IN AN­CIENT LORE sac­ri­fice opened the door to suc­cess

The Hindu - - TAMIL NADU - B. Ko­lap­pan

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.

Mostly vol­un­tary

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.

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