For sixteen nights in a year, the sleepy village of Neelamperoor bordering Alappuzha, comes alive as goddesses and demons descend on earth from the heavens. The Padayani celebrations at the Palli Bhagavathy temple which is said to have a history of 1700 years, reach a grand finale with the offering of the Grand Swans (Valiya Annam) on Pooram Star, the birth day of Bhagavathy which falls on Friday night.
Dedicated to Goddess Vanadurga, the spectacular folk ritual art form had commenced on the night of September 3 with the choottuvaickal ceremony. The celebrations have gone through various stages depicting poomaram, thattukuda, paravalayam, kudaneerthu, plavilakkolam, kodikoora and kaval pisachu. The series of divine and semi divine impersonations and forms such as floral-decorated umbrellas, effigies, and ultimately the Swans, are crafted with unparalleled skill using materials such as green leaves of the jack fruit tree, tender leaves of coconut or the fibrous stem of plantain.
On the penultimate day comes in the puthan annam (new swans) followed by the arrival of Simha Kolam denoting the arrival of Bhagavathy on a lion. The ritual will reach a crescendo when the Grand Swans, more than forty feet tall and made of plantain stems and tender leaves of coconut, make their entry.
The origin of Padayani is mired in the hazy dawn of history. Historians say it has its origin in the Buddhist period while others point to the Dravidian moorings of the celebrations. With the entire village turning up for the spectacular display of colour and music, with certainty one can claim that it had its origin long before the society was divided along religious or caste lines.