This article of mine was published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald, on account of International Women’s Day. Photos by Anoop Soorinje, Beauty of Tulunad.
No force ever draws and sustains a social system as much as empowered, creative and radical women who constitute it. This can be confidently claimed to be true in context of Tulunadu, where maternal lineage and matriarchal influences on financial and cultural systems have been long in practice. However, keeping the complex conventions aside, there are also a few simple things associated with the women of Tulunadu that define them. Of the many examples for that, the folklore named ‘Paad’dhana’ that they invented and have sustained in order to keep themselves occupied, amused and as a form of expression is a prominent one.
The Tulu speaking land is distinguished by two of its major attributes – vigorous folklore and agriculture. Paad’dhana is associated with both these attributes in an inalienable manner. It is in fact a particular type of songs created and sung by the labor classes of the society. These songs are extremely simple in nature for those who are well-versed in Tulu language. They constitute small paragraphs with 3-4 lines each, but their length is flexible from 5-6 paragraphs to even 20-30. They are sung using dragged tones which sometimes make them difficult to understand, but they turn out to be rather captivating when combined with the small drum like instrument made out of leather. The ‘Thembare’ is a smaller version of the traditional drums that we usually see, and are comfortable for playing on the go. It produces a mild sound that facilitates the rhythm of the Paad’dhana.
A noticeable trend in the area with regard to Paad’dhanas is the overtaking of the folklore by women of the labor communities. There are generally two forms of Paad’dhanas – ones sung while they work on agricultural fields, and others sung during Bhootakola or other ritualistic instances of Tulunadu like Aati Kalenja, Mankaali Kunitha and so on. On all occasions, it is women who sing Paad’dhanas, though it is said that men used to sing them in the past. But now, this folklore is a part of a maternal lineage!
Paad’dhanas sung on agricultural fields are created over day-to-day situations such as hardships of raising a child in poverty, happiness of working in the rain, the feelings of a woman when her husband comes back from work, the pain of a widow who has to see other women married off, and so on. These Paad’dhanas are incredibly simple in nature but surprisingly accurate and enchanting. To translate one of them – “Oh, she’s so pampered she doesn’t agree to come back to her modest husband’s abode! He promises to bring her beautiful sarees and Bindi, to take her to fairs and feed her the best food, but she doesn’t agree to return to her modest husband’s abode!” Not to mention here, Paad’dhanas definitely bring a smile on the face of a listener!
Women are seen singing these folk songs as they transplant crops on the field or reap on their heads, or even while they are cooking in a group. Here, they do not make use of the instrument. However, the second type of Paad’dhanas that they sing is comparatively complex in content, for they narrate stories and importance of the aspect they are singing about. It is generally the story of the specific Bhoota (spirit) being worshipped, or how the village has always revered it, or even how the tradition is being kept alive. One of those Paad’dhanas translates to say “Here comes Mankaali, the sister of Baleendra to your door, she brings you goodwill with the good season, so that the lights in your home remain lit, and your granaries remain filled.”
These Paad’dhanas are sung by women who are generally the family members of the men embodying the spirit at the ritual. They usually sing these songs when they are either getting ready or taking a break from the ‘Darshana’ during Bhootakolas. It helps keep their mind occupied and relaxed in the midst of all the ceremoniousness. In case of Mankaali Kunita or Aati Kalenja, they are sung as the man performs the ritual – the songs serve as the rhythm for the steps he dances.
The women singing these songs are generally the most dominant personality in the ceremony. They naturally attract all the attention, giving an illusion of a narrator in a play. Regardless of whether or not they are singing for a ceremony, Paad’dhanas have kept the women of Tulunadu occupied and creative for centuries now. Most of them do not recall when or who created them, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the tradition is going strong, and even young girls learn these songs with enthusiasm. Many women such as Akki (seen in the picture) says that she has also created her own set of lines that she sometimes sings when she’s at work. She has been singing for over 6 decades now, and her collection of Paad’dhanas would put even the biggest music distributors to shame. A number of experts who research on the traditions of Tulunadu commend Paad’dhanas to be amongst the most wonderful aspects of the area, with so much meaning and social essence incorporated into them by such simple, yet strong women.
The labor class and such divisions no longer exist, but the traditions in Tulunadu regardless remain strong owing to the fact that most people comprehend their circumstantial roles in the system, and play them accordingly, proudly. The stronghold of women over a number of folklores including Paad’dhanas symbolizes the efficiency of traditions to facilitate women empowerment and sustenance of a system. More so, the women themselves are a treasure on their own – as anyone who comprehends their lives and creativity would agree.