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Ramayana month begins in Kerala
July 16, 2004 22:24 IST
As Karkitakam, the lean month of the Malayalam calendar, dawned on July 16, Hindu homes and temples in Kerala resonated with the recital of the Ramayana. Mornings and evenings, the faithful gather at temples to recite the Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu of Thunchath Ezhuthachan, the father figure of Malayalam literature. The entire text is read in 32 days.
As the season neared booksellers reported a heavy demand for copies of the Ramayana. Malayalis believe reading the epic gives them spiritual strength to tide over the hardships of the lean season. The term Ramayana maasam, or 'month of the Ramayana' used to describe Karkitakam, began as informal coinage but printed Hindu calendars have adopted it for generations.
Traditionally, heavy monsoon rains during Karkitakam, the last month of the vernacular calendar, interrupted agriculture and forced people to stay indoors. While the affluent depended on stored harvests, the economically backward labour class had a hard deal. With work being scarce, incomes dried up. The damp weather also bred disease.
On the eve of the first day of the month, houses are swept clean, disinfected and sanitised. Organic rubbish is bundled into an earthen pot and discarded outside the precincts to the accompaniment of chanting, an act that symbolises the banishment of ill omens. To fortify homes against ill luck, lamps are lit. Sree Bhagavati, the goddess of good fortune, is worshipped.
Non-vegetarian food is avoided. Green leafy vegetables are eaten and medicinal broth is brewed to fortify the body against disease. Ayurvedic medicinal potions like kashayam and tonics are consumed to build immunity, and hot oil massages are regularly administered.
People gather in groups and read aloud cantos from the Ramayana. The most popular one is the Bala Kanda of Ezhuthachan's Adhyatma Ramayanam, which contains about 2,800 shlokas celebrating Sita's devotion and Hanuman's selflessness.
Certain days of the month, determined by the lunar calendar, are auspicious to perform rites for departed forebears at temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Rituals related to the Ramayana month, which had fallen into decadence in the last few decades, are now experiencing a revival. In view of Karkitakam, the Travancore Devaswom Board has made arrangements for Ramayana recitals in major south Kerala temples. In other regions temple authorities and various cultural forums have organised discourses and debates on the Ramayana.
More reports from Kerala