• Manuscripts

    The palm-leaf manuscripts hold a ceremonial significance within the bow song tradition, although their strict adherence has waned over time. These manuscripts consist of compositions encompassing bow songs and narratives, initially crafted and later transcribed, memorized, and performed by singers. Despite allowing room for some improvisation among singers—particularly in birth songs and rarely in death songs—deviation from the pre-written song is uncommon. The bard's role involves converting oral renditions into written records, a practice that has diminished due to the shift in performance contexts from rituals to stage presentations. Nonetheless, the palm-leaf manuscripts were once regarded as the epitome of authenticity for these stories and songs. The act of summoning the deities was believed to be achieved only when the songs adhered precisely to the manuscript's presentation. A companion figure, often the annavi or a guru, would meticulously recite the text line by line to the lead vocalist. Presently, the manuscripts merely grace the performance arena as symbols of validation and are consulted for reference when needed.

    Collection : Manuscript written by: Akattisuvaram ur Ku. Arumukapperumal Natar (written sometime between 1977-1979), titled ‘Erul Arunacalasuvamikal carita etu; mentions that it is a "historical" manuscript.


    Spirit Possession during a Kotai festival, also known as Cami Attam, or 'God Dance,' occupies a pivotal role during the concentrated center slot of the festival, interwoven with the resounding cadence of death songs. This possession dance serves as a bridge connecting the human realm and the divine, offering a conduit for direct interaction between the presiding deity and the assembled audience. The possessed deity, through the channel of the human medium, engages in a prophetic discourse known as 'kuri,' ('mark' or 'sign'). This discourse bears a unique significance as it addresses the many concerns and well-being of the devoted assembly, delivering insights and guidance from the divine realm. The degree of possession exhibits nuances across different festival segments. The possession is weak during the inaugural and culminating slots devoted to birth songs, while reaching a deeper resonance during the pivotal death slot. The mediums possessing heroic figures central to the death narrative often emulate symbolic actions, at times rushing towards the deity's image to grasp the sword, knife, or staff—an homage to the legendary battles and sacrifices recounted in the narrative (as seen in the image here) Conversely, dancers in the birth stories carry flaming torches, emblematic of the sacrificial fire from which they emerged in Kailasa.

    Track Information : The video shows possession dance by the designated medium during the Kotai festival with the bow-song performers singing in the backdrop.
    Performer(s) : Sivalingam Nadar group (Singers: Lingaswami, Meenakshi, Puthangam), 1984
    Collection : Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy

    Nancil Nadu

    Dr. Stuart Blackburn's research focused on multiple villages in southern Tamil Nadu, with specific attention to Nancil Nadu, a region situated within the Kanya Kumari district. Notably, bow songs exhibited a heightened degree of strength and ritualistic significance in Nancil Nadu compared to other locales. The local culture in this region played a significant role in shaping the development of the highly ritualized bow song tradition. Despite the historical interplay between Tamil and Malayali identities in the region, the enduring presence of the bow song tradition remains a consistent marker of continuity within Nancil Nadu. The tradition's status has been influenced by caste dynamics, wherein privileged castes often disassociate themselves from it to safeguard their social prestige. Conversely, underprivileged castes engage with the tradition to a limited extent due to socio-economic constraints. Furthermore, historical missionary efforts aimed at eradicating the bow song tradition have sought to highlight what they perceive as outdated, unsophisticated, and potentially vulgar aspects of village life, which have sometimes been associated with the label of "devil-worship," as articulated by Blackburn in 1988. In defiance of these challenges, the Villu Pattu tradition perseveres, maintaining its presence in both festive contexts and staged events.