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Travel

Through God’s Own Country


…..C Devidasan

Kuttiyamkavu Pooram A

s a child I was fortunate to walk all around the

countryside with my grandfather hanging on his finger tips when he told me great stories of kings and Gods which often made me think. As I grew up, I was again fortunate to be in the company of enlightened people and travelled several nooks and corners of our great motherland seeing, experiencing and learning new things. But as a Keralite, “God’s own Country” has always been very dear to me. I had learned from Puranas and “Ethihasas” that Kerala was ‘created’ by the warrior saint Parashurama with his Kuttiyamkavu Devi Parashu or axe from the sea where “Kalpaka Vrisha”--coconut trees grew…..where nature showered her bounty in majestic greenery, golden sea beaches, sparkling backwaters and the rivers adorning angle-bells, I have been passionate to keep going back to her, again and again… because, I was born out of her, grown and groomed by her saddling in her laptop before flying out of her nest in search of a living in New Delhi. So when my dear friend, Gopal invited me to his hometown, “Minalur”, I was tempted.

“Devi, We have Kuttiyamkavu Bhagavti temple in the vicinity which would be celebrating its “Pooram” or the annual festival in the 2nd week of February,” he said. “The Pooram is a gala event; lakhs of people visit the temple from all across the world to see the pomp of at least 14 elephants adorning, “netti pattam” (a golden ornament covering the fore head and trunk of the elephant) as they carry the deity of the goddess on their back. There would be scores of drummers along with specialists who would be playing “Panch vadya (a curvy trumpet like musical instrument). The fireworks of Kuttiyamkavu Pooram is one of the finest in the world and just to see it, even foreigners throng to the village!” “The artisans who would be performing various “dying ancient dance forms” are all scheduled to come from


nearby states even!” he added. I was hooked. Moreover, I too was scheduled to travel to Kerala and I thought, I would go via Minalur along with Gopal.

Minalur is a sleepy country-side-township in the district of Thrissur (Trichur) in the central Kerala which has an estimated population of 1.8 million. Thrichur was once the capital city of erstwhile Cochin Kingdom and is woven around the mammoth “Vadakkum Nathan” (Shiva) temple in a 65 acre plot known as “Thekkinkadu” in the middle of the city. The temple hosts a yearly spectacle, “Thrissur Pooram” and it attracts huge crowd. Trissur is known as the “Cultural capital” of Kerala which houses one of the most sacred Hindu shrines there--“The Guruvayur temple—and is a socio-cultural-religious mosaic with people living and working in perfect harmony. The advent of Christianity, Islam and Judaism into India was through Thrissur and Christians take pride in the fact that the Apostle, St Thomas set his foot there in AD 51-52 and for Muslims, it was the place where the first mosque of India was built; thanks to Cheraman Perumal the Tamil Ruler who ruled the part of Kerala in the 12th century. The name, Thrissur is the shortened form of “Thirushivaperur” which literarily means, “The city of Lord Shiva.” Minalur lies about 12 kms away from the city.

The Township and

Temple

From Delhi, We had already covered more than 3000 kms and in the Trichur Rly station

we were greeted by Gopal’s neighbor with his car. The mad rush of Thrissur city welcomed us outside and I was amazed to see the modern buildings, wide roads and office complexes that seem to challenge even those sky scrapers of New Delhi which I have been familiar with. Soon the topography changed, the medical colleges, hospitals, schools, Dams, jail…


all ran behind as we drove and instead we could see paddy fields, small houses, farmers and tractors working in the fields. There was a railway level crossing on the way and we stopped our car. As I got out, I saw big paddy field down below and in the far end, a mighty Banyan Tree fluttering its million leaves as if it was beckoning me. The Kuttiyam kavu temple stood beside with its “Chuttambalam” -- outer wall -- freshly whitewashed. There was a big tank in front of the temple with a Ghat and steps properly built in for people to take bath. On the Banyan tree there were several flags in bright shinning colours, typical of south Indian temples, flying high in the simmering wind informing the public about the oncoming “Pooram.”

“Devi, this is the Reading room where we spent hours and hours during my college days”, said Gopal. We were crossing a big mango tree on the road and by its side stood a small

Temple tank

one storied building which looked more like a shop, typical of a Reading room cum Library in villages. “We have to take a left turn from here”, continued Gopal and in the bend, I saw a huge fully bloomed tree in bright yellow flowers standing majestically spreading its branches in all directions. Below the tree the fallen flowers had spread a yellow carpet. On both sides of the road, there were wild vegetation and paddy fields swaying with fully ripe paddy waiting to be harvested. The silhouetted hills from far away looked at me as if trying to recognize the new person I was to Minalur. We continued our journey through the single lane tarred narrow road to the interiors. From the trees canopied above my head, I could hear chirping of birds and occasional cry of a cow…. A squirrel with its bushy tail ran over the bamboo fences. Soon we reached the house. It was a medium built modern house with mosaic flooring and concrete roofing. At the gate stood Gopal’s loving mother with his younger brother, Murali. Her face radiated a graceful aura and I knew she is very affectionate.


“We moved here some 7 years ago from Palghat as my father always wanted to come back to his roots at Minalur,” said Gopal. I felt totally at ease as if I had come back to my own house. The lunch served was hot and delicious. As we ate, Gopal’s wife Santha and her sister-in-law stood by us filling our plates till I could not take any more. As the evening approached, Gopal said, “Come on, let’s go for a walk, I’ll show you the temple.” The highways and the approach roads towards the temple were brimming with activities. Hoards of traders were setting up their makeshift shops on both sides. They were beginning to display their merchandise on the wooden planks fixed on to their shops. There were bangles, chains, toys, eateries, multi-coloured drinks, balloons and a verity of small items indented to enchant the public. Huge thatched sheds meant for Countryside “Annadhanam” or free “langar” had already come up on the side. I could see a battalion of Police force deployed to maintain law and order especially near the railway track that ran side by side the barren paddy fields surrounding the temple meant for conducting the fireworks. I could also see people digging into the field. “They are meant for fixing the gun power and various high powered crackers which would zoom into the skies before blasting into multi-coloured layers. This year we are importing crackers from China,” said Gopal.

The Artisans & their creations On

the highway, artisans

were working to complete the two huge structures being built with bamboos that looked precisely like that of

“The Pandals”


two temples in the middle of the road, but allowed the vehicular traffic to move beneath the arched ways. They were huge and painted so beautifully; I mistook it for temples when illuminated from far away. The whole township seems to be working towards the successful completion “Pooram.” I was surprised to see families working far away, even from abroad, came for participating in the celebrations. There was a sense of belongingness and ownership among them. Few where busy in organizing things…… few, in fund raising, some in arranging the elephants and mahouts and few were busy in organising the food….there were committees meant for cultural activities, stage management, accommodation, etc., etc. “Can you tell me what are they?” It was a young man in his twenties pointing his fingers to the bamboo temple-like structure and he had a foreign accent. “Where are you from,” I asked inquisitively. “Well I was born and brought up in Australia. My mother hails from Minalur….I came along with her to see the Pooram!”

In the Temple We

entered into

the temple complex. It was the time for “Deeparadhana.” The inner walls that cover the sanctum sanatorium inside the “Chuttambalam” were fully lit with individual “diyas” or wicks and they illuminated the Chuttambalam atmosphere. The “Parikrama” or the circular walk way was fully decorated with festoons and flowers and the aura emitted by the lit granite lamps gave the divine presence of the deity of “Bhagavati” inside. As we stood with folded hands in front of the “Sreekovil” of the deity, Gopal said,


“Devi, after my graduation, I spent some time in this temple helping the “Poojari” who happened to be my relative, in the routine rituals and pooja.”

By birth Gopal is a Brahmin and I remembered him telling me that he had learned the sacred “Manthras and Thantras” to be recited and performed while doing pooja. After completing the “Parikrama”, we both sat on the Granite slab; trying to blend in the atmosphere of “Devotion” that hung in the air as the deity sparkled from inside. Outside, the banyan tree too was illuminated and the in the green flowing light, the mighty tree gave a surrealistic appearance in the backdrop of the dark sky. On the stage, a team of young girls were performing classical dance and in the glittering colorful lights and matching music, they looked like “Apsara kanyas!”

A peep into the cultural programmes

A night view of illuminated “Pandals”

Through the Memory lane…. “This is Sukumar, my elder brother” said Gopal. We had reached back home from the temple as the night fell. Sukumar is a “Finance” man and works with a big Public Sector Undertaking in Gujarat. He had just landed and specifically came for the “Pooram”. I found Sukumar very soft spoken and simple and soon we both struck a good friendship.


A Panoramic view of Minalur After the breakfast next day, Gopal took me out. We walked through the vast paddy fields, banana plantations and through the narrow by lanes dotting houses on both sides. The water streams that flowed across the paddy fields virtually by adorning anglebells caressed our feet with cold water as we waded through them and often we had to jump from one dividerbund to another to cross over to the next path. The morning sun was slowly rising on the eastern horizon and through the bamboo-fencings of the compounds and the large canopies of trees above, splashed its golden rays on to

us. I saw a bunch of sparrows flying as a flash in front of my eyes and few parrots trying to sneak into the ready-to-be-harvested paddy fields taking as much grains as possible in to their ruby red beaks before flying away spreading their green wings. As we continued walking, I saw the dilapidated outer wall of a temple in a big compound which too had a mighty Banyan tree. “It is a Shiva” temple. Let us do Dharshan there.” Said Gopal. It was an ancient temple like that of “Kuttiyamkavu.” I saw several Bhramin settlements at Minalur and several of these had their own “Kula devatas” and often worshiped them by constructing their own temples. Several of these Bhramin settlements had their origins in Tamil Nadu and they moved to Palghat sometime In the ready-to-be-harvested Paddy field… in 12-13th Century AD during the reign of great Zamurins of Calicut under whose


jurisdiction covered Palghat as well which lies about 40 kms south of Minalur. The Shva temple where I was praying along with my friend therefore could be a 1000 year old one, I told myself. Gopal took me to the house where he was born…..their original ancestral house and introduced me to several people. They included his child-hood friends, relatives and acquaintances. We walked through the woods behind the house where he was born and I knew that he was “walking through the memory lane.” He talked and talked and I knew that he was pouring his heart out while narrating those small incidents which perhaps he was treasuring like a peacock’s feather between the pages of his life and I gave him a patient hearing with all the inquisitiveness. After drinking the filter coffee from one of his relatives, we turned back….I lifted my head and looked. Beyond me, the A handful of memories vast paddy fields welcomed me once again. “Boy, I am dying to receive the doss of the famous Fireworks at Kuttiyamkavu temple in the evening for which I came all the way from New Delhi,” I told myself.

…and amidst the thunderous fireworks, the sky illuminated! “We need to reach early,” said Gopal. It was only 3 p.m. in the afternoon. As I looked on, he continued. “All the approached roads towards the temple would be closed shortly and no vehicles would be allowed to go near after that. If need to view the fireworks, we need to start now so that we can have a clear view from near the Banyan tree.” The roads were fully crowded. We slowly moved towards temple amidst the chaos and the mad rush. The “Poora parambu”—the area earmarked for the Poorm--was already flooded with people. Police force deployed on the ground were trying to manage the crowed. From within the temple, I could hear the report of the drums and the “Panchavadya” musical


instruments. The women and children, old and young, all had come in their fine dresses. Children were carrying toys and other items in their hands….infants hung from the waists of the mothers who were carrying them. The whole atmosphere was charged up. On the stage, a dance drama was being performed by the members of the nearby fine arts club. The finesse with which they performed was such that I could not resist, but shoot them on to my camera as moving pictures.

I stood wonderstruck among the crowd trying to figure out why there is so much traction and attraction from the whole villagers for such an event as “Pooram” and remembered meeting Gopal’s childhood friend, Suresh Ellatch at his shop in the Trichur city on the previous day. “We all are protected by the mighty

Bhagavati. The Devi is so powerful that if asked for from the heart, she would fulfill all your desires.” “You know Dasan, people from faraway places come here for the “Darshan.” “Let me tell you an incident,” he continued, “The oracle of the Devi who was waiting in the bus stop was once left out by the bus driver who did not stop at the stand. Aggrieved by the high handedness, the oracle prayed and the story goes that the bus which was in good shape suddenly stopped after few yards. No matter whatever the mechanics did, the vehicle could not be started. Finally, it occurred to someone that Bhagavti was angered because her oracle was left out by the bus driver.” “The bus miraculously started when Driver and conductor apologized and brought him to the bus!!” Pooram is an elaborate event. Once the “Kodiyettam”—the flag hoisting of Devi—a ceremony that begins the celebrations officially, lasts for 13 days and on the 13th day, the main “Pooram” is celebrated. The lists of the celebrations that are spread over 13 days are endless—“Keli”, “Ottan thullal,” “Chakyar koothu,” “Ashtapathi,” “Kombu Pattu,”,


“Nirtha Sandhya”, “SampleVedikettu”, “Annadhanam,” and the main Fireworks on the last day along with “Gaja Veeranmar,” (fine and famous elephants). Most of these designated art forms, unfurl the age old cultural and art forms prevalent at ancient times in Kerala which require a lifetime effort to perform flawlessly and they are seldom seen in our modern times. This, therefore, gives any visitor a unique opportunity to see, understand and enjoy these art forms. As I scanned the brochure, I saw details of the scholars and experts who are designated for playing various musical instruments including those who are designated to “dress up” the elephants in their festive attire!!

Behind the paddy fields, in the pitch darkness, I saw a sudden flash followed by a mighty blast. For a moment, I could not hear anything and I felt that I missed a heartbeat. I saw the crowd falling backward. The fireworks had started. From there onwards, I stood transfixed.

The cultural diversity


The thunderous sound they produced were actually “death defying” and I realized why Jayaram Engineer with whom I had gone for fund-raising was insisting a factory owner to paste news paper on the glass panels of his factory. “The impact is such that, they often shatter the glass panes in the vicinity”, he had said. The specially prepared rockets which blasted in different layers in different colours up in to the skies created magic. As the colours of the blasts kept on changing, I could see the entire vicinity changing its colours in the night. It was a maga event…..something I had not seen so far in my whole life.

Holding my camera, I tried to move and capture the emotions reflected on the faces of the crowed. The adventurous excitement was palpably reflecting on their faces---some giggling, some awestricken, some covering their ears with both hands and children crying… Through the silhouette of the fluttering leaves of the mighty banyan tree in the darkness I was able to capture some fine videos and photos.

Gopal, Murali brother & beloved mother


Soon we started moving out. The fireworks had come to an end. The smoke and dust hung heavily in the atmosphere and in the high powered floodlights, the whole place looked like a bombarded airfield! The road offered the same chaos and mad rush. The street vendors were doing brisk business as the women and children thronged to them…their faces shined in the splash of light emitting from the Petrol max lights in the shops… I looked at my friend Gopal and he had this expression written all over his face, “I told you that you would never repent your visit” and I could not agree with him less, it was a worthwhile visit not only in seeing, experiencing and enjoying the “Kuttiyamkavu Pooram,” but in knowing Gopal, his loving brothers Murali, Sukumar, their wives, children and his affectionate mother from close quarters. The night dragged on. Tomorrow early morning I have to catch a bus to Palghat to meet my mother-in-law and after that proceed to my house in Calicut covering another 200 kms.

Gopal had organized for his friend to come with the same car. The whole family had assembled in the front porch. I could not believe how fast the two days I spent with this family withered away. It Gopal & brother with wives

appeared to me that I had just arrived there. “Do come again,” It was Gopal’s mother. I said, “I would mother….I would….. It appears to me after a long time, I have again met my mother.” C Devidasan, cdevidasan@yahoo.com March 12, 2014


Kuttiyamkavupooram