The importance of the holy Ramayana Masam (Karkidaka Masam) in Kerala

Karkidaka Masam is an auspicious month for people of Kerala and helps in keeping the roots of tradition intact.

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Rama,Hanuman Statue
Rama,Hanuman Statue. Pixabay
  • The aanayoottu (feeding the elephant) is a festival that takes place in Vadakkunnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala. In this festival, there’s an interesting sight of a long row of elephants feasting on jaggery, palm leaves, and coconut
  • Karkidaka Masam comes with the raging monsoon, brings farming to a halt and confines people to their homes, has deep religious significance to it and also health rejuvenation rituals
  • Seated around the nilavilakku, elders read the Ramayana to family members, a tradition that aims to imbibe the values learned from the epic but also helps to have the strength to face the tough times, and this also lent Karkidakam its more popular name – the Ramayana Masam (month)

 Kerala, August 2, 2017: The holy month of Karkidaka Masam, famously known as Ramayana Masam is celebrated with great fervor in Kerala. The name Karkidaka is because in this month there’s the sun’s transition to Karkidaka Rasi from the Mithuna Rasi, this Malayalam month is observed from 17 July to 16 August.  It is said that the festival witness’s scarce attendees nowadays but it seems to have acquired a refined format and adapted to the ‘next-gen’ liking which is very different from the solemn observance of the season by an agrarian society that once was Kerala.

Ramayana
Ramayana. wikimedia commons

The aanayoottu (feeding the elephant) is a festival that takes place in Vadakkunnathan Temple, Thrissur, Kerala. In this festival, there’s an interesting sight of a long row of elephants feasting on jaggery, palm leaves, and coconut. It occurs during Karkidakam celebrations. This festival is celebrated with the belief that offering puja and providing delicious and healthy food to elephants is a way to propitiate Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced God according to Hindu faith.

At Sri Krishna Temple of Guruvayoor, the temple elephants can be seen being pampered with a rejuvenation therapy called sukhachikilsa which includes- herbal solutions, body wraps, and a special diet.

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As soon as the Karkidaka Masam ends Chinga Masam begins. It is the month of the Onam festival and a period which witnesses many festivals.  Another associated concept is Illam nira (fill the house) festival in Kerala, it is related to harvest which symbolically represents a prayer for prosperity. In this festival, special pujas are performed for the newly reaped paddy spikes at temples and are celebrated during Karkidakam.

A typical Karkidaka Masam stays true to its purpose.  It comes with the raging monsoon, brings farming to a halt and confines people to their homes, has deep religious significance to it and also health rejuvenation rituals.

The traditional lamps called nilavilakku take center stage across the yards of Kerala households, their flames fill brightness in the dark nights, especially during this monsoon month. Seated around the nilavilakku, elders read the Ramayana to family members, a tradition that aims to imbibe the values learned from the epic but also helps to have the strength to face the tough times, and this also lent Karkidakam its more popular name – the Ramayana Masam (month).

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According to a report by Swarajya website, Rajagopalan M K, retired assistant commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowment, Kerala, said “The reading of the Ramayana helps tide over hardship like the Karkidaka Masam. With inundated fields beyond their access, people spend their time in pursuit of cleansing the body and mind. They read the Ramayana to prepare themselves to brace for the panja (lean) Masam.”

Though the roots of nilavilakku still hold its own, Kerala, today, has been mostly getting drifted away from the Karkidaka customs in its original form. Malayalees use the Ramayana’s audio version for their children to teach them the essence of the epic, yet another storytelling ritual modified by modernity. But Rajagopalan says there is thankfully a sustaining interest in Karkidaka events, despite the big change in lifestyle and livelihood. “There is a 40% increase in the restoration of its activities and the number of people mingling in with the aura generated during this season is rising by the year.”

Kerala’s extended home, the Gulf region, observes Karkidakam too. The Malayalees there do it too, perhaps, to not be left behind in the race to preserve cultural values. Temples, religious and spiritual organizations have kept Ramayana Masam celebrations alive by ensuring their continuity through elaborate programmes, public discourses, plays, recitals and competitions based on the Ramayana. These kinds of initiatives take the nitty-gritty of the season through television to the drawing rooms of Malayalees around the world.

The fifth segment of the Ramayana portraying Lord Hanuman, Sundara Kandam is mostly chosen to be read during this time. “Who could be a better role model than Hanuman, someone who is wise and powerful, for the younger generation? Humility despite the strength, Hanuman’s single-minded focus and devotion to his lord Maryada Purushottam Rama, these are some of the values that can be inculcated in the young,” Rajagopalan said.

The Ramayana is read for another and a more scientific reason. Karkidakam marks the beginning of the second part of the Hindu year, Dakshinayana, during which the sun moves in the southern direction, impacts the health of mind and body and its low rays affect immunity and digestive powers. A combination of worship, fasting, and practice of rituals helps overcome diseases and achieve tranquility of the mind, a reason why the Ramayana, which shows the path of righteousness, is read with fervor.

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A person indulging in various ayurvedic treatments is also because of its positive impact on health. In today’s times, ayurvedic health resorts utilize the Karkidaka period in a profitable way and offer treatment package, rejuvenating spa holiday and thus in a way contributing in diluting the traditional essence of the period. There is an ayurvedic blend, oushada kanji which is prepared with rice as the base and many other herbal ingredients boiled in coconut or cow’s milk and jaggery. It is a herbal gruel savored at dawn and dusk during this month to spruce up health and aids in body purification.  Nowadays, it is an instant affair as the kanji mix can be bought off the shelves of a department store. Though, it is distributed by certain institutions and organizations working hard to promote the centuries old tradition, with the body getting the nourishment in the process.

Ever wondered from where this reading a Ramayana practice began from? It began in the sixteenth century when the most elementary version of the epic- Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippattu crafted by Thunjathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, called the ‘father of Malayalam language.’

This month is also marked by a day’s pilgrimage to the four temples in the Thrissur district, dedicated to Rama in Triprayar, and his brothers, Bharatha in Irinjalakuda, Lakshmana in Moozhikkulam and Shatrughna in Payamma, known as naalambala darsanam (pilgrimage to four temples). The trip was undertaken by foot in the bygone days when the pilgrims sought to reflect on and celebrate the bond shared by the brothers and it’s replaced by package tours now.

Karkidakam also denotes the panchamahayajna (five duties) of a Hindu householder, and of that the pitri yajna has great importance. The amavasya (no moon) day of this month marks with the chanting of pitri puja mantras in the wee hours of the morning. Karkidaka Bali is a ritual performed by hundreds of men, women, and children for their departed ancestors in batches of hundreds. The event is marked by a huge footfall across the state and is believed to be a homage to the departed souls that will help them attain moksha (salvation).

The first day of Karkidakam which is July 16 is welcomed with obeisance to Lord Ganesha. This is marked by inviting the elephants into the Shiva temple of Vadakkunnathan at the heart of Thrissur, and offering them a special feast. A day before the month begins with the house tidied up as part of Karkidaka sankranti rituals and it is prepared for the visit of goddess Lakshmi.

Karkidakam may have modified with time to be a spa-style experience, yet it still represents the earnestness to understand tradition and utilize them to our full benefit. It represents a life protocol where a man is restricted by nature from venturing out and instead to use the time to introspect and dwell on divinity and health.

– prepared by Kritika Dua of NewsGram. Twitter @DKritika08.

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