The Thiruvathira festival falls on the asterism Thiruvathira in the Malayalam month of Dhanu (December-January) and this is also the longest night in a year. Literary and historical evidence in the form of stone inscriptions state that the festival has been celebrated on this day for more than 1500 years. The origin of the festival is shrouded in obscurity. The people celebrate this festival upon age-old tradition and they do it with great joy and respect for the past. The Ardra Darshan celebrated in Tamil Nadu corresponds to Thiruvathira of Kerala. It is considered to be high auspicious to worship Siva and the devotees go to the temple before sunrise for 'darshan'. Apart from the worship in the Siva temple, there is very little celebration in the houses. Tradition has it that Thiruvathira festival is celebrated in commemoration of the death of Kamadeva, the mythological God of love. According to another version Thiruvathira is the birth day of Lord Siva.
In Kerala, Thiruvathira is an important traditional festival along with the other popular festivals,Onam and Vishu. This has been celebrated by the Nambuthiri, Kshatriya and Nair communities of Kerala from days of yore. It is largely a festival for women; unmarried women observe a partial fast on this day to get good husbands and married women take a fast from the preceding day (Makayiram nakshatra) and on the day of Thiruvathira for the well being of their husband and family. The first Thiruvathira of a newly wedded woman is her poothiruvathira.
The fast essentially involves abstaining from rice-based food. The typical meal includes cooked broken wheat and Thiruvathira puzhukku, a delightful mix of tuber vegetables: colocasia (chembu),yam (chena), Chinese potato (koorka), sweet potato (madhurakizhangu) with long beans(vanpayar) and raw plantain fruit (ethakaya), cooked with a thick paste of freshly ground coconut. The dessert is koova payasam, a sweet dish made of arrow root powder, jaggery and coconut milk.
Even though the Thiruvathira is celebrated by most of the Hindu communities it is essentially a Nair women's get up at about 4 am and take bath on seven days commencing form the asterism Aswathi. While taking bath they sing certain songs mostly relating to the God of Love, accompanied by rhythmic sound produced by splashing water with their fists. In conclusion they stand in a circle in the water hand in hand singing songs. Thiruvathira is a day of fasting and the women discard the ordinary rice meal on that day, but only take preparations of chama (panicum milicceum) or wheat. Other items of their food include plantain fruits, tender coconuts, etc. They also chew betel and redden their lips. Among Namboodiris, Ambalavasis(temple-servants) and high class Nairs, there is a convention that each woman should chew 108 betels on that day. The first Thiruvathira coming after the marriage of a girl is known as Puthen Thiruvathira or Poothiruvathira and it is celebrated on a grand scale.
Thiruvathirakali is a dance form performed by women on the day of Thiruvathira to the accompaniment of Thiruvathira paattu, folk songs telling tales of lovesick Parvati, her longing and penance for Lord Shiva's affection and Shiva's might and power. The sinuous movements executed by the group of dancers around a nilavilakku embody lasya or the amorous charm and grace of the feminine. The dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by clapping of the hands and singing. Today, Thiruvathirakali has become a popular dance form for all seasons.Thiruvathira kali is a typical dance form of Kerala. This is a female group dance made up of simple yet very attractive steps. In ancient times, women use to perform this dance in their homes during festivals and functions, giving it the Malayalam name aka Kaikottikali: aka-inside + kaikottikali-play claping hands. Lore has it that Thiruvathira Kali is in memory of Lord Siva taking Parvathi as his wife. A group of women dressed in typical Kerala style with mundu and neriyathu and the hair bun adorned with jasmine garlands perform this dance during festival seasons.. Kaikottikkali spreads the message of joy and also illustrates the emotions of a married woman towards her beloved and of the unmarried woman longing for one.
From prehistoric times, Malayalee woman enjoyed an enviable position in the society, and she was practically the mistress of her house. The elevated position she occupied at home and in the society had distinguished her from and in the society had distinguished her from her neighbours and influenced to a considerable extent the social structure, customs and religious practices of the people. The culmination of this phenomenon is clearly visible in setting apart one of the three great festivals of Kerala viz. Thiruvathira, exclusively for womenfolk, for which a parallel can hardly be found in any section of the Indian Society.
Oonjalattom, swinging on an oonjal (swing) is an item of amusement on this occasion. At night the women keep vigil for Siva and perform Thiruvathira kali or Kaikottikali. They stand in a circle around lighted brass lamp, and dance each step at the rhythm of the songs they sing, clapping their hands. The songs sometimes consist of Kathakali songs including the works of Irayimman Thampi.
Among Namboodiris and Amblavasis (temple servants) and Bairs who have close association with Namboodiris , there is custom called Pathirappoochoodal, Meaning wearing of flowers at midnight . At the midnight of Thiruvathira, an image of Siva is placed at the central courtyard and flowers, plantains and jaggery are offered to the deity. They then perform Kaikottikali round the deity. Flowers are taken from the offering and worn by them.
In 14 December 2013, over 3000 women participated in a Thiruvathira Kali event held at Kochi and set world record. The event was organised in connection with the Thiruvathira festival which falls on 18 December 2013.
Age is just a number for Malathy G. Menon. At a time when most people her age are content playing with their grandchildren or quietly enjoying the sunset years of their life, Malathy is busy giving final touches to a mega event that may find a place in the Limca book of Records or even the Guinness Book, if everything falls into place.
Malathy is organising a mega event of the dance form Thiruvathira -called the Aathira Kulirnila -at the Durbar Hall Ground, which will be performed by around 3,000 women of all age groups. The Thiruvathira dance follows a circular, pirouetting pattern accompanied by the clapping of hands around a nilavilakku placed in the centre, around which the women, dressed in traditional Kerala mundum neriayathu, perform.
Malathy's home is buzzing with activity and the melodious Thiruvathira song can be heard at a distance. The door opens to reveal women of various age groups swaying and dancing to the music being played on a tape recorder. In their midst is the diminutive figure of the grey-haired Malathy, correcting a hand movement here or a hip movement there.
Malathy, herself a Thiruvathira expert, has performed at Kalotsavams and even in front of Pandit Nehru when he came to Bolgatty Palace in 1956 and runs the Parvanendu School of Thiruvathira in Kochi. Speaking about the inspiration to take up such a mammoth task, Malathy says, “In 2012, I had organised a Thiruvathira performance comprising of 300 women, which was hugely successful and appreciated. So I thought of adding one more zero and making it 3,000 members this time. The practice for the same started in June and has been going on in batches in various districts in the State." Malathy says that students from age 3 to 76 will participate in the mega event blurring all barriers of caste, creed, religion and even State boundaries. The participants include 10 students from Mumbai and one from Dubai.
The mammoth event is supported by the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) and Collector Sheikh Pareed has been a big help in rendering assistance to this effort. Talking about the ample support by DTPC, the Collector says, “We have made available the Durbar Hall Ground free of cost and are also trying to rope in foreigners to participate in the dance performance. The light and sound arrangements are being handled by the DTPC. The event will definitely be a shot in the arm for the tourism activities in the district."
Speaking about the efforts to enlist this in the Limca Book and the Guinness book, Malathy says, “I have a student Usha, who with the help of the Internet, contacted the Limca and Guinness authorities. We have registered the event and we have to keep three judges and send a CD to them with the complete list of participants. The rest is left to them to decide."
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