Coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district) has a fantastic all night ritual performed during December to April. The ritualistic performance starts before monsoon. Serpent worship is common among the Hindus all over India. Serpent God is a symbol of fertility and life.
There are many of ritualistic performances in this district and Kerala. The all night ritual like ‘Naagamandala’ is a very costly affair and hence rarely held. In other rituals like ‘Aashleshabali’ are much more cost effective. On the day of ‘Ashlesha’ star the ritual is observed in the naaga temples. This ritual is observed mostly by the Brahmins. ‘Naagamandala’ is performed by two groups of performers; the ‘paatri’ (a Brahmin) who gets possessed after inhaling the areca flowers becomes the cobra God. The second group of propitiating is ‘Naagakannika’. The ‘Naagakannika’, a female serpent, which is actually a male disguised in female dress or visual costume (half male and half female costumes). This character is identified as ‘ardhanaari’ or ‘naagakannika’ who dances and sings around an elaborate serpent design drawn with natural colors on the sacred ground. The ‘vaidya’ performing group has a special hour-glass shaped ‘Dakke’ an auspicious instrument without which a ritual does not take place. The drawings in five different colors on the sacred ground are drawn by only the ‘vaidya’ community group. The five colors are white (white mud), red (mix of lime powder and turmeric powder), green (‘jangama soppu’ green leaves powder), yellow (turmeric powder) and black (roasted and powdered paddy husk) used in the Nagamandala drawings. The combination of these five colors is called as ‘panchavarnahudi’ in the local dialect. The ritual of ‘Naagamandala’ is observed more in the Northern region of the South Canara i.e, Udupi, Moodabidri, Brahmavar, Kundapura, Baindur and other places.
The dance ‘naaga’ takes place around this ‘mandala’ drawings. The all night dance and song propitiation creates an awe inspiring experience. Brahmins utter the mantras in sanskrit and the other proceedings take place in Kannada.
SARPAM-TULLAL and SARPAM-KALI of KERALA
‘Sarpam tullal’ and ‘sarpam kali’ of Kerala are the counter parts of our ‘naaga mandala’. The hooded cobra design is drawn on the ground by the performing ‘paatri’ for his dance and it also shows the impersonator eating eggs as part of the ritual. The main impersonators of this ritual are belong to the community of the ‘pamban pullavar’ the back music instrument commissioned by the ‘pullavar’ men group. The instrument ‘pullavar viina’ is similar to the violin /string and bow instrument. The main impersonator is called ‘naaga’ and this female role is performed by a lady only belonging to that community, who are called ‘naagini’ and associated with two other female (unmatured) children take roll on the hooded cobra design. The appropriate music of the performers adds to the beauty of the ritual. The ritual of ‘Sarpam tullal’ is performed in Malayalam.
Photo Courtesy : Amith Thekkate