The Month of karkidakam

via Padma Jayaraj published on August 4, 2006

The Month of karkidakam
Its changing traditions


         Long ago, and far away, for the farming community of rural Kerala, the month of karkkidakam with its torrential rains was a period of confinement and forced rest. While rains nourished the tender paddy in the fields, the people took care of their houses and themselves. As Mother Nature began her cleaning spree the women folk followed her habit. From among the plants they gathered leaves that served like wet sandpaper and cleaned the dirt from doors and windows, ritual objects and low wooden stool, their only furniture. And the wooden things gleamed in its natural grains. For, painting and varnishing was unheard of among rustic folk.  Most of the houses had thatched roofs; only the rich lived in tiled ones. Karkkidakam was the month of sacred rituals, ancestral worship and healthcare.

           Women and children gathered the customary herbs associated with worship in temples and herbal medicine. It was a practical lesson too. One learned to identify the herbs while hearing stories connected with their beneficial use as home remedies. Ancient wisdom was handed over by word of mouth from time immemorial.
           On the evening prior to the samkramam there was a ritual ceremony of packing the Chetta, the presiding spirit over dirt, off. Women with broom went around cleaning and dusting and driving out the Dirty thing that hid in corners. Basically, it was a thorough cleansing before the twilight. For children, the ritual meant a serious part of life. In olden times life was ritual-driven. Women and children spent hours gathering sacred plants for the special offering.
      For the first ten days of the month of karkidakam,  Sreebhagavathy, the goddess  received the traditional offerings. In front of the Machu, the household shrine, there was a display of  dasapushpam, the ten sacred plants in a gleaming brass plate, water in a bell metal pot with a spout, valkannadi, a mirror of polished brass, sandal paste and  vermillion, before a lighted lamp. The sacred corner glowed like the sanctum sanctorum at dawn. 
     The Ramayna was also kept there. In the mornings the oldest member of the family sat reading the Ramayana in a singsong style. After their morning bath girls and women would apply kajal to their eyes and have a bindi of mukkutti chanthu, the juice of a crushed herb.

         Married daughters came home for their annual health care. A medicinal porridge was specially prepared for the entire family. The old and the middle-aged had their herbal concoction, an annual preventive doze for rheumatic ailments. The bulls were given special diet as part of the agrarian economy and past time.
    At twilight after the lighting of the bell-metal lamp, children sat around reciting prayers. Night fell soon in those pre-electricity days.
  The dead were invoked on the day of the new moon. In kerala ancestral worship is part of religion just as animism has prevailed, although in pockets. The people were taught to sense the divine in plants, animals and spirits; to feel the sacred thread that runs through Nature; to know that humans are part of a divine design; to accept the need for harmony with their surroundings, to carry on the heritage of the past to the present.
           The end of karkkidaka would complete the reading of the whole Ramayana. So Karkkidaka is known as the month of Ramayana as well. Even now a few, who cannot root out their roots, follow the tradition. But, for the majority, the ritual is a temple-centered community affair now.
          Dhanwanthari is the patron saint of Ayurveda, Indian medicine.  In the month of Karkkidaka the prasad given here is mukkidi, the juice extracted form medicinal plants. Having a doze of this juice daily for a month in the rainy season was the traditional preventive antidote for a year’s epidemics.
      Change inevitable, has affected kerala and its traditions. Today, a wholesome   tradition is reduced to a ritual for the first day of the month of Karkkidaka. The Ramayana resonates in the air because of the amplifier at the temple. Herbal medicines are available in powder form in shops. The agrarian life is replaced by consumer culture. And elephants enjoy Sukha-chikilsa. The torrent has receded from the plains. Yet the Monsoon meditates in the rain forests of the Western ghat that overlooks the Arabian Sea.

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