Memories about souls closer to heart and mostly belonging to family typically revisit Malayalis on the rainy day of Karkidaka Vavu, when the state's Hindus perform a set of forenoon rituals they believe would propitiate their ancestors including late parents and other forefathers. Images of their love and affection would make constant flashbacks in the minds of the doers of the serenely sacrificial 'bali' along the bank of a river or the seashore.
Then, with extreme poignancy, they would clap for a while at the end of the rites marked by symbolic feeding of the deceased amid sights of dollops of white rice spread with sesame on plantain leaves kept by the lit oil-lamp. The repeated sound from the wet hands would invite the vicinity's crows - birds that are conventionally believed to be the form men and woman take after death. It's a concept that poets in the language have penned as a salutary gesture to the near and dear one loses for varied reasons.
Once more today, the state saw the Vavu ceremonies - indoor and outdoor, singly and communally - done across its length and breadth. All, by people who had had starved the previous night in penance or eaten frugally as a mark of piety. Such a diet, which completely avoids oily and spicy stuff, tunes the body and mind to preparedness on the day, it's believed. In any case, light food unburdens the mind as well.
The early birds at the site of rituals are, actually, the humans keen to perform Vavu Bali at the most ideal of hours. They arrive after having bathed, and sit cross-legged (on wooden planks, if available) facing a mat of wet darbha grass considered sacred. On it are placed handy morsels of cooked rice, shaped into rounds, elongated. After invoking the ancestors and virtually bringing them on to the darbha mat, the rice murtis amid the cheroola flowers are spread with sesame besides water that is dripped down through the spout of the metal kindi vessel. All this, amid chanting of the mantras - mostly repeated on listening to them being chanted by the priest conducting the ceremony.
Some flow the shaped morsel of rice, called pindam, into the river or sea-waves, while others feed it for the crows that swoop down on hearing the claps. Usually, it's when there is no water-body like a pond, lake, river or sea that the crows are invited with claps.
Karkidakam is a tough monsoon-time in Malayalam month, traditionally defined by poverty when Kerala was an agrarian society and its vast majority was toiling in the paddy fields. That phase tends to end when the rains recede and the skies clear towards Onam, which is the harvest festival.
For all the sorrow Karkidakam used to serve a chunk of the Malayalis till half a century ago, it also used to be month of healthcare. In any case, the rains meant cool weather for the tropical region. That made it ideal for a routine where food amid the greenery would be leafier than usual. Vegetables that grow beneath the soil would be less consumed if not totally given up. Oily food and hot condiments take a break from the dining rooms.
The first round of food that goes in after the Vavu Bali ceremony has ritualistic significance. The rice as sacrificial food for the ancestors are cooked by letting the water in the vessel evaporate instead of draining it away. Not all of the rice is taken for rituals; in fact a portion has to be necessarily left out to be consumed after the Bali.
That rice, too, is mixed with dishes categorised as satwik. Boiled green vegetables with a dash of oil as mezhukkupuratti, along with injithairu which is a mix of curd, smashed ginger and salt. Plus just curd, slightly diluted.
Some communities in some parts of Kerala observe this rite called daahamvaippu. It's the preparation of a sweet sacrificial dish that is made of rice powder heated above fire, along with jaggery and coconut. From that is made oattada. The symbolic madhu is a mix of honey with heated rice power mixed with the water of tender coconuts cut from the bottom side (unlike in the case of god-propitiating pujas where the cut is made on the top). The other daahamvaippu foods include flaked rice, roasted paddy and the nine-cereal mix. Some even ready puttu-gram combo and betel leaves folded as paan.
A kind of Spartan curry made out of colocasia is another dish prepared generally during the Karkidakam month. The plant, locally called thaal, grows in abundance in monsoon-time Kerala. Tamarind juice goes as the best mix into the plant's cut stem and sliced leaves. It's frugal, yet tasty.
On the occasion of the Karkidaka Vavu, though, the country colocasia gives way to its wild variety. For the tongue to down throat, it leaves an itching sensation, which somewhat gets offset by the coriander and chillies. The thaal curry is believed to be have the potential to check intestinal ailments including ulcer, experts say.