Saturday, 14 March 2015

Revisiting the Shrine of Karamadai Ranganatha

The mothers of yesteryear Coimbatore had a strategy to feed their adamant little children by playfully threatening them that the Dasari ( Religious mendicant) of Karamadai Ranganathar Temple, who would visit every house in the locality with his huge Theepandham ( Flambeau), would whisk away the little ones, if they refused to eat food. Appropriately, the Dasari too would be seen frightening, clad in short drawers with strings of small bells tied to his wrists and ankles. Sporting a big Namam ( A Vaishnavite religious mark) on his forehead, he would look possessed, as he chanted Govindha Parak ! Govindha Parak !and danced in front of the house.
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 !

It may be noted that popular Tamil writer Perumal Murugan was hounded by the Hindutva and caste outfits, since he had said in his novel Madhorubhagan that childless women in Thiruchengode indulge in consensual sex at the Arthanareewarar Temple in order to get conceived . But, it is surprising to know that the same practice was said to be in vogue at Karamadai Ranganathar temple too, as noted anthropologist and ethnographer Edgar Thurston recorded on pages 147 and 148 of his book Omens and Superstitions in Southern India thus:
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 :

1 comment:

  1. I have seen the dasaris in coimbatore residential streets and collecting kanikkai. I too wondered at the first first sight of them. Now i come to understand they are dasaris. Thank you.