India is a land of strange beliefs that are invariably based on superstitions and the rituals that are offshoots of such beliefs have been around us for centuries. Some rituals are bizarre and strange, but as for as the ardent devotees are concerned, they have trust in them and get actively involved in such festivals in the belief that their desires will be positively answered by the god. If such festivals were not here to keep their mind occupied and be far away from the drudgery of regimental problematic life, perhaps they would end up lying on the couch of a shrink, paying a bundle for his pep talk.
The following rituals are worthy of mention.
Garudan Thookkam, Kerala
In the southern state of Kerala, this ritual art form is performed by the devotees of Hindu goddess Kali. The venue is mostly Kali temples in the areas around Travancore and Kochi. The dancers dress up as Garuda (eagle), the mount of Lord Vishnu and participate in the ritual.
According to the legend goddess Kali was in a state of Ugraha (fierce looking because of rage) after slaying demon Darika. So, Lord Vishnu sent Garuda to pacify her. Garuda had quenched the goddess Kali's thirst and later subdued her. After the dance performance, the dancers do a wacky thing which other people will be scared to do it. They dangle like bats (Garudan Thookkam) from a wooden shaft, by hooking the flesh on their backs! These hanging ' Garudas ' are taken around the city in a colorful procession on a bullock-cart, in some cases on the boat
|Garudan Thookkam, Kerala. Shutterstock|
There is a famous Garudan Thookkam at the Elamkavu Devi temple at Vadayar in Vaikkom taluk of Kottayam district. During the Aswathi, Bharani days of Meenam Month (Malayalam), a three storied wooden structure - Attuvela is temporarily built which is considered as a floating Kali temple of Moovathupuzha. At night the entire structure is illuminated beautifully. The Garudas - 40 to 50 in number travel in a boat -Thoni Vallam behind it. It is a night long ritual with scores of artists playing on chenda (a percussion instrument). After choondakuthal - piercing of the skin on the back with a metal hook (after bleeding), they will be hung from a shaft like a stuff. Then they will be taken around the floating temple three times by the devotees.
At other temples like Airapuram, etc., the Garudas, hanging from a shaft, are taken on a chariot on the ground being pulled by the devotees.
Rationalists consider this rituals bizarre and the gods or goddesses never ask them to do it to appease them. In Tamil Nadu, piercing the tongue or cheeks with sharp needle is common during the festival days in, particular, at Lord Subramanya (Muruga / Karthikaya) temples.
|Iris Holidays, Kerala Festivals of India|
|Pulikali.Iris Holidays, Festivals of India|
Every thing is subject to change of time, so is Pulikali. In the past, Pulikali performers, never wore masks. and they themselves would do the paint job on their body. But now, they have easy access to anything related to Pulikali. They get ready made masks, cosmetic teeth, tongues, beards and whiskers are used by the participants along with the paint on their bodies. The event is organized by the Pulikkali Co-ordination Committee, a council of Pulikali groups formed in 2004 in Thrissur. Their intention is to preserve and propagate the art form that has been around for 200 years in all its true hues and spirits.
Preparing the performers for Pulikali who make a colorful appearance is a laborious one and it starts in the early morning - wee hours. Prospective dancers who form the group called sangams have to remove the hairs on their bodies first. A fine mix of tempera powder and varnish or enamel is used to make the paint.After the base coat of paint is applied one has to wait for 3 hours for the paint to dry. When the second coat is applied different styles, patterns, shades, etc are painted to suit the tastes. Paint job is mostly done by artists. In the evening the different groups join at a particular place in Thrissur and move in procession, dancing, pouncing, jerking, imitating tiger on the hunting trail.
Depiction of tiger preying on the kill and tiger being hunted by the hunters gets the cheers from the spectators. In all these performances, the rhythmic beats of the percussion instruments are very important as they enhance the grandeur and beauty of the dancers' skill. Finally they reach the Vadakkun Nathan Temple and at last do puja at various shrines.