year was on its way along with pictures in February, but a very bad eye infection stopped me from posting it. Seasons change in the wink of an eye! It is the Uttarayana period, the period starting from Capricorn Zodiac (Makara Rashi) up to Gemini Zodiac (Mithuna Raasi). As per Hindu beliefs gods are awake during this period as those six months are considered a single day for them. Uttarayana is also referred as Devayana. Since it is the daytime for Gods, many auspicious ceremonies and rituals are performed during this period to appease them.
Soon after Tet I visited a Kerala that was writhing under the scorching sun. A time of small village festivals.
Harvesters have come and conquered our small village Anakkara too
Bales of hay waiting for the tractors
Fields are bare and dry and the Ashokas and the Golden Showers try their best to splash a little colour here and there. They hardly know the riot of colour that the festivals are going to bring!
The most exciting part of the small ‘velas’ in and around our Anakkara is the various ritualistic folk art performances. Unlike ‘pooram’ a slightly bigger festival where decked up elephants are essential, velas lack the grace and pomp of the elephants. Various village communities are in charge of different dancing gods. After Makara koythu (the harvest in the month Makaram) bales of hay are scattered here and there. Harvesting machines have reached our Anakkara too. Pottammel vela starts with the oracle or Choppan as he is known to us, making a grand entry to the temple walking all the way to the temple pausing in front of houses, dancing and blessing the village folk waiting on the way.
Choppan (the oracle clad in red) of our desham walks all the way to the temple through the village roads. In front of their houses devotees wait patiently for the choppan irakkam. He walks up and down in a trance like state. He is the mediator between the deity and the devotees. Once he reaches the temple premises he would move in frenzied steps and make predictions.
I haven’t seen a parathira, poothan or thira for a very long time. After many years I did see them all, as glorious as before and I realised that some of them can still fill me with awe and fear.
Parathira or Parapoothan dances with swaying, rhythmic steps
Adorned in red black and white attire, both the Parathiras have similar brass breast plates but different head gear and one has peacock feather hair where as the other one has long hair made of bamboo or plantain trunk. I have to learn more about them.
The fierce and fearsome Karinkali!
”Beware!Beware! His flashing eyes his floating hair…Close your eyes in holy dread!” ~Coleridge
They come stomping the village roads and the stubble fields! Smeared with charcoal paste and wearing a heart shaped head gear decorated with young coconut leaves the Karinkali takes the onlookers by storm. This awe inspiring black goddess is a ritualistic performance by a particular community.
The animated, friendly and bouncy thira performers are a treat for the eyes. Thira wearing the decorated head gears engraved with the goddess figure.
Our ‘desham’ witnessed a colourful Theyyam procession too this year. Theyyams are not common in South Malabar; this was just to add some colours to the festival. The festival season comes to an end before Vishu, that marks the start of the harvest year, the beginning of agricultural activities. Soon the heavy monsoons would be here to quench and rejuvenate the thirst and fatigue of these dry fields, to fill them with bountiful green once again!