The Tamil word for festivals is ‘vizha’, this arises from the root ‘vizhai’ to desire. In Tamil Nadu, the village festivals are usually linked with the local temples and are a social gathering. These festivals are deeply rooted in the day-to-day lives of people and have become a traditional practice, held on a regular basis all over the year. Even some 50 years ago, recreation in the form of television, and connectivity from one place to another was minimal in our country. Hence, these village festivals became the only source of entertainment for people. Music, dance, and drama are an essential part of any village festival.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy, and village festivals are intertwined with the agricultural practices of a village. When we examine the long list of festivals in Tamil Nadu, it is interesting to note that the major festivals are spread out through the 10 months Aadi – Chithirai (July – April) and the months of Vaikasi and Aani (May and June) are relatively free of festivals. There is a social explanation for this. The Tamil country being a tropical country, summer is severe during the months of Vaikasi and Aani. In the delta area, all rivers dry up due to the lack of rainfall. Festivals are a cultural heritage and are most enjoyable when there is water in the rivers and tanks. Hence the agriculturalists take a break during these months and wait for the rains to start their agricultural and social activities.
From the month of Aadi (July- Aug), with the onset of the southwest monsoon, agricultural activities commence in full fledge in the delta region and the rivers are also full. Following this, there are a plethora of festivals celebrated in the Tamil country.
Apart from the major festivals like the Aadi Perukku, Deepavali, Navarathiri, Karthigai, Margazhi, Thai Pongal, Maasi Magam, and Chithirai Thiruvizha which are celebrated in a grand manner in the temples, there are separate temple festivals and village festivals celebrated in the villages of Tamil Nadu. In fact, some native Gods worshiped in villages don’t have any information on their origin. Often the deity worshiped in one village will be unknown in other villages. Village deities like Iyyanar and Mariyamma are common throughout Tamil Nadu. There are other popular village deities like Pidari, Kaliamma, Selliamma, Draupadiamma, and Angalamma.
Vaikasi Pongal in Peraiyur
In the village of Peraiyur in Ramanathapuram District, the annual festival of the village deity ‘Badra Kali Amma’ is celebrated in a grand manner in the month of Vaikasi (May – June). Though festivals are rare in the month of Vaikasi, it is not unheard of. Each village has a set of traditions and beliefs that are unique to its people. The Goddess Kali is regarded as the protector against evil spirits and wild beasts. Though Kaliamma is a much regarded village deity, she is the only village deity whose name is found in the Vedas. She is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati who helped her to destroy the demon ‘Mahishasura’.
Usually, village festivals last for 8 – 10 days and have an array of rituals, ceremonial processions, games, folk music, dance, and drama performances. The dwellers of the village take an active part in them. Rekha Vijayashankar, a native of the village Peraiyur, who is also a photographer at DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum, shares her views on the festival, “ Vaikasi Pongal for our Kaliamma is an annual event and residents of the village, even the ones who have migrated to other cities participate in the event. Vaikasi is an odd month to offer Pongal to the Goddess because the month of Aadi is the time when such offerings happen to the goddess. However, in our village, we believe that if this Vaikasi Pongal and festival is done in a proper way, then our seasonal rainfall and other agricultural practices that follow after the rain will take place without any hindrance. Every year goddess Kaliamma, pleased by our offerings, gives us copious rainfall and rich harvests.”
What are the ceremonies and rituals that attract you the most during the festival?
Like any village festival, our festival also has offerings to God like the Theechatti Offering, Poochoodal, Vilakku Poojai, Mulai Paari, Karumbu Thottil, and fun events like the Manjal Neerattu and Uri adithal.
There are also processions of the bronze processional image of the Goddess on wooden temple cars through the streets of the village. Apart from the ceremonies and offerings to the Goddess, there are social aspects to the festival too. There shall be a fair, where merchants sell all kinds of goods. In the evenings, there will be entertaining performances by local troupes. As a photographer, the life and the colours of this festival are very attractive to me.
Theechetti – in this type of offering, people pray and carry a terracotta pot filled with burning coal and take them to the temple in a procession. Poochootal – people bring tied flower strings and offer them to the Goddess. Vilakku Poojai – prayer done to lamps, thinking of them as goddesses. Mulaipari – Germinated seeds sown at the temple will be carried by married women and immersed in water bodies to facilitate the growth of plants on river banks. Karumbu Thottil – Childless couples who got their prayers answered will bring their kids in cloth hammocks hanging from sugarcane to the temple.
The event ‘Manjal Neerattu’ is very interesting. Young, unmarried women chase the eligible bachelors or the ones they are fond of and pour turmeric mixed water on them as a way of expressing their affection. Not just young women, the villagers take part in the event just for the fun of it. ‘Uriyadi’ is a game where men should hit a terracotta pot filled with water with a stick tied really high and also hindered with resistance.
Animal sacrifices, though common in village festivals, are not done to the main gods. Demi Gods and attendants to the main deity like ‘Madurai Veeran’ and ‘Muneeswaran’ are the deities to whom animal sacrifices are made. Rekha added that there are no animal sacrifices done in their Vaikasi Pongal festival.
Temples not only served as places of worship, but they have also been centres for art, education, and entertainment. Temple festivals are more of a social gathering and are closely entwined with nature and agriculture. A village festival provides economic sustenance to people who are dependent on the ecosystem of the temple. In an era where we are losing social life due to the growing influence of social media platforms, the importance of such festivals, and also the need to keep these traditions alive becomes really important.
- The Village Gods of South India – Henry Whitefield
- Festivals of Tamin Nadu – M. Arunachalam
Special Thanks to DakshinaChitra reference library for the books. Thanks to Rekha for the photos.