Festivals are times of celebrations when families get together, feast, perform ceremonies and offer thanks. The events are usually centred around a characteristic aspect of a particular community and their culture and religion. India is famous for its festivals. All over India, people come together and celebrate a multitude of festivals with great pomp and splendour. Coorg, the tiny district in Karnataka, is no different. The community gets together and performs rituals and ceremonies, celebrates and organises grand feasts on their festivals. The only difference is that the festivals of Coorg celebrate nature, the natural elements and their ancestors.
The people of Coorg, the Kodavas celebrate three main festivals during the year. These festivals of Coorg are based on their agricultural practices, their ancestors, called guru karana and the patron gods Igguthappa and Kaveramme. Along with these deities, the nature-worshipping Kodava people also worship their weapons and agricultural implements.
Kodava Festivals: The Three Main Festivals Of Coorg
1. Kailpodh (Kailpoldh): Celebrating The Weapons That Guard The Fields And The Implements That Plough The Fields
The Kodava festival of Kailpodh is celebrated on September 3, every year. This day is supposed to signify the end of the transplantation of the paddy crop. In ancient times, the end of transplantation of the paddy or nati, as it’s known locally, signified that the men would get ready with their weapons to guard the paddy fields from wild animals.
On this day, all the weapons in the house and agricultural implements are cleaned and decorated with flowers. The weapons are arranged underneath the thook bolcha (hanging lamp) or nellaki nadubade (the centre of the house). An offering of liquor and food to the ancestors called meedhi is placed in front of the weapons. All the family members gather here and the most senior male member of the family says a few prayers, invoking the ancestors and deities to bless the family with good health and good fortune. The ceremony ends with everyone showering rice on the weapons and touching the feet of all the elders in the family to receive their blessings.
Then the festivities commence with a feast of kadamputtu (steamed rice balls), pandi curry (pork curry) and akki payasa (rice pudding). Earlier, the festivities involved gathering in the local mandh (open ground) where physical contests, sports including marksmanship, and various folk dances such as ummathaat and kolaat were conducted. Nowadays, most of these gatherings and contests are conducted in the Kodava samajas in various places.
2. Tula Sankramana Or Kaveri Sankramana: Celebrating The Birth Of The River Kaveri
This festival, which falls on the 17th or 18th of October is a festival to celebrate the birth of the river Kaveri. Kaveri Sankramana is considered as one of the most sacred festivals in Coorg. The river that is considered sacred, is the lifeblood of Coorg and originates in the Brahmagiri hills.
According to the local myth, Kaveri, the daughter of the rishi Kavera, wanted to be a river to help the people of the land. She prayed to Shiva, who granted her a boon that she could turn into a river at a time of her choosing. Sage Agastya, a powerful sage who was meditating in the Western Ghats met Kaveri and wanted to marry her. She agreed on the condition that he would never leave her alone; if he did, she would leave him forever.
One day, he put his wife in his kamandalam (small pot for water) and carried her to the river bank. He left the kamandalam at the river bank to perform his morning ablutions. Realising she had been left alone, Kaveri flowed out of the kamandalam as a river. The distraught sage and the people of the land beseeched the river to not leave them. The goddess Kaveri emerged from the river and promised to return every year on the day she became a river.
Every year, on Kaveri Sankramana, the water in the kundike (holy tank) gushes up in the form of bubbles. According to the locals, the water gushes up and bubbles in every water source in Kodagu at the same time. This unique natural phenomenon is called theerthodbhava, and thousands of devotees rush to Talakaveri to take a dip in the water.
At home, the Kodava people perform a ritual called kani puje on the day of the festival. They perform the puja in front of a decorated cucumber or coconut that is placed on a plate of rice with some jewellery and glass bangles. This decorated cucumber or coconut symbolises the goddess Kaveri. An offering (meedhi) of dosa, kumbala curry (pumpkin curry) and akki payasa (rice pudding) is kept in front of the idol. All the family members pray to the goddess and shower the idol with rice. The younger members of the family then touch the feet of the elders to take their blessings. Everyone present is served a bit of the meedhi (offering) along with some Kaveri theertha (holy water from the birthplace of river Kaveri) before they sit down for a meal. This is one of the only festivals in Coorg, where vegetarian fare is served.
A part of the meedhi (offering) is also kept in the paddy fields and the wells. This is called bothu kutho. According to local legend, this wards off any evil eye and also serves as food for the birds in the paddy fields.
3. Puthari: The Harvest Festival Of Coorg
The Puthari is the harvest festival in Coorg. This day marks the beginning of rice harvesting and is celebrated in late November or December. This is one of the festivals in Coorg that is celebrated by most of the communities in the district, and not just the Kodavas. On this day, the Kodavas decorate their houses and paddy fields with banana stems and leaves, a garland of green mango leaves, flowers and lamps.
The men and children of the family go into the paddy fields in their ceremonial attire to bring home the first rice of the harvest. Gunshots are fired and firecrackers burst to symbolise the beginning of the harvest. The men and children return with the first harvest with loud chants of “Poli poli deva” (Lord give us more prosperity). Poli, which translates to rice, symbolises prosperity. The rice crop is cut and stacked and tied in odd numbers and carried home to be offered to the gods.
Along with the first harvest of rice, the family offers a meedhi (offering) to the gods and their ancestors along with alcohol. The word puthari means pudiya ari, which translates to new rice. A payasa (rice pudding) is made using the newly harvested rice. This payasa is first offered to the gods and ancestors with the meedhi and then shared among family members. The senior-most male member of the family invokes the deities and ancestors to bless the land and family with more prosperity. The younger members of the family touch the feet of the elders to receive their blessings and then it is time to feast.
The menu for the day includes thambuttu (a banana pudding served with toasted sesame, shavings of grated coconut and ghee), kadambutt, pandi curry and steamed yams with sugar or jaggery syrup.
Other Festivals Of Coorg
1. Kakkada Padinett: The Eighteenth Day Of Kakkada, A Day Of Medicine And Feasting
Kakkada Padinett is another of the auspicious festivals of Coorg. According to the Kodava calendar, kakkada is the season of heavy rainfall in Coorg. The monsoons in Coorg bring with it heavy rains and cold winds. This is the time that the people of Coorg are busy with nati (transplanting paddy) in their fields. This is a tough job involving long hours of labour in the wet, slushy paddy fields.
Kakkada Padinett translates to the 18th day of the kakkada month, which usually falls on the 3rd of August. Preparations for this auspicious day start a day or two before. The Kodava women collect the leaves of a plant called madd thoppu (medicinal leaf) in the local language. The madd thoppu is a medicinal herb called justicia wynaadensis. The leaves of the plant are said to contain 18 varieties of herbal medicine. The leaves start emitting a sweet aroma on the 18th day of Kakkada, and surprisingly wanes after that. Moreover, the curative and medicinal properties of the plant are at their peak on this day. This is why the 18th day of kakkada is considered auspicious by the Kodavas.
The leaves and slender stems of the plant are boiled to extract a deep blue liquid called madd rasa (medicinal extract). This extract is then made into a payasa (rice pudding) or puttu (pudding-like sweet) on the day of the festival. The Kodavas offer this madd payasa (medicinal payasa) or madd puttu (medicinal pudding-like sweet) to the gods and ancestors as a meedhi (offering). The whole family then eats the meedhi and the medicinal payasa. Kakkada koli (free-range fatty chicken) and kakkada nyand (mud crabs) are also eaten in some areas. These medicinal sweets, chicken and crabs provide the people working in the watery fields with some much-needed warmth, fat and strength.
2. Bishu Changrandi (Edamyar Ond): The Kodava New Year
Different communities in India celebrate the beginning of the new year on days that have nothing to do with the Roman calendar. Similarly, the Kodavas celebrate their new year in April, like Bengalis and Punjabis. The Kodava community follows the solar calendar and celebrates the new year in mid-April every year. This day is called Edamyar Ond or Bishu Changrandi. This is another of the festivals of Coorg that is based on their agricultural practices.
This festival symbolises the start of the agricultural cycle in Kodagu. On this day, the families perform a ritual in the paddy fields. The cattle and plough used for ploughing are worshipped too. Then the cattle are yoked to the plough and the field is ploughed in a circle, thrice. This ritual is performed even if the field isn’t ready to be ploughed. The Kodavas offer prayers and meedhi (offering of food) to the ancestors and gods. The families also keep a meedhi with dosa (rice crepe) in the paddy fields.
With increased modernisation, the yoke, the cattle and the plough have all but disappeared. While the ritual is performed by a few families, most Kodava families don’t plough the fields anymore. They have a meedhi beppo or karana kodpo (ritual offerings to the ancestors) at their kaimada (shrine for ancestors) on Bishu Changrandi.
3. Madikeri Dasara: A Celebration Of The Shakthi Devathas Of Madikeri
Like Mysore, Madikeri also celebrates the Navaratri festival with great pomp and splendour. The 10-day festival includes karagas from the four temples in Madikeri dedicated to the goddess Mariamma, and ends with a beautiful procession of colourful tableaus on the evening of the 10th day. According to local legend, when the population of Madikeri was ravaged by a disease, the king prayed to the goddess Mariamma. After the pandemic, the king built four Mariamma temples and held a festival in the goddess’ honour. The festival, which was held after the mahalaya amavasya eventually came to be known as Madikeri Dasara.
The festival starts with the karagas from the four Mariamma temples. The karaga is a decorated idol of the goddess placed on a pot. The pot is filled with rice, nine types of grains (navadhanya) and holy water. The priests of the temples carry the karaga on their heads and walk the lanes of the town, where people perform puja to the deities. The priests perform a ritual dance (karaga dance) after the puja.
On the evening of Vijayadashami (the 10th day), the colourful tableaus from 10 temples go on a procession on the streets of Madikeri. This procession is filled with much fanfare, dancing and celebration. The tableaus called mantapas depict scenes from Hindu mythology. Every year the temple committees go all out to make these tableaus more beautiful to win a competition for the best mantapa. This festival in Coorg starts at midnight and the revelry continues till dawn. Madikeri Dasara is not a Kodava festival, it is a festival of Coorg. It’s where all the communities of Coorg come together to celebrate.
A Celebration Of Mother Nature
The people of the region also have an annual festival for the village deities, like the Bhadrakali Namme and Bod Namme among others. These festivals are unique to the Coorg region and they contribute to the culture of the people of Coorg. The festivals of Coorg show how the agriculturist cherishes nature and the unity they share.
But over the years, other ethnic communities and religions have influenced their culture. Hindu festivals like Ugadi, Shivaratri, Ayudha Puja and Deepavali have become a part of the festive calendar in Coorg. If you’re planning to visit Kodagu, plan your trip to coincide with the festivals of Coorg. Join in and celebrate these unique festivals of Coorg with the local community and add some cultural flavour to your trip.