Kadammanitta Padayani – A annual ritualistic festival in Kerala.

 

Padayani is the annual ritualistic festival celebrated in Bhadrakali temples of Central travancore zone with due dedications. Padayani is celebrated during the months of Kumbham, Meenam and Medam (Approximately February, March and April). The myth and culture intrigued me to undertake the journey to ‘gods own country’ from chennai.

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According to Hindu mythology, evolution of Padayani is related to the birth of Kali. Once an Asura(demon) named Darika delighted Lord Brahma through his hard practice of penance and gained blessings that, he would be killed only by a women. Darika went on with his atrocities. Failing to defend Darika, Devas approached Lord Shiva for help. Hearing the atrocities of Darika, Lord shiva kindled with anger and opened his third eye bursting out fire. It is from this third eye, Kaali was born. Accepting the request of ‘Devas’ and obeying the instruction of her  father Shiva, Kaali left for the abode of Darika mounting herself on Vethal accompanied by ‘Koolee Ganam’. The fight between Darika and Kaali was really frightening. At the end of the battle, Kaali cut off his head. Holding head in her hand and with overwhelming anger she returned to Kailasam. To pacify her and to satisfy her lust for blood, Devas performed variety entertainments like dance, mimicry, dialogues and, comedies. But it did not work. As she was going through the Gopura , the goddess paused a while seeing the painting depicted angry Kaali and she smiled. She asked her father “who drew this?”. Shiva answered,  This was drawn by Kurup’ (Kurupu Kurichu”). She glanced at the Kalam (Painting) once more and burst into laughter. Attempts made by Lord Shiva and his Bhoothagana to pacify and delight kaali are imitated as such in Padayani celebration. Even today kalamezhuthum Pattum is strictly conducted in Kaali temples with it own ritualistic originality. Even now,  Kurup ( a caste) draws the kalam. As the people promised to offer their own blood, kaali became quiet and delighted. Padayani is celebrated annually for the protection and prosperity of the village and its people.
I wasn’t surprised when my train ‘Chennai – Trivandrum Express’  arrived late, at Thiruvalla Station by 5:30am instead of 5:00am. What Surprised me was the clean railway station, dustbins placed everywhere. It is a small station with only two platforms. Bus station is around 1km from railway station. I just had a small backpack and my camera , hence decided to walk.  Google maps, showed wrong bus stand and I was lost. Finally Nokia HERE maps came to my rescue.

It is very cloudy, looks like it had rained heavily last night, I might need to buy an umbrella. Thiruvalla is a bigger town than I had imagined. From the bus station, got a bus at 6:30am. I guess the driver has an appointment, he’s driving at a crazy speed, reached Padamanitta in just 30min. Checked into “Union Tourist Home” near by the bus station. A single decent room just costs 300/-. It is apt for backpackers kind of journey.

After the tiring journey, I slept for two hours straight. After refreshing, I set out to have my breakfast and explore the city at 10:30a.m. After a hearty breakfast I took an auto to Kadammanitta Devi temple. It is 7km away from Padamanitta and charged INR 120. There are buses too, but they are not frequent. I reached the temple around 11:30am. I’m a bit disappointed, as I see no activity at the temple, only locals were visiting the temple for prayers and donating at a counter setup by temple.

I was hoping to find the kolam making process, but didn’t find any activity there. I roamed around the temple for a while and I spoke with a shopkeeper beside temple, who barely managed to speak Hindi, he confirmed today is the main event “Veliya Padayani” and it would start by 7pm and run through out the night. So I decided to head back to lodge and sleep as I need to be awake whole night.

To return to the town, I took ride in a ‘shared jeep’ for just INR 10. By the time I reached my room it was 12:30pm. I decided to skip lunch, as I was still too full, and directly went to my room. That is when I realised I should have inquired a bit more about where they were making the face masks and kolam, instead of thinking it had been done the previous day as I did not see anything in or around the tempe.

I tried getting some sleep, but was unable to as I had slept in the train and also took some rest in the morning. Then I started to watch the Telugu movie Aagadu. It was a terrible mistake, it was so boring. Or was it the right thing to do , I fell asleep in half an hour. I woke up only around 3:30pm.

I surfed the web to gather any additional details on timings of the festival. There was page on Facebook for the festival. Few photos were posted just the day before and an event was created for the festival, but there were no participants. I still went ahead and sent a message. I thanked my lucky stars when I received a reply almost instantly. He suggested I be at the temple by 10p.m. And gave me the exact details. He told me the procession will start from Kadamanitta Junction and the kolam painting process will take place in the NCC building near the junction.

My stomach started to growl, that’s when I remembered I had skipped lunch. I put aside my phone , stretched out and decided to get some snacks. Stepped out of the lodge and found an Arabian restaurant just beside and tried their chicken shawarma. It was tasty and very filling. Deciding to shake off few of the calories I Explored the town for a while and returned to the lodge by 6:30p.m. With plenty of time left to start to the temple I needed to do something to keep myself occupied. Took out my camera and planned on which lens and the camera settings to use and saved them in U1 and U2 on my Nikon D750. After this I started getting too bored in room and it was just 7:15pm. I packed my stuff and started to temple by 7:30pm itself. Went to the auto stand to find a ‘shared auto’ like the ‘shared jeep’ but found none and hence took a regular auto to the temple.

The inaugural function was in progress when I reached temple by 8p.m. On the stage a person was introducing the chief guests and village heads. A traditional music concert took place from 8:30 pm to 10:00pm. All this while the crowd was thin and couldn’t see any tourists. This caused me to think this might be a small local festival and there won’t be nothing much to see. After the musical event  a group of drummers started to entertain the crowd. Meanwhile the temple premise were cleared by  removing the chairs and benches (it’s small open space in front of the temple) for some performance. My hopes started to raise, in the notion something might take place. Slowly a few photographers and the media people started to join in.

NCC building hall, where kolams were prepared. A kid dressing up in Kolam

It was 11pm and I didn’t see any preparations at the junction. I saw another photographer head into the NCC building and I followed him. Here all the kolams were ready and performers were waiting for the start of the event. I decided to grab this opportunity and immediately started to capture the kolams. There were no other  photographers apart from me. Seeing my curiosity and interest, an elderly gentleman asked if I’m from the media. I told I’m a freelancer from chennai. He wanted to know how I found out about this festival. Then very patiently and passionately he explained the entire process of painting. It was so elaborate I could have done it. He showed me different types of kolams, explained the tradition behind the art etc in detail.

Natural colours and brush used to paint kolams.

Different forms of folk deities are drawn on green areca leaf sheaths. These leafs are cut as required and stitched together to form specific shapes. These are called KOLAM (These are the masks worn by the performers). Number of leaf sheaths used to make these Kolams vary from  1 to 101/ 1001 based on how big it needs to be. The bigger kolams are mounted on frames. The Five natural colors White, Green, Red, Yellow and Black are used in painting. These colours represent Panchabhoothalu. Burnt powder of mango leaf is used as black dye. Red stone is for red. Juice of Manjachanna (a bushy plant) for yellow. White of planed leaf sheath is utilized as white. And Green is from greenish part of the leaf sheath. These dyes are kept in coconut shells and tender leaf stalks of coconut are cut and split into required size at one end and used as the brush. Tender coconut leaves, charcoal paste, manila silks etc are the main materials used in kolam prepration.
After 11:30pm, people started to wear their kolams and go outside. I followed them out and saw The procession had started. Many photographers and the media were capturing the event. The Entire village was lined up on either side of road from junction till the temple (it,s a 200meters straight road) They were burning dry coconut branches  and smashing them on the ground creating fire sparks.

Kolam procession towards the temple.

Kolam procession towards the temple.

Villagers burning dry coconut leaves while welcoming the kolam procession.

Villagers burning dry coconut leaves while welcoming the kolam procession.

The big procession had dancers and drummers singing songs through the fire till temple. There were two large kolams (of Bhairavi, Kanjiramala), all the small kolams were mostly adorned by kids. This is the best and visually most spectacular part of the festival. A huge crowd was enjoying the event in spite of the heat due to the fire. Photographers were running through the fire to get some shots. There wasn’t any place to walk, before  every step, first you need to check if a burning branch isn’t in your way.  At the temple premises, all the branches were dumped in a corner to make a bonfire. Two large kolams came into the cleared out performance area. Few people were constantly beating the fire with dry coconut branches, this caused speckles of fire to rise high into the air. A group of singers sang folk songs to which the big kolams danced, this lasted for around 15 minutes. The dance is called as Kolamthullal, and the folk songs are called as Kolappattu are prayers to the folk deities. These prayers include requests, admirations etc.

Bonfire and big kolam performance at the start of main event.

Bonfire and big kolam performance at the start of main event.

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The crowd in the meanwhile gradually started to settle on the ground. After which they started to display the different types of Kolams with dances and songs. This lasted through the night. This is called Kolamthulla (dancing in Padayani). Kolamthulla is the most spectacular event that makes Padayani an ecstatic experience. To pacify the goddess Kaaali and to get rid of the ill effects of wicked deities like  Pishachu, Madan, Marutha, Yakahi etc..and thus to protect the folk people from calamities. People disguised as these spiritual Kolams perform dances in tune with kolappattu and thappumelam. Each kolam has its own dressing and adorning style.

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Different types of instruments were used in Padayani like Thappumelam, Valyamelam, Chendra, Para and Kambham. In between to make sure no one will fall asleep and to keep the function lively, comic acts were performed. The comedy in Padayani reflects its commitment to society. They include satire and criticism to social evils. These comedy acts are staged in different forms as drama, mono acts, dialogue and dances. By 4am people started to leave (mostly parents taking their little ones home), but all performances were over only at 6am. The final performance with large kolams were beathtaking. No wonder most of the crowd still remained.

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Through out the night, there are many stalls open for tea, coffee, snacks and dinner. I stayed till the end and witnessed everything. With great satisfaction and memorable experience I decided to return to hotel. I was lucky and got a bus. I reached the hotel and slept till 12am. I refreshed and checked out the hotel by 1pm. I would have occupied the room for almost 30 hours, but I was billed only for a day. My stay turned out to be super cheap. I had lunch near by and started back to Chennai with full of wonderful memories.

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Photographers Guide to Holi

          Holi, the festival of colours is one of the most popular Indian festivals, attracting large number of photographers from all around the world every year to capture the play of colours.

Holi Celebrations at Nandgaon

Holi Celebrations at Nandgaon.

Braj region is the most famous for its traditional Holi celebration. It is a historical region composed of Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon and some nearby villages, celebrate holi for almost a weekLord Krishna was born in Mathura, he grew up in Nandagoan and the beautiful Radha is from Barsana. Tourists and pilgrims are drawn here from all over the world to experience the special customs and traditions.

Important Dates* which photographers should not miss:

17 March 2016 – Traditional Lathmar Holi in Barasana
18 March 2016 – Traditional Lathmar Holi in NandGaon
19 March 2016 – Holi Celebration in Mathura Temples
20 March 2016 – Holi Celebration in Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan.
24 March 2015 – Holi Celebrations in various Mathrua, Vrindavan Temples and all over India.

Lathmar Holi is the most significant among all of them. It is more famous at Barsana though it is celebrated across several villages in Mathura.

Check this link for detailed holi dates: http://mathuravisit.com/mathura-festivals-dates.html

*Note: The dates may be changed by the heads of the village panchayat in the last minute. So always call the hotel you are going to stay or any other in the Braj region to get the dates confirmed. This happened in 2014 and we missed a day.

Myth:

The legend behind Lathmar Holi is closely associated with Lord Krishna and Radha. Young Krishna was a very mischievous child. Being very dark himself, he was envious of Radha’s fair complexion. Once, Krishna asked his mother Yashoda about the unjustness of nature, Radha was so fair and he was so dark. Child Krishna began crying as he asked this. To calm him down, Yashoda told him to go and smear Radha’s face with any colour he wished. Young Krishna, at once, heeded to what his mother advised. Naughtily, he applied colours onto Radha’s face in order to make her look like him. The Indian traditional art forms wonderfully record and pay tribute to this legend. There are numerous murals and paintings depicting Krishna’s prank of applying colour on and playing with Radha and other gopis.

Tradition:

This loveable prank of Krishna where he applied colour on Radha and other gopis using water jets called pichkaris gained acceptance and popularity. So much so that it evolved as a tradition and later, a full-fledged festival.

In Lathmar Holi, men in traditional dress from Nandgaon adorn the role of gops (friends of Krishna). In Barsana, women adorn the role of gopis (friends of Radha). The men reach Barsana and drench the women in colour, in return they beat the men with batons. The following day, same tradition is followed when men from barsana visit Nandgaon.

This legend is wonderfully brought alive each year all over India, particularly in Braj Region. In fact the immortal love of Krishna and Radha is celebrated by the entire country, where they get drenched in the colour waters when it is time for Holi. Also there are different customs and legends associated with Holi in different regions of india.

Lathmar Holi.

Lathmar Holi.


What to expect while photographing Holi:

Where ever you are to photograph Holi, you are bound to get drenched in colours. You can neither run nor hide from the colours. If you refuse, you are targeted even more. The best way to photograph the festival is to get lost in the celebrations. I have seen many locals target the photographers and throw colour directly onto their camera. The number of photographers at the festival is increasing day by day; as a result there are more photographers than people celebrating Holi. Just to get the ‘shot’, try not to disturb the celebrations and invade anyone’s privacy. Stand back and be patient, you will be amazed at what you can capture.

Water being splashed on a group of photographers and the locals playing Holi.

Water being splashed on a group of photographers and the locals playing Holi.

Here are some quick tips on Preparing yourself for the shoot:

1) Decide on which lens you are going to use based on the type of photographs you are planning to capture and make sure you have an UV Filter and Hood. It’s very difficult to keep changing the lens during the festival. It is highly likely that colour will end up on your camera sensor. It is better to carry 2 bodies if you have to use two lenses. Ideal focal length for single body would be 24-105mm or if you carry two bodies then its 16-35mm and 70-200mm. Again lens selection is purely based on your type of photography.

2) Buy couple of extra cheap UV filters. Colour will inevitably end up directly on your lens. And sometimes you won’t be able to clean it easily. Extra UV filters become very handy, as all you have to do is change the filter and continue to shoot. Later you can wash the colour off the glass.

3) Carry protective eyewear. Dust protecting bike goggles are the best. This is the most important accessory as you don’t want to get blinded by the colours.

4) Carry a rain cover or a waterproof case for your camera. (Operating a camera through waterproof case/cover might be difficult). You can even make a rain cover on your own. I found this very easy, economical and comfortable. It protects the camera much better than the cheap covers you might buy. And the level of protection is also high. Even the good quality rain covers need to be taped around to get a better seal. Read the next section for DIY Rain Cover.

5) Carry enough old dresses for the duration of your stay as it is very difficult to wash the colours away. If you truly want to experience the festival and enjoy it, wear the traditional white kurtha-pyjama. You can get one for about INR500/-, but make sure you get a good quality pyjama (bottom), else it will tear easily. Experienced it myself ☺

6) Carry a hat or a cap if you want to protect your hair from the colours. You can even apply hair oil before the event; it will be easier to clean later.

7) Wear old slippers. Footwear is not allowed in temple, and there aren’t any lockers to keep them safe. Best way to keep them safe, is to leave it in your vehicle or at a street stall near the temple by paying the owner a little something. You do not want to end up barefoot like I did ☺

8) Carry a soft towel or cloth to wipe off the dust from lens. Don’t carry the expensive lens cleaning cloths, as they will be useless after few wipes. You can also carry a Compressed Air Duster, which will be very effective in blowing away the dust off your lens.

9) Carry the additional items or accessories protected in a polythene bag before you pack them into your backpack or use a rain cover over your backpack.

Prepared Photographer

A well prepared photographer.

Rain ponchos for extra protection

Rain ponchos for extra protection.

Steps to make a simple DIY Rain Cover:

Required Items:

  1. Clear Plastic Cover**
  2. Duct Tape
  3. Blade
  4. Marker
  5. Lens Hood
  6. UV Filter

Required-Goods

**NOTE: Choose a good quality cover which won’t tear off easily, but at the same time not too thick. If it’s too thick, you will find it difficult to use your camera. Also by choosing clear transparent cover, you don’t need to make a cut near the viewfinder.

STEP-1:
Cut a hole at the centre of the sealed end of the cover according to the diameter of your lens hood. And then slide                   that opening around the lens hood and tape it around the hood for better seal.

Cover-Opening

STEP-2:
Now fix the hood over your lens. You might find it difficult to do this, if you tape the hood tightly or if it is a screw type hood. In this case, reverse the cover over the hood and then fix it on lens and pull the cover back over the camera as shown below. Remove the camera strap for better comfort.

Installing-Hood

Wrapping-Cover

STEP-3:
Now seal the open side of the cover with duct tape. Make sure to leave small gap, so that the cover doesn’t get air locked. Now wrap the cover closely so it’s comfortable for you to grip. Keep the cover around the lens loose so as not to get the auto focus ring and the lens zoom area jammed. Lens with internal focus and zoom won’t have this issue.

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(or) If you are not too comfortable operating the camera over the cover, then leave an opening to slide your hand in before sealing the open side as shown below.

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Note: I was able to use a single rain cover throughout the day without it getting damaged. As a backup, it’s better to carry another rain cover protected hood.

I hope this has helped you and answered most of your questions. Please feel free to leave your suggestions and questions in the comments, and I’ll get back to you. HAPPY HOLI 🙂

For the exclusive collection of my Holi photographs, please visit:

HOLI 2013:
Location: Chennai, Sowcarpet
Equipment: Nikon D7000 + Nikon 85mm f1.8 AF-D
Album URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ravi-k/sets/72157633106366424/

HOLI 2014:
Location: Nandgaon, Mathura, Vrindavan
Equipment: Nikon D7000 + Tamron 17-50 f2.8
Album URL: http://www.ravikanthkurma.com/holi_2014

HOLI 2016: Coming Soon☺