Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Granny's Tale : The Hero of Kathivanoor

Kathivanoor Veeran Theyyam
Image Courtesy :  Ganesh Payyanur Photography

The war dance of Kathivaroon Veeran
Image Courtesy: Hari Menon Photography

I belong to Kannur, the land of looms and lores. Every nook and corner of my place has a tale to tell, tales of a bygone era, of heroes, legends and myths.

This tale told by my granny that I want to share, is the tale of how the Kathivanoor Veeran Theyyam was born. It is the story of a tragic hero whose life reflects the life of an ordinary man, who even after facing many setbacks in life becomes the extraordinary hero of a region.

Theyyam is a vibrant ritual dance that is popular in north Kerala and is performed during the months of December to April. The artist who becomes the theyyam supposedly becomes the god-incarnation and gives advices and blessings to the devotees.

What makes Kathivanoor Veeran special is the ambience of fire and the vibrant physical and acrobatic performance by the artist.

Once when I asked what lured her to stand and watch the  three day long performance of the Theyyam, Granny told me the tale.

The story goes like this.

Long ago in a small village in Kannur called Mangad, a son was born to a local landlord Kumaran after years of prayer to their family goddess. The boy Mannappan, grew up to be a head -strong youth who was more interested to become an expert in Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of their place. He was talented in that and dreamed of being a warrior much to the angst of his father.

In a bout of anger, his father broke his weapons and Mannappan left his house saying breaking his weapons meant killing him.

He joined his friends on a journey to Kathivanoor , where his maternal uncle lived. His friends fearing the wrath of his father intoxicate him with alcohol and food, and desert him half way along the path.

Mannappan being the brave person that he was understands the treachery of his friends and continues on the journey alone, through the thick jungles and rocky terrains. By the time he reaches Kathivanoor, he is a changed person.

His uncle welcomes him into his home and divides his property equally among him and his own son. He becomes a good farmer and learns to make oil from sesame seeds. He becomes a successful oil merchant.

During one of his trips, he meets the beautiful Chemmarathi and falls in love with her. Even though she belonged to a lower caste and his family objected to the marriage, Mannappan sticks to his decision to marry her.

After marriage, though they were head over heels in love with each other, there erupted occasional fights.

Once, Mannappan returns only the next morning after a sales trip, being out all night. Chemmarathi doubts that he was with some other girl and does not open the door or lock the dog.

A furious Mannappan forces open the door but calms down immediately and requests for food, as he is very hungry. An angry Chemmarthi asks him to drink his own blood and eat his own brain but then half-heartedly cook him food with unclean rice.

When he takes the first handful of rice, he sees stone and hair, which is supposed to be bad omen, and discards it.

In the next serving, his rice dumpling breaks into half. When he asks his wife what that means, an irritated Chemmarathi replies death in a battle and he discards that too.

In the next serving, before he puts food into his mouth, he hears the war- cry of his friends who had formed an army against the Kudagu army, which wanted control over their farms.

He leaves the food and gets up saying an honorable man should not waste time by eating when he hears the war cry.

He collects his weapons and on the way out hits his head on the beam of the front door.

He asks to Chemmarathi what it means and Chemmarathi who is completely mad at him tells him he will face death and his body will be cut into sixty-four pieces.

He smiles at her and replies, “So be it.”

When he goes out, a red headed chameleon crosses his path which is also considered as an omen of death.

Chemmarathi who is worried by now requests him not to go to war but he refuses to listen and joins his friends in the war.

They emerge victorious in the war, but Mannappan lose his ring finger along with his ring. He refuses to face Chemmarathi as a disfigured creature and returns to the battlefield in an act of suicide. The enemies hiding in the nearby forests pounce on him and kill him. They later cut his body into 64 parts and throw in various directions.

His ring finger falls on a banana plant in their courtyard and a heart-broken Chemmarathi comes to know of his death.

Together with relatives and friends, she searches for the other body parts and finally prepares the funeral pyre.

Once the funeral pyre is lit, Chemmarathi diverts the attention of all by asking them to see the bright star which had risen during day and jumps into the pyre to be united with Mannappan, this time in death.

When the relatives go to the river to take the dip after the twin-funerals, they are astonished to see Mannappan and Chemmarathi taking bath upstream in the same river.

Many omens follow, which convince them that their hero Mannappan had become divine. Very soon, the Kathivanoor Veeran or the Hero of Kathivanoor Theyyam was created and attained the status of a powerful deity.

This story, tells us about the importance of faith and trust in a relationship. It talks about hard work and the power of words. It also reiterates that life does not often give second chances. I try to follow this message completely.

This theyyam is staged in houses or family temples funded by families, which needs blessings in the areas of relationships and prosperity.

I was mesmerized by the tale and by the breath-taking performance of the theyyam artist. The Theyyam sings and acts the passionate story of Mannappan.

Take a glimpse of this vibrant dance form from my native district.

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  1. Nice story, Preethi.
    I do wish Chemmarathi didn't say all those harsh words that turned true... But, she loves him in spite of her ill-behavior as she jumps into the pyre wanting to be reunited with Mannapan :)

  2. That was a very interesting story, Preethi. I have heard of these art/martial forms but did not know this background. Glad to have stopped by today.

    1. Sakshi ..there are almost 39 different theyyams and each has an interesting story associated with it... They are a treasure house of amazing stories..

  3. Such an informative post here and the story is so fascinating :)
    Loved those pictures too!

    1. Bhavya Kaushik..Visit Kerala you will find many more such fascinating stories..:)

      Thank you for dropping by.

  4. What a story and I am trying to imagine it in dance form.
    I have seen Kathakali performances but never Theyyam.

    1. This Theyyam especially is breathtaking... The artist is usually an expert in Kalaripayattu...
      This is different from Kathakali... Theyyams are worshiped and people come to seek blessings.

    2. Visit north Kerala during Dec-April and you will be able to watch plenty of Theyyams Indrani... You can return with a colourful load of memories and many such stories...

  5. For me all things south right from veni,the beutiful kanakambara string, daily call of 'yellneer 'and all are new and it amazes me that I don't know about my fellow people, my land!! I am on a drinking spree...till I am here in bangalore and till I am here in blogosphere.... from fellow bloggers like you... thanks for sharing :)

    1. Yes..South is indeed colourful..and we south Indians are enchanted with the amazing north...

  6. Interesting story, I have seen a performance of Theyyam and it breathtakingly beautiful!

    1. Yes .. Mridula, Among my friends also there are people who go miles and miles to watch Theyyams. The whole ambiance is worth every step

  7. Oh that's absolutely amazing to see a post on Theyyam. I belong to Thrissur and I have visited Kannur just to see the Theyyam performance. As a person from the cultural capital of Kerala, I am used to different art forms but I would say Theyyam is altogether a different experience.

  8. Such a nice post, Preethi! I have yet to experience a Theyyam performance. They do it every year in a place nearby where I live. But somehow something or the other always has prevented me from going..hopefully next year.

  9. One of my senior from Kerala did a project work related to Theyyam costume. This post is very interesting giving a hint belief/thinking of people...

    The Arts & Me

  10. Its absolutely amazing to see the tragic story of Mannappan, warrior, lover, friend, a true human being full of values and patience. Im proud that my family Karayapath has one of the important 'palliyara' known Karayapath Kathivanoor veeran Kshetram near Thaliparamba, Kannur. Kathivanoor veeran is my inspiration, my strength, even my weakness.

    Nithin Suren

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Nithin Suren. Glad to know about the kshethrm near Taliparamba. Thank you for visiting.

  11. what a wonderful story . truly a amazed and proud to know that it happen in my kannur and mangad is very near were i belong.

  12. Trust ,faith are as important as love in a relationship. This sounds like a heartbreaking story to watch unfold .Beautiful Preethi.I almost held my breath wishing the ending could be different

  13. Wow Preethi, what a wonderful narrative. I want to see this performance now. And the lessons to be learnt that you highlight in the end are so so apt.

  14. So this is the story behind the famous 'Theyyam' .What a beautiful, haunting and tragic story laced with wisdom.
    Thank you for sharing the story your Grandmom shared with you, Preethi.

  15. I like this story because it reminds Indian traditional religious backgrounds. Theyyam as a great creature by spirituality.

  16. Good traditional story i like very much. It proofs the importance of words.