|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.