The idioms used by Coimbatoreans in their Kongu Tamil dialect are unique, as they figuratively remark even an act of deceiving as ‘Naamam Saathuthal’ which literally stands for the Vaishnavaite custom of drawing a Naamam (trident mark) on the forehead. Theologians of the faith say that the mark shows their deep devotion to God, since it represents the feet of Lord Perumal. Nonetheless, the religious mark has a different meaning in the culture of Irulas, who were the aborigines of Coimbatore.
Reminding the story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood from the Bible, the tribal Irulas believe that their origin on earth was after a ravaging flood that destroyed all creatures of the world except Koduvan and his daughter Sambi. It is said that the duo took shelter inside a cave on Kizhavi Malai, a hill near the present day Thudiyalur and were noticed by Mallan and Malli, the creators of the Irula tribe. But, Mallan and Malli later metamorphosed the father and daughter into a young couple, from whom the tribe multiplied.
Though the tribal mythology consists of such supernatural machinery, the painful history of the Irulas losing their unique worship culture can still be heard in their tales.
When the Kongu region came under Vijayanagara rule in 16th century A.D, the kings, in order to spread their official religion Vaishnavism, built Perumal temples in places like Periyanaickenpalayam and Karamadai and brought the Irula tribe into the streamline of their faith.
At a time when people of the present day worry over a hike in the milk price, it is surprising that the Irulas never milked their cows and believed that a cow’s milk is only for its calf. However, their myth on the arrival of Lord Perumal at Karamadai unfolds that an Irula cowherd was canned after he refused providing milk to the Vaishnavite God.
The tale also informs that one of his cows shed milk on an anthill amidst the Kaarai plants (Canthium parviflorum), after which a temple for Lord Perumal emerged there. It is also interesting to note that the place had earlier got its name ‘Karamadai’ due to the overgrowth of the Kaarai plants.
The tribal myth discloses that Lord Perumal even fell in love with an Irula girl named Thulasilaampaal. Captivated by her exceptional beauty, the Lord forcibly carried her to His abode. But, on His way back home between Karamadai and Palamalai, the Lord felt something wet on his forehead and understood Thulasilaampaal’s attaining puberty!
The Irulas, who were forced to worship Lord Perumal, still say that the medial red mark on the Lord’s Naamam (Trident mark) is nothing but a drop of Thulasilaampaal’s vaginal discharge of blood!
Source: Sappe Gokalu – A collection of Irula tribal songs – R.Lakshmanan
Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/3794351