A celebration of water—when there is none | Milaap

A celebration of water—when there is none

Festivals and celebrations all-round the year—that is what characterizes Hindu tradition. Down south, most of these festivals and rituals are a celebration of mother nature or a tribute to the land and its farmers. The month of Aadi that falls between mid-July and mid-August is particularly filled with so many festivities that it gave birth to the “Aadi discount” or “Aadi sale”, which can be compared with the black Friday sale in the west. Knowing that the festivities call for purchase of new apparels, household articles, and what not, businesses started capitalizing on this season with a sale.

Aadi Perukku or Pathinettam Perukku is one such festival that welcomes the monsoon and the rising water levels of rivers and other water bodies. It is celebrated on the 18th day of the month. People who take part in the festivities are predominantly those whose livelihoods depend on water and water sources. Lakhs of people flock to the banks of river Cauvery on this day every year to pay their thanks to the river’s life-sustaining properties. Right from 4 am in the morning up until 10 pm you can find people offering their prayers and poojas to the river, at different locations along its banks.

Crowds gathered at one of the locations.
Devotees gathering along river Cauvery at Amma Mandapam, Srirangam.

Sadly, the banks of the dry Cauvery river have receded far inwards this year. There have been years in the past when the river was so bountiful, that the water flowed up till the stairs that people can be seen climbing in the picture above. This year, however, the festival itself has become more of a preservation of the practice rather than an actual celebration as there is no water to rejoice over.

Offerings made to the river on a banana leaf.
Offerings made to river Cauvery.

In the morning, women take a dip in the river. On the beach, sand is heaped up to represent mother Earth. In front of this, a banana leaf is placed on which various offerings of fruits, flowers, a variety of rice preparations, threads soaked in turmeric, and other articles are arranged.

Lamps floated on the river.
Source: Wikipedia

Special lamps made of rice flour and jaggery, called Mavvilakku, are lit and later left to float on the river along with other accompaniments. This is a beautiful sight when hundreds of such floating lamps can be seen on the river, however, there was no chance for that this year.

Source: vikatan.com

Since the festival is associated with fertility and prosperity, it is considered special for young couples. Newly-wed couples have a ritual involving the thali (sacred thread tied at the time of wedding). The thread is exchanged for a new one and a new gold coin is added to the string. They also immerse the garlands worn by them on their wedding day into the river.

Once the rituals are complete. Some choose to settle down at the beach for family time. This is not always possible, for instance, last year the river had great flow and people had to struggle for their share of space even to perform the rituals. This year, however, the low water level allowed for lots of space along the banks.

These crowds and their family gatherings are great for business. The streets leading up to these locations of worship are lined with small shops selling hot street food like bajjis and papads, trolleys loaded with flowers, turmeric, auspicious threads, and other pooja articles. The beach itself is taken over by vendors selling colourful toys that call out to the kids running about and building sandcastles.

Source: thehindu.com

There’s also a sinister side to the whole event. Late into the evening, the crowds disperse and all that is left is heaps and heaps of trash left behind by the people. However, having anticipated this, officials have made arrangements for immediate clean-up of all the locations.

As this was my first time witnessing the occasion, I had nothing to compare it with. However, having heard accounts from the locals, I could gauge that the celebrations were not at their best this year. The dry river had dampened the spirits this year. All one can do is hope for good rains and that river Cauvery flows with all its glory for the next Aadi Perukku.