Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Deity, Who Lost Her People

As usual, when the annual car festival of Kovai's sentinel deity 'Sri' Koniamman witnessed the participation of thousands of devotees last week, the Goddess must have been disappointed after She made a vain attempt looking for Her people in the large crowd. It is unsure whether Koniamman was aware that Her people, the Irulas, who are the aborigines of Coimbatore, are now toiling hard at the construction units and brick kilns around the city.

According to Cholan Poorva Pattayam, an available work on the ancient history of Coimbatore, the tribal deity Konamma expressed Her wrath over the Chola king Karikalan's plan of founding a 'new' town by clearing Her woods. However, the book says that Karikalan appeased the tribal deity by promising Her that he would christen the new town or 'Puththur' after Kovan, the chieftain of the aboriginal Irular tribe and continue the tradition of offering Her the triple sacrifice of hen, goat and buffalo. But, later on, the tribal deity was incorporated in the Hindu pantheon as 'The Manifestation of Shakthi'

After clearing the forests, when the land was ready for founding the new town, Karikalan got several check dams built across river Noyyal, set up canals to channel the river water and dug lakes to store it for irrigating agricultural lands and named the new town as 'Kovan Puththur'

The Chola king followed the traditional procedure of choosing office bearers through 'Kuda Olai Murai' an election in which palm leaves containing names of the contestants would be put inside a pot and someone would pick one from the lot. And, the person, whose name was found on it, would be appointed as an office bearer. The selected office bearers were, then allocated different departments including Temple Maintenance, Irrigation, Agriculture, Law and Order and Tax Collection.

As known from the book Cholan Poorva Pattayam, Karikalan selected leaders to govern different groups of people in the new town. He appointed Chola Naattupuracheri Vellalan Pichayappan to govern the community of cultivators, Kavarai Varathappan to supervise the trading community, Vadavaadi Mandraadi to administer the town and Chidhampara Adhikaari Pillai to maintain accounts of the local body. Thus began the first administration of Coimbatore with its earlier name as 'Kovan Puththur'

However, citing the popular quote ' History is written only by victors', tribal historians opine that the Chola king, indeed, killed the innocent Irular chieftain Kovan, drove his descendants into the deep forests and set up a military base here to invade the neighboring Chera dynasty.

Appropriately, implying the annihilation of their ancestors, the present day Irulars believe that the earth had once been destroyed and their deity Konamma wanted to know whether there were any people left. Hence, the Goddess ordered a wild insect called 'Sullaampookke', which creeps by tapping its tail on the ground, to find out the whereabouts of Her people, the Irulars.

Sources: Ithuvo Engal Kovai, Cholan Poorva Pattayam – By Kovai Kizhar, Odiyan – A book of poems in Irular language – By Lakshmanan.

Link to my story in The New
Indian Express: 

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