In the lunar month of Aadhi1, on an auspicious day when the stars were aligned as per the dictates of Siddha Yoga, the Sudalai Maada2 God woke up. It made up its mind not to put up with it anymore and boiling with rage twirled its moustache. “Screech, screech!” it scraped its sword on an adjoining step until sparks flew and with a loud stomping of sandals it set out. The entire village was immersed in deep sleep and not a single soul was troubled by the fact that a God was wandering the streets in pitch-dark night distressed and hungry. “Let them come, I will show them”, it rankled maliciously. These days who respects a God who stays put without even bothering to bring down minor troubles every now and then. If this were to remain unchecked they would even dare to lop his moustache and walk away with it coolly. Maadan now had a nagging doubt if he was the basis for the custom of calling someone a ‘gullible wide-mouthed fool’.
As darkness gathered pigs could be heard squealing on roads that looked as if they were gutters run amok. “Oink…” a piglet beckoned its mom and Maadan salivated in anticipation. It had been almost four years since an offering of pork was made to him. In his excitement, he almost felt like grabbing one and making a juicy meal of it. Alas, even though he was a God, it was still his fate to be bound by the dictates of ritual and his alimentary woes could be assuaged only through the sacrificial offerings of Man. ‘Woof!’ suddenly a puppy dog which had the misfortune of being the eldest of its litter enquired with suspicion. ‘Woof, Woof’, into the dark and from all corners came the replies, continuing the enquiry. By then a cowardly one had already begun its whining lament. The eldest puppy lifted its nose and sniffed repeatedly. Sensing Maadan’s presence it bounded to the verandah in one leap and started to wail, following which the whole slum resounded with howls. Eventually, it ended up at the doorstep of Appi, the priest who officiated at Maadan’s altar and managed to slip in through the tiny gap between the closed door and its frame. ‘Grr… Grr…’ Appi’s snores punctuated the dark. Maadan set the tip of his broad-bladed sword on his temple and tried waking him up crying, “Eley, Appi… Ley Appi”. Although he was angry enough to give Appi a swift kick and shatter the blaggard’s potbelly, he yielded to the constraints of tradition. Moreover, Appi was a staunch devotee. “Appi, dear fool, get up, come on man, get up…” Maadan continued while Appi made a few gurgling noises in his sleep and scratched himself. He seemed to be heavily inebriated. Ah! smells like well-fermented palm toddy. Could it be Erippana? Madan took a sniff to ascertain and went back to waking Appi again. Appi eventually woke up and for a moment couldn’t make sense of anything in the dark. “Who is it?” he asked in a stupor. “Dear chap, it’s me”, Maadan replied.
“Who, Maayan, is it? What do you want at this godforsaken hour man?” Appi asked before embarking on a wide-mouthed yawn. “Tut, you stink face, can’t you see? It’s me, Maadan”. Maadan interjected impatiently.
Fully awake, Appi sat up and asked, “Oh! It’s you, Please come, have a seat. What brings you here Sir, any important task?”
“Bah, shove your damn tasks… Eley Appi how many days has it been since you showed your damn face at my altar?”
“What the hell are you hinting at? Didn’t I come the day before yesterday?”
“Shut! I’ll shove a hot iron up your… Did you come on your own or just stumbled into my place by mistake because of the toddy? Wretch, I ask you one thing and you blabber something unrelated in reply?”
“Why don’t you just go ahead and tell it yourself…” Appi snapped his knuckles and reached for his betel -box. “Why don’t you sit and relax for a bit? You have been standing since you entered.”
“Appi you nitwit, not just one or two, I have been standing on these legs for a thousand years.”
“So be it. There is no need for all these formalities between the two of us, just take a seat.”
“Alright, as you wish”, Maadan sat down. “Ouch! Appi My back’s killing me… it has been ages since I sat, hasn’t it?”
“OK, go on. Tell me, what’s the matter?” Appi asked.
“Here’s what I was thinking… it has been almost three years since I got a decent festive tribute.”
“Oh! you poor soul…. That’s indeed true. I too completely forgot about it”. Appi remarked, a bit alarmed.
“Any plans to do some kind of Grand Puja3?”
“Why the hell are you asking me…? Just because I came drunk to your place and blabbered, do you have to come here, shed tears, and whine? Who has the money to conduct a festival?”
“No one asked you … just inform our faithful subjects”.
“Subjects eh! … That was a good one, be happy a dirge hasn’t been sounded for you yet, ha ha.”
“Ley Appi, why do you say that?” Maadan asked, startled.
“Oh! You clueless Maada”, the priest replied laughing. Tucking a chunk of tobacco in his mouth he continued, “So, it looks like you are out of touch and don’t know anything about the current state of affairs.”
“What’s there to know?”
“Look around this slum, as of now barring a few Pariah castes the rest of them are all members of the opposite camp.”
“What do you mean by opposite camp?”
“How the hell did they come here?”
“No one came here. It’s our fellows who scoot there to receive their Gospel and get baptized. The whole damn thing goes by the fancy name of Salvation Army.”
“Oh, I see”, Maadan sighed disappointingly.
“Their God is nothing like you.”
“Is he a great warrior?”
“Pooh! not even close. Has a bearded face that looks like an imported mango and keeps staring oddly. Like a flame burning in an earthen pot something’s afire at his chest.”
“What weapon does he carry?”
“Easy now, no need for you to get all excited and start a scuffle. He is of a different kind. He’s a white fellow.”
“What else? He will beat the shit out of you. You can’t take it. Better go peacefully to the temple and stay put.”
“Then how else will I get my festival? My poor belly is scorched by hunger.”
“Look here, if you keep standing like this pathetically with crow shit all over your moustache no fellow will respect you.”
“So what are you suggesting I do here?”
“Why don’t you hurl a few watery bouts of cholera or red hot blisters of smallpox4? Those other guys don’t come here anymore. They go to the town to drink colored liquids and swallow pills. The stuff you hurl should fall on the heads of three or four Bible mutterers. Those bastards should come running back begging and pleading our Gods and Goddesses. Oh! Yeah, I’ll rend their sarees and snap their taalis. Those beggars must pay and Appi shall have the last laugh.”
“Even in the midst of all the Diwali5 like commotion you have to sell your Idlis, don’t you?”
“Of course, I need to be doing well if I have to take care of you, don’t I?”
“Ok, let me see what I can do.”
“No more seeing, start doing. Just go ahead and hurl your stuff forcefully. You have a ton of good old mendicant tricks up your sleeve. It has been almost ten years and these fellows have forgotten all about it Maada. Only terror will teach them a lesson and mend their ways.”
“Ok, I will take leave now”.
“Maada wait, don’t gather all that misfortune and come this way out of habit. Better make sure you’re a good four five feet away when you hurl that stuff”.
“Yes, yes, Appi I will be careful. Later then…” Maadan departed.
“Hey, you have forgotten your sword.”
“Getting old, ain’t I?” Maadan lamented as he came back for the sword. “Bye, Appi.”
Appi reached for his tobacco stash again and said, “Don’t worry Maada, be brave.”
On its way back Maadan had already made up its mind. There was no other way other than making a big scene. In the old days when he was still active, he was indeed a God that made a lot of drama. Time undid all of that…. Especially the present age of Kaliyuga6. The hills and forests have vanished and these days all one sees are houses, tar roads, gutters, and children. In the halcyon days when they served him a whole buffalo as a sacrificial offering, this region was covered entirely with forests, interspersed here and there were four five huts. Maadan could still fondly remember as if it were yesterday, the sacrificial offerings that Appi’s great grandfather proffered month after month and the attendant bouts of indigestion he suffered partaking of them. Alas, what can one do? When the great Thiruvattaru AadhiKesava Perumal7 himself was having trouble getting his daily quota of offerings, lesser Gods have to get by with the measly stuff they managed to get. Thank heavens, at least this fellow Appi seems to be a loyal devotee.
The malevolent seeds that he still had left in his basket, Maadan had grave doubts about their potency. In the old days, this place was teeming with forests and throughout the year there was rain. All he had to do was hurl one of these and it would sprout tenfold. Now, in this scorching heat, who was going to notice this on these tar roads? Despite all that Maadan resolved to do its duty. Quickly girding its loins with a bunch of palm spathes it set out. It had a bit of trouble differentiating the Bible mutterer’s house from the houses of its devotees. It took a pot shot and hurled its missiles approximately. To be extra careful it completely avoided going anywhere near Appi’s street. If something were to go amiss he was afraid that Appi might unleash his incantatory weapons at him.
It came back and sat cross-legged waiting for events to unfold. For two days nothing happened; no one bothered to turn and come his way. On the third day, decked in gorgeous red silk, anklets tinkling and sword dangling, with betel juice swirling all over his mouth, Appi was passing by in a hurry.
“Eley Appi, going far, are you?” Maadan asked.
“Tut, what now? Don’t you know that it is inauspicious to beckon a man when he is already on his way to complete a task? Are the dictates of Shastra abrogated just because you are a God.” Appi said angrily.
“My bad, I forgot”. Maadan pathetically responded.
“Alright tell me, what’s bothering you?”
“What happened to all our plans?”
“Diddly-squat”. Appi said signaling the same with his hands as well. “Yes, it is true; you sowed a few seeds and did your whole cholera gig. But to no avail.”
“Why not?” Maadan asked, a bit puzzled.
“They have bought those white-shirted fellows right here into our neighborhood. Our own folks go to town and buy color sodas and pills from them. Offspring of aliens, bah! you and your useless seeds…”
A completely deflated Maadan asked, “Where are you off to now?”
“One has to still find a way to get one’s daily gruel. I will go knock on a few houses and remind them not to forget you. Even if ten of them mock and push me away there is a slim chance that at least one of them might take the bait. Right now, Rasappan’s wife has called for me.”
“Any chance of getting a ram?”
“What was that?”
Maadan lowered his voice and gently whispered, “ram.”
“May you rot on your funeral bier! That bitch is already asking me if a 50 paise chicken shouldn’t suffice and here you are, greedily salivating for a ram.”
“Ok forget I asked. At least get some Erippana-toddy. Half a bottle should do.”
“Rot and burn! I will give you a piece of my mind when I get back.”
An exhausted Appi returned in the evening and served a scrawny chicken and a quarter bottle of toddy.
Licking his chops Maadan said with gratitude. “This tastes like nectar, thanks Appi.”
“Look how times have changed… you once used to gobble a whole buffalo…”
“Don’t rain down on my parade and ruin my meal. The chicken, is that all?”
“No, I ate the rest. Tear my innards and eat it if you want it so bad.”
“Ha Ha Appi, eventually it might come to that as well.” Maadan chuckled.
Appi got scared but managed to hide it well and sorely said, “Look who’s trying to give a scare, that face is fit for a portrait.”
Twirling its moustache Madan nodded and smiled.
“So, what’s the plan then?” Appi asked.
“Need to take a nap.” Maadan stretched lazily.
“Yeah, that should take care of everything. I asked what you were going to do to get the festival going.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” Maadan said drowsily.
“What’s right? Look at you … your moustache looks like a scorpion’s tail. What do you have inside that head of yours? Clay?”
“Eley Appi, my dear fool, if you don’t remember, my whole body is indeed made of clay.”
“Ayyo, Ayyo” Appi exclaimed and slapped his forehead.
“Sorry, I will now shut my gab, you go ahead.”
“Look here, this hurling business of yours, it doesn’t work anymore.”
“We need to figure out a better way.”
“Yes, another way”. Maadan agreed like a child.
“Why don’t we ask those guys to manage our festival for us?”
“But aren’t they Hindus, not sure how this will work.”
“If even the Bible muttering Christians took our folks in, why would these Veda chanting Hindus refuse us. Look here Maada, either there or here, this shillyshallying in the middle will get us nowhere.”
“Do as you wish.” A helpless Maadan said forlornly.
“Here’s my plan. I will finish you off and in your place plant a cross. I am also thinking of hanging a board that says “Ratchaniyapuram8”.
“Wretch! All these devious schemes, what will they come to Appi?” Maadan asked fearfully. “For better or worse, at least I am standing now. The moment I fall I can’t fathom what the hell would happen?”
“Don’t get scared Maada, as if you were made of gold the Emaan9 folks would take care of you with velvet gloves.”
“But why should we do this then?”
“Listen Maada, you very well know how the AadhiKesava and Amman temples are flourishing, don’t you? All pomp and circumstance… You should see, the well-oiled lamps, the chants, Pujas four times a day… huge bells… three festivals a year, offerings… grand fun and frolic. They are now planning to buy speakers for the Mahadeva temple. Do you know how crowded it gets these days?”
“What are speakers?”
“For blasting songs in the morning. They are so loud that not even a hundred Tom-Toms can match their intensity. Our corner house Kochumaan Gopalan Nair is its President. Have you seen the gathering of Emaan folks, there are people wearing Khaki trousers that are required to do exercises. The Khaki trousered ones are from RSS, the rest belong to Hindu Munnani.”
“Do they serve chicken there?”
“I will slap the shit out of you. Here I am, seriously hatching schemes and all you can think of is chicken?”
“OK, just tell what you are going to do now.” A tired Maadan asked.
“The Emaan folks, I am wondering what might get their goats. They tolerate everything else except changing names. Try doing that and they will come after you with a vengeance.” Appi explained.
“Whatever… none of this seems right to me. Do as you wish.”
“Don’t lose heart Maada, I am here for you. If you get into trouble will I leave you unaided?”
“I don’t have anyone else but you Appi.” Maadan’s voice trembled with emotion.
“Don’t worry. I won’t leave you alone.” Appi put his arms around Maadan’s shoulders and comforted him. “Why are you going all sentimental now? Look here Maada, don’t you want the Emaan folks to sacrifice a nice juicy whole ram for you? Yes, that’s right… a whole ram… there, you are smiling now.”
Madan’s face turned sad and he let out a feeble smile. Appi laughed boisterously and shook the two or three remaining drops of the Erippana toddy from his bottle onto his outstretched tongue.
Maadan couldn’t fully understand what happened next. Although a minor one, it was a God, nevertheless. How could it escape that unique fate of Gods, one that petrified them into stones once events veered fatally out of their control? That night Appi upended Maadan’s statue and planted a cross at his altar. Maadan felt a tug at his chest. It had witnessed so many generations come and go and yet here it was, forced to playact now to assuage its hunger. If only everything went according to plan and he got his offerings on a regular basis each year, then all this would be worthwhile. If only its belly could be satisfied, it would stay out of all these unnecessary troubles.
Stretched out on the ground, holding its sword horizontal Maadan kept rolling its eyes and smiled sheepishly. It had a fear that it might rain shortly. With no roof over its head…. a watery tomb was very much on the cards.
Next day Appi showed up early in the morning and made a big hue and cry, furiously flailing his mouth and stomach. Enlightened, some of the erstwhile Paraiyas came running to seek Maadan’s blessing. The village hag Muttamma immediately sent for Natchatramma the professional wailer who descended at Maadan’s abode with her retinue of accompanists. By the time she attuned her voice to the right pitch and started to wail with perfect Laya10 a sizable crowd had gathered. Even Appi was gripped by an immense sorrow. A few in the crowd waxed ecstatically about Maadan’s majestic grandeur even in his present fallen state. A smattering of Bible chanters stood watching at a distance although they couldn’t make head or tail of what was happening. Somewhere in their collective unconscious, they experienced a twinge of pain witnessing Maadan’s fall from grace and they felt it was the deliberate act of some mischief monger. Edward alias Mutthan who strongly felt that a cross had no business to be standing on Maadan’s altar volunteered to give a hand to lift Maadan up and set him back on his feet.
Appi got furious and said, “Chee, stay away, you foreigner. you are the sinner who toppled our Maadan Saami, your tribe will not flourish anymore.”
Edward Mutthan hesitated and asked, “Who did you say toppled it?”
“It’s you and your crowd that have flung Maadan aside.” Appi screamed while dramatically thumping his chest.
“All those who want to leave can leave, I give a damn. There is no way they can buy Appi with milk powder and flour. As long as I am alive I wouldn’t let any blaggard lay a finger on Maadan”. Appi continued.
The bandying of words intensified and a minor scuffle ensued. A few intervened and tried to separate the two parties. Appi jumped up and down and started to dance as if he were in a trance.
“That’s all fine and dandy Appi but just make sure you don’t touch the Cross as it is self-begotten.”
This claim caused a slight commotion in the crowd. The news that the Cross had begotten itself started to spread far and wide and a slew of workers and farmers began to gather slowly. Kurien Thomas declaimed in his thick-set voice, “oh the miracle of divine friendship” and the horde of “redeemed” souls that sat cross-legged on the road clapped and joined him in chorus. Paramartha Naadaar immediately set up shop selling betel nuts and related tidbits. Hawking Dry-Ginger coffee from a thooku Gnanaprakasham followed soon. Draped in white sarees that shrouded their necks, blouses covering their forearms, pale-faced missionary women with bare foreheads cried copiously with divine fervor. Peeing indiscriminately and screaming wildly the children added color to the motley crowd. As the remaining six “un-enlightened” families stood wondering if they too should consent to be redeemed, a car stopped by and a bunch of Emaan folks got out of it.
An oleander flower tucked behind his ear, sandalwood paste and kumkum pottus adorning his forehead, a red Raakhee band tied around his wrist, donning a saffron Dhoti and matching shirt, Gopalan directly reached out to Appi who immediately slid down and lay prostrate at Emaan’s feet. Constricting his eyebrows he took a measured look at the cross and the board that had the word Ratchaniapuram scribbled on it.
“No one should touch anything. Annaachi11, please keep watch. I will be back with the police.”
This upset the calm of the Bhajan crowd and Deacon Velaandi Michael quickly ordered Gabriel to hurry up and fetch the pastor immediately.
By then Madan knew that the fracas had already begun and closed its eyes. Appi too resolved to be careful and made himself scarce after a while.
Following the police, the senior pastor arrived there in his gleaming habit. While the Kumkum spotters urged the cops to remove the cross, the priests argued that it should remain in place as it was self-begotten. The police were mightily confused and the situation worsened to the extent that they had to lathi charge the crowd. Daniel Kunjan’s broken head and Esther Chinna Ponnu’s shattered foreleg were the immediate casualties of that harsh police action. Maadan enjoyed police security for three days. Fistfights, murders, and mayhem became commonplace in both slum and market. Some claimed that there were seven murders while the grapevine slyly hinted at the possibility of the remaining ninety-three bodies being secretly dumped into the river. In all this commotion Appi was not to be seen. Police shootings, peace rallies, Section 144, RDO inquiry, hunger strikes for justice, poster wars, ministerial visit, saree donations, all-party unity meetings, proclamations issued jointly by all religious heads, all these historical clichés transpired in their usual order. The peace talks resulted in an agreement of sorts. But the recruiting games continued. “You can sign all the agreements you want but the Emaan folks will continue to remain Emaans, and the Pariah fellows will remain Pariahs”, the local Christian priest preached house to house. “Did you forget all the old tales? Will they let you anywhere near their temples? Remember these were the folks who made you shave your heads if one of their own died? Now they want to befriend you?”
A religious school for teaching the tenets of Hinduism was established right in the middle of the slum. Suvarnamalai Deepananda Swami made his appearance, blessed everyone, and said, “We may all be of different castes, but we are all Hindus.” Some felt he went a bit overboard when he boldly asserted that Christians were also Hindus! He trumpeted the eternal and indestructible laws of Hindu Scripture. It was for this very reason that all youngsters should come forward to protect Hinduism, he pleaded with tears in his eyes. No one appreciated Appi coming to a group Bhajan wearing a silk garment, wielding a sword, and doing his weird dance gig. It didn’t help that he was also sloshed to the gills with Erippana toddy. Maamis12 under the leadership of Sister Shanta yogini went door to door instructing people on Lamp Puja rituals. The task of imparting the Bhojana Mantra13 to all the slum kids proved to be difficult and took three months more than expected. Maadan’s virtues were tom-tommed in all the neighboring villages and hordes of disciples rushed to his temple to seek his blessings. Azhagiya Nambiyaapillai, author of Puraanakatha Sagaram graciously expatiated on Tiruvialyaadal Puranam and Thiruppukazh14. He also revealed to his riveted audience the true history of Sudalai Maadan. “Lord Shiva once got angry at Daksha for not inviting him to a Yajna and for insulting his wife Parvathi. In his anger, Shiva opened his Third-Eye, danced his Cosmic Dance and destroyed the ritual premises. Incidentally, while he was on this destructive spree he also lopped off a few braids of his matted hair and these in turn metamorphosed into Badrakali and Veerabhadran. From the other stray strands of hair rose innumerable Boothakanas one of which was Maadan.” Pillai explained. “Glory be to Shiva’s Son! Glory be to the perfect beauty! Glory be to Sudalai Maadan! Glory be!” with emotion oozing from his heart he sang. “For too long Maadan’s temple has suffered from neglect and this can no longer continue”, he exhorted. He requested that the deity be installed as per the prescribed rites and daily rituals performed thereafter. By then the aid collection was already underway.
Meanwhile, funds were being raised at a brisk pace in the opposite camp as well. Those who came to witness the self-begotten Cross donated coconuts, hens, and at times even goats as offerings. These were immediately auctioned then and there. Although there were minor spats nothing untoward happened in the interim. The congregation announced the construction of a grand church at that site and as if on cue miracles began immediately after. The couple from Nellore Jebamani & Esther whose son Samson Arumairajan was afflicted with polio from the age of six came to the haloed site hoping for a miracle. They prayed on their knees with tears in their eyes and their son was cured instantaneously. Likewise, Anbusaamy from Trichy, Nathaniel from Palayankottai, and Agnes from Vallavilai, all of them miraculously got jobs; Gnaramvilai Bagyamuthu winning five hundred Rupees at the Lottery and Christuraja Nagar Helena clearing her exams, all of these were adduced as evidence for the benevolent power of Christ. Both Gnanaprakasam & Sons’, “Suyambu15 Christuraja Hotel” and Paramartha Naadaar’s “Maadasaami Stores Inc.” flourished and grew. Even the collector’s wife came to the site to offer her prayers to Maadan. The minister’s wife traveled from Tirunelveli to participate in an all-night Revival Congregation. Free meals were donated to six hundred people and a hundred kids were baptized to celebrate the bishop’s arrival.
The following year’s rapprochement between the two religious groups featured a speech by the collector who couldn’t speak Tamil. It was widely remarked later that the bishop wasn’t too happy about RTO Tavasi Muthu Pillai’s speech where he brashly claimed that Mary and Maari16 were one and the same. Safe-guarding amity between all religions was the topic that was bandied about most; to that effect, it was decided that Sudalai Maadan’s temple be established at the east end of the street and likewise Suyambu Christuraja Church at the west end; Barring one dissenting vote it was unanimously agreed that all contested land was to be owned by the government and that under no circumstance the prevailing unity between religions was to be jeopardized. Food was served at the government’s expense; non-vegetarians were served rabbit biriyani17 and the vegetarians a sumptuous feast that included Vada and Payasam18. Both groups appeared in the next day’s paper with ink blotches and photogenic smiles. The collector’s announcement the following week that a statue of Gandhi was to be installed at the contested ground was received with a thundering ovation by the slum residents. Following this, the president of the Regional Dried Fish and Copra exporters association Mr.Pachaimuthu Naadaar graciously accepted to foot the bill for the installation expenses.
Only after all the brouhaha had subsided did Maadan choose to open his eyes. He now had a new abode and could witness firsthand the bustling temple construction activities happening in front of him. It was definitely going to be a large temple as Maadan was almost six feet tall. Topped by a Gopura it was to have a large pillared hall at the front, a twenty foot high inner sanctum, and a sacrificial altar. For two days Maadan debated if he should go in search of Appi or wait for that fellow to show up instead. Eventually Appi himself showed up and was glowing all over. The top quality betel leaves in his mouth and his well-oiled tuft of hair reflected his new found prosperity and he looked quite dandy.
“Dear son Appi, long time no see”, Maadan said.
“Stop whining, I have been coming here each day. But you wouldn’t know as you were sprawled insensate as clay.”
“I was shit scared Appi,” Maadan said, smiling naively.
“Scared eh? Everything is now revolving around you. Do you know how well-groomed you look now?”
“It’s a pity we don’t have a mirror handy. You look like the actor Vijayakanth in a villain role. The bloke from the city he has improvised freely with the paint. You should see your Moustache, Wow! it’s a thing of beauty”.
“Really?” Maadan smugly twirled his moustache and smiled.
“Why would I lie? Just look around… right here a temple… electric lights, mango-leaf festoons, brass bell… you are half a king already… Just don’t forget me though.“
“How can I forget you?” Maadan replied gratefully.
All of a sudden Appi lowered his voice and with a half-smile bent down and whispered, “Rumor has it that you are Shiva’s son now.”
A startled Madan asked, “Who told you?”
“Whoever needed to… that one. It was Puranam Pillai who told me.”
“I am not sure. I have heard that I was born in the forest. That was a long time ago.”
“Could very well be.” Appi came closer. “Look at us, aren’t we all forest-folk. Who knows if our ancestors were not Emaan folk? So mystery solved, ha ha ha.”
Maadan smiled uncomfortably.
“In any case, they themselves have said publicly that Shiva is your father. He is a powerful figure and will beef up your stature. Just stay low and go along with it. What do you care, you have now joined the Emaan pantheon and are now a God to those folks as well.”
“Don’t pull my leg Appi.” A smiling Maadan shyly demurred.
“I swear, you should see those Pillaimaars, Chettimaars, Nayanaars, and Iyers… and all the rest of the castes. Whoa, what a sight… their pomp and bluster… have to see it to believe it. If a Pariah fellow comes to the temple he needs to stand aside quietly in a corner and leave. They have not yet officially solemnized you with their Pratishta19 rituals. Once that’s done you can consider yourself the heir to all of Kailasa20.
“Hee…Hee…Hee”, Maadan guffawed.
“That laughter of yours, make sure that you keep it zipped. One whiff of it and the Emaan folks will immediately take you down and chuck you aside. A God must just have a light bemused smile. He shouldn’t keep gesturing the stop sign with his hands and lift his sword… shouldn’t keep giving wide-eyed stares as well.”
“To what end, these good for nothing guidelines Appi?” A distressed Maadan asked.
“What to do? Times are changing and we have to change with them to survive, don’t we? Adjust for a while and you will get used to it eventually. By the way, it looks like you have started to indulge in activities that even I am unaware of?”
“That you are not aware… don’t add insult to injury Appi.”
“Then what is this I hear…. All of a sudden the womenfolk who come here, they seem to be getting pregnant.”
“A pox on you, I am innocent and don’t know anything about it.” A stunned Madan replied, trembling with fear.
“That’s the rumor in all the nearby villages… that the barren women are coming here in droves.”
“What do I know? Ley Appi, I don’t like how this is shaping up… Setting off rumors on an innocent bystander… the whole thing reeks of maliciousness.”
“Forget it and let it go Maada… Bestowing child… that too adds to your stature, doesn’t it? You stay put and let it go.”
“You were telling something or the other about… what was it called… Pratishta, yes… in its name, what newfangled thing are they going to saddle me with now?”
“They’ll chant their mantras, set up their Yantra21, then lift and set you upon it.”
“What for?” Maadan asked, terrorized.
“All for your own good. Don’t you need to get some strength? Think it’s for that“
“Yes, strength… power to bestow… look the senior Namboodiri is here.”
“Listen Appi, when those forests disappeared I lost all my power. So, what’s all this new power you are talking about?”
“Those are ancient tales, in these times where do you have forest-gods. Now only the city-gods have the power. They will deck you with silk and ornaments and stuff you with sacrificial offering. Just remember, all the power comes from those mantras they utter.”
“Will they really put jewellery on me?” Maadan latched on.
“Look at your greedy eyes… if you stay mum why won’t they?”
“Eley Appi ask them to get me a nice necklace.”
“The way things are progressing it looks the Emaan folks might even have you wear their sacred thread… Just make sure you don’t forget your poor Appi.”
“Appi Old chap, You are one of mine. I shall never forget you wherever I go.”
Everything was going swell. There was a huge sacrificial altar in front of the temple. Even merely staring at it got Maadan juicily salivating in anticipation. The huge courtyard… how nice it would be if it were full of sacrificial offerings. Ah, maybe the old days are coming back!
Indeed it felt like the old days were returning with newfound splendor. The temple stood fully constructed and a date was fixed for the inauguration and the very sacred Pratishta rituals. Droves of devotees flocked to the temple with excitement. With fairs, street shops, giant wheels, four-headed goats, and trapeze artists the temple took on a festive appearance. Maadan felt a bit uneasy that the children were no longer allowed to clamber all over him like before. He was now cordoned off by a metal fence. His excellency the minister and Mahadhaanapuram Vaibhavananda Saraswathi made an appearance and were received with Purnakumbha22 and gold crown honors. With sweat coursing over their bare-chested bodies and their sacred threads slithering, tufted Brahmins busily ran hither and thither. Whether the Nairs and Pillais should be treated as the same caste or different, as per custom, was fervently debated and resulted in Bargavan Nair, Annaiappa Pillai, and Natesa pillai (who was only pacifying) suffering injuries to their tooth, eye, and nose respectively. Namboothiris lorded it over all castes. The rest of them bullied the ones beneath as per their customary caste hierarchies. The wafting odor of Sakkarai Pongal23 made Maadan nauseous. “Yuck, how the hell do these tufted fellows manage to eat this shit? The damn thing reeks of oil…” he wondered.
With mikes on and fans whirling the Senior Namboodiri fanned the sacrificial fire, transformed ghee and other offerings into libations, and was busy conducting a round-the-clock chant of Vedic hymns. Listening to its monotonic drone over and over again affected Kunjan Moopan’s cow and the stray dog around the corner, and they started to unconsciously make noises to the same beat. Maadan was losing his patience gradually and he desperately needed to loosen his tongue and give someone an earful. Unfortunately, he was hemmed in by the metal fence and the rampant crowd. On top of this, Appi was nowhere to be seen.
Halfway through the Yantra Puja Appi sauntered in.
“Appi, looks like you had a hearty swig of Erippana?”
Appi broke down and cried heavily.
“What happened Appi?” Maadan‘s voice trembled.
“Good luck! Please don’t forget this pauper.”
“Appi, dear fellow, why are you sulking like this?”
“Those guys refused to let me in.”
“Who?” Maadan thundered.
“They said only Brahmins could go in. It is now a place sanctified by mantras isn’t it?”
“Then they won’t let me in as well, right?”
“You are different… you are a God.”
Maadan kept mum.
After a while trying to change the topic, Maadan asked, “Then how shall we meet?”
“Why don’t you come in search of me?”
“Appi, my friend”, Maadan’s voice broke down, “Wherever I end up I will still be your Maadan old chap. I will swing by in the night, buy some Erippana and keep it ready.“
“So many loyal subjects…”
“Don’t get me started… see that donation box over there that looks like a huge cooking utensil, they drop their donations into that. ‘Isn’t giving to Maadan enough, why should we give you as well?’ they argue.”
“Appi, have all our grand plans fizzled out?”
“Hey, who’s that touching Maadan Saami?”, a voice threatened. Ponnu Muthu Naadaan came running, a stick in hand.
“You low caste vermin, how dare you touch the God and speak? Emaan, Emaan please come here.”
Raman Nair who presided over all rituals and Kallar Piraan Pillai the temple trustee came running.
“Shoo away, dog. Coming here drunk. Shoo away… If I catch you here next time I will kill you.” Pillai raged.
“Scoundrel, downright scoundrel.” Raman Nair said in an attempt to suck up to trustee Pillai.
Attempting to remove himself, Appi sawyed and fell twice. For a long time he could be seen in the distance, crying and stretching his hand towards Maadan and screaming something.
Maadan felt the tug of sorrow at his chest but he still didn’t lose heart. Sacrifice was his last sustaining hope. Come what may, there might be festivals each year and attendant sacrificial offerings in each one of them. No more standing in wait on an empty stomach scorched by hunger. That will do for him and for that alone he was willing to undergo any hardship.
There were Pujas and arcane rituals till sundown. The head priest of those rituals, a Namboodiri, came forward while a massive crowd gathered around Maadan. Even though all the incense and flowers gave Maadan a headache his distressed heart found solace in all this newfound respect and attention. Later he was transported inside with the help of a crane and was installed on the pedestal that was earlier sanctified with a Yantra.
Maadan looked around. It was indeed a nice capacious hall, with “Electric Light” and all. It was airy as well and best of all it wouldn’t leak on rainy days. Maadan clucked his tongue in satisfaction but was irritated by the interminable Pujas. Why can’t they finish the damn thing and bring the sacrificial offering immediately? How many years he had waited…? Oh well, he had waited for it to be cooked he might as well wait for it to cool down…
It was night when the Pujas eventually wound down. Namboodiri looked at his junior priest and said, “Please bring the sacrificial offering.” That was music to Maadan’s ears and a sweet wave of anticipation coursed through his entire body swelling to a crescendo. Namboodiri began a new set of mantras. Maadan who by then was worn down by all the chanting swore, “Blast the damn fools and their accursed mantras” and kept eagerly looking towards the direction from which the offering was to be bought in.
Maadan was startled when he saw the wide-mouthed vessel borne by four priests. Maybe they were bringing him blood; it tried to sustain a tiny shred of hope. The very next moment even that shred was shattered as he was engulfed by the pungent odor of Sakkara Pongal. As it stood there confused, the Namboodiri signaled for it to receive the sacrifice. “Who? Is that for me?” it wavered in doubt for a moment. The next moment it started shaking all over and lifting its sword high tried to leap forward screaming, “Bastards!” But it couldn’t even budge an inch. It began to realize with a terrifying sense of despair that the wily priest’s blasted mantras had indeed bound it inseparably with that Yantra sanctified pedestal forever.
- Aathi is the fourth month of the sidereal Tamil calendar used prevalently for cultural, religious and agricultural events.
- Sudalai Maadan is a regional male deity popular in the rural areas of Tamilnadu. Supposedly the offspring of Lord Shiva he is deemed the protector of the village.
- Puja is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to host, honor and worship one or more deities.
- Even today in Tamilnadu certain diseases are believed to be the handiwork of angry Gods and there are elaborate appeasement rituals for bringing forth the cures for the same.
- Diwali is the most popular festival of lights celebrated all over India. It is a boisterous festival during which the whole country resounds with the bursts of crackers.
- Kali Yuga lit. age of the demon Kali or Age of Vice is the last of the four stages the world goes through, typically characterized by strife and discord.
- Sri Adikesavaperumal Temple is in Thiruvattaru, South India is one of the holy sites of Hindu Vaishnavism.
- Ratchaniyapuram – Salvation City.
- Emaan – variant of எஜமான், meaning master, akin to Massa (master) usage by the negro plantation slaves.
- Laya in South Indian Classical music is the harmonious blending of the melody and beat (Raga and Tala).
- Annaachi –colloquial form of respectfully addressing an older man.
- Maamis – Generic form of address for upper class middle aged women.
- Bhojan Mantra – Prayer before meal offering thanks to the Creator.
- Famous Saivite texts.
- Suyambu – Tamil word for Self-begotten.
- Maari – Short for Maariamman, a Hindu Goddess of rain.
- Popular spicy Indian mixed rice dish.
- Rice Pudding.
- Pratishta – the rite or ceremony by which a murti is consecrated in a Hindu temple.
- Abode of Lord Shiva.
- Yantra – Literally machine. A diagrammatic combination of purposeful forms from the Tantric tradition of India.
- Literally “Full Vessel” symbolizing plenty and an essential part of Hindu rituals.
- Sweet Rice dish cooked with jaggery, camphor, nutmeg and elaichi.
Sources / Further Reading:
Jeyamohan, Maadan Motcham (மாடன் மோட்சம்), Thisaikalin Naduve, Annam Publications, 1992. Translated by Nakul Vāc.
Excellent the way the story progresses with classic South Indian village belief systems echoing in the events interpersed with much details.
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