TIRUCHY: Call it a paid feast. Call it a way of raising money. Call it a not-so-old social custom that thrives on the notions of traditional honour. Whatever it is, ‘Moi Virunthu’, a unique practice that brings together 1,000 to 4,000 people just for a sumptuous meal in lieu of a ‘cash gift’ and some socialising in several villages around Peravarani in Thanjavur district and Thiruvarankulam in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, keeps the villagers busy during the Tamil months of Aadi and Aavani.
Marriage halls and smaller venues in the region are booked back-to-back throughout the ‘Moi Virunthu’ season, offering good business to caterers and flex board makers. The feasts that once attracted bank representatives, like bees to honey, have now inspired a bunch of young computer geeks from Madurai to come up with an exclusive software called ‘Moitech’, that makes the difficult task of maintaining accounts, an easier affair.
The Tamil word ‘Moi’ normally refers to the gift money that a guest pays at a wedding or a family function — the name and amount is at times announced over loudspeakers. The organisation of ‘Moi Virundhu’, too, is similar to a marriage — from the printing and distribution of invitation cards, the display of flex boards, the serving of a sumptuous meal and the final gift money collection — though there is no specific reason to celebrate. M Prabhu, the designer of Moitech, said his team had earlier developed a software to maintain the accounts of money collected at marriages and domestic events. But the accounting for ‘Moi Virunthu’ is rather complicated and the team had to do detailed research on the practice before adding required features to ‘Moitech’.
The complications stem from the nature of custom, its origins and the way it has been carried forward. According to the elders in the area, the practice might started sometime in the middle of 20th century among the people of Agamudaiyar community in 11 villages. M Ganapathy, former president of Agamudaiyar Sangam in Peravurani, said: “The idea was to financially help our local community members who had fallen on bad times. As most of us had coconut groves, we earned a lot when the produce was plucked from the trees and sold. Our elders wanted to utilise the excess money to benefit the financially weaker section of our community. Thus, ‘Moi Virunthu’ came into existence.”
Initially, those who needed money organised ‘Moi Virunthu’ by inviting known people of the community in the months of Aadi and Avani, when most of the people would be free of agricultural work and the marriage halls would also be available. The ‘Moi’ amount collected can be spent on any productive enterprise: New business, house, child’s education, bank savings etc., but the person will have to wait for five years for the next feast. Those who contributed to the fund, through ‘Moi’, will get back the money through ‘Moi’ when they organise the feast of their own.
The custom actually benefitted many families of Agamudaiyar community here, and over the years, spread to other communities. These days, people from all walks of life, including teachers and government employees, conduct ‘Moi Virunthu’. People from ordinary backgrounds collect about `5 lakh to 50 lakh, while the rich reap in crores. The ‘Moi’ amount normally ranges from `250 to several lakhs and people see it as an investment.
“If you give your money to the right person, it will come back to you. At the same time, your money is also helping your relatives or friends in need,” explained Marimuthu, a resident of Vadakadu. Earlier, the staff of private banks used to assist the organisers with the counting of currency notes with their machines and then convince them to deposit the amount in their banks. But now, after demonetisation, people are wary of depositing the amount in banks.
The organisers of ‘Moi Virunthu’ are careful in choosing the invitees. In fact, they will never miss those to whom they have already given money. “If the ‘money-owing’ persons fail to turn up for ‘Moi Virunthu’, the organiser will send word for them after waiting for a few days and demand the ‘Moi.’ As it involves honour and prestige, normally the money will be returned. By the way of returning the money, people will generally gauge an individual’s financial positions. This will get adversely reflected when he conducts the event, where he may not receive money as he expects,” said S.Madhavan, a Tamil professor in Pudukkottai.
Nowadays, lakhs are spent on the feast but traditionally, it was predominantly a simple non-vegetarian meal with rice, mutton, curry and dishes. It can also be a vegetarian meal. Sometimes, five to 10 persons get together to organize a feast and divide the expenditure. Of course, they collect their ‘gift money’ separately. Some of the other customs associated with the practice reflected in the complicated accounting process. As Prabhu, explaining the difference between his software for weddings and ‘Moi Virunthu’, said: “For the feast, we need to note if the money is paid whether for the first time or second time. So columns like Pazhaya Nadia (Old turn), Puthu Nadai (New Turn) and Rendam Thadavai (Second Turn) are needed. The persons, who come late for the events to give money, will come under the category Udan Pin Varavu (Immediate Late Entry).”
The software will produce receipts with all details for the lenders. The organisers will get hard copies in a book format with the details of lenders and their villages in alphabetical orders.“Apart from this, we have a new facility too. Organisers of the Virant can send reminders to their invitees’ mobile phones two days before their events and similarly, a computerized voice call can also be made,” he added. The moitech team proposes to charge `10 per entry from the Moi Virunthu organisers.
Meanwhile, some beneficiaries of the system have glowing stories to narrate. “In 1970, I was in need of some money to start cultivation. I organised a Moi Virunthu and raised the money, which I returned over a period of five years,” said Velu Kumar, a senior citizen. “I have never conducted this feast. But, I regularly attended the feasts of others. When I conducted my daughter’s marriage and other functions, I got the money back. But, you have to be careful about the person you are giving the money to,” said Chinnadurai. There have been instances of people being unable to pay back and even leaving the village. For, the entire practice rests on ‘honour.’