The art of shadow puppetry in Kerala is known as Tholpava koothu, it is one of the oldest art forms in the region and has many interesting stories woven around its origins. We found one during a recent trip to Kerala that Dr Jayarajan who runs a centre for folklore studies in the Kasargod district told us about. This story traces its origins to the Pulavar community, the community that holds the knowledge and still practices the art of shadow puppetry, although it is fast disappearing from public spaces.
In the kingdom of Danavas, Darika was known for his ferocious temper and for the boon of immortality that he had wrested from the great Brahma after a long and arduous penance. Brahma had granted Darika the boon that no god or man would be able to kill him and that every drop of his blood that fell to the ground would lead to the birth of hundreds of Darikas. He could be slayed only by a woman.
Born to Darumathy, Darika grew extremely arrogant in his power and attacked the Devas. He entered Devalok and then stormed into Kailasa. Shiv was furious and to bring about his end created Bhadrakali from his third eye (it is said she incarnated from his eye on a Tuesday afternoon). Bhadrakali set about her mission as soon as she was born, with the leader of forest ghosts and spirits, Vetalam in tow, she attacked the demon and beheaded him. And as the blood dripped off his torso, she licked it before it could fall on to the ground.
However, even after Darika was killed, Bhadrakali’s thirst for blood was not appeased and she went on a killing spree. The gods ran to Shiva for help. He tried to convince her to stop but when everything failed, he lay down on the ground and said, “Daughter dance upon my naked body and release your anger.” That worked and Bhadrakali’s terrifying rampage came to an end as did the reign of Darika.
In another version, Bhadrakali failed to kill Darika in her first attempt and so she approached his wife Manodari who knew the secret mantra that Brahma has given her husband. Bhadrakali tricked her into revealing the mantra and went into the battlefield, but when Manodari found out, she obtained a bucket of Parvati’s sweat and threw it on Bhadrakali at which she was instantly covered with sores all over her body. Shiva then created a being out of his earwax called Ghantakarnan who licked the sores off her body, however he was too embarrassed to lick her face and hence Bhadrakali’s face is still marked with spots (like a small pox infestation).
This story is performed and sung as Darikavadham (the legend of Darika’s killing) in various parts of Kerala as an offering to the goddess Bhagavathy. In later years, the worship of Bhadrakali has been merged with that of Bhagavathy.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
SOURCE: South Asian Folklore, An Encyclopaedia; Edited by Margaret Mills, Peter Claus and Sarah Diamond
LOCATION: Tamil Nadu