Folkland, an NGO that promotes Kerala’s art and culture and S.K. Potakkad Culture Centre will host the Olakudda Ezhunallath (a festival of palm leaf umbrellas) at S.K. Pottakkad Cultural Centre in Kozhikode on November 8, 9, and 10.
V. Jayarajan, the founder and chairman of Folkland, says that the palm leaf umbrella is a craft that is dying out. Keralites have an emotional connect with it, he continues and explains that the umbrella also has a socio-cultural significance given its extensive use in rituals, Theyyam, and other performing arts.
There are different types of olakuddas: kaalkuda used by children; arakuda for women; marakuda for Brahmin women; thoppikuda for farm hands and fishermen; and kalakkuda for agricultural women and theyyakkuda made specially for Theyyam oracles.
There were also umbrellas that were designed for Onam like the mavelikkudda that protects Thrikakkara appan and the one used by Onappottan when he visits homes.
“The Panan community, known for the Thuyilunarthu pattu (songs related to the ritual dance), carried the olakkuda,” says Jayarajan. The palm leaf umbrella is used in Kuchelavritham Kathakali and folk performances such as Aati Kalinja of Kasargod district (a ritual dance that brings prosperity during aadi months) and the Porattu natakam prevalant in Palakkad and Thrissur districts (a folk theatre).
The umbrella is made using dried palm leaves, bamboo, and cane, and comes in various shapes, sizes, and designs.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Though the umbrella is made by several communities, the Ganakan or Kanisan is the most prominent as they offer olakkuda to temples and kavus. Jayarajan rues the fact that the olakkuda is no longer used as a shield against inclement weather but points out that “there are 1,000s of Theyya kavus (Theyyam shrines) where the olakkuda is required.”
There is also an endearing belief that the umbrella becomes a vehicle for the divine. “The only explanation for this belief is that the supplicant finds his umbrella has become heavy/or that he trembles when he reaches home. This means that his request to the divine to come home with him has come true,” explains Jayarajan.
The umbrella is made using dried palm leaves, bamboo, and cane, and comes in various shapes, sizes, and designs. “The Theyyakkuda,” says Jayarajan, “comes in beautiful designs and shapes, as it is meant for the oracle’s use.”
A first of its kind in India, the festival not only aims to promote the olakkuda but also reimagine it in ways to make it a more popular product. Its biggest flaw is that it is not flexible, says Jayarajan, adding that the new design will aim to make it foldable and easy to carry. The event will showcase 30 to 35 umbrellas, among which will be one with a six-foot diameter made by the craftsman attached to the Kottiyur temple.
On November 8, there will be a workshop on the craft along with performances in which the olakkuda has been used prominently. On November 9, there will be a seminar on the olakkuda and its culture, with scholars from Kerala and outside.