Known as the cultural capital of Kerala, the Thrissur district embodies the state’s varied traditional art forms and beliefs –a city of temples, elephants, velichapads (oracles) and festivals. It even boasts of a small rural village of Peringottukara where Kuttichaathan (little demon or imp) is worshipped as god.
Anyone passing through the village is sure to come across several luxury cars like the Audi, BMW, Mercedes racing through the small by-lanes, making one wonder why they were there.
Enquire at a nearby shop and prompt comes the reply: “They come to meet Kuttichaathan. He has devotees from all across the state as well as from across the state-border.”
Peringottukara has a number of kuttichaathan temples most of them attached to a tharavadu (ancestral home), all boasting of a heritage not less than a couple of decades at least.
These are not your regular Hindu temples. These are ‘special’ places where peculiar poojas and guruthi (hen sacrifice) are performed. The godmen here claim to be able to look into your past as well as the future and also help you overcome all the hurdles in your life.
So how does kuttichaathan actually execute his powers?
Anyone who approaches any Kuttichaathan Mutt for a solution to all the problems in their lives have to first pay some money and then launch into an explanation of their woes.
They are then taken inside a shrine where the deity is installed. Wait for a while and a man clad in a white dhoti with some accoutrements around his waist makes his grand entrance. He is shaking violently as if in a trance and makes sounds with some sort of an instrument in his hands almost in the manner of a velichapad (temple oracle) who comes out of the sreekovil (inner sanctum), pouting words in a language unknown to the devotees.
Another pujari (temple priest) standing near him will translate the same into Malayalam which apparently is the solution to all the problems that the devotee placed at the deity’s feet.
The velichapad is believed to be endowed with godly powers when the chaathan enters his body during which time he comes up with answers to a devotee’s problems.
Most of the times, the chaathan suggests conduct of poojas costing thousands of rupees.
“We went there, as we were childless. He suggested two or three poojas which cost us around Rs.7500. Somehow it did not work out,” says Swathi Ratan, a Kochi housewife.
A swami from the Kannadi Mutt -one of the biggest kuttichaathan temples in the area- says the expense depends on the magnitude of a devotee’s problems.
“It depends on your problems. Sometimes you will have to do three to four poojas to get away from all the negativity energy around you, most probably the result of black magic. Only chaathan swami (kuttichaathan) can tell you the root cause,” the swami elaborated.
Many kuttichaathan mutts in a single village
Probably no other village in Kerala has so many Chaathan temples and mutts.
Apparently the ‘Avanangattil Kalari’ mutt and temple which worship kuttichaathan was the first one to operate in the village.
They also claim to be the first chaathan swami temple in India. Centuries ago, a Panicker family (traditional astrologers) started it as an institution attached to their tharavadu to impart kalari (Kerala martial art) lessons.
As per the legend, the twin brothers born in the family were endowed with magical powers by a brahmin guru. They subsequently brought home the chaathan deity.
“In Kottarathil Shankunni’s Aithihyamala (a book compiling different legends of Kerala) our tharavadu history is mentioned. We have centuries of tradition and are known for the divine powers acquired from chaathan swami,” says Avanangattil Kalari’s present head Advocate AU Raghuraman Panicker.
Another magnificent chaathan swami temple and mutt run by the Kanadi Matam tharavadu also claim a centuries’ old tradition.
Panicker however was quick to point out that all other chaathan temples in Peringattukara were started by people earlier employed by the Avanangattil Kalari.
The Kannadi Mutt has three branches in the village and they have a huge devasthaanam (main temple). It is owned by a trust which belongs to the same family.
“Ours is the most renowned and prominent mutt with a tradition of many centuries. Thousands come here, get cured and go back with solutions to their problems,” avers a swami of the Kanadi mutt.
Other than these two biggies, there are numerous small kuttichaathan temples in the village.
The Peringottukara Communist Party of India (CPI) local committee secretary C Raghavan brands all of them as purely money-making ventures.
“The Avanangattil Kalari was the first one. Later when the numbers of devotees increased, some others ventured into the arena smelling huge profits. Now it is the main source of income for Peringottukara. Avanangattil may be around 500 years old, the Kanadi main mutt around 100 and all others came up just 30 to 40 years ago,” he said.
Another social activist from Thrissur VK Venkitachalam says that the business runs into crores of rupees with hundreds of people flowing to the village on a daily basis in search of a solution to life’s woes.
“Even the by-lanes of Peringottukara are rubberized because of the sheer traffic of luxury cars here. These were financed by the temple authorities to literally ensure a smooth ride for their customers,” he points out.
Venkitachlam continues: “People here were quick to grasp the huge business potential in setting up chaathan temples on the lines of the Avanangattil. Since Avanangattil was always flooded with devotees, many people started visiting nearby temples to avoid the rush. None of the temples here lack devotees.”
Venkitachalam says these temples -mainly the Avanangattil and Kanadi mutts- conduct huge musical fests every year in which almost all celebrity singers participate.
“Singers, actors, ministers…the devotee list is long,” he said. Unlike other temples, these kuttichaathan temples have chicken and liquor as prasadam (holy offerings) and poojas are mainly done by different lower caste Hindus, not brahmins.
The main attraction of these temples is that people of all religions are welcome here.
Who is Kuttichaathan?
There are different legends associated with the chaathan swami. In North Kerala, it is believed that Chaathan was born to Lord Shiva by a Pulaya woman (lower caste) whom the lord met in a forest. Story says that Chaathan was later adopted by a brahmin family which later killed him as he indulged in mischievous acts like beheading cows and drinking the blood. After his demise, his spirit became synonymous with magical powers and temples were built for him.
But in Peringottukara, the legend differs slightly. Siva was attracted to a Pulaya woman, who was hesitant to consummate the relationship that she asked Parvathy Devi for help. Parvathy then disguised herself as the Pulaya woman and after obtaining Siva’s semen poured it into a wild fruit and gifted it to the Pulaya woman. The fruit later turned into the child Chaathan and took the Avatar of Lord Vishnu to visit his father at Mount Kailasam.
“There are hundreds of stories related to Chaathan’s birth. How do people fall for such stuff even in this era? I once harboured the false hope that after two or three generations, all these beliefs will change. On the contrary, we have become more superstitious,” rues 70-year old Raghavan.
Call it superstition or blind faith; the Peringottukara Chaathans sure has many takers.