FESTIVALS OF KERALA
Thiruvathira is celebrated on the asterism Thiruvathira in Dhanu, the fifth month of Malayalese calendar (Kolla Varsham). This corresponds to the month of December-January according to Gregorian calendar.
Thiruvathira is essentially women's festival. Ladies on this day worship Lord Shiva and pray for conjugal harmony and marital bliss. The other very interesting facet of the festival is the enchanting Thiruvathirakkali dance performed by women on this day.
Thiruvathira is being celebrated for ages now but there is no clear theory about the origin of the festival. Festival is said to be celebrated to commemorate the death of Kaamadeva, the God of love according to Hindu mythology. Some people also consider it auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on this day and take his darshan in a local Shiva temple before the sunrise. Some believe that Thiruvathira is the birth day of Lord Shiva. It may be noted that the Ardra Darshan festival of Tamil Nadu corresponds to Thiruvathira festival of Kerala.
The festival of Thiruvathira is extremely popular amongst womenfolk and more specifically amongst the women of Nair community. Festivities of Thiruvathira begin a week before commencing from asterism Aswathi. Notwithstanding the biting cold of the winter season women wake up as early as 4 am and take bath in the river water. While taking bath women sing songs in worship of Lord Kaamadeva on the rhythm produced by splashing of water with the fist. At the end, women stand holding hands in the formation of a circle and sing songs.
Women observe fast on Thiruvathira. Instead of a rice meal they take preparations of chama (Panicum miliaceum) or wheat besides fruits. There is also a tradition to eat betel leaves of this day. Amongst Namboodiris, Ambalavasis (temple-servants) and Nairs there is a tradition of eating as many as 108 betel leaves on the day.
First Thiruvathira after marriage is called Puthen Thiruvathira or Poothiruvathira. It holds greater significance for the women and is celebrated on a grand scale with lot of gaiety and mirth.
In the communities of Namboodiris, ambalavais and Nairs, having close association with Nambodiris there is tradition called 'Pathirappooochoodal', meaning 'wearing of flowers of midnight'. An image of Lord Shiva is placed in the central courtyard of the house at the midnight of Thiruvathira. An offering of flowers, plantains and jaggery is made to this image. The women then perform the very elegant Thiruvathirakkali or Kaikottikali around the image of Lord Shiva wearing the flowers picked from the offering made to the Lord. Womenfolk also amuse themselves by playing on the Oonjal (swing) on this day. On the night of Thiruvathira women again perform Thiruvathirakkali in a circle at the center of which is placed a lighted brass lamp. It is a wonderful sight to watch women dancing on the rhythm of the song they sing and clapping their hands in unison with grace.
Attukal Pongala Festival
Attukal Pongala is an extremely popular, essentially women's festival celebrated in ancient Bhagavathy temple (Mudippura) at Attukal in the Kaladi ward of the Thiruvananthapuram district. It is a ten-day-long event which commences from the Bharani day (Karthika star) of the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (February-March) and comes to an end with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthitharpanam at night. Ninth day is the biggest day of the festival when the famous Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam takes place. A large number of women of all castes and creed from Kerala and also from the state of Tamil Nadu make offerings for the Goddess by cooking pongala in the vicinity of the temple.
Significance of the Festival
Goddess Attukalamma is believed to be incarnation of 'Kannaki', the heroine of 'Silappathikaram' written by Tamil poet Illango in 2nd century A.D. Attukal is the place where Kannaki took rest on her northward journey from Madurai to Kodungallur.
'Pongala' means to boil over. It refers to the customary offering of things which please the deity. It consists of porridge of rice, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins.
Celebrating Attukal Pongala
Festivities begin Thottampattu (a song about Bhagavathi). These religious songs continue for nine days of the festival. On the ninth and the main day of Attukal Pongala thousands of women gather in the temple with materials for cooking Ponkala or Pongala. The ritual of cooking starts early in the morning and by noon, Pongala would be ready. Then the Melsanthi (chief priest) arrives with Devi's sword and bless the ladies by sprinkling holy water and showering flowers. The 'blessed' Pongala is taken back to the house by the ladies.
Later, the idol of Devi is carried to Manacaud Sastha Temple in a colorful procession comprising of Thalapoli, Kuthiyottom, Annam, Vahanam, caparisoned elephants etc. Musical ensembles by famous artistes add to the festivities. En route onlookers greet the procession with Nirapara (a measure filled with paddy and decorated with flowers). The procession reaches back, the next morning, marking the end of the festival.
Kettukazcha, also called Kutirakettu, is a colourful event celebrated in Nooranad village located in Kollam district of South Kerala during the months of August-September or September-October. The centre of activity is the Oachira Temple located nearly 32 kms from Kollam on the way to Alappuzha. A special feature of this temple is the absence of idol here. The concept of 'Parabrahmam' (Cosmic Consciousness) is given importance here. It is from this temple that the procession of decorated effigies of Lord Shiva's vehicle 'Nandi', the bull is carried out. This picturesque and gay festival of rural Kerala attracts thousands of people every year.
The Procession of Bulls
Each pair of bulls that is carried in procession has a significant story attached to it having relevance to the presiding deity, the Devi or the Goddess of the temple, where they finally assemble for further ceremonies.
These huge, towering motifs of bulls in pairs are pulled on rathams or wooden carts by the devotees. These motifs are brought as an offering to deity on wish fulfillment by the devotees. Artisans of various villages in the vicinity vie with each other for the most intricately decorated motifs. The biggest structure can be as big as 70-80 feet tall. These are carried on the shoulders and sometimes placed on chariots and taken around the shrine. Scholars believe that the tradition of Kettukazcha has its roots in the Buddhism which was prevalent in the Kerala during the 3rd century B.C.
The other high point of the festival is that people from different Karas adjoining the temple concerned bring big cars or rathams. On these rathams are located idols of various Hindu Gods and goddesses and effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Panchali Hanuman.
Theyyam is a popular ritual art of north Kerala. It is rich in culture and is essentially a dance festival. Theyyam is said to be corrupted form of the word 'Deivam' meaning God and 'Aattam' means dance. The meaning of Theyyam thus becomes 'God's dance'. In Theyyam people worship deity and dancer is also the deity. In this art devotees worship Mother Goddess. Though animals, serpents and trees are also worshiped by many.
Season of Theyyam continues for six months beginning from the Malayalam month of Thullam (October-November) and continues till Edavam (May-June). Most Theyyam festivals are held in the region of Valapattanam River of Kannur and Chandragiri River of Kasargod. Prominent amongst all places is the Theyyam of Malabar region in north Kerala.
Theyyam is performed by male members of particular castes only. Malayan, Pulayan, Vannan, Anjoottan, Munnutton, Velan, Chungathan, Koppalan and Mayilon are some of the castes who perform theyyam.
Theyyam dance has its roots in the ancient tribal culture of Kerala dating back to the Dravidian age. It lays great importance to worship of heroes and ancestral spirits. Theyyam sees a wonderful amalgamation of dance, mime and music. Chenda, veekku chenda, elathalam and kurumkuzhal are the musical instruments used in theyyatom.
There are about 450 known forms of "theyyams" and each has got its own myth and style of costumes, make-up, choreography and songs. Rakthachamundi, Makkappothi, Puliyoru Kannan, Pottan, Kathivanur Veeran, Muchhilottu Bhagavathi, Palothu Daivam, Vishnumurthy, Puthiya Bhagavathi, Vayanattu Kulavan, Ucchitta, Gulikan, Nagakanni, Mutiappan, Veerali, Puliyoru kali, Panchuruli, Kuttissasthav are some of the theyyams performed even now.
Influence of prominent Hindu sects of Shakteyas (followers of Mother Goddess Shakti), Vaishnavites (followers of Lord Vishnu) and Shaivites (followers of Lord Shiva) is apparent on Theyyam cult.
Theyyam is supported by a vast literature of folk songs. Besides the theme of worshiping Mother Goddesses and animals, Theyyam also narrates the tales and woes of people who lost their lives in battlefield, pangs of women who committed suicide or persons killed by the local chieftains. Such people are honoured through theyyams performed in front of shrines.
Theyyam is also known as Kaliyattom at some places. Kaliyattom means 'a sacred dance performance for goddess Kali. Some believe that Kaliyattom is sometimes called Theyyattom because every 'thera' or village was duly bound to perform it. There are two stages in theyyattom: Thottam, the preliminary ritual and Theyyam. Some theyyams also has another stage called Vellattom. The myth of the deity is recited by thottam, through songs accompanied by a orchestra. Theyyam is the second stage.
Costume and Make-up
To get the appearance of super-human, peculiar and colourful costume and make-up are used in theyyam dances. Essential componentc of the costume of theyyam dancer are the leaves of coconut tree which are cut and made into different shapes and sizes.
Headgear of the dancers is unique and special. Structure of massive headgear and uduthukettu (waist-dress) is usually prepared from arecanut tree and bamboo. Lighted wicks are often fixed on the waist dress and are specific of Theyyattom.
Mudi (face) is decorated with a red cloth and colored papers. Red colored flowers are also used for an even more attractive appearance.
Thrissur Pooram is the most spectacular festival of Kerala. It is aptly called Pooram of all Poorams where Pooram means 'the meeting point of all the arts'. Rich art and culture of the state of Kerala can be seen in all its splendor in this marathon 36 hours festival.
Thrissur Pooram is celebrated in the asterism Pooram in the month of Medam according to Malayalese calendar. This refers to the month of April-May according to Gregorian calendar. The festival was introduced by the erstwhile Maharaja of Kochi, Rama Varma. Celebrations are held at Thekkinkadu grounds encircling the Vadakunnathan temple. A large number of spectators and devotees assemble to watch the joyous festival which witnesses a meeting of deities of ten different temples. Procession of decorated elephants, dazzling display of fire works are the major attractions of the festival besides several other enthralling musical programmes and events.
Tradition of celebrating Thrissur Pooram as it is seen today was started by erstwhile Prince of Kochi (Cochin), Rama Varma also called Sakthan Thampuran (1775-1790). There is a little history to the festival which says that before Thrissur Pooram, a one-day temple festival was held at Aarattupuzha, 12 km south of the Thrissur. Temples located in and around Thrissur used to regularly participate in the ceremonies. All was going well until one day, chief of the Peruvanam area of Cherpu denied access to other temples to uphold the supremacy of Namboodiri. Namboodiris is the dominant brahmin caste in Kerala.
Prince Raja Varma, the architect of Thrissur, decided to put an end to Namboodiri supremacy and assuage the wounded confidence of his subjects. Rama Varma undertook the task of renovating Vadakunnathan temple, which was earlier bounded by high walls and was controlled by Namboodiris. He took on himself to look after the temple and made it open to all. He invited other temples with their deities to Thrissur to pay obeisance to Lord (Sri) Vakunnathan, the deity of the Vadakunnathan temple. The Prince also directed the main temples of Thrissur, Thiruvampadi and Pamamekkavu, which had never been under the control of Namboodiris to help other participating temples. It is said that the Prince also chalked the schedule of the 36 hours festival. The Pooram was thus made open to one and all. This also explains the secular nature of the festival. It is fascinating to note that Christians, Muslims and people of all castes participate with vigour and zeal in the Pooram.
Following the ancient tradition, Thrissur Pooram is confined to the temples of Devi (goddess) and Sastha (divine combination of Shiva and Vishnu). Ten deities from the neighboring temples pay obeisance to the presiding deity of Thrissur. Chief participants are Paramekkavu and Tiruvambadi. Other participants called 'Cherupooram' include Kanimangalam, Karamukku, Choorakkattukara, Laloor, Ayyanthole, Neithilakkavu, Chembukkavu and Panamukkampilly.
The festival extends for 36 hours beginning with ezhunellippu of the Kanimangalam Shasta in the morning, followed by the ezhunnellippu of the other six minor temples on the Pooram Day. Where 'ezhunnellippu' is a ritual symbolising the visit of the Devi from the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi temples to the Vadakkunnathan temple. It may be noted that although this grand festival is known as Thrissur Pooram, it is in fact the conclusion of the eight-day Utsavams of nine temples.
Rituals and Celebrations
Major participants of the Pooram, Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi provide a spectacular show of best of Kerala art and culture to the onlookers as they display their artistic prowess. The groups of artists vie with each to prove their mastery over their respective art and provide a rare show of talent to the spectators.
Massive and colourful processions are organised by temples, starting from Krishna Temple and Devi Temple. The groups enter the Vadakumnatha Temple through the western gate and take exit from the southern gate of the temple. This way they come face to face and the competition becomes open.
A major attraction of the festival is 'Panchavadyam'. Over 200 artistes from various disciplines like Thimila, Maddalam, Trumpet, Cymbal and Edakka unleash their talent and leave the audience spell bound. Time of noon is reserved for another event called, 'Pandemelam', in which artistes holding mastery of drum, trumpets, pipe and cymbal participate.
A procession of caparisoned elephants is the most enchanting facet of Thrissur Pooram. On the Pooram evening, two lines of 13 decorated elephants face each other, on the ground south to the temple. The best of elephants are selected for the procession and given a massive make over. They are painted, bejeweled and given a beautiful satin robe. Colourful silk parasols are the important parts of their get up. Each of the majestic pachyderm gets the honor of bearing an umbrella holder, a peacock fan carrier and a yak-tail fly whisk wielder. This exhibition of the paraphernalia of elephant decorative is called 'Aana Chamayal Pradarsanam'. Commissioning of elephants and the parasols is vital and is done with utmost secrecy as winning the competition is a matter of pride for the organisors.
Space between the two lines of elephants is taken up by the orchestra consisting of percussion and wind instruments. Just when the orchestra reaches its crescendo, the parasols are changed with an even more colourful and exquisite one. The ceremony is called, 'Kudamattom'. This is very exciting for the crowds who applaud whole heartedly every time the parasols change. The revelry continues till late in the evening. The deities of different temples arrive on the regally decorated elephants. The sight of the meeting of the different 'Gods' is brilliant and memorable one.
The festival concludes with the dazzling display of fire works. The bursting of crackers continues till the wee hours of the next morning. Shows by Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu Devaswams are the most reputed and popular of all. Thus the festival which begins in the early hours of the Pooram morning concludes at the break of the dawn, the next day on a cheerful note.
The Bharani festival celebrated in the month of Kumbham is quite an event to the people of this locality and neighbouring places. This festival celebrated with pomp and gaiety is now been widely known as the Kumbhamela of South. Lakhs of people from different parts of Kerala and abroad visit Chettikulangara to participate in this mega event.
The highlight of the festival is Kuthiyottam and Kettukazha. Kuthiyottam is performed as an important offering to the deity. This is a ritual dance practiced and perfected through several centuries. It can be witnessed in several houses of Chettikulangara and in neighbouring areas. The houses are decorated, and the portrait of the deity is installed in temporary structures. Kuthiyottam starts a week before Bharani day. It is a type of folk dance performed by youths with the accompaniment of folk music and other musical instruments.
Kuthiyotta Mandapam Young boys between 8 to 14 years are taught this ritual dance in the house amidst a big social gathering before the portrait of the deity. Early in the morning on Bharani, after the feast and other rituals, the boys whose bodies are coiled with silver wires, one end of which is tied around his neck and an arecanut fixed on the tip of a knife held high over his head are taken in procession to the temple with the accompaniment of beating of drums, music, ornamental umbrellas, and other classical folk art forms, and richly caparisoned elephants.
All through the way to the temple tender coconut water will be continually poured on his body. After the circumambulation the boys stands at a position facing the Sreekovil (Sanctum Sanctorum) and begins to dance. This ceremony ends with dragging the coil pierced to the skin whereby a few drop of blood comes out.
On this day just after mid day the residents of the locality bring huge decorated effigies of Bhima panchalia, Hanuman and extremely beautiful tall chariots in wheeled platforms, and after having darshan the parties take up their respective position in the paddy fields lying east of the temple.
During the night, the image of Devi will be carried in procession to the effigies stationed in the paddy fields. On the next day these structures will be taken back. A big bazar is also held at Chetikulangara as part of this festivals