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Jeevatha (Seevatha) Ezhunnallathu

"Parayeduppu" and "Jeevatha Ezunnallathu", performed mainly by Namboothiris, are rituals peculiar to Onattukara. Beyond the aura of "Bhakthi", the richness of craftmanship and rhythm raises it to the level of a superior art form.

The temples with "Jeevatha" are mostly in Karthikappilly Taluk of Alapuzha District which includes Kayamkulam, Haripad, etc. All such temples have their own Jeevatha and rhythm group, and five or six of them congregate during the festival ("utsavam") season.

The word Jeevatha connotes that the "jeeva chaithanyam" (living aura) of goddess Devi has been invoked; but alternately, the word "Seevatha" is also used, derived possibly from the important temple ritual "Seeveli". Experts prefer the latter since the ritual is believed to be the occasion when the main deity of the temple comes out to visit the other deities and the "Ashtadikpaalakar".

Jeevatha, made with precision in measurements based on a blend of "Thachusaasthram" (architecture) and expert craftsmanship, was originated by the Raja (king) of Kayamkulam. Centuries ago, he presented a Jeevatha each to the Ramapuram and Chettikulangara temples at the same time. The Ramapuram Bhagavathy (goddess Lakshmi) is in the peaceful and beautiful form, while at Chettikulangara, she is in the frightening and powerful mood. And accordingly, the Jeevatha as well as the rhythm ensemble are also of different styles. Though with similarities and dissimilarities, they both are believed to have their origin at Kodungallur.

In the numerous temples of Onattukara, the "Parayeduppu" period is the festival season. It all begins when the deity ("Devi") of Ramapuram temple is taken out in procession for Parayeduppu on the Bharani star of the Malayalam month Vrischikam. The festivals continue to the end of Medam.

The main part of Parayeduppu is the Jeevatha constructed in the model of the temple structure itself. This box-like carriage for the deity rests on two teakwood poles about two meters long, and is in the form of a palanquin ("Pallakku"). The front resembles "Thidambu" behind which is a kind of small chest ("pettakam") built as per Thachusaasthra calculations. Up front is a woollen cloth embroidered with shining, colourful pictures and gold trinkets. Behind that is kept the deity's holy dress, starched and pleated, and decorated with small mirror pieces.

Several styles of Jeevatha are in vogue. The "Kettu Jeevatha" of Ramapuram area and the "Ura Jeevatha" of the Kaaraazhma Desam are the more popular ones. In the former, parts of the Thidambu in front are hung so as to swing while in motion, while in "Ura", they are fixed.

The rhythms used during Jeevatha Ezunnallathu (procession) are quite noteworthy. Several "Thaalams" (beats) such as Lakshmi, Atantha, Chembata, Thriputa, Panchaari and Vishama kundalam are used. Starting with very slow beats, it builds up a crescendo and ends in fast beats. The ensemble consists of Veekkan chenda, Uruttu chenda (both drums), Elathaalam (cymbals), Kombu and Kuzhal (both, wind instruments).

Although Jeevatha Ezunnallathu and Parayeduppu are centuries old customs, the "Chuvadu Vechu Kali" (a peculiar dance with unique steps) is relatively recent. Old timers claim its origin at Ramapuram temple. Mankulam Kesavan Nampoothiri, who was well-versed in all art forms, and father of the eminent Kathakali artiste, late Mankulam Vishnu Nampoothiri, was then "Ezhunnallathukaaran" (prime escort) at Ramapuram temple. He, ably assisted by his contemporary, the expert drummer, Mampara Neelakandha Panikkar, is said to have developed the new step-dance.

Jeevatha Ezunnallathu is mostly in Devi temples, and performed (Thaalam chavittal) by Namboothiris. Wearing their traditional dress ("Thattudukkal") and with towels firmly tied at the waist and on the head, they carry the Jeevatha on their shoulders and perform the step-dance. Among all the variations of the step-dance, the best known now is that of Kandiyur Neelamana Illathu Narayanan Nampoothiri (now bed-ridden). Prominent among the Ramapuram tradition at present are Keerikkat Mankulam Govindan Nampoothiri (died recently, April 22, 2000), his son Kesavan Nampoothiri, and Omanakkuttan. In Chettikulangara, the first "Purappedaasaanthi", Govindan Nampoothiri, Kallampallil Vishnu Nampoothiri, etc. are well-known. The Kaaraazhma Desam can boast of Cheruthaala Madhathil Narayanan Nampoothiri, Vatavaa Melur Subrahmanian Nampoothiri and Vettuviruthi Neelamana Narayanan Nampoothiri.

| Article No:35.4.2 | Last update of this article:20th October 2000 |
Article prepared by Prof: V M N Nambudiripad
With inputs from: G K Nampoothiri, Mankulam Illam, Kareelakulangara - 690572, Kayamkulam

English Translation: K D Nambudripad

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