CHENNAI: As part of the traditional Tamil New Year and Vishu celebrations, homes are adorned with the trappings of Kanni (for Vishu), an offering of auspicious items said to bring good fortune throughout the year.
To the uninitiated, this humble ritual is a far cry from the decadent celebrations that mark the passing of a new year in most Western countries.
To honour the occasion of Chithirai Puthandu this year, Dakshina Chitra Heritage Centre, Muttukadu, has arranged an authentic New Year celebration, which commenced on Thursday, April 14, and runs till tomorrow, April 17.
For a foreigner who has not witnessed a Tamil New Year celebration, it provides an excellent opportunity to understand the cultural significance of this holiday, and how it has been celebrated for many generations.
The viewing of Kanni takes place on the first morning of Chithirai Puthandu , in which food items such as rice, grains and fruit are laid out.
This is done in the hope that there will be a plentiful supply of these items across the year, a humble scene involving no riches or overindulgence as usually associated with a new year celebration.
The performance of Mayillattam , a traditional Tamil folk dance, also takes place throughout the day, providing an excellent opportunity to witness the rich cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu. The Mayillattam is a dance performed in reverence to Lord Subramhanya, with the dancer festooned in an elaborate peacock costume, strutting rhythmically to an enraptured audience. The dancer is also backed by musicians playing nadhaswaram and thavil.
The enchanting movements of the dance are made all the more impressive when the dancer stoops to grab money from the floor in his beak, offering it teasingly to members of the audience before snatching it away. The exhibitions offer a glimpse into how Chithirai Puthandu has been celebrated for centuries.
While traditionally, the dance is performed at times of celebration, performers Lakshmanan, Balraj and Madhana admit that their art-form is becoming less common.
Says Lakshmanan: “We perform for different kinds of audiences, often for school children and foreign visitors. I have carried this tradition forward. I learnt the art from my father and grandfather. But I do not want my children to follow this. I encouraged them to take up different trades because it is not viable for us now.”
Sharath Nambiar, administrator at Dakshina Chitra, believes that while the practice of the traditional art is perhaps becoming less common in cities, this only adds to the importance of Heritage Centres.
He commented: “If you go to the villages and rural areas in south India, you will see that the traditions are still alive there. But it is the metro cities that are slowly changing. I think there is a new awakening among people as to the importance of their culture. Dakshina Chitra and other places impress on the importance of this.”
He added: “As a profession, I think that the number of young people taking up the traditional arts is very small. It takes many years to learn an art and make it sustainable.”