Survival of 'veRikkaLam' into the 21st century

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 22 04:43:19 UTC 2010

I recently saw a Malayalam movie  'pAlERimANikyam'. (For more details about the film, see

While it is a 21st century film based on events in the mid-20th century, there is a reason to discuss the film in Indology because of the name of a ritual depicted in the film. The setting of the story is in a mountain village. The ritual is an exorcism ritual done for a girl. The name of the ritual as used in the movie is 'veRikkaLam'. (See the clip between 3:05-3:06 to hear the name of the ceremony. The senior priest tells the younger assistant to come to aid in the ceremony instead of going to see a drama. The ceremony is seen in the following clip beginning at 00:40 .The ritual is also referred to in the following clip between 3:35 and 3:45. .

While kaLam 'altar' or 'ritual space' is well-known in connection with Kerala rituals and Tamil scholars have related it to the Classical Tamil usage 'veRikkkaLam' (maturaikkAJci 284), when I heard the usage for the first time in this movie, it was like a naturalist discovering a species that was considered extinct for a long time. Of course, the Namboodri Brahmins perform (have taken over?) such rituals at the higher echelons of the society (See the ritual beginning 5:31 and the mention of the name 'kaLam' at 6:07 in the clip ). The usage 'veRikkaLam' is not found in 'Malayalam-English Dictionary' by M.J. Warrier, E. P. Narayana Bhattathiry, and K. Radhakrishna Warrier. My Malayalam friends whom I asked had not heard of such a term. It is possible that T. P. Rajeevan, the author of the original novel, or the later movie script writers have used the term based on the actual usage in a part of Kerala. The early Tamil term for the dance is either 'veRi' or 'veRiyATTu'. Stritctly speaking, 'veRikkaLam' is the altar. The Kerala usage seems to be a case of metonymy in referring to the ritual. All the same, the continuity of the usage over two millennia, long after the dominant groups had abandoned or downgraded it, is very interesting. I would appreciate if anybody could add more light on this usage in Kerala.

As I pondered about posting this, a question crossed my mind on the dating of Classical Tamil poetry. If the attested usage of 'veRikkaLam' in 1957 Kerala/Malabar is confirmed, will it cause an Indologist of the 22nd century to date MaturaikkAJci (with its use of 'veRikkaLam') as not earlier than 1957 and the whole Classical Tamil poetry to be the Tamil nationalist creation of the DMK government which came to power in 1967? 

S. Palaniappan

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