These three families of Aranmula go fasting on Thiruvonam Day

During those scarce days when most of the tribes couldn’t fill their stomach three times a day, Thiruvonam day was celebrated with cheers and enthusiasm, as no Malayalis slept empty stomach. ‘Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam’ – was a slogan of Malayalis then, who prepared a sadya on Thiruvonam day to fill their stomachs and minds as well. This slogan was applicable to all Malayalis then, belonging to different financial positions or religious differences. They used to find their own reasons to celebrate and stay happy.

Now those old days of scarcity has gone. Yet a few families still follow certain customs. When whole Keralities celebrate Onam with grand sadya, there are three families in Aranmula who fast for the welfare of others. This Vrita has been silently followed by these three families for 150 years or so and its legend is connected to folklore and history. This story belongs to place of Aranmula Appan who resides on the banks of river Pampa.

The members of three families fast a long day without taking food or water till Deeparadhana ceremony is conducted in Aranmula temple. The fasting is so severe that they don’t even swallow saliva. It’s done as a solution to the sins done by their ancestors.

Radhakrishna Sharma and Subrahmanyam Moosath – Two among the three Karanavars who go on fasting

Legend behind the fasting on Thiruvonam day

As per legend, Aranmula Appan of Aranmula Parthasarathy temple desired that his devotees should never sleep empty stomach, particularly during Onam season. For the same reason, during Onam season, rice and other groceries were distributed to the poor people in the areas surrounding the temple. The temple was governed by 9 families, locally called Oorayma Kudumbam, who were assigned this task. These families enjoyed special rights to cultivate in land owned by temple, and harvest also.

As time passed by, many of these families lost their glory. Only 4 among those 9 – Thekkedath, Puthezhath, Cherukara and Mangalapalli could survive the test of time. Though the temple administration got constrained to only these 4 families, the right of temple administration and to measure rice was kept by these families for many decades.

After harvest, rice was measured at four places. It was started at Cherukara Madam of Panancheri Mukk near Kozhancheri. On the second day, rice measurement was done in Narangaanath Madam; on third day at Kannangattu Madam; and on the final day at Vilakku Maadam of Aranmula temple. On Chothi day of Chingam, rice measurement is taken at all the four sites which is known by the name, Chothi Alavu.

As time passed by, the residents of these illams witnessed many unusual happenings like diseases. Though all these families deserved special rights at Aranmula temple, bad omens continued in the respective families including deaths. The families approached astrologers to tackle the issues and it revealed an incident which occurred on a raining day of Chingam.

Once upon a day in rainy season…..

This incident occurred on the third day of rice measurement, when the process was done in Kannangatt Madam. It was a heavy rainy day, yet the place was crowded. The place was filled with people who wanted to buy rice, who stood in long queues. In the evening, when the rice measurement was over, Karanavars returned back in bullock carts. But on the next day morning, there was a corpse of a pregnant woman in an isolated corner of the place. As per legend, the pregnant lady died in the crowded place which was accompanied by heavy rains. Though the incident was unintentional, it resulted in the death of a poor woman and her unborn child in the long queue, who desired to fill her stomach with free grains from temple and later lost life in heavy rains. This incident was reason behind the unusual happenings of the families, as per astrologers.  

Karanavars discussed the matter and decided to do the needful to get out of the sin. They sought the help of an astrologer and pondered their thoughts to give a coat of gold to the flag post, and also give a grand feast to poor. But these measures were not sufficient. Time passed by without fixing the issue. Finally, they got a solution to get rid of their sins, and that’s to stay hungry on a particular day when the whole villagers have a grand feast. That’s why Thiruvonam of Chingam was chosen to go fasting. As per astrology, this fasting is to be conducted by Karanavars of future generations as well, belonging to these families, and that’s why it’s still continued – the only solution suggested by astrologers.

Currently the families of Subrahmanyam Moosath of Thekkedath Illam, Radhakrishna Sharma of Puthezhath and Parameswaran Namboodiri of Cherukara Illath take this Vritha on every Thiruvonam. Thekkedath Illam and Puthezhath Illams are located close to Aranmula temple walls. Cherukara Illam is a little far away. Though four families have to go on fasting, only three of them participate in it. Now there is a single Karanavar for Puthezhath and Mangalapally. That’s the reason.

Subrahmanyam Moosath of Thekkedath Illam has been doing this fasting for past 25 years without any break. He served as a lawyer of Chengannur – Pathanamthitta court. Now he is 87 years old, and he desires to continue fasting as long as he lives. When fasting is done on Thiruvonam day, they get some unknown energy – believes Moosath. They also leave the habit of pan on fasting day, and avoid naps in the afternoons. Though only Karanavars were instructed to go fasting, all the members of his family also do the same.

Radhakrishna Sharma started this custom 6 years back. Akeeraman Moosath was the predecessor from his family who did fasting. Till he died at the age of 99, Akeeraman Moosath followed this custom. Though they go for fasting for their families, it’s also meant for the welfare of the village. Parameswaran Namboodiri of Cherukara Illam has been following this tradition for the past 47 years. Savitri Devi Antharjanam is his beloved wife. He started this custom in 1970 following the death of his father. Now he is 85 years old. He dreams to pass over this tradition to future generation. His illam is situated on the banks of river Pampa at Pancheri Junction. Vallappura of Nedumbrayaar Palliyoda Samiti is located in this illam.

Mangatt Bhattathiri who reaches Aramula temple with money offerings is given Dakshina by Thekkedath Illam. Now the money is funded by Devaswom board. Usually Bhattathiri offers this amount to temple before he returns back.

Fasting on Onam to wash away sins of forefathers

The famous Aranmula Parthasarathy temple

Karanavars of all the three illams reach temple in the early morning. After praying before Lord, they watch Thiruvona Thoni (Thiruvonam boat) from Kattur Mana. They travel by boat to visit temples and return to their respective illams. After that they never take food, and chant mantras. In the evening they attend Deeparadhana of temple and after that, serve Kadali banana and holy water offered to Lord as Nivedyam. Again they return to their illams. They continue fasting till dawn break of Avittom.

It’s indeed a unique custom followed anywhere in Kerala, particularly during Onam season. It’s really strange to see a few families to go on fasting on the most important day of Keralities, as a solution to a sin which happened years ago. It’s a blend of folklore with history.

Thekkedath Illam and Cherukara Illam still hold old traditional values and retained as such. Thekkedath Illam (ancestral home) is 8 centuries old and retained as such. During early days, its roof was made using thatched coconut leaves. 400 years back, the home was renovated and roof was substituted with tiles brought from Mangalore using Kettuvallam (house boats). The specialty of this illam is – those tiles fixed on roof. Walls were constructed using wood. Only a few maintenance works have been carried out since then, and even the kitchen is retained as such.

As per historic records, Tipu Sultan’s army reached just two kms away from Aranmula, and before they could enter, they had to retrieve following the attack of wasps. Stories may have a punch of myths. But, centuries-old swords, shields and Vadivaal (a type of sword) are still placed in Nilavara of Thekkedath Mana. These weapons of heritage value are still preserved in the Nilavara of Illam. That’s the reason why illams are also preserved the same manner.     

Kannangattu Madam with stood against test of time

After the custom of giving rice to poor seized, madams (where the measurement process was conducted) turned ‘orphans’. Yet Kannangattu Madam, which holds heritage value, is still preserved by locals. Things have not changed too much. Paddy fields still exist near to Kannangattu Madam, and a lamp (which is never blown) is placed inside Madam. There is a Bhajan Madam nearby.

Kedaavilakk placed at Kannangattu Madam

The lamp fire brought from Kattooru on Thiruvonam day is lighted at Aranmula temple first, and then brought to Kannangattu Madam to light the lamp. There is one stone idol of a lady carrying winnow (Muram in Malayalam), and a lamp is lighted before her. Then the group moves to Bhajan Madam. Two big Kaavu (sacred groves) are situated close to Kannangattu Madam, namely Malankavu and Sarpakavu.

The lady with winnow represents a woman belonging to lower class, and she has been given divinity by locals and worshipped as goddess by the people of locality. A lamp is lighten before her idol every day.

The idol of lady with winnow

The fasting is conducted in illams of Aranmula silently without giving much popularity. That’s why it’s still unknown to outer world. It’s a blend of history, myth and also a custom to respect ladies and future generations can learn many new things from this custom, still followed by a group of selfless people.

Go through the gallery to read a few more interesting articles on fun, recreation, myths and traditions associated with Onam season. Here is the page link. Click on the images to read.
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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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