Shivaratri: Songs for the serpent gods

Written by PREETH NAMBIAR

Located in the Alappuzha district of Kerala, close to Chengannur railway station, Chengannur Mahadevar Temple is one of the oldest and famous temples which is believed to be built by the legendary architect Perunthachan. Though the large portion of the sprawling temple complex with a circular Sanctum was reduced to ashes in a fire in the 18th century, the temple was rebuilt later by carpenters from Thanjavur who are famed in temple architecture.

Amidst the fact being an ancient Shiva Temple, what makes this temple unusual is that it attributes a human trait to the divine. Goddess Parvati who is in her periods is worshipped here which could be a beautiful example of how our tradition and the customs ensure the wellbeing of women. During specific days, Goddess Parvati’s idol is shifted into a small room off the sanctum sanctorum and the temple remains closed for four days. It has to be noted that, in order to provide complete rest, it is customary in many parts of the state to leave women alone during the menstrual cycle.

Kaavu, the Serpent Cove attached to the temple once again shows the profoundness of ancient wisdom. Most of the temples have such premised which acts as a reserved forest of the specific locality. A wide range of flora and fauna are being protected here especially snakes that plays a significant role in Hindu philosophy whereas the ponds attached to a temple acts as water reservoir as well as rainwater recharging systems in each locality.

Sarppam Paattu/Naagar Paattu/Pulluvan Paattu is a rhythmic composition to praise the serpent Gods which as a form of art and ritual is performed by Pulluva Community. The Pulluva, who acts as a media between common men and snakes, are often given the status of protectors of those specious. It is an art form which is performed by women artists after observing the required austerities. Held on the Aayilam asterism of the Malayalam months Kanni (September-October), Thulam (October-November) and Kumbham (February-March), the performance will be accompanied by percussion instruments such as Pulluva Vena and Kudam.

An offering known as ‘Noorum Paalum’ which is made up of Rice and turmeric powder, Banana, tender coconut water and milk in a brass vessel is also prepared by Pulluva in order to please the Serpent Gods while the idols of snakes are decorated by flowers and betel leaves. As the Pulluva renders the lyrics composed in praise of the Serpent Gods, they seek blessing from them to protect people from ailments.

Pulluvan Paattu, which has started vanishing from Kerala, is still being performed in temples such as Chengannur Mahadeva Temple. While people belonging to Pulluva Community abandon their tradition seeking a livelihood at least to sustain their life, it is nothing but this glorious form or art which sings of the harmonious coexistence of living being on earth disappearing from our nation.

Geetha Vishwanath, a woman belongs to the community, who had lost her husband a few years ago, too is struggling to survive in the world. Holding the responsibility of two children when she spends her life in a tiny house, she represents the pathetic condition of the rich art form and the tiny house on the verge of wreckage represents nothing but our own glorious past!

About the author

PREETH NAMBIAR

Author-Poet and Educationist. Founder-President of Writers Capital Foundation