KOCHI: Garudan thookkam is performed during Arayankavu Pooram, a festival meant not for the elite, but for the masses, a festival of belief celebrated by villagers who dedicate everything to their beloved Almighty, goddess Arayankavilamma.
Entire families from the village gather at the poora parambu of Arayankavu Bhagavathy temple to witness the divine moment.
They wait for a whole year for this festive night dedicated to garudan thookkam. They follow a daily saving system meant exclusively for meeting the thookkam expenses, and use the savings of one year to celebrate the event.
A hundred-odd teams arrive here to perform the ritual of garudan thookkam. The entire village gathers at the spacious Poora Parambu by seven in the evening to watch the thookkam performers. Families offer garudan thookkam to bring prosperity to their homes and to distance the fear of enemies in their life. Before the commencement of the thookkam the idol of the goddess is taken out after routine rituals and placed in a specially designed Elankaavu (a miniature temple specially meant for the thookkam). There is a great show of red as the performers wear red clothes and head gear.
From the evening scores of performers arrive at the temple premises to represent the devotees who offer thookkam as a thanksgiving exercise. In the beginning the performers climb over the thookka chaadu, a specially designed wooden platform, which is taken around the temple manually.
Around fifty performers take part in this divine process, considered the curtain raiser of the main garudan thookkam.
By 9.30 at night, the garudan arrives in a decorated truck modified into a chariot.
These groups come from distant places like Muvattupuzha and Koothattukulam. Devotees bear the full expense of bringing the chariots with all its paraphernalia and rhythmic accompaniments which comes to Rs 50,000.
The costumes of the garudan are very attractive and similar to those of kathakali artists. Devotees offer money which the performer tries to grab with his ‘beak’. The performer dressed as garudan holds babies high as there is a belief that the process will keep evil away from the child. Parents often queue up before the garudan to hand over their children.
Accompanied by the thunderous percussion ensemble, these trucks enter the pooraparambu.
As the pace of the percussion ensemble reaches the climax, the garudans start dancing hysterically. As each truck arrives, the devotees gather around with country torches.
“From time immemorial, garudan thookkam has been performed here,” says Pradeep Kumar, secretary of Arayankavu Bhagavathy Seva Sangham. “In those days the thookkam was held by piercing iron hooks on the performers who observe a month long special ritual to be the garudan,” he says.
Later this practice was banned. Now the thookkam is termed ‘kacha thookkam’ in which the hooks are placed on cloth bands tied around the performer’s waist .
Once all the chariots are lined up in the pooraparambu, each moves towards the kalithattu (a raised platform) situated in front of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Here the performers present an ethnic dance in tune with the rustic rhythm from the traditional percussion instruments.
With the help of their assistants, they climb over the thooku chaadu and held up by the iron hooks they complete three rounds around the Elam Kavu. The performance goes on till dawn.