IN ANCIENT LORE sacrifice opened the door to success
Folklore is replete with macabre stories of human sacrifice, performed to propitiate, succeed or secure. Writer Jayamohan’s short story,
a fictionalised version of the construction of the Pechiparai dam in Kanyakumari district, traces the idea of human sacrifice. The folk deity, Petchi, is believed to have stubbornly prevented the effort to rein in the fury of the river through a dam. The British official is then said to have completed the task only after offering human sacrifice.
“Offer me human sacrifice. Offer me the hot blood,” the deity demanded.
“Just tell me how much you need,” the official asked. “Thousand and one,” she replied. Although the actual number is far from clear, old timers in Kanyakumari district argue that the dam became a reality only after the British official propitiated Petchi with human sacrifice.
Highlighting the many stories, folklorist A.K. Perumal says, “there is the tale of a pregnant woman who was tricked by her brother for a sacrifice and he was given five acres of
land in return.” Such stories find mention in historical records. The book, by Robert Sewell, has references to human sacrifice in the Vijayanagar empire. Portuguese traveller Nuniz noted that that 60 human beings were offered to ensure the security of a dam.
Su. Venkatesan’s Sahitya Akademi winning novel contains scenes of youths sacrificing their lives before the construction of a port in Madurai.
A Forgotten Empire, Kaval Kottam Divine connections
There are divine connections to sacrifice too. The folk song of Sudalaimadan - who is seen as an incarnation of Lord Siva as the presiding deity of the graveyard - narrates the sacrifice of a pregnant woman, daughter of fearsome black magic practitioner Kali Perumpulaiyan, who hailed from Kerala.
“Sudalaimadan demands seven types of sacrifice and it culminates in the killing of Maa Isakki, the daughter of Perumpulaiayan, who was seven months pregnant. A special platform was erected for the purpose and in return, Sudalaimadan agrees to be controlled by the magician for three seconds,” says V. Muthuperumal, a singer in the Kaniyankoothu tradition that pertains to the graveyard.
Practitioners of black magic (manthiravatham), according to belief, target children, especially the eldest in a family, virgins and pregnant women. Thus, villages have been very protective of the first child. If the eldest dies, family members and villagers would be present in the graveyard to ensure that the body turns into ashes and dissolve them in water bodies.
“Black magic people set about making dye from the eye of the eldest child, adding various herbs. Possessing the skull and dye is believed to confer enormous power, even to control Gods,” says Mr. Muthuperumal on such rituals.
According to Mr. A.K. Perumal, the objects for sacrifice should be complete and free from mutilation. “There is a folk story about how a prince, kidnapped for sacrifice, was spared of his life since had lost the small finger in an accident,” he points out.
Belief in sacrifice extends to other realms, such as treasure hunting, with those looking for bounty believing that it could be secured only after offering blood. “The moment you unearth it, you have to cut your hand and offer the blood, failing which the treasure will disappear,” says Mr. A.K. Perumal. Such beliefs may be responsible for some sacrifices today, he adds.
Former IAS officer M. Rajendran, who has published the inscriptions of Chera, Chola and Pallava copper plates, says human sacrifice was mostly voluntary in ancient Tamil society.
“When Sundara Chola died, his wife and mother of Raja Raja, Vanaman Madevi alone jumped into the funeral pyre though the king had many wives. Similarly, Veeramadevi alone decided to offer her life after the death of Rajendra Chola. There was no compulsion on women,” he says.
'Navakandam', the practice of a warrior offering his head to Kottravai, was also voluntary. Velakkara Padai, Thoosipadi and Abathukkuthavi were different types of regiments that existed in Tamil society that vowed to offer their lives to protect the king, he adds.