Things have been hectic in Karthi these past two weeks: but they are a good hectic as opposed to the previous months' health scares. Mid-march, our elder kiddo was done with his annual exams, but he did not have anyone to play with because all our neighboring kids still had their exams to wrestle with. Fortunately, we did have a teeny trip of two days to Kottayam to attend this:
Yes, my mother-in-law had offered to have two Garudans from our home for the family temple festival and we had a lovely time attending all the various parts of the ceremony. I am really sorry for not having good pictures because our rechargeable batteries chose to give out at the crucial parts and I didn't get any good pics of the performance itself.
But hey, I'm jumping ahead... The day started with a carpenter shaving off spools of mango-tree wood to make the necklace for the Garudan - the ceremony is called "Mampool" (Mavu - mango tree, pool - wood-shavings). You can see the 'pendant' made with the wood shavings in the photo above. Then we busied ourselves with decorating the courtyard with tender coconut leaves slit into long shreds with (of all things) a nail. As I sat making them, I marveled at how eco-friendly, simple and elegant they are as a decoration. We also arranged chairs and desks for the 250 + guests who would be arriving for dinner.
After 5 pm, we went to the temple for the first ceremony of the day, the Keli kottu that would be performed in front of the deity:
That is my mother-in-law offering the dakshina before the Keli began.
Then the Keli started. It is easy to become inured to these traditional drums while living in Kerala, especially during the festival season, when you can hear their distinctive sound blaring from speakers everywhere. It's quite another matter to listen to a live performance. I decided to give it my whole attention and discovered several things! I noticed that there were only three lead drummers and all the others were there only to provide the basic beat in single or double time and chipped in to really drum only in the last ultra-fast stages. I noticed that as the beat got faster, the drummers put a leg forward and bent at the waist to get at their drums better. They eased off and went back to the bent posture so effortlessly that it looked like a dance. At the crescendo, I closed my eyes to hear the beat better and I could hear the drums "speak" - they had a human voice going "dhak, dhin, dhak, dhin". I was so astonished that my eyes flew open and I gawked. Our younger son gave himself up to the beat so much that he held out his arms sideways and wheeled around - only later when I saw the Garudans "fly" did I understand that he had been mimicking the dance itself - and this is a 3-year-old who has never watched a Garudan performance in his life!!!
Soon we went home and got the Ganapathi offering ready:
and had yet another rousing round of the Keli at in our car porch:
Then it was time for the Garudan performers to get ready and for us to greet the guests and serve them dinner. After 9 p.m., the Garudans came down and started flying. My batteries gave out during that time and this is the only picture I have of that part.
I know it's not a good picture, but I think the blurriness conveys their incredible speed. It was a joy watching them - both exhibited quite different styles of performance. One was all about footwork; he stepped so blithely to the beat that it was difficult to keep track of his feet with our eyes, let alone a camera. The other was a more acrobatic Garudan, who jumped more, wheeled around and even bent backwards to pick up (with his beak!) the coins and notes that were offered to them on the floor. This went on for 45 minutes till the Garudans and the drums wound down. Then it was time for them to rest and recuperate before going to the temple.
At midnight, our ringing ears underwent another onslaught as the Garudans went around our home, blessing it and then ascended on their "chaadu". They plucked bananas with their beaks and flung them into the crowd and the kids scrambled for this prasadam.
Once we reached the temple, the ceremony was mesmeric with the slow ascension of the drummers and the "birds" to the temple, punctuated with bursts of heat from the sawdust thrown on to flaming torches and confetti streaming down. We went around the temple once and our acrobatic Garudan astounded us even more by jumping on to the low walls and back in his perambulation. My DH muttered that it gave him a backache just to WATCH the performance!!!
The final performance was right in front of the temple where the Garudans mimed catching and disposing of the serpents (in this case, two snippets of a red ixora garland) and it was funny, watching the Garudans cocking their heads and conferring with each other bird fashion on how to catch their prey.
When it was over, it was almost 2 a.m. in the morning, our kiddos were still wide awake and we were left with tired bodies, but euphoric minds. Our long-anticipated Garudan offering went without a hitch and that was all we had asked for.