It is the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Hindus and Muslims have more in common than than you know-it is also the holy month for Hindus, starting from July 16th. The Karkidaka masam. Or the Ramayana masam. When traditionally, in most Hindu homes, the Ramayanam gets recited. Most temples have Ramayanam recitals too, during this month.
Closer home, my mother-in-law recites it aloud, and my Mom reads it silently, but read they both do. As for us- we do have a copy of the full Adhyathma Ramayanam that gets taken out and dusted every now and then, but we haven't yet reached the reading stage. However- the Acha's been reading C Rajagopalachari's Ramayan to Sonny boy. As of tonight, we've reached the part where Dasaratha is wailing his heart out to Kaikeyi over her heartlessness in wanting him to send his beloved son Rama away to exile for 14 years. Sonny boy as of now is captivated. While he knows the many stories and myths in bits and pieces, its the first time he's hearing the entire story together like this.
And since we were following ( or trying to ) an age-old tradition with Sonny boy, it got me thinking back to how the practice of Ramayana recitals started.
Karkidakam is the last month of the Malayalam calendar. And this used to be a period of torrential rains, when farming was an impossibility, and there would be a steep decline in crop production. The scarcity of crops led to the term karkidakapanjam (panjam meaning scarcity). This also being a period when people were prone to water borne diseases, traditionally people would sustain themselves on karkidaka kanji (gruel)- a concoction of rice and various herbs, ( my guess is that there would also be no vegetables, owing to the heavy rains, hence the kanji!) And that is how people started praying to God, and reciting his name, hoping for an alleviation in the monsoon, and for better health and better crops, and better days.
Since farmers wouldn't have much of farming to do during this period because of the rains, this was also the month where they took rest and gave their bodies and health some good attention. Hence the custom of karkidaka raksha.(protection) in ayurveda.
The association karkidakam has for me however, is of one of the tastiest meals I've ever had. This is because karkidakam is also the month where we remember our ancestors and offer prayers to them. While the rites and prayers are offered in the temple, more tangible things are done at home for the souls of the dead. We prepare the best loved items of the dear departed, and offer them a feast on the day of karkidaka vavu. ( new moon day) . A full 7 course (and more) sadya. With pickle and chips, and rice and curries and fish and mutton and papad and payasam. . . . Mouthwatering, it is, always. Families get together on this day if they can to jointly prepare a feast for their loved ones. This time, when I remember my family that's passed on to the 'other side', I shall remember to click pictures and post.
The other, more recent association karkidakam has for me is of big lovely discount SALES everywhere. For karkidakam also corresponds to the Tamil aadi, in which month it is believed to be inauspicious to start/buy anything new. Bangalore having its fair share of Mallus and Tams, every brand worth its name, comes up with a discount to entice the customer to buy. This continues to be most delightful, as all my Onam purchases (Onam, the harvest season of plenty comes immediately after karkidakam- all those prayers do indeed bear fruit) are made out of these SALES. I can afford to buy lovely stuff for my assorted relatives, and still not end a pauper. As long as the sale goes on, karkidaka panjam at least is a thing of the past.