Pathanamthitta is known for its ritualistic performing art Padayani. Padayani to Central Travancore is what Theyyam and Thira to North Kerala. The arrival of Kolangal, the possessed performers of the art, accompanied by the mesmerizing beats of percussion instruments like chenda (cylindrical percussion instrument), kaimani (cymbal) and thappu (small drum) with light from torches made out of small bundles of dry coconut leaves and hand lamp are what makes the nights of the villages here bustling and festive during this time of the year.
Renowned Malayalam poet Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, hailing from Kadammanitta, a village in Pathanamthitta, has attempted to explore the vivacity of this art form through his poems. His poems had a significant role in popularizing this art form among the people. That's the reason why Padayani is also known as the art form of Kadammanitta populace.
What makes Padayani a unique festival of the villages is certainly the participation of people from all religions and castes. Legend has it that Padayani was originated to eliminate all kinds of illnesses like chickenpox. So eventually it became a festival of the entire village.
Padayani Kolams are made by cutting areca leaf sheaths in certain shapes, combine them with midribs of coconut leaves and finally adorn with tender coconut palm leaves and colour papers. The figures of folk deities are drawn on them with natural colours from turmeric, red stones and charcoal.
There are different types of Padayani Kolams such as Kalan Kolam and Bhairavi Kolam. Each Padayani Kolam has different purposes. For example, Marutha Kolam is performed to please the deity so that she protects the villagers from communicable diseases like smallpox. Similarly, Kalari Kolam is performed to get a child of desired sex while Matan Kolam is performed to eliminate diseases caused from the fear of night. Hence Padayani is an amalgamation of different Kolams and music.
The festival of Padayani usually happens in the months of February and March (Khumbham and Meenam months as per Malayalam calendar). The rituals that lasts about 12 days starts with chootuveyppu in which the tail end of dry coconut leaves made into a bundle is lit from the lamp at the temple by the priest and handed over to the ooraazhmakkaran. Following this, there will be percussion performance called 'kaachikkettu' or 'thappamelam' to inform the village about the start of the festival. Then the deity of fire is invoked into a choottu (dried coconut leaves bundled) and the fire is preserved until the performance is over.
It is believed that Padayani is performed to commemorate the performances of Lord Shiva and boothaganas in order to calm down an enraged Bhadrakali after the killing of Darikasura. The legend of Padayani revolves around the killing of the demonic king Darika by Bhadrakali, the daughter of Shiva. Unable to control the atrocities of Darika, Devas approached Lord Shiva as per the suggestion of Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva in turn assigned Bhadrakali to end the life of Darika.
But the demonic king had got 'Mrithyunjaya Mantra' as a blessing from Brahma according to which he cannot be killed by anyone as long as he had the mantra. All along the battle with Bhadrakali, Darika's wife recited this precious chant repeatedly and his life was saved. Even Bhadrakali was not able to kill him. However, Parvati, wife of Shiva, knew that if the mantra were disclosed to anyone then its power would be lost. She reached the house of Darika in the guise of a Brahmin miad and memorized the chant and the mantra's power was lost. Thus Bhadrakali killed Darika.
Bhadrakali could not contain her anger even after beheading Darika, who had found refuge in Pathalam (netherworld). Foreseeing the consequences, Shiva interfered, but still couldn't stop Bhadrakali. Sri Murukan was then assigned to stop her. In order to avert her attention, Murukan wore a Kolam made of areca leaf sheath with different colours on it and started performing in front of Bhadrakali. (Legends also mention Nandi, Ruru and Kundodaran among Siva's boothaganas were the performers). An awestruck Bhadrakali was so engrossed in the colourful Kolam of Murukan and his performance that she slowly calmed down. It is believed that Padayani is performed to observe this incident.
Another legend is that Padayani was originated to celebrate the victories of emperor Perumal.
Kadammanitta and Padayani
'Paths that smell of paddy stems
Fields where sesame buds are born...'
Poet Kadammanitta has effervescently drawn the pictures of his village in many of his poems. Even today, the small village situated in the eastern side of Naranganam Panchayat, has not yet lost its rustic charm. It was through the performing art Padayani the world has come to know about this small village.
The popularity of poet Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan also put this otherwise nondescript village into the world map. Kadammanitta's poems written with the essence of Padayani's rhythm and ferocity are very much part of the lives of Malayali population.
Land of Padayani is also the land of an extraordinary poet who beautifully combined the art form's rhythm and beats along with the burning concepts of life and presented in a splendid platter to the world of Malayalam. Instances from his stirring poems have been depicted in the form of magnificent sculptures at the Kadammanitta memorial here.
This is a pilgrim centre not only for those who love words but also for those who admire the ritualistic art form Padayani.
Although Padayani is performed in different temples in Pathanamthitta, with the popularity of the poet, Kadammanitta Padayani has gained more popularity. That's why the government has declared Kadammanitta a Padayani village. A lot of people, including foreigners, throng the Bhagavathi temple in Kadammanitta, where Padayani is performed for ten days in the month of Medam (April).
The Padayani performed on the eighth day of Medam is the most important one.
(Translated by Renitha Raveendran)