MANGALURU: As many as 50 families in Polali and surrounding areas have turned their paddy farms into watermelon plantations keeping in mind the annual Chendu festival at the Polali Rajarajeshwari Temple to be held in the first week of April. Reason: Watermelons are offered to the deity during the five-day festival and then sold to the devotees.
Watermelon is an integral part of the festival and residents nurture them like their own children for three months leading to the festival and reap profits enough to sustain them for a year. This year, however, production has seen a dip, say residents owing to the unseasonal mist in the region for the past few weeks. This mist has resulted in the withering of flowers and as a result, the long furrows meant for 20 watermelons, have nothing at all, says Narayana. Another reason for the dip in production is a massive decrease in the number of households growing them. However, undeterred, residents are eagerly looking forward to the melon-filled festival.
Lalitha, another resident who grows the fruit, says massive labour cost and an increase in seed price have resulted in the fall in watermelon cultivation. “Twenty years ago, the temple used to be surrounded by stalls selling the fruit ... but now, it has reduced to a handful,” she adds.
Narayana’s son-in-law Ramesh, who is visiting home from the Gulf for Chendu, explains the connection between watermelon and the festival. According to him, the festival symbolises beheading of demons Chanda and Munda by Goddess Kali and the watermelons — which symbolise the heads of the demons — are offered to the deity.
According to a resident, “Only watermelons grown in Polali and surrounding areas and sold here during the festival ... watermelons from elsewhere are a strict no-no.” Temple priest Narayana Bhat told TNIE that melons are typical to the region and are coincidentally grown during summer. The extensive use of the fruit in the celebration began with an intention to beat the scorching summer during the festival. Over the years, it has assumed various meanings, he adds. The Chendu this year is likely to commence on April 5, say residents, where locals play a game of football.