Today is 17/07/03. The dawn break was welcomed with heavy rainfalls than usual. Yes, today is the first day of holy month Karkidakam, as per Malayalam calendar and according to Kerala beliefs, customs and traditions, this month is significant by its own means. A year back, I mean, during last Karkidam I submitted an article here describing the significance of Karkidakom month and how is it related to life style and traditions of Kerala Hindus. I just want to continue the same topic adding a few details about strange customs associated with this auspicious month. If you are interested in reading the significance of this month, you can read that article. Link is provided below the article. Yet I would like to explain in brief what I have told there, to give a brief sketch in small notes.

A brief sketch of Karkidakom

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As per Malayalam calendar, Karkidakom is the last month and often seen as the dark month of a year, before Chingam (Shravan) month and Onam arrive next month with spring, prosperity and blossoms. Karkidakom starts with July 17th according to Gregorian calendar and ends with August 16th. August 17 is ‘Happy new year’ to Keralites. The month witness heavy rainfall, diseases associated with it, lost food crops in rain and flood and of course, poverty if a family solely depends on soil and agriculture to earn a living. For a common man, it’s the season of tears as heavy floods take away their crops and they can’t go out and get work due to heavy rains. It’s the season of illness and contagious diseases too. A century ago, when industries were not there, common man depended on land and soil a lot and hence the worries of Karkidakom were coined centuries back, according to the prevailing situations that existed long ago! Conditions and living status of people have changed. Yet, with firm traditions and beliefs in mind, good things are not done this month. All people wait for a month to do a business, start a construction, shift home or doing weddings. 

To get rid of black marks of Karkidakam and lesson its worries, people read Adhyathma Ramayanam at their homes, written by Thunchathu Ezhuthachan. Reciting Ramayana at homes everyday is regarded auspicious and hence this month is also known as ‘Ramayana Month’. In almost all temples, Adhyathma Ramayana will be recited. Let me extend it a bit more. It is also told that if you are able to visit the temples of all the four children of King Dasaradha in a single day, starting with dawn break and ending before noon, it’s believed that the devotee’s wishes come true. He should keep an order of visit too, starting from elder brother and ending with Shatrughnan and return back to Rama once again. This ritual is called Naalambala Darshanam (4 temple visit).

This month is special for Ayurvedic treatments, rest and medicinal Kanji. ‘Karkidaka Kanji’ is prepared using different types of grains and medicinal leaves. ‘Sukha Chikitsa’ is done for elephants of temples also, where they will be given special food and medicine. On the dark moon day (amavasi) of Karkidakam, people pay homage to their ancestors by giving vavu bali at temples or holy rivers. Special feast is prepared at home also. This day is believed to be the most powerful day of dead people and if we please them, they can grand us anything we wish – it’s a popular belief. Offering newly cut paddy to temples, known as Illam nira / Puthari Nellu is another custom related with this month. 

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I have given a brief idea of how this month is related to the tradition and culture of Kerala people, though a bit repetitive of my previous article on Ramayana Month. Now let me tell you a few strange customs associated with this month. 

Yesterday was Karkadaka Sankramam

Sankranti is the arrival of lazy Karkidakam. ‘Chetta’ – she is the symbol of poverty of Karkidakom month. ‘Shepothi’ is the symbol of prosperity and wealth that means – Goddess Lekshmi.

“Chetta po… Shepothi vaa” (Go Chetta, Shepothi come in) – The group of members of the family headed with the senior grandmother start rituals with this slogan. They chant it repeatedly to drive away the poverty out of their home, just one day before the month Karkidakom starts. So, last day of Malayalam month Mithunam (16th July) is Karkidaka Sankramam. Rituals are conducted in the evening.

First they take an old sieve that’s used to winnow grain at kitchen. Sieve that’s torn is normally preferred. Then, they place a few things in the sieve – cooked rice balls with three categories separately. Each set of coconut balls will be mixed with three things to get a particular colour - burned ashes of coconut shell to get black rice balls, turmeric powder to get yellow balls and chilli powder to get red balls. Those balls will be spread on the sieve. They also place red coloured water (made by mixing lime and turmeric) and a small pot near the sieve, along with a useless coconut stick broom. Then they light agarbatis on leaves and take the whole things inside the home at dusk. They go to each and every corner of the home and drag ‘Chetta’ out of the home. They sing the song ‘Chetta po… Shepothi vaa’ too. In some regions, the words uttered are, “Chetta bhagavathi purath, Sri Bhagavathi akath”. 
Next step is to circumambulate the whole home once. Then they go to some isolated corner of their court yard or useless place in their premises and throw away all those things. Then they go to nearby pond, bath and return home. Sometimes a single person may go and throw those useless things. If so, she alone can go and bath. Then a lamp will be lighted in the front of the home to show the presence of Lekshmi. In some regions, this custom is known as ‘Chettaye purathaakkal’ (Literal meaning - To get rid of Chetta).

From place to place, rituals may be bit different. In some places, Chetta is also called Jeshta. In several homes, still the practice of house and premises cleaning exist. In some places, instead of sieve, some old palm pot will be used to collect those things. In some regions, people place bamboo sticks, colocasia stem, cooked rice (till whole moisture content is absorbed), salt, chillies, whole turmeric, raw rice, Arrow root powder and charcoal will be placed. Though such customs are not common these days and look funny, there exist a few traditional homes in Kerala that still follow such strange customs. It is something like renovating old memories at least for a few people.   

First Friday is also special

Hindu ladies wear mehndi on the first Friday of Karkidakom. There is another ritual known as ‘Muppett’. It is a custom to eat a particular dish made of 10 types of leaves. Local names of those 10 leaves are – Thaalu (a type of colocasia), Thakara, Chemb (colocasia), elephant yam, cheera (spinach), peas, neyyunni grass, pumpkin, winter melon/white gourd, karikodi or thazhuthama. Leaves of these 10 plants are cooked together by adding salt and oil known as Upperi and should be eaten on first Friday of Karkkidakom without mentioning the names, that’s the strange custom.

Illam Nira

This tradition is centuries old and is done on Sunday just after amavasi of Karkidakam month. It is done to get prosperity and good harvest in farming. The farmer baths early in the morning and with wet clothes he goes to his paddy field. Then he picks a hand full of paddy grains and comes to his home, placing the paddy sheaves on his head. He recites a traditional song, ‘Nira Nira Poli Poli’. Then he hangs those paddy sheaves in the ceiling of his home here and there and those sheaves stay there for days.

Sheevothikku Vaikkal

This ritual starts from the first day of Karkkidakom month. It’s nothing but Sri Bhagavathi pooja, pooja given to Goddess. The goddess is worshipped with Dasapushpangal (10 auspicious flowers) and basil leaves. A mirror will be assumed as goddess and it will be worshipped from the first day of Karkidakom. Some people also place betel leaves, dress, Sindoor (vermilion), rice with husk, raw rice, sandal and aracanut as offerings. Worshipping goddess is the right of ladies of the home and hence done by women only. Women wear a type of vermilion known as Mukkutti Chaand. Chaand means vermilion.

In some regions this ritual is also known as Sepothi. Woman of the home takes an early bath in the dawn break every day. She takes water in a traditional kindi and goes to the veranda (front door of the home). Then she takes a tool and place basil leaves and bhasma in it and place the kindi near it. Then she lights a traditional Kerala lamp. Every day evening, she takes basil leaves and bhasma in a cover and places it somewhere in the ceiling of veranda. She continues the same process from Karkidakam 1 to 30.

Kaliyan and Kalichi

Similar to other strange customs, this custom also prevailed in peasant families who depend on agriculture for their living. Give to Kaliyan and drag Kalichi – these two processes are clinched together. Custom of Shepothi is also related to this custom. The last day of Mithunam month is dedicated for Kaliyan. This day is auspicious since it is ‘Dakshiyayana Sankrama’ day. This ritual is conducted in the evening beneath a jack tree under the light of lighted coconut leaves (choott). The direction is also very important. It should be in the southern side of home premises, near some small pond or natural water body.

Stem of banana leaf, thin sticks inside the leaflets of coconut leaf (Eerkkil in Malayalam), jack leaves, tender coconut leaves, arrow root seeds etc are used to make figures of cow shed, cattle like cow, ox and buffalo and models of agricultural equipments like ladder, sickle, spade and plough. Then all those models are placed beneath jackfruit tree. Rituals are conducted using turmeric water, charcoal mixed water, rice powder, cooked rice etc. They also place dishes made of seeds of jack fruit and mango beneath the tree.

Then the family as whole circumambulates the tree uttering words aloud,

“Kaliya Kaliya ….Koo Koo…..
Chakkem maangeim thannechu pone……koo
Aaleim Adiyarein thannechu pone….Koo
Aala nirachum pasukkale tharane…Koo”

The song literally means, ‘Hey Kaliya, when you go, give us back mango and jackfruit, give us back our people and fill our cowsheds with a lot of cattle’.
On the last day of Karkidakam month, the Sepothi packets (placed by house wife everyday in the ceiling of veranda) are taken and collected in a clay pot. Then the pot is thrown away in some unused place on the backside of homes. This custom is known as ‘Kalichiye Adichirakkal’ (Drag Kalichi). The symbol of miseries and poverty – Chetta bhagavathy is made enter those sepothi packets everyday and on the last day of Karkkidakam, those packets along with an old broom and sieve she is dumped into waste, to welcome prosperous Chingam the next dawn break! It’s just a preparation to welcome the New Year, leaving behind all unhappiness and miseries, according to folklore stories and beliefs.

Welcoming Kaliyan

In some regions of Kerala, particularly in Thrissur there is a custom known as ‘Kaliyanu kodukkal’ (Giving offerings to Kaliyan). A little preparation is needed for this custom. Uzhavu, Nukam, Kari, Moori, Chakram, Ethakotta (banana carrier), Eni (ladder), Padanna, Kaikott, Rice, Payasam, Choott (coconut leaves and other tender parts of coconut tree dried) are the commonly arranged things. These things are local things available in villages, used for farming. Models of these things are made of banana stem and jack tree leaves. Then using traditional methods, ox is made using jack tree leaves and cow shed (aala) using banana stem. In the evening, all these prepared objects are placed in a banana leaf and placed beneath a jack tree in the southern corner of the home. Only tip of the leaf is taken (Thumbila), similar to serve Kerala feast. Then Kaliyan will be welcomed at dusk, with Kerala traditional kindi and lighted dried coconut leaf bundles (choott). A person will be decorated as Kaliyan, and a group of people accompanies him. This ritual is held on Karkidakam 1st.

A few words before I conclude

Karkidakam month is regarded as the month of poverty and famine by Keralites from ancient times. That’s why there exists a proverb, “Karkkada masee Durkhada masee” (Karkkidakam month, bad month). It’s a time when harvesting of agricultural lands has already done and the reserved grains and tuber stock are almost finished. So, Karkidakam is also called, ‘Kalla Karkidakam’ (thief karkidakom). Poverty is always accompanied by many monsoon diseases also. Yet, these strange customs inspires man to forget those worries and welcome that ‘bad boy’ in a grand way! That’s the real essence behind these customs and rituals, nothing else!

During ancient times, agriculture was given first preference and customs and traditions of a region are deeply linked with farming, seasons etc. Now we live in a hi-tech world where innocence of villages and villagers has already started disappearing. Yet it was a time when hard work, rest and leisure games were deeply related with seasons, not only Karkidakam, Medam or Chingam. These customs are not easy to find nowadays. Yet they make us remember those lovely days of prosperity and wealth, when people gave much importance to nature, earth and its changing seasons!

Rains have just stopped as if taken a short break. I am sure Karkidakam will shower its blessings in the form of rain drops till Onam season begins next month. A few people may hate continuous rains a lot. But I enjoy Karkidakam rains and dark clouds of this season. Let me tell a truth. I too, have never witnessed anyone of these customs I have briefly explained above, it’s the truth! I know only about Illam nira conducted at temples. What does it mean?

Have these strange customs already disappeared??? 

Article link to read about Ramayana Month:

http://www.boddunan.com/articles/people-places/59-customs-and-culture/20236-do-you-know-the-significance-of-ramayana-month.html

Images have been taken from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vavu_Bali.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Ramayanam.pdf


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