Each year about the first of July (in the Tamil month of Ani), Samuthiram Village performs a special ceremony to bring the rain.
This is not the more well known Karakattam dance, done in Tamil Nadu in one more month, Ati. Karakattam is a popular folk dance of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This dance form, generally conducted in August, is originated as a ritual dedicated to Mariamman, the goddess of health and rain.
The ceremony is done at the village temple, a small one in the middle of the village. the ritual has three parts. The first is a puja, the next is a series of dances that are prayers to the gods, then there is a procession that blesses each house in the village. Like Karakattam, the god involved is Mariamman, the goddess of rain (and health).
Here is the temple before the people have come. They have put up a canopy for the function.
When I got back to the temple, the puja had already been done, and people were waiting for the ‘prayer dances.’ These are called sami vandu adupavarakal in Tamil.
The people stand around a clear area, with the special ‘portable gods’ (karagam in Tamil) at one end, and the men who will carry them (pakdan in Tamil) at the other end. Standing in the clearing are drummers and the men who are conducting the ceremony.
Here is a drummer.
The men who are doing this rite.
One man enters the circle, a kind of dazed look in his eyes. He moves strangely, stiffly and not coordinated is usual ways.
One of the people sprinkles kundal, turmeric water, on the man. This purifies him so that the god can enter. They say that only if one is fully focused on god, both mind and body, can they enter the circle and dance.
Dancers dance with a prayer in mind. Men’s prayers are often for the health, well being, and prosperity of the family.
The pjua table laid out in from of the karagams. For the purposed of today’s ceremony they are infused with the power of god, of Mariamman.
The dancer has fallen to his knees.
He claws at the ground.
He starts moving towards the gods, the karagam.
Outside the circle a woman is getting worked up. She moves through the crowd into the circle.
She dances too. Woman’s prayers during these dances are also for family issues – perhaps for a husband for an unmarried daughter, or a child for a son or daughter, or to get the husband to stop drinking. The women who dance here are older women, so they do not ask for children for themselves.
Both are in the circle, dancing.
She is waiving her arms and moving in circles.
He is collapsed on the ground, and will need help standing and getting out of the circle.
On one side of the temple stand all the women.
The men are on the other side. This is usual at temples, men and women on different sides.
A woman shows off her very new baby.
You can see what a special day it is by the fancy flower arrangement in this girl’s hair.
They are trying to prepare another man for dancing. The are putting sacred ash, vibhuti, on this forehead and in his hair.
They waive the sacred fire at him.
There are men prostrating themselves in front of the gods.
This would be dancer (in the gray sleeveless shirt) stands stiffly. He sways back and forth, but does not move more.
Suddenly a woman, followed by more women, come in to the circle. The women are somewhat shy, and will not do this singly, but will do this if several are involved. These women are younger than the dancers.
They are holding their saree palu (the part that goes over the shoulder) out, to receive something from the god.
They bow to the god. The man in the gray shirt still has not moved. I guess he cannot get himself filled with god today.
Arati, fire, is offered to the god in the temple. There is the flame and the ringing of bells. Everybody stops and looks and pranams.
Then the flame from the temple is offered to the gods for the day, the karagam.
This same flame is offered to those that will later carry the gods, the pakdan.
Then a very old woman in a blue saree enters the circle.
She is ready to dance!
And one more man enters.
He falls to his knees.
After his dance, he is spent. He sits exhausted on the ground. People give him water and comfort.
An old man starts to dance. He will be the last dancer today. His arms are extended and he moves them up and down. He feel are making erratic movements, but generally towards the gods.
Men block his way, so while dancing in trance, he does not knock the gods over.
Then he extends his hands, palms together.
One of the men has a whip. It looks like it is made of long hair, bleached red.
They whip the man’s outreached arms. This is a ritual punishment. With this, the prayer dancing is over.
Now the pakdan come forward.
The karagam are placed on their heads. They look heavy.
The men are ready to stand.
Standing and keeping everything balanced on your head is not an easy task.
More drummers are ready on the road to lead the procession through the village that will come next.
Ready to get going. First they will walk once around the temple.
On the road ‘crackers’ (fireworks) explode. They are LOUD.
The procession is almost ready to move into the village.
First though, more crackers. Here they have a long roll of newspaper, with the crackers enclosed.
When lit, they all explode, one after another.
Now we can start moving.
They stop briefly at each house. Here they are being offered a puja plate with flame, other offerings, and (importantly), a broken coconut.
As they leave, the woman (including an infant) lay on the ground, so that the procession walks over them.
When they first get to a house, their feet are washed, then yellow turmeric and red kum kum are applied.
At the next house, the process is repeated. First the water, then turmeric and kum kum, then the puja fire and coconut. the family keeps the coconut at eats it as holy prasad, food consecrated by the gods.
Well it is cloudy. No rain yet. I asked if they would still hold this rite if it was raining. I was told in no uncertain terms that YES, it would still be held. I was told the clouds today, when the day before was clear, were proof that their prayers were working.