THE Ashtami Rohini Vallasadhya (mass feast) is famous for its grandeur and religious significance. It is an annual ritualistic feast and is being organised at the Sri Parthasarathy Temple situated on the banks of River Pampa at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta dist., Kerala. The feast is jointly organised by the Palliyoda Seva Sangam and the Travancore Devaswom Board. This year, the feast will be organised on the birthday of Lord Krishna on September 1, 2010.
The Vallasadhya is usually served to the oarsmen of the snakeboats in a ceremonious ritual. Over 45 delicious dishes such as parippu, sambhar, pulisseri, rasam, avial, thoran, kalan, olan, koottukari, pachadi, kichadi, injipuli, pickles etc. are served on plantain leaves including 4-5 varieties of Payasam (pudding). The dishes are served in the background of songs sung to the tune of Kuchelavritham Vanchipattu (songs in praise of the Lord) and as the songs are sung, the participants will demand for a particular dish which will be instantly served. The legend is that in a Vallasadhya, all dishes asked for must be served in order to please the Lord. Over 40,000 people participate and an estimated 3,500 kg of rice is cooked for the feast.
Elaborate arrangements are made for the smooth conduct of the feast. The devotees who offer Vallasadya to the presiding deity have to serve the feast to the oarsmen of the Palliyodams (snakeboats) as well. Over 30 snakeboats (Chundan Vallams) representing different Palliyodakkara (villages having their own snakeboats) reach the temple ghats to take part in the feast. The devotees consider Palliyodams as divine vessel of the presiding deity. They belong to different Karas (Regions) on the banks of River Pampa. Each Palliyodam will have four helmsmen, 100 oarsmen and 25 singers! The oarsmen wear white mundu and turbans.
The oarsmen are accorded a customary reception and they offer Nirapara to the presiding deity at the Nadappanthal in front of the golden temple mast and go round the temple chanting Vanchippattu. The Vallasadhya begins immediately after the Utchapuja (forenoon puja) at the temple.
The Thiruvonathoni carrying provisions and vegetables for the Onam feast sets off for the Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula from the Mahavishnu temple at Kattoor in the evening on the Uthradom day accompanied by a row of Palliyodams from the nearby villages. It reaches the temple in the morning on the Thiruvonam day. Eighteen families in Kattoor offer provisions for the Onam feast at the temple.
Aranmula temple is one of the five ancient shrines connected with the Mahabharata. Legend has it that Arjuna built this temple, to expiate for the sin of killing Karna on the battlefield, against the dharma of killing an unarmed enemy. According to another legend, the Pandava princes, after crowning Parikshit left on a pilgrimage and in Kerala, each of these brothers installed Vishnu idols on the banks of the River Pampa and nearby places and offered worship. It is said that the idol was brought in a raft made of six pieces of bamboo and hence the name Aranmula came to be known.
(Author is a freelance journalist and social activist. He is Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting and can be contacted on [email protected])