UWC Mahindra College monthly newsletter

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kalamezuthu pattu

Pictorial designs are the inheritance of humanity from ancient times. All over the world, they first appeared on floors and walls of human dwellings. In India they have existed as part of ritualistic life in Hindu households since time immemorial. Kolam in Tamil Nadu, Rangoli in Northern India and other forms in different parts of India are intimately connected with women and their domestic routine. In Kerala, it is in the form of pookkalam, made of flowers during Onam season. A different kind of drawing on the floor, Kalamezhuthu is associated with sacred groves and is a form of agrarian worship. It is a temple-centred ritual, tribal in origin, Dravidian in spirit, tampered with or enhanced by changing times and influences. This pictorial art, with its inseparable rituals, takes a discerning reader to the roots of the aesthetic sensibilities of cultural Kerala. 

The word kalamezhuthu may be roughly translated as powder drawing, pattu as song. This is a magnificent form drawing performed by creating large figures representing deities using coloured powders and the floor as the canvas. No tools are used during this creation. The powder is spread on the floor in the desired pattern letting it flow in a thin stream between the thumb and the index finger. These large pictures are drawn on the floor of the temple hall or specially prepared pandal (pavilion) rendered sacred by purifying rituals and decorated elegantly with tender leaves and colourful flowers. The picture (called Kalam) is drawn according to stringent guidelines in respect of pattern, details and dimensions.

The powders are made out of naturally available material. They are of five colours, representing the five elements (water, air, sky, fire and earth) called panchabhootas, which constitute everything created. These materials are rice (white), charcoal of husk (black), turmeric (yellow), a mixture of lime and turmeric (red) and green leaves of certain trees. The art of shading especially the background, gives a velvet touch. The border, done in circles and squares, in lines and dots, using colors in certain combinations are not just for decoration. Permutations and combinations are used for foregrounding, or to create illusions.

The process of Kalamezhuthu starts at noon on the day when Theeyattu is to be performed during the night. The ritual, which is essentially a fertility rite enacted especially for childless couples, starts with singing songs in praise of Ganapathi, Saraswathi, Guru (celestial preceptor) and other gods. The singing is accompanied by drums and gongs. Kalamezhuthu pattu is performed as part of the rituals to worship and propitiate gods like Kaali and Vettakkorumakan, a Hindu diety worshipped in parts of northern Kerala. HE is alternately referred to in Sanskri as Kiratha-Sunu (son of Kirata) and said to be the son of Lord Shiva (a Dravidian god) by HIS consort Parvathi when HE had assumed the form of a Kirata (hunter) to deliver a weapon known as Pashupathasthra to Arjuna.

Kalam progresses through three steps; kalamezhuthu, drawing of the picture, kalam paattu, singing the myth to the accompaniment of instruments, and kalathillattam, enactment of the myth in stylized performance. And it has three aspects - aesthetic, religious, and social. There is a misconception among many people that Vettakkorumakan is Lord Ayyappa. Actually, Lord Ayyappa was born to Mohini and Lord Siva. Vettakkorumakan is more or less exclusively worshipped in the Malabar region of Kerala and Palghat. His chief temple is the Balussery Kotta Vettakkorumakan temple about 25 km from Calicut. After the ritual is completed the enactor takes back the power from the image by destroying it.

The influence of the tantric art form is presumed to be a later addition. The figures drawn come alive when the eyes of the central figures are opened, again at a particular time marked by ritual. Lighted oil lamps around the image make the kalam a sacred space where rituals known as thiri uzhichil are considered a form of worship.  The figures drawn usually have an expression of anger, and other emotions.

Kalamezhuthu artists are generally members of communities like the Kurups, Theyyampadi Nambiars, Theeyadi Nambiars and Theeyadi Unnis. Vettekkorumakan pattu is just done by Kallattu Kurups.
'Shadanga' or the six limbs of Indian art, lay prominence on the basic structure or language of a work of art, written in consonance with the liturgical texts. The six limbs enumerated are: rupa-bheda, pramanani, bhava-yojana, lavanya-yojanam, sadrisyam and varnika-bhanga. These limbs translate into drawing proportion, arrangement of line,  mass, design, harmony and perspective. Emotion or aesthetic feeling can also be expressed through form. Of the six categories. as many as four deal with the external qualities of painting and can be measured objectively. The other two, bhava (emotion) and lavanya (grace) are subjective qualities,  which are added by the artists intuitive skill.

UWC Mahindra College would like to thank the members of this particular community for giving us the honour and privilege of witnessing this sacred ritual rarely, if ever, seen outside Kerala. It gave us a first hand experience of an ancient ritual transcending time and space that was much appreciated by the audience. If you ever visit Kerala, do try to experience yourselves one of these pujas, so dedicatedly performed with only one purpose; to express a devotion and faith in the Divine to help resolve wordly issues.

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