They may have dwindled in number but ‘boom boom maatukarans’ and their bulls continue to carry forward their tradition
The tinkle of a tiny bell and a loud familiar tune flowing from a ‘nadaswaram’ marks the arrival of a ‘boom boom maatukaran’ at your doorstep.
Their presence in the metro has dwindled over the years but a small group of ‘boom boom maatukarans’ and their bulls continue to carry forward their tradition of fortune-telling.
Forty-three-year-old Mariappan and his colourfully-decorated bull that he fondly calls Venkatesa Perumal walk several kilometres every day, to various parts of Chennai from their home near Ennore.
When they reach a doorstep, the animal obediently shakes its head in response to Mariappan’s questions and also bends its forelegs when directed to offer ‘namaskaram’.
“We train our bulls to respond to us. This has been my family’s occupation for several generations. Some devotees give us money, while others give clothes or food for the bull,” says Mariappan. He has been a ‘boom boom maatukaran’ for 25 years.
Periya Kasi Koil Kuppam, along Ennore Expressway, is home to seven or eight ‘boom boom maatukarans’ like Mariappan. Living in makeshift houses, these families have been staying here for several years.
Mariappan goes to places such as Vyasarpadi, Sowcarpet, Mint and Aynavaram with his bull. “Many have left the city over the past few years. There are a few of us in Gummidipoondi, Ponneri and Periyapalayam,” he says.
To keep pace with changing needs, ‘boom boom maatukarans’ have added new aspects to their fortune-telling.
“Usually, we just enquire if a house and its residents will benefit from good fortune. Now, we have added aspects involving education of the children too,” says 24-year-old Muthu, another ‘boom boom maatukaran’.
They earn anywhere between Rs. 300 and Rs. 400 a day, but Pongal season is the best time of the year for them.
“We earn Rs. 1,000 a day or even more during the festive season,” says Mariappan.
What worries many like them is the absence of a permanent place to stay. “We have ration card and other identity cards but no land or house,” says Mariamma, whose husband and son are ‘boom boom maatukarans’.
But difficulties do not unfaze them as they vow to never switch to other jobs.