The Kurichiya and Kuruma communities have extensive knowledge about paddy cultivation. Cheruvayal Raman, a native of Mananthavady in Wayanad and a member of the Kurichiya community, is an authority on paddy cultivation. He is the custodian of 53 varieties of paddy seeds that were traditionally used in Wayanad, and can identify and name every variety just by sight. He is recognised as a heritage paddy preserver by the Government of Kerala, and is a General Council member of the Agricultural University, Mannuthy. He was felicitated with the Genome Saviour Award 2016, instituted by Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Authority of India (PPVFRA), for his lifetime efforts in the conservation of traditional rice varieties. He upholds the legacy of traditional Kurichiya and Kuruma communities as a full-time paddy farmer.
On indigenous paddy varieties
Cheruvayal Raman: I have with me several traditional paddy varieties with a harvest-maturity period of six months, such as Veliyan, Chettuveliyan, Mannu Veliyan, Chenthadi and Chembakam. Thondi, Marathondi, Channalthondi, Kuttiveliyan, Palveliyan, Adukkan, Kothandan and Kanali have a five-month maturity period. Then there is Gandhakashala, Jeerakashala, Kayama and Urunikayama, considered aromatic rice varieties, which also take five months to mature.
I can identify these varieties by sight just like a mother recognises her own child—by colour, texture and size. I recognised you after you visited twice. I did not know you before, did I? Just like that my deep interest and observations and experimentation in the field of paddy cultivation help me identify each seed.
Then there are seeds that mature in four months such as Onammottan, Onachanna, Kalladiyaran, Okkanpuncha, Ponnadan-nondi. Seeds which mature in three months include Thonooram Thondi, Thonnooram Punja, Njavara, etc.
I usually cultivate each variety of seeds in small portions such as in three or five cents. Sowing and harvesting have to be done carefully. Seeds which have the maximum maturity period are sowed first, followed by other seed varieties according to their maturity period. So, the seed with maturity period of six months will be sown first, and then after a month, the one with the maturity period of five months. This system of farming makes harvesting easier; it ensures that all seeds mature at the same time.
On the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
C.R.: After 1978–79, I slowly backed out of using pesticides because I saw the adverse effects it had. The soil quality was affected as the earthworms were killed. I did not complain or talk to anyone about this. I did not even persuade anyone to stop using pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Others even made fun of me for not using them. From the year 2000, I started collecting seed varieties.
Traditional Kurichiya cultivation did not involve the use of any chemicals, and even today it’s not rampant. The young generation do use pesticides and fertilisers. Older generation (who are 60 to 70 years of age now) still continue with organic ways. As I said before, each of these seeds are planted in two-three cents of land. We could see it now if we visit the field. 52 varieties of seeds were in use till last year, each one varying in their maturity period.
Medicinal values of indigenous paddy varieties
C.R.: Well, we have not tested the rice or bran or husk in laboratories to ascertain if they have medicinal properties although we use them for various medical needs. We use husk-ashes for cleaning our teeth, along with mango leaves. That in itself is a medicine, just like Ayurvedic medicines.
We also use rice to cure wounds, by frying and crushing the paddy. Whatever be the case, our ancestors had consumed food which had a lot of medicinal properties. Their food not only satisfied hunger, but also made them healthier and immune to diseases. Vegetables like bitter gourd, ivy gourd and their wild varieties are in abundance in the forest, and all of these have some medicinal properties. Wayanad also has a speciality, the district has in abundance plants with innumerable medicinal properties.
Rituals associated with daivappura
C.R.: Everything happens in the daivappura, including rituals and life events. Auspicious events and celebrations like girls attaining puberty (menarche), for instance. Kettu Kalyanam is not that elaborate in my community. Families of the prospective bride and groom visit each other to decide on whether they want to go ahead with the marriage. A small ritual takes place where the groom and his family takes the bride home. A lamp, which is usually lit during all special occasions, will be lit in the daivappura. Vishu, birth and death, death anniversaries of ancestors, Onam, rituals related to sowing and harvesting—everything is held in connection with the daivappura. In fact, there is nothing which is not associated with the daivappura.
Each larger household or settlement is called a muttam (courtyard), for example Cheruvayal muttam. We, the Kurichiyas, don’t use terms like colony or ooru. The term muttam is associated with the daivappura, as it is the front yard of this sacred space. Kaathukutthu (ear piercing ceremony), choroonu (a ceremony in which a newborn child is fed his/her first meal) and housewarming are also some of the rituals held in daivappuras.
On rituals pertaining to death and cremation
C.R.: When there is a death in the family, the close relatives of the deceased (spouse and children) entrusts the dead body to the persons who are in charge of cremation. After performing rituals like bathing the dead body, and finally cremation, some water is kept in a vessel in front of the house for five days (this used to be seven days in the olden days). Members of the entire muttam gathers around the house for these five days to console the family members of the deceased person. They also sing and dance and perform to console the family and keep them engaged. It is only during extremely rare instances that we consecrate the dead one (man or woman) as a deity through some rituals.
When a woman dies, we keep a small sickle along with the corpse. My family is the Thalakkal family. If I were to die, for instance, all my family members would gather at my tharavaadu, and apply oil on themselves and take a bath. This is mandatory for all family members, but not for the spouse of the deceased as it is considered that they belong to a different family. If someone in my wife’s family were to die, as her husband I may go to their tharavadu and attend the funeral, but I am not ritualistically bound to follow pula (pollution observed during birth and death).