Published in the Spectrum, Deccan Herald, April 18th, 2017 (Time to soak in the revelry)
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Every year, during the months of April and May, different villages in Kodagu celebrate an interesting festival called Boad namme. Usually these celebrations are associated with shrines of Bhadrakali. Residents of Chembebelloor (also called Chembebeliyur), Bilugunda and other villages roister around their respective temples on different days.
The observances, however, begin with a stringent period called Pattani, when a number of foods (including those cooked in oil, using coconuts or non vegetarian), and certain common activities (such as cutting coconuts within the house), are prohibited.
The revelry that follows has boys and men wear various guises and dance around the village. During that night and the following day, these performers masquerade accompanied by musicians who mostly play percussion. Going from one house to another in the village they bring vehicles on the roads to a brief pause.
Some of the entertainers participate in Band Kali, where they have mud smeared all over their clothes, heads, arms and legs. Some others, the Puli Vesha (tiger guise) performers, wear shorts and have their bodies painted in tiger skin patterns. When money is thrown at them they stoop down in impossible angles and with much care pick up the notes with their mouths instead of their hands. Many other enactments, including those by cross dressing males, are performed as well.
The Chembebelloor Bhadrakali is west facing and there is a small Mahadeva shrine inside the temple. One performer carries the moga, a parasol with a mask upon it, of Bhadrakali and performs the theray. A theray, a sacred dance ritual by costumed dancers who emulate spirit deities, is organised at the shrine. During the day of the Kudure aatta (horse play), teenaged boy representatives wear horse shaped cane frames around them. One horse performer comes from each of the three keri (hamlets) of Chembebelloor.
According to Coluvanda Jappu, Chembebelloor village comprises of three keri : Podakote, Podikeri and Nadikeri. The villagers and the performers from each of the three keri all gather in the ambala, a public gathering place, in the centre of the village.
We were guests of Uncle Suresh Subbaiah's extended family in Chembebelloor last year. There was one performer, in black rags and a tin over his head, who called himself a bear. There was another who came guised as 'Black Money', dressed in a black robe and with money notes strung around his neck. Others included those in various priestly garbs; some of them came as saffron clad Sannyasi monks while one man came dressed as a Padri. Last time's attraction, however, was a set of men who dressed up as Spartans, in purple chitons and hoplite helmets with red coloured mock horsehair tufts on top.
Folk singers from the Kundera and other families paid a visit. They sang the mane paat, a song in praise of the resident family visited, as they did in each house, while they struck on drums that they carried. John Napier, an Australian ethnomusicologist, was also present in the village to record the event.
Later we went to the temple yard where we sat and watched with the rest of the villagers. Some villagers with leafy twigs kept in their shirt collars entered the temple at the head of procession, as per tradition. All the actor and musician performers entered the shrine after them.
The Bhadrakali temple of Bilugunda is in what was the village of Bonda and now between the Bilugunda and Nalvathokkal villages. It is south facing and has two entrances: one leads to the south and the other to the east. During the Bilugunda Boad namme, the people from Bilugunda enter from the east while the people from Nalvathokkal enter from the South.
One year the dand theray, or two theray, happens and the next year the naal theray, or four theray, happens in Bonda. During the dand theray, as in last year, Bhadrakali and her sister Karikali are impersonated while during the naal theray the two daughters of Karikali, one of them being incapable of speech, are also emulated. The Bonda theray performers dress in white panches (sarongs) around which are tied red skirts that are held up by canes. Upon each of their white turbaned heads they hold up flat wooden framed white umbrellas each of which have flowers and a metal mask of the fanged goddesses. At the back of this parasol hangs a red cloth.
The chief oracle wears a white panche, is independent of the theray and is called a Thiralekara.
One horse performer comes from Bilugunda and one from Nalvathokkal. The nine extended families and eighteen houses of Bilugunda take turns every year to have a teenaged boy become the horse performer and a younger boy dress as a woman. Traditionally the horse and the woman performances happened on separate days but now due to time constraints they are being combined to happen on the same day.
The Bilugunda horse performer last year came from my paternal great grandmother's Madappanda clan house. Mandepanda Dali and other folk singers sat within the Madappanda house and sang the Dudi paat as some of us listened. Last year's Nalvathokkal performer belonged to my maternal great grandmother's Bonda Mukkatira family.
The horse performers wore white coloured turbans, long shirts, trousers and horse frames. They were accompanied by a procession comprising of their respective family and village members. A Thiralekara walked before each performer while another man carried a native Oide Katti war-knife and walked beside him. Two other men carried dudi drums and sticks. A young girl carried a lighted oil lamp on a plate.
A small boy from Bilugunda, who, as an exception, was from the Iynanda family, was dressed in a simple red sari. In his hands were held a mirror and a betel leaf and he walked behind the horse performer. A woman of the house accompanied him in order to help him with the dress if required. Likewise there was another young boy from Nalvathokkal as well.