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Interview with Bacharanianda Appanna

Jyothi Jayaprakash speaks to Bacharanianda Appanna, a renowned writer from Kodagu. An expert on the ancient myths and folklore of the Kodavas, he has written several books on the history and culture of Kodagu.

Jyothi Jayaprakash: Rites of passage are an important cultural aspect of every community. In Kodagu too, one always hears of birth, death and marriage rites. Not much is heard about puberty rites. Do the Kodavas have a puberty ceremony, and is it practised widely?

 

Bacharanianda Appanna: Yes. The Kodavas used to have a puberty ceremony, although today it is rarely practised. When a girl attained puberty, it was called pole kanda mangala. This meant that the girl had to stay outside of the ainmane[1] for three days. The rites begin with the mother of the girl directing her daughter to first pray to the gods, then take milk, fruits and the wick of a lamp to a sap-exuding tree like jackfruit, and place the offering at the roots of the tree, and pray to the tree asking for its strength. After three days, a big feast for close relatives is conducted. From that day onwards the girl must wear a sari. Until then, a girl wears a skirt.

 

 

J.J.: Have you seen this ceremony in real life or participated in one of these feasts?

 

B.A.: No, I have only heard of it from my mother. But I have seen it happen in Gowda families in Kodagu. It isn't performed by the Kodavas any more. It must have been enacted only up to the early 1950s.

 

 

J.J.: The Kodava wedding is a unique affair with several aspects found nowhere else in the country. Can you please elaborate on the finer details of a Kodava wedding as it was conducted during the earliest times?

 

B.A.: Yes, the Kodava weddings are an elaborate affair. Nowadays, people avoid performing certain rituals or conduct it haphazardly where the convenience of both sides is the deciding factor. But back in the 1940’s, the wedding rituals were conducted strictly as per the guidelines, without skipping any aspect. There are rituals to be conducted from both the boy’s side and the girl’s side. I will start with the boy’s side, and side by side, explain the rituals on the girl’s side.

 

For every Kodava household there is an aruva, or a learned man, or the bodyguard, or the main helper of the family. For example, our Bacheranianda family has an aruva from the Bappadathanda family. His family is the permanent aruva for our Bacheranianda family. He plays an important role in marriages.

 

When a boy in the family is ready to get married, they look out for a girl and they find a suitable alliance. An important deciding factor is the ‘family name’ which is of major significance to Kodavas, because it signifies status. Only families of equal status marry into each other’s clan. Unless they get a suitable alliance from a suitable family status, they do not get married. A lot of women used to stay unmarried because of this issue. Even now, in certain cases, that happens. On finding a suitable alliance, the aruva and the boy go to see the girl. The girl brings a bowl of water to wash the feet for the guests, and a towel, and ask the guests to wash their feet. Earlier the guests were fed betel nut, now they are served coffee.  If she so chooses, she can talk to the boy. Or else, serve coffee, ask them all to drink it, and then leave. One must remember here that essentially the families must be compatible, the girl and boy come later. The next step is that a few important people from the girl’s family come to see the boy’s house. They examine the structure of the house, enquire about the area of land the boy owns, how much cattle they have etc. and ensure that the girl is going to be content in this house.

 

 

J.J: So once the girl’s side and boy’s side are satisfied with the families and houses, is there an engagement ceremony before the actual wedding? Nowadays, we do see an engagement ceremony, but was it always there?

 

B.A.: Yes, the engagement ceremony was always there. But I suppose it was performed a little differently then. This step is called mangala kuri, where mangala means marriage, and kuri means a document in writing. The boy’s aruva, and a couple of uncles or responsible persons go to the girl’s house. They light the lamp, sprinkle some rice on it and state the reasons for the visit in a formal manner, and invoke the blessings of the ancestors. The girl is also present. They then touch the feet of elders on either sides. Then the aruva and two others together write the lagna patrike/ marriage card. Earlier, although it is not our sastra/custom, some Kodavas had a custom of going to the temple to determine a good alliance. The poojari patta[2] places two flowers on the presiding deity, a white flower and a red flower. In the process of saying the prayers, the poojari ensures that one of the flowers falls down. If the white flower falls, then it means that the alliance is apt. If the red flower falls, then the alliance is risky.

 

 

J.J.: Have you seen a lagna patrike (marriage invitation) from the olden times?

 

B.A.: Yes, I have seen my mother’s lagna patrike from 1924. I have transcribed it, let me read it out to you. It is in Kannada.

Lagna patrike

Date: 10/5/1924

Shubham

In the year 1924, on the 10th of May, in Doddapulikotu village, Manavattira Kariappa‘s daughter Bollamma,

Madikeri taluk, Bhagamandalanaad’s Kadagadalu village’s to Bacheranianda Kariappa’s son Ponnappa,

Napoklunaad’s Doddapulikotu village’s Manavattira Kariappa’s fifth daughter soubhagyavati Bollamma shall be married to the above mentioned groom, and that the stars and zodiac signs are in alignment, and that the lagna can be performed without any obstructions, that the lagna has been decided for the 27th and 28th of May of the year 1924, that is the 14th and 15th day in the month of Vrishabha, being Tuesday and Wednesday, in the morning at 11 o' clock, in all auspiciousness, and that holy rice will be sprinkled on the sacred lamp, after muhurta[3], and that the auspicious time to leave the house shall be 3:00 pm and in the morning at 5:00 am, the dampati muhurta shall be conducted, and that 3:00 pm is seen as the auspicious time for the newlyweds to enter the house, and thus the lagna patrike.

Witnesses:

M.C. Muthanna

M.C. Bopaiah

M.C. Kushalappa

Iyyanda Chetticha

 

Copies of this letter are distributed to both families. On the wedding day, the lagna patrike must be carried with the wedding party.

 

 

J.J.: Do the Kodavas generally consult astrologers to determine the auspicious time for important occasions?

 

B.A.: Not really, but these days the Kaniyas[4] are consulted to look at horoscope etc. due to influences from neighbouring Kerala.

 

 

J.J.: So now the engagement ceremony is formally over, and the marriage invitations have been distributed. Are there any rituals that are conducted in the days leading up to the actual wedding day?

 

B.A.: No rituals as such, but yes, once the wedding date is fixed, there are strict rules the girl and the boy have to adhere to. These rules ensure the safety and protection of the newlyweds-to-be.

 

Duties of the groom: After the lagna patrike has been scripted, from that day onwards, the groom is not allowed to work in the fields, hold a gun, perform any dangerous tasks, undertake a long journey, cross a river or cross a bridge. This is a form of protecting the body/health of the groom-to-be. It is also required that the aruva be with the boy at all times until the wedding, as a bodyguard.

 

Duties of the girl: She may wash her own plate, but not wash another’s plate, so that she does not contract any bacteria/diseases from another’s saliva, she must not go to any relatives’ house, must not cross a river, climb a ladder to the attic, take a broom and sweep, and basically not go anywhere outside.

 

 

J.J.: So the day of the wedding has now finally arrived. What are the rituals that are conducted in both houses, step by step?

 

B.A.: Yes, the wedding day is a happy and busy day! By then, handwritten wedding invitations have been distributed to relatives and friends and everyone is personally invited. Those days there weren’t any printing presses. Vegetables and bananas required for the wedding are donated from every house in the village. The ladies from neighboring houses help in powdering the rice, which forms the main dishes for the wedding namely, taliyaputt, kadumbutt and nooputt.[5] The amount of food is calculated by considering the number of possible guests from each house.

 

But, before we come to the wedding day, there is an important ceremony, today known as oorkoodua, which occurs on the day previous to the wedding. The actual name is pandapani. The Arebhashe Gowdas call it chappara. Panda means ‘pandal’, pani means ‘work’.

 

 

J.J.: What happens in oorkoodua/pandapani?

 

B.A.: The first activity is to shoot the pig to be prepared for the wedding feast. In the courtyard, the four pillars holding up the pandal are already erected. The oorkaara, or the villagers have to erect the fifth pillar, which has to be a branch of a jackfruit tree/sap-exuding tree. The fifth pillar should be on the right side while exiting the house. In the four corners on the pillars, in the first corner a bunch of bananas is tied, the second corner, a bunch of coconuts, a cucumber in the third corner, and a betel nut and leaves bunch in the fourth corner. These symbolize prosperity. After all the villagers come, they are handed over specific responsibilities. This act is called oorpatti. In a basket, a bunch of bananas, some puffed rice, one coconut, and betel nut leaves are kept. The sacred lamp at the house is lit and the head of the family stands holding a kaikani /ladle and chattua/ spatula, and announces the marriage and requests the villagers to help with the marriage by saying, 'from this day on, this house is not mine, but yours.' So saying, he hands over the kaikani and chattua to the villagers. The villagers take over from here and the experts cook pork and chicken dishes and other items for the wedding on the previous day itself.

 

 

J.J.: What are the roles of the bride and groom on this day?

 

B.A.: For the groom, his mother adorns him with her coral neck chain.  He is not supposed to remove it for the next seven days. For the bride, her mother ties the pathak[6] to the bride’s neck. The dudikottpaat[7] musicians start playing music. The songs describe the life and achievements of the boy, his assets and his heroic feats. The song also describes the story of his marriage alliance, up to the point where he goes to see the girl, thus bringing the listeners updated to the present.

 

 

J.J.: It is a happy occasion. Do the songs involve dancing? What exactly is the flavour and nature of the songs that are sung?  

 

B.A.: The song is humorous, and makes the groom look comical in many parts. For example, the singers describe how the boy was desperate to find a girl and looked everywhere as if he was looking for his lost chicken. Then he jumped over the fence, his kupya[8] got stuck in the thorns and tore, and so it goes on and on. Finally, dejected he sits under a tree, where he encounters a jogi[9] who happens to pass that way. On hearing about his dilemma, the jogi with his mystic powers suggests which house to go to, to find the suitable girl, and so he finally meets the girl he wants to marry. The song goes on to describe how the bride-viewing ceremony went, what they ate, how the family of the girl received them and so on. After this, everyone enjoys a meal together, and disperse before the wedding the day after.

 

 

J.J.: The rituals for the wedding day begin right in the morning, doesn’t it? What are the different activities leading up to the actual muhurta/murta?

 

B.A.: There are two murtas for the girl and the boy. One conducted at their own houses and the other is the dampati murta, conducted together. On the morning of the murta, the groom has to be shaved. A madiwala/dhobi and a hajama/barber are invited to the house. The madiwala ties the clean white cloth to the pandal. A basket full of items signifying prosperity such as coconut, cucumber, betel nut and bananas are also kept on the mat. Then the hajama comes to shave the groom. On a bronze plate, he places a cup of milk. The groom, after receiving blessings from the elders, along with the accompaniment of the dudikottpat, sits on a three-legged stool, to be shaved. He is shaved by the hajama using milk. Along with him, a couple of his bojakaaras[10], usually a cousin, or a close relative are also shaved by the hajama. Only the beard is shaved off and the moustache is made to look sharp and shiny. The shaved hair is placed in the bronze plate along with the milk and the whole thing is poured at the base of a jackfruit tree. The hajama gets to keep all the items in the basket of prosperity.

 

On the girl’s side, a bangle seller is invited to the house and she buys and wears the bangles after paying him a token amount.

 

The groom then goes to bathe. He is accompanied by his mother and the musicians. Firstly, the mother pours three pots of water on him, then three other married women pour three pots of water each. After the bath, the groom dresses up in kupya, chele, mandethuni, peecekathi, changole, odikathi, kattibale, kokkethaathi, gejjethand, and veil draped halfway.[11]

 

The bride also has a murta performed at her house. She is dressed up in a red sari with golden dots, and traditional Kodava jewellery known as jomale, and kokkethathi and the veil is draped fully, covering her face.

 

 

J.J.: How is the murta ceremony conducted? What happens next?

 

B.A.: The mangalapat[12] is recited. The groom sits for the murta. The bojakaara sits with him. After this, they go to the room and calculate the distance to the bride’s house. They fill a basket full of things to eat on the way: coconuts, betel, bananas, milk. The basket is carried by a designated family member. The number of people for the procession is decided. A koravakaara, who is an in-house person responsible for the procession, also goes with the wedding party, and they walk all the way to the bride’s house. I remember once during a family wedding we walked 26 miles! Another interesting point is that it is believed that one wedding party should not be in sight of another wedding party on the way. If they hear of another wedding party coming that way, they have to immediately hide in the forests! It is considered an ill omen for one groom to see another groom on the wedding day.

 

At the girl’s house, a little way off, six decorated banana stems are kept in line. Three members from the groom’s party, the koravakaara and two others, go to the girl’s house, and submit the lagna patrike to the girl’s house. The rest of the party waits at the line of banana stems. The emissaries request the girl’s side to let the marriage proceed. They give three coins known as paliya pana. Paliya is the three-legged stool on which the groom sits for the murta. Paliya pana is thus a sort of rental for the use of the stool. Then the bride’s party goes to receive the groom’s party with some refreshments, and mainly to see the groom and pass comments on his appearance in a friendly manner.

 

The groom’s bojakaara then chops the six banana stems one by one, and the party arrives at the bride’s house. The bojakaara’s feet have to be washed at the entrance. The groom’s party places some coins in the plates holding the lamps.

 

Then the couple sits together for the dampati murta. The koravakaara gives money from the groom’s side to the girl. The boy stands, sprinkles rice on the girl’s head and gives her a pouch of gold coins, and then takes the hand of the girl. They exchange garlands. The girl touches his feet three times.

 

Then the sambanda edpa ceremony happens, which is a formal pre-defined dialogue between the girl’s aruva and the boy’s aruva which discusses the rights of the girl in the boy’s family and other aspects of the marriage and both aruvas make promises to each other to take care of the situation if the marriage seems to be falling apart.

 

The boy’s side then gives the girl 12 pebbles as sakshi pana, representing gold. The girl keeps one pebble in the house and the remaining 11 she carries with her in a basket to the boy’s house. This is because, if at any time, the husband dies, or due to any other unfortunate event she cannot stay at her husband’s house, the one pebble she left behind signifies that she still has a share of her rights to her own house.

 

The next step is batte thadpadh.[13] The girl’s uncle’s son stops the wedding party from proceeding to the boy’s house. According to his rights, the bride is his uncle’s daughter, and he also has the rights to protect her, and also marry her. So he does not let her go with another man. The girl’s side then gives the cousin a coin, as compensation. The cousin ties this coin, along with another coin (thus doubling the amount), to the edge of the girl’s sari, symbolizing his everlasting promise of protection.

 

The wedding party then walks to the boy’s house. On entering the house, the girl changes her clothes, takes some cowdung and goes to the paddy field and dumps it there, thus establishing her rights over the land. On the way back she breaks a coconut at a well, and carries pots of water back to the house. Two other girls accompany her, carrying pots. This is called the neeredpa ceremony/Ganga puja.

 

They then walk back to the house, with the bride carrying a pot of water. The girl is introduced to the boy’s family and the family members dance to the beats of the Valaga music. The girl should never stop moving, because it symbolizes stagnation. This movement is called mangala mott.  Movement symbolizes progress. She brings the water to the house and keeps the pots in the kitchen symbolizing her rights in the household. After this there is a name-changing ceremony, where the brides name is changed. My mother’s name was Bollamma. After her marriage, she changed it to Gangavva. Basically, the suffix changes from amma to avva.

 

This is the conclusion of the Kodava wedding.

 

[1] Ancestral home

 

[2] Brahmin, temple priest

 

[3] Muhurta is the auspicious hour set aside for important occasions, determined by the astrologer based on the alignment of stars

 

[4] Kodavattakk-speaking community engaged in astrological services

 

[5]Prepared by boiling rice powder until it is a thick paste of dough and rolling it into balls, string hoppers and cakes and steaming until cooked.

 

[6] Traditional Kodava-style gold chain with a locket

 

[7] Traditional Kodava folk songs sung to the accompaniment of the drum known as dudi

 

[8] Traditional attire for Kodava men

 

[9] Fakir

 

[10]Companion

 

[11] The attire for a groom

 

[12] Wedding song

 

[13] Literally means, blocking the way