TIRUPATTUR: As families everywhere are preparing to celebrate Deepavali, the S Maampatti panchayat in Sivaganga district is in no celebration mood.
Reason: The villagers cutting across caste lines - 90% are Kallars and the rest Dalits - are steadfast in honouring a vow their ancestors had taken to not celebrate the festival. Hence, for the last 57 years the 12 hamlets in the panchayat have religiously kept Deepavali at bay.
Way back in 1958, the villagers had taken a vow before a local deity in the Kadukaavalar Swami Temple not to celebrate the festival. “Severely affected by debt then, they had unanimously taken such a hard decision under the leadership of one P Sevugan Ambalam called Periya Ambalam,” recalled his son S Sabhapathi (82).
According to him, people did celebrate Deepavali before 1958 by borrowing money from two local landlords.
“The condition laid down by the lenders was that the debtors had to pay up interest in the form of one kg paddy for a rupee they had borrowed. As money was the prime requirement for the festival, the families were forced to be trapped in neck-deep debt,” he narrated.
Agriculture being the main occupation, the villagers were more than willing to stick to the decision. “As Deepavali falls during non-harvest season, most of them would have invested their hard-earned money in cultivation and would be left with no penny for the festival spend. And, only some would be in a position to repay the money after harvest which is why everyone had agreed not to celebrate Deepavali,” Sabhapathi explained.
P Sagunthalai (45), a resident, said oil is prohibited on Deepavali that they even avoid eating pappads.
Deepavali bridal gift (seervarisai) tradition is strange to them. “We do not accept anything including jewels as gift on the festival day. Rituals like taking oil bath and making sweets are not followed,” she said.
The present generation youth too follow in the footsteps of their forefathers. M Balamurugan (20) said, “Even as some of my friends from other villages celebrate Deepavali, it is a humdrum day in my calendar. It is the village tradition and youngsters like me would not want to break it.”