'Thumbi' and 'Thendan'
"Whose delicate touch has made your bashful innocence blossom - was it the gentle breeze? or the mischievous 'thumbi', drunk on nectar? or was it the love-lorn song of the youthful Gandharva peeping out at you from among the peepal leaves?"
(a Malayalam love-song in free translation; the author: ONV Kurup. Note: In the original, the peepal peeper is a 'Kinnara'. I use 'Gandharva' instead. For justification, let me refer to an earlier post here titled: 'On the Kinnara Trail')
This post has two parts - both refer to earlier posts here. And both parts have something to do with the works of Kerala's favorite auteur, the late P. Padmarajan.
'Thumbi' Part 2:
The monsoon has been stingy so far and I have not been getting to do much rain-swimming in our little 'kulam'. Today luck appeared to turn with a heavy midmorning downpour - and I plunged in. The rain quickly thinned into a gentle drizzle. I was thinking of quitting when I spotted two blue and very slim dragonflies; they were hovering a few inches above the water and occaionally gliding here and there but doing nothing much otherwise. Lazily floating a few feet away, I watched them. The 'thumbies' did not appear troubled by the raindrops. Were they searching for smaller insects to devour? Were they courting? Well, it did not look like either was the case - indeed each one seemed to be on an own-trip to nowhere in particular. The drizzle then ceased altogether and the insects drifted away and were not to be seen. Within a minute or so, the rain revived and the thumbies were back, up to the same intriguing game!
Soon, the weather cleared up decisively and the blue thumbies were soon gone; and there suddenly appeared two big, black and sinister looking ones. They seemed to be chasing one another over the water with intent and vigor. For brief moments they even caught and latched on to one another and kept flying furiously in one tangled piece. And this show lasted but a few minutes and they too were gone.
Inference: At least some thumbies enjoy a 'thoovanam' (a gentle shower of rain). And perhaps Padmarajan, who made 'thoovanathumbikal', knew this.
Aside: For all of the Mallus' love and fascination for the thumbi, nothing in our films can quite match what Kamal Hasan does in the Tamil film 'Satya'. Courting Amala on a grassy hillside, our hero spots a little poompatta (butterfly) fluttering about, chases it, dives into the grass, takes a dramatic tumble and comes up with a thumbi caught between his fingers. As to what happens next to the thumbi ("with the thumbi" would be more appropriate!), I refer my readers to videos of the song 'Valai Osai'.
Note: This piece continues the old post: 'On the Kinnara Trail'.
My present home-town of Tripunithura is a famously haunted place. Many of its scores of built-in-19th-century residential buildings ( most are still in use) have ghostly residents who have been camping there for generations. Some of the ancient trees here are known to harbor Yakshis. There have been several sightings of the spirit of Kannagi (yes, heroine of Tamil classic Chilappathikaram!). A nasty 'Brahmarakshass' stalks the quiet lanes at night - some folks fear this demon enough to build seven foot plus walls around their compounds...
But the most 'spectacular' of Tripunithura's supernatural denizens is, unquestionably, 'Thendan'. Here is a quote from memory from K.T.Ramavarma's 'Kairaleevidheyan': "Thendan resides on the peepal tree at the eastern entrance to the Poornathrayeesa (Vishnu) temple, the very heart of Tripunithura. In the third quarter of the night, he awakens and placing one foot on this peepal tree and the other on the 'paála' tree beyond the western gopuram of the temple, raises himself to his full fearsome height with the temple beneath him. Occasionally he stoops like a crane to lap up water from the temple tank. Any mortal who ventures out and sees him in this act is sure to die within the week!"
The big and sprawling peepal tree serving as Thendan's abode/pedastal was cut down recently and replaced with a slender sapling. But Thendan is still very much around - a stone slab stands right next to the sapling as a marker of his presence. A notice has been put up warning devotees NOT to offer flowers to Thendan.
Note: I recall being reminded of Thendan when I first saw the painting 'Colossus' by Goya.
I recently chanced upon a volume on Kerala's Vedic Traditions by Varanakkod Govindan Nambuthiri. Some interesting excerpts: "The ritual of 'Othoottu' is a stylized ceremonial chanting of the Yajurveda performed in temples built expressly for this purpose. These temples are called 'Gandharva Kshetras'. Normal Pujas etc happen in these temples only on a few designated days.... The Rigveda says three deities act as guardians and protectors to a girl from birth until her marriage - Soma, Varuna and Vishwawasu, king of Gandharvas, in that order... During the wedding, the groom chants a 'sukta' which respectfully asks the Gandharva to leave, since his work is done - the maiden has found a human protector."
Maybe the phenomenon of young women getting possessed for life by Gandharvas, very widely attested to by Keralan tradition (and mentioned in my own earlier post on Gandharvas), comes about when the protector gets possessive. But, what has all this got to do with Thendan? Plenty! I call Govindan Nambuthiri's book to witness:
"There are only two extant Gandharva Kshetras - at Ambalakkunu in North Kerala and at Irinjalakuda. Neat Talipparanmba temple stands a peepal tree that is revered as the abode of a Gandharva. And the 'sankalpa' (= 'esoteric visualization'?) of the Irinjalakuda Gandharva portrays him standing with one foot on the 'paala' tree next to the Trimurti temple at Triprayar and the other foot on the peepal tree next to the Koodalmanikyam temple in Irinjalakuda ( the distance is of the order of a dozen kilometers!) with hands folded in obeisance to Bharata, the presiding deity of Koodalmanikyam."
Thus, Thendan, who has terrorized Tripunithura for centuries, has quite a bit in common with a Gandharva. Maybe he IS a Gandharva gone rogue. Indian tradition holds getting straddled as very demeaning and even Lord Vishnu, whose temple is subjected to this indignity by Thendan every night, seems unable to do much about him - or maybe He is indifferent, which is worse! One can only hope that the presence of a kindly guardian spirit of vastly superior stature looming 'kilometers and kilometers' above Irinjalakuda-Triprayar (the distance from there to Tripunithura would be only 2-3 strides - for the latter!) is enough to keep terrible Thendan in check.
The Gandharva myths have strong shades of the boozy Greek God Dionysus - Gandharvas are brewers and heavy drinkers of Somarasa, the liquor of Gods. But the Gandharvas are also supremely handsome and great musicians to boot so the Apollonian element is even stronger in them (for evidence to these claims, let me point to the Padmarajan's 'Njan Gandharvan'). The 'Colossus of Rhodes' was an immense statue of Apollo that was said by some to have straddled the entrance to the harbor of Rhodes. So, do the legends of 'Desi straddlers' like Thendan owe something to Greek myths?
World-cup update: Sometime ago, an article here mentioned the 'chakkara kuduma', a kind of coiffure sported by some castes in traditional Kerala and that now is to be seen only in period films. Description: shave the head except for a ~6 inch circular patch right at the top. And now, this style appears to have become quite fashionable among soccer players from Latin America!