Peral, a village in the Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada, Karnataka may be too small to spot on a map, but it is rich in traditions and cultures that have been observed since generations.
According to one of the folk legends the locals believe in, many years ago this village, which is divided into 16 parts (which implied that there were 16 families at the time; there were as many houses in the region), witnessed an ongoing dispute with the neighboring region. A god named ‘Rajan Daiva Ullakulu’ is said to have helped mitigate the situation by promising that he would guard the people's homes and belongings. In addition, he also promised that there would be abundant crop yield, disease-free cattle and a favourable monsoon.
Their unshakeable devotion to this god is demonstrated in their narration of incidents where prayers and rituals helped them recover stolen property or to catch thieves. They describe how, during trying times, the god they believe in has guided them.
Every year on a day in the month of May, the villagers honor the deity. This includes a re-enactment of the story about how Rajan Daiva Ullakulu brought peace to the land. The man who plays the god wears a heavy dress and paint. The locals believe that the holy spirit of the deity enters the body of this villager.
Two pairs of villagers dressed as soldiers fight with cane sticks and shields as an exhibition of true valour and depiction of war, until the deity interrupts them.
Then, marching across fields and areca nut orchards, the procession moves from the 'war zone' to the temple area, where the deity performs a graceful dance.
The first half of the day ends with the villagers offering prayers and seeking blessings, while voicing their concerns to the deity who helps them to find solutions. The day concludes with the re-enactment of a chase sequence that symbolises the chasing out of evil from the village. It takes place outside the temple walls, so that everybody present can enjoy the event.
The scene ends with a dangerous game called ‘Dhoolu Kai’ (which translates to 'dust fruit’), where every house in the village brings two shaved coconuts, while seeking blessings from the deity one last time. Assigned representatives offer the coconuts to the temple and take one of the coconuts back with them as a form of blessings. Once this is done, the whole village — mainly the youth — gathers around the temple and the priests throw the coconuts into the crowd at random. Those who catch the coconuts and break them can take them home.
Many people are inevitably injured during this game. However, it is believed that since they were injured while performing a good deed, a sprinkle of holy water will heal them. Though it is frightening, the game makes for an entertaining watch.
Devotees believe that if they observe this day once every year, Rajan Daiva Ullakulu will be merciful for the days to come, just like he was in Peral many years ago.
A band of musicians and priests marches through the route that the deity will take, to cleanse it before the actual procession.
The gathered villagers wait for the deity to settle down before he can answer their prayers.
Rajan Daiva Ullakulu in full glory, after the age-old story about the conflict between Peral and the neighbouring region and the peace that ensued is enacted.
While the rituals carry on inside the temple walls, a string of ice cream trucks and food hawkers gather outside, keeping the women and chidlren, who were not allowed within the temple premises, busy.
The dance of the deity, which is a teaching about maintaining peace and harmony, attracts the most eyeballs.
The villagers who dress up as the deity belong to the Parava Pambader caste. They have been playing this role for generations now, and believe that tragedy will befall them if the abandon this part in the ritual.
All photographs by Kaveer Rai