Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I, Radhu and Vani had the fortune to witness the Dakebali on Feb 16, 2013. In the last blog piece I provided some interesting details about the Thambila that usually precedes Dakebabli. Since attending both the programs same day is some what tedious, we chose to split the visit into two days. On 15th after attending the Dwajarohana function at Indrani in the morning, I, Radhu and Kicha decided to see the Thambila part about which the previous blog issue contained some information. We started at about 1 am from Radhu's house at Paniyur and reached Brahmasthana in 15-20 minutes. Here is an eye witness account of what transpired there after we reached the place. 

Appearance-wise the decoration on that day was not as fabulous as the one seen the previous day. The flowers were less, banana bunches and pingara were fewer in number but over all the place looked enchanting and stimulating to the eyes. When we entered the premises a few people were sleeping on the bare sand with some of them having brought some thing to sleep on. The two pathiris were also sleeping just in front of the sanctum sanctorium  after .their exhausting performance earlier for the Thambila. Obviously they were impervious to the environment with deep sleep. We were ushered into the special enclosure earmarked for Bhatrus and were seated near the circular platform( about 5 feet in diameter) decorated with colorful flowers and pingara. The pathiris after being possessed go around this platform led by the "Nagakanya", a colorfully dressed special person beating the Dol and dancing with some rhythm.

At about 2.30 am they were woken up by the volunteers and led to the Kornaya house with burning torches showing the way. After about 15 minutes they came back fresh having taken a dip in the pond there and prostrating before the God in the pooja room in there. They stood in absolute silence for a few minutes before the Brahmera gudi with in the Brahmasthana while exploding crackers heralded the starting of Dakkebali. It took almost 15 minutes for these pathiris to be "posessed" by Brahmeru and Naga Devru respectively. There after they started moving round and round  near the deity led by the Nagakanya who later led them towards the circular platform,where again they started going round and round continuously. The pathiris were carrying live wicks in both hands changing them frequently  while going behind the Nagakanyaka. It appears the role of Nagakanyaka is performed only by a person with some special personality attributes hailing from tribal community. The repeating running around the circular platform continues for about one to one and half hours, considered very arduous and tiring. But neither the pathiris nor the Nagakanya showed any strain, a unique ability attributed to the blessings of Brahmeru.

The atmosphere of sanctity of the function was further enhanced by continuous beating of drums and pipe like instruments by special bands located on both sides of the performing area. Except for the person performing the role of Nagakanyaka, all others within the enclosure were bhatrus and siting there at close quarters one gets an exhilarating experience, swaying to the crescendo of sounds involuntarily with a feeling of nearness to God. By this time the entire Brahmasthana was filled up by people coming from the surrounding areas to witness this unique performance. What struck us was the relative stamina of the two pathiris who were continuously running round  non-stop for almost 3 hours with no feeling of exhaustion! While the young Nagakanyaka's performance is understandable as he appeared to be a youngster aged not more than 30 years, that of the old pathiris aged 75 and 86 years were indeed  surprising, defying any rational explanation.

The last scene was some what intriguing when the Nagakanyaka holds both pathiris on both sides with his two cheeks touching those of the pathiris. This act was repeated four times at four sides of the circular platform. At some stage the chief sponsorer comes forward and put flower garlands on all the three. Senior Kornaya was there nearby throughout the function as he, representing the illustrious family is supposed to be the chief for this function, though he did not seem to have any specific, visible role. Mounds of pingara were brought inside and both the pathiris took the pingara, in a frenzy, rubbing all over the face and this actually is the main prasada of Dakkebali. The main cost for the sponsorer goes for pingara, flowers, tender coconuts, arecanut bunches and banana bunches besides payments to the dakke party and other drumming parties brought specially from outside. Though these functions can be performed during a period between Jan 15 and March 15, Dakkebali is not possible on Mondays, Amavasi and Ekadeshi days according to traditions. It is further constrained by the availability of Dakke party who take up similar responsibility in various Nagamandalas performed in different places of the region. This year it appears there were only 36 of them and the last one is scheduled for March 14, 2013.

According to puranas, Parashuram created the stretch of land from Kanyakumari to Gokarna by throwing his powerful axe (Mazhu) after gifting away the whole world and finding no place for himself to live! This land was raised from under the sea, where Nagas were supposed to have their kingdom. That is the reason why Nagas are revered in this area for ages with practically every household having a Nagabhana, protected by closures and restricted access. It seems Parashuram had ensured that humans and snakes live together in amity and cordiality and humans worship Nagas for expressing their gratefulness in sharing their land. The last act during Dakkebali when Nagakanya enacts a romantic scene with both pathiris on his either side is  supposed to be symbolic of "fertility"  amongst the population in "Parashurama srishti" region. Probably this may also be the reason for many families in this region performing Nagamandala when they find low fertility in their families with children not borne to their dear ones. Whatever may be the explanation, witnessing Dakkebali is indeed a unique experience one should not miss during one's lifetime, especially for those with lineage like that of Badettu family. 

While sitting at the enchanted area near Brahmasthana during Dakebali, it is inescapable that one gets the feeling of being near the spirit of Badettu Narnappaya who dominated the function for more than three decades. It is certain that his spirit pervades the atmosphere there as Dakkebali was a function without which he found it difficult to reconcile during his life time. Even when he was in Alleppey after retiring from Brahmasthana activities due to frequent bickering amongst Padubidri people , at the time of Dakkebali he used to get into some sort of a trance without actually being any where near the scene of action! It was a quirk of fate that he, nearing the hundred year milestone in his life, stubbornly insisted  on returning to Padubidri and died soon thereafter within a few weeks. Another feeling we could get was that from being the proud sponsorer of second Dakkebali day celebrations during olden days, we have now become just a spectator in Dakebali with no stake in it. The cost of Dakkebali, now is put at any where from Rs 2 lakh to 10 lakh though there is no upper limit for spending on this function. Badettu family with so many illustrious members within their fold may not host a Dakkebali in any foreseeable future unless some enlightened one comes forward to take the lead in organizing the same with the necessary wherewithal. 

I asked a pertinent question to Mr Kornaya while visiting him during the current Dakkebali season as to why no one in Badettu family has been chosen by Brahmeru for playing the role of a pathiri; the answer was very interesting. It appears that our Ajja before retiring requested Brahmeru to spare his descendants from this role, probably believing that they might not measure up to the rigorous standards of piety expected for performing at Brahmasthana or because of the fast dispersal of his descendants into other parts of the country getting educated to become professionals. However it appears Brahmeru only gave him "virama". that is "rest"  for some time and probably some time in the distant future there could be the possibility of another Narnappaya emerging from amongst his descendants. One dreads what will happen to Dakkebali once the present pathiris disappear due to the march of time but people in Padubidri still refuse to learn from history to bury their hatchet and  forge the much needed unity to approach Brahmeru to oblige them with new pathiris!

What do you make out of the narration above? Is it some flight of fancy or blind belief in traditional practices with no meaning or there is some thing beyond what we perceive and understand? Whatever it is, there is no way escaping from the ground reality that people live on hopes and anchoring of this hope on faith, trust or beliefs give them the much needed peace and solace. Brahmasthana, Thambila and Dakkebali are examples of faith of humanity in some force, beyond what they possess and one may call it God or Goddess or by any name to focus and concentrate to strengthen them to achieve what they seek in their life.                      


Thursday, February 21, 2013


By now we are familiar with Brahmasthana and Dakkebali festival associated with this ancient shrine dedicated to Vanadurga called by many as "Bramheru". The 2013 Dakkebali festival which began on January 14  is still continuing and I am not sure how many of us made it to this festival this time which had influenced the Badettu family for decades. Association of our great Ajja with this shrine for a number of years is still being recalled and many old timers seemed to be missing his awesome presence and performance as the senior pathiri decades ago till he retired on his own due to the inability of Padubidrians to sink their differences and unite for the prosperity of the community that inhabit the village. It was a long time wish for me to revisit Brahmasthana and be a spectator of the event once again after a gap of 32 years. My last visit was in 1981 when my father organized a Dakkebali to thank the Godess for giving us an opportunity to buy the Alleppey hotel property. I do recollect way back in 1950s when I went with my parents to witness Dakebali when our Ajja was the senior pathiri. My wish to revisit was fulfilled when on Feb 15 and 16 I visited the shrine to watch the event in two sessions.

Along with Radhu(Paniyur) and Kicha (Chitpadi-Udipi) I reached Padubidri at 10 pm on Friday 15 Feb 2013 with lot of expectations and some anxiety regarding the crowd that might have already reached before us. Fortunately the crowd was somewhat thin and we were relieved to have ample space for sitting very close to the performing area. What struck us was the sight of a simple woods like area converted into a heavenly looking environment with flowers, banana bunches and arecanut bunches bedecking every single conceivable place including tress, poles, lighting poles. Absolutely there was no electricity used for the lighting, the day like light coming from hundreds of gas lights using 2 kg LPG cylinders and many natural wick based oil lamps. Main flowers used were white, mostly jasmine and its cousins, pingara (arecanut flower) and chrysanthumum (Semantike) hanging from every where. On a conservative estimate on the day we went there must have been about two tons of banana, one ton of jasmine and semantike besides hundreds of pingara. It was a sight we will never forget in our life.   

It appears unlike in the past when the function used to start at 9 pm, nowadays the rituals begin only after 11 pm. This is probably because there were only two pathiris as against 7-9 in the past. It is said that new pathiris are not being initiated by the Goddess because of Her dissatisfaction with Padubidrians who are still a divided lot! The belief here is that new pathiris will emerge only when the Padubidri brahmin community pray to gether pleading with Her for initiating new pathiris. No one knows when will this happen, if at all it happens. We took the occasion to go to the traditional house of Kornayas who were trustees of Brahmasthana from time immemorial. It is here that the Pathiris come straight from their houses, take a dip in the pond nearby, pray before the deity ( Vishnu) in their pooja room and proceed to the shrine for their performance. When we went there both the Kornaya brothers were there while their mother was lying down due to old age afflictions. It was most unfortunate that these two brothers from Kornaya family do not even speak to each other on account of differences during the last several years with the elder man taking over the responsibility of managing Brahmasthana. We paid our obeisance to the family deity with a dakshina and namaskara and discussed with the junior Kornaya a few aspects of the shrine and its present condition. It appeared remarkable that faith of local people on Brahmeru and her abode has not diminished a wee bit because of the unnecessary infighting among those responsible to uphold the sanctity and holiness of the place!

At about 11.15 pm the two pathiris, one Lakshminarayan aged 86 and one Narayan aged 75 walked in, were provided with a burning torch to go to the Kornaya house through the dark route, take bath, pray before God and return for the ritual. It was amazing that the two pathiris, left behind after the death of most of the old guards, were hardly able to walk without physical assistance under normal conditions but once inside the hallow precincts of the shrine walked briskly to the sanctum sanctorium with practically no discomfort. After standing before the deity in Brahmasthana for a few minutes they were possessed by the Goddess making them do amazing feats in a state of trance. Holding live burning wicks in their palms they go round and round closely guarded by able bodied youngsters to prevent any unanticipated mishaps. This was repeated several times by both pathiris, one representing Naga Devaru and the other Brahmeru. It appears such rituals are performed during Nagamandala as and when organized by Temples and private homes and is called Haluhirihittu seva. Here in Brahmasthana it is night time Thambila.

While the pathiri representing Naga Devaru did most of his obeisance action in front of the Naga idols near the sanctum sanctorium, the other one was performing mostly in front of the small rock deity, the main worshiping point in Brahmasthana. After about half an hour the Thambila ended and the pathiris started giving pingara to each and every devotee as the prasada from the God. It was amazing that these pathiris did not had even a small burn after holding the live wicks during the entire period while those observing the ritual could get burns if the oil drops from the wicks fall on them! Those who are not Bhatrus (brahmins) do not enter the area where pathiris performed the rituals but waited patiently to recive their prasada from the pathiris out side the premises. 

We left the place at 1 am after receiving our prasada as there was a gap of almost 2 hours between Thambila and Dakkebali which followed at around 2.30 am. We decided to come back next day at 2 am to witness Dakkebali proper. One impression we got was that there is a dilution in the fervor of of Battrus who perform the rituals probably due to the deep division within their ranks though scarcity of funds is never a problem with non-brahmin devotees donating in lakh for this once in two year festival. Foods are served (Kadubu and Bhagilu) in the hall nearby while some food stalls have popped up nearby. There is a distinct shift to commercialism and we were told that more than a billion rupees are invested during the season. It is a reflection on the economic status of the brahmins in this region that out of the 36 Dakkebali days this year, those sponsored by brahmins are hardly four in number!   

I will come back with more narration of my experience with Dakkebali 2013 soon.