With all the rains and people not able to get out of their houses, Karkitakam (or Aadi) ends up being a month full of many religious activities. As I said earlier, there are regular Ramayanam recitals and also Pujas for the Bhagavathi . Apart from this, most Kerala Iyer families perform Bhagavati Seva during Karkitakam, which is believed to be the highest form of worshipping Devi. The other festivals during Karkitakam are Aadi Amavasya (new moon day of the month of Karkitakam), Aadi Krithikai and Aadi Pooram, and Pathinettam Perukku.
Although pithru tharpanam is performed for our deceased ancestors on all new moon days, Aadi Amavasya is specially observed as the day for paying obeisance to the ancestors and taking their blessings. In Kerala especially, Vavu Bali or Vavubali Tharpanam is an important ritual in the month of Karkitakam. Though in the Kerala Iyer community only men perform the tharpanam, among the native Kerala Hindus both men and women participate in offering bali or tharpanam to the ancestors. Usually, it is performed at river banks or beaches or wherever there is a water body. Many people make a special visit to the important religious places like Thirunelli, Thirunavaya, Aluva, etc., to offer bali on Karkitaka Amavasya.
In Karnataka, Aashada Amavasya is observed as Bhimana Amavasya. On this day, married women worship for the well being of their husbands. I am told they even do Padapuja to their husbands. Aadi Krithikai is an important festival in the Lord Subramanya temples, which is celebrated on the day of the Krithika star in the month of Karkitakam. Aadi Pooram is celebrated in all the Devi temples and is believed to be the birthday of Devi. Pathinettam Perukku is the 18th day in the month of Aadi or Karkitakam and is a big festival day in Tamil Nadu, especially in the Cauvery Delta region. By the 18th of the month, there would have been heavy rains and the rivers would be overflowing the banks. People go out on picnic to the river banks and offer Pooja to Cauvery and enjoy the day with friends and relatives. In Kerala though, Iyers never took a picnic out, but had an elaborate lunch at home. As children, we used to write the Malayalam Aksharamala (alphabet) and sailed it in the overflowing water on this day. I don’t remember the significance of this. However, this is not celebrated in Karnataka, where the Cauvery originates.
Aadi Velli or the Fridays in the month of Karkitakam are especially dedicated to propitiate Devi Bhagavati. Special poojas are performed at home by the women folk. We used to have a Maa Vilakku or Pachai pooja on the Friday of the Karkitakam. Different families conducted this pooja on different Fridays. As it was not performed by my mother-in-law, I am not very sure of the rituals. I only remember that we used to decorate the pooja room with rangoli and neem leaves and red hibiscus flowers. Rice was pounded to fine powder and again pounded with jaggery to make sticky dough. Little lamps were made out of this dough into which ghee was added, the wick inserted and the lamps were lit. My echiyamma said some special prayers and offered the maavu (sweet dough) to Devi. Later this maavu was distributed among all the other ladies of the neighbor hood. This dough was very tasty, especially the portion in which the wick was lit (to us children who were unspoilt by candy, icecream and other junk food)
I remember an interesting anecdote about this Maa vilakku Pooja. This happened when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years of age. There was this Maa vilakku pooja in one of the neighbouring houses and they had sent the maavu home. My aunt was distributing the maavu to all children. My younger brother, who was 4 and my cousin who was 3 were not happy with the portion they got. They asked for more. My aunt said that it was all over. When these two kids insisted for having more, my aunt said, “You have to go to Sethuppa’s house, if you want more.” That was the house which was performing that pooja on that day. After sometime when we could not see the kids around, we started looking for them in the neighbourhood. Where should they be, but at Sethuppa’s house. Both were coming out with beaming faces and full of maavu in their hands. Sethumma (Sethuppa’s wife) said, “When I came out, I saw these two kids standing on our front steps. I asked them to come inside and enquired what they wanted. They said, ‘We wanted more maavu and amma said if we wanted more maavu we have to go to Sethuppa’s house. That’s why we are here.’” Sethumma was so overcome with joy that two kids should come to their house asking for maavu, she filled their hands with maavu and sent them home. Seeing the kids’ happy faces we all burst out laughing.