Kalakat Illam (also pronounced as Kalakattu Illam) is the house name of a family of Brahmins in northern Kerala. This family of Brahmins are allegedly gifted with powers of Manthravaadam and Thanthram, or Tantra. The term Tantra here, refers to the method of practices carried over based on certain beliefs on divine energy and its link to the human microcosm. The Tantriks (one who practices tantra) or the Tantri of Kalakat Illam practice only the Dakshina Maarg of the centuries old Tantra Shastra in their rich cultural traditions (Shastra means a science which gives teaching, instruction, or command). Apart from performing Manthravaadam they are also Tantriks of various temples in Northern Malabar. They hold the Thantrik rights of temples like Devaprathishta, Kalasham, Sreebhoothabali, other important rituals and poojas in a Hindu Temple. The Tantriks are accorded as guardian (pitru sthaanam) of the deity. Kalakat Illam is situated at Purakkunnu Panchayat in Kannur District reachable from Payyannur in Purakkunnu Bus.
Kalakat Illam History
According to the legendary Keralolpathi, Parasurama sanctioned festivals like Kaliyattam, Puravela and Daivattam or Theyyattam to the people of the North Malabar region. "There can be no doubt", say Bridget and Raymond Alchin, "that a very large part of this modern folk religion is extremely ancient and contains traits which originated ruing the earliest periods of Neolithic, Chalcolithic settlement and expression" and, indeed, Theyyam is representative of a form of Hinduism (albeit non-Brahminical) which co-existed with the Sattvic rituals practised by Nambudiri Brahmins like the Kalakat Illam in temples. Theyyam is an art form of the Dravidians.
There are six known generations of Kalakat Illam. In the chapter Manthrika Nayanam, of the book Kerala Mahatmyam, it is said that the Namboothiri of Kalakat Illam was brought from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu by Parashurama. It is reported to be one of the seven Illams created by Parasurama, members of whom are delegated to perform the divine rituals in temples and exorcism. They have the power of healing the mental and physical ailments through the power of mantras and poojas. People from various parts of the world go there for their prayers and well conduct in their lives. The deity, Bhagavathy or kali worshipped by people as divine mother, is said to be very powerful and can bring goodness to all the people who worships. Hence it can be lined that Namboothiris of this illam are the mediators between the god and common people. The tantrik practices are made based on a science which was scripted on thaali-ola or palm leaves by the ancestors of this Illam. Many of the ancient, scripted leaves are still preserved at Kalakat Illam. The old stories say that during the period of one of the great grand fathers of the illam, other Brahmin's robbed many scriptures. There are certain rituals performed in temples that are common to all the Tantrik families and the priests of temples. There was an age, when the members of the illam used to practice Ayurveda and treat illness with potions, ghee, honey, Tulsi, Vibhoodhi and other medicines made of natural sources. The treatment for epilepsy is very effective at the illam and patients still approach the namboothiris of the illam. The manuscript on palm leaves which gives the make of these medicines are also kept safe at Illam.
Once a pious Kalakat Namboothiri while returning from Kottiyur temple after prayers, stopped at dusk for Sandhyavandanam at Manathana temple. While bathing in the nearby brook, he noticed a lady bathing in the adjacent bay. The lady offered thaali and said would help him apply Thaali on Namboothiri's head. But, out of his intuition and elevated self he could soon realise it was no other than Bhadrakali herself. When she offered the Thaali (herbal shampoo), but knowing that showing his head will be his end, told her that anything the divine Mother gives is "Amruthu" (nectar) for him, drank the Thaali. Kaali, being quite satisfied by the devotion, blessed and gave him a spear, a "Vaalkannaadi" (a mirror with a handle) and a crown ("Kireetam"). He consecrated the spear at Neeliyaar-kottam near Mangattuparamba of Kannur district, the Vaalkannaadi at Pulikkal-Raayara-mangalam, where tigers and cows graze together, and the crown in his own Illam. This crown is worshipped in the sanctum sanctorum of the Illam.
This Illam was originally at Naarkkalam, 7 kilometers north of Kanhangad, later moved to Chandrol (Chandranelloor) in Peringome village, and later moved to Perinthatta (Purakkunnu), about 20 km east of Payyannur, its present location.
Kaliyattam basically means the Play of God. It is a traditional social ceremony with tremendous religious importance which had been in existence since ancient times, mostly practiced in the Northern part of Kerala. Kaliyattam is a term that can be used for festivals in temples and other sacred places.
There is a practice of conducting a three day "Utsavam" (Malayalam name for Festival) at Kalakat Illam, which is also known as "Kaliyattam". This is conducted on 10th, 11th, and 12 January every year. People from different parts of Southern India rush in to see the Theyyam, an ancient traditional dance form of Northern Kerala. A foreign crowd is also seen sometimes for their academic researches.
People of selected caste vannaan, malayan etc. around the area put costumes and face paintings traditionally to depict the God's bhoothaganangal or gods themselves. During Kaliyattam, the Illam is painted new, many Brahmins come for different poojas and to witness the flamboyant festival. There will be different types of "Daanam"(sharing of wealth to get blessed). Gurussi or Guruthi (means sacrifice) is also offered to the deity in the first night of the start of Kaliyattam. Guruthi is a depiction of offering to the Shakthi(Bhagavathy) and seek her blessings. This ritual along with traditional lamps, pandams (fire at tip of a long broad stick) and Chenda-melam, is beautiful as well as a horrifying sight. The Guruthi tharpanam is performed with a huge vessel which is filled with a mixture or turmeric, burning lime and water which would be blood red in color. Those who witness the invigorating Guruthi performance, finds it as an indescribable event. Devotees from Kodagu (Coorg) District of Karnataka are frequent visitors to the Illam. Because of the powers of Mantras and Poojas at the time of Guruthi people begin to lose their consciousness and start thullal (uranju thullal). It is also said that the ritual of Guruthi Tharpanam cures a woman suffering from mental abnormalities. These uncommon sights are solely part of the Kalakat Illam Aura. Long stretch of poojas and a Thayambaka is also performed before the Guruthi.
Kaliyattam in northern Kerala and its significance
After a Kshetram (temple) has been built and the "prathishta" has been done, in the presence of kshethra ooraalanmaar (owner of the temple), bhaaravaahikal (Committee members), and gramawasikal (local population), kshethra aacharyan (thanthri of the temple) will do Nithya-Nidaanam (daily worship like pooja, special pooja). In case of kalakat illam or similar illams the ooralanmaar and the aacharyan will be the same. Later to commemorate the "prathishta" day every year, thanthri along with the temple committee, with the support of gramawasikal will celebrate Utsavam or Kaliyattam in Northern Kerala or North Malabar. The festival can be planned to be conducted on the same star sign of the prathishta day in subsequent years or any other day which is acceptable to all the people in the village. In Kalakat illam, the prathishta was done years back and no one living now does know when did the kaliyattam start. But its sure that, it is happening at least from last 150 years. Kalakat Illam is not recognized as a temple, but as another illam where there is a sanctum sanctorum and hence is like a temple where devotees come and worship. The kalakat illam can be mapped to a temple for a general overview on festival or the utsavam. An utsavam or Kaliyattam is celebrated to increase the "deva-chaithanyam" (glow of eternal peace) of the temple. In Kaliyattam, as earlier mentioned the vannaans or malayans would do artistic paintings on their body and face. Also with their ornamental costumes, they perform a peculiar dance, which is accompanied by the "pakka-melam" (percussion instruments played along). Hence in North Malabar, in Illams like Kalakat Illam or any other "Kaavu" (also known as Bhoothaalayam), synonym of temple, Kaliyattam is the main festival.
The word meaning of theyyam is "Daivam" (a regional term for god). The name Theyyam had been derived from the improper pronunciation of "Daivam" over a period of years. The Theyyam or Daivam is actually believed to be the "Swaroopam" (image or embodiment) of the god that is being worshipped in that temple or Illam. According to Hindu Mythology, a particular god can take different forms, and there are stories related to each of these forms. Hence in places like Kalakat Illam, Kaliyattam is celebrated for three days, which is stuffed different forms of the "Bhagavathy" (the regional name for goddess) of the illam and different stories associated with Illam and Bhagavathi.
Theyyam in some parts of south Malabar like Kozhikode are known as "kolam". If the person who dresses up as Theyyam or kolam, the devotees see the theyyams as the reincanated form of their Ishta-devatha. At that stage there are paternal or fraternal relations. Theyyam is the god incarnate even for the biological father, and they don't talk anything casually. Theyyam is not only believed to be a form of god, but in certain places it's also a form of a human being who lived in the past. The human beings in certain places who possessed some kind of supernatural powers are called as a "veeran" or a 'stuff of legend'. Later when they die their stories of fame are sung and forms are costumed as theyyam and remembered. Later down the lane of years this becomes a worship. Hence for example in Kerala, people know about legendary heroes like Thacholi Othenan, Kadam kottu Maakkam, Kathivannoor veeran (worshipped as Theyyam) etc. This mode of worship is known as "Veera-Araadhana".
The practice of Theyyam at Kalakat Illam
Kaliyattam is a three day long festival, where each day different theyyams perform a rare combination of dance and music. The start of any particular Theyyam is known as its "Purapaadu"(English-to start). Before the purapaadu of the theyyam, there will be "Thottam" and "Vellattam". The Thottam is a song which is sung accompanied by a "Chenda" and an "Elathaalam" (both are percussion instruments) by any of the members who takes the role of a Theyyam. The language is not purely Malayalam, Tamil is also mixed up here and there. A Thottam will have the evolution story of the particular deity or a hero as mentioned earlier as, which "Daivika Amsham" it is from, its birth, its legends and fame. The song will have verses boasting a supreme hero, who showed supernatural deeds and was a kind of god to the people. If we carefully study the lines of the 'thottam paattu (Paattu-Malayalam word for song)', we can know from which "Devatha roopam" it is. There had been detailed research that had been done on this, but the details are not very easily accessible. Also, it is important that the members of the family are supposed to understand and know the details of the theyyam. The major theyyams in Kalakat Illam are Ucha-kutti shaasthan (1st day daytime), bhairavan, karivaal, kakra-bhagavathy, raktha chaamundi (throughout 1st day night), uchitta (manthra moorthi), karin-kuttishaasthan, bhootham, (2nd day), pottan, gulikan, oorpazhasshi, vettakorumakan (also known as vettekkaran in some parts of kerala), prardhna kuttishaasthan, kurathi, vishnu moorthi, valiya mudi (bhagavathi incarnation - The most important theyyam in the neighbouring villages except in Kalakat Illam, where kuttishaasthan is the most important and sacred). There are certain weapons seen at the sanctum sanctorum of the Illam, which are used by the theyyam during their part of kaliyattam. Rest of the time it is kept along with the main deity, bhagavathy in the sanctum sanctorum and its powers are increased.
The Kodava or Kudakar (people from the "Coorg" (Kodagu) dist of Karnataka) play an important role during the Kaliyattam at Kalakat Illam. They have a practice of worshiping the Manthramoorthi of Illam for numerous years, as old as the illam. They worship weapons like swords, dagger at their temples which are believed to be the weapons used by the goddess Bhadra-kaali. If they have a temple at their place and the root of that temple is in this Illam, they come here during kaliyattam every year and do komara darshanam of the manthramoorthi, perform pooja, increase the power of their weapons that they bring along, seek blessings from the thanthris at Kalakat Illam, and go back satisfied at the last day of the kaliyattam. The komara darshanam of the kodakar is done during the purapaadu of kuttishaasthan, and other powerful manthramoorthi theyyams.
Importance of Kuttishaasthan at Kalakat Illam
As from the lyrics of "thottam paattu": Years long back, when there was no child births at kalakat Illam, and situation came like no more successors would be born, the eldest member (karnavar - Malayalam word for the eldest male member) of the Kalakat Illam, performed a homa or a yaga. Amidst the Yaga a child appeared, and later this child started showcasing supernatural powers. This child was from then known as "Kalakatu karinkutti shaasthan". Here in the Illam, Karin-kutti shaasthan is depicted as the vaishnava and the ucha-kutti shaasthan as the shaiva amsham. There are other stories related to the birth and forms of the kutti shaasthan. But the mentioned story is formally accepted.
- Socio-religious link with Kodavas (Coorgs) of Karnataka
- North Malabar
- Bhuta Kola
- Temples of Kerala
- Muthappan Theyyam
- The Birth of Indian Civilization, 1968, p. 3039.
- Killius, Rolf (2006), Ritual Music and Hindu Rituals of Kerala, New Delhi: BR Rhythms, ISBN 81-88827-07-X.