Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Tale of Coimbatore’s Popular Olayakka

It is no wonder that the present day school children may not know the meaning of the English nursery rhyme Ring a Ringo O’roses, which is associated with the Great Plague of England. But, it is sad that the popular Tamil folk song of Coimbatore  Olayakka Konadayile Oru Saadu Thaazhampoo, which would be sung by girls once in the city on the following day of Pongal,  needs to be reintroduced with its background.
The song, which is recorded in the book Engal Nattupuram by the first historian of Coimbatore, Kovai Kizhar C.M. Ramachandran Chettiar, portrays a girl named Olayakka, who is described as the one that chides her mother lamenting her dissatisfaction over the clothes and ornaments presented by her mother. Though the girls of yesteryear Coimbatore would not know the meaning of the song, they had a culture of singing it on the Pooparikira Nombi, a festival following Pongal.
However, K. Padmanathan, who researched the origin of the song in his book Olayakka – Verum paadalalla Varalaru ( Olayakka is not just a song but a history) says that the song was to commemorate the death of two little girls, who killed themselves by jumping into the fire on a river bank.
It is said that the people belonging to the Dasa Palanchika community from Karnataka migrated to Kongunadu during the rule of Hyder Ali. As it was a rainy month, the people heading towards the Kongu region were blocked by a flooding river in the forests of Hasanur. Though, they later crossed the river after the flood water receded, they discovered that two of their girls, who had gone to collect firewood for cooking, were missing. The river started flooding as rain began to lash again. Now, the people, being helpless, noticed the two girls on the other side of the river bank.
But, the poor girls, who feared a possible outrage of their modesty with a strange group of men nearing them on the river bank, ended their lives by jumping into the fire, which they set on the firewood they collected from the forest. The parents, who were helplessly standing on the other side of the river bank, noticed the gruesome scene of their children’s suicide. From then onwards, the members of the Dasa Palanchika community, who settled at Masagounden Chettipalayam, Koyilpalayam, Kottaipalayam, Karamadai and Thadagam in the northern belt of Coimbatore, commemorated the death anniversary of the two girls, whose names could be Olayakka and Thirumaalayakka.
On the occasion of their death anniversary, girls from each family in the Dasa Palanchika community would collect palmyra fronds and make the dolls of Olayakka and Thirumaalayakka. After worshipping them, the girls would visit each house in the village to collect the dolls by singing the song Olayakka Konadayile Oru Saadu Thaazhampoo. Finally, they would burn the dolls at a place called Olayakka Kaadu.

Compiled by: B. Meenakshi Sundaram
Sources: Olayakka – Verum paadalalla Varalaru – K. Padmanathan
Photo: Palmyra dolls of Olayakka and Thirumaalayakka in the attachment.  
Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

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