Summer is well and truly here! Soaring temperatures are touching 40 degree Celsius, somewhat unusual in April.
We were invited by friends to a gala village event in the village of Pudhupatti near Namagiripettai in Rasipuram taluk, Namakkal district.
A lovely farming village, Pudhupatti also called R. Pudhupatti, has a very popular temple for the goddess Mariamman.
Pandigai is a common Tamil name for festival and today’s festivities centered on the temple chariot.
Village Deities of Tamil Nadu
The magnificent temples of Tamil Nadu are mostly Siva and Vishnu temples. There is another category of gods and goddesses whose temples are predominant in the villages. These are the village deities called as Grama Devata and their temples may be seen in every Tamil Nadu village and town. The Grama Devata is periodically worshiped and propitiated. Village people fear the wrath of these deities but generally they are benevolent divine beings.
The villages are essentially farming communities and so the Tamil Nadu countryside is dotted with shrines to these gods.
The village deities are the guardians, the healers and the ever present help that every little village and town has. They have a major role to play in the day to day life of the people and protect them from the countless ills, afflictions and pains of everyday village life.
When calamity overtakes the village, when pestilence or famine or cattle disease makes its appearance, it is to the village deity that the whole body of villagers turn to for protection – Right Reverend Henry Whitehead in The Village Gods of South India.
These gods are called as Ayyanar, Muniappan, Mariamman, Angalamman, Pidari, Karuppana swamy, Periasami and so on.
Mariamma is the commonest of them all. Her function is to bring rain and ward off and cure small pox, chicken pox, measles and rashes.
Thuluka Soodamani Amman temple in Pudhupatti
The temple of Thuluka soodamani amman in Pudhupatti is one such village temple for Mariamman.
The mid-day journey to Pudhupatti in the scorching sun wasn’t so pleasant even in an air- conditioned car. But once we neared the temple it was a different matter altogether. No one seemed to care about the hot summer sun, and the air of celebration was catching! Folks were dressed in their best, the endless festival shops sold everything under the sun – literally!
The whole place was action packed, with the temple as the center of all the festivities. In the courtyard of the temple women were busy with a ritual called Pongal Vaikiradhu which involved cooking the sweet rice dish named pongal in earthen or metal pots on an impromptu stove made of three large stones and some kindling or firewood. The cooked pongal was offered to the goddess on banana leaf lined brass plates and taken as prasad. By the roadside a family gave glasses of koozh, a rice and ragi(finger millet) porridge to all. There were free buttermilk stalls with big pots of cold buttermilk. A makeshift shelter was the venue of Annadaanam where people could eat tasty meals absolutely free.There were stalls where you could have tattoos made for Rs. 15.
The temple itself was crowded but we had a good darshan of goddess Mariamman. As I said, her name is Thuluka Soodamani amman. Long ago, the armies of the Nawab are thought to have camped in this region and the goddess blessed the Muslim commander and his men.Hence the unusual name.
The temple is famous for cures relating to skin ailments and vision problems. Therefore people with skin and eye maladies come from afar to offer prayers to the goddess.
Outside the temple the Ther (chariot) was all decked up and ready to go. As usual the villagers joined together and pulled the beautiful Ther.
Behind the ther, I saw something very unusual.
Men and women, wearing garlands of flowers indicative of their vows and holding bunches of neem leaves sat in two rows on the paved street in the hot sun. People brought pots of water which they poured on them, the drenching with cool water being necessary to offset the effects of the noonday sun. When the ther with the idol of Mariamman started to move, they lay on the ground and rolled along behind the ther with hands folded in supplication above their heads.
This ritual is called as Angapradakshanam and it is done for answered prayers, usually within the precincts of the temple around the main shrine.
For the first time I saw it being done on a hot paved street and following the ther.
Such devotion is a humbling experience and I felt respect and admiration for all the men, women and children who kept their vows that day. It was a personal interaction between each of the participants and the mother goddess.
Taking part in these rituals involves a period of fasting prior to the festival. It usually means a single meal a day at noon or in the evening and strict abstinence from meat, taking liquor or smoking. It is a purification that conditions the body to the rigorous process of Angapradakshinam.
Rituals like these have been followed by the villagers traditionally and vary from village to village and from temple to temple. For instance, in Pudhupatti village, our friends said that it was the custom that no palagaram (Tamil for sweetmeats) that required deep frying in oil may be made for the duration of the Pandigai (festival) which usually lasted for two weeks.
Photos of the festival.
WHERE IT IS
The temple is 5 km from Namagiripettai near Rasipuram.
The distance from Salem is 43 km ,roughly an hour’s drive.
The route from Salem is Salem- Rasipuram – Namagiripettai- R. Pudhupatti.
Is there a festival in your village or town? If so,do share your views.