Wayanad: BJP president Amit Shah may have seen red at the sight of the Indian Union Muslim League’s (IUML’s) green flags in Wayanad, but the region has a deep-rooted connection to an ancient epic that his saffron outfit rode to prominence on.
Shah created a stir last week when, speaking in Nagpur, he said that with Wayanad — where Congress president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination — it was difficult “to make out if it was in India or Pakistan”.
Not only is Wayanad a Hindu-majority district but it is also firmly entwined with the Ramayana — a result of the tribal population’s affinity for the ancient epic.
The adivasis or tribals form over 18 per cent of the population in Wayanad district and have maintained an oral rendition of the Ramayana that has lasted several generations.
“There are nearly 12 different tribal communities in Wayanad, and each of them has their own narration of the epic,” explains Dr Azeez Tharuvana, a Malayalam scholar who has provided an exhaustive account of the connection in his book Wayanadan Ramanayanam. “According to them, all the developments in the lore took place within a 40 to 50-kilometre stretch in Wayanad.”
The tribals have not only infused their hardships into their oral re-tellings of the epic but have also incorporated the local crops and terrain. For instance, in one Wayanad tribal version, Sita serves Kaapi (coffee, which is the primary cash crop grown here) to Rama while Hanuman sets fire to Lanka using kerosene.
The result is that there are at least 30 landmarks in the district that owe their origins to the epic.
“If you look outside my house, you can see a hillock called Banasura hill,” says Tharuvana. “One of the highest mountains in Wayanad, it is named after the mythical character in the ancient text.”
The Ramayana landmarks
Ashramam Kolli in Pulpally, Kalpetta, is some 13 km from the Wayanad district headquarters, where Gandhi filed his nomination. Locals believe it is here that the sage Valmiki set up an ashram for his disciples.
Some 8 km from Pulpally is the village of Irulam where legend has it that Sita plucked flowers for her daily puja. The tribal lore states that Rampally village, near the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, is where Luv and Kush, Ram’s twins, captured and tied up the horse Ashwamedha.
Then there is the Kannuneer puzha (river of tears), a tributary of the Kabini river, which flows through the district.
Researchers working with the local tribesmen on their oral tradition of the Ramayana say that nearly 30 places in the district have been named after the “tribal version”.
“If you listen to the unique narration of the Ramayana by the tribals in this area you will be able to link the story with places in Wayanad,” says Tharuvana.
One oral rendition says Ponkuzhi, some 30 km from Wayanad, is where Ram sent Sita away on exile. The town has a Ram temple.
Jadayattakavu, near Pulpally, is the site of the famous Pulpally Sitadevi Lavakusa temple. Tribals believe that this is where Sita landed on the earth and her hair tresses touched the ground.
Ambukuthy hills in Ambalavayal, some 14 km from Wayanad, is believed to be the place where Ram and Lakshman fought the demoness Thadaka.
So entrenched is the Ramayana’s imprint on Wayanad, that the district tourism promotion council has decided to promote tourism with a ‘Ramayana trail’.
“We are planning a Ramayana trail that will not only encourage tourism, it will also expose the world to other interpretations of the Ramayana,” said B. Anand of the Wayanad district tourism promotion council.