The main Maha Vishnu Temple in Perumpuzha was having a facelift and as a result we haven’t had the usual yearly festival for the past four years. The building work is now finally complete and once again festival time is here. I was lucky that it coincided with my trip to visit my mother.
Yesterday evening my mother, Kavitha, the baby and I met up with my cousins and they dropped us off at Perumpuzha junction. We waited in front of my uncle’s shop. The temple drummers were all lined up and ready to go. We listened to them as the tempo went up and down along with the crowd’s excitement. After a little while, we decided to walk to my ancestral house, where my uncle lives with his family now. As we walked down we saw a couple of the procession floats, the thalapoli girls and women and three decorated elephants as they walked past to join the main procession. Lakshmi is too young to appreciate the elephants.
After a delicious sadya served on banana leaves it was time to join the crowds lining the street to the temple to watch the procession. The trucks carrying giant sculptures of the gods depicting stories from the Hindu mythology went past one by one. One had the goddess Ganga rising from Shiva’s head as he meditated, another with Sree Krishnan stealing the bathing gopikas clothes, Bhadra kali slaying the demon Darika etc etc. Music was blaring from the stereos and some even had disco lighting. Young men were having a field day. It was like an open air discotheque and it was difficult to not tap your feet to the jolly music. Finally the thalapoli and elephants went past and it was time to go home. I do not remember seeing anything like this during my younger days.
It is Sivarathri today, the God Shiva’s big night. It seems there are quite a few stories behind the origin of this celebration. The popular one seems to be that it was the night that he saved the world from destruction, by taking poison and keeping it in his throat, which turned it blue. Another one is that this was the night he performed the ‘Thandava Nritham’ or the heavenly dance. Whatever the reason, it is the night when ‘Shiva’, one of the Trimurti’s is worshipped. Brahma the creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the destroyer (of evil as well). Devotees stay up all night chanting ‘Om Namashivaya’. My mother tells me that to do it properly one has to stay awake for 48 hours, which she did once.
Anyway we do not plan to stay awake all night. Instead we visited all our regular temples this evening. Five in total, two in Kottarakara, one in Kundara and two in Perumpuzha. It started of as two regular temples during my childhood and over the years the numbers got bigger. Two of the temples are ‘Lord Siva’s’ temples. The main one in Kottarakara was quite busy and that was the only place the little one started to get a little irritable. The crowds would not move. Once the ‘Nada’ was open they just stood there and wouldn’t let anyone else get a glimpse of the deity. I wondered what these people were doing. Were they telling the gods their life stories? Anyway it is the day to remember when darkness and ignorance was overcome and also a day of forgiveness. When I look up and see the Gods smiling at me, I know that I don’t have to ask for anything. I know that I will be looked after and that the Gods will take care of the rest.
(Thalapoli means girls and women all dressed in traditional Kerala dress bearing trays with a lighted lamp and flowers walking in a row. Usually done to greet dignitaries or the beginning or end of a big functions. Kavitha had her friends do that at her wedding. They lead the way to the wedding stage, like what the bridesmaids do, but in Kerala style
Sadya means feast served usually on banana leaves. Done usually at weddings. Vegetarian meals. Easier to eat and saviour all the different side dishes and servings all on one big leaf and easy to clean up afterwards and environmentally friendly to dispose of.
Nada is where the gods reside. During the morning and evening pooja (prayer) times the gods are washed and decorated and then the priests open the doors to the accompaniment of bells ringing and prayers. That is the time to be at the temple to see the gods. We are not meant to pray when the doors are closed. When the doors are closed the gods are taking their well earned rest and we are not meant to wake them up)