Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Kovilmalai Tribal Stories

Kovilmalai Tribal Stories

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It is about our short trip to the tribal settlement of Kovilmalai village in the month of February in 2013. We were a group eight in two jeeps; one was an ex-Indian military vehicle, a Mahindra 550 modified jeep that looked like a steady and agile mountain horse. It had a 4 wheel drive and radial tyres. The second vehicle was also a Mahindra make Commander Jeep with only two wheel drive, yet with a powerful engine that can chase the former at equal speed. We left the evening from Mayapott to Kanchiyar about 4 pm. It is a small spice growing village set on the outskirts of Kattappana, the second largest new generation spice growing area in Idukki district situated along the western banks of Idukki reservoir. On the farthest end of Kanchiyar village lays a sleepy tribal settlement along the banks of periyar lake named Kovilmalai.
After about 30 minutes drive from Mayapott we crossed the main highway and entered into the forest tracks; the driver shifted gears for really off road drive. There was literally no road, in some places the jeeps were like a trained mountain horse trotted over from boulders to stones and to rubbles. After a couple of kilometers rough road drive along the forest we reached a stream. Crossing the stream meant as if we were going through cleansing procedure before we entered the sacred sanctuaries of the virgin forests. The setting was of a romantic forest with tunes of deep silence playing in back drop, except the slow speed noise of our jeeps maneuvering through the tracks and some occasional bird songs. As a trained physiotherapist, I am used to hear similar music of the forest during my relaxation treatments. As soon as we have crossed the stream we were in a totally different world. We saw small hamlets in clusters and singles and there was obviously some tribal village folks moving around. Some of the houses had lights possibly electric lamps, since the government had executed a development program that made it possible.
Our journey to the tribal village had single focus to pay visit to the king and experience a slice of their life, collect interesting facts about their cross cultural exposure with main stream society as I was accompanying a group of North American Travel Journalists. As soon as we reached the house of the king, our local guide informed our arrival and we were told that the king was on long travel and had just reached while ago.  We had to wait  about thirty minutes as the king had to complete his rituals and evening pooja, once he shall meet us at 7:30 pm. As we waited it was getting dark, we decided that we shall explore around. To our amusement the tribal youth really did not look like as per our expectations, many of the young people carried latest mobiles phones. It was shocking news to our American journalists as the tribal you took pictures of them using the latest Samsung galaxy or similar phones.  As the king completed his rituals, we could see him entering into the small temple of the goddess and lighted an oil lamp then offered prayers.  He sent his minister to escort us to his house, as we entered we were greeted traditionally and introduced us the Raja Matha (queen mother), minister and the king himself.

Kovilmalai tribal community belonged to the mannan tribe of the high ranges spread over several regions from Marayoor to Periyar. At present the community is headed by their young king Raja Mannan. He is one among the two tribal kings recognized by the government, the other one is in the north eastern state of Sikkim. The interactive meeting with the king lasted for about forty -five minutes, during which he shared with us an in depth knowledge about their history, culture, food and the present living. The king is also a graduate in humanities and he has very good vision for his people. Soon after the interview, what was in stored for us was a   surprise dance and musical extravaganza. The travel writers were really tired of their long journey and hectic schedule that they followed about a week; however the vibrant and wild tribal beats of music and enigmatic, yet graceful movement around the bonfire made everyone jump into rhythm. The elders piped instruments and drums in harmony with the drums, while the young men danced in unison to the beats. The spectators cheered with shouts, whistles and claps. The dance was not a fast entertainment performance, for me it had some profound meaning that touched the very fabric of the tribal bonding, engulfed between inseparable myths and realities of life inside the forest. It was a treat worth a life time.

As we said good bye, the Raja Matha blessed us all for good luck and good health. We were alighted and transported to a time that beckons a peaceful co-existence of an eco-system of simplicity and truth, of nature and human beings.

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