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(Snake Worship)


The Paambum Mekkaad Mana with its famous snake shrine lies about two kilometres from Mala, at Vadama, in Mukundapuram taluk, Trichur district. Known earlier as just Mekkaad Mana, this house with its popular legendary reputation took on the prefix "paambu" after its association with snakes and snake God. As there are no firm and reliable records regarding the origin, and raison d’être of the Mana’s snake affiliations, one has to go by traditonal word-of-mouth accounts and hearsay legends.


Despite being adept in the traditional wisdom and activities of their caste, the Mekkaad family was destined to lead a life of material austerity. To seek relief from their perennially penurious living, the head of the family started a rigid and dedicated round of prayers at the famous temple at Thiruvanchikulam. One night, even before the ritual prayer routine was complete, the Namboothiri was overwhelmed by the divine radiance of a presence he accosted as he was coming out of his ablutions in the temple pool. In response to his pleading, the presence revealed itself as the Snake God, Vaasuki and told the Namboothiri that he was pleased with his prayers and will gladly grant him favours. The mesmerised Namboothiri wanted only two favours: that Vaasuki should stay with him for ever and that his family be bailed out from their chill penury. He was granted both.

On returning home, the Namboothiri was startled to see, entangled in his parasol, a serpent, which, handing him a precious stone, promptly informed him that he was Vaasuki and that he wanted him to safeguard the stone for ever. Vaasuki was immediately joined by another snake that emerged from the parasol of a returning Namboothiri woman, which turned out to be a "Naagayakshi". They disappeared after instructions that they both be treated as the family deities and that installing them on the eastern quarter of the Mekkaad house and propitiating them regularly will be the surest way of ensuring the prosperity and fame of the family. This the family immediately proceeded to obey and to this day have regularly and uninterruptedly performed all the required propitiatory rituals. Thus Mekkaad became Paambumekkaad. There is a lamp permanently lit even today at the site of the original sites of installation, which over the centuries, are believed to have fossilised into mud hills. Nobody knows today what has happened to Vaasuki’s keepsake, the precious stone.

Although the above is corroborated by Kottarathil Sankunni in his famous work 'Aithihya Maala', there is also another hearsay legend often heard which is less credible. Once when a woman from Mekkaad family was returning home from somewhere, she rescued a snake from a burning wild fire of bamboo bush with her parasol, and that snake subsequently took refuge in the household, adopted itself into the family, and started the "paambu" affiliation.

Beliefs & Rituals

Where the snake shrines are, there is no digging or burning things. However, all members of the family are cremated in the same area, known as "Thekke Kaavu" where the snake deities "exorcised" from other places are also hosted.

The Illam itself is in the traditional Kerala architectural style of ‘Ettukettu’. Snakes are ubiquitously rampant both inside and outside the living area. Family members are rarely attacked or bitten by snakes, and even when bitten, are never in danger of venom (attributed to Vaasuki’s blessings!). There is no record of anyone being bitten either in the house or on the premises of the family estate. There have been instances (though infrequent) of people bitten elsewhere brought in and treated. Antidote therapy for (dermal) afflictions (believed to be an outcome of displeasure of the snake Gods) is often administered. Many people come to the Mana for appeasement as well as for the goodwill of the snake Gods.

Till a few years ago, there used to be an uncommon ritual ‘Ennayil Nokkal’ (Reading from Oil). The ritual was performed by Namboothiri women who had married into the Mekkaad family (who had an important status in the household). The ritual involved the woman gazing in concentration at the receptacle of oil collected from the perennial light at the shrine (see section on "Legend" above), reading and prognosticating on the implications arising from likely displeasure of the snake Gods, and suggesting remedial activities. This requires special mental and psychic exercise and perhaps that is why this gift seems to have disappeared from the family today.

The Status of Snakes

At the Mana, snakes have an anthropomorphosed status and are equal to the family members. So the snakes are referred to and addressed as "heritage". It is believed that the "heritage" members regularly call on their newborn human kin and that snake babies routinely accept the head of the family as their progenitor too. Deceased human members of the family as well as of the "heritage" are cremated in the same area. Members of heritage, shrouded in silk and cremated in a sandalwood pyre have priority in cremation over their human kin.

The "Exorcising" Ritual

One of the most common rituals that Pambu Mekkaat Namboothiris are called upon to do is the ritualistic exorcising of snake shrines from various places and their re-ensconcing on the Mekkaad premises. This is done in three ways.

1. Complete Re-ensconcing : When various households and other private establishments find it difficult to maintain their snake shrines appropriately, they appeal to the Mana and personnel from the Mana will duly exorcise the deities to re-install them on the Mana premises, usually all on the premises known as ‘Thekke Kavu’

2. Re-style the Existing Shrines: When it is found necessary to re-model or re-size the existing size because of changed landscape planning, the Mana helps out with it.

3. Merger of Shrines: Assistance and advice are also provided for merging two or more shrines.

Special (Holy) Dates

As is the custom in all snake shrines in Kerala, the snakes here too are feted and officially "fed" on ritual days. It is believed that the snakes’ favourite diet include rice flour, turmeric, milk and (Kadali) bananas, and so they are duly fed on the first day of Vrichikam. On that day all worshippers are allowed in irrespective of their faith or caste affiliation. A similar open-day policy is also observed on Aayilyam in the month of Kanni, between the days of Thiruvonam and Bharani in the month of Meenam and on the 10th day of Medam. However, nobody is allowed into the actual sanctum on the eastern quarter. In the mandala season, there are also special celebrations.

Apart from the snake Gods, right in the central courtyard of the family is installed a Goddess, in the "guise" of the traditional Guardian Matron of the Mekkaad family. The Mekkaad family hails from Irinjalakuda and so in close temporal proximity (before or after) to the annual festival at the Koodal Maanikkam temple in Irinjalakuda, the Mekkaad family shadow it by propitiating their own domestic Goddess through a ritual named "Mudiyettu’, usually on the Monday and Friday in the month of Medam. The privilege of holding this is assigned to the Kurup of Varanaattu. The observance may also be accompanied by a small show of fireworks, an exception since elephants and fireworks are not normally part of the tradition of any observance at Mekkaad.

Offerings and Holy Returns

The main offerings are "payasam" with milk and/or ghee. The devotees are offered bananas and turmeric powder from the Pooja and/or oil from the perennial light. A medicated oil prepared by heating oil with leaves from a specific plant on the southern quarters of the premises was considered to be a palliative cure for leprosy, but this is no longer in use. Similarly, the much-reputed but demanding ritual of "naagabali" (sacrifice to the snakes) has also been extinct for several generations now.

Administration and Regulations

The administration is by a trust constituted by adult Namboothiris, each of whom is given the right for one year at a time. The snake shrines at Mekkaad are the exclusive property and possession of the household and not public property or for unencumbered public access, and all visitors are bound by the regulations therein. The rules and conventions that control the conduct of affairs are preserved through oral transmission. The family possesses and controls nearly 40 acres of land today. Of these the household and the shrines extend over and occupy about 6 acres.

The snake shrines and the environs are supreme examples of primeval inter-relationships between humans and reptiles. These ancient symbols of human existence are increasingly being threatened by urbanisation and demographic explosions. It is to be seen how long these ancient primal human institutions can survive resisting against the heavy odds they face.

| Article No:20.8.2 | Last update of this article:23rd July 2008 |
Source : "Paarambaryangalude Mekkaad" - A project report by: Amrutha, Beena, Kavitha, Shyamala and Thahira, students of U.C. College Aluva. (1998-99)
With inputs from : P S Sreedharan Namboodiri, Pambumekkattu Karanavar
                             Pambumekkattu Mana, PO : Vadama, Mala - 680 736, Thrissur Dist.
Phone : 0480-2890357, 2891357
English Translation : Prof. P Bhaskaran Nayar, Lincoln University, UK

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