Winnow magic/Shamanistic experiences in the Malayar tribe of Kerala

This paper discusses the shamanistic experiences of the Malayar tribe, an aboriginal Australoid inhabitant tribe in Trichur and Palakkad districts on the Western Ghats of Kerala, South India. In spite of the effects and imposed changes of ‘development’, the tribe continues its primitive customs and rituals. The magic ritual of ‘Muram kulukki pattu’ (song performance by shaking the winnow basket) for instance, is a shamanistic performance.

Ethnographic details:-

The magic ritual is performed all night by the tribal head/medicine man called Mooppan in the verandah of the house or in the sacred grove of the settlement. This report was first collected from Olana parambu tribal colony at Palappilli range in Trichur District. The performer’s name is Kunjan Narayanan (60). He has been performing this ritual for the last 30 years. It was traditionally handed down to him from his uncle and father. He is an indigenous healer, ethno herbalist and a ‘resource person’ to the honey lore and various tribal indigenous knowledge systems.

The awareness about this performance reached modern researchers and media during the tribal literacy movement from 1994-97. The first report published about this ritual was in the year 1995. The first public performance was recorded in 1995 for a function of the Tribal Literacy Movement. Later I made two visits to this area, for the ethnographic study and for the video documentation in December 2003. I also interviewed in detail the shaman. I have personally seen this performance eight times; it was not contextual.

Trance and medicine:-

This is a curative expulsion performance for different type of diseases, evil spirits and ‘pedi'(fears). The patient sits in front of the shaman performer, who is shaking the ‘winnow’ and the co-performers are singing the chants. The first song is ‘Malamkurathi sthuti’ (offering to the mountain Goddess) and second one is to the spirits of ancestors (Kandamoopan). The thottam songs narrate the tribal myths of Malayar community. During the music chanting performance the shaman comes to a state of trance and one can witness the transformation in his body kinetics. He shows the epileptic and oracle type of shivering movement and completely changing the breathing metabolism ‘rasped and rapid in -out breathing’ (Howard 2002). After a few backward movements he stands up and runs out to the inside of the house where the ancestors are worshipped in the form of a wooden plate. He comes back to normal in front of the shrine in the house.

After the performance, the ‘performer’ claimed that he could see and identify the spirits causing the diseases in the ‘bamboo basket’ and could talk to them during the trance. The spirits suggest to him the treatment and the medicines. After these magic rituals the shaman gives the herbal medicines to the patient. This is an expulsive healing therapy to the pre-modern society.


‘Muram kulukki’ is a magic musical instrument made using the bamboo. In the ‘Muram’ they insert iron rings. During the oral performance the metallic sound accompanies the shaman shaking the instrument with his hands. The chorus are sitting behind or close to the shaman. In the performance, music and trance are co-relative. The sounds animate and articulate the bodyscape of the shaman. Women also participate in the performance. An oilk lamp is placed before the ritual space.

Shamanism and theatre:-

Who is a Shaman? He has the secret knowledge about the ecology of the mountains and has the ability to ‘access the spirit world’. One can study here aspects of performance anthropology in the shamanistic primitive rituals. The performer collects the energy from the spirits and that experience transforms the body of the shaman and he visualises the inner feelings through impulses of the body. The shaman performer’s consciousness is in constant wandering in the metaphysical landscape and he finds solutions to heal and relax the patient. This metempsychosis process is a truly ‘aboriginal’ performance.

Generated from archived content: cfs-article04.html Author: dr-cr-eng



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