With the commencement of Karkkidakam, popularly known as the Ramayana masam, every devout Hindu household will be echoed with Ramayana recitals. Over the years, the ritual has not lost its sheen, though it may be rarely practiced in a city household. The holy month is destined for undertaking pious vratham and the recitation of Adhyathma Ramayanam. Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu written by Thunjathu Ezhuthachan is recited in homes and temples and it is recommended that the reading of the epic should be completed within the 31 days in Karkkidakam. “This fixed duration has nothing to do with a religious ritual or superstition in anyway. This is solely to tune the person to follow a disciplined life and punctual life,” says Acharya M R Rajesh, founder of Kasyapashramam in the city. S a y s A c h a r y a , “Ramayanam is a history. It is also a philosophy and rather a good guideline to make each person a better human being. The story revolves around the lives of a father, a son, a mother, a wife and a brother. Each verse in the epic has some moral to convey to its reader. When Dasharatha had to change his decision from offering his son Rama the throne, and ask him to go to the forest, the obedience shown by Rama itself is a model example of how each son should be. It also explains how a wife should and should not be through the stories of Sita and Kaikeyi.” Ages ago, there had been a practice in the Hindu ashrams to follow a four-month vrutham called as the ‘Chaathru Maasyam’. Beginning from Karkkidakam, the vrutham will go on till the Malayalam month of Thulam. “During the course of this period, believers had undertaken the ritual of reading many religious texts including the two epics, The Ramayana and Mahabharatha. “Immediately after completing Ramayana, the reader would commence the reading Mahabharatha, followed by the vedas. The Karkkidaka Vrutham is a simplified version of this ‘Chaathru Maasyam,” Acharya explains. And why is Karkkidakam, also known as the ‘Panja Masam’ (the month of extreme scarcity), observed so reverently? “Dakshinayanam, the southward journey of the Sun, begins from Karkidakam. According to Hindu Puranic belief, the Sun will move towards the south at this time. It seems to accentuate the idea that we are entering the darker part of the year- less sun, more rain and longer nights. Thence it is advised to follow thick spiritual practices and health rejuvenation at this time. When it comes to the spiritual part, Ramayanam is the primary choice of any Hindu from time immemorial,” he adds. The ‘ Naalambala Darshanam’ is an important pilgrimage observed during the Ramayana masam. During this pilgrimage, the believers worship Ram, Bharathan, Lakshmanan and Shathrugnan, the four brothers in the temples dedicated to each of them on a single day. Thriprayar Sri Ram temple, Iirnjalakuda Bharathan temple, Moozhikulam Lakshmanan temple and Payyammal Shatrugnan Temple in the Thrissur district are the destinations in the ‘Naalambala Darshanam’ pilgrimage. “It has been a customary practice in our family over the years to go for the ‘Naalambala Darshanam’. Just as reading Ramayanam, this has also become a compulsory religious ritual for us,” says Vilasini, a housewife in the city, who further adds that a strict diet is also followed during this period. “Even the kids in our house will have only vegetarian food. Rice gruel and pulses are more widely opted. ‘Karkkidaka Kanji’ is something that we don’t miss,” she says. Plus there is also a custom of keeping a water tumbler (kindi) with few tulsi leaves in the house front during this month. “We believe that all the negative energies will be warded off by doing this,” adds Vilasini. The herbal soup, popularly known as ‘Marunnu Kanji’ or ‘Karkkidaka Kanji’, is a special diet followed in this season. The gruel is a mixture of several herbs including varattu manjal, uzhinjil, thazhuthama, kurunthotti, karikurinji, puthirichundu, changalam piranda, ayamodakam and ariyaaru mix. Apart from spiritual observances and healthy diets, the ‘Pithru Tharpanam’ is a major ritual followed. “The tharpanam is done on the amavasi or the new moon day. On this day of ‘Karkkidaka Vavu’, certain rituals are performed for the dead souls. Women in the house make special dishes like ‘vavu ada’ on this day,” says Vasudevan Namboothiri, a temple priest. Times might have changed, but there are some customs which are followed even today without fail. Long live the traditions!