There is an unwritten rule in Kerala that “we won’t ask your caste in public , but would somehow unearth it and act accordingly”. So we would love eulogising Kalabhavan Mani knowing very well that we are talking about someone who would never be your equal , how hard he try in this life or the next. This subtle discrimination is everywhere to the extent that the chief minister was recently called Toddy tapper’s (ezhava) son and the person who did it went on justifying his remarks.Kerala politics is quiet unique. Though all political parties including “Muslim” League profess secularism , it is all about caste and religion.
CPI(M) is basically a Hindu party , In Northern Kerala Nairs dominate the party at the leadership level while the middle cadre are made up of the Thiyyas/Thandans/ezhavas , the lower level workers are mostly the scheduled caste. Muslims , who are the new recruits are mostly wahabists who are kept mostly as vote getters in regions with minority majority.In the erstwhile travancore NSS has more say in politics compared to Malabar , Land reforms alienated them from the left , Hence ezhavas became the fountainhead of the party with a spattering of Nairs in between.when it comes to the leadership question it will mostly be a leader from the North, Hence preferably a Nair.
Congress has now been reduced to a party of minorities. Once it used to command a bulk of Nair and ezhava votes in Malabar, but now its the party of the Muslims in areas where they are not in majority. The moment the census hints of a changed demographics , Muslim league will become the dominant player. Down south congress is a party of higher castes – Nairs and Syrian Christians. Congress will always have a leader from south , so reserved for the above mentioned castes.
From this discussion it is quiet clear that a Nair or a Syrian Christian will most probably become the Chief Minister of the state whether the LDF or UDF wins. But that has not been the case recently first V S Achuthanandan and now Pinarayi Vijayan completing full terms.This has pushed the casteists to a corner and they have started to react.The churning is also happening among the minority vote bank. Christians who till now were considered at par with Hindus due to their tight grip over the educational system (which gave them extra weight) is feeling threatened with the rise of Muslim vote bank. The low fertility rate and increased migration has resulted in plummeting Christian population with many of their strongholds like Muvattupuzha and Perumbavoor being turned into Muslim dominant constituencies. In Kottayam district they call it Erattupetta phenomenon. Many Christian fundamentalists are having nightmares about a scenario where Mr.Kunjalikutty of Muslim League becoming the Chief Minister of the state. Though Syrian Christians had become full term CMs , a Muslim taking up that position would mean a situation where they would become equals to Muslims and not special anymore.
Next state elections would see community divisions reach the zenith , as BJP with nearly 15% votes is slowly eating into both Nair and Ezhava votes. This would make the other fronts turn more communal and finally Enlightened Kerala would have an equivalent to Rama Rajya movement.
The Elite are at it again.. This time it is a show on Netflix about arranged marriages that is getting them triggered. According to them arranged marriages are a part of the regressive feudalistic past which we have done and dusted wtith decades ago , but to see it happening in 2020 among the much tauted futuristic generation have made them go crazy. The most interesting part about the show was that it was purely about matchmaking among the upper classes in India and abroad , and oh boy the English speaking globe trotters talking about docile wives was humour to my middle class ears.
This brings me to the topic of the day – My trials and tribulations of finding a life partner in Modern India. Born to parents who married out of love , I was always a fan of finding your life partner by yourself theory. So when puberty kicked in , my search for true love commenced. Being an average looking nerd , who was effeminate according to macho mallu standards , it was an arduous journey. Though there were many one sided crushes , my first true relationship started in 2010 when I saw her on the staircase , painting on a t shirt at an Interdental college competition at Thiruvananthapuram. It started with phone calls , progressed to dates and then to the day of Reckoning. By 2014 we had both completed our degrees and were ready to tie the knot. Being from a household where falling in love was never seen as a crime , My parents had been aware of my relationship right from when it started . But the other side was a whole different world.
Ours is a nuclear family in the real sense. It was just the four of us and the extended family was something which we saw only on family functions. They had no say in our lives and we never interfered in theirs. I was wrong in thinking that it was the case with all the Nuclear families. It changed the day when a car full of strangers stopped in front of our house. They were hesitant even to introduce themselves , their air of superiority was there on their sleeves for anyone to see. The first thing one of them said was…”It is not going to happen”. As we were from two different castes , me being a Nair and her being an elayathu , our love does not fit into the age old tradition of endogamy. The funny thing was that one of them was an officer at the irrigation department , the others worked at a cooperative banks ( The shining beacon of communist movement in Kerala) and local self government institutions. Being benefactors of modern secular setup , they were vouching for racial purity making the whole Kerala Model social awakening a joke. Once they left I called my girlfriend who was not even aware of the escapades of her relatives. This rude incident exposed me for the first time to the regressive tyranny of casteism so rampant in our society and also to the dictatorship called extended family. From then on it has been an uphill battle. Finally in 2015 out of desperation we decided to register our marriage at cherpulassery with my parents as the witnesses , which we did. Then one fine morning her parents suddenly grew a pair of spine and decided to stand up for their daughter. So we got married in August 2015 with all of my relatives and just her parents in attendance.
Even to this day none of her family including her parents have apologised to me or my parents for dragging us through the hell that was 2015. Most of her relatives are still not in talking terms with us which talks a lot about their maturity as adults. People like them make up 99 percent of our society so the outlandishness exhibited on screen during Indian matchmaking was nothing new to me. This is the reality of India and it will remain so for centuries to come so dear elite …. Just deal with it….
our valluvanad was one of the final frontiers for western civilization. A land of immense beauty inhabited by people with unique traditions and practices which could at best be categorised as animism . Hinduism which used to be practiced here identified itself more with the plethora of indigenous beliefs than with the Vedas. Though Tippu Sultan’s invasion and the subsequent British rule did expose us to the world outside , we remained in our small universe happy and content for a much longer period. Hence till the 1970s most of this region was relatively untouched by the seeds of modernity unlike the rest of Kerala . This helped us preserve our Tharavads , pambin kavus, the tradition of velichapad at bhagavathy kavus and of course the rich mythological universe of our ancestors . One of the integral part of this mythology is the supernatural world inhabited by Odiyans and practitioners of Odiyanseva .
Odiyans were the professional assassins (yes!) hired by landowning nair/ ezhava families to kill members of rival clans without leaving any evidence that could link them to the murder . Being an agrarian society most of these rivalries were based on land disputes or succession related issues .The Odiyans hailed from the untouchable castes like the panars,pulayars or the choklears who were also the family serfs. They were well known for their physical stamina and was often feared for their patronage of powerful tribal deities . It was believed that DURMANTRAVATAM (worship of these gods) gave them powers which could be matched only by a seasoned MANTRIKAN (powerful magicians) and hence could be used against lesser mortals.
According to the folklore , the odiyan used to apply an oil obtained from killed human fetus on their ear lobes , which gave them powers to assume forms or shapes that they desired to be . In reality they never changed into the objects they intended to be, but created a sensory illusion on their prey making them more vulnerable to a mortal blow. For example the Odiyan would assume the shape of a bull or a cat or even a granite rock and stood on the route that the victim routinely uses at night .As the prey approached this unfamiliar sight on a familiar terrain he would at first be amused and would try to remove it from the path. Seeing his target getting closer the Odiyan would transform instantly into his human form , overpowering and killing the prey instantly.
The question that may pop up is , why go to such lengths to kill someone if he could be stabbed or shot at plain sight ?. The reasons according to my grandmother were :
1.Most of the able bodied men at the time had kalari training from a young age hence it would have been difficult to over power them other than through a ruse.
2. The operations were covert so the people who arranged the assassin did not want themselves to get involved in the mess.
3. Odiyans were experts in disposing off their victims , leaving no trace .
The tactic used to over power the victims was the element of surprise . The forms the Odiyans took were abnormal .For example the bull that appeared in front of you might be a three-legged one or a tailless one which could amuse the onlooker . This gives the odiyan enough time to mount an attack and kill the prey as it approached .
These abnormalities could also be their undoing . A seasoned mantrikan or a Tharavad elder could easily recognize these anomalies and act accordingly to uncover the bluff. There is a story about a well known mantrikan who was returning home at night when he encountered two bulls . Realizing the trap , he pronounced some spells to counter the odi vidya and to overpower the odiyan’s charm . Then he tied the two bulls together and took them to a riverine nearby and washed their ears . With the oil washed off they retook their human forms and begged the mantrikan for forgiveness which was eventually granted.
The illusionary power of odiyan comes from the oil they apply on their earlobes . It is said to have been derived from the amniotic fluid of an unborn human fetus which was killed in the womb. Their targets were young women in their first pregnancy. During the day time while at work as the serf they would identify their victim and mark her off with a sign which was inscribed on the walls of the tharavad . At night , the pulaya or pana would return as odiyan and using his spells make the woman walk unconsciously in her sleep to a predetermined spot where he would be waiting . The woman’s womb would be surgically opened with sharpened knifes made of bamboo and the fetus taken out . The fetus is then hung from a bamboo pole to harvest the fluid while the woman walked back home to her room where she would eventually bleed to death.The amount of oil obtained from one child would be too little ,may be a few drops ,but it could last for a handful of odi tricks.
The history of Malabar is obscure before the advent of the British . The odiyan belief could have its roots in the tamilakam period of Kerala history when tribal practices played a major part in religious beliefs of the people. Sangam literature talks about a magical force that resides in all objects – living or non living called ANANKU . The panans and parayas (who were the untouchables then too) were enthrusted with rites and rituals to appease the ananku . A person with uncontained ananku was considered powerful , making the guardians of ananku dreaded beings . The concept of odiyan taking up different forms could be attributed to the presence of ananku in all beings. Like many of the sangam traditions ananku might have metamorphised into the odiyan tradition over time. But unlike most of the tamil practices which became part of vedic religion it remained in the fringes , away from brahmanical strong holds hidden in the foothills of western ghats.
what happened to them ?
Even today Valluvanad believes in Odiyans and their magical powers with many mysterious deaths still being attributed to odiyan seva ( latest case being reported last month) . But , With the advent of modern education and westernised lifestyles coupled with the social emancipation of panars and pulayars there are no takers for the job these days. More over their patrons found new ways to settle disputes thanks to the robust judicial system , forcing the odiyan seva to die out over a period of few decades without revealing many of their secrets like many other Indian traditions.
If you are interested in knowing more about the institution of velichapad press on the link below