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Ritual - Invoking the River Goddess

Married women celebrate fertility and reproduction by worshipping the Kaveri in her third month of “pregnancy”.

The azure sky glows with hints of pale orange as the sun appears on the horizon. The air is filled with a sense of anticipation. Along the winding streets of the villages, pretty mango leaf streamers or thoranams adorn the doorways of every house. It is the 18th day of the Tamil month of Adi, considered auspicious by Brahmins and non-Brahmins.

After a long day, the groups will have a grand picnic by the riverside. Men in their white veshtis greet each other and exchange pleasantries. In their beautiful new saris and lovely jewellery, the women form groups and chatter. Fragrant flowers adorn their hair. Most of them are carrying baskets packed with food items. Young girls in silk or satin pavadai skirts compare notes. Unmindful of their new clothes, boys indulge in spinning tops on the dusty track. The groups walk towards the flight of steps that leads to the Kaveri.

As soon as they see the river, the children rush down the steps to the water’s edge. Parents admonish the daring ones. The river runs swiftly today. The water seems to be overflowing the banks. It is but natural. Goddess Kaveri is supposed to be in the third month of her pregnancy and like all pregnant women, she has a craving for delicacies. The baskets are laden with food which will be offered to the goddess as treats. There’s lime rice, tamarind rice, coconut rice, curd rice, sweet jaggery rice, appam, fried karudams, appalams and pickles.

As they sit by the water’s edge and spread out their offerings, families exchange notes and catch up with the latest gossip. Girls play games. Some children find spiral snail shells. The clever ones place the shell between their fingers and blow ear-piercing whistles. A group of boys swings from the prop roots of the banyan tree and gleefully dive into the water. The others burst into peals of laughter. Aware that the Kaveri waters are notorious for crocodiles and whirlpools, children pretend to drown and scream for help, only to swim away like fish when someone comes to rescue them. The adults, having done all this themselves in their younger days, feign indifference. But they know the power of the river.

"Crocodile!” crocodile!” someone yells. Panic overcomes the groups as everyone tries to look in the direction of the voice. The grandparents have had enough of these pranks. Irritated, they shout, “The river should take you away,” above the din of the rushing water.

Before the children get their hands on the food, the women first acknowledge and honour the river deity with a maavilakku or homemade lamp made from rice flour and jaggery. The lamps are lit, arranged on mango leaves, sprinkled with flowers and turmeric and then allowed to drift in the river. After offering prayers, non-Brahmin women transfer their thali (mangalsutra) to a new turmeric-coloured sharadu or thread. The old one is discarded in the water along with the lamps. Women belonging to some communities in Tamil Nadu add gold coins to their thali in the belief that they will be blessed with a long and happy married life.

Aadiperukku or Padinettam Perukku is observed only in the Kaveri delta. The festival name translates as Adi (month) swell or 18th day swell because the waters of the Kaveri river invariably rise dramatically, often to the 18th step on the 18th day of the month of Adi, corresponding with the second or third of August every year.

Adi is the month for planting seeds and vegetation. Since monsoon is at its peak, there is enough water for crops. To the predominantly agrarian communities who live in this rice cultivation tract along the Kaveri river basin districts of Tanjavur and Tiruchirapalli, the increased water levels directly correlate with economic prosperity. This occasion is marked by offerings of chitrannam or rice cooked in different flavours,colours and ingre-dients to honour the river goddess and nature for life giving water.

The increased abundance of water makes this an auspicious day; Adi Perukku is celebrated as fertility and reproduction predominantly by women in Tamil Nadu. Families often bathe in the river, wetting the head (snanam), wear new clothes and perform a consecration (abhishekam) for Kaveri amman. They give visitors auspicious turmeric, kumkum, betel leaves and nuts (vetrilai pakku), fruits and flowers. Some use the day as an excuse to buy jewellery. After the women have performed the puja, families eat at home and rest. The men and children participate in the social picnic at the end of the day. In medieval times, Chola kings and royal households patronised this ritual.

Adi Pathinettu holds special significance for families with newlyweds. A bride is brought to her parent’s home by July 15 where she stays for the month of Adi. On Adi Pathinettu, the son-in-law is invited over, given new clothes, ornaments and sweets and the couple is reunited.

Adi marks the birth of the festival season and is appropriately dedicated to the woman and the goddess.

Food for the gods


2   tablespoons tamarind
extract 2  ladles oil
Salt to taste
1  tablespoon chana dal
25-30  dry red chillies
Curry leaves
Pinch of asafoetida
1  tablespoon coriander seeds
1  teaspoon urad dal

Roast the chana dal over a slow fire. Add the chillies and fry. Next, add the tamarind water and let it come to a boil. Mix in the salt, asafoetida and the curry leaves. Boil till the mass thickens and the oil floats on the surface. Remove from fire. Roast and powder the coriander seeds with the urad. Add to the gravy. Cook rice and let it cool. Mix the tamarind gravy with the rice, season with mustard and urad (ensure that the rice is not mashed as it needs to look like pulao).

Lime rice

Precook the rice. For the seasoning, splutter mustard seeds in oil, add 1 tablespoon chana dal and roast. Add grated or chopped ginger, chopped green chillies and curry leaves. Next, add turmeric, a pinch of asafoetida and seasoning to the rice. Squeeze enough lemon to give the rice a tangy flavour (some people like to add cumin for added flavour).

Coconut rice

Precook the rice. Grate half a coconut. Splutter mustard seeds in oil. Add 1 tablespoon urad dal and saute till red. Put in 10 red chillies and a pinch of asafoetida. Add the coconut and roast all the ingredients in coconut oil. Season with salt. Mix with the rice.