This is the season of the Niraputhari ritual in the temples of Southern Kerala. The ritual comprises a procession of the 'puthari' (harvested paddy) to the temple, purification of them through special poojas and prayers, and then placing them in a holy place. The practices associated with the ritual is a reminder of an era in which paddy cultivation was largely practised and its harvest celebrated. It was through this ritual that farmers offered their first harvest to the temples.
This is a practice that continues in many temples of Southern Kerala but with a little modification. It is not the farmers who provide the paddy, but a government research institute under Kerala agricultural university that makes the offering. The rice cultivated in the Integrated Farming System Research Station (IFSRS) at Karamana is mainly used for this ritual for the last few years.
Since nowhere in Kerala paddy ripens in the month of July and August, most of the temples get the paddy from the institute, while few others get it from Tamil Nadu.
â€śWe have a river adjacent to our field so that we donâ€™t have a scarcity of water. So, by March- April we would sow the paddy seeds and by end of July, it ripens enough to harvest. That is the time when temples need them. Usually, no farmers cultivate rice in summer as there isn't sufficient water,â€ť says Jacob John, Professor and head at IFSRS.
It is a win-win situation for both the temple and the Insitute. While for the temple tradition is kept alive, for the Institue it is a good source of income. "Panicles harvested from an area of 1 sq mt is sold at Rs 100, this would be around 3 kg. This year we have already sold panicles worth Rs 1.5 lakh. There are orders waiting and the sale will last for this month too. Last year we had panicles worth Rs. 2.25 lakh,â€ť he said.
He also points that the ritual has an important role in the history of Kerala. â€śPutharikandam Maidan, a ground in Thiruvananthapuram plays a central role in its cultural history. The maidan was covered by paddy cultivation earlier. It has been recorded that since the 18th-century paddy was collected from the Putharikandam, for the Niraputhari ritual in Padnabhaswami temple of Thiruvananthapuram,â€ť he said
It is also said that the field was later converted to a maidan and got its name Putharikandam because of this reason.
What makes the IIFSRS unique is that they cultivate the paddy organically, using only natural methods to prevent insects.
Apart from providing panicles for this ritual the Institute also makes beautiful 'Ayar' ( a bunch of panicles that is considered a symbol of prosperity) which is of great demand.
â€śDepending on the size its price would range from Rs 250 to Rs 2,000. It is of big demand. People get it to keep at home, gift it others,â€ť Jacob John said.
He also recalls that in 2005 when he joined the Institute there were many middlemen who used to get rice from the institute and sold it to the temples at a high rate.
â€śLater we thought about how to directly get in touch with temples so that it would be beneficial for us as well as for them. That worked out well," Professor Jacob said.