Onattukara desham consists some of the major areas of Karthikapalli and Mavelikkara Taluks. This desham (province) is blessed with the diversity of traditional ritualistic art forms. Of the many art forms ‘Kuthiyottam’ is the most significant one with its ritualistic popularity and traditional observances. Kuthiyottam which is performed once in a year in Bhadrakali temples is distinguished as a dance-music art form. Devotees offer ‘Kuthiyottam’ as a vazhipadu for wish and desire fulfilment (Ishta siddhi and Agraha sabhalyam). There are many legends about the origin of ‘Kuthiyottam’. Hasalya Mahatmyam( ‘The greatness of Madhura’, Tamil text) narrates the following story about the origin of ‘Kuthiyottam’.
A great King who ruled centuries back was lecherous. He used the women in his Kingdom to satisfy his carnal desirers. His subjects were unable to speak against this or prevent him from the immoral ways. The only recourse was to pray the God and seek help which the people did devotedly. At that time a great saint visited the kingdom and the subjects narrated their plight. As a remedy the saint advised the people a song with 4 padams ( Padam is a musical monologue which resembles a kirtana in structure and propagates the sentiment of love for God through the innumerable aspects). The song has to be sung at dusk in front of Nilavilakku and Nirapara with appropriate steps and movements to appease Goddess Bhadra kali. The Kuthiyottam we see and perform today is the structured form of 4 padams with suitable steps.
Another story is that after the killing of ‘Darika’ (Asura or demon) the Goddess Bhadrakali was angry and agitated, she was in her fierce form. To calm her, father Lord Siva created two children from the dirt of his body and keeps them with Bhadrakali. After that Lord Shiva dances at ‘Kailasam’ and todays’ ‘Kuthiyottam’ is reminiscent of Siva’s this feat.
Quite different from the above legends/stories, one of the ‘Kuthiyottam’ songs narrates another story. A king who was an ardent devotee of ‘Bhadrakali’ performed Tapas (meditation and religious austerity through denouncing all worldly pleasures) to appease her. The satisfied ‘Bhadrakali’ appeared before him and enquired about his wish to be fulfilled or boon needed. The King asked for a perpetual prosperity, freedom from all sorrows, ailments and diseases for his subjects. On hearing the wish of the King, Goddess Bhadrakali advised the King to get a perfect male child from someone in the Kingdom. She also advised to educate the child in Vedas (ancient scriptures) and Sasthras (sacred scriptures) and when the boy attains the age of 10, sacrifice the child to her for the King’s wish fulfilment.
To fulfil the recommendations /order of the Goddess Bhadrakali the King had organised a ritualistic practice and todays ‘Kuthiyottam’ is derived from this event. To support this story there is a ‘Kuthiyottam’ song which is still popular among performers. During the practice sessions at Valiyakulangara Temple this song is sung in a high pitched voice accompanied by the most ideal steps adding excellence to this music-dance form.
The offerings are Otta Kuthiyottam and Iratta kuthiyottam selected by the person who offers vazhipadu depending upon his wishes. Though there is no difference between Otta and Iratta Kuthiyottam in the ritualistic tradition, the only noticeable difference is the threading and removal of the bamboo slices (chooral muriyuka); by one child in Otta and two children in Iratta.
Kuthiyotta Vazhipadu can be done only on the Malayalam star Aswathy day of the month of ‘Kumbham’ (it is also Chettikulangara Bharani festival day). The eldest of the family of the houses who intends to do the vazhipadu start preparations early before Shivarathri (Thiruvonam) itself. After seeking permissions from Valiyakulangara Amma, the prominent Kuthiyotta guru (traditional teacher) is consulted with giving him dakshina (tradition of giving money along with Betel leaves and areca nut, sometimes other objects too). The Ashan (guru, teacher) gives advice for the right preparations. Before the start of the ritualistic practices the devotee and his family should appease the family deities, serpent Gods and forefathers by performing suitable vazhipadu.
Kuthiyotta balanmar (The children who perform Kuthiyottam)
The child /children should be devotees’ own or blood related, without any diseases or deformities and between the ages of 5 and 12. Other children are adopted only if ones’ own or close related ones are not available. The children who had performed (the ritualistic practice of threading and removing bamboo slices called ‘chooral muriyuka’) before are not considered again.
After getting/selecting the children, the devotee with his family, Gurus and others visit the Valiyakulangara temple on the Sivarathri day and offer prayers. The children are garlanded, Dakshina is offered to Devi and the group proceed to the Vazhipadu Bhavanam (the house of the devotee who offers the Kuthiyottam). The children are to be stayed in this house till the completion of the ‘Kuthiyottam’ vazhipadu.
At dusk on Sivarathri day the children are taught the steps at the specially erected shed and mandapam (temple porch). It takes four days (till ‘revathi’ day) to teach the steps of the first to the fourth ‘padam’. The step practice sessions are filled by the ‘nadaswaram’ (classical wind instrument) which supports the elders for ‘1 to 7 padam’ songs & steps , sounds of other musical instruments and Vay’kurava of women ( (women producing a peculiar rhythmic high pitched sound by partly covering their mouth with hands , reserved for auspicious occasions).
Kuthiyotta Bhavanagal (The houses which offer Kuthiyottam vazhipadu)
From Sivarathri day till Aswathy day, these houses will have to provide food and drinks sumptuously for the performing group and the guests. Even the dissatisfaction of a single person can lead to render the ‘vazhipadu’ ineffective, it is strongly believed. On the day of ‘revathy’ just before going to Kuthira chodu (under the horse) the desa sadya (village feast) with all traditional delicacies is enjoyed and is admired by all. The poliv pattu ( Poliv song) is also sung on the day and all the spectators offering Poliv (rice /paddy in a plate with a lighted oil lamp) as a tradition.
Chooral Muriyal (threading of thin bamboo slices)
The children who start practicing from the day of Shivarathri get skilled to do the step on their own on by the Aswathy day. On Aswathy day the children gets up early (Brahma muhurta - auspicious for waking up in the morning, the time between 04:24 A.M. to 05:11 A.M. ) , bathes and put on ‘chutti’ (make up on face). They use loin cloth and steamed plantain leaves (vattiya vazha ila) to cover themselves on the waist up to the knee. This is because of the belief of not to have ones’ own mothers’ sight on the body of the child. If this happens it defies death of the child and the ‘bali’ (the death rituals) cannot be done. During Mahabharata war the King Duryodana comes wet and naked to see his mother, covering only his waist with a plantain leaf. Mother Gandhari who always blindfolds (a symbol of Pathivrathya, as her husband was blind) removes her blindfolds and sees Duryodhana. But for the covered waist portion mother Gandhari sees the whole body of Duryodana through her naked eyes. The covered portion which was not seen by the mother (where the light of the eyes of Gandhari does not reach) becomes the ‘marma’ (hidden or secret) and vulnerable portion of Duryodana’s body. When all fails the powerful Bhima had to strike the blunt mace on this body region to kill him in the war. By wearing Vazhayila (Plantain leaf) Duryodana became vulnerable and became ‘Bali’ (victim , dead). Because of this, for the ‘Bali’ rituals steamed plantain leaves are worn. Here, for ‘Kuthiyottam’ after wearing Vazhayila, the children are given make up starting from Chutti. Followed by Kinnari, Thoppi, Kalthala, Kaithala, Kingini , Thechi (chethi) flower garland, hat and a knife with a ripe fruit of areca nut stuck on, etc. This knife with ripe areca nut fruit ( pazhutha adkka) above head is to protect their lives till they reach the Devi’s presence. It is believed that areca nut tree is Brahmas boon to the people and by doing so nothing will happen to the lives of the children as this ward off all evil forces. When they reach the temple in front of the Devi the Knife with areca nut which is held is removed. Then the lives of the children are submitted to their favourite deity Valiyakulangara Devi, it is assumed.
After the makeup and other preparations of the children, they carry out the traditional practice of ‘dakshina’ and permissions from elders and then proceed to the temple accompanied by traditional orchestra and other paraphernalia. The ‘vazhi thalam steps’ (special steps on the way during the procession) is the speciality of Valiyakulangara gurus. After reaching the temple edifice the children are made to sit facing Devi and the function of ‘Chooral muriyuka’ is performed (Olden times the strips of bamboo is shred and sliced as strands to thread on the hips, but nowadays golden and silver threads are used symbolically to do the ‘Bali’ karma) . The children with threaded bamboo on both sides of the hips, steps rhythmically to the music and goes around the temple three times. The devotee who offers the ‘Kuthiyottam’ vazhipadu removes the bamboo threads worn on the hips of the children while they stand in front of the Devi after the three circumambulations and offers it to Devi. With this the procedures for Kuthiyottam is completed.
The name ‘Kuthiyottam’ could have derived from the practice of using bamboo threads (chooral kuthiyittu) and the circumambulation of the temple.
“Kuthiyoduka, Kuthiyottam” Mahadevi kadu custom
Kuthiyottam is the most important and expensive ‘Vazhipadu’ of the Mahadevi kadu Valiyakulangara temple. The material cost for this function is comparatively less compared to Chettikulangara temple. Though there are certain lapses from the prescribed traditions, the procedures and functions of Kuthiyottam at Valiya kulangara is within the financial strength of the devotee and fulfils its purpose. The tradition of ‘chooral muriyal’ and removing facing Sree kovil (sanctum sanctorum) is a custom seen only here. Linked to this unique function a song is also sung here (the first padam in a high pitch). There are noticeable differences in the songs, music, rhythm and literature of Valiyakulangara temple from other temples. There are many acharyas (gurus, teachers, exponents) who are the regions’ pride in keeping the tradition and novelty of the art form in its songs, steps, music, rhythms, etc. It is impertinent to conclude this write up without mentioning the names of the great acharyas who have splendidly contributed for this tradition. Vaka sthanathu Kesava Pillai , Pokkattu Kizhkethil Kunju Nair and Thattasseril Janardanan Nair –All have contributed immensely to the Kuthiyottam literature. The notable others who were influential in spreading the roots of the traditional Mahadevi kadu Kuthiyottam are Kaimoottil Krishna panicker who was the chief among singers with his beautiful voice , Alammoottil Kuttappan Nair, Paroor parambil Govinda panicker, Vasudeva Kaimal and step experts (Chavittasan) Manchuvattil Kesavan Nair, Parameswaran Nair and Muzhuppayil Neelakandan Nair.
Courtesy of this page
Jaya Prasad, the writer of this article is News producer at ‘Janam’ Mallayalam TV channel