'Vettekkaran Pattu' - A Ritualistic Way of Worshiping

Vettekkaran Pattu is a typical ritualistic way of worshiping found among Hindus in certain parts of Kerala, India. Here the interesting thing is that the idol worshiped is a warrior, according to the story contained in the songs sung during various rituals of worship. It depicts the adventurous actions of a great tribal warrior, called Vettekkaran, lived in the forest area, Nambumala kotta near Gudallur (presently in the border of Kerala and Karnataka States of India), long back. The forest was so thick and all types of wild animals were present there. Naturally, the tribal people staying in the forest were attacked and killed, very often, by these animals.


Vettekkaran organized the tribal people and formed a group of soldiers to fight these enemies. This volunteer soldiers were known as Elagirivilli chekavar. They, under the leadership of Vettekkaran hunted and killed animals throughout the forest area, covering almost all areas in Wynad, Kurumbanad,etc. He met the Kings and other chieftains of the area, and held discussions for solving the menace. Balussery was chosen by him as his head quarters and operated from there, providing protection to the people. As per the traditional songs, Vettekkaran traveled up to a place called Thrikkalangode, near Manjeri of present Malappuram district of Kerala and took bath in a pond called Kuttankulam and worshiped the Goddess of the nearby temple Valliyankavu. After completing these routine worship he and his team hunted animals in the neighboring forests.


The innocent and ignorant tribal and others who lived in the borders of forests viewed the actions of Vettekkaran with reverence and considered him as a hero. Even after his death they used to remember him and wished for his presence, whenever they were in trouble. Several types of offerings were given to this hero for getting solace in their daily life. When time passed, the hero got the status of a God and the worship became ritualistic.


Now Hindus worship, irrespective of castes, Vettakkaran not exactly as a hero, but as a Hindu God. Certain mythological stories have become connected with this and the Deity is considered to be related to Lord Shiva, or Lord Shiva itself. In Mahabharatha (the classic literary work which describes in detail the struggle for power between two groups of cousins, Pandavas and Kauravas), Arjuna, the mid- Pandava, wanted to get the most powerful weapon (an arrow), Pasupathastram, from Lord Shiva. He started doing thapas (meditation concentrating on Shiva) for this purpose, until Shiva appeared in person before him. As a result, Shiva decided to appear before him. But Shiva wanted to test Arjuna’s sincerity and worthiness to possess such a powerful weapon. So, Shiva and Parvathy appeared in front of Arjuna, attired as forest dwelling hunters. After testing Arjunas sincerity, to their satisfaction, the weapon was presented with certain conditions. The story has it that a son was born to Lord Shiva and Parvathy while they were in this hunter attire. This son is called Vettakkoru makan (a son for hunting), which shortens to Vettekkaran.


In another version of the story, Lord Shiva himself (in the hunter attire) is considered as Vettekkaran. Shiva in this form is referred as Kirathan (Kiratha Moorthy).


Vettekkaran, who is simultaneously considered as a hero of locality and as a personality of divine halo, is installed and worshiped both at Balussery and Thrikkalangode. Now, several people, around the State of Kerala, worship Vettekkaran as their family Deity. Major offering to this Deity is the Kalam Pattu (Kalam means a drawing of the idol on the floor, using powder of different colors, and Pattu means songs). Traditionally, members of a particular community called Kurupu community are entitled to draw the large sketch of the deity and for conducting the ritualistic worship by singing the history of Vettekkaran. The Kalam Pattu is accompanied by breaking of coconuts. As a special offering, sometimes, breaking twelve thousand coconuts are offered as part of this Pattu.


On a slightly elevated stage (or in a leveled platform), a rectangular area will be marked with pillars of about six feet height, fixed at the four corners. These pillars will be joined each other with long wooden rods on all the four sides, such that a rectangular shape is formed above the plat form. Length-wise three pieces of long clothes will be spread above this as roofing, the central piece will be black in color where as the other two will be white ones. The laying of the central piece is done ceremoniously after a small pooja (worshiping the God) and asking the permission of the person offering this Vettekkaran Pattu. This is done in the morning, on the day the function is held. Before noon another small pooja (called noon pooja) will be there for the Deity. These poojas will be held by a priest while the members of the Kurupu community render songs praising the Deity. (The song will be supported by a background music using Nanduni, a local string instrument generally used only for these type of rituals). Occasional drum beating also will be there, in between devotional song rendering.


Afternoon, the decoration and drawing the colorful sketch of Vettekkaran (called Kalam varakkal or kalamital), inside the rectangle, begin. Five different colored powder are used for making the diagram. The colors used are black, white, yellow, green and red. Rice powder is taken as white, burned rice husk for black, turmeric powder for yellow, powdered green leaf for green and the mixture of turmeric and calcium chloride for red. The diagram drawn will be very beautiful and consist of all features of a true hunter. Tender coconut leaves will hung from the top bars, around the rectangular structure, supplemented with flower garlands.


At the topside (near the head of the diagram), on a stool, an idol of the Deity garlanded with flowers will be placed. A small sword also is kept together with this. The worshiping by the priest start by the sun set, after the opening Keli (a combined rhythmic presentation using different types of drums, cymbals, a type of flute, a blowing horn, etc.). At the beginning a worship is done outside the house, a little away from the site, which is called Mullakkal Pattu. After that the sword is handed over to the Oracle (velicchappatu), the symbolic representative of the Deity attired to suit the assumption, by the priest. Then with detailed Melam (a systematic and rhythmic rendering of all drums and other instruments), the Deity and the Oracle are taken to the site where the diagram is drawn and arranged for worshiping.


The priest sits at the bottom (near the feet of the Deity) for conducting the ritual worshiping. This worship takes a long time, with supporting devotional songs by the Kurups and occasional drum beating. Once the priest’s worship is over the oracle appears and do a sort of dancing around the diagram. This dance form is called Eedum koorum chavittal. In this dance the oracle takes different steps according to the drum beating and the devotional songs. Again, the priest does certain worshiping. After this the devotional songs by the Kurups continue, with one among them doing a special worshiping, called Kalam Poli. After this the Oracle appear again and starts dancing according to the devotional songs. Drum beating also will be there in between the songs. This time the Oracle enters into the diagram for dancing. Further, he sits on a stool and moves the stool, pushing with legs, in side the diagram of the Deity (called the peetom nirakkal– pushing the stool sitting on it). Because of this, naturally, the diagram gets destroyed almost. After this the Oracle comes out and start breaking the coconut.


Generally thousand or more coconuts will be there, as offering, for throwing. But sometimes as special case the offerings will be to break twelve thousand coconuts. The Oracle has to throw and break all these nuts sitting in the same position and throwing continuously without break. This may last for three hours (depending on the experience and health of the person, the time may be less or more). Rhythmic drum beating, with cymbals accompanied, will be there as background music. The oracle generally sits on some coconuts taken from the windrow of twelve thousand nuts kept behind him. The story behind this coconut breaking is that the deity’s thirst after hunting is remedied by giving coconut water. Another version is that it is pouring cold coconut water over the Deity for removing his anger.


After the breaking of coconuts the Oracle comes back to the place of worship and perform a little more dancing, and distributes small bundles of betels to the person who has offered this Vettekkaran pattu, and also to others. After dance, oracle sits on the stool, while the Kurups start singing devotional songs. After finishing this the oracle completely removes the diagram using the tender coconut leaves available there. The powder mix collected from the floor will be offered to all present as prasadam (remnants of offerings to the deity). This powder is pasted by the devotees on their forehead. Some use this as a medicine for certain diseases.


This type of Vettekkaran pattu is being held in selected temples as well as in houses, with Vettekkaran as their family deity, in different parts of Kerala. To make the function more colorful and attractive, additional items such as Thayampaka (a special rhythmic drum beating accompanied with cymbals), Pancha vadyam (another combination of five different percussion and blowing instruments), etc. Earlier members of a particular family called Karor Panikkar were having the rights to become the Oracle in Vettekkaran Pattu. Later when this family became extinct certain Nambudiri (Kerala Brahmins) families took up this role. Now, a couple of Nambudiri families are attending to this rituals.


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