Today, Lust as a word, bodily sensation, and embodiment is one of the most condoned, shunned, shamed, silenced, unspoken, salivated, perverted, artificialized, materialized, sexualized and objectified experience of human life and at the same time, the most visibly marketed, sold, manipulated, fashioned, sanctioned expression in the world! In many ways, Lust as an entity and energy has lost its body and it lurks in the dark, dingy, desolate, depressed, repressed, regressed, frustrated, fallen, lonely alleys of human mind in the companionship of fantasy, greed, aggression, anger, betrayal, deceit – suffering without a name, voice, expression and love!
As I reflect and hold space for the power of these words that have flowed through me in one uninterrupted flow today, March 22nd – I also grapple with the disappearing reality of a beautiful sacred ritual of North Malabar (Kannur area – where I come from) that held in its enactment the revival of Lust as an energy, entity and physical body within a sacred, open, earth-based container. I am talking about the North Malabar Pooram that falls in resonance with the onset of Spring in the North Malabar region.
Today is the 7th day of the 9 day long North Malabar Pooram festival.
It ritually celebrated the revival of Bodily Lust and Sexual Passion in the bringing back to life the masculine energy of Kamadevan by the young unmarried maidens of the land in the form of dolls made of cowdung and mud – decorated, celebrated, and prayed to for the sustenance of creation. I first researched and documented this earth-based indigenous festival and ritual from the matrilineal descent of North Malabar as part of my research study on ‘Female Sexuality within the matrilineal Nayar family structure of North Malabar’ that later got published into the book, ‘Rising Daughter, Silent Mother, Fading Grandmothers’. The Pooram Ritual offers many deep insights into the earth-based spirituality of the land of India that over thousands of years has undergone intense shifts and changes bringing in the more puritan ideologies, narratives of shame, masculine takeover and negation of natural bodily transitions and hence, making way for sexual abuse, violence, rape, and many such incidents.
The story of Kama-devan has been of particular interest to me and the meanings have shifted as I have gone deeper into the research. In my interpretation – Kama is the masculine energy of lust and the other half of this energy is Rathi – feminine energy of intense love, passion. Together these energies move creation into its many unfolding as they hold space and invoke lust and love in life for the sustenance of creation. In the old earth-based spirituality of India, Kama was celebrated, revived and acknowledged in springtime as the energy in nature that moved life into consummation at the physical plane and new life sprung forth sustaining the uninterrupted flow of life on planet earth. For Example: Holi was one such festival in the older folk tradition of India directly connected to Kama and celebration of Lust and Passion.
In a normal worldly flow of life, creation of new life is a natural step forward. Just pure experience of Love without any traces of lust is incapable of bringing bodies together in consummation. Lust plays a vital role in nature and is a close companion and aids Prakruthi or Shakti in the execution and sustenance of that Organic Circle of Life.Today Lust is plastered as bad -sinful experience and is just not discussed openly anywhere in our homes, schools, spirituality. It is the most repressed, supressed sensation of human body, and hence, most agitated and prominent as well.
Many raised as Indian might be familiar with the mythology of Shakti and Shiva, and the burning of Kamadevan to ashes by SHiva. That mythology holds in itself some of the deepest wisest unveiling of natural flow of life in its wholeness, and is of particular interest to us in today’s world as once again Lust stands burnt to ashes but for different reasons than represented in the mythology.
Shiva, Shakti and Annihilation of Kama from the Physical Body
First, I would like to share my particular interpretation of Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is not the Masculine or Male but the Super Spacious Consciousness that is devoid of gender and at the same time holds both male and female as a gender within its expansiveness as Shakti or the Great Mother or Prakruthi – She who nurtures the Illusion of form and its many diversities and also, the one who can snap you out of it. All life unfolds in Shiva as a pure witness and space holder – not a participant. That is why this quote of Yoga Vashista makes so much sense to me now – “When the apparently transformed becoming resorts to or rests on that being which has not undergone any modification, the former is freed from sorrow.” That being is Shiva!
Parvathy the mortal body form of Shakti sought her deepest wakeful-Self or Shiva, and in her awakening – the physical body of Lust got destroyed as is a natural happening! Anyone who has experienced the state of pure Bliss or Shiva – even for a few seconds – knows that no sexual experience can come anyway close to it, and in many ways that experience also, burns to ashes Lust – sometimes for good and sometimes temporarily. Now that really puts a pause on creation in every way if everyone where to burn to ashes Lust and be awakened. See now that is also, the drama of life!
However, life needs to go one and thus Shakti cognizes a way for Kama to be remembered and re-membered in the hands of young unmarried maidens and at the same time, transfer Kama into their bodies (as the bodies of Rathi – maybe) for the sustenance of life again. This act revived the circle of life and life continued once again! Of course, you may find these as my own interpretation and to me it makes more sense than every other interpretation I have read or been told. Even more so, this is more healing, natural and apt in many ways!
How did the Young Maidens Revive the Body-less Kama?
For nine days towards the onset of spring, the young maidens of marriageable age made physical dolls of Kamadevan using the mixture of cow-dung, ashes and mud. All the body parts of Kamadeven were represented using fresh blooming sweet-smelling flowers of spring. I am sure in the olden days when body was not remembered with shame – the sexual parts must have also been made consciously. In fact, different flowers were specifically designated in their role for different parts of the body.
“In the first 3 days, the dolls are made and placed next to the taravad well or pond, symbolizing the outside; the next 3 days they are prepared and placed at the far end of the courtyard; and the last 3 days the dolls are made and placed inside the courtyard, making it seem as if Kamadevan is slowly walking toward the house.” – Excerpt from Rising Daugher, Silent Mother, Fading Grandmothers
On the 10th day or even the 9th day, one Big Kamadevan doll was made primarily of Mud.All the dolls were placed on banana leaves.
Everyday of the 9 to 10 days- at Dawn and Dusk – the young girls bathed, dressed in fresh clothes and offered – “water, freshly plucked spring flowers and special steamed dumplings made of rice, jaggery and freshly desiccated coconut wrapped in jackfruit leaves”- to the dolls in the companionship and guidance of the older women folk – mothers, grandmothers, aunts and more. In fact, only the leaves of milk-secreting tree’s (Jackfruit, Pala tree) were used; a conscious emphasis on milk-secreting tree – one of the most significant expressions of life-bearing in mammals. Traditional Nillvillaku or Lamp of Kerala was lit. Then women ululated loudly – their voices echoing across the landscape of North Malabar – bringing in a sense of grounded-ness and remembrance of the revival of Kamadevan!
On the last day all the dolls were placed on traditional Indian village sieves carried by several women folk of the household and a procession was taken around the house led by the matriarch of the family – celebrating, ululating, bells sounding, singing. Three Circumbulations were made around the house and finally, all the items were placed under a Milk-Secreting Tree be it Jackfruit or Pala and the women sang out loud to the Kamadevan in local tongue expressing sadness on his departure and asking him to come back again the following year – faster and sooner – with remembrance! With that the ritual of Pooram came to a close and life in its most beautiful expression bloomed across the landscape of North Malabar.
Note: This particular Pooram festival in North Malabar was akin to the celebrations and symbolism associated with the Thiruvathira ritual in South Kerala. Also documented in the book.
It is my thought that, in those days that these rituals were enacted in its wholeness on the land of North Malabar, nature itself would have invoked longing, love and lust in the physical bodies of lovers – many consummations might have happened then.
Sharing with you some pictures I found on the net – thanks to some North Malabar enthusiasts. I am hoping that in the coming years we do more conscious revival of the ritual in Kerala with conversations around body, sexuality, lust, love and intimacy!
What Meaning do these Rituals Hold in our Modern Times
In the busy-ness of our rushed global existence, these rituals are fading away, disappearing and more puritan versions of these festivals are emerging as we ourselves as a human race are getting more and more disembodied, disconnected and displaced around our relationship with body and sexuality as a natural feeling versus those we see, read, hear, learn from around us. The body-less Kama is unseen, un-celebrated, un-revered and the way it moves is through the never-ending unsatisfied fantasies of the mind – like a wrath on life. We have lost our language around lust. We have even lost our natural embodiment of lust.
Can these rituals be re-enacted with more conscious meanings, reverence and sacredness! Can these rituals re-create space for our conversations around lust, the body and physical sensations!
I leave you with these thoughts.Also, encourage you to follow my work at shestandstall.com (Facebook page: The She Stands Tall Project)
For more detailed descriptions of the various flavours of this ritual as narrated by the Nair Grandmothers of North Malabar, get a copy of the book: Rising Daughter, Silent Mother, Fading Grandmothers
Rekha Govindan Kurup is a social artivist, spiritual feminist and co-director and founder of She Stands Tall Project LLP. She has a M.A in Women’s Spirituality from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California (one of the only two schools in the world that offers a academic pedagogy in women’s spirituality and both are located in Northern California).