Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drums and Camphor, Rice and ...

I was eating a peaceful lunch in the lunch room today, talking about mundane things that afflict employees everywhere. It was then that I heard the sound of drums beating in a simple rhythm. I did not give much thought to it, until the drum-beating crowd sounded like they had made a stop right in front of our office. I walked to the window to see what it was. There was an open lorry, with the icon of a Goddess, bedecked with jewels and adorned with flowers. A couple of people were holding umbrellas above Her head. I thought that it was the traditional aarati, and I was instantly reminded of my days in Madras. Every now and then, processions of Gods used to be taken on our road. There used to be naagaswaram playing beautifully. The house-fronts would be cleaned, and adorned with rangolis. We used to take camphor, fruit and coconuts and perform pooja. But this procession wasn't just that.

There was a water tank leading the lorry. God's path has to be clean, so these guys had ingeniously brought a tank along, with its faucet open. Drums were beating loudly and rhythmically. A couple of youngsters were dancing and looked like they were drunk. A man spread banana leaves side by side on the ground, right in front of the lorry. A couple of women served rice and some more dishes on them. A girl removed agarbattis from the wrapper, handed them to the chief priestess (?) and threw the wrapper on the roadside. I remained watching, mainly to see whether these guys would clean up as they left. On hindsight, I think that was too much of an expectation.

Agarbattis were burnt. Camphor was lit. There was real devotion and seriousness on the faces of the people standing around the lorry. The drum-beating then reached a feverish tempo. Two sheep were dragged in front of the lorry. That was the limit for me. I could not stomach it anymore. I just walked back to my seat. A while later, the beating of the drums stopped.

I have spent quite some time in small and large towns of Karnataka. Every year, in B__, there used to be the annual festival of the Mother Goddess, and animal sacrifice used to be a regular part of the proceedings. I do not know if it continues, though. During my tenth standard I lived in H___, another town. And exactly before my exams, cholera broke out. The folks there thought that it was because the Mother Goddess was angry. Therefore, to propitiate her, a festival was organized. Some thirty buffaloes, a lot of sheep and innumerable chicken were sacrificed. The devotees were not at all worried about cholera spreading even more because of their unhygenic practices.

Is there a law that bans animal sacrifice? Yes!


Aram said...

Animal sacrifice is an ancient custom - wonder what could be the rationale behind it and its origins.

For that matter even human sacrifice ( narabali) was not uncommon. Eg., Maasti - a woman volunteer would die so that a tank might fill with water (?)

Though, with modern outlook, these killings have come down very much, they still continue here and there.

The konkani brahmins (!) on the west coast migrated from Goa to the south, some 400 years ago. Their family temples are all in Goa. One such deity is Mahalaxmi Damodara of Jaambavalli in Goa. Before the devotees can enter the temple, they have to first visit the betaala (Bhairava?)on the outside of the temple. His staple diet is toddy and meat.

Continuing this tradition, an old Konkani family, Kamaths in the South Karnataka also have a bhootada katte in their backyard to which once or twice in a year a low-caste pujari would come and perform the puja with a bali of a cock.

In the late 1990s, the pious educated family heads wanted to put a stop to this practice of bali, but being firm believers in the bhoota ( also called daiva in Tulu)wanted to ensure they were not offending the daiva which had been for centuries protecting their thota from thieves, etc.

So, they duly consulted the darshana paatri at their Venkataramana temple ( this is a favorite deity of all Konkani vaishnavite saaraswats) and asked permission to stop this bali. The darshana patri ( through whom the God makes Himself available for the devotees' queries and addresses their apprehensions) gave His permission and the non-vegetarian bhoota has now converted itself into a veggie.

By the way, the Konkani brahmins, like the Bengali brahmins ( Konkanis claim that they too, like the Bongs, migrated from the banks of the river Saraswati, hence their name Saaraswat) were used to eating fish but were otherwise strict vegetarians. However, in the last 40 years, they have started eating other meat delicacies.

Even the bunts and lower castes of Dakshina Kannada/Udupi districts, have their own Maariyamma deities to whom until 30-40 years ago, buffaloes used to be sacrificed. Now, because of the law, it is no longer observed in these two districts.

Sirsi's Maarikaamba is famous all over the State. Even there, I believe - though not quite sure - the bali is no longer observed.

With education, hopefully, the animal sacrifice might come down. It is a punishable crime yet we do hear an occasional scandal of such things happening.

Thus, your ending sentence "Is there a law that bans animal sacrifice? Yes!" is in fact obeyed both in letter and spirit in the culturally most forward districts. People there, though non-vegetarians, have come to stop that practice.

Aram said...

A heartening news to the eco-green brigade

Introducing a new, vibrant, humorous blogger - Bhelpuri and SeekhKabab who has so aptly started his new blog with an invocation to the Lord Ganesha and a topic related to green environment.


mouna said...

that's really sad. this should be eradicated. progress is taking place, at a snail's pace. adeno heLtharalla, bad habits are easily learnt. to shed them takes a lot of time. guess this belongs to that category too.

December Stud said...

Masti touches these subjects quite beautifully in his short stories.

This is sad and maybe unthinkable from your perspective, and mine. That's more because of the environment and upbringing - again, yours and mine.

I guess the argument is quite complex when we really start discussing what is "savage" and what is "humane". Humans kill animals and animals kill other animals for food anyway.

I do agree with the hygiene part of your argument. But, it's ahrd to argue and ask people not to kill animals.

On that note, let me add that most people who kill animals for food and go by the "we should kill them in a humane way" really do have a heart. But, what amazes me is the set of hypocrites who think killing a cow is fine, but killing a dog is a cardinal sin....oh, well....

parijata said...

Yes, animal sacrifice is a very ancient custom, worldwide. Right from yaagas like ashwamedha. Somayaga too, probably (Nilagriva can enlighten us here). Animals made of flour and ghee are advocated by Madhvacharya, but purists do not agree with that.

If you look at the west, you have Adam offering Cain as sacrifice. Greek mythology also has a story with human sacrifice (I think Agamemnon's daughter was sacrificed before the seige of Troy). Steinbeck writes about this kind of a religion in his 'To a God Unknown'.

The story of 'betaala' is interesting. I find it intriguing that usually, only 'maariyamma' temples have this custom. I have one feeble explanation for this. Mother is the person responsible for birth. So, I think, the mystic aspects of birth and death are associated and understood together, along with the Mother Goddess, in some weird way. Weird to us, that is...

Yes, it is very hard to break away from superstition. Where there is fear and desire, there is superstition. It is the same as taking a lucky pen to an exam. Only difference is that here, one is causing a death because of superstition.

True. We are more affected by this because we have been brought up this way.
I do not think I have a problem with people killing animals for food, as long as they do it humanely. I mean, if they can keep the animals healthy and happy while they live, and give them painless death, it does not matter. A standard like Kosher must come into practice, I guess, without the religious undertones. .

Aram said...


"As elsewhere here too, offerings besmeared with the bloods of animals were in vogue till some time back. But the days have changed. Cultural programmes put an end to beastly methods of offerings culminating in the present day non-violent methods of worship. The gradual change-over is nothing hut Her sweet will."

Aram said...

sorry, the previous comment omitted to mention that it was about Sirsi Maarikaamba.

Thanks to your post and your interest in Maarikamba, I was inspired to do a search on Sirsi Maarikamba.

In the process, I rediscovered a very, very interesting site about one of Kannada's forgotten writers, the late Dr. Krishnananda Kamat, entomologist, scientist, etc., etc., and husband of Dr. Jyotsna Kamath, former director of AIR, Mysore and Bangalore as well as an eminent Kannada writer in her own right.


I am sure you will find this site as interesting as I did.
Your topic also inspired to discuss it elsewhere. I was told that the betaala, kaalabhairava, etc. are kshudradevatheys who are parichaarakas of the main Gods, namely, Narasimha, Venkataramana, etc., and that it is these lesser Daivas which materialize on the darshana paatris.

So, I was wrong in assuming that the bigger Gods would descend upon the darshana paatris of Konkani Venkataramana temples.

Deepak said...

I also witnessed that scene.It was difficult for me to have lunch that day.