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Published: October 16th 2019
My good friend Rengasamy arranged for me to attend an evening of his native village’s annual festival. Pudupatty is about 11/2 hours drive from Madurai, so I hired a taxi and arrived about 4:30 pm to music blasting through the village.
People milled about, getting ready for the evening’s events. Mr. Sathis, the village president, welcomed me to the village with a flower garland.
He showed me the deities that would soon be carried through the streets of the village. A group of shiny metal deities were decked out in flowers and looked quite cozy on their platform swing inside a small temple. Nearby a palanquin was under construction. Men would carry this large box covered in flowers using the two horizontal poles beneath. A man from Madurai who specializes in the cart construction was placing flowers on its arches, giving it the finishing touches fitting for the deities.
Another set of four deities was under cover in a shed. They were surrounded by pots of sprouted seeds, called mulaipari. Sources I consulted suggested that mulaipari in Tamil Nadu consists of nine kinds of sprouted seeds. The seeds were planted and raised for seven days by one priest
who was the only person who could see them during their time in darkness.
The village center wore streams of pennants, colored light decorations, stalls of pink cotton candy in plastic bags, and a stage where a drama would take place. The music blared at the highest possible decibel level from giant speakers, causing me to search for my ear plugs. I couldn’t find them, and later realized I really really needed them.
Since Sathis was busy with festival responsibilities, another man escorted me through the village. Purushothaman made sure I had all the best vantage points to see the happenings and ushered me to the front of the crowds. The drummers were making an eardrum splitting thunder, beating and bouncing and working themselves into a frenzy. The front row view was a bit hard on my ears. I saw only one other person, a young boy, pressing his ears as I was doing. Perhaps because the villagers had witnessed many such festivals their eardrums had already been pounded and they no longer hurt when they experienced such things.
My ringside seat allowed me to witness all the preparations of the four deities after they emerged from
the shed to a swell of hooting, tongue-clucking, and yodeling from the onlookers. The priest and his helpers offered Vinayagar (Ganesha), Krishna, Amman, and Kali the puja items, the flower garlands, the coconut, incense, and the lit camphor flame as people prayed. Everything had to be just right before the deities would be carried through the streets.
Each deity was hoisted atop a priest’s head and the four lined up on the narrow street. But then came the real spectacle, as women and girls, sparkling in their shiny dresses and gold jewelry, paraded forward with the mulaipari pots upon their heads. Sixty pots—some with one layer of plants, others towering with three layers—bobbed up and down as each woman carefully balanced her cargo.
The mulaipari serves a sacred purpose—calling on rain and fertility for the crops, and fertility within the family. The pots are always carried by women and are an important part of many village festivals. The women ritually prepare themselves by fasting, and treat the carrying of a mulaipari pot as a prayer.
Energy swelled, and I was swept along, sharing the excitement and the joy. We followed the parade of deities and women, through
the streets to the village center, where drumming and dancing pounded our bodies. A bare-chested man swept fire torches across his skin, another twirled the fire sticks like batons. But the real crowd pleaser was the man who put liquid in his mouth and spit it across fire, flames bursting and warming the crowd, droplets of flammable liquid spraying on nearby onlookers. Fumes filled my nostrils as fireworks blasted above.
Eight men carrying a gargantuan pot of vegetable bryani scooted by. For 500 people they had cooked three different dishes for the prasadam, or the vegetarian food offered to and blessed by the deities.
The parade made its way back to the small temple where the cozy group of deities was resting on their swing. The four deities went inside, but the women carrying the mulaipari circled the temple three times quickly before handing their pots to someone who placed them inside the temple.
A cluster of seven mulaipari pots sat outside on the ground nearby, where I met the priest who had overseen their germination. In a high-pitched voice he chanted into a microphone, and women and girls danced around the pots, clapping and responding with
The energy calmed, and people scurried by with plates of the prasadam to their homes. A priest offered me bits of the offering on a betelnut leaf. Then as I sat later with a young boy, he ran and got me a whole plate of prasadam which I enjoyed.
As I sat, children gathered around to ask me my name. I played the kids’ hand-slapping game with one, then showed them how to form the finger wiggle pose with my hands, which they all had a bit of difficulty doing.
By that time my escorts had left, but Muthukumar, the young boy who served me prasadam, was being a perfect host. The next procession included the cluster of metal deities in the flowered palanquin. A couple dozen men lifted the litter on to their shoulders, maneuvering it in the narrow street to in front of the temple. When men moved each deity from the small temple, they moaned and wailed.
After the deities were loaded and mulaipari pots placed on women’s heads, the procession circled the temple. A man with a long pole with a fork on the end ran ahead to hold up power
lines so the cart wouldn’t cause an electrical disaster.
The same energy as before swept through the onlookers and the parade. On the street sides families stood next to their tables of lit oil lamps and puja offerings for the deities. Everyone seemed pulled into a common energy of blessing, community, and wonder.
I left the evening of the Pudupatty village festival feeling full and honored to have shared in this powerful and joyous time.
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