Most of you now know that I hail from Palakkad District in Kerala. To be precise, a small village between Ottapalam and Shoranur, the two nearest railway stations. The infinite train journeys to Kerala on-board the Kerala Express or the Mangala Express remain a significant part of my childhood memories. We made a lot of friends. Even though most of those friendships lasted only for those 48-50 hours of journey, many a teenage love stories bloomed and died during this short period of time. Some of these had me as the supporting cast while a few others had me as one of the lead characters. But each one of these died within few minutes of getting off the train while a few others breathed their last only when we found a new crush.
There is another incident, a regular practice during our temple visits, especially Guruvayoor, which I hold very close to my heart. Stirring the manjadikuru at the Shree Guruvayoor Kshetram. The magical little red seeds. It is believed that the seed contains 12 tiny white elephants, considered lucky for a dozen wishes. At Guruvayoor temple, a large ‘ottu uruli‘, a heavy-bottomed vessel, is placed near the entrance to the sanctum of the temple and it is filled with bright red “manjadikuru” seeds. It is believed that the devotee who places his hands in the ‘uruli’ and ploughs or stirs through the seeds three times is cured of all diseases and attains prosperity.
Here’s a story that I read online. A Tale to Tell From Guruvayur
by Anjali Menon. The exact story that was narrated to me by my maternal aunt, Girija Mema.
The origin of this practice lies in folklore of the temple of Guruvayur. According to the story, a peasant woman who lived in the northern province of Kerala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and aspired to someday visit Guruvayur temple. It was customary to bring offerings to the temple, but she was too poor to afford any gifts. She knew of an old tree that shed beautiful shiny red seeds, so she gathered a handful of them. Leaving the safety of her home and loved ones, she set out on her quest to reach Guruvayur. It was a long, perilous journey on foot during which she had to traverse rivers and deep forests.
Four days later she arrived in Guruvayur. Apparently it was the first day of the month, and the local ruler or Naaduvazhi would visit the temple on the first of every month. To display his devotion, he would donate an elephant every month as an offering to Krishna. Officers of the Naaduvazhi cleared people away from the path to make room for the ruler and his elephant. During the procession the women was knocked to the ground, spilling her precious pouch of red seeds on the ground. Immediately the elephant went berserk and began to run wild. People ran for their lives as the mad elephant began to destroy everything in its path. Unable to control the elephant, the Naaduvazhi prayed to Krishna for a solution to this dangerous dilemma. Suddenly a voice was heard from within the temple: “Where is my Manjadikuru? Where is my devotee, who you have insulted and hurt? Where is my gift that she lovingly put together?”
As the story goes, the people apologized to the woman and gathered up her seeds that were scattered on the ground. With her pouch full of seeds she was escorted into the sanctum of the temple. After submission of her offering, the elephant returned to normal. In memory of her offering, even to this day, a large urn of shiny red seeds is kept within the temple.
These are called manjati in Tamil and Gulgangi in Kannada.
We used to have this tree at my paternal grandmother’s (Achamma’s) house and it was customary for us to spend our days at her house picking up Manjadikuru. Whoever managed to pick up the most was considered the richest. In fact, Achan who was always an angry young man too joined us in picking up these seeds, much to the annoyance of Achamma as she had to keep waiting for him to finish playing with me.
While most people land in Kerala to buy latest design gold jewellery or kasavu sarees or enjoy the famous delicacies like puttu kadala, kappa with meen curry, or a sumptuous sadya, I bought two packets of manjadikuru at rupees forty each from Guruvayoor temple on my last visit, about two years ago.
What do you think is on my list for purchasing on my next visit? It is an uruli. Uruli is a traditional cookware extensively used in Southern states of India. It is commonly made of clay, copper and bronze. Amma has inherited a huge Ottu Uruli from her mother and brought it to our house in Delhi. I want an ‘Ottu Uruli’. A bronze one to be kept inside my Pooja room with my collection of manjadikuru, kunnikkuru, kowdi and gomti chakra stones.
Do you know that astrologers across India and probably the world use kowdis for their calculations? Why?
More on this in my next #MythicalMondays post next week, Kowdi and the Panikkar.