Though such Dasaris of Lord Ranganatha are hardly seen nowadays in the city, the annual festival of the Arulmigu Aranganathasamy Temple is held in fervor with the participation of a sea of devotees at Karamadai every year. And the grand festival was over last week.
On the origin of the shrine, legend has it that a cow from the herd of an Irula tribesman shed its milk on an anthill amidst the Kaarai plants (Canthium parviflorum), after which a temple for Lord Ranganatha emerged there. It is also interesting to note the etymology behind Karamadai, which literally means a water channel near the abounding Kaarai plants.
Nevertheless, history informs that the temple was constructed by the Vaishnavite Vijayanagara kings, who, like their Shaivite counterparts, wanted to exploit the forest wealth of Coimbatore's aboriginal Irula tribe by making them embrace their 'official' religion. With the Western Ghats being around 10 km from the temple, the Vijayanagara kings named the hills surrounding the shrine as 'Ranganathar Mudi', 'Perumal Mudi' and so on. What's more, they made even the tribal deity Pettathamman as the wife of Lord Ranganatha.
Decades ago, the devotees of Coimbatore practised a culture of worshipping the Dasaris of Lord Ranganatha by offering Kavalam ( Plantain fruits cut up into small slices, and mixed with sugar, jaggery, fried grain or beaten rice) into their mouths. The Dasaris, who would eat a little of the Kavalam, spit the remainder into the hands of the devotees, which the latter, unimaginably, ate in the superstition that it would cure them of all diseases !
“ Some people say that, many years ago, barren women used to take a vow to visit the temple at the time of the festival, and, after offering Kavalam, have sexual intercourse with the Dhasaris. The temple authorities, however, profess ignorance of this practice”
Compiled by : B. Meenakshi Sundaram
Sources: 1) Sappe Gokalu – A collection of Irula tribal songs – R. Lakshmanan
2) Omens and Superstitions in Southern India - Edgar Thurston
3) Naali - A documentary film on the Irula tribe - R.Murugavel, R. Lakshmanan and Ashok
Link to my article in The New Indian Express :http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/4731591