Kerala is a State, where the celebration statement is equated with caparisoned elephants, conveniently brushing aside their basic rights to live. At the same time, a ritualistic temple festival is being celebrated in Kerala annually without the participation of elephants and adoring the lower caste people as a custom of the tradition. Get on with the palpable episodes of the festival Machad Mamankam through the photographic and narrative experiences of Arun Das.
Is there any temple festival in Kerala, with absolutely no participation of caparisoned elephants? All on a sudden, you may answer it with an abrupt ‘no’. But there are! Some presiding deities come to the rescue of the hapless Jumbo which carries their idols on its back and perambulating along with the human whims and wants. Recently, the ruling deity of Kanichukulangara temple, Alappuzha could successfully implement it, thanks to the temple authorities.
But Kanichukulangara temple is not the first one to conduct a temple festival without an elephant. One among them, significant to note is Machhadu Thiruvanikkavu temple, in the district of Trichur which is known for its craze for elephants. Instead of elephants, the 5 day long festival is celebrated with motif horses made of bamboos. Thus without besieging any living being’s rights to live, Machhad Pooram is being celebrated annually with the equal panache and pizzazz that of any other temple festival in Kerala.
Machhadu Mamankam better known as Thiruvanikkavu Kuthira vela is also based on the traditional rituals and customs that had been followed since 800 years. The festival is conducted by five desams (local areas) in a competitive but complacent way, compiling their processions harmoniously.
The place Machad is about 25 Kms away from Trichur city, dwells in the midst of dense forest (Machhad range) with scenic beauties of green fields and blue hills, a rare vision in the present Kerala. The adjacent places, Thekkumkara, Karumatra, Punnamparambu, Panangattukara and Manalithara are the 5 main participants of the festival which begins on the first Friday of the month Kumbham(February). Each day is dedicated to each desam and the fifth day, that is, on the next Tuesday falls to be the Pooram day.
The festival starts with the ‘parayeduppu’ (offering rice to the deity in a specific measurement from every house in the locality). The representative of the Goddess, ‘Elayathu’ or ‘Velichappadu’ receives the offering and gives blessings on behalf of the diety. Unlike other velichappadus of the Kerala temples, this man is being taken on the shoulders of four youths, who also like the velichapad, would have undergone fasting and penance for the virtuous ceremony to be carried out. This procession will be accompanied by the kombu and kuzhal (traditional musical instruments which sound the royal coming) and never followed by drums as in other festivals.
The Pooram day is the grand finale of a harmonious participation of the 5 desams, each from their domain comes to the temple with their own huge dummy horses embellished with silk clothes and twinkling ornaments. This is similar to the ezhunnellippu of caparisoned elephants in other temple festivals. These horses are considered to be the offerings of the locals to their preserving Goddess. These horses are carried by the youths of the respective villages after the ceremonial ‘kumbhakkudam’, a spectacular and significant part of Machhad mamankam. When they reach from the five sides to the premises of the temple, Panchavadyam(the traditional temple music with five instruments including chenda), begins to thrill the mammoth gathering. Along with the din and bustle of the rhythm, Kuthirakali (dance of the horses) starts to the elation of the zealous crowd. The five teams with the motif horses reach the temple at about 2.30 p.m. that is the hottest hour of the day in the scorching February. But that doesn’t seem to debase the fervor of the people as the drum beats and the hoots of joy merge with family reunions and social tryst in the divine premises. Thundering crackers add thrills to the fervent spectators.
Another unique feature of Machadu Mamankam is the staging of ‘harijan vela’ along with the ‘kuthirakali’ the highlight of the festival. This is the arty performances of the lower caste people of the domain bringing in the ritualistic folk art forms of ancient Kerala. Earlier, these art forms were performed only by the Mannan caste of the Hindus. Now, as the educational and social developments affected Kerala, better than any other States, certain segments started to think of following the traditional things as menial and as such, some ancient heritages bad been lost for ever in this soil. But to certain aspect, these particular sector ‘harijan vela’ has somewhat survived the ravages of time, as it is an honor given by the whole village to their particular community. Thus with the enchanting ‘kuthirakali’, these folk art forms (poothan, thira, aandi, naayadi) also contribute richness to the celebrations.
On the 6th day, by lifting and throwing the dummy horses up the ecstatic youths demolish the ‘panthal’(the crafted temporary shed to stage the festival) in a ceremonious track. After this solemn finale, ‘paavakoothu’(puppet play) narrating the epic stories, is being staged for 7 consecutive days along with ‘kalampaattu’. Kalampaattu also tells certain episodes of the Hindu classics, through ritualistic music sitting around the portrait of a deity, drawn using multi colored powders.
Machadu Mamankam, thus bridges the new generation of the domain to the traditional richness they possessed once. All the procedures during the 6 days of the festival are in concordant with solid lineage under the stringent measures of administration. The rituals practiced during these days unfold the myth behind this rich festivity. It brings us back to 800 years when there was no motor vehicle to travel. The story goes like this:
Once, an aged devotee from a distant place walked to Kodungallur to worship Goddess Kali. Impressed with his devotion the Goddess accompanied him sitting on his umbrella. (When narrating something about the myths of Trichur Pooram, we find a similar incident in which the Goddess came to Trichur on a devotees’ umbrella, and this event became the quintessential for the famous Ilanjitharamelam, an integral part of the enthralling Trichur Pooram.). Walking such a long distance, in the midway, the aged devotee sat somewhere near Machad, putting his umbrella there. Then a lower caste man (Gandhiji termed them as Harijans) guided him to a near by house to pass the night. Next morning to start his walking again when he tried to take the umbrella, to his astonishment, it did not move.
Finding something ethereal in the incident, the locals around conducted a ‘devaprasnam’ (an astrological calculation) and found out that the Goddess was wished to stay there. Thus the idol of Godess Kali (Durga) has been installed there auspiciously as Thiruvanikkavu Bhagavathi in Machadu.
The rituals of the festival are closely twined to the chore of this narration. Thus the curtain raiser of the Mamankam festival begins with the parapurappadu, in which the first para to be taken is that of a harijan in memory of the harijan who guided the old devotee to the sojourn. Also there is a specific niche for them to stage their folk arts in the festival arena. Anyways, in a rustic village like Machad, they are being treated as equal or more at this event, when the discriminations on caste and creed is high even at the metros in the State.
Whether due to the protest against elephant abuse or due to the fear of the gigantic beast, Thiruvanikkavu Bhagavathi does not wish to mount her idol upon an elephant’s back. Thanks to the Goddess and the temple authorities and of course to the zealous public of Machadu, no living thing is being tortured for the enjoyment of humans here.
Another special feature of Machadu Mamankam is the solemn coming of the representative of the Goddess, ‘velichappadu’. The youths who take the ‘elayathu’ on the shoulders are running from home to home, radiating some kind of energy vibrations among the devotees. Myths differ here in various ways in which one narration is that once when an ‘elayathu’ was visiting homes on foot he was poisoned by a snake and succumbed to death. That ‘elayathu’ is still being worshipped in the temple premises along with the sub-deities.
This year Machad Mamankam is celebrated on 22nd of February.