History & Culture

Aranmula vallasadya: A tradition and a feast

When 60-year-old Raveendran Babu embarks on his journey from his home in Kumaranellur in Kottayam to the Aranmula Sree Parthasarthy temple three days before Thiruvonam, he will carry forward a sacred family tradition.

After the death of his older brother Narayana Bhattathiri last year, Raveendran is now the eldest of the Mangattu family. To him falls the duty of carrying the lamp that initiates the temple rituals for Thiruvonam and for the famous Aranmula valla sadya, one of the largest vegetarian mass feasts in India. Scholar Kottarathil Sankunni (1855- 1937) dates the event to three centuries ago in the Aithihyamala, a collection of stories of Kerala.

Aranmula vallasadya: A tradition and a feast

This year Raveendran’s journey will be undertaken in a pandemic, and thus will be drastically curtailed and shorn of festive paraphernalia.

“This year the entire custom will be performed in accordance with COVID-19 protocol. As tradition goes the eldest family member departs for the temple three days prior to Thiruvonam and stays overnight at Kattoor, our family home. But this year the travel will be a day affair. Also the number of people accompanying my father on the Thiruvonathoni (Garuda-faced special boat ) will be only 20,” says Sagar, son of Raveendran. (Kattoor is eight kilometres east of Aranmula on the banks of the Pampa.)

Mangattu family’s association with the Aranmula temple and vallasadya is based on the legend that every Onam the family would feed a young boy in devotion to Lord Krishna. One Onam the youngster failed to appear leaving the family troubled. The eldest family member prayed deeply to find a young boy at the doorstep asking for food.

Next year in a dream, before Thiruvonam, he was directed by Lord Krishna who revealed himself to be the young boy at his doorstep the previous year and asked him to come to the temple to feed him.

“That’s the beginning of a long tradition our family has followed,” says Anoop, son of Narayana Bhattathiri.

He adds, “this time the Thiruvonathoni may not be a row boat but a mechanised one so to complete the overnight journey in daytime itself.”

Centuries ago the family moved from Kattoor in Pathanamthitta to Kumaranellur and the tradition continued from their new home in Kottayam.

The distance from Kumaranellor to Kattoor by road is roughly 60 kilometers but the journey by boat takes two days rowing over Meenachil, Manimala, Vembanad to reach Aranmula.

After performing rituals at Kattoor Maha Vishnu temple, the Mangattu Bhattathiri is accompanied by 36 representatives of 18 families from Kattoor who carry rice and vegetables, grown in their fields, for the grand feast.

According to tradition the Thiruvonathoni (a special boat) is sent by the Aranmula temple to bring the devotees. Others join in Palliyodam (snake boats, which are considered a divine vessel).

A flotilla of 52 boats from neighbouring hamlets proceed in an overnight journey to Aranmula.

Radhakrishnana P R, Secretary Palliyodam Seva Sangh (PSS), one of the organisations responsible for the Thiruvonathoni procession says that only one Palliyodam will accompany the Thiruvonathoni this time.

Aranmula vallasadya: A tradition and a feast

Only 24 persons, from the eighteen families connected with the rituals, will be permitted to accompany but no devotee will partake in the valla sadya.

The most important ritual at Kattoor is carrying of a lit keda vilakku (traditional lamp) to Aranmula temple.

The lamp is used to light the temple lamps, after which prayers and the preparations of the vallasadya begin.

Recalling the event in its former grandeur Radhakrishnan says that the 70 km stretch between Edakulam in Vadassserikara panchayath, Pathanamthitta District, to Chennithala in Alappuzha would host the 52 palliyodams that accompany and protect the Thiruvonathoni, from any disturbance, from Kattoor to Aranmula. In lore it is believed to have been attacked by thieves.

“This year only 10 para (1 para is approximately 10 kgs) of rice harvested from paddy will be permitted as against 48 para that is generally ferried in the palliyodam as offering,” informs Radhakrishnan.

The two-month long vallasadya begins during the month of Karakidakam and hosts almost 450 to 500 sadyas during the time period.

The highlight is the Thiruvonam valla sadya, a communal feast of 1000. Anoop recalls the earlier times when certain rituals began at his house at Kumaranellur on Moolam, four days before Thiruvonam. This time all related customs have been shelved, except the ritualistic journey to the temple.

Aranmula vallasadya: A tradition and a feast

“All 20 persons accompanying my uncle on the journey will undergo a Rapid Test for COVID -19,” he says.

Radhakrishnan adds that this year the vallasadyawill be prepared only for Lord Parthasarthy. In 2020, no devotee will be allowed to eat along with the God.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 10:51:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/aramnula-valla-sadya-one-of-the-largest-vegetarian-feasts-of-india/article32498506.ece

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