The physical environment, ecological conditions and fish resources offer perennial fishing. Nevertheless, the microenvironment features seasonal variations, thus making a seasonal fluctuation in fish catch as also in the organisation of catching pursuits. They identify various kinds of stars. Of these, they widely refer to 12 stars. Different accounts of these stars explain their empirical knowledge and indicate astronomical categories they know of. For example: Vata konta velli (north-east star), which is a single star that can be seen around 11 p.m. in the north-east direction during monsoon days; Kappala velli (shore star), which is a cluser of seven stars seen on all the days round the year; Aram velli (six stars), which is used to ascertain time while returning from a night-catch during February-April; Cottu velli (dinner star), which is a single star that can be seen around 3 o’clock in the evening exactly on the course of the sun and disappears around 9 o’clock in the night; Patu caya velli (stable star) often referred to as Ariccantiran velli (named after Ariccantiran, a legendary hero who never told a lie in his life), which is very dependable. It is static in its position and can be seen on all the 365 days and that too right from the evening till the next dawn; Viti velli (morning star), a single star that rises in the east around 3 o’clock in the morning, and helps ascertain time before the fishermen start fishing; Munam velli (third star), which comprises a cluster of six stars is divided into two sets, each comprising three stars, based on a legend.
Among the fishing crafts and gears, there are kattumaram (lit: tied logs), the most common fishing craft used over centuries in this region, and patavu, another indigenous raft which is a kind of plank canoe or boat. The Indian Marine Fisheries has been effecting a whole range of innovations in mechanical technology, of which preference for mechanised raft, finer varieties of synthetic gears and other mechanized equipments of various kinds is on the increase. The Pattanavar division of labour is such that once the fish reaches the shore or is taken out of the net, it becomes the sole responsibility of the women. They have to carry the whole catch on their heads to the auction points, haggle there and sell them.
This way, the so-called illiterate or non-literate fisherfolk of the coastal village have been retaining their knowledge system from generation to generation through oral behaviour. This is an interesting example of intangible heritage in India.
(The author is an anthropologist, associated with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts as Research Officer.)