The Theyyam season has begun in North Malabar area of Kerala. It lasts from the tenth day of the Malayalam month of Thulam to the middle of the Edavam month when the monsoon makes an appearance. People pray to goddess Muchilottamma, who brings only goodness and prosperity to them, in the region between Korappuzha and Chandragiri rivers.
Huge crowds of devotees throng the venues of 'Perumkaliyattam' ritual, where the theyyam of the goddess is performed, even under the blazing afternoon sun. They would include the rich and the poor, the learned and the illiterate people. Though Muchilottamma is the presiding deity of the Vaniya community, people of all faiths and castes reach the venue.
Myth and local lore
Several myths as well as local legends are associated with the Muchilottu kavus, the temples dedicated to the goddess. According to mythology, the goddess took shape from the drops of sweat of Lord Shiva as he was performing 'tandava' dance based on a request of the diving beings to ease the plight of sages.
However, the local folklore relates a more earthly tale. It deals with the trap set for a young village girl who acquired knowledge by the learned men. A very beautiful as well as intelligent girl was born in a Brahmin house at Perinchellur, which is now known as Thaliparamaba. She learnt all the Vedas by age of 12 and no one could defeat her in debates. The male scholars, who could not accept a girl winning the debates, hatched a plan to trap her.
At the next debate, the questions set for the girl by the men were, "Which is the most enjoyable pleasure? Which is the most intense pain?"
The young girl, who had knowledge of all sciences, replied, "It is lovemaking that gives ultimate pleasure, while labour pain is the most intense suffering."
The men were waiting for such a response from the girl. "How can a virgin like her know about lovemaking? Without giving birth to a child, how can she speak about labour pain?"
The learned men set off a smear campaign against the girl and the priests joined them. She was expelled from the community and thrown out of her house. The hapless girl had to leave all her ornaments and wander around the streets wearing only her clothes.
With no place to go, the girl began walking to the Perumal Temple at Payyannur crossing the Kuppam and Perumbuzha rivers. After praying at the temple, she felt like walking to Karivelloor. All along the way, thoughts of the meaninglessness of life engaged her mind. She arrived at Karivelloor on the day after the festival of the Mahadeva Temple there had ended.
By that time she had taken the firm decision to end her life. She prepared a pyre for immolating herself and wished for some oil to help the fire burn more intensely. A Thiyya man came that way then and the girl asked him to give her a dried coconut that he was carrying. But he was overcome by fear and refused her request.
Sometime later, the Vaniyan of Muchilottu, who was a 'padanair' (soldier) of the Kolathiri king, passed along the place carrying a large vessel full of oil. The girl placed her request for oil before him too. The kind man gave the entire oil to her. The oil made the pyre burn fiercely and the poor girl jumped into it, ending her life.
However, as the girl possessed the life force of Lord Shiva and went straight to the god’s abode in Kailasa after death. Shiva immediately turned her into a divine being, 'Bhuvanimatha,' and sent her back to the earth in a golden chariot.
At the same time, several strange incidents took place at the house of the Muchilottu Padanair. His wife saw waves in their well along with the sounds of bangles and anklets, while Padanair noticed a ball of fire on the black palm tree in their compound. Moreover, the empty oil vessel was found fully filled. The Padanair realised that his house had the presence of the goddess and installed the deity on the western side of the building.
In the Thottam pattu, songs in praise of gods, the Devi declares that she is always present at the western side of a Padanair’s house. “If this is the house of a Muchilottu Padanair, I am a divine virgin of Muchilottu,” says the goddess in the songs.
Meanwhile, the Kolathiri king also saw a dream in which the goddess made an appearance and he decided to perform the Theyyam representing the divinity. The king summoned Manakkadan Gurukkal for the purpose and it was he who finalised the shape, decorations and rituals related to the theyyam of Muchilottamma, as well as performed it.
The first Muchilottu shrine
Local lore says that the first shrine dedicated to Muchilottu Bhagavathy (Adi Muchilottu kavu) came up at Karivelloor, where the young girl scholar took her own life. The old well where the goddess indicated her presence still exists on the temple premises. This was the place where the old ancestral house of the Padanair stood. The position of the well confirms that the well existed before the temple was built.
Now, there exist over a hundred Muchilottu kavus in Kannur and Kasaragod districts. There is one shrine at Vadakara in Kozhikode district also. Among them, 18 shrines in 17 lands are most important. Rituals at the kavus are performed mainly by people holding titles such as komaram, ooralan and karavanar. The ultimate authority on the customs of the shrines is a person known as 'Valiyachan' in Karivelloor. His presence is ensured in all the important rituals in Muchilottu kavus. At present, Pramod Valiyachan, a native of Kanhangad, holds this title.
According to Pramod Valiyachan, the Vaniyan community to which the Padanair belonged is believed to have settled in the area from North India. “Their chief occupation was to make and sell oil. Being worshippers of Shiva, they brought a deity known as Bala Parvathy along with them,” he explains.
The priestly duties at the Muchilottu kavus are handled by the Anthithiriyan community. "We have dedicated our lives to the shrine. Even after spending years abroad in connection with employment, I returned to Karivelloor to serve the goddess," says Krishnan Anthithiriyan of the first shrine dedicated to Muchilottamma.
The persons holding the title of 'komaram' also lead a very austere life. They carry the divine sword and shield, wear anklets and a belt with hanging bells around the waist and foretell the future. Pushpajan Komaram of Muchilottu kavu says that only deep devotion to the goddess prompted him to take up the task.
The connection with Dayaramangalathamma
A legend connects the Dayaramangalam temple in Peelikkode with Muchilottu Bhagavathy. It says that when Muchilottu Devi returned to the earth as a divine maiden, she was given the post of chief manager by the goddess of Dayaramangalam. At that time, all the agricultural land in Dayaramangalam was lying in waste. Muchilottu Bhagavathy took up the task for reviving farming on the land and under her supervision and hard work, the fields in Peelikkode produced bumper harvests.
Even now, during the 'pooram' festival, the komaram of Muchilottu Bhagavathy reaches Dayaramangalam and checks the accounts to continue this tradition. Moreover, when 'perunkaliyattam' ritual is performed at Adi Muchilottu kavu, farmers from Dayaramangalam arrive with their produce.
The shrine of Narambil Bhagavathy can be seen at all Muchilottu temples, along with other deities. They include Kannangad Bhagavathy, Puliyoor Kali, Puliyoor Kannan and Mahavishnu who are belived to be close pals of the goddess. In addition, shrines of Chamundi, Thayi of Kolaswaroopam and Vettakkorumakan are also present. All these gods are performed as Theyyams on the premises of Muchilottu kavus during the Perumkaliyattam ritual. 'Thalacharan,' a deity of the Muchilottu Padanair, is also honoured.