Keeping Traditions Alive!

Photo courtesy:  Rajeevan Neeraj

Ardra Darshanam, Ettangadi, Ardra Vritham, Pathira poochoodal, Thudichukuli, Mangalaathira, Thiruvathrakali – some terms related to rituals and customs based on age-old traditions was intriguing.

Intrigued, I sat a curious observer to the observance of the festivities by a group of enthusiastic and homely women celebrating the exclusive festival of women by women. It was the celebration of the festival of Thiruvathira by the women from 30 families of the Namboodiri Community in Singapore.

The Legend

Thiruvathira (star) falling on a full moon day in the month of Dhanu (fifth month) in the Malayalam calendar is believed to be the birthday of Lord Shiva. And on this day Goddess Parvathi finally met Lord Shiva after her long penance and Lord Shiva took her as his saha-dharma chaarini (equal partner). Both Parvathy and Shiva present this ideal to devotees in the form of Ardha-Nareeshawara (half male, half female form). There are other legends also linking it with Kamadeva, Sri Krishna and the Gopikas. Lord Siva furious at Kamadeva for interfering with his penance burns him to ashes by opening his third eye but  later relents due the tearful pleading of Kamadeva’s wife Rathi, restoring him back. So it commemorates the rebirth of Kamadeva, the God of Love. So essentially a women's festival, Thiruvathira is a celebration of devotion, beauty and love. Women and young girls offer special prayers to Lord Shiva on this day in the hope to have good husbands and for the wellbeing of their family.

The festivities

Divya Manu Aryan the torch bearer of the day’s function explained about, Ardra Darshanam (visiting Shiva Temple) Thudichukuli (beating of fists in the water as they bathe in the pools) and how the customs and rituals vary to some extent among the communities. She added that today the group had planned to observe some of the more common of the observances and festivities of Thiruvathira. 

Sobha Narayan explained about Ardra Vridham; that they observe selective fasting from the previous day wherein women do not take rice preparations but of wheat and fruits. And Ettangadi  made as an offering is an item made of roasting of eight different tubers.

So after an early dinner with the food fare including the ‘must-have’ dishes unique for the day, Thiruvathira puzhukku (with tubers and beans) and Koova payasam (arrow root pudding) the group set about their celebration.

Dressed in traditional Kerala Attire of settu mundu they gathered their hair in dainty buns to the side of their heads adorning with flowers symbolic to the process of 'Pathira poochoodal' (adorning with flowers at midnight )with Dasha pushpam (ten sacred flowers).

Then Divya did the prayers and offerings with Nilavilaku (lighted lamp), Ashtamangalyam (eight auspicious materials) and betel leaves displayed before the picture of the Gods (Shiva, Parvathy and Ganesha) and this was followed by ladies sitting facing the lamp and East and performing a simpler version of Anjukuri (using 5 different colours on the forehead) by drawing their eyes and putting a Kuri on their forehead.

This was followed by the rendering of Mangalaathira (Thiruvathira songs) led by Mrs Indira.

This again was followed by the partaking of the Ettangadi, bananas and tender coconut water.

On Thiruvathira night 108 betel leaves along with kaliyadakka (scented areca nut) is offered to Lord Shiva and Sree Parvathy. So they sat for this offering reducing the number of betel leaves to nine each.

Dhanya Pradeep who was religiously following the custom of eating 108 betel leaves said it was for her a whole day’s process which she did with breaks, continuing through the night.

And they ended the day with the graceful dance of Kaikottikali (thiruvathirakali) around the lighted lamp with mellifluous singing by Sharmila Gireesh.

The first Thiruvathira festival coming after the marriage of a girl is known as Puthen Thiruvathira or Poo Thiruvathira is considered extra special and so it was for Hareesh and Suprabha and Rajeesh and Ganga.

And Subramanium MP took up the role of giving a lively commentary of the day’s events.

It was indeed heart-warming to watch a group of people reliving their traditions and celebrating together, away from their homeland, preventing the age old traditions and customs from withering away and thus keeping them alive.

Thiruvathira festivities was celebrated by the group on Sun 4th Jan 2015.