It is the beginning of the year and Namboothiri families in Kerala are getting ready to conduct Vettakkoru Makan Pattu (the song to worship Lord Vettakkoru Makan) or pantheerayiram. It is a popular but challenging ritual in which the chief priest has to break 12,000 coconuts continuously in one sitting.
Manoj Kumar Kandamangalam is one of the few priests in the state who excels in conducting pantheerayiram. Coming from a noted priest family in north Kerala, Manoj has conducted this ritual at various temples and households since 1996 and is probably the fastest at it. He holds the Limca Book record of breaking 12,000 coconuts in 2 hours and 13 minutes.
“I believe in destiny. At one point in life I had no choice but to follow my father in his duty. My elder brother passed away all of a sudden in 1994. He was next-in-line to priesthood. His demise forced me to take over. But now, my profession has become my passion,” says the 37-year-old.
“My first pantheerayiram performance was in 1996 at Ramalloor Thenjeeri Illam, a famous Namboothiri household at Balussery in Kozhikode district. I took 4 hours and 10 minutes to complete it. Gradually I gained speed and my best performance ever was held at Kottakkal Kovilakom, one of the noted royal families in Kerala, in 2009,” he says. An impressed spectator advised him to apply for The Limca Book of Records, which accepted his nomination for breaking 12,000 coconuts in the shortest time of 2 hours and 13 minutes at Kottakkal. “I was surprised to see that my time management had vastly improved. None of my performances thereafter crossed two-and-a-half hours,” he beams.
Pantheerayiram is carried out as an offering to Lord Vettakkoru Makan and Lord Ayyappan. “In Kerala it is conducted for Lord Vettakkoru Makan while in other south Indian states, the ritual is conducted for Lord Ayyappan,” says Manoj. Vettakkoru Makan is regarded as the son of Lord Siva. He was born to Siva and Parvathi while they were wandering through a forest in guise of tribal warriors. Soon after his birth, the infant was left in the forest and raised and trained in war strategies by tribal leaders.
“Vettakkoru Makan was not a deity of Brahmin communities. The Lord was worshipped by the warrior class. Centuries ago, many of the major Namboothiri families in the Malabar region faced a severe crisis. Most lacked adequate young family members to carry forward the family. It was around this time Namboothiri families started worshipping Lord Vettakkoru Makan for wealth and mighty sons. Most Namboothiri families here now worship Vettakkoru Makan as their principal deity,” Manoj explains.
In 18 years, Manoj has carried out around 75 pantheerayiram performances. He is also probably the youngest priest to conduct such a huge number of pantheerayiram rituals.