Thursday, April 4, 2013

Neeleswaram: Chaliya Porattu

Away from the fast pace life is the serene ambiance of Neeleswaram, Kasargod. At the northern most periphery of Kerala the town is named after Neelakanda, Lord Siva. In this palm fringed land of paddy fields, laterite hills and Theyyams there is a palpable peace. And as if to tell what she is Neeleswaram has a literal forest right in the middle of the town, the Mannanpurathu Kavu. An ancient Sacred Grove spread over several acres, with a picture perfect pond lined with laterite. Here people can be seen taking rest inside the cool shades of the thick forests. Most of it is wild, no one disturbs, save stray animals.

Basically a Hindu town, with some acculturate Muslims, it is a simple unassuming people here. The only Christian community presence, harbingers of 'development', in the region is in the hills towards the Karnataka borders where settlers have made a Kottayam complete with the values and life styles.  The gigantic trees in many of the Kavus, Sacred Groves, here point to the ecosystem in olden days. Presently it is laterite hills all over and the laterite is profusely used in buildings, the temples, houses, all, and the ponds made of laterite in the region show great craftsmanship. Sandwiched between the forest hills of Kodagu, South Kanara and the seas Kasargod has its rare charm. May be the region underwent lateritization, through wrong interventions, in what was once a rain forest ecosystem. And there is a general decadence though, perhaps due to the break up of the traditional agrarian economy.        

And it is here that the Chaliya Porattu festival takes place. It is a privilege of the Chaliya community, who can abuse anyone that day, including the gods. Poratu, a kind of  fancy dress parade, has its customary criticism of all. No one objects. Poratu starts at the Chaliya community Goddess temple. The Padma Saliyas, now called Chaliyas, are traditional weavers. Industrial production has weakened them is obvious but they are catching up.  And the Porattu is staged in between the Siva temple and the Goddess temple, street plays that the community members enact could be the oldest dramas in the land.

It is not religious in the normal sense, they dress up in great variety, use a language what could be termed immoral at other temples, are free to ridicule any community or people on this occasion. The God himself is ridiculed as of no use. Coming in front of the temple, at times drunk, and chiding is not seen elsewhere. It also has a taste of the famous Bharani festival at Kodugalloor, though the language is much less hard. The sexual overtones make the womenfolk blush, men jeer.  No sins here, no satvic pretensions. They all celebrate the no hold barred attitude for a day.    

They appear one after other, the hardy Muslim butcher with the goat; the money lusty Kongini Brahmins; always dancing, scantily clad white woman; the ever complaining potter’s wife; the khakhi clad policeman; the range is quite exhaustive. It is a big crowd that assembles and this includes the local heavy weights like the olden day rajas, nobility, all of whom get attacked. The woman balloon seller comes and complains that someone helped fill air in the balloon, and then pumped in and filled her too, now she is herself a balloon and not able to walk. She is dressed miserably pregnant.

Another batch of youth, dressed as fashionable girls, displays their under bellies, also carry placards that say ‘wear your sarees to cover the under belly, not display it, or expose and  enjoy, then don’t shout peedanam’.  The Muslim butcher is asked by the dhoti clad Kongini Brahmins to get out ‘Edo Maple, Erangu Porathu,  Ithu Ngade Kovilu’, to get out from the temple premises, and the Moplah, Muslim, is pretty furious and tells ‘ 'Edo Kongini Pattare, Rahasyamayi Pothirachy Thinna Karyam Nammalu Vilichu Parayum, Mundandiri Avide’ That is, you Kongini Pattar, I will shout about your secret beef eating habits, or shut up’. So on the Poratu goes, what makes one think of obvious parallels in real life, and it is a time of merry making, fun and gaiety.

It is a faith of another kind, not ostracism and denials. It tells one about the play of life, the actors are all there, recreated. And no wonder the place has a strong presence of Communists, whose religiosity is quite secular and popular, they drink and eat meat and the local deities are many of them similar in habits. Though the major temples are all mostly Satvic. How often  the temples here see fights, one group representing the satvic model and the other rajasic, the Poratu is from the latter school. In a sense it is a Hindutwa versus Communist Hindu tussle that. They don't seem to fight here at Neelewswaram, may be afraid that it will sound like another Porattu. Time they honor each other, be at peace, both are needed. This land of Theyyams, it seems, refuses to be tamed, they have their weird ways that do not fit in to the conventional Hindu paradigms of faith. Or that of other religions. And that perhaps retains the easy going nature friendly culture here, also the ecosystem, unlike elsewhere in Kerala.

The lone white woman with colored hair, exposed thighs and a smattering of English has an urge for too much love, as she says, and is always carrying a hand held fan, its too hot she says. When another group comes with a lawn mower and offers free service, to clear the over grown under growth if any, as they announce. What else can one do but laugh, when the elite women blush, older women smile showing the toothless gums. Poratu is mischievous and as of now no moral police have come to take action, only the fake police is there, hope it goes on, what is life without some fun. And an occasional mix up happens when some of them, having had one drink too many, enacts their own Porattu. Others explain, that is Porattu alright, but not Chaliya Porattu.  But close near there are old palaces now in ruins, which point to the historic changes, post-colonial disregard to heritage. Neeleswaram was the seat of a small kingdom, from the many in Kolathunadu of north Kerala, what was one from the federal structure of the western coast till the arrival of the Muslim invaders, like Hyder Ali of Mysore and the Europeans. But the ruling values and royalty fairly retained positions till the British period, general decay affecting all institutions later. And the Porattu continues unaffected.

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