Even as the CAA has deepened old faultlines and, communal harmony in many parts of the country is at a low ebb, there has been no abatement in the ritualistic dance of Ayyappa devotees at Vavar mosque in Erumeli, Kerala. The dance of the Sabarimala pilgrims at the mosque of a migrant saint during the annual Madalam-makaravilakku pilgrimage is in the best of syncretic traditions. Erumeli Pettathullal is symbolic of a community united against injustice. After slaying the demonness, Lord Ayyappa is believed to have said: “Unity is the key to social transformation.”
Legend has it that Vavarswami was a Muslim saint who migrated from Arabia to India to spread Islam and became a close associate and later a devotee of Lord Ayyappa. Every year, pilgrims pay homage to Vavarswami at the Vavarpalli (mosque) before they proceed to pray on the hilltop.
The Eurmeli Pettathullal (ritualistic dance) is officially performed by two groups– Ambalappuzha and Aalangatu– while other devotees dance in smaller groups. This year, too, the fabled Erumeli Pettathullal was marked with fervour and amity on January 12.
The Ambalapuzha group under the leadership of Chandrasekharan Nair began from Petta Sasthavu Temple. A divine signal–a Brahminy kite flying overhead– indicates the deity is making its presence felt. A Brahminy kite (Haliastur indus) flew in circles over the temple and the Vavar mosque at the same time.
When the procession entered the Vavar mosque, the office bearers (Mahal Committee members) of the mosque felicitated the Periya Swami by presenting him with a shawl. The group then proceeded to circumambulate the mosque along with Hakkim Madathani, who represents Vavarswami, who accompanied them to the Erumely Sree Dharmasastha Temple, gyrating throughout. The drummers and caparisoned elephants escorted the procession.
Women pilgrims draped in black (Malikappurams) accompanied the group to the temple singing Ayyappa bhajans. In the afternoon, the Alangat group took over.
A sea of people converged at Erumely to witness the iconic Pettathullal which is, as said earlier, symbolic of communal harmony.
Photographs by Rajeev Prasad. Prasad has witnessed and photographed over 20 Erumeli Pettathullals