While the rest of the world had a ‘spirited’ new year celebration, I decided to do something drastically different – visit our supposed family deity in a quaint little village called Puthucode, in Kerala.

Now, I’m not a Keralite. I’m from Kerala’s neighboring state, Tamil Nadu. So, even I wondered how a goddess in Kerala became our family deity. The back-story is quite fascinating and worth a blog post…this one!

We, as a family, came to know about the existence of this family deity very recently – just about a couple of years ago. This was based on the quest of one of our family members and involved a lot of complicated search techniques that included alternate, hocus-pocus methods like the very-Keralite method of using sea shells to know the truth/ future/ history. So, based on many such predictions we were told that the Goddess Annapoorneshwari is our family deity and that there are 3 such likely temples in Kerala.

We were wondering our the Kerala connections since our family is historically from the Madurai belt, quite removed from Kerala. That’s when someone explained the fascinating premise. The Marathi King Saraboji, who ruled the Tanjore region from 1798 to 1824 was the one who initiated the process of spreading the shiv’ite teachings and form of worship in other parts of India – he had asked almost 300+ Tamil brahmin families from his region to relocate to Kerala, in places in and around present-day Palakkad and spread Shiv’ite form of worship. So, our ancestors may be part of this relocation and ultimately chose the reigning deity of Puthucode as the family deity.

Now, why do I even find this story interesting? A few reasons actually. One, I find this kind of discovery of a family’s ancestry very similar to finding a long-lost friend/ schoolmate on LinkedIn or Facebook. We’ve all done that…searching for names of our classmates on Facebook or on LinkedIn to see what they’re doing now. And, some of that discovery leads to interesting connections – they seem to be connected to people we know too…and we had no idea of such connections.

Two, the idea of relocating families to another region to spread something specific is something similar to the way some specific hires are made in organizations. To spread a particular way of thinking, an organization may hire a person who may have performed such a task in his previous place of work…it could even be to inculcate a new practice in an organization, and that could come from someone who was instrumental in creating and spreading that practice in his/ her earlier organization.

Three, the kind of language spoken in Puthucode (and even in Palakkad) is a strange combination of Tamil, with generous influences of Malayalam…no, not the words, but specifically, the intonation that is unique to Malayalam. This could have happened over time and it has given birth to a almost new way of speaking Tamil, treated almost like Malayalam.

Four, the concept of a family deity. Now, I’m not a very religious person and consider myself a borderline atheist, perhaps due to profound influences of Douglas Adams. I may evolve and mature out of this and may start believing in something, but I digress – the point is, I find this concept of a family deity as a unifying force…like a fan page on Facebook or a group in LinkedIn…or even the tribe that Seth often talks about, created to unite followers of a specific topic/ person/ trend. They do things together, discover things together and even meet offline to further their interest in whatever brough them together. Organized religion, perhaps, is the most popular tribe of all.

Five, the massive urbanization of India. From about 300+ families during its heydays, Puthucode is a much smaller community now, with barely 30+ families continuing to live in this village. Its quaint in every sense nowadays – lacking in many basic facilities like emergency medical facilities or a school – they’re available just outside the village, in nearby places. Schools are quite ok that way, but medical facilities can be a problem when they’re not available within a particular window of time. Part of this exodus is due to the government taking back lands that belonged to the temple – Puthucode, like many southern cities/ villages, had an economy built around the temple. The temple in a way was the centre of every activity in the village, and owned massive tracts of land donated by rulers of that region. Almost every person in the village worked or was associated with something to do with the temple. When the government nationalized the temple and took away its lands, many people were left with nothing to do! They eventually moved with families in search of alternate employment in the bigger cities.

transformationSix, a very personal reason – temples in Kerala can be summed up in one word…precarious. Almost all Hindu temples insist on the male species wearing a dhoti and remain topless, all through the visit. Puthucode is no different. Here I am, a city-bred, pseudo TamBrahm with no history of having worn a dhoti, wearing a dhoti uncomfortably and holding my dear life and honor on that shiny piece of clothing. Every little thing was a massive inconvenience – removing my slippers…it was the sandal variety (from Levis, no less!) and has god-damned straps on the behind. Walking too, was a precarious exercise, with a constant watch on the tightness of the dhoti around my waist and adjusting it every now and then. But I gotto give it to the dhoti wear’ers…its quite a airy piece of clothing, particularly in a hot region like Kerala! The pic here is a sample of the kind of transformation I’m talking about!

Lastly, Puthucode is a lovely little place and I’m glad I engaged in something drastically different this new year – far, far away from any kind of supposedly-civilized, modern celebration for the new year. What we heard instead was temple bells, sounds of birds chirping and religious hymns being recited, again from the temple, in the most charming manner. A fresh new place with a fresh perspective to start the year, I suppose!

Here are some more links on Puthucode…a wikipedia entry; a website and a couple of blog posts about the temple – here and here!

And, here are some more pics from Puthucode.