Ritual Sooranporu, a seven-day festival in Palakkad district, depicts the tale of Lord Muruga defeating the Asuras.
Demon-killing forms an integral part of our religious mythology. Most of our festivals celebrate killing of demons, signifying the victory of good over evil. Sooranporu (or Soorasamharam), a form of folk performance-cum ritual, in which the killing of the Asuras is recreated, is one such art form celebrating the vanquishing of the Asuras. It is also one of the most important festivals in Palakkad district.
The seven-day festival that is celebrated in the Malayalam months of Thulam-Vrischikam culminates with the killing of Soorapadman (or Padmasura) and his race. Although it is believed that Lord Muruga vanquishes them all, the killing of only four Asuras – Anamughan, Panumughan, Simhamughan and Soorapadman – is depicted as part of Sooranporu. More than a ritual, Sooranporu has elements of theatre which in the early days could have been staged in the open. Sooranporu bases its story on the Skandapurana. The story of Muruga, also called Skanda, is narrated on the days preceding Sooranporu.
In many places, the Skandapuranam written on palm leaf manuscripts is kept as a sacred asset of the community. There is no uniformity in creating the effigy of the demons and decorating them. However, the story is the same. Similarly, the manner of killing the demons is also not different. The head of each demon is usually removed in most places when the Skandapuranam portion dealing with the war scenes and the reasons for killing the demons are read out.
At Thathamangalam, there is a Sooranporumadham (reminding us of Koothumadam) for keeping the materials required for Sooranporu. In some places, including Kodumpu, figures of the Asuras, made of hay, sacks, clothes, and coloured papers, are fixed on the wooden/bamboo platforms. At Thathamangalam, the figures of the demons are made of wood. These figures are carried either on wooden platforms or on vehicles.
The sizes of the demons in places such as Kodumpu are large. While the head of the demon Soorapadman at Kodumpu can measure up to 97 centimetre, when fixed to the rest of the body, it can reach to a height of 15 feet. A battle is depicted between these grand figures and an idol of Muruga. The percussion insruments used during Sooranporu are the chenda and Thappattu.
The thappattu, however, accompanies the demons. There are specific places where the killing of each Asura is re-enacted. A specially assigned person, holding the vel (javelin/spear) in his hand, places it at the neck of the effigy and the wooden head is removed by two assistants. Sooranporu ends with the marriage of Muruga with Devayani, the daughter of Devendra. It is held in the early morning or at night the next day following Sooranporu. The wooden ‘heads’ are kept in the Subramanian temples to be used in the coming year.
Sooranporu is staged at almost all the major Tamil settlements in the Palakkad district. They include Kodumpu, Thathamangalam, Kollengode, Koduvayur, Kozhinjampara, Chittur, and Nalleppully.