THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: ‘Chattu pattu’ is a rhythmic rendering of hymns addressed to the forces of nature. In the days when the wilderness was left to its genuine custodians, Mallan Kani had witnessed his ancestors perform the ritual in all the secrecy that a communion between man and nature called for. The septuagenarian strived to recreate the charged air of reverence and devotion on stage for a public performance of the solo act at Vyloppilli Samskrithi Bhavan as part of the ‘Thala maholsavam’ on Friday.
The shaman closed his eyes in prayer and consecrated his accompanying instrument ‘kokkara’ before plying its metal strings with the striker ‘pullu vali’. The lilting strains of tribal music filled the air as the chanting cascaded through varying tempos and emotions.
“The ritual was originally performed in close-knit tribal gatherings to rid persons or families from the spells cast by evil spirits,” says the ‘Oorumooppan’ or chieftain of the Mottamoodu tribal settlement in Vithura. “Everything has lost its sanctity, rituals and also the relations that fired them,” his voice trails off.
Much of what is asked is lost to the vagabond thoughts that steal the Mooppan’s attention. “We had come to the City Corporation sometime back. The Government sanctioned us Rs 2 lakh to build houses,” he says, more to himself.
The Mooppan is also a traditional ‘vaidyan’ (healer) who learnt the secrets of herbal cures from his father. Members of the Kani tribe are traditionally designated as ‘vaichyas’ (vaidyas) since they administer herbal cures along with performing the ritualistic ‘chattu pattu’ to cast away evils. The related tribe of ‘velas’ perform ‘Oottu’ with the accompanying instrument called ‘Para’ for the same purpose. “My grandmother used to say that ‘velas’ were brought over from the forest by the King long time back to cure the illness of his Queen. Later, they were accommodated in settlements in Ulloor and Jagathy. The Kani tribe, on the other hand, have remained in the wilderness and have divided the forests between Neyyar and Karamana among the population,” he says.
Times have changed and life in the forests has not been easy, says Mallan Kani. “The herbs and trees indigenous to our forests have been destroyed in the name of afforestation. They clear the area of every blade of grass before recreating the so-called forests. Such artificial forests cannot match the natural flora which can serve as shelter and also medicine and food for animals and humans beings.”
He adds that banning the parching of forests is doing more harm than help to conserve the ecosystem. “There are many kinds of forests - grasslands, woods, bamboo thickets and so on. Some need to be parched, like the garsslands. The fire actually renews the plant and insect life in them. We have oral songs that describe the kind of treatment that each forest needs. But now, the authorities in charge of the forests do not understand this.”
Mooppan has tried to secure better means of living for his people by compelling them to send their children and grandchildren to schools. “That is also not easy. Our crops are open to attacks from wild animals and if the yield is not good, we won’t have the money to send them to schools. My grandchild had to stop her studies after pre-degree because we could not afford to pay the fees. The English medium school at Najaraneeli in Peringamala wants the wards to stay in boarding school and we often find that the children cannot identify with their homes when they are back during holidays.”