My agenda to visit the Aranmula Vallasadhya in South Kerala was to witness a tradition carried forward through centuries, still being largely celebrated by the people which is very much associated with the Aranmula “Jalollsavam” (water festival). The Parthasarathy temple in Aranmula is an ancient temple, Partha means Arjuna and Sarathy means charioteer, based on the Mahabaratha. On the River banks of Pamba, every year, for three months the Valla sadhya is held at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple.
Vallasadhya means a boat meal when translated from Malayalam to English. The meaning of the term goes beyond what it literally means. The tradition says, Palliodam (the snake boat) is the vessel of Lord Krishna and the oarsmen are the divine men who row it, it is all about serving food to the lord’s man. That is how the Aranmula Vallasadhya gets its prominence. A ritual, a tradition, and an offering to Lord Krishna.
Men row the palliodam of their village to the Parthasarathy Temple. They row in great rhythm and enthusiasm to the tunes and beats of the “Vanji pattu” – the songs sung in the boat. The “Vanjipattu” are stories sung about the village, the temple, and stories from Mahabaratha and Ramayana. Men at the centre of the boat sing it loud like a slogan followed by a common chorus by the oarsmen.
Men row with a Vanjipaatu in background towards the temple on the bank of River Pamba. They enter the temple like a procession with old women and men carrying big colorful umbrellas leading the procession singing Vanjipattu. The oarsmen and the villagers proceed to the main courtyard of the temple facing the deity, lord Krishna. They continue singing clapping their hands and swaying their body in great rhythm maintaining a very aggressive body language.
Once the song is over, they move towards the “Ootupura” the banquets for the “Vallasadhya” – a thirty two accompaniment lunch on banana leaf ready to be served. The holy water is first served in hand to all in the banquet, the traditional meal is served and the songs are onn after a small break. Here the tradition is, men would sing to request something and others follow by singing the chorus. If someone wants a banana – he sings two lines related to banana and the meal server should identify it and serve it to whoever had sung it. To me it was some of the most exciting meal I would have ever had, because we are anxiously waiting to see what’s happening the next moment. Once the meal is over all men move to the boat and back to the village.
The Vallsadhya is an offering by an individual to Lord Krishna, to get favor for a desired thing. This year around 500 Vallasaddhyas were served with more than a 100 men for each sadhya, which occurs for ninty days associated with the Uthratadi Aranmula Vallam Kalli. A great tradition and a big festival come to an end for this year.
The article was originally published in The Alternative
Written by Benjamin John