Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A time-honoured welcome

Women wait with kambam aarathi to welcome Congress candidate S. Tirunavukkarasar at Perumalpatti village in the Aranthangi constituency of Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu. Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam
The stringent Election Commission norms has rendered extravagant campaigns a thing of the past.
But a breather has come in the form of permission from the EC for cadres and supporters to welcome candidates with aarathi. However, candidates are still not permitted to drop money in the aarathi plates.
The practice of aarathi is intrinsic to the rural culture of welcoming guests and newlyweds during festivals and other occasions and wishing them success.
In Pudukottai district, the tradition of aarathi reflects the Chettinad culture — an elderly woman carries the aarathi plate, while other women bear kumbam, which are brass and silver vessels decorated with wicks and kolam (rangoli). A coconut is kept at the mouth of the vessel.
“The kumbam represents gaiety, prosperity, happiness, and our wishes and hospitality to guests,” the women explain. Those who prefer not to carry the coconut hold a kuthuvilakku (traditional lamp). In some places, a garland of vegetables adorns the kumbam, purportedly to protect candidates from bad omens and evil spells from rivals.
“This tradition is mostly nurtured in rural areas and differs from place to place depending on the cultural moorings,” says P. Meena, a housewife from Perumalpatti village in Pudukottai. She waits along with other women to receive S. Tirunavukkarasar, former Union and State Minister and the Congress candidate from the Aranthangi constituency.
Several villages in Pudukottai have inherited the aarathi tradition from the famous Nagarathar cult, Ms. Meena adds. “The practice surfaces during social occasions when special guests are welcomed and wished with happiness and prosperity. The election atmosphere too has a social dimension,” she says, justifying the aarathi for candidates.
Do the women feel compelled to do it? “No,” Ms. Meena says. “The candidate has done a lot for our village and regularly keeps in touch. We are only expressing our gratitude, immortalising the tradition.”

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