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Sarpam Tullal ( The Traditional Serpent Dance )
Snake worship is carried out by the majority of Moothan,Guptan tharavads of palakkad,koduvayoor and valluvanadu regions respectively. Every tharavads have their own snake temples which are maintained as an inherited responsibility and deep faith across generations. Valluvanadu region is well-known for its association with tharavad snake temples and snake worshiping.
Apart from the routine poojas offered in the snake temples, Sarpam Tullal (Serpent Dance) is the main form of traditional worshiping ritual performed annually in the courtyards of every tharavads in a faithful way.
Pullavar, Pulluvan, Pulluvathi
The pulluvar of Kerala are closely connected to the serpent worship. One group among these people consider the snake gods as their presiding deity and perform certain sacrifices and sing songs. This is called ’Pulluvan Pattu’. This is performed in the houses of the lower castes as well as those of the higher castes, in addition to serpent temples. Most of the art forms of the Pulluvar are ritualistic. Most of their songs are related to worship, ritual, custom and exorcism. The pulluva art is expressed in the background of snake-worship, ghost worship and magic.
The song conducted by the pulluvar in serpent temples and snake groves is called Sarppapaattu, Naagam Paattu, Sarpam Thullal, Sarppolsavam, Paambum Thullal or Paambum Kalam. The main aspects of this are Kalamezhuthu (Drawing of Kalam, a ritual art by itself), song and dance.
Pulluvan - The male member , Pulluvathy - The female pulluva member
The form of the serpents is drawn with rice powder (white) and colour powder (black, red, green, yellow). The canopy (pandal) where the serpent dance takes place is adorned with palm leaves, granium flowers, jasmine flowers, chrysanthemum indicum, champaka, lotus, banyan leaf, betel leaf, ripe arecanut and branches of coconut flowers.
The Pulluvar conduct the ritual around the decorated kalam
(the field where the form of the serpent is drawn) in a certain specific order.
Nagapooja and thullal is performed in the night which is the perfect time for
serpent spirits to emerge out from their resting places.
The women of the house where the ritual takes place perform the serpent dance. Austerities start seven days or nine days prior to the day of the dance. Once they start the austerities they themselves prepare food. Strict vegetarianism is maintained and they avoid eating certain food items that are considered to be impure.
Various Serpent Deity Names
The deities nagas have different names as Naagaraajaavu, Naagayakshi, Sarppayakshi, Maninaagam, Erinaagam, Karinaagam, Kuzhinaagam, Paranaagam and Kanyaavu
Few or all these snake deities are worshiped in the tharavads. The serpents are worshipped in front of the Kalam and are offered Noorum Paalum (Lime and Milk). After the pooja, the head of the family who conducts the Sarppam thullal gives bunches of areca flowers to the performers who start dancing rhythmically. The thullal performers of the family will be representing any one of the above snakes. They are supposed to represent the serpent gods, who accept offerings and grant boons to the devotees. The intensity of the dance heightens gradually. It is believed that prophesies which the dancer gives at the point of heightened intensity of the dance usually comes true. They fall on the floor in a trance and rub off the Kalam at the end.
Sarpam thullal is done to appease the snake gods which represent mother earth. Sarpam thullal is generally done to bring off-spring which is a lyrical manifestation of life itself. People generally take a vow and Sarpam Thullal is done after the fulfillment or accomplishment of the vow. But in most of the scenarios Sarpam Thullal is done by couples who are deprived of an offspring. They strongly believe that Snake God can fulfill their dream of having a baby. The ritual can take place in before or after the vow accomplishment.
Pullava kudam ( The a large earthernware pot with a string attached to it used as a resonating musical instrument). Kudam nirakkal is the process of filling the pot of pullvan with the material offered as promise, normally rice.
Preserving the cultureSarpam Thullal today is dying a premature death. It is a fancy and expensive affair and most of the families are shying away from the ritual. Fast changing social situations and setups have a major impact on the future of this traditional social art form. Let us try to preserve these social life styles by moving ahead with faith, respecting the life old values of our culture and traditions.