Born and brought up in a village, we, as children, too used to participate in the Saasthapreethi and Sreeram Navami festivals along with our parents. These festivities were conducted in the nearby spacious Samooha Madom with pomp of that time order and we used to enjoy the time, as a full day is taken to complete the show. This being during a short holiday after the quarterly exam and annual exam, our parents used to give full freedom to play outside the houses. Our house had a sprawling ground like opening and everyone of my friends of my class and even seniors whom we call as captains, and juniors whom we call as helpers(as they were kept at the boundaries of the ground to pick up the tennis ball and to help us in fetching water from the well). At regular intervals we call them in our team to keep them happy.
On the previous day of the festival, the Madam is swept well in and out, and washed with cow dung water. All the servant maids working in the nearby houses used to take the cow dung from the houses, as almost every household had cows. After the surface got dried up, Anna Maami, our family friend and a very erudite grand old lady, comes with a pot containing Karacha Maavu to draw the kolam. The Main Kolam was her prerogative in the Madam. Everyone used to like her especially children as she tells stories in the evening with all gathering and sitting on the” granite medai” under the spread out Banyan tree near the Madam. Her fingers were so flexible in the art of “freehand “,drawing out the pictures of various animals and birds with the kola maavoo without a drop of it spreading anywhere on it. She used to finish the major areas in a jiffy while others used to struggle in completing the dots and lines patterns.
The Sasthapreethi festival starts from early morning after an enormous preparation for a pooja for the Deity in the Madam. Everyone used to bring “kottai niraya poo”, Thengaai, Pazham,vettali and all other sundries,all grown in their houses(see the happiness in our hearts that all God given items are given back to God without spending a single paisa). There were a group of parents who were singers, play harmonium and ganjira along with the gimbals. The bhajan and all the songs related to all the manifestations were sung by them as well as by few mothers. Some used to go in full steam and get stuck halfway and others help in finishing it some or other with “keech kural”.
While the gods were made to be pleased with songs and sound, the important part takes place in the kitchen. The Nivedhyam. The chef inside the kitchen was Mahadeva Mama and his assistants. They make the sweet kadalai sundal, appam, Ney paayasam, and uppu paruppu sundal with all the ingredients. The aroma emanated from that smoke laden kitchen was really something to cherish and make all the heads turn towards that direction, not even sparing the singers, who were totally engrossed with god, for a while. The bhajans and singing would take a very long time to finish and we children will be so hungry and most of us would have fell asleep and parents would wake us up to collect the prasadam in the plantain leaves.
Years passed. Most of my friends used to gather during these festivals and enjoy.
The real drama starts.
One of our elderly friend, named Subbu, really a stocky person in height and girth, we call him Sandoz Subbu as he was working in that company, found an easy way to attract the people and get the major part of Nivedhyam a much early before we get too hungry. He explained the trick.
As usual, the bhajans and singing would go on for a very long duration. When the early morning breakfast gets digested, the clock in the gut starts ringing. When the singing reaches a crescendo, someone among us show a sign to Subbu and he will slowly start to shake his head and then the different parts of his body. He will start jumping as if in trance and utter a few words “Bhagavaanukku Pasikkarathu” in broken way and very few of us try to hold him tight to stop his shivering. One of us as preplanned would apply a thick coat of castor oil in his right palm and place camphor above and light it. He will stretch his hand and swirl it in front of the deities and before it could burn his palm, throw it away. One will apply a copious quantity of “vibhoothy” on his forehead and sprinkle all over his body. The entire one gathered will stand in attention with folded hands. Everyone whispering “SWAAMI ELAGIYIRUKKU”.We give him water to cool him as if to appease the God.
The bhajan ends and the Nivedhyam items are brought out and the Deepaaraadhanai is performed by the chief priest. The plantain leaves are distributed, and at this time many of my friends playing cards sitting under the banyan tree jumps out and joins in the distribution of the prasadams to all, and a sumptuous quantity to Subbu, which we would share later sitting under the banyan tree.
The same trick we used to play during Hanuman Jayanthi during Ram navami. Here he used to enact more violently to show the angry mood of Sakshaad Hanuman and more were needed to hold him. For a difference, to cool him, he was given “paanagam” instead of water. A cheaper version of Somaras compared to one offered to Hanuman when he got exhausted while bringing the Sanjeevani Mountain. As Ram Navami occurs during the hot season, this concoction in jiggery and water makes it a drink for the masses and many used to come forward as an offer to god. As children were addicted to sweet, it was filled and kept in very huge open drums so that they can drink it “pogavara”.We were all very cautious to enact a nice drama least we may be caught.
And this continued for many years before everyone got separated due to change in jobs and places.
Some thought it is a neurological problem, some as act of God, some called it as epileptic disorder and few felt it as hysteria. Whatever said and felt, Subbu used to enjoy this self created episode and the perfect enactment made him a virtual “God possessed” and was always the center of attraction during these festivals. Few weeks before the festival starts, all the singers particularly would ask: Subbu vandhaachaa? The punctuating question itself gives the answer. Few understood and kept silent, but many were still upset and doubtful and were caught in the enigma of “Swami elagal”
Under their individual sub conscious mind it must be apparent: extreme hunger and hypothalamus can drive out any spirit that dares to occupy the human mind!
Dated 24th November, 2013
Courtesy: Inspiration from the article “Naan Yakshiyaakkum” written in The Hindu dated, this day by Dr. Easwar H V
Associated Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. Email:email@example.com