Kozhikode: 'Soorasamharam' is an exclusive festival of Thiruvannoor in Kozhikode. ‘Exclusive’ should be given stress since the people here have been celebrating the festival on the day of ‘Skandashashti’ for more than a century without much interference from ‘outsiders.’ The crowd consists of only residents, their relatives and friends, thanks to the low publicity for the festival.
Since it is such a local homely affair, religious barriers are non-existent. Decking up the temple before the festival begins on November 13 is everyone's responsibility. This time it were a few Muslim girls who came forward to 'light up' the temple. Hafeefa V, a final year degree student at Lissah college, Kaithappoyil, first asked her father Haneefa if she could paint on the outer walls of the temple. Haneefa, who runs a grocery shop near the temple and who has been long associated with the temple festival, approached the festival committee members and informed that his daughter wished to paint the walls of the temple and the 'Aalthara' (the raised platform around the base of a banyan tree). The committee was more than happy to let the girl express herself on the hallowed walls of the temple.
Haneefa is a proud man. “I have been cooperating with the temple festival committee for nearly 30 years. We also have a WhatsApp group called 'Thiruvannoor Nattuvarthamanam' where we discuss the preparations. Hafeefa's request was also discussed in the group. Then we googled to see what could be the best images to be painted outside a Subrahmania (the deity here) temple. After finding out the deity's favourite things, she painted them on the concrete face of the 'althara' where the main rituals of the festival takes place,” says Haneefa.
It took four days for her to do the paintings. On the day she began, on October 29 Sunday, she put in eight hours of work, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She put her brush down only for a short lunch break. On the days from Monday to Wednesdays, when she had to attend classes, she painted from 6 p.m. to around 10 p.m. She was not alone. Hafeefa's little sisters, Huda and Fida, were also there to help her out, as art apprentices. They cleaned her paint brushes and mixed paints under Hafeefa's directions. Haneefa stood guard as the work spilled into the night. Though it is a martial custom (the annihilation of Soorapadmasuran) that Thiruvannoor celebrates on the day, Hafeefa's line drawings evoke the soft side of the Lord. The lord's vehicle, the peacock, is the most prominent image, realised using soft warmth-inducing curves and bright embellishments. Then there are butterflies, flowers, and lamps aplenty, all of it in various sizes of black.
Lore behind Soorasamharam
The concept of ‘Soorasamharam’ originated from the myth that Lord Subrahmanyan was born to kill ‘Soorapadmasuran.’ The Asura king had obtained the boon of immortality from Lord Brahma. He can be killed but only by the six-year-old son of Lord Siva. It looked like Soorapadmasuran had nothing to fear. Siva, at that time, had developed an aversion to worldly life after the death of his wife Sathi.
Soorapadmasuran grew to unimaginable strength and conquered both Asuras and Devas. To put an end to his mischiefs, the Devas sought the help of Kamadevan, the lord of love, who instigated Parvathy to lure Siva. Their union begat Subrahmanyan. He, along with his brother Ganapati and Veerabahu who was famous for his long muscular arms, prepared for the battle with Soorapadamasuran and Tharakasuran. It is this battle that is enacted during the festival here. But before climactic performance, Lord Subrahmanyan is ritually taken in a chariot to the Siva temple situated opposite and the Durga temple in nearby Panniyankara to seek the blessings of his parents.
The Soorasamharam or Sooranpada festival, which is celebrated across Tamil Nadu with fervour, is believed to have started in Thiruvannur almost a century ago. When Kottaparambu Kovilakam of the Zamorins was divided into three – Kottakkal, Thiruvannur and Mankavu – a portion of the ruling family had been living here. Once, when casteism was prevalent, the low-caste people were allowed only up to Kuttiyil Padi, the starting point of the street. So low-caste people from Tamil Nadu (Pondans), who were not affected by casteism here, were brought to carry the palanquin of the oldest/most respected woman member of the ruling family. They were given a space inside the street and they developed into a community, bringing in the traditions of Tamil Nadu. After an initial hesitation, the later generations owned up the festival as their own. Thiruchendur temple in Tamil Nadu is the most famous one for the festival.