Thursday, April 28, 2011


Last Week I witnessed a very magnificent ritual in the weavers’ Street at Payyannur- The ‘kalasa mahotsavam’ of the Ashtamachal Bhagavathi temple . The festival lasts for 6 days. The important ritual of the festival is the meenamruthu(offering of fish to the deity) The members of the community proceed as a procession to Kavvayi lake and fish for the whole day . All men folk including children take part in this community act. There are some 300 families living in the street. They were traditional wavers in Payyanur which is an early Brahmin settlement along the Kerala coast. Payyanur is a typical village with all workgroups-carpenters, blacksmith, goldsmith, weavers, masons etc living in separate villages reserved exclusively for a caste. All such castes have there own deity and temple . Every year they hold theyyam festivals in the temple which are usually supervised by a Koima (Lord) belonging to a person of the upper caste. In a temple there is a place for members of every community and so communal harmony is never violated. The festival in the Ashtamachal Bhagavathi Kshetram is held in the month of April every year . Like all theyyam festivals it is also a harvest festival but one of the last. All the male members of the caste have to enroll in the temple as a ‘valyakkaran’ after paying a small amount known as ‘kaluara’. The most important function takes place on the third day of the festival. On that day the drums beat to a particular rhythm and at its climax all the members of the community assemble before the temple. The velichappapdu after performing some religious functions give their blessing to them to perform meenamruthu throwing turmeric powder at them The whole community then head for ‘kavvayi puzha’, a lake some 4kms away from the temple. They have to cross a tributary of the river in the way. This they cross wading through chest deep water. After reaching kavvayi (Which was the old headquarters of Payyannur) where there is a small temple of another community, they perform some functions. After that they step in to the river. The group spits into two. One group spreads the fishing net and the other group positioned some 100 metres away splashes water with fishing rods to drive away the fishes to the net. They continue fishing for the entire day. In the evening they distribute the fish to the members of other communities according to ancient practice and proceed back with the fish to the temple Shouting Hoi- meenaku-meenaku-Hoi…………. They will be received in the village by little girls carrying lamps accompanied by the womenfolk. Then there is theyyam dance with kalasam (pots of toddy decorated with areca nut flowers prepared by the people of the neighboring ezhava community) for the entire night
I went through the ancient literature and folklore of the place. It is seen that the above ceremony has its origin in the fourteenth century AD. The people of the saliya caste are the descendants of the ‘valanchiyars’ of Kerala who were ancient merchants . As per references in ‘payyannur pattu’,( the oldest malaylam poetry ,recovered by Gundert from Kannur District) Valanchiyars occupied a prominent role in the ancient society . They constructed large ships and traded with distant countries exporting fine cloths and other products of craftsmanship. The ceremony described above is a symbolic function seeking the blessings of ‘jaladurga’ so that their ships reach distant lands without trouble in the sea. The deity in the temple is ‘thaiparadevatha’ an incarnation of Durga with the Head quarters of the temple at madaikavu an ancient temple near pazhayangadi

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