The Juggernaut by Ravi Subramanian


Puzhayoru Poonoolaay Malakale Punarunnu…

Upanayanam Cheyyum Ushassinu Kaumaaram…

One of my all-time favourite Malayalam songs – a beautiful composition in Mayamalava Gowla, but more importantly, it is pictured in Kalpathy, my ancestral village.

Nestled on the banks of the Kalpathy river, this quaint little village, 3 km from Palakkad gives us an impression that time has skipped by it. The afternoon sun beats down on the paved roads. There’s nary a soul on the streets. Everyone is happily nestled inside their cool homes. As night approaches, a gentle breeze sifts across from the mountains that rise up from the opposite banks of the river. The noises from the nearby town are never audible here…

As we drove into Kalpathy on November 15th, the scenes were a little different. The streets were not vacant, for this was the day their grand yearly gala came to a stunning close – the Kalpathy Chariot Festival. I had witnessed the spectacle one – more that 24 years back. But now times had changed, or so it seemed.

Today was different. The Main street was not empty. In the sweltering heat of the afternoon, there were a few people ambling along on the road. As evening approached, a flute seller had set up his wares opposite periyappa’s house. Soon, the street transformed itself into a mini bazaar with bajji sellers, hat sellers and even a local “gambling den”. The huge chariots would pass by right in front of periyappa’s house. Hence, we had the best view in the house. As the evening wore on, the crowd swelled – crowds that i had never witnessed in this sleepy hamlet.

As the sun began its descent, i could make out the thin outline of a huge chariot in the distance – the huge conical top, made up of flowers was bedecked with triangular flags. I was carried along by the crowd, as if it were a pedestrian crossing in Mumbai. Slowly, it advanced towards us. The verandas of the houses had now been taken up by people eager to have a glimpse of the chariots.

It was a sight to behold, as the huge Juggernaut rolled closer to us. Little faces peered out from the mid section of the chariot. The deity would be seated inside this section, and the little kids from the village gave him company. The huge chariot was pulled by hundreds of people. For them, this was perhaps a yearly routine, but I jumped every time the chariot gave a mighty lurch as the crowd pulled.

The best was yet to come…

“It is really possible?” I asked periyappa, rather skeptically. “Just watch and see..” he said. The streets of Kalpathy are perhaps wide enough for two cars to pass. And on this street, I was to witness two grand chariots passing each other.  Emanating from driving on the streets of Bangalore, my skepticism was perhaps misplaced. But in that sea of humanity, the chariots did cross – helped along by the waves of people who steered them.

The sun had almost set. But enthusiasm knew no bounds. For the next two hours, under the lights of the fluorescent lamps, people were still dancing to the tune of drums. On that tiny street close to the temple, five chariots met together, in the grand spectacle that culminates the festival.

I was spent! A harsh throat infection had caught hold of me. We had sumptuous dinner at periyappa’s house, before embarking to our abode. As we walked along to RM’s house, the sight that greeted me took my breath away. It was a full-blown carnival. The street stalls were brightly lit up…Vendors were doing everything to attract customers. People were busy jumping from one stall to another..

At 10:30 PM, when all the metropolitan cities in India shut up and sit in the comforts of their living rooms (the TV blaring for no one in particular), this little village had come alive.


2 thoughts on “The Juggernaut by Ravi Subramanian



  2. Wow… theru time…. has been some time since was there in person… but can relate so much…. 27 years with no miss of theru… nostalgic indeed….



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