The Last of Pallipana Performers

Jan 01, 2015 | Vol. 7, Issue 1
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Today the main performers who perform this ritual are Kuttan Nair, Raman Nair and Gangadharan Nair, all from Alamkode in Malappuram district(Kerala, India). The greatest worry for them are that no youngsters are coming to this field to uphold the tradition of Pallipana.

Pallippana, simply known as Pana is a folk ritual performed to please the Goddess Bhadrakali. This ritual is generally seen where the border areas of three districts Malappuram , Palakkad and Thrissur district converge.  It is conducted either in a temple premise or at the devotee's home. The 24 hour long ritual is from one sunrise to the next sunrise. The important part of the ritual is singing Thottam, the folk songs with 4444 stanzas, detailing the story of the Goddess Bhadrakali. Today the main performers who perform this ritual are Kuttan Nair, Raman Nair and Gangadharan Nair, all from Alamkode, near Changaramkulam in Malappuram district (Kerala, India).  66 year old Kuttan Nair and 53 year old Gangadharan Nair are the sons of the Late Govindankutty Asan, the yester year Pana maestro. 78 year old Raman Nair is the disciple of Govindankutty Asan and the senior most among them. All of them were Pana artistes right from their childhood and they always participate together in all Pana performances.

The story of Bhadrakali is that the Goddess is evolved from the third eye of Lord Shiva with a specific assignment that is for assassinating Darikan, the evil King who ruled the universe. After killing him, the Goddess went to Lord Shiva in anger and asked Lord Shiva to satisfy her thirst for blood. Lord Shiva gave her enough blood and sent her to earth (Kerala) to take care of the people there.  He also blessed her so that the devotees will give her back blood and satisfy her by conducting the ritual Pana.

For Pana, the deity is installed at the centre of a temporary shed (Panthal), inside an arena, demarcated by four poles. The minimum with standard rituals is known as Nalu Kaal- Pana, means the four –polled Pana. The extensiveness of Pana is denoted by the number of poles used, like 8 poles, 16 poles, 32 pole, 64 poles and the largest one with 128poles. Of this they, by tradition, practice only the minimum standard form- 8 poles.

According to Kuttan Nair, it is described in Thottam that the ritual is originated based on the ancient text with 4444 stanzas, written by Mezhathur Adiyerippadu  along with 'Adikal ' from four other illams, all Brahmin families resides near Thrithala in Palakkad District. But the performers use the Thottam, which is handed over from generation to generation orally.

There are many functions and rituals which are observed during the whole performance. Apart from the drummers and oracles, it requires about 16 plus performers to conduct a full-fledged standard form of Pana. The main percussion instrument used is Para; it is a cylindrical drum of about one and half feet height.  The name is derived from the traditional measuring vessel Para. Generally, the performers are from Nair community. Because of its complicated nature and the exhaustive budget, only few temples conduct this ritual annually.  But some temples conduct this with less number of performers as there is a lack of trained artists. In the temple performances, there is a ritual called Parayduppu/Paraveppu, which is observed for some days prior to Pana.  Parayduppu/Paraveppu is the offering of a full measure of Para (a cylindrical vessel/unit to measure grains) to the deity by the devotees, which is ceremoniously received by the performers.

The main rituals/functions:

Palakombu Ezhunnallippu-After mounting the four wooden poles at the centre to create a temporary sanctum sanctorum, a small branch of the 'Pala' tree is brought here in procession, accompanied by percussion music and then mounted in the centre of the Sanctorum. The procession is known as Palakombu Ezhunnallippu. 

Pana Ariyikkal- This is the formal announcement of conducting Pana, by drumming Para and Chenda. Then a decorated Valkannadi (metal mirror), which represents the deity is installed under the branch of the tree.  These are usually conducted after lunch.

Thiri Uzhichil, Dhoopam Uzhichil & Pana Pidutham- The first two are solo performances. A performer anoints his body with lit thick cotton wicks, this is called Thiri uzhichil. While performing he goes round the sanctum sanctorum. A similar performance is done with smoke from herbal mix which is called Dhoopam uzhichil. Panapidutham is a group performance, in which a group of performers encircle the sanctum sanctorum in rhythmic steps by holding a small stick called Pana kutty.  This is also called Valathu. All these performances are supported by the music of Para, Chenda, Elathalam (heavy cymbals) and Kurum kuzhal (short pipe). It will take 2-3 hours to complete all these performances. 

Guruthi- This is the symbolic offering of blood to the deity. In this the performer pours a connotation which looks like the blood (mix of turmeric and Soda lime) to the ground to the rhythmic beats of percussion music. Oracles, representing the deity are also present at the time.

Darikavadham Pattu- This is the most important ritual. 3-4 performers sing Thottam, with the support of the music by Para, Chenda, Elathalam and Kurumkuzhal. Usually it starts at late night and continues for 5-6 hours. In between the ritual Thiriuzhichil, Dhoopam uzhichil and Parapidutham are observed.

Chembannam puravadi- Palakombu and other decorations in the sanctorum are destroyed by the Pana performers, symbolizing the war between Bhadrakaali and Darikan. Further to this new miniature sanctum sanctorum is installed. This symbolises the arrival of Bhadrakali to earth, after killing Darikan. A procession with Thalappoli (receiving the Goddess with an oil lamp, carried by ladies) led by a Velichappadu is also held after this. 

Kanalattam- Performers jump, walk and kick hot wooden coals; this ritual offered to the Goddess is usually the final performance of Pana. Pana then conclude with some ceremonial tantric rituals. By the time it will be sunrise.

According to Raman Nair the purpose of Pallipana is to propitiate the Goddess and thereby keep away 96 types of diseases and evil curses described in Thottam. But the greatest worry for him and others are that no youngsters are coming to this field to uphold the tradition of Pallipana.

Upcoming Performances:

15 Feb 2015: Perumukku Karekkattu Kavu, Alamkode, Changaramkulam, Malappuram Dt

08 Mar 2015: Sukapuram Kulangara Bhagavathi Kshethram, Edappal, Malappuram Dt,

To contact the performers:
E V Kuttan Nair (C/o Santhosh, Mob: 09846654440 )
A V Raman Nair, Ph: (res) 0494-2658179
E V Gangadharan, Mob: 09048486753

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Salute their dedication...!!!

in travancore it pallipana is entirly differnt and performed in a few temples like ampalapuzha, malanada once in 41 yrs. the velan community is the main priests and the ritual is pure mantravadam and the duration is 11+ days

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