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Saturday, 30 December 2017

"In the spirit of worship" Deccan Herald

Thanks Deccan Herald.
Photo courtesy :  Ashoka Biddappa Muckatira (Newspaper edition), John Napier
In the spirit of worship, 
NOV 27 2017, 21:50 IST, Deccan Herald,

The worship of spirit deities is prevalent in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. The spirit worship ceremony, performed annually in the village temples and ancestral households, is called theray in the Kodava language. A traditional dancer dons face paint or mask and the costume, often red coloured, of a deity, and prances around. Later, he behaves as a medium of the spirit of the deity and advises the devotees as they come to him with their problems.
The Vishnu Murthy shrine
The Vishnu Murthy shrine, located near the Choli Povvadiamme Bhagawathy Temple in Arapattu village, has one such ceremony where spirit deities are worshipped. It is generally called Choundi theray, although Choundi (also Chamundi or Chavundi) is not the only deity propitiated here. The Choundi theray takes place after the Bhagwathy temple festival.
The deity in this temple is said to be in the form of Narasimha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Upon the gable of this red-tiled shrine is the face of a moustached deity, its face painted in yellow colour. Near the base and on either side of the entrance is the face of a lion.
The deity of this shrine is offered non-vegetarian food. The Brahmin priest of the nearby Bhagawathy Temple and his family visit the temple to seek blessings. The local Muslims, called mappilla, also pay obeisance here. The priest of this shrine traditionally belongs to the Maleya community. The Maleyas travel to nearby villages during the theray season to perform and help in the arrangements.They wear a saffron panche during the preparations. The Banna and the Panika are other communities who perform such ceremonies in parts of Kodagu. Bhadrakali worship is conducted by the Panikas.
The Maleyas come from the villages of Kirundad, Marandod and Parane for the Arapattu ceremony. The theray begins with the opening performance of a spirit deity called Thota, at night, and it is followed by performances of the Anji Koot Murthy, the five spirits. They are Kutti Chatta, Kari Baala, Kala Bhairava, Kuliya and Nuchchute. The Choudi and Vishnu Murthy performances happen the next morning.
Anji Koot Murthy theray
I visited Arapattu in the theray season. The village stalls were set up, they sold food items and other goods. The preparation for the theray began in the evening, in the adjacent threshing ground. A shelter for the performers to rest was placed beside the ground. The performance started after dinner. The preparation for the performance began with the nooth kuripo (face paint) and alankara (dressing the performer) began. The performers were dressed in red. A thoodu (bamboo torch) was carried along by one of the people accompanying the performers.
The first performer arrived from the threshing ground in the guise of a Thota. As part of the act, he kept turning his head to look behind him every now and then. Then, he pranced around for a while in front of the shrine and then went to the shrine and seated himself on a stool before the inner sanctum. Devotees came to him with their prayers. He listened to them and answered. Later, the Thota was carried out of the shrine by another performer.
Similarly, the other performers came to the temple. Kutti Chatta held a stick and a bell, and had decorative eyes. His eyes were covered with large shells with holes in the middle. Bhairava, on the other hand, didn't have such eye coverings. Kari Baala, a fierce avatar, held two swords. In the middle of his performance, he took the musicians to task for not playing vigorously enough and demanded that the devotees also dance along with him. Nuchchute, the last of the five, walked comically and made the people laugh. Supposedly a female deity, the performer wore grass upon his head. He went from person to person and whispered into their ears as they gave him money.
A different enactment called the Thirale was performed after the five performances. The performer was subjected to mystic experiences. He performed a frantic trembling dance dressed in white kuppya chele(a traditional costume) as he held a staff and an oide-katti, a billhook shaped war knife. He took turns performing as Bhagawathy and Vishnu Murthy throughout the night.
Choundi theray
Next morning, the Choundi and Vishnu Murthy performances were enacted. There were six chenda drummers. There was another drummer and one gong player as well, both belonging to the Meda community and the elderly drummer was dressed in white kuppya chele. The Choundi performer wore a hay skirt and walked around what remained of the bonfire, that was lit by the villagers at night. He was held by both hands as he was thrown on the smouldering bonfire and then dragged away from it a number of times.
The Thota performer gave the Vishnu Murthy performance as well. He wore a steel mask, which depicted a moustached face, and a hay skirt. His legs were plastered with mud. He performed first at the Vishnu Murthy shrine and then at the Bhagawathy shrine. In the evening a non-vegetarian feast called bharani was served to the families of the village.

caption - the Thirale (a whirling dance) performer in white and the Choundi (Chamundi) theray (a dance-worship) performer in grass over-wear; Photo by John Napier (Online version)
Online Edition:


Text by yours truly, M P Nitin Kushalappa (Mookonda Kushalappa);  

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Mathanda Appachu (Part 4)

His forefathers

The chieftain's family

In Kodagu, a certain folk song describes the ancient local government in the region. Eight hereditary chieftain clans called the desa thakka (regional chieftains) resided in places spread across Kodagu. The Mathanda pronounced as 'Maa-ththan-da', clan were one of these eight.

When I had been to Bollumad village of Beppunaad region I chanced upon the sepulchre of Diwan Mathanda Appachu. It lies in the family lands of his descendants. This tomb has a small dome and turrets on top with four basava bulls at the corners of the flat roof.

Appachu's sepulchre

Nearby are two memorials to his predecessors. One memorial is a white stone upon a platform on the grave of Mathanda Maanu and under a tree. Maanu has no living descendants. The other is a small red shrine, called a Kaimada, which is dedicated to Maletira Karicha of Kedamallur, the common ancestor of all Mathanda members existing today.

Karicha's Kaimada

Oral tradition claims that a particular sorcerer had troubled a Raja of Kodagu. The Raja had a reward placed upon the sorcerer's head. Karicha, as a young boy, had befriended the sorcerer who gradually took the boy into his confidence. The boy followed him everywhere and the sorcerer didn't mind at all. Karicha noticed that the sorcerer never put down his weapons as he didn't trust anybody enough, not even Karicha.

Once the two came to a stream where they wished to wash their faces and limbs before having lunch. Karicha put down his weapons and washed his hands and feet first. Not suspecting anything to be amiss, the sorcerer also put down his weapons and stood on the bank of the stream. Finding this to be the opportune moment, Karicha sprang up, grabbed his weapons and killed the sorcerer. When the Raja got the news he was highly pleased and so rewarded Karicha.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Mathanda Appachu (Part 3)

The Coorg grandfather 

by Mookonda Kushalappa

The archival picture

The 1870 'Gazetteer of Coorg' by Rev. G. Richter, a British missionary, and educationist, has a photograph labeled as 'Coorgs: grandfather, father and grandsons'. The seated grandfather sports a handlebar mustache, a mark of distinction. According to the 1875 volume of 'People of India' series, where the same picture is labeled as 'Coorgs. Hindoos. Coorg', he is called 'Mattana', 'Soobadar of Mercara', shown along with 'his younger relatives'.

Based on a list replicated in folklorist Nadikerianda Chinnappa's 1924 book Pattole Palame, I have been able to identify this 'Mattana', 'Madanta' and 'Appachanna' as Subahdar Mathanda Appachu, later Head Sheristadar and Diwan. The picture hence shows Mathanda Appachu, his son, and grandsons.

In his book, Richter speaks of 'the present Head Sheristadar Madanta Appachu, a fine old Coorg, of tall stature and martial bearing' on page 337. Again on page 363, Richter talks of 'Subedar Appachanna the present Head Sheristadar'. 


Later photos have come up. It appears that the father and not the grandfather is Mathanda Appachu. According to the family tree, this makes the grandfather Karicha, father of Appachu. His son is Appachu and Appachu's four sons are the grandsons.

The eldest male member of an okka (Kodava family) was called the Pattedara. He owned the land and the property of the family. Like Manu the Hindu law-giver said in his Manusmriti, the man owned his son, wife, and servant. This way Karicha wears his son Appachu's medal.  

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Mathanda Appachu (Part 2)

The Headman

by Mookonda Kushalappa

A letter from Chief Commissioner Mark Cubbon to the Superintendent of Coorg mentioned the name of 'Subadar Appachoo'adversely. Appachu, like others of his times, had shown his extreme displeasure to the conversion of one Almanda Somaiah and his family into Christianity. This was despite the British Government's assurances to Somaiah. Yet, years later, Appachu was promoted to Head-Sheristadar, the highest native judicial position.

Although Appachu strongly resisted Western religion, he was an active promoter of Western education. In a letter related to an endowment for the Mercara Central School (Madikeri Government School) dated 17th October 1863 in Madikeri, among the 13 signatories, the third was 'Madanda Appachoo, Head-Sheristadar'. Thus he was one of the founders of the School Endowment Plantation Fund which later became the Coorg Education Fund.

In his 1870 Gazetteer of Coorg, Richter notes that though Coorg was jealously guarded by the antagonism of its conservative headmen, it had to yield to the onward march of civilization. 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Mathanda Appachu (Part 1)

The life of a warlord

by Mookonda Kushalappa

Coorg War, 1834

Mathanda Appachu, a tall, young man from Beppunaad, Kodagu, rose within the ranks in the Raja's army to become a Karyagara (army officer). The Raja at that time was Chikka Vira Rajendra, the last Raja of Kodagu.

In 1834, the British East India Company sent an army of 6,000 sepoys to invade Kodagu. This force, of the Infantry of the Company's Madras Army, was divided into four columns. One column was to march into the region from the east, one from the north and two from the west until they reach Madikeri, the capital of the princedom.

The Kodagu army stood up to defend their small kingdom fiercely. This native army had purchased firearms from the Portuguese and others along the western coast of India.

The Northern Column of the Company's Infantry was to meet the Eastern Column near Harangi village. But another village near Somwarpet town secured well by a Bakka and in a forested mountain pass, stood their way. The Bakka was a defensive structure comprising of a mud ditch, fortified with thick wooden palisades. This village was the chief base of the resistance in Kodagu.

Karyagara Mathanda Appachu and his men were in the defense of that Bakka. They fought hard against the Northern Column. This Kodagu force aimed their guns and shot at the British from behind wooden palisades and through the arrow-slits of those palisades. Appachu and his warriors killed 48 soldiers, including three officers, and injured 118, within four hours on that one day. No casualties were reported from the Kodagu side. Thus, this Kodagu troop was able to beat the larger and more well-organized East India Company at that time.

But the Raja didn't wish to rouse the British anger any further. Hence he wanted his army to avoid further conflict. So he chose to send his Diwans to surrender on his behalf. The Eastern Column was escorted from Kushalnagar town to Madikeri. Three days later, the Raja emerged from hiding. Hence the British were able to take over Kodagu.

Under the Raj

Appachu was, thus, responsible for the largest resistance provided against the British in Kodagu during that War of 1834. Surprisingly no retaliatory action was taken against Appachu. His deeds were forgiven and his intrepidity was in fact appreciated well. The British didn't wish to distort the existing order.

Appachu then swore loyalty to his erstwhile enemy. He was made a Subahdar or native governor. A few years later, Subahdar Mathanda Appachu and sixty men suppressed some rebels who had planned to take over Madikeri. For this Appachu was awarded the 'Coorg Medal'. 

Since Appachu was also the highest ranking native official of his times, he was known as the Diwan of Kodagu. This popularly assigned designation was unofficial as the British had abolished the Diwan post in Kodagu some years prior. 

Appachu's mausoleum
When I had been to Bollumad village of Beppunaad region I chanced upon the sepulcher of Diwan Mathanda Appachu. It lies in the family lands of his descendants. This tomb has a small dome and turrets on top with four basava bulls at the corners of the flat roof.