The malayalam month of Karkadakam falls between July and August. It was famous as ‘panja karkadakam’ meaning the poor month of karkadakam. This was mainly because of the incessant rains that lashed the state of Kerala making it impossible to go to work to earn thus resulting in a lack of food in most homes. That is when it is said that the money stashed away by the ladies of the house in small closed utensils or ‘kudukka’ comes out to make the ends meet.
While famous for its poverty or lack of jobs and there fore lack of food , the month of Karkadakam had it own set of rules to be followed.
There were en number of things to be done in the month of Karkadakam, some out of need, some as a part of rituals or traditions and most of these are not in practice today, some have indeed stayed on.
* Cheta bhagavathiye purathakkal: Households got rid of old and unused items, old footwear, the brooms, ‘muram‘ used for sifting rice etc. during karkadakam.
The ritual of getting rid of old items was called’ cheta bhagavathiye purathakkal‘ or getting ‘cheta bhagathy, symbolic of poverty, illness etc., out of the house.
After ritualistically cleaning the entire house the waste was collected in a ‘muram’ or ‘kalam’ or vessel and either burnt or buried off, post which those who cleaned have to take a bath in the nearby river or any other water body.
(Reminds me of the phrase to refer to those who fight a lot, ‘they are like chati and kalam’ , always hitting /fighting with each other, referring to how the utensils in the kitchen are noisy and quarrelsome!)
*Shri bhagavathiye akathakal or getting Shri bhagavathy into the house.In the evening when the lamp is lit, one of the members enter the house as ‘Shri bhagavathy . Shri bhagavathy is also presented with some gifts in a plate like fruits, rice, mundu, valkannadi( a type of mirror used in pooja), dasa pushpam ( the famed 10 flowers women are supposed to adorn themselves with in the month of karkadakom), betel leaves, arecanut, some coins are presented on the ‘avanapalaka'( a small wooden platform used for pooja) with two water filled ‘kindi’ on either side. (brass vessels with which water was poured, a sort of a mug)
*Karkadaka kani or presenting a few auspicious items on a plate on avanapalaka every day: On a ‘thalam‘ or plate kept on an ‘avana palakka‘ a few things like ‘dasa pushpam’-ten flowers, ‘adakka‘-arecanut, ‘vettila’-betel leaves, ‘panam‘-coins, ‘mundu‘-garment, ‘pazham‘-fruit, ‘ari /nellu’ -rice/paddy , ‘kan mashi– kajal, ‘ aracha chandanam -sandal wood paste, a copy of devi mahathmyam, prayer for the goddess etc were to be presented to gods every day with water filled ‘kindi‘ -brass vessel to pour water,on either side.
*Dasa pushpam choodal :Women of the household are supposed to have ‘dasa pushpam‘ meaning ten flowers to wear every day of the month. Now these included ‘Karuka‘ or Cynodon dactylon whose ruling god is Bhrahma, Mukutti or Biophytum sensitivum whose ruling goddess is Bhagavathy or devi, ‘Cherula’ or Aerva lanata whose ruling god is Yama or the lord of death, ‘Vishu kranti‘ or Evolvulus alsinoides whose ruling god is Vishnu, ‘Poovam kurunnila or Vernonia cinerea whose ruling god is Bala shashi or moon, Mokshami, Muyal cheviyan or Emilia sonchifolia whose ruling god is Lord Shiva , Kanjunni or Kayyonni or Eclipta alba whose ruling god is Lord Varuna, Nilapana or Curculigo orchioides, whose ruling god is Lord Kama, Uzhinja or Cardiospermum halicacabum whose ruling god is Lord Indra , Thiruthali or Ipomoea sepiaria whose ruling god is Achuthan or Krishna.
*mukutti poovu arachu nettilyil thodal : Wear a paste of mukutti poovu on the forehead, like how sandal wood paste is worn.
The members of the household have to consume 10 types of leafy vegetables during this time. These being :
*Pathila kazhikkal or consuming ten medicinal leaves : Leaves of ‘kumbalam‘ or ash gourd, cowpeas or ‘payaru‘, ‘thakara‘ or Sickle senna or coffee pod, chembu kizhangu or colacasia esculenta or taro, ‘chena‘ or yam, ‘mathan‘ or pumpkin, ‘kodi thoova’ ‘choriyanam‘ or climbing nettle, ‘Koovalam ‘ or Indian Bael, nelli or nellikka or gooseberry and mullan cheera or spiny amaranth are to be consumed during this month.
*Oushada seva, or ayurvedic care for the body: Karkadakam is traditionally considered most suitable for the ayurvedic procedures for body rejunevation which are now being marketed as ‘ karkadaka chikitsa’ .
*Karkadaka kanji or oushada kanji: As important as the external care in terms of applying medicated oil and neem water bath or applying various ‘kizhi‘ and ‘pothi‘ is the consumption of what is known as ‘karkadaka kanji or aushada kanji or medicinal rice porridge’.
*Karakadaka Vavu bali or paying homage to ancestors: Offerings to ancestors on the ‘new moon day’ or amavaysa of karkadakam is said to invite prosperity and blessings from them. Karkadakam is also the last month in the malayalam calendar.
*Ilam nira: After the new moon day, illam nira is celebrated marking the return of abundance to the household. The first cutting of the paddy grains is brought to the house with great fan fair , with cries of illam nira, vallam nira and pathayam nira. ‘Illam’ or the house, ‘vallam’ or the vessel and the ‘pathayam’ or the store house are wished to over flow with grains during this ritual. During illam nira offerings of the curry of ten medicinal leaves, sweet porridge of payasam of newly cut grains/rice are made to gods.
*Ramayana parayanam or the month of reading ramayana: the month of karkadakam is also celebrated as the month for reading ramayana. It is also common to visit the temples of Lord Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna, located in Kottayam and Thrissur districts of Kerala as a part of ‘nalabalam darshanam’ or visiting four temples.
*Muppattu chovva or the first Tuesday of the month and muppattu velli or the first Friday of the month: The first tuesday and the first friday of the month are observed as muppattu chovva and muppattu velli respectively and are marked for the worship of the goddess Bhadrakali, the ferocious one.
*Mailanchi idal: During the month of karkadakam,women folk are encouraged to apply mehendi or mailanchi on their hands and feet.
Now looking at the attention the month receives one wonders if it is appropriate to call it ‘panna karkadakam or the poor karkadakam’!
PS:Gratitude to amma