Society

This Madurai hamlet has only barefoot residents

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity   | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

On the outskirts of the city is a village called Andaman in which none of the residents wears footwear

Eight-one-year-old Palaniammal, a resident of a village called Andaman near Madurai, has never worn slippers when inside the village. “It is in reverence to the village deity,” she says. She married into a family in the village when she was 18. We meet her as she waits at the bus stop by the arch at the village’s entrance for her great grand daughter to return from school. It’s 3 pm and she stands barefoot unaffected by the sun on the tar road.

In the quaint village setting, Palaniammal may not appear so unusual. But then, we too have been asked to remove our footwear. Soon, the school bus arrives. Four children get off with their school shoes in hand. They walk past the village square, the century-old Mandhaiamman temple before disappearing into the small lanes that lead to their homes.

 

A set of college girls follows them. They too take off their slippers at the entrance of the village and walk barefoot to their homes.

A narrow main road runs along the village sandwiched between Kanjarampettai and Manjampatti in north taluk of Madurai district. Even when passers-by or travellers go past Andaman by this road, they carry their footwear in hand till they cross a good distance.

Palaniammal tells us it is a rule everyone follows without exception in the village out of respect for goddess Mandhaiamman. She says ever since she came to Andaman, she has seen how the villagers consider the entire village as a temple.

“What will happen if somebody walks around in slippers in the village?” I ask. “They will get high fever which is not easy to cure,” she says nonchalantly. Has anybody been affected? I persist. She avoids answering. But 72-year-old Karuppaiah chips in, “Nobody dares to disobey.”

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity   | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

 

The culture has been orally passed down generations with an element of fear and respect. And everybody follows their ancestors. The superstition holds no matter what. “People want to stay safe because they have faith in the reigning deity, an avatar of goddess Kali,” says Rajamani, 53. “Nobody has ever complained or flouted the rule, even though we have tried to stop pregnant women, senior citizens, the ill or injured and small children from following the practice,” he says.

The village has 135 families and a sparse population of 500-odd. A majority of men and women are farm workers, according to S Revathy, a primary school teacher in a school in the neighbourhood. The inhabitants are simple folk with an idyllic way of living. Faith is a deeply personal thing and the entire village has silently embraced a belief that keeps them happy.

“Nobody knows who started the practice and when. Children watch the adults and voluntarily adopt it, no matter what the weather is like,” she says, adding, “Even I have never questioned but simply adhered to the no footwear policy.”

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity

QUIRKY BELIEF: People hold their footwear in hand inside Andaman Village as a mark of respect to the village deity   | Photo Credit: R. ASHOK

 

Soon, a group of chirpy kids gather barefoot under a huge peepul tree and engage in story telling. As dusk falls, more people start returning home and we see everyone removing their footwear at the entrance arch. “We slip into them only while venturing out to other public spaces,” says Karrupaiah. “But inside the village, never,” he asserts.

Rustic n barefoot

There is a quaint little mountain hamlet near Kodaikanal called Vellagavi, situated in the forest terrains of Western Ghats where none of the 150 inhabitants wear footwear even while going out. There are more temples than houses in this village and in reverence to the local gods the residents remain barefoot all the time.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 4:44:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/on-the-outskirts-of-the-city-is-a-village-called-andaman-in-which-none-of-the-residents-wears-footwear/article25742824.ece

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