The Dancing Gods of Valluvanad…glimpses of village festivals

Here they come! The energetic, electrifying dancing 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 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 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 is 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.

The brass ‘vaalkkanadi‘ that represents the goddess

A blog on Tet, the Vietnamese new year was on its way in February along with vibrant pictures, 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.

The golden paddy fields, just before the harvest, in the month Dhanu

Soon after Tet I visited a Kerala that was writhing under the scorching sun. Now is the time for 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 an integral part, 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 walking all the way to the temple pausing in front of houses, dancing and blessing the village folk waiting on the way.

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Choppan (the oracle clad in red) of our desham walks 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 makes 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.

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Parathira or Parapoothan dances with swaying, rhythmic steps

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Adorned in red black and white attire, both the Parathiras have similar brass breast plates but different head gear; 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!

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”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. dsc_0602 dsc_0593 dsc_0583 Thira, wearing the decorated head gears engraved with the goddess figure is not fearsome. They are a happy bunch! The animated, friendly and bouncy thira performers are a treat for the eyes. 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 oncoming monsoon would turn the fields to lakes, setting stage for the music of rains, cicadas and frogs. Kalachakra, the wheel of time moves on.

7 thoughts on “The Dancing Gods of Valluvanad…glimpses of village festivals

  1. It’s taken me several reads to try and absorb all the details here, rethy! So much color, and so much tradition. One thing I found very interesting is the similarity between the parathira, poothan, and thira to the “bush devils” of Liberia. They’re fascinating, too. When I lived there, I found some the good fun they were meant to be, but some were a little unnerving, to say the least!

    I loved these glimpses into your culture. Just wonderful!

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  2. Beautiful my dear friend Rethy…In my village we have a similar festival called koottakalam which is celebrated every alternate year. The dainty and the velichapadu reminds me that . These ancient cultural festivals are disappearing from our villages. The colourful photos and the writing is well descriptive….You have special touch with your pen and with your camera shots. Keep writing and so proud of you dear..

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    1. Haven’t heard of koottakalam…must be very colourful! Thank you Komal for encouraging me as you always do😍 …Yes It’s a pity that these cultural festivals are slowly fading away. Ariprapattu is a family affair; the velas in the small temples in Anakkara take place around the same time. Yet to learn more about all the rituals and stories behind the ‘veshams’.

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  3. Let me study more about koottakalam and let you know ..It’s a kalam pattu which is rendered n offered by a group of people called vannan …The authenticity is fading as people migrate from villages to metros for livelihood. The dainty is kurumba bhagawathi and the belief is that she protects our village from bad evils and spirits with her vaalu n chilambu. The velichapadu gets the magical vibration of Goddess during the kalam pattu….And the rituals of ceremony ends with vettiyattu on the third day where the velichapadu evacuate all the evilness from that place…Wish i could attend this year’s koottakalam and put more insight …

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  4. Rethy, quite an interesting read. Just two doubts. What’s frankipani garland? How dothey make hay stacks rolled like that? During our young days hay stacks were long and thick bunches and now they seem to be machine rolled. Surprised to see Komalam and Vijayaraghavan here. World is really small and our memories really big. Indu

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    1. Thank you Induettan. Really appreciate your good will to read my blog and comment on it. Frangipani is our own kumkumappoo. You will be surprised to see harvesters conquering our Anakkara. Komal is a dear friend. I know that you’re friends.

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