Karkkidakam, the last month in the Malayalam calendar, is when many Malayalis choose to rejuvenate themselves physically and spiritually. Following age-old practices that hark back to our agrarian heritage, Malayalis seek some TLC for the mind, body and soul. Karkkidakam is also known as the Ramayana Masam, where devotees read the Ramayana from cover to cover. For Tamilians, meanwhile, it marks the beginning of Aadi month in the Tamil calendar, an auspicious month for piety and worship, prior to the upcoming harvest season. MetroPlus looks into a few customs and traditions that are still in vogue during the month.
It is time to go green and herbal with Karkkidaka kanji, a gruel prepared with herbs and leaves with medicinal value. Gulping down this porridge is a kind of detox for the body to stay healthy when heavy rains lash the State. It is also said to build up one’s immunity. Since the preparation of kanji can be a cumbersome affair for individuals, Ayurveda clinics, physicians and pharmacies cash in on the trend and bring out their own brand of kanji kits that can be easily cooked at home. The kits consist of rice, mostly of the njavara variety, and different herbs and leaves. The content varies from one brand to the other, with some kits having up to 30 medicinal ingredients. For full benefit, the kanji has to be consumed for at least a week. Nowadays there are kanji kits for diabetics too.
Tradition indicates that Karkkidakam, when the monsoon is in full swing, is the best time of the year to smooth out the chinks in your life, physically, mentally and spiritually. Apparently, the body is most receptive to natural remedies during the cool season. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of people head to Ayurveda centres and spas in the city for a bit of rejuvenation and relaxation therapy. Although the treatments vary from person to person, depending on individual fitness levels, most centres offer Karkkidaka chikilsa packages for seven, 14 or 21 days (maximum recommended is 40 days), all of which are aimed at alleviating existing health conditions, improving physical strength, toning up muscles and preventing illnesses. Popular rejuvenating therapies are abhayangam (body massage), medicated steam bath, shirodhara (warm oil poured in a continuous drip over the forehead), pizhichil (lukewarm herbal oils poured all over the body), nasyam (medicated oil administered through the nose), virechanam (therapeutic purgation), and so on. Ayurveda practitioners recommend that pathyam (diet regimen) needs to be followed in tandem, for optimum benefit.
Karkkidakam corresponds to the month of Aadi in the Tamil calendar and the Tamil community in the city observes the month with music, dance and prayers. Kolattam (‘kol’ means stick and ‘attam’ is dance) is an integral part of the season. On every Tuesday and Friday evening, young girls of the community perform this dance as an offering to the Mother Goddess. Legend has it that the deity had dressed herself as a little girl to kill the demons. There is also a belief that Kolattam was performed to stop Basavusara from his evil designs. Perhaps, it has to do with killing one’s inner demons and finding the child within you.
The girls turn up at a household or at a temple, dressed in their best pattu pavadas and dance with the ‘kol’ in rhythm. Songs in praise of Devi, Lord Muruga and Lord Krishna are usually sung. Although Kolattam sessions are dwindling, there are many agraharams that keep the tradition alive. Some households give a treat to these girls with special pongal, sweets and new clothes.
This is when many Hindu households in Kerala resonate with readings from the Ramayana. The tradition is to begin reading the epic on the first day of the Malayalam month and finish it on the last day. As times change, many youngsters are also reading the English translation of the Ramayana. All India Radio and some television channels also broadcast readings from the Ramayana every day. In the olden days, the aim was to fortify the soul and mind to prepare for the tough month ahead, before the harvest in the Malayalam month of Chingam. Some women also worship Goddess Lakshmi by offering her ten different kinds of flowers (Dashapushpam) that used to be found in plenty in homesteads.