Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aaniyum Aadium)

In Kerala the monsoon stretches on and on. It starts with the south-west monsoon during Edavapathi and moves on to become Thulavarsham during the north-east monsoon. The old timers say there is a difference in the way it rains during the two monsoons. The Edavapathi moves on to the months of Mithunam and Karkitakam (Aani and Aadi) which are wetter. And Karkitakam is the month when the rain never seems to stop. The skies are always a sinister dark and there could be a cloud burst at any moment. Karkitakam is a very difficult month in Kerala, especially for the daily wage earners as there would be no work for them due to incessant rains. There won’t be much to eat either as the reserve food would have been consumed by the start of Karkitakam. Hence the month is aptly called Kalla Karkitakam or the evil month.

Though it is called Kalla Karkitakam, a lot of preparation goes into welcoming Karkitakam. People start preparing for the month well in advance. In the summer, we would hang gourds like pumpkin, ashgourd, vellari (it is called calabash, I think) from hooks from the ceiling for use in Karkitakam, since there would be no vegetables available during the month of Karkitakam itself thanks to the non-stop rains. This was especially so in the olden days when people had to make do with local produce. The mud roads would get cut off very often due to heavy rains making it impossible to bring anything from nearby villages also. The womenfolk would have made sun dried wafers and vegetables in the summer for use in Karkitakam. And there were of course some mangoes and jackfruits still coming in. And the jackfruit seeds! The children loved it, For some reason, the elders were not very fond of them.

The whole house was given a good cleaning and no nook or corner was spared. Even the ceilings were cleaned to make sure that there were no insects or reptiles that would have made the cool interiors their home during the hot summer. The insides of the houses would always be dark during these months making it difficult to spot such creatures. Hence the thorough cleaning. Most houses had a tiled roof and there were always some dried leaves and other junk accumulated on them during the summer months, which if not cleared would hold the rain water which would start seeping into the house.
The day before the Karkitaka Sankranthi (1st of Karkitakam, around 15th July, 16th July in 2008) there is a ritual of driving out the evil spirit of Jyeshta and welcoming in the benign Sreebhagavathy (The Godess of Prosperity). The house is cleaned with a broom and a muram (a dustpan made of bamboo) and the trash is thrown out with chants of “Chetta purathu, Sreedevi Akathu,” which meant, let us drive out Jyeshta (the evil spirits) and welcome Sreedevi.

Girls and women wear marudhani (mehndi) in their hands and feet. It was not only a beautification, marudhani protected the feet from worm infections that were common during the monsoon, we all walked barefoot back then.

The first day of Karkitakam also happens to be the beginning of Dakshinayanam, the day when the sun starts its southward movement. On this day, Sankaramana Tharpanam is offered to the pitrus, seeking their blessings. Thereafter Sreebhagavathy is invocated and installed in the puja room on a decorated plank or low stool, by lighting a lamp. A religious book like the Bhagavatham or Ramayanam is kept on the plank along with a valkannadi(mirror), betel leaves and nuts, turmeric and kumkum, flowers and a glass of water. The betel leaves and nuts and flowers and water are changed everyday throughout the month. Puja is offered everyday seeking protection from the ill effects of continuous rains and praying for prosperity in the following months.

A lot of religious activities go on during the month of Karkitakam seeking the blessings of Gods. In Kerala, the month is also known as Ramayana Masam as people read the Ramayana in this month. Usually it is a community activity with the neighbours congregating at one house in the evenings and reading the holy book after lighting the lamp. .Nowadays, the Ramayanam reading is arranged in the temples where people congregate.

Happy Ramayana Maasam to all readers.


Latha said...

another refreshing post on yester-year traditions, maami! this sounds very similar to western world's 'spring cleaning'. Alas not many of us follow such traditions anymore but i see even elderly people merrily managing their lawns and cleaning their homes when the sun is out, here in Germany.

Jennifer said...

Very creatively written post. Now I know where the traditions of mehendi started. These things are fascinating! Thank you.

KALVA said...

Lovely post dear

Ravi said...

Hello aunty, I jumped here thru' Indira's (of Mahanandi) blog a few months ago and wondered how I missed this splendid stuff all this while. I am a big sucker for old facts and traditions and your blog is a great feeder for me. Thanks thanks thanks! Yours is just like an encyclopedia. I am sure (but sincerely hope it doesnt happen) the future generation would cease to experience all these and then your writing would be a treasure trove. If you get a chance please do visit another of my fav blogs - I am sure you would enjoy those posts as well. It is your blog and that of Prabhu's which I wish I could make them into a book. Thanks again for your lovely blog.

Jyothsna said...

After reading this, it makes sense why we do or don't do certain things as you've mentioned during the karkitamasam. WE've only blindly followed a lot of customs and traditions without understanding the real meaning behind them. Thankyou for this wonderful post.

renuramanath said...

hi maami,

that was a beautiful post. but this year, the rains have eluded kerala and the karkidakom seems to be as dry as november ! of couse there were occasional showers, so it is green all around, but no trace of the torrential showers you've recalled.

and, karkidaka samkranthi is hardly observed these days. youngsters may not even know what it's all about. besides applying mailanchi (henna) on hands and feet, girls also used to wear a 'pottu' (bindi) with the juice of a small plant called 'mukkutti' in this month. this same herb was also worn on the hair. when i was in school, girls would appear wearing a whole shrubbery in their hairs this season !

however, there's an increased interest in the 'Ramayana Masam' observances, which I don't remember from my childhood. It is, of couse, part of the newly revived religious industry and a lot of sound pollution due to that !

Ammupatti said...

Hi Latha

It is always the older generation that cling to the tradition. This will continue. Today's generation also would practice their traditions when they get older and the then young generation would say the same thing.

Best wishes

Ammupatti said...

Thank you Jennifer

Ammupatti said...

Thank you Kalva

Ammupatti said...

Hi Ravi

I am glad you like my blog. Thanks also for directing me to Mr.Prabhu's blog. He has a wonderful blog there and I enjoyed reading it.

Best wishes

Ammupatti said...

Thanks Jyosthana

Ammupatti said...

Hi Renu

It is very long since I saw a comment from you. Thanks.

I see from the TV news that on Karkitakam 1, Kerala did receive heavy rains.

Yes, I do remember wearing pottu with Mukkuti juice.

I also remember we used to take the juice of three types of leaves and wear pottu with it. Do you know more about it?

Best wishes

peearkay said...

Just missed this piece due to shifitng from mumbai,new job,internet connection problems etc etc.
There is one more interesting thing attached to karkidakam.
This month on those days was called panja masam(scarsity month).
Hence it was tradition in colleges not to levy any fees on this month.
Hence we have to pay only 8 installments ie june,july,sept,oct nov,dec,jan ,feb.(I exactly dont remember if it is july or august is exempted.)Most of the parents who might not know the college rules dont know about this.Even though the fees was only Rs 15 it was abig pocket money for a month on those days.Hence my friends used to collect fees for this exempted month also from their families for added pocket money.( i never did this nor my brothers )

Ammupatti said...

Hi Peearkay

That is an interesting piece of information.I never knew this since I did not go to college in Kerala.

Best wishes

Raji Chandran said...

please clarify elder people asked to avoid drumstick leaves in karkadakamasam.