Amman Festival among the Tamils Celebrates Nature

Fr. Maria Dhanaraj Thivyarajan SAC

Image: Siby via Unsplash

Mulaippāri is a well-known ritual in the religious and cultural milieu of the Tamils. It is generally associated with the annual festivals taken in honour of the village goddesses (e.g. Kāli or Māriyamman). This is a ritual in which the main and the only participants are the women. Although mulaippāri is seen together with women and the female goddesses, yet it represents in its inherent form a natural season and the subsequent natural result. In simple terms, mulaippāri is a ritual that represents symbolically a rainy season and a good harvest. Basically it is a ritual associated with the agricultural production.

The Tamil society is predominantly an agricultural society that for most part depends on the right rainy season. The sowing is usually done in the months of Ādi or Purattāsi or Aippasi, the months preceding the season of monsoon in Tamil region. In these preceding months, especially in the month of Ādi most of the festivals dedicated in honour of village goddesses take place. And the important ritual in these festivals is the mulaippāri.

Mulaippāri is a combination of two words: mulai — the sprouting of the new leaves + pāri (from pālikai) — wife or a bride. On the one hand, it speaks of the land (the sprouting of the new grains) and on the same level it speaks about the woman who can bring about the new offspring. That is, Mulaippāri speaks in the same breath about the rainmaking and the fertility ritual.

The festival to the goddess usually happens on a Tuesday, believed to be the birthday of the goddess. On this day, the women (usually the women who have attained puberty) who have chosen to participate in the mulaippāri ritual, after having a cold water bath, bring the sprouts to a common place where the mulaippāri will be stationed till the next Tuesday, the day of the festival. The sprouts are placed in a mud pot, which is filled with hay, soil and manure. The pot is then placed in the middle of an open space and the women join together in a circular dancing and singing (Kummi).

Later the pot is placed in a closed room of the appointed place. Meanwhile every day at the appointed time the women come to the place and in the open ground place a pot filled to the brim with water, and do the circular dancing and singing.

On the eighth day, the women carry on their heads the well-grown sprouts and reach the temple. The worship is done first to the mulaippāri and then to the goddess. The whole night they dance. And the next day, it is carried to the water sources of the village and is thrown in it. Some carry remnants of it and spread it in their newly ploughed or sown land.

This is a typical Tamil ritual that has been naturally adopted by the Christians, especially the Catholics. There are just some minor differences. The mulaippāri pots are decorated with signs of cross and usually taken in honour of a female saint. In some places like Kāmanāyakkanpatti (near Kovilpatti in Tuticorin District), this coincides with Christmas (celebration of the birth of Jesus) and the mulaippāri pots are usually placed around the newly decorated crib.

The connections are obvious: nature, agricultural production, fertility and human growth and sustenance. They are interdependent. The great spiritual lesson that we can learn from the Tamil ritual mulaippāri is that as long as a person lives in harmony with the nature (the creation of God), life is good. The moment he/she goes away from nature, the life will be threatened.

About the Author

Fr Maria Dhanaraj Thivyarajan SAC belongs to the Tamil Nadu Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers). Has done Masters in Folklore and Licentiate in Missiology. Presently engaged in a Doctoral Research in Missiology. Also interested in Folklore, Anthropology and Culture Studies.