Harvesting new crops is always a much-awaited occasion, with many festivals revolving around this event. One such harvest festival celebrated by Kodavas is Puthari (which translates to new rice), and it marks the first harvest of the paddy crop.
Puthari is celebrated in the Kodava month of Birchiyar, which falls in November and December. This year Puthari is on November 30.
“In the past, rice cultivation was what brought prosperity to Kodagu. There are beautiful images in our folk narratives of caravans of oxen, loaded with rice, setting off from ancestral homes to neighbouring regions indicating a thriving rice trade. Puthari celebrates the new crop of rice that promises a year of abundance; it’s a time of thanksgiving, and is the most important festival of the year,” says Kaveri Ponnapa, the author of The Vanishing Kodavas.
On a predetermined day, at a fixed time after dusk, the Nere Kattuvo ceremony is first held, wherein leaves of certain trees are tied together and later placed at different corners of the house. Men in traditional kupya chele and women wearing Kodava saree then go to the paddy field, led by a woman holding a taliyakki bolcha (lamp) under the light of the full moon.
Here the Khadh Edpo ceremony is held. The eldest man of the family called the patedara cuts an odd number of paddy sheaves (khadh) and they return carrying the harvested crop in a kuthi (a sacred bamboo container) while uttering Poli Poli deva — praying for a bountiful year.
The paddy sheaves are placed in front of the nellaki bolcha (sacred lamp) at the ainmane (ancestral home) and people pray for a good harvest. Then two special types of desserts — thambutt (made from roasted rice flour and mashed banana) and rice payasa — are prepared.
The day ends with children bursting firecrackers and a wholesome meal.
Traditionally, Puthari would be followed by week-long celebrations. On the days following Puthari, a few people would go door-to-door visiting every house in the hamlet and sing songs eulogising the family members of that house, beating a dudi (traditional hourglass drum). This formed part of the mane paado (singing at houses) ceremony. Children of the hamlet would tag along with these singers in merriment.
On the last day of the celebrations, people would visit the mandh, the sacred grounds of the village, and men would perform kol aat, a traditional stick dance.
“Rice cultivation is a community-oriented activity — one had to rely on neighbours to help with transplanting and harvesting. So, you find that many of the customs — the dances, feasts, the bringing in of new household implements and so on — are all directed at building solidarity. It’s also a time when we reconnect with our own clans; the dudi patkaras (traditional singers) walk from one ancestral home to another, singing the histories of clans, re-establishing our links with our heritage, and the land,” says Kaveri.
While many Kodavas have moved outside of Kodagu for their careers, Puthari is still celebrated in the same spirit of togetherness. Kodava families in a region get together, and celebrate this festival upholding the traditions.
“Since we stay in Bengaluru, every year on Puthari, we make it a point to go to Bangalore Kodava Samaja, which we regard as our ainmane in the city. There we symbolically harvest some paddy crop and bring back home the paddy sheaves to the tunes of Poli Poli deva,” says Mundanda Sudha Poovaiah, an advocate practicing in Bengaluru.