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Coastal Karnataka celebrates Aati Amavasya, The legend of the Devil Tree

When the moon appears for the first time in the month of August, coastal Karnataka celebrates Aati Amavasya as the Hindu Tradition.

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 On this auspicious day people go into the woods or small thickets in the hopes of finding the Devil’s tree which is called Palemarain Tulu, Halemara in Kannada and Sathanacho rook in Konkani. Once found, they take pieces of the tree’s bark to take home and consume the juice it contains. This juice extracted from the bark of the devil tree is then consumed with ingredients like garlic, turmeric, pepper, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds and goes by the name Paleda Kashaya.

The presence of spicy ingredients helps tone down the bitter after taste of the juice from the tree and has to be consumed before sunrise. It is a popular belief that after drinking this concoction, one will be able to retain good health till the next Amavasya. According to Hindu mythology this potion is also said to help one cleanse oneself of the sins committed in their past lives. It is also said to better prepare people against potential illnesses caused by drastic climate change in the following months. After consuming the drink, devotees visit temples to pray for good health and prosperity in life. Although in antiquity the homeopathic doctors of China as well as our very own celebrated physicians like Charaka and Sushutha are said to have made this medicinal drink popular, as of today, it is only the people of coastal Karnataka that practice the tradition of drinking this concoction. 

The Paleda Kashaya is consumed alongside Methe Ganji which is a porridge that is made with rice and fenugreek seeds.

The Paleda Kashaya is consumed alongside Methe Ganji which is a porridge that is made with rice and fenugreek seeds

Devotees start visiting the temples of Narahari Shree Sadashiva Temple and Mahatobar Shree Karinjeshwara Temple as early as 4 in the morning to offer their prayers as well as to dip in the holy waters of the temple. Furthermore, some devotees also offer ropes to the Lord as it is believed that doing so can cure asthma. Legend has it that it was on this day, Lord Shiva decided to accept Goddess Parvathi as his wife after seeing her complete devotion towards him.

As a Tuluva, being grounded to art and our traditions comes easily to us. Agriculture is a common ground for many of us. Thus as members of the Nalike community visit houses wearing the colourful attire of the spirit of nature,  Kalenja who is believed to have descended on the earth during the month of Aati,  are welcomed with warmth and love through offerings of rice, vegetables and money. The blessings of the Kalenja is received in the form of sprinkled water with tamarind, turmeric and charcoal while the artist dances to the narration of the story of the spirit with drum or tembere’s beat. Poove, the beginning day is when the festivities begin.

Folklore says that Aati Kalenja descends to ward off evil and diseases and bring positivity, a belief greatly needed in a time such as this. Flowers, leaves, face paintings and head gears adorn the Kalenja artists. The Kepula (Ixora coccinea) plant is used for the headgear. Other plant parts used include coconut palms, banana sheaths and  spates of Araca for the waist and cap respectively. For a Tuluva, the most prominent  memory of Aati Kalenja is one where the artist is holding a dry palm umbrella.

Food items that are enjoyed during this time period include Ambade(Hog plum), Paagile (wild bitter gourd), Thojank( Cassia Tora) and Colocasia leaves. It is, however, heartbreaking  to see that in recent times, these traditions can seldom be found in the bustling cities and are confined to interior areas of  Tulu Nadu.

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