Friday, April 26, 2013

Aranmula, the Land of Festivals: Kurunthar Pathamudayam

Kurunthar is an islet village with vast areas of Puncha, paddy field wetlands, all around. It is  one of the abodes of the guarding hill deities of Aranmula temple. The Mahadeva temple, Goddess temple and the Malai mandapam at Kurunthar are deep inside a literal forest. It is a Sacred Grove, miniature forests conserved unmolested inside human habitations. It gets pretty cool in the evenings as the wetlands are repositories of ground water. The greenery of Kurunthar and Aranmula in general are island ecosystems, perhaps due to the values and population composition. There are plenty of fruit trees and plants. Elsewhere in the region the native biodiversity is hardly there, plantations of rubber, other exotics, spreading all over.   
Aringottu Kavu, Kurunthar, Aranmula

Come Malayalam month Medam, April, and it is festival time at the Kurunthar village. It is called  
Pathamudayam. The Kurunthar Malai, hill shrine, is linked to the Aranmula
temple and the guardian deity is believed to be linked to the South Gopuram of the temple.  It was part of the paddy harvest and the ripe grain was offered to the deity.  The paddy cultivation has severely reduced now, but the festival is timed just after the harvest season and this merry making time is the peak celebration for the agrarian people. Coming once a year it starts with Vishu, native New Year, it is also important from the agrarian calendar when the sun shifts its place as believed. It is a time when the wetlands are partly dry and there is amble space in the watery region.

The festivities start days before and they make oxen, huge ones at that, of paddy straw, which are carried around the village with great fanfare. It is also a show of stamina for the men, throwing around the huge logs. Different settlements make their own bulls, and all these converge at the shrine in the evening. Here in front of the temple they keep on playing with the huge bulls. The Gods are also taken around and they come around to see their people is the belief. The pageantry and the displays have a spirit of competition between each settlement, Karas, each one trying to outdo the other. This is similar to the boat races where again the competitive spirit is alive.

The pageantry has drummers, women and men, tableaus of gods, animals, and assorted variety and the procession is lead by girls with Talapoli, hand held oil lamps.  It is a time of gaiety and merry making and the people dress it their best, feast and play. The music and dance all throughout sees the young   and old in their best of spirits. The drummers sway in ecstasy and so do the youth who carry the heavy bulls. They make the oxen play, what is the term, when they make the huge bulls made of hay go up and down, tilt and rotate, it is a show of strength and agility. It used to be hand held, as old timers tell, a show of machismo as these
are huge and heavy. The play by Kurava community, Kuravar kali, was also once part of the shows, there are not many now left knowing this. The temple authorities are looking for Sidhanar, also called Kurava, community priests, and some diviners have also asked that the old priesthood be brought back. As the managing committee of the temple is looking for the traditional Kurava community priests, called Ooralis, who had Ooranma, the temple and willing to honor them, who deserve to be honored as the Brahmin priests, the social dynamics of the interim period is expected to see a change, also the ecosystem. Th Earthy Gods were angry for a while as it seems.   

Traditionally there are four Janmi families overseeing the rituals, three from the Nayar community, like Vadassery, Madambi, etc.  and one Ezhava, Madathithara.  The priests of the Sakteya rituals were from the Dalit Kurava community an dthey had titles called Panikken. Some of these were Kuzhikkala Panikken, Planeli Panikken etc. It was primarily the Dalit, first people, who were in charge of the hill rituals at the shrine but it seems they left the rituals, perhaps after having lost out in status at some point in time. Later phase saw a majority of them give up the rigorous rituals some taking to the Communist ideology. The agrarian relations were misrepresented by vested inetrests like missionaries and the pyramic failed, with it agrarian culture, economny and the ecosystem. Now it is mostly the Brahmin priests who mange the rituals and these are almost all Satvic. It used to be Sakteya, in tune with the life styles of majority people.  But there are efforts to bring back the old rituals, as local people tell.  The

The festivities at the Kurunthar Malai are enthralling and the music, color and gaiety of the occasion mesmerizing. It may sound bizarre but these are all areas reportedly meant to go under the runway of the proposed international airport, where they razed down adjoining hills and filled the wetlands and rivers. And for obvious reasons the people of Kurunthar are in the fore front of the agitation against the airport. They were also  the first to be affected as the early purchases were from the marginal farmers and agricultural labor here, some of the dalit people who lost their lands through forgery also live here. It is a vulpine mind that aims at erasing timeless heritages but then these are perhaps occasions where the Mother Nature sends messages, warnings, to behave.  


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