Tolppavakkuthu at Vazhavil Bhagavathi Temple near Guruvayur



Vazhavil Bhagavathi Temple (Kandanassery) is located at about 4.5 km from Guruvayur. A small sign board on the right side of the main road from Guruvayur (East) to Trichur @ about 4 km from Guruvayur shows the way to the Temple. The Temple is located facing a paddy field. A large pond is behind the temple. The surrounding area is covered by coconut trees. The Kuthu Matam (Shadow Puppet Theatre) is located away from the temple on the elevated right bank of this paddy field. The spectators sit in the paddy field.

The Kuthu is held for 7 days at Vazhavil Temple, covering only the Yuddhakandam of Kamba Ramayanam.
Every year, the schedule is decided so that the 7th day of Kuthu will be Aswathi day (Star) of Malayalam Month Kumbham.
The annual temple festival called Aswathi Festival is on 21st February this year (2018).

The Kuthu is performed by the Tolppavakkuthu troupe from Killimangalam, Palakkad District. The Matappulavar (chief performer and leader) of the troupe is Shri Unnikrishnan Nair. There were five members in the troupe. Chenta, Ezhupara and Kuzhitalam are the principal musical instruments used for Tolppabakkuthu. Ezhupara is similar to Para. Unnikrishnan Nair plays Ezhupara which is hung from the shoulder and played with a stick)

This year's (2018) schedule was as follows:
First day 15th February - Setubandhanam
(Preliminary Rituals at 1.00 am on 16th February starting with erection of Flagpost. The Kuthu performance started after 4 am on the 16th morning and concluded at 6.15 am.
Second day - 16th February - First war (7 pm to 9.30 pm)
Third day - 17th February - Slaying of Kumbhakarna (7 pm to 9.30 pm)
Fourth day - 18th February - Slaying of Atikaya (7 pm to 9.30 pm)
Fifth - 19th February - Slaying of Indrajit (11 pm to 6.00 am) (Fifth day has the longest duration of Kuthu)
Sixth day - 20th February - Slaying of Ravana (7 pm to 9.30 pm)
Seventh day - 21st February 2018 - Crowning of Vibhishana (12.00 midnight onwards) followed by Srirama Pattabhishekam ay 4.30 am on 22nd February.

(Click on the images to view full size picture)

Melekkavu and Surroundings


Vazhavil Temple (Melekkavu - Upper Temple) has a brahmin priest while Thazekkavu (Lower Temple) has non-brahmin priest. Bhadrakali, Kotungallur Bhagavathi and Muthappan are installed at Thazhekkavu.

The annual festivals of both Melekkavu and Thazhekkavu are held on on the same day - Aswathi day of Kumbham.

[Information provided by Mr. Surendran, who lights the lamps of Vazhavil Thazekkavu in the evening)]

Setting up the screen

Unnikrishnan Nair started the process of setting up the screen and the lamps. One edge of the white cloth was tied on the left side pole of Kuthu Matam. The top edge of the cloth was fixed on the upper horizontal beam. The white cloth was stretched across and the other side was rolled up and tied on the right side pole, thus forming the white screen. The bottom mid half was covered by a black cloth. Thus a screen of cloth with a white upper half and black lower half was made. A long trunk of an Arecanut tree is cut in two halves along the length. One half of the long stem is installed behind the screen horizontally. 12 tender coconuts are cut in two halves to form 24 half pieces. These are filled with oil. These are placed on the horizontal beam of Arecanut stem.
Unnikrishnan Nair lighted wicks from the hanging oil lamp hanging on the front of the screen. These lwicks were placed in the 24 half coconut pieces kept on the beambehind the white cloth screen The cloth screen is illuminated by these 24 oil lamps from behind

Rituals prior to the Kuthu

A Keli was performed at about 6.45 pm (Ezhupara, Chenta and Kuzhitalam).
In the evening an oil lamp is lighted and hung from the top beam at the middle of the koothumatam in the front.
At about 2.00 am the flag post was erected. Unnikrishnan Nair asked "Kotimaram nattatte" three times to the Uralan (Parakkatt Nair). After his consent, the flag post was erected by Unnikrishnan Nair. Later the festival flag was hoisted on the flag post. This signifies the ritual start of the annual "Aswathi Festival" of Vazhavil Temple. Katina Veti, about 14 of them, were burst right after the festival flag was hoisted thereby announcing the start of the festival to the villagers.

By tradition all the residents of the village are to remain in the village during the 7 days of the festival. If any guests have arrived, they are also required to remain in the village during the festival. The residents are prohibited from carrying out any renovation or even renewing the roof of their traditional houses during the festival days (As informed by Mr. Surendran).

Uniikrishnan Nair went to Kuthu Matam to set up the screen.

A Keli was performed in the Temple at 3.30 am using Ezhupara (Unnikrisnan Nair), Chenta (Vasu ) and Kuzhitalam().

After Keli is concluded , the Velicappatu (with ash smears over his body, tying red cloth over his white mundu and bangles on his arm and waist and holding the Goddess's Sword) accompanied by Chenta and Talam and a person carrying a hanging oil lamp went around the temple three times.

All of them came out through the front gate

Veliccappattu and the person holding the hanging oil lamp stood on the edge of the paddy field facing Kuthu Matam.

The Tolppavakkuthu troup went ahead towards the Kuthu Matam and stood in front of Kuthu Matam. Velicappatu blessed the Tolppavakkuthu by throwing rice grains towards Kuthu Matam. He blessed the organisers and spectators by throwing rice grains.

[Every day, before the Kuthu starts, Veliccappatu, holding the sword and wearing bangles, and accompanied by the senior performers and temple authorities descends the steps of the temple gate. Standing on the edge of the paddy field, he blesses the Kuthu Matam, performers and the spectators. Veliccappatu does not come near the Kuthu Matam.]

Kuthu (Images only)

Audio Files:

Tolppavakkuthu Keli

Day 2 Prathamayuddham

1. Audio File 1
2. Audio File 2

Day 3 Kumbhakarnavadham

1. Audio File 1
2. Audio File 2
3. Audio File 3
4. Audio File 4
5. Audio File 5
6. Audio File 6

Besides Vazhavil Kavu, Unnikrishnan Nair's troupe performs at
Vazhalikkavu, Painkulam, Trichur (7 days, 13th of Kumbham)
Sasthamkulangara Kavu, Enamavu, Trichur (7 days from Karthika onwards) [After Vazhakavu, the troupe will shift to this place.]
Mullakkal Kavu, Nelluvay, Palakkad (7 days, Meenam First onwards). Vazhivatu Kuthu on 3rd of Kumbham. Deshakkuthu is also done.
Muttachan Kavu, Pattambi (15 days)
Angadikkavu, Killimangalam (14 days, Metam 5th onwards)
Mahakalan Kavu, Plakkot, Chelakkara (7 days , Meenam 18th onwards)

Acknowledgements: Kandampully Ravindran and family and other members of the Yuvajanasamithi, Kandanassery.

A. Harindranath and A. Purushothaman, February 2018.