Stories From Kaattu Punjai: Angalamma

Many spirits came flooding near the temple ground as the drum beat heightened. They were deities from far and near, some visiting Kaattu Punjai for the first time, some regular visitors to the village festival; there were spirits of dead people that appeared every year to commune with their dear ones. They all crowded twenty meters above the ground looking out for suitable mediums. Angalamma, the famous goddess who came from the farthest, stayed aloof from the others.

***

Amudha wiped clean the bowl of rice and ladled lamb curry to the plate, the only leftovers of the elaborate meal that she cooked through the morning. Her legs ached from long hours in the kitchen, eyes were red with lack of sleep (she had stayed up the whole of previous night till early hours of morning watching the street play). She sat in the shade of the mango tree and ate her lunch. The food gave her a new strength and the drum beat in the temple coursed through her blood. She hastily cleaned the kitchen, and left for the temple ground.

Aatha , the village deity, bathed in sandal paste and turmeric water, was dressed in silk and adorned by strands of jasmines and tuber roses whose fragrance filled the air. The heat of the afternoon was overbearing, the villagers felt drowsed by the drum beat till women randomly got into trance. Their limbs became stiff and the voices soared high demanding attention from the people gathered.  The priest waving bunch of neem leaves and throwing puffs of sacred ash loudly interrogated the spirits, the villagers gathered around him. And Amudha was just in time to watch the spectacle.

***

The priest shook Amudha’s shoulder and asked, who are you?

I am Angalamma from Kanchipuram.

The priest incanted: Tell us, will there be enough rains?
Tell us, will we have a good harvest this year?
Tell us, will we carry out duties towards gods and ancestors rightly?

***

Amudha woke up, tasting bitter in her mouth. She spat out saliva when her brother said, this is what happens when you eat neem leaves. From where did Angalamma from Kanchipuram search out for you.

She tied her disheveled hair into a bun and went into kitchen to light the stove. Washing the rice and putting it to boil she asked, did the priest ask Angalamma when my husband will come to take me with him?   Angalamma is my husband’s family deity, she must know.

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