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WHEN the Tamil-speaking Vaeddas are about to leave their village on a hunting-trip they erect under a Velan tree, the tree whose wood is always used for arrows, a little shrine termed kuḍāram, like those of the Kiri-Ammā, a rectangular structure supported by four upright sticks set in the earth, with the floor of the shrine about three feet off the ground. The top is usually arched over, and the inside is lined with white calico. In it are laid the bright yellow flowers of the Raṇawarā bush (Cassia auriculata) and those of the Red Lotus (Nelumbium speciosum), with two wicks soaked in oil or fat in front of them.
On the ground immediately in front of the shrine, resting on a white cloth, are placed a small ' chatty' or earthen pot, holding rice boiled in Coconut milk, and in two circles round it seven small earthen vessels (kuncaṭṭi) and seven larger ones (mancatti) containing the other usual cooked food as offerings-meat, cakes, etc. Round these are thirty nuts of the Areka palm, laid on thirty leaves of the Betel vine. Water is sprinkled over these articles and in front of the shrine, obeisance is paid to the offering, and the dedication is complete.
The wicks are now lighted, and the officiator, an ordinary villager acquainted with the service, dances in front of the offering, holding a flower-staff, called mugura, in his right hand. He is dressed in a good white cloth, and has a headdress of the same yellow and red flowers as those in the shrine, which covers the whole top of his head. The mugura is a stick, eighteen inches long, covered over with the same kinds of flowers, and having a looped handle in the middle, so that it may be held horizontally without touching the flowers.
He then chants in a Sinhalese doggerel some words the meaning of which he, being acquainted only with Tamil, does not comprehend, although he knows that he is asking
for deer. The purport, as nearly verbatim as I could follow them, is :
"Pāta tantāna thanum! Om! Tāna tantāna ! I have placed for you a gift, cooked food, Deity of the Country [Decamu Hura]. Tāna tantāna tana! Stopping a Sambar deer at the place where it is to be killed, O Protector and Friend of Dharma, at the corner where the Sambar is shot with an arrow make it over to us. When the Sambar has fallen
make over three more to us."
These men ask for no other animals but Sambar deer. After the celebrant has again danced before the offerings, he sits down cross-legged in front of them, holding the mugura vertically, and makes 'dabs' at, or points it at, the seven smaller vessels one by one. He then sets it upright in the middle of the milk rice.
The God now says in Tamil by the mouth of the celebrant :'Go ye! To whatever place you go, you will overcome the thing encountered." The food is then eaten by the hunting party at the site of the ceremony. On their return no further offering is presented.
In case of sickness, the Lord of the Hills is again appealed to. The officiator, the interested relative of the patient, proceeds to the front of the temple, and stands erect there, facing the doorway; in his outstretched right hand he holds horizontally an arrow, near the butt-end, just beyond the feathers, with its point towards the doorway. He then says, "Lord God (Andavana Swami)! Hill-Lord! By this, as it is brought and held in the hand, health must go (to the sick person)." He at once leaves without awaiting any intimation of the result of this order-or perhaps request, as the word which expresses an imperative 'must' is also used, as in Sinhalese, with the meaning 'hoping that (something) will occur.'
The Village Vaeddas of the interior appeal in a similar manner to the same deity for the cure of sickness, carrying with them their bow at the time. They admitted to me, with a laugh, that holding the arrow with its point towards the shrine had the appearance of a threat; but the God is thought to be so powerful that probably this is not their intention.
Those in the south prepare a little shrine, like that already described, under a shady tree, and offer inside it cooked rice, pieces of Coconut if available, a small cake made of rice-flour, and a little meat, these foods being purified by lustration of water; one lighted wick is fixed in front of the offering.
The officiator holds an arrow upright in his right hand, and while repeating his prayer to the God for the removal of the sickness makes little cuts with it at the rice, believing that as he cuts it the sickness passes into the rice. At the conclusion of the offering, a ceremonial dance is performed by the celebrant, in front of the shrine, holding the arrow in his hand.
Now comes the peculiar part of the ceremony. Although the sickness is supposed to have been communicated to the rice, it is thought that a ceremonial sprinkling of water over the latter will drive it out again. This is now done, and the food having been thus purified is divided among the persons who are presenting the offering and the patient, and is eaten together with the other things offered.
This ceremony is called the Gale-Yak-maḍuwē bat pūjāwa, 'the Offering of the Rice of the Galē Yakā's Shed,' the shed being the shrine. Similar dances and offerings are customary in the neighbouring parts of Uva.
The Vaeddas of the interior and their Sinhalese neighbours also dance to the Gale Yaka and his wife the Kiri-Ammā, in order to avert apprehended epidemic disease, or misfortune. This is before the occurrence of the sickness or bad-luck; after the sickness has set in the village becomes ceremonially impure, and it is held by them to be imperative that no dance to the God should take place within its boundary, which includes all the neighbouring jungle. The dance, which is usually performed once or twice a year, and preferably, by those who keep an account of the days of the week, on a Saturday or Sunday, is commonly executed under an Ironwood tree (Na, Messua ferrea) when it is in flower, or a Banyan tree (Nuga, Ficus indica).
The dancer, a professional devil-priest, or a Vaedda, significantly termed Deyiyanne Kapuwa, 'the Devil-priest of the
God,' is dressed in a white cloth, and has a red handkerchief wrapped over his head. He also wears several bead necklaces, and any kind of bangles that his small store can furnish. If a Sinhalese man, he holds in his right hand a small awudē, literally weapon,' a stick roughly shaped like an arrow; if a Vaedda an arrow is held by him.
He now becomes 'possessed' by the God (mayanwelā, in Sinhalese), after which everything he does or says is supposed to be the action or speech of the deity himself. While dancing in front of the shrine containing the offerings, he chants verses in honour of the two deities who are being worshipped. The usual food offerings made at such ceremonies are presented, the dance being begun after the two lights which are placed in front of the offerings have expired. Tom-toms are also beaten as an accompaniment by those who have them.
But the special place for such dances to the God of the Rock, for the Vaeddas particularly, and also for the Sinhalese who live near them, is on the summit of precipitous crags on or near the top of certain hills of the district, on which this form of worship has been performed from ancient times. On these they dance once a year to ensure the general prosperity of the district. The Officiator, the Deyiyannē Kapuwā, is accompanied in the Vaedda ceremony by any two men as assistants, who alone climb up onto the rock with him. Among the neighbouring Sinhalese the assistants are the washerman who washes the Kapuwa's clothes, and the smith who made the God's emblem; the former stays at the foot of the crag, and the latter alone goes with the dancer to the summit. The three persons wear no special head-covering, but each one has a handkerchief on it, and is dressed in the Sinhalese ceremony in a clean white cloth. In the Vaedda ceremony, I was assured that each one is dressed in an old torn cloth, and not a new one. It appears to represent the traditional dress of their ancestors.
The dancer carries up the symbol of the God, which is not an arrow, as one would expect, but a short-handled bill-hook, called a Ran-kaetta, Golden Bill-hook,' in Sinhalese, or Manna-kaetta, in the Vaedi dialect. The latter word probably