Songs for the snake god

The pullavan vina. Photo: Special arrangement  

“During a trip to Palghat, our guru, Sri Tirumeni, took us to a temple where we got to hear Pulluvan pattu, a traditional song sung by the Pullavar community to worship the Snake God.

Pulluvan Pattu is also known by other terms such as Sarpa Pattu, Sarpam Thullal, Nagam Pattu, Sarpolsavam, Pambum Thullal or Pambum Kalam.

Most art forms of the Pulluvar community are ritualistic in nature, though songs are based on the Puranas and agriculture.

Pulluvan Pattu is accompanied by different musical instruments made by the community - the one stringed violin known as the Pulluvan veena, the Pulluvan kudam, an earthen pot with a string fastened to it, Pulluvan mizhavu and cymbals. Out of these, the Pulluvan veena plays a major part during the rituals.

The veena is made out of a hollow bamboo stick, teak, coconut shell or wood and is played with a bow made out of a piece of sharpened bamboo. This one-stringed instrument, that resembles the violin, is also known as the veenakkunju. The string is made from the Nagachitamrada plant and is known as the Theru. The string is stretched over the round shaped resonator with a calf’s skin and passes through a small bridge. The other end is connected to the wooden stem having the peg. At the end of the bow, a couple of metal jingles are attached at times and wooden rods are fastened to these metal jingles.

The pulluvan and his team will play the veena, kudam and sometimes the cymbals, during a performance. Valluvanad in Kerala is still popular for Pulluvan pattu. Normally this form of song is accompanied by the veena on occasions where there is a Nagaraja pradistai being done at a temple and where the inmates of the house offer the Pullavan food and clothes.

Some musical phrases are played on the Pulluvan veena before a song begins and also during interludes. For Sarpam pattu, the veena is used as a sruti and tala accompaniment. It is held like the violin and sometimes tucked to the ankle of the right foot.

During rituals, the songs of the Pulluva community praise ‘holy serpents’ such as Ananthan, Manimudgaran, Adiseshan and Mahapadman.

For snake worship, usually a snake is drawn on the ground after a purification ritual and necessary pujas.

This ritual is known as Pambin Kalam where snakes are invoked by the Pulluva community; it is generally an elaborate one. The pullavars fast for 41 days to perform a Sarpam Pattu ritual.

Sadly, the community which worships snake is dwindling, and the song and instruments too are on the wane. Wonder if something can be done to preserve such rare songs and instruments…

(The writers are classical violinists and researchers.)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 1:08:29 AM |

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