Kulasai Dasara - A Journey through the darkness of the soul
The 300-year-old Sri Mutharamman Temple is located in Kulasekharapatnam near Thiruchendur in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. 3 lakh devotees come from far and wide as they walk on foot wearing exotic costumes as if they were the incarnations of gods and goddess.
5th to 9th October 2019
(Held annually during Navaratri)
Most significant night :
Kalaratri, meaning the night of death (death night). All-time, light, emotions, life forms and others all blend into her. (Day of worship: 7th day of Navratri)
What is the mythological significance?
During the Vedic period, sage Varamuni was cursed due to his lack of courtesy and turned into a half-man-half-buffalo by the revered sage Agathiyar. Since he had a buffalo head he was called Magisasuran (means buffalo).
Magisasuran gained more power and dominated all over the world. The sages were not able to control his wrath. They decided to create a goddess who could defeat the scorned sage. They created a special baby and named her Lalithambigai. The baby grew up within 9 days and on the 10th day, she grew as Annai Parasakthi Lalithambigai. Then, she was able to battle Magisasuran and finally defeat him, the 10th day is being celebrated as Dusshera.
While travelling, you expect the unexpected. Each time the world shows me something different, it sends me spiraling down into introspection.
After brief research, we decided to visit Kulasai Dasara festival. As a filmmaker, I expected to capture some dramatic shots of people dressed in their godly avatar. However, I was humbled by ignorance of understanding the dark side of the human psyche.
According to Carl Jung, myths and symbols are strikingly similar in cultures around the world and across centuries. Therefore, they must be a result of the knowledge and experience we share as a species. The folklore, myths, legends all help build the collective unconscious of a community. Often they help in create archetypes - characters or symbols which help in organizing forms of behavioral patterns.
In the deep south, there has been a strong influence of the Kaal Gods. Kala is a god of death sometimes identified with Yama. Often personified as time, the destroyer of all things. These gods are characteristically more monstrous than the other ‘whiter’ gods. Often depicted as dark, angry, powerful demonic gods.
That being said, we witnessed devotees who not only just dressed up; but adorn the characteristics of the dark gods. Numerous kinds of high energy rituals were taking place simultaneously. The devotees would walk miles in their avatar; crying, laughing and dancing. That energy would build until the ultimate release in front of the temple. It’s hard to explain unless you see it. But to analyze this, the ritual would help the devotee let out the built-up anger and frustration within themselves without any taboo.
It looked like a mass possession ritual. Devotees would shake, tremble, cry and dance- but all in a rhythmic trance. The body movement of the devotees would include spinal rotations, head rotations, sudden lower back bends, swing the arm sideways to twist the spine. I realized they were igniting the kundalini energy which is believed to be located at the base of the spine (muladhara). It is an important concept in Śaiva Tantra, where it is believed to be a force or power associated with the divine feminine. This energy, when cultivated and awakened through tantric practice, is believed to lead to spiritual liberation.
It was chaotic, no doubt. But the energy in the air was electric. Something I’ve never felt before. I walked passed one woman, and I turned around to see her breakdown and cry. She cried and then almost as if possessed she started spinning. Letting herself loose and surrendering to the energy. The psychology of possession probably is an ancient therapeutic tool to lighten the soul by venting and releasing the negativity. The ritual was about unleashing the dark energy and cleansing one’s soul, which often ended with the devotees shedding their avatar on the beach and taking a dip in the ocean. Symbolically being cleansed of the demon within.
Coming back to the concept of archetypes. Demons, Ravan, Satan, Yama, Devil - any personification of the evil gods are characteristically similar. Anger and rage are common traits. As mortals, we are also prone to anger.
Carl Jung also recognized humans divide their personalities into components, selectively sharing themselves according to the environment. The self that we present to the world - our public image - is an archetype which we call “persona”. To adopt a successful persona in society we are molded by becoming fully male or female. The Animas exists as the masculine component of the female personality, and Anima is the feminine attribute to the male psyche.
The part of the psyche which we do not want to share with the world, Carl Jung calls it the Shadow. It’s the opposite of persona, all our repressed thoughts lie dormant here. In Kulasai Dasara, it was socially acceptable for men to dress like women goddess. Symbolically projecting and channelizing the shadow self. The true goal of human existence is to attain an enlightened psychological state of being, you may call it “self-realization, “awakening”, or “liberation”.
Concluding, it takes courage to accept one's dark side. When you realized the true capacity of your soul, only then you find true self. In modern times, we often discard religion redundant. However, it’s in these modern times our spiritual quest needs more food for thought.
Suggested Read :
1934 - The Archetypes and Collective Unconsciousness by Carl Jung
(Photo Credit : Sira Photography)