Come November, with the first mist that engulfs you at dawn and dusk comes the fragrance of a hundred incense sticks burning, a thousand oil lamps lighting up the outer and inner sanctum – sanctorum, the clamor of bells and chains that is heard every now and then as 15 mighty caparisoned tuckers walk the land, and one of them who will carry the ‘Thidambu’ (the replicated idol of the lord) and over a lakh people folk around inside and outside the temple premises dressed in their best to offer prayers and respect. November is the month of one of the biggest temple festivals in Kerala, the Vrischikotsavam at Sree Poornathreyesha Temple in my hometown Tripunithura.
A little history about the temple – According to legends it is believed that the temple was incepted by Arjuna of Mahabharatha . The idol at the temple is of Lord Vishnu, one of the thrimoorthis. Arjuna sought the help of Lord Vishnu to give rebirth to the ten children of a Brahmin and he was granted that and was offered the idol of the lord. While handing over the children to the Brahmin, a temple was built with a sanctum- sanctorum in the form of a chariot. Lord Ganesha was sent by Arjuna to seek a place for the instillation of the idol and he was attracted to the holiness of an ancient vedic village, Poornavedapuram (now Tripunithura) and he tried to occupy the place for himself. However Arjuna pushed him away to the southern side of the sanctum (the idol of Lord Ganesha is still there) and installed his idol there.
The idol is unlike other seen idols of Mahavishnu which is usually in the lying posture of the snake god – Ananthan. This idol is of the Lord sitting under the 5 hoods of Ananthan where his coiled up body is used as a throne. The temple itself is a huge masterpiece of architecture. And the vrischikotsavam festival is one of the biggest festivals of the temple which lasts for 8 days embracing tradition, culture and values of the land. It starts with the ‘ Kodiyettu’ hoisting of the flag on day one evening. There will be panchari melam in the morning and ‘Vilakezhunellippu’ at nights, evenings and nights are enlightened with many cultural activities like Ottan thullal, Thayambaka, Kadhakali, high profilic Carnatic Music concerts, Kolkali, Astapadi, Thullal which takes place at the ‘Koothambalam”. The 15 capronised elephants along with the ‘Thayambaka’ is the highlight of the festival. On the eighth day the festivities will end with the Aarattu. I am very much a temple person, not that I am very religious. But I like the whole affair of getting dressed, decking my hair with jasmine flowers, adorning a big saffron kumkum, the softness of the silks across my body and the coolness of the sandalwood paste on my forehead and all those mortal delights you seek when being a woman! The positivity and peace that you get in a temple is never got anywhere else. The effulgence emanating from the sanctum sanctorum is difficult to be expressed in words. The vision always lingers in the mind.
I usually spend only one full night in the temple and that is usually of the day Kadhakali is performed though we go on most days during evenings. Kadhakali starts late at night and finishes by early morning. We left home after dinner and walked around in the streets which was full of stalls selling bangles, jewellery, toys, eateries and what not. I love to buy this and that, usually things of no use at all which will lie in the house unused for years as a souvenir and be thrown out in a cleaning spree. Then there are the Bhajji stalls that sell different bhajjis like chilly and banana bhajjis and different pakkoras all given in small paper plates with a little chilli-tamarind chutney. Another must have at the festival is the sugarcane juice where the juice is extracted from sugarcane and mixed with a little ginger and lemon for added flavour.
If you observe a little, you see a whole world at the temple premises happening. A temple festivity is also a place where extended families come together a year, where children play running around, their laughter heard over the drums, long lost friends catching up and exchanging news, young boys and girls checking out each other, middle aged woman catching up on gossip and showing off their new sarees, men thoroughly enjoying the thayambaka, children happy with the toys and knick knacks they get from the premises. All in all a temple festival is a very happy place to be. You can just sit leaning against a wall in the sand and see the world passing by.
Another thing you see in the Tripunithura festival is the hordes of family members from the royal family. In paper and by mouth we say there is no caste division in Kerala but this is not applied to the Sree Poornathreyesha temple which is actually the family temple of the TRF. This is very much a place where the segregation is more than evident. The bond between the gods and royalty runs deep. There is a separate sitting area for the woman folk of the royal family to watch the festivities. And believe me when I say, these woman are exquisitely beautiful. Most of them wear the traditional set-mundu or Kerala saree but of the highest fashion and make and even without a trace of make up their translucent skin glows a pinkish glow in the lamp lights. Some middle aged woman comes for watching the Kadhakali decked up in beautiful traditional jewellery and Kanjeepuram sarees which gave the whole event an added glamour and glitz. The chuti Kuthal of the Kadhakali artists are an elaborate affair and many people folk around to watch the amazement of the transformation of an ordinary man to that of a larger than life mythological legend.
I started liking kadhakali little over a few years back when I started watching the nightly Kadhakali rendering in television with my mother in law who is an ardent Kadhakali lover. She understands the gestures and mudras and have taught me some too. The art form is mainly stories of Krishna. Kathakali is usually performed in front of the huge Kalivilakku (kali meaning dance; vilakku meaning lamp) with its thick wick sunk till the neck in coconut oil. Traditionally, this lamp used to provide sole light when the plays used to be performed inside temples, palaces or abodes houses of nobles and aristocrats.
This year, Kadhakali that was rendered was episodes from ‘Krishnaleela’ Attakadha which is a recent addition to the repertoire of Kathakali plays. After slaying Kamsa, Krishna rescues his parents and meets his mother Devaki for the first time. When Devaki says how she has missed his childhood Krishna suggests she hears it all from his foster mother Yashodha. In the next scene Yashodha meets Devaki. Through pakarnattam ,an artistic technique of Kathakali and Koodiyattom by which earlier events are recounted, Yashodha portrays important events of Krishna’s childhood days such as ‘Poothana moksham’, ‘Ullokha bandhanam’, ‘Bakavadham’, ‘Kaliya mardhanam’, and so on. The larger than life scenes depicted in Kadhakali takes you to another artistic plateau altogether.
By the time we came out, morning sheeveli had already started