December 2012 report
Kovilmala settlement 9th December, 2012,
We went to Mr. Chandran’s home and he showed us the tribe’s fishing line along with a detailed description of fishing and fishes of Periyar river. After that we met Smt. Lakshmi, an old lady who was not ready to sing to us. After that we met Meenakshi who began to weep while reciting a song, for the song reminded her of her good old days. Later,we met Smt. Thankamma who told us the Chakkavelanchi story. She described the rituals of their women at the time of menstruation and pregnancy.
Chandran (Thevan) Lakshmi Meenakshi Thankamma Chandran
When I and my collaborator went to Kovilmala, Mr. Chandran(Thevan) sung a Koothu song to us. He also accompanied us to Ayyappan Kovil to document the relics of the ancient temple. Ayyappan kovil is situated near the river Periyar. With the construction of Idukki dam, the place was filled with water and the idol was relocated to a new place. But still it is the former dilapidated temple which has much more relevance to the Mannan people. Every year at this place they celebrate Meenuttu, of which Koothu forms an essential part. The idol is of Lord Ayyappa, whom they believe as/to be the son of Kanchiyar Muthi. They call the deity, “Periyath Ayyappan”. During the celebration Meenuttu, the King offers new rice to the fishes of the river. The new rice is prepared by crushing the paddy in the natural rock mortars. In the past, there were special fishes that used to come and receive his offerings. They call the fish by the name “Kuyil” (my collaborator told me that at certain places the fish is called “Katti”). The Mannan people believe that those fish had certain divine powers and it could foresee the future of their farming and conveyed its message through some signs. However, they complain that because of the unnatural fishing methods, there are no more “Kuyil” in the river to receive the offerings.
Kovilmala December 16, 2012
We went to the King’s palace to interview Raman Rajamannan, the present King. Ariyan Rajamannan and Thevan Rajamannan were his respective predecessors. He informed us that the Mannan people migrated from Madura (Tamil Nadu), and to be more specific, from Mannankotta. A King from Madura with some of his people left the place taking their Goddess, Meenakshi and reached Kambam, another place in Tamil Nadu. They found the forest more favorable with delicious food in it and left the Goddess behind and entered the forest. The abandoned Goddess placed herself under a tamarind tree. Mannan people who came with the King came by that way and took her with them. They consecrated her at Kanchiyar. Since the Mannan people took care of the abandoned goddess, she has more affection to the clan and protects them. The people call her Muthi Amma and she is their tutelary deity. The King recounted the story behind their kingship. Years before, there was the ritual of homicide at the temple of Kanchiyar Muthi. One day soldiers of the Poonjar dynasty arrested the one who executed that ritual. They took him to the royal court. His father, who is addressed by the people now as Kanchan Maniyaran (his inheritors are also called by the same name) , went to the court and argued with the King for his son’s release. When he was about to lose his side, with magical incantation he called ants and imprisoned everyone there. Inferring his uncommon abilities, the king decided to free both the father and son and asked them what they wanted as gift. The father asked to concede Kingship to his son so that he will be the Lord of the whole clan. And thus the system of Kingship emerged in the clan. In the Mannan community the king is treated as god. He should not have direct contact with his people. Problems of people should reach the King through proper channel, through the other authoritative people of the ruling hierarchy. He then communicated to us their custom of naming the new born child. They give their ancestor’s name to their children. They believe that the ancestors wish to have their name bestowed on the new born and after that the ancestor whose name is given to the child protects throughout their life. They use their astrological equipment called “Kani’ to read the will of their ancestors. The Mannan people have two names now: one, the Mannan name and the other, the officially recorded name. Accordingly, the King’s name on record is Binu while his Mannan name is Raman. He also informed that the clan has forty six settlements which are situated in Idukki, Thrissur and Ernakulam districts. Lack of land is the main problem that the community faces now. Only a few settlements still follow collective farming, a system in which even the King had to work in the field for others. After the King’s interview, Sri. Rajagopalan (Chakkan), former Ilaya Rajavu, sung certain portion of Koothu song but he could not complete that because of health issues. After interviewing the King, we went to interview the “Ilaya Rajavu” to the King, that is, his regent. His name is Balan Chakkan. He told us that it’s the King who decides the “Ilaya Rajavu”. He informed that there are four Mannans for four quarters of the earth. The Mooppan of the south quarter is addressed as Chinthrandi Mooppan; of the north quarter as Vadakkuveerandi; and that of the west and east quarters as Adinadu Mooppan and Kalampila Mooppan respectively. The fifth Mannan is the great king. Each Mannan has an “Ilaya Rajavu” and nine Kanikkaran (a minister level authority). Kanikkaran has categories like Uralian, Koombilan, Panikkan, Idadan, Thopran etc. The inheritance of all authoritative positions is matrilineal. The sister’s son gets the position. The decision is taken by the sisters and their sons at first. After that they propose the name to the common council. He narrated a different story of their origin. When King Maduravveran returned to his place after the battle with the Pandya King, there were no people at the place. In search of his subjects, he left Madura and reached Theni, from there to Kambam, and from Kambam he and his people entered the forest. From there they reached Pulianmala and then Vellayamkudi, from where the people He told that that King and his people are the ancestors of the Mannan people. He also informed that the present name of Mannankotta is Alagarikotta and the city gate still carries still carry the Mannan royal sign. After that he gave us a detailed description on their methods of punishment and of farming. There are certain people authorized to control each age group. Those people act like police force of the community. All such authorities have a cane with rings of honey wax and Kunnikkuru (dried fruit of a certain tree) as the sign of their authority. In the case of farming, the product of the first collective farming was for Pullavasi, the person who finds out the land and who is bound responsible for keeping the boundaries safe from animals. He added that the Mannan people believe that their magical incantations give them power to live safely in the forest. They also believe that one cannot learn their “mantras”. The mantras are taught by the ancestors who come with a text book in their dreams. This is the only way through which they can learn such incantations and absorb its spiritual powers.
January 2013 Report
On 12th January 2013 my collaborator and me visited ThumpipparaKudi in search of ‘koothadi’, the people who sing Koothu songs. Mr. Raman Kumaran, an old man who, though not a koothadi himself, knows Koothu songs and knows the resource persons of each settlement accompanied us to all the settlements we visited. We met Suryan Azhakan, the Kanikkaran of Thumpippara settlement. There are thirty six Mannan families in the settlement at present. We met Mr. Soman C.P., the tribal promoter and Urumuppan of the settlement. He is a National Ambedkar Award winner as the best social worker in the tribal area. He informed us that twenty eight settlements are under the Adimali Panchayath. He commented on the lack of interest of the Mannan youth to learn and continue the Mannan art forms because of economic problems and unawareness of the relevance of their art forms. He was full of praise about the new King and his new organization Akhila Kerala MannanMahasabha which gives importance for the revival of their heritage. He also described the difference between Urumuppan and Kanikkaran. Kanikkaran is the chief of the settlement as per the rules of the clan. Urumuppan is the official chief on government level. The Urumuppan is selected by the council of representatives from the forest department, the tribal department, the police and the Panchayath and s/he is the one who conveys the needs of the people to the government. Afterwards we met Mr. Thankappan, one who knows Janmapattu/Koothu song and he sung two songs of Koothu for us. Five people – SuryanAzhakan, Thankappan, VellayanKochuraman, MallayanAyyappan and RamaswamiRaju – know Koothu songs in the settlement.
From Thumpippara settlement we went to MachiplavuKudi. There we went to Manappadan Muppan, the Kanikkaran’s house. We met Mr. Ramesh Gopalan, the tribal promoter of the settlement. He has published a book and is on the process of the next one which intends to help the Mannan young generation to learn the Mannan language. He told us that Ponnan AzhakanPoolan, Thankappan Kochuraman, Krishnanazhakan, Saji Krishnan, Ganapathi Kumaran and Beneesh are the people who know and practice Koothu in the settlement. We decided to find out the resourceful persons and ask them for a gathering at a place for it may help them to recollect many songs in the exact sequence. Mr. Remesh offered all sorts of help for such an assemblage.
From there we went to Chattupara Kudi and met Pandyan Sukumaran, the Kanikkaran of the settlement. More than fifty families reside in the settlement. But except the Kanikkaran and one old man, no old people are alive there now and only some young people conduct Koothu in the settlement.
January 13th 2013
On 13th we went to Kuthirayala settlement. Narayan Rangan is the Kanikkaran of the settlement and around sixty eight families reside there. But none of the people knew any oral literature of the tribe. Mr. Raman Kumaran narrated us the story behind the cave, from which the place got the name Kuthirayala. From there we went to ThalamaliKudi. There is no Kanikkaran now after the death of last Kanikkaran and none knows Koothu songs there too.
Then we went to Pettimudi settlement. We met Chinnathampi, an old man who knows Koothu songs in the settlement. We also met Mr. Chandran who informed us about their attempts to revive the ancient art forms. We met the oldest person of the settlement, Mrs. Narayan Lachmi who is a treasure house of Mannanorature. Since a journey back to the city was not possible, we stayed at Pottimudi settlement at night and Mr. Raman Kumaran and Mr. Mani narrated us the story of Kuthirayala to clear my doubts. Mr. Raman Kumaran told us a Mannan myth which narrates how a Mannan (KodivenkaThevan) killed tigers and they worship the protagonist as their God.
January 14th 2013
On 14th, we went from Pettimudi to Kurangatti settlement, a place at the mountain top, but full of paddy fields. Now there is no Kanikkaran and none knows Koothu songs there. We met Mrs. Sulochana, a member of Adimalipanchayath and she was helpful. From Kurangatti, we walked to Nooronkara settlement where we met Mr. V.R. Kumaran. He accompanied Mr. Ramesh Gopalan in the endeavour of publishing the books for reviving Mannan language. He is the son of Nayan Raja Mannan, the former King. He told us that he knows about thirty six Koothu songs. There we met Ariyan Rajappan, another person who knows Koothu. From Nooronkara we went to Chinnappara Kudi. Chinnappara is a settlement which still preserves the culture and oral literature of the Mannan people. Raman Kumaran, PandyanRaju, Vellayan Narayan, KoothadiThankappan are the chief practitioners of Koothu in the settlement.
January 15th 2013
On 15th January we visited Mazhuvadi settlement. Though we visited MazhuvadiKanikkaran’s (ThevanRajappan) house, he was not there. Then we met Mr. Raghavan, who knows Koothupattu in Mazhuvadi settlement. Including him four people practice Koothu there. They are Thevan Raju, Raman Kochuraman, and Thevan Rajappan, the Kanikkaran.
From there we moved to VattameduKudi and after that ManiyaranKudi and PerumkalaKudi respectively. We could find only one man who knows Koothu songs from ManiyaranKudi. He is AnakkadanRaju, the Kanikkaran of Vattamedu settlement. The Urumuppan of Vattamedu settlement, Mr. Ravi, told us that there are four people who knowsKoothu songs in the settlement. They are Chellappan, Divakaran, Koothu Raju and Ulakan.
January 20th 2013
On 20th January we along with Raman Kumaran visited KodakallanKudi, a settlement which is situated literally inside the forest. People were going to Mankulam settlement to attend a death ceremony and we met most of the people on the way. However, we could meet Mr. Ulakan who is the only one/person who knows koothu songs in KodakallanKudi. Mr. Ulakan believes that the oral Koothu songs and tales should not be written or recorded since they are their god’s story. Even so, he sung a Koothu song for us, a song with some general topics and allowed us to record that. From there we heard another story of the tribe’s origin, a story that relates the origin to Mahabharatha battle.
January 21st 2013
On 21st we visited Thalumkandam settlement. We met Mr. VellayanMalli, the Urumuppan and Mr. Raman, the Kanikkaran of the settlement. Mr. Rajan Mani narrated the gist of Kovilan-Kannaki story – a story they sing in Koothu. After that we went to Veliampara . Presently the settlement has no Kanikkaran but there is one person, Ayyappan (Kutty), who knows Koothu .
January 22nd 2013
On 22nd we went to Puppara settlement and Namari settlements. None of these settlements have Kanikkaran and none of the people know Koothu either. Here we found a youth addicted to alcohol.
January 25th 2013
On 25th of January 2013, we visited Thinkalkadu Kudi. We met Mr. Vellachami who described to us the modes of preparing Mathalam, being an expert in playing it. He informed that the one who prepares Mathalam should place homage to Panchanpulan and Perianakan at first. Roasted ‘ada’ should be placed on a mat of reed before one sits with wood to make Mathalam. They should be pleased by giving ‘ada’ which should be covered in the leaf of Channakuva and roasted in fire.
From Thinkalkadu we went to Arivilanchan settlement and Thopramkudi settlement. In Arivilanchan only seven Mannan families reside now and none of them practice Koothu. The situation was not different in Thoprankudi settlement though about twenty five families reside there.
February 2013 report
On 17th February my collaborator and myself went to Kovilmala to record Kalavuttu and Koothu, the enactment of Mannan Oral Epic in which they sing the Kannaki-kovilan story. NFSC shooting team, Mr. Amudan with his assistants Mr. Suresh and Mr. Mani also came to record the rituals and performance on Kalavuttu. People from most of the settlements gathered at Kovilmala for Kalavuttu. From morning we recorded many rituals like prayers and offerings to gods and ancestors.
By 10 p.m. koothu started. Contradictory to the tradition, women participated in the koothu this time. Radha (Kanni) from Chinnappara settlement and her sister were the women participants. Ravi from Vathikkudi settlement and Manoharan from Thalamali settlement disguised as women. Periyan from Chinnappara settlement was the other performer. At first they performed in front of the temple of Goddess Kanchiyar Muthi. They danced to two songs. Then they started the performance on the stage. The singers were seated behind the dancers on the stage. They sung only three or four songs that day because of time constraints.
March 2013 Report
March 16th 2013
On 16th March my collaborator and I went to Nooronkara settlement to record Koothu songs. Though we’d decided to gather at Machiplavu settlement, because of some problems regarding the space we conducted the gathering at Mr. Rajappan’s house at Nooronkara. Mr. Raman Kumaran of Chinnapara settlement reached there and they (Mr. Raman Kumaran and Mr. Rajappan) sung Koothu songs for us.
March 18th 2013
On 18th March we reached Kurangatti settlement and gathered at Adimali panchayath member Mrs. Sulochana’s house. We had to record the songs from the beginning for in the earlier days the resource persons did not sing the songs in the chronological sequence. The cause was a misunderstanding. When we asked them to sing the Koothu songs, they sang only the songs on which they used to dance. We were supposed to ask them to sing the ‘history’, not ‘song’. Even my collaborator was not aware of it for he hasn’t seen such a performance in his life time – a performance which lasts for seven days. Now-a-days, on performances, the people sing only such songs those have the rhythm to dance. Mr. Raman Pachamani of Chattupara settlement joined us on that day. Mr. Raman Panchamani, Mr. Raman Kumaran and Mr. Rajappan sang the whole day and covered 38 songs and 40 dialogues, from the beginning till Madevi abducts Kovilan’s wealth. We audio and video recorded the data. Mr. Kumaran of Nooronkara settlement, a resource person joined us but he could not sing any songs because of his health problems.
On 16th March 2013, we (my collaborator and me)went to Nooronkara settlement and collected some Koothu songs. Koothu is a sequence of stories and songs. But owing to certain unavoidable miscommunication, we did not get the songs and stories in their proper sequence. But on 18th March 2013, the resource persons (Mr. Raman Panchamani, Mr. Raman Kumaran and Mr. Rajappan) were more coordinated and they sang the songs and stories in their proper narrative order. Yet some portions are missing and we can find those missing parts at the time of coordination only. On 18th we got stories from the beginning of Koothu story till Kovilan (the protagonist loses his wealth). The theme of Koothu story is similar to the famous Kannaki-Kovilan story, though the Mannan version has much difference from the main stream Kannaki story of the Tamil Epic Chilappathikaram by Ilanko Atikal.
Mannan version of Kannaki story
The story starts with the story of Varanamala, Kovilan’s mother and the birth of Kovilan who is born by the blessings of lord Shiva. Knowing the news of Kovilan’s birth, Pandya king asks to his soldiers to find out the secret of Kovilan’s birth and the soldiers informs him that Varanamala did something wrong and a child born to her. The soldiers advise him to kill the ‘Kannanmar’(heavenly bodies) who usually come to Pandya kingdom to sell jewelries. The ‘Kannanmar’ get refuge in the temple of Vadavadrakali. But the soldiers, following Pandya’s instructions, slaughter the ‘Kannanmar’ in front of Vadavadrakali’s idol and the goddess saves the ‘Kannanmar’ by taking the blows on her. She goes to Pandya king and avows that she will be born as Pandya’s daughter and will kill him. After ten months, Pandya’s wife Koppilichiamma gives birth to a girl child, a child with Chilambu (anklet). Pandya gets advices from the clairvoyant (Jyotsiar) to kill the child for she will bring disaster to the city. The king buries the child by placing her alive in the sand. To save the child, there starts a heavy rain and the water takes the box to ocean. The merchants who were coming by a ship see the golden box and open the box and find a beautiful girl child with anklets. They wish to marry her but the child tells them that since they saved her, they are her father figures and she is the girl for ‘Kovilapperumal’. They name her ‘Karnnakei’ as she is found by them. They take her to Kovilan’s palace and leave her there. When Kannaki and Kovilan grow up, they get married to each other. On the day of marriage itself, Kovilan goes to watch Madevi’s Marikoothu (dance). Without heeding his mother’s advice, he takes hundred lakhs and goes to Madevi. Madevi sees the wealthy Kovilan and decides to marry him. At the stage she announces that she will marry the one on whose neck her garland falls and she throws the garland towards Kovilan after chanting some mantras to get him as her husband. The garland gets attached to his flesh and bones. Madevi marries Kovilan. Kovilan loses his wealth. Madevi and her servants leave him after abducting all his wealth. He goes back to his palace. [i]
Albeit the motif of Mannan Koothu and Ilanko Atikal’s Chilappathikaram is same, Koothu version has a different structure. The story starts with Varanamala’s birth (Varanamala is the name of Kovilan’s mother) where Chilappathikaram starts with Kannaki-Kovilan marriage. In Koothu, Kannaki is the daughter of Pandya King. She is a reincarnation of goddess Vadavadrakali who avowed to take revenge on the Pandya King. Many such differences are there in the Mannan version of Kannaki story.
The performance is a mixture of dialogues and songs. The rhythmic variations of songs make the performance more attractive and lively. The resource persons told us that the audience participates in the Koothu especially in the dance portions as the rhythm thrills them. At the beginning only three or four performers will be performing and they dance facing the audience. When the number of dancers increases, they form a circle and dance. The dancers move to sides when there are dialogues delivery and ‘Chollu’ – narration of the story. When a new dancer enters, the singers ask permission from the audience to allow them to perform. Then a saree is held stretched and the dancer enters the centre by lifting the curtain of saree. Fire will be kept at the four sides of the ground for light.
My collaborator and the resource persons described the ritual before the Koothu performance. One or two rupee coins have to be offered to the concerned God. The coined should be placed on Mathalam. The offerings will be handed over to the Kanikkaran concerned. After Koothu the Kanikkaran takes the coins to the place of worship and requests for the prosperity for the people, naming each family and members of the family and place the coins in front of the idol. Then the dancers seek the blessings of Mathalakkaran – one who plays the Mathalam – by touching his feet. The Mathalakkaran and the singers have special seats at the rear part of the stage. The Mathalakkaran sits on a wooden mortar after placing a folded gunny bag on that. The singers have special seats made of reeds called ‘benchicoil’. Only the singers and dancers are allowed to use the ‘benchicoil’. My collaborator is the mediator between my resource persons and me. He is the one who translates the stories from Mannan language to Malayalam and my query to Mannan language for my proficiency in Mannan language is not adequate.
April 2013 Report
On April 15th, my collaborator and I went to Kumily settlement – the settlement of my collaborator. The resource persons (Mr. Raman Kumaran and Mr. Rajappan) arrived and sung the rest of the Koothu literature for us. They started from where we stopped last month ( Madevi possessing Kovilan wealth) and completed till Kannaki starting her journey to find Kovilan who went to sell her anklet.
On 16th of April 2013 we resumed recording and completed the Koothu story. On 16th the resource persons started singing from where they stopped last day (Kannakai searches Kovilan) and completed the story as Kannakai murders the goldsmith and Pandya King and burns Pandya kingdom. The story ends as Kannaki abandons the Pandya Kingdom and goes to Malayalarajyam(Kerala). After singing this part the dancers place a small vessel full of water at the centre and sing the songs which describe the life of Mannan people. The
Performance ends with a prayer for rain and prosperity and the performers sprinkle water from the vessel towards the sky and on the audience.
[i] My project is intended to collect the oral epic of Mannan tribe, their own version of Kannaki-kovilan story which they sing in their musical drama form “Koothu”. In November and December 2012, my collaborator and I could collect only a few songs of Koothu. In January 2013, we found resource persons from twenty seven settlements for now-a-days, only a couple of people know the traditional koothu. In February 2013, we recorded the Koothu performance. In March, on our request, the resource persons Mr. Raman Kumaran of Chinnappara settlement, Mr. Rajappan of Nooronkara settlement and Mr. Raman Panchamani of Chattupara settlement gathered at Nooronkara settlementon 16th and Kurangatti settlement on 18th of March 2013. We could record around fourty songs and dialogues of Koothu – from the prayers to the story of Madevi’s abduction of kovilan’s wealth.