Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Kongu Temple Dancers

Decades ago in the Kongu region, members of the intermediate Kongu Vellalar community had great 'respect' and 'affection' for certain girls hailing from other different communities. With such a girl submitting her entire life to the service of the God, the Kongu Vellalars treated her even as the eldest of all children in their families. It was once a tradition in the Kongu Vellalar clans to select the beautiful girls and dedicate them to the temples of their family deities. And such good-looking girls, being called as 'Kulamaanikis' ( The gems of the clan), would also be good at singing and dancing, by which they 'entertained' the 'devotees' in the temples on auspicious occasions.

As the members of a particular clan in the community gathered in a temple, the girl, who was selected after her beauty and artistic talents, would be brought to the shrine in a grand procession along with her kin and conferred on the title 'Kulamaanikki'. She would also be presented new clothes, exquisite ornaments and plenty of agricultural lands on the occasion. Though the girl was not supposed to marry anyone, she would be presented the 'Mangala Naan' ( Sacred wedding necklace) symbolizing that she was getting married to the God !

The copper plates discovered in various parts of the Kongu region, which are still preserved, mention the girls as 'Kulamaanikis', though were generally called ' Thevaradiyar' ( Servants of the God).

A palm leaf manuscript, which is preserved at the Perur Mutt, informs that members of the Kongu Vellalar clan 'Andhuvan Kulam' assembled at their family deity's temple 'Aathanur Amman Koyil' and appointed a girl by name 'Nagamalai' as their 'Kulamaanikki'

Similarly, the members of 'Sengunni Kulam' celebrated an occasion at their family deity's shrine Karia Kaliamman Koyil by inducting the girl 'Aththipenn', the grand daughter of Morur Ezhukarainaattu Chithiramezhipattan, as their Kulamaanikki.

In the same manner, another girl by name 'Nalla Penn' was made a Kulamaanikki of Thooran Kulam, while its members from various places came together at the shrine of their family deity Ponkaliamman Koyil in Kumaralingam.

As observed from such historical documents, the temple dancers once enjoyed high privileges given by kings and landlords.

At a time, when priests cry foul at the Supreme Court's question on the practice of barring women in Sabarimala's Ayyappan Temple, it is surprising to know the freedom enjoyed by the temple dancers in the Thirumuruganadheeswarar Temple at Thirumurugan Poondi.

A 13th century inscription found in the shrine has recorded that the Thevaradiyars were provided the right of entering even the sanctum santorum of the shrine!

Nevertheless, Francis Buchanan, who visited Coimbatore following the death of Tipu Sultan, has written in his book A Journey from Madras through Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar that most Brahmins in Coimbatore had the Thevaradiyars of the Perur Patteeswarar Temple as their mistresses.

Source: 1) Kongu Kula Makalir – Pulavar Se. Rasu

      1. Kovai Maavatta Kalvettukkal – M.Ganesan and R.Jegadeesan
      2. Ki.Pi. 1800 il Kongunadu – Pulavar Se. Rasu and Idaipadi Amudhan 

        Link to my article in The New Indian Express: 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Jumbos' Home is the Jungle

Unlike human beings of a country, elephants look little different from one another in the eyes of common people. Despite the surprise of coming across temple elephants bearing names of human beings like Janaki and Kalyani, the general public refer to them just as Koyil Yaanaikal. With many of us are caught in the illusion that the home of such poor pachyderms is a temple, or sometimes a rejuvenation camp, we have forgotten that the jumbos' home is the jungle. At a time, when the modern man complains of wild elephants wreaking havoc on 'human habitations', it is an irony that only such 'human habitations' are causing havoc to the jumbos by blocking their natural corridors !

Nevertheless, the history of man's interference with wild elephants by hunting and taming them dates back to several hundred years.

With the forests of the Chera kingdom comprising the Kongu region being rich in elephant population, poet Arisil Kizhar, in his 77th song of Pathitru Paththu, a Sangam period work, compares the Chera king's elephant army to a large herd of the cattle owned by the Kongars ( Natives of the ancient Kongunadu). Describing the scene of a battle,the bard points out that the angry elephants attacked even the shadows of the predatory birds flying high.

On the other hand, the Chola kings, whose country had few forests, desired to possess such elephant armies. And one such king had ordered a chieftain by name Ezhini to capture a great number of jumbos from the woods of the Chera country and bring them to him. But, with Ezhini disobeying his orders, the king got his teeth extracted and embedded them on his strong fort door as sign of victory!.

Megasthenes,a Greek historian and diplomat, in his book Indica, has documented how the hunters in India caught the wild male elephants by luring them using their tamed female ones. They first housed the female elephants in the Kedah ( A large pit used to trap wild elephants) in order to attract the wild male jumbos that roamed in the woods at night. And once a wild elephant fell into the Kedah, the hunters made a tamed elephant pull the wild one out and fight with it until the latter got exhausted. Then they chained the wild one's legs and fastened its neck with a strong belt containing holes, into which the hunters drove sharp nails. Hence, the animal, unable to bear the pain, would not move its head to throw away the mahout seated on its back. Further, keeping the animal hungry for a certain period, they tamed it gradually by feeding it in green leaves and grass.

And it is agonizing to see such a strong, brave animal, having become a temple elephant, is seen 'playing' mouth organ to fascinate the viewers at the annual rejuvenation camp in Thekkampatti near Mettupalayam !

1) Pathitru Paththu – A collection of Sangam lyrics in praise of Chera kings
2)Pathitru Paththu, Ainkurunooru – Sila Avathaanippukal – By Raj Gowthaman 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express: