Category Archives: ayurveda

Just a few Karkadakam things: Thus said amma

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.

Earthen ‘kudukka’ or small closed vessel

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.

Bamboo Muram or Tray - Kitchen Utensils - Tredy Foods
Muram used for sifting rice

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!)

Chattiyum Kalavum - Photos | Facebook
chatti and kalam or earthen pots and pans

*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)

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kindi, brass vessel in which water was poured for various purposes.

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Val kannadi
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*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[5] 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 ubiquitous mukutti or Bio phytum sensitivum lin, considered to be a medicinal plant

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

Pyaasa – A Gurudutt Film


That artists and writers don’t earn enough is social scandal that is centuries old. The film ‘Pyaasa’ takes inspiration from life histories of innumerable artists and writers who have died in penury to illustrate the point.

Produced and directed by Gurudutt, the movie also stars him as the protagonist. Vijay is a struggling poet who is trying to get social acceptance and recognition. His verses are considered useless by his 2 brothers and is sold off as waste. While Vijay’s mother argues the case of her youngest son and urges his elder brothers to take care of him, they are ruthless in their treatment and throw him out of the house.

Vijay rummages the shop of the old man who sells waste paper in search of his precious poems or ‘nagma’. The note books in which he had scribbled his poems have been bought by a prostitute, Gulabo, who sings the songs enchantingly. While sleeping in the park, Vijay listens to her songs and follows her. Gulabo, however, turns him away rudely, when she realises he is not a worthy customer.

She regrets this soon as she finds a few lines of his poetry that fell from his pocket and realizes that Vijay is the poet whose lines she had been singing all the while.

In the meanwhile, Vijay meets his ex-girl friend who is now married to a successful publisher, Mr. Ghosh. Ghosh hires the services of Vijay as a servant. At a party at Ghosh’s house, Vijay renders his poetry with elan and is well received by the public. Dejected at his fate, Vijay wanders aimlessly to the railway tracks where he gives his coat to an old beggar shivering in cold. The beggar is then run over by a train and it is believed that Vijay has been killed.

Mr. Ghosh in the meanwhile discovers the potential of Vijay’s poems from the note books that Gulabo gives him to preserve the memory of the great poet and publishes his works. His poems are a great hit and receive great public acclaim. A recuperating Vijay realises that his poems are a rage and asserts his identity. Influenced by Mr. Ghosh who does not want to share the profits, Vijay’s friends and family refuse to accept who he is.

Vijay then reaches a grand memorial service purportedly organized in his honor.  Vijay is hurt by the hypocrisy of the society and in front of the whole crowd accepts that he is not ‘Vijay’, the poet.

He decides to start a new life with Gulabo, his only true friend and lover.

Hailed as a classic,the film though melodramatic strikes a chord with the audience even today.  Though a few scenes look contrived,the film sends a powerful message across and forces the viewer to introspect upon the deteriorating values in the society.

Enna Thechu Kuli! Oil bath,the panacea for all illness!

Enna Thechu Kuli! A Panacea for all illness!

Every time I take a day off, my mom panics “ayyo, why? “as if I were a school girl missing an exam. A stickler for rules, amma takes dereliction of duty very seriously. If I call her up hoping to be pampered and praised, for being the super woman, that I think I am, I am certainly barking up the wrong tree. Her advice would be “Go take a hot bath. Apply that “pinda thailam” before you take your bath. You will feel fresh and then you can get back to work. Why take leave?”

In fact, the hot water bath after applying warm “pinda thailam” or “murivenna” is the panacea for all illness according to her and I would not blame her.

She grew up, as one of the 11 children to an ayurvedic physician, in a household where ‘enna thechu kuli’, or taking bath after applying oil is nothing short of a ritual, a supplication and a custom!

The earliest memories I have of my grandmother is watching her in awe as she carefully, and most leisurely, applied that warm”neelibringadi oil ” (which it was said was specially prepared by my grandfather) to her locks which reached way below her waist coiling into a thickness of silvery gracefulness.

Well! there I would stand admiring Raghu mama, one of my 7 uncles, who was easily the tallest and the most hand some of all, combing his thick black heavily oiled hair, splashing oily wetness on to the walls marking them for years to come.

Or there was my grandfather whose evening bath was a daily event. Preparations for which were closely monitored by my grandmother. A tub full of hot water with neem leaves swimming in it. Fresh water drawn from the well to fill another tub. The mysore sandal soap which only grandfather used. (The commoners in the house used Life Buoy, the red bland variety!)

As my heavily oiled grandfather would pace up and down the verandah, chanting some mantras, preparations for his “japam” would begin. A mat would be spread in the “nadupura” or the central hall and a small wooden container of “bhasmam or vibhuthi” ,that was home made, would be placed next to the mat.Post” japam” and after anointing himself with “vibhuthi” grandfather would open his eyes, and the ladies of the house would move quietly to the kitchen to serve dinner.

Dinner was always simple, “kanji” or rice porridge with lentils and a dish of the seasonal vegetables. Drawing in food perched on our separate raised wooden seats or “palakas” we would slurp and gulp kanji in almost a synchronized manner. The leaf spoons made of the ripe jack fruit leaves or ‘pazhutha plavila’ pinched together with a piece of “eerkila” or tendril of the coconut leaf called for special handling skills. Often gentlemen and ladies visiting us from farther places had to be taught this delicate art of using the “plavila”

One of the jokes that run in the family, is of Baby mama complaining that his wife, Jaya chechi, never gave him enough oil read ‘pinda thailam’ to apply on his body, as any ways it was to be washed off!

New born kids were always allowed to lie on the mattress or “pulpaya” after they are given a good massage using warm oil. If the rays of the morning sun fall on the kid so much the better. The oil used for applying on the body was usually plain coconut oil or the “kachiya enna” ,  the seasoned one my mom used to prepare, spluttering a few grains of rice, a few curry leaves and tulsi sprigs in coconut oil, would be ready to use when the aroma spreads in the room.When there was enough time and coconut at hand, coconut milk would be extracted and this would be applied on the body. This, however, was a rarity.

In his book called “Ayurveda Dinacharya” or the “The Ayurvedic Lifestyle”, Ashtavaidyan, Brahmashri. Vaidyamadam Cheriya Narayan Namboothiri, emphasizes that “abhangya snanam ”or “bath after applying oil” strengthens all body parts. He adds that oil should be applied on the scalp, in the ears and on the feet. Application of oil on the body has many benefits which include reducing fatigue, boosting immunity, ensuring good sleep and improving appearance.

In these days and times with shampoos have taken over the traditional “champi” and oil on hair is a big no, no, does anyone still think of a good “enna thechu kuli” as the elixir of life? I wonder!