His mission is to purify the soul of Kerala’s rivers. He is a descendant of an esoteric magical system, but believes in public dissemination of knowledge. His inner eye shows him what he can do: last December, when the Mullapperiyar issue was at its peak, Brahmasri Suryan Subrahmanian Bhattathirippad, the current head of the esoteric Suryakaladi mana near Kottayam, Kerala, had an apocalyptic vision. He is a mantravadi—an ancient system of sorcery in Kerala, the secrets passed down through generations of family members. Following the ominous premonition, which was supported by a sinister zodiac alignment, Bhattathirippad rushed to Mullapperiyar with a team of tantric experts. He conducted the Kartyaveeryarjuna Yajnam at Chappath near the dam seeking divine blessings to protect the dam. It was a great ritual, attended by priests from various parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Six Namboodiri clans have a monopoly on the Kerala form of mantravada. It is believed that Lord Parasurama—the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu who, in the fable, reclaimed Kerala from the Arabian sea with his axe—appointed four Brahmin families, namely Kallur, Kattumadom, Kalakad and Kaladi (later known as Suryakaladi) as the exclusive practitioners of ‘San-Mantravada’ (the science of arcane mantras, chanted in a fixed frequency). Among this, Suryakaladi Mana (Namboodiri homes are called manas) is renowned for not just mantravada, but also the worship of Lord Ganesha.
When Subrahmanian Bhattathirippad became the ‘Karanavar’ (the elder) of the mana around 20 years ago, he took the revolutionary step of announcing the entry for all castes to participate in his pujas. He has also given the public an opportunity to take part in the mana’s Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations. This enabled him to popularise the worship of Lord Ganesha. He also publicly disclosed the ‘mantra’ for worshipping Ganesha, which was earlier known only to a privileged group or priests. He then went on to organise the ‘All India Ganesha Purana Tatwa Sameeksha Satram’, the first of its kind in the country.
“The objective of the Satram was the revival of various tantric systems, while, at the same time, educating the people. Through it, everyone can attain an intellectual and spiritual enlightenment without intermediaries,” says the mantravadi. The Satram that lasted for a total of 256 days, and puts forth an idea that the essence of Indian euthenics—the study of the improvement of human functioning and well-being by amelioration of living conditions—can be abridged as ‘Ishtapurtham’ (observances combined with holy sacrifices aimed at the welfare of mankind). This is the practical exercise of the tantric aspect and the Vedas.
Every year a group of pilgrims led by Bhattathirippad goes to the Himalayas to conduct pujas and bring holy water from the seven rivers and Manasarovar lake to purify 44 rivers in Kerala. “We started the pilgrimage eight years ago and have purified over 20 rivers,” he said. “We will continue this in the coming years.”
A great ancestor of Kaladi mana had met with an unnatural death and his heir vowed to avenge the death by exterminating the entire race of Yakshis (demon goddesses) who were believed to have caused the mantravadi’s death. He began an intense ‘tapas’ to please Lord Surya. The Lord appeared in the guise of a Brahmin to bestow the sacred and powerful mantras upon him. The belief that the mana is magically empowered by the blessing of Lord Surya was the reason its name was changed to Suryakaladi. One male child in each generation is titled ‘Suryan’ as a reminder of his ancestor’s tryst with God.
In God’s Own Country, the gods reside in mysterious places as well.