War Festival of Kerala - Chittur Konganpada
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Chittur Konganpada is the only war festival in Kerala. It is celebrated every year in Chittur Desam, which is a small Town in Palakkad district of Kerala, South India. It’s about 14 Kms from Palakkad Town towards the south east border of Tamil Nadu. The historical events of Konganpada date back to 918 CE. It’s based on the victory of Chittur Nairs over the Kongan or the King of Kongunadu (which is the present Coimbatore, Salem and neighboring areas). It is said that Mother Goddess of Chittur saved her people by killing the powerful king of Kongunadu. The two week festivities are in remembrance of series of events that happened a century ago.
The festival starts on the first Monday that succeeds the full Moon in the month of Kumbham, Malayalam Calendar (during March-April). The King of Kongunadu always had an eye on the wealth and prosperity of Chittur and Kerala. Tamil Merchants would trade their chilies, shallots and coriander in exchange for the paddy, pepper, ginger and areca nut (commonly called betel nut) of Kerala. That year as they came to trade, while crossing the river to Chittur due to floods most of their food items got washed away and many of the merchants died. As they returned to their place with very little profit, they feared strict punishments from their king. To escape from the punishments, they told a false story that the Chittur Nairs looted them and killed many. The Kongan King on hearing this decided to attack Chittur and gave an ultimatum.
Afraid of the war the Chittur Nairs approached the Mother Goddess at the temple and prayed for her protection. The Mother Goddess revealed in front of them and agreed to lead the warriors. Those days Chittur women practiced Kalaripayattu and so insisted that they too will join the war dressed as men to save their land. This custom continues till date. On Konganpada day, little girls dressed as boys and boys dressed as girls join the procession along with Bhagavathy.
The war festival is celebrated even now with great pomp and show in Chittur Desam.The four Nairs/Menons families are entitled to oversee the celebrations and physically be present for all the important rituals. They are the Karanavars (elders) of the Ambat, Thachat,Ezhuvath and Porayath family.
It starts on the Maha Sivarathri night. The four Karanavars assemble at the KALARI (gymnasium) of an ancient family called Sreekandath. It is in remembrance of the first letter received from the Kongan King warning them of the attack on Chittur and their seeking the protection of the Mother Goddess.
Following that an astrologer from the PARAYA SAMUDAYA in the presence of the four Nair Karanavars throws a bell at a designated mantapa to predict the status of Chittur people for the coming year. This is assumed to be done to predict the outcome of war those days.
The preceding Friday of Konganpada, the Kodiyettam is done at the Temple. Dhwaja stambha is indicating the readiness of war. Boys (aged 10-12 yrs.) dressed as model fighter corps get prepared for the war and proceed to the battle ground along with Bhagavathy saying loudly "oh hoy oh hoy". There is excitement in the air with the hope of victory.
Then follows the Paanan Paatti Vela, and Asari Vela. These were captured unknown people in the Desom whose statements are taken at Chambath house to make sure they are not spies.
Arathi Kavu theendal
This happens early morning on Konganpada Day in connection with the letter message received and dropped at the temple steps.
Main Konganpada day
It is celebrated on Monday followed by Kummatti. 101 traditional gunfire salutes is given to goddess. It indicates showing respect to the goddess and informing neighboring Desam. Morning procession of elephants along with Panchavadya (5 Instrumental Beats) and Bhagavathy starts from Vettakkorumakan temple and reaches the Mother goddess temple .
It’s the evening procession on Konganpada day which is the main attraction of this festival. The goddess idol is in the front followed by three elephants decorated with Nettipattom and goddess Thidambu (model of Goddess image made in heavy metal) being carried on elephant back, various groups of people decked in war like outfits, various Kathakali characters carried on wooden planks (Thattinmel Koothu),boys dressed as girls and girls dressed as boys being carried on Father's or Uncle's shoulders followed by Panchavadyam. Large crowds on streets and people on rooftops watch the beautiful procession as the setting sun adds colour and light to the events. This procession culminates at Bhagavathy temple.
The same night Olavayana happens. A member of Chittadathu family dressed as Kongan travels to Temple on a vehicle (earlier it used to be on horseback )and reads the script announcing the war. Then war like scenes are played, by horses and buffaloes running amok on streets. People carry wooden head of a Buffalo saying Kongan's buffalo is killed. There is a saying that Mother goddess challenged Kongan to jump high above the Peepal tree and midway she killed him by her sword. Kattil Savam which literally means dead bodies are carried on cots are also displayed.
That night around 2 am, a procession of goddess reaches the temple to mark the victory (this is called Ravela) and gunfire salute is given to the goddess.
Next day morning, the king of Palakkad comes to visit Chittur to check the aftermath of the war. A person from the Chambath family represents the King and from the Acuvath family represents the chief minister.
Malama & Theyyattum
Wednesday morning, it's time to rejoice with dance and songs by praising Ganapathy, Lord Shiva, Mother Goddess and Bootha ganas.
Following Tuesday, four Menons pay their respect and gratitude to the Mother goddess and submit the accounts. Pallu is in connection with Chakkiliyar Samudaya devotees who offered goddess whatever non vegetarian items they had and ever compassionate Mother accepted it .
Thus is the replay of historical events that happened centuries ago. Its celebrated by all religious denominations in Chittur and everyone without any caste bias worships Chittur Amma and she blesses all her devotees with great compassion.
Truly a festival for all and by all the people of Chittur.
1. Shri.P.R..Menon, Kongappada,
2. Malayalam Manorama Article “Chittur Kavu Bhagavathy Kshetram Konganpada Innu” dated March 8th 2010 by Chittur M Ramachandran & K. Praveen Chittur
3. Oral tradition- as told by my mother who had witnessed this festival