One of our good friends, Sivakumar, lives with his wife Anita and daughter Lochana in the village of Karakorai in the Nilgiris. This village of 100 or so houses is inhabited by members of the Badaga tribal group, who have developed over the centuries from cattle herders to fruit and vegetable growers and more, being the most adaptable of the main tribal groups in the Nilgiris. Many of Siva’s village work at the Government Cordite Factory close by at Aruvankadu. This was established by the British in 1903 and is one of the oldest of 40 such factories in India – the Hills being preferred to the Plains due to the lower humidity.
Last Monday was the start of the festival at the Aranganathar Temple in Karakorai, and Siva kindly invited us to join him and his family at the celebrations. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ranganathan, an avatar of Vishnu. When we arrived at 5.30pm, the children’s recitation competition was just finishing (Lochana won second prize) and musical chairs was starting to the accompaniment of drums and rattles. Meanwhile, finishing touches were being made to Lord Ranganathan’s chariot.
Around 7pm as the full moon rose over Ghorka Hill opposite, the dancers got themselves keyed up – these were young men of the community – and with a burst of firecrackers the chariot was off on a circumambulation of the temple compound before being dragged up the hill to the first group of houses. The system is that the chariot makes a number of scheduled stops on convenient flat ground (which is rare in the Nilgiris) and the surrounding houses can then come and make a personal offering to the god.
The dancers led the way, followed by the temple musicians, then the priests and the chariot. Linked to the last by a sort of electrical umbilical cord was a very elderly generator on wheels being pushed by a number of men whom I judged to be quite a bit younger. All the time there was dancing, fireworks and general gaiety. People made house calls and gave and received traditional sweet pastries (rather like first-footing in Scotland, but with less whisky); all the men were in white dhotis (with sweaters on top, since we are at more than 1850 metres above sea level (6000 feet) and the evening temperature at this time of the year is around 15 degrees and dropping sharply) and the women wore traditional embroidered shawls over their saris.
We had a lovely time and were made really welcome. Thanks Siva.