[VoxSpace Exclusive] Kadavulin Kuzhanthai – The Story Of A Festival Which Allows Sexual Liberty To Women For A Night

Editor’s Note

In a world plunged into chaos and uncertainty, there often comes a time and tradition, which tries to resolve our issues with a simple sweeping solution. Most of the times, these solutions lead to societal ostracism and take the form of a taboo. In a matter of time, these things which are termed as Taboo, slowly become valid propositions for the continuance of life. Hence, the term evolution isn’t it? We grow, and we develop, and yet we also imbibe certain aspects from radical thoughts, which serve well to our intentions and culture. Humanity has always been shackled by practices which stand to serve the interests of the common populace in the majority. However, sometimes these rules and regulations need to be relaxed to actually affect a better living. One such occurrence is the basis of our presentation today.

The concept of ‘God’s Child’ has been pondered upon by acclaimed writer of Tamil Nadu, Perumal Murugan in his book ‘One Part Woman’. This article has no bearing as such to the book and remains as an independent research based article. In our pursuit of bringing out this article, we were helped immensely by Professor Ramakanth Murugan and Professor Jyothi Murugan, of Humanitarian Studies, Anna University, Chennai. Of course, this article would have been impossible, without the help of residents of the temple town, Marichengodu, who spoke to us in the most helpful manner. Lastly, this article would never have shaped up as an intriguing piece of work, without the experiences which were shared by the protagonist of the story, Siriamma Pothakall.

1972, Thokkavadi, MarichenGodu, Tamil Nadu – They Say I Am Barren. They Say I Am Cursed

Siriamma takes the sharp blade that’s handed to her by Avva, the grandmother of the house. Avva knows best, and she decides for everybody. The ritual of making Siriamma fertile is going to be a long three-day process, which starts with a sacrificial beginning. A She-Goat is tied to the pillar, as thunderous rains lash across the serene village of Thokkavadi. Avva and seven of her companions of the same age, in their white saris chanting at the top their voices, look like Gandharvas of the ages gone by. Siriamma has grown up listening to the folklore of Gandharvas, the angelic personalities of heaven who would descend to earth, every decade, and grant wishes to the needy. Siriamma is convinced that Avva, the old wrinkly lady, is, in fact, a Gandharva, as she acts possessed by a spirit as the ritual progresses to its violent ends.

Avva then turns to Siriamma and asks her calmly to walk to the tied up She-Goat. Two of her companions, other Gandharvas seemingly, come to the She-Goat as well and slightly lift her head up. Just enough to make the Goat’s arteries above the throat, clearly visible. The movement of the blade needs to be precise and effective. Siriamma slashes these arteries, amongst feverish chants, and the She-Goats cries, and the possessed spirits dancing across the corridor. As the blood spurts out, Siriamma sits down and collects it, in a small auspicious bronze bowl, Pavul, and mixes it with finely ground turmeric powder. The dead animal is now dragged away to the backyard, by a couple of ladies. The animal will turn into meat, for the offering at the festival. Presently, however, Siriamma needs to mix the goat’s blood with Turmeric to prepare a viscous concoction, which will then be applied to her. Starting from the feet to the ankles, and touching up to her vagina. The blood will drive away the curse of sleeping with another man. Although the blood will be washed off, the spirit of Virgin will now protect Siriamma, even after sleeping with a complete stranger. She shall remain pure and virgin. The chants and the Goat’s blood will ensure that. And then perhaps, she will be fertile. And then perhaps she will bear a child, a boy specifically, once she returns from the Chariot Festival of Lord Ardhanareeswara, pompously celebrated a hundred miles away, in the festival town of Marichengodu.

The Legend Of Lord Ardhanareeswara – By Prof Ramakanth Murugan

“….To speak plainly about the festival of Lord Ardhanareeswara, we will need to trace back to the 12th and 13th century, and to the rule of the Hoyasala dynasty. Almost at the middle of their regime, say around 150 years into it, King Vishnuvardhan Hoyasala took over the reins of the kingdom, which had spread its prominence from deep Tamil Nadu to Karnataka, even to the present day Telangana. He was one of the very few progressive thinkers of that time. And as we say, a proclaimed feminist. He was perhaps the only King in South Indian regions to have ordered an army to be made constituting of only women. Most of his affiliation towards the betterment of womanhood came from his mother, Rani Jambala Devi, who history remembers as a strong, independent and a fierce stateswoman. The problem that King Vishnuvardhan Hoyasala faced with propagating feminism and equality in the deeply patriarchal society was the lack of education.

“….The people he ruled were governed not by logic, but legends. Not by education, but by folklore. And definitely not by self-belief, but devotional aspects.  It was at this point, he commissioned a writer, Satyathraama, to create a fiction about Lord Ardhanareeswara. As the legend goes, Satyathraama, while he was sleeping and thinking about what to write and how to bring out a story of divine proportions, had a dream. In this dream, Lord Shiva spoke to him, about his avatar, which consorted with his wife, Goddess Parvati, in such a way that, half of either of the bodies were culminated to bring a new existence. The next day, the writer, spoke to the King about his dream, and the King immediately commissioned an idol to be made depicting the same. Thus, Lord Ardhanareeswara became the symbol of gender confluence and significance. Marichengodu was for reasons unknown, picked as the place to establish this” says Professor Ramakanth Murugan, while explaining the legend of this Bi-Gender Divinity.

1972, Marichengodu, Tamilnadu – They Say I Am Cursed. They Say I Can Be Protected

Siriamma and the old Avva get into a horse carriage, which would safely take them to the Chariot Festival of Lord Ardhanareeswara in Marichengodu. The meat is cooked and garnished with a hint of coriander leaves. The blood has been washed away, and Siriamma has been dressed up to look proper. Her sexual union will have to be fruitful, or, she would be literally banished from the household, and forced to live alone for the rest of her life. She had to make a choice. And she already had. Although her husband, Shanmugan, was dead against this, Siriamma knew that if she failed to bear a child even after 4 years of marital living, she would be taunted and insulted for the rest of her life. This decision to attend the Chariot festival is the only thing which would allow her a content life. And of course, a boy child would always be a source of happiness. That much everyone knew and agreed to. Even her husband, could not argue with that prospect.

A male child will bring unprecedented happiness to their family, and protect the legacy of the clan. In order to facilitate a boy child, there were certain practices that were usually confirmed by the women of the village. Siriamma had tried them too. A few herbs and medicines, to relax and expand her reproductive organs. And a few surgical methods to widen the gaps. It was a known aspect, that the deeper the penetration, the higher the chances of giving birth to a Boy. However, these practices were performed upon Siriamma in the immediate week of her marriage. It was way too early for her, and her in-laws, to realize that even though they had prepared her to bear a boy child, the couple weren’t capable of doing so. In fact, they would remain childless and would seek a desperate way out, by visiting the Temple town of Lord Ardhanareeswara, or which was colloquially called, the town of Bastards.

Siriamma and Avva thus begin their journey into the dark misty night, hoping that her marital sin would bring them everlasting happiness.

The Temple Town Of Bastards – By Professor Jyothi Murugan

“….It is a well-known fact locally, that Marichengodu is a secluded and a solitary region, both in terms of its social structure and the geographical location. Literally speaking, the town initially was built over the lap of treacherous hills in the region, making it virtually impossible to visit or even less conquer. Of course, this added to the mysticism around the Temple town, which slowly saw thousands of devotees flocking to the town, and creating their own versions of events as they left it. You must understand, that these different versions of folklore root from the deity situated within the region. Half-Man and Half-Woman, and that too a sacramental occurrence of the most revered god, Shiva. You see, as a concept, it was firstly very baffling to the common populace, and secondly, it allowed various interpretations. Socially abhorred sects of people started identifying themselves, with this particularly radical version of a God.

“….The sects included the untouchables, gravediggers, widows, eunuchs, and such. As the folklore around the Temple town became more mystical around the 14th century, a version of folklore which gained prominence was of God’s Baby. We can root this to the fabled abilities of Eunuchs who were believed to grant boons to the childless and bless them with conception. This graduated to a practice of ‘Oru Kulantaikku’ (Only for the child) union. Thus, originated the term Sami Pillai (God’s Child) or Kadavulin Kuzhanthai (God’s baby). Initially, the male children born out of these unions had one rule to follow to complete their karma – come back to the temple town. And participate in sexual unions with women who came visiting the temple town. It was their Karma, or more like the gratitude owing to the life they’ve been blessed with”

“….Some of these men, after attaining sexual age, came visiting the temple town during the Chariot festival, and most of them stayed back for some reason. They formed bonds with their partners and became obsessed to meet them again in the next festive season. Alas, the hope to meet their random sexual partner would be stomped, as years after years, they waited for the ghosts of the past. This hope would destroy their lives. The women would become distant memories, which the men struggled to keep alive. Some men of the Sami Pillai went mad in their hope, anticipating some recourse to their sexual union. The temple town, therefore, was filled with Sami Pillai’s by hundreds who were referred to by the neighbouring states as The Bastards of Marichengodu. Initially, the girl child born out of this union was left in the forests by the women. They were not needed. The boy child would be raised with affection until he attained his puberty, and then sent to Marichengodu to fulfil his destiny, and hopefully come back after the festival”

1972, Marichengodu, Tamil Nadu – They Say I Can Be Protected, They Say I Just Need To Be Blind

Avva and Siriamma arrive at the temple town of Marichengodu. The horse carriage smoothly moves across the deserted columns of the town, which are being decorated with lines of jasmines and lilies. Siriamma peeks out of her carriage to see the colour and fervour getting filled across the lanes, by the enthusiastic youth. She can sense the celebration in the air, as strong scents of festive food preparations densely populate it. As her carriage moves through the early morning mist and dewy huts, she reminds herself for the hundredth time that she is not wrong in choosing to come here. She reminds herself, in a clear vivid manner, that it would just be another ritual, and she won’t even have to look at what was happening. Avva meanwhile takes out a small bronze glass and pours some milk from the satchel she has been carrying in her belongings. She offers it to Siriamma before the horse carriage silently reaches the edge of the town, where their temporary residence has been arranged.

The clan that Avva and Siriamma belong to are prominent beyond their village, and once Avva conveyed a word to this Town’s Sarpanch, she brought themselves a residence for the entirety of the festival. Lord Ardhanareeswara would grace the devotes tonight. And once his chariot crosses the temple premises, the ritual of finding a stranger would begin.

Kadavulin Kuzhanthai – The Man Under The Chariot – Opesh Lingan

I arrive at the festival, with a simple thought in my mind. I know I need to fulfil my duty; I need to help a poor cursed woman bear a child. That’s my destiny. But how do I do it? You see, I cannot betray my beloved Chitra back in Madras. She remains in my heart for the eternity, and to partake in a physical union with a woman I know nothing of, tears my soul apart. I hope Chitra forgives me for what I am about to do. I arrive at the festival, with a simple thought in my mind. I need to repay my owing to the Lord here, otherwise, I will be cursed by the barren women and Eunuchs here. Don’t they say that a Eunuch’s tongue is capable of twisting destinies and their wrath capable of defining prophecies? What if such a curse makes me lose Chitra forever. No, no, I cannot risk that. Maybe Chitra will understand what I am about to do. Or Maybe she won’t.

I walk into the Satram, a cottage hall situated at the far end of the town, where men with bearings like me arrive at, to await their chance. The Temple authorities provide for food for the night only, and a few blankets to seek warmth in the cold. I tiptoe across the rows of men, already sleeping on the checkered floor of the corridor,  the inside is even more populated, by snoring breaths and sweaty beings. I push a few men across, who mumble and turn in their sleep, so that I can place my small bag of clothes on the floor, and sleep through the night. We are disallowed to touch ourselves, for as long as we stay in the temple town of Marichengodu. The drops of semen should not go out of the body unproductively, over our stay here. However, in the middle of the night, as I dream about Chitra back home, and the lovely time we spent on the sands and the shores of Madras, I feel my penis stiffen up. I try to forget about her, even more so think about something else, but here I lay with an urge of passion between my legs, and sleeping in an edgy little area right in the middle of dozens of men, with no space to breathe, let alone move. The will to touch myself maddens me, and involuntarily I feel my hand carefully reach out to my penis. I try to relax; I try to rest. Neither of it happens.

1972, Marichengodu, Tamil Nadu – They Say I Just Need To Be Blind, They Say The Sin Is Not Just Mine

At the first strike of the village bell, and by the subsequent blowing of the conch, the festival arrives. It is said that at this precise moment, at around 2 AM in the morning, Lord Shiva took his radical and yet sacralized form to arrive as Lord Ardhanareeswara. The Man and The Woman had been infused to become a wholesome being. The first thing that the sleepy town did, which had been jolted awake, was to prepare the magnificent and enormous chariot to be pulled out of the temple premises and into the veins of the normal population.

Avva wakes up Siriamma. The time of the Godmen, around thirty of them, to combine their efforts in pulling out the Chariot has begun. Avva reminds her daughter-in-law of the opportunities which lay bare right after the ceremony. There are a set of rules that Siriamma needs to follow so that her sanctity is not under the question.  Avva makes her repeat them.

The first rule is simple. She shall not pick an untouchable or someone who is from the lower caste than hers. She will have to ask the partner his caste before she sleeps with him.

The second rule of sanctity is the partner she picks should not be too old or too young. He has to appear at a certain age and make. Too old a partner and the penetration would not happen properly. And too young, the chances of the unforeseen sexual union may occur.

The third rule was more of a guidance. Siriamma will be in control of the whole act throughout, correctly and precisely maintaining where and how the sexual union happens. The partner should not be given too much of a control over the proceedings.

The fourth and final rule which Siriamma was to follow, was tying of a string. A specially blessed string of Lord Lingeswara (another form of Lord Shiva) had been procured by Avva recently. Tying of the string to the stem of the penis, whilst entering the woman, ensured that the union resulted in a baby boy.

Siriamma wakes up and takes her bath. A million questions strike her mind, as the moments of choosing a sexual partner for herself comes close. She mindfully washes her skin trying to soak every pore of her body, and somehow sees that she hasn’t changed ever. As the sounds of celebration, and of fireworks erupt outside a mile away, the Chariot has been drawn to the centre of Marichengodu. The one-part man and one-part woman Deity is ready to bless the needy and the barren alike.

Kadavulin Kuzhanthai – The Man Over The Choice – Opesh Lingan

In the middle of the night, and right after I have managed to relieve myself, I hear the conch being blown. The festival has started in the town. You must be wondering as to how I managed to come out of my rather uncomfortable position. It is indeed true that I could not get up or move too much, but I did have an option. I pulled out a small cloth, I was carrying in my satchel, (one which I had tied to my forehead to avoid the sun on my journey here), and placed it near my crotch. As the fondness over Chitra’s memories grew, the lesser movements as well, sparked a larger impact. I ejaculated onto the cloth and folded it up, to throw it away once everyone woke up. The man sleeping with his back facing to me shuffled slightly in sleep, but I am sure, he had no idea of what I did. Yes, I have sinned by letting go of my blessing before it was needed, but I could not stop it. It felt right. It felt pure. And honest as well. A random stranger did not deserve any of such pure love.

The strangers on the checkered floor, the men who have come to fulfil their duties as Sami Pillai, all get up slowly after the conch has been blown. I finally see the chance of pulling myself up and getting prepared for the ritual. An age-old Brahman comes to the sleeping hall and asks us to walk to him one by one. All the fifty or more men, most of them with naked torsos, form a line, and one by one seek his blessing. The Brahman dips a Mango leaf in a bowl of coconut water and sprinkles it on our faces. He blesses us and wards off any evil mutterings around us. Then we are guided to the holy well, behind the sleeping hall. We are to take a bath of freezing cold water, before we walk the streets, and get chosen. At the well, everything becomes chaos.

People go helter-skelter trying to grab a bucket, or the steel lota’s, to dip into the well and take a bath. The men start out a fight, and the abuses seethe through the morning air. Everyone wants to take bath before anyone else, and get to the town and be done with it. I feel, maybe it is the guilt that they want to get over with, and not just the ritual. Given the choice, not many of us would want to have sex with someone else’s wife. It is not Dharma at all. A few of my sweaty bare-chested companions, take a plunge into the well, and climb up, ending the bath routine within minutes. As the chariot reaches the centre of the town, most of us have taken a bath, at least for the namesake.

The Selection Of A Mating Partner And The Customary Consummation By Prof Jyothi Murugan

“…Once the custom was set, the learned men of the town gathered to find a ruleset by which they could govern this wild and maddening custom. Of course, the men were there, and the women would be willing to sleep, but that would only antagonize those who have not been selected. And we all know what happens when Men are judged on their capacity to perform sexually. The learned men, and the counsel they formed understood this apathy and looked to create a set of rules for selection for the men. The rules were based on the castes the men belonged to. But over time, one by one the rules were ignored, as the men grew desperate to deliver, and the women grew desperate to wash away the sins. The practice then evolved into making its own set of acceptable rules over time.  A man chosen by a woman would have to answer to her calling and confirm his acceptance. When the woman approached a man and said ‘Will you help me?’ the man could say yes, and there and then, they could walk to the nearest vacant hut, and partake in sex. If the man needed to reject the woman, he needed to say ‘I am sorry, I cannot’ thrice. Only then the woman will pass onto the next man she likes”.

“….However, the question was how could a woman choose a man? We need to understand that the whole custom was formed in a patriarchal society, and although the free will of the woman was the core idea, there had to be a process to ensure that Men were not outrightly insulted. This is where Men were told to woo the woman by their antics. You see, you could sing, dance, show your masculinity through strength, or do some sort of attractive call, which would make the women choose you.  That was the mating call. As always, not all things went according to the plan. Men were men for all reasons, and the chances of an attack on their masculinity were not going to be passed over simply. There would be repercussions, terrible and horrible repercussions when the justice system in the temple town was suspended for that one night”.

1972, Marichengodu, Tamil Nadu– They Say The Sin Is Not Just Mine, They Say The Gods Will Take Care Of Me

Siriamma is accompanied to the temple town, by her Avva, who holds her hand all through. But she now has to let go of her. Only the barren woman shall stay on the roads, which have suddenly gone eerily silent after the spectacular fireworks celebration. At about 3 Am, only the men singing from a distance at the top of their voices can be heard. Speckling these sounds are the faint sounds of bangles and anklets of women, who have already arrived. The whole town is divided into three main columns of roads, and each road has been ornamented on either side with empty huts, vacated for this auspicious night by the residents. As Avva lets go of Siriamma, they can hear a pair of a man and a woman coming to their side. The woman follows the man into the hut, as Siriamma walks through the night, towards the voices. Most men shall remain from where the songs of the night emanate, and so she has been told.

She needs this to be done quickly. She needs to get back home to her husband, Shanmugan. And thus she has opted to dress properly in a red sari and has decorated her hair with plucks of Jasmine. She wears her white bangles, and her brass anklets as well. And she walks past a few huts which are being quickly occupied.

“ Ni Enakku Utavi Seyava?” (Will You Help Me?) she asks a man standing on a small platform, stripped down naked, all but for his loincloth covering his private parts. He has a build of a fighter, and his body has thus become his mating call.

“Illai,” He says looking at her just fleetingly for a second. He chooses to reject her. But it is only the first time.

“ Ni Enakku Utavi Seyava?” she asks again.

“Illai,” he says calmly, looking beyond Siriamma to perhaps find someone more attractive or worthy.

“ Ni Enakku Utavi Seyava?” she says again, although she knows he is the least bit interested in her.

“Illai,” he says and steps down the platform and walks past her. Siriamma turns to the next lane, from where the voices come from. She walks past a couple of men, playing the flutes, and finds it futile to even walk up to them. Towards the turn of the lane, she finds a man singing, and approaches him just moments before a plump woman walking aimlessly tries her fortune.

“ Ni Ennaku Utavi Seyava?” she asks him one part shy and one part agitated.

Kadavulin Kuzhanthai – The Man Above The Sin – Opesh Lingan

Right after I sprinkled that freezing water on my naked body, I knew I had to unburden myself of this sin forever. It was essential that by the daybreak, I cleared it out, not just for myself and Chitra, but for our own joyous journey forward. After dressing up, a fresh pair of clothes from my satchel serving the purpose, I walked to the temple town, along with some twenty men. Most of these men were weak and fragile for some reason. And yet they were intent on returning back to their native places by the daybreak. In this regard, I gave myself a period of four hours to find someone. I needed to catch the train which went back home, at seven in the morning, at the nearest railway station, which was a hundred miles away.

I walked to the end of the lane and waited for the women to come. The singing started, the dancing started, and the air thickened with feverish anticipation. Women, young and old, petite and tall, beautiful and moderate, came around. We were prohibited to talk to them or approach them out of our turn. We were just there to respond to any woman who came to us. I chose a place which was near a singer, who was singing at the top of his voice. Obviously, my logic was that most women would come this way, and I had a better chance to be done with it. As it so happened, this logic crossed the mind of many others as well, and around twenty men flocked around the singer. The singer observed this, broke away from us, and perched himself over a wall, and started singing. He wasn’t the only singer, and we were a bunch of men, who weren’t blessed with these talents. So latching for support somewhere else was the only thing we could do. I waited near a haystack, for any woman to come. After about half an hour of waiting, a woman walked up to me, an ageing woman actually, and said,

“ Ni Enakku Utavi Seyava Babu?” (Will You Help Me Son?) she said. I looked at her, for a moment appalled at her age and the thing she uttered. She was clearly the age of my mother. Somewhere in her sixties. She wore a cotton saree draped loosely around her chest, and nothing underneath it. She had tied her hair into a bun and filled her arms with bangles all across her forearms. I took a moment to think about her, reminding myself that I had to go back to Chitra. To a life that awaited me, one which was devoid of curses and regrets. I stood up, and took the woman’s hand, and walked her to the nearest vacant hut, as the singing continued outside. There was only one logic to everything. All the men here were Gods. Born out of Gods, we were Gods in ourselves. We were the Saami’s with the virtue of being Sami Pillai. And Gods were immortal and ageless.

1972, Marichengodu, Tamil Nadu – They Say The Gods Will Take Care Of Me, They Say Everyone Is A God Here

Siriamma approaches the singer. She asks the singer to help her. He nods immediately and stops singing. Then she confirms his caste. The singer, a dark and tall man, holds Siriamma’s hand, to her appalling jolt of reality. He looks at her with an assuring smile and guides her inside one of the huts, and bolts the door from inside. There is a lantern lit at the corner, which the tall man walks to, and gently reduces the flame to be barely visible. He asks Siriamma to remove her clothes, as he starts doing his. In a moment of angst and shame, Siriamma finds her eyes welled up with tears of guilt. Involuntarily, she sits down on the ground, looking at the floor, and hoping intently that she wakes up from this nightmare. But come what may, she can’t shake off the image of a tall and dark man standing in front of her, utterly naked, and his penis firmly erect. She curses herself, and her tears turn into wailing cries.  The tall man walks to her and sits cross-legged before her, his penis still protruding up. He holds her hand and guides it over his penis. She can feel the softness and the hardness and realizes that there is no way out. She will be exiled out of her home if she can’t bear a child. Her husband, although a loving person, has failed over their consummation. And yet the blame is hers, and so is the punishment. Her thoughts wander to her wedding night, four years earlier, as the tall man in the present, starts removing her bangles.

After a lifetime of moments, she comes to terms with what is happening around her. She realizes that the tall man has managed to pull up her Sari, and is reaching out to her thighs. She hears Avva and her instructions in her minds voice. She pulls out the auspicious gender confirming black thread from her waistline clothing. She shows it to the tall man and asks him to tie it to the stem of the penis. Although he looks surprised, he knows better than to agitate and leave this woman. He is looking to get the job finished. He ties the thread on his penis and gets ready to embrace her. The thoughts of her horrors come rushing back to Siriamma and she starts crying profusely. The tall man holds her thighs firmly and tries to push in, but she is too adamant at this point, and therefore too closed out. Her cries escalate in their pitch, and he starts to feel offended. He stops acting on her further and asks her the problem. Siriamma can only weep in reply. The tall man sits there silently for a moment and stares at her.

Finally, he realizes that she is not the partner which will unburden him. He gets off, wears his clothes and walks out of the hut. There is still time for him to find someone else before the dawn, he thinks to himself, as he starts singing again.

Kadavulin Kuzhanthai – The Man Before The Ageless – Opesh Lingan

I was done. Long before. In my thoughts for Chitra, I was done. And for the old lady sitting before me, in her naked form, I literally had nothing to allow. We both were naked, and sitting for my penis to somehow get magically stiff. The old lady tried caressing it and flicking it up and down, but it remained unmoved. All I could think was of Chitra, and yet the arousal didn’t happen. Finally, after a good ten minutes, I felt something solid in my crotch, and I quickly stiffened it up. The old woman asked me to lay flat on the ground and climbed up on me. I closed my eyes, hoping it could be done with. As my manhood started wobbling again, I needed to do something before it was too late. And I did. I inserted my penis into the old woman and repeatedly thrust it inside. Although I was inside her, I could feel nothing. I could feel neither the happiness nor the moistening. Everything was dry and barren.

Chitra. I thought of her, like never before. Imagined her in all ways. Remembered the first time I touched her breasts on that full moonlight. And she was the only one helping me here. I brought everything I had in making love with the old woman. And moments of agony slowly started to become something hopeful. In moments to follow, I had managed to do my part. In the next hour to follow, we twirled and twisted to ensure a consummation. The multiple insertions tired the both of us and left us panting. Neither of us spoke a word to one another, and stared at the roof, clearly relieved at what had happened. Her hand still rested upon my crotch, as if she wasn’t done yet. However, I was. I had unburdened myself. I lay straight without flinching and thought only about getting up and walking out of the hut. Once I had the energy to do so, I would do so. I still had the time to catch my train back to Madras. I didn’t afford to look at the old woman beside me again. I could not find Chitra in her for any reason. Hence, I lay there promising myself that the knowledge of this incident would remain buried deep inside my heart, and no one would know about it, ever.

1972, Marichengodu, Tamil Nadu – They Say Everyone Is A God Here, They Say The Cost of A Curse Is A Lifetime

Siriamma walked out of the hut with agony in her heart. The whole world became a dizzying blur to her. Voices, drum beats, flute notes, lanterns, smells and scents, everything about the place made her nauseated. Her head throbbed with pain, as she walked, looking dead straight into the darkness beyond the lanes. She walked and walked, until her stomach pained of sadness, and she vomited near the well. The sickness in her stomach quickly spread to her heart and mind. She wobbled through the stony pathway ahead. And she walked away. Outside the town. Mindful of her price she had to pay to not bear a child, she walked away. Remembering everything that would happen to her once she was confirmed a barren woman, she walked away. At the edge of the town, Avva waited for her arrival.

As Avva saw a faint figure of a woman walking towards her, her joy knew no bounds. After the ordeal of four years, she could finally see some hope. She clasped her hands and prayed loudly to Lord Ardhanareeswara to have blessed her family with a hope to continue their legacy. The riches and the familial treasures could now be passed on to the next heir. Little did she know that her dreams and aspirations were still only those. Her daughter in law had walked away. As Siriamma came to Avva, the grandmother hugged her lovingly. The sacrifice of femalehood to a stranger was a sacrifice beyond any explanation or reckoning. And her daughter-in-law had done the impossible.

1973, Karuveppampatti, TamilNadu – They Say I Am Barren, They Say I Am Cursed

The local doctors and practitioners confirmed it. Siriamma remained childless even after four months of the festival. Slowly, the truth did come out. Siriamma could not sleep with a stranger during the Chariot festival. The family and their standing suddenly came into question from everyone in the village. The taunts and insults, the whispers and rumours, started flowing in more frequently through the teak door of their household. In no time, everything overwhelmed them and Avva decided to move the family to Karuveppampatti. And what was feared happened eventually. Siriamma was exiled to a hut on the outskirts of the village, to spend the rest of the life by herself. One fine moonless night, all ties between Siriamma and her marital family was cut off forever.

From the late, 1973, Siriamma stayed alone. Every night, she would try to remember the fateful night when she chose not to sleep with a stranger. She imagined different things which could have happened. She would smile to herself, thinking of a baby in her arms, and her family showering her and the baby with endless love. Slowly, her being ostracized started affecting her mind. She started talking to herself, her imagination became her only solace. And she started to think of ways to earn her family back. In this pursuit, as a year passed, she realized that the only way of gaining her place back would be when she knocked at their door, carrying a child.

And so started doing what she feared most. She started visiting The Chariot festival every year. And yet every year she passed the next months with no hope. She realized that she was indeed barren, her heart knew that, but she was so trampled by destiny that her mind refused to accept this. Year after year she would visit the Temple town, trying to find the man who could truly impregnate her. As she grew old and dreary, lesser men came to her. But she would approach the men who stood alone in the corners, unsure about anything that was happening. Young men who came here to unburden themselves of the sins of their birth. Young men, like the one lying beside her many ages later, who could not even afford to look at her. Perhaps, they needed to be somewhere else, she would amuse herself with the possibility of their stories. Perhaps they needed to be with someone else. She prayed to Lord Ardhanareeswara to grant them wonderful lives, something she could not have ever. Ironically, she now understood that her fate was always being exiled. Even if the tall dark man, did enter her, nothing would’ve changed. She was barren. And perhaps truly, she was cursed.

The Closure of the Chariot Festival By Tamil Nadu State Government – Inputs By Profs Jyothi Murugan and Ramakanth Murugan

As it were, the radical festival of free sexual practices got noticed for its notoriety and anti-social establishments. In 1999, Human Rights Watch appealed to the Madras High Court to formulate a 7 bench commission to facilitate the closure and banning of The Chariot Festival. Special care was appealed towards abolishing these sexual practices, where the affidavit claimed them “Violent, Disgraceful to the Society, And Anti-Social in their existence”. The bench headed by Judge Venkataramana Iyer proceeded the claim against the Temple authorities in early 2002 and effectively abolished the age-old practices being taken up under the pretext, of the festival of Lord Ardhanareeswara. His findings read in the following manner,

“An age-old machinery today threatens to disturb the valid and normal living of modern society in and around the regions of the State of Tamil Nadu. Our findings, as presented to the honourable High Court, specifically state that the sexual predation occurring within the premises of Temple of Lord Ardhanareeswara has been provoking violent and unfavourable growth within the region. This not only puts the glorious culture of the statehood in a position of shameful stance but threatens to disturb the very fabric of well-being and collective growth of a community within the state. We may recommend the Honorable High Court to accept our findings, and concern itself with remedial action in protecting the integrity and honour of the state’s culture and tradition in a progressive manner”.