CHENNAI: Huge umbrellas in vivid colours, vibrant designs and religious motifs are often carried above deities from temples. Known as the kovil kodai, this act of carrying an umbrella is one of the most important service, or upacharas offered by a devotee to a deity. City Express talks to filmmaker B R Ram Kumar, who recently shot a documentary, Kovil Kodai – the Umbrella of the Gods.
A patron of Indian arts and heritage, Ram Kumar set out with a dream to make movies on ancient heritage, science and lifestyles of India. “I wanted to focus on certain aspects of temples, which no one has ever done. Temple umbrella is something that isn’t much spoken about and so I decided to work on that,” shares the filmmaker who has made over 400 films including documentaries, industrial films, advertising firms and feature films.
Sharing a deeper insight into the upachara, Ram Kumar shares, “The umbrella protects the lord from rain and sunshine. It’s also a symbolic way of paying respect to the lord while we acknowledge his presence during puja.” This is one among the 16 services rendered to the deity. In fact there are over 100 services. “Temples follow around 16 to 20 services. There might be temples that do more. It depends on the money they get,” explains the founder of the Madras Documentary company.
Locating a group of families who are into the business of making temple umbrellas at Chintadripet, Ram began shooting his documentary with the help of an enthusiastic artisan, Magesh. “Magesh is a part of the 250 families from Saurashtra who moved as refugees. They found work as helpers in one of the popular companies that make these kodais for many temples in the south,” he recalls.
Though the Saurastra families have mastered the art of making kovil kodais, the business today is limited only to 12 families. “Magesh was very enthusiastic during the whole process. He took me to different families who share the work of making these umbrellas. It’s such an intricate art!” he said.
The documentary was shot in 24 hours and Ram credits the families in Chintadripet for making the process easier.
“Usually shooting a documentary isn’t easy. But, the families were very supportive. The way they work is a visual treat.” He recalls the experience of meeting a 98-year-old woman who was making the patterns on the umbrella. “This has been a truly enriching experience and I want to take the history of this art to other places as well,” he added.
(His documentary ‘Kovil Kodai – the Umbrella of the Gods’ will be screened followed by a talk on temple umbrellas by C N Magesh at Apparao Galleries, Nungambakkam on June 18, 6.30pm)