Making way for maavali
Maavali sutharathu (spinning Maavalis) is a practice that was once commonplace in the western parts of Tamil Nadu, begins Viswa Veda, head of the enterprise.
Despite the consumeristic nature of our capitalistic marketplace — or perhaps, because of it — our city-bred populace finds itself gravitating towards our “roots” more and more; in constructive ways and otherwise. Thanks to this thirst, we’ve been able to enjoy the roundabout revival of organic food (think karupatti and kavuni arisi), the return of handmade weaves, and more. Along these lines, a small select audience in the city got to experience the age-old maavali (palm crackers) this Karthigai Deepam. A result of Oor Vasam Farms’ nostalgia project.
Maavali sutharathu (spinning Maavalis) is a practice that was once commonplace in the western parts of Tamil Nadu, begins Viswa Veda, head of the enterprise. “On the part of worship, it’s said that this is a way of giving thanks for the rains. For, Karthigai Deepam marks the end of the good monsoon season; you don’t expect heavy rain in the days after (at least, so it was back in the day). Outside of the religious/worship-related history, maavali is lit in the darkest of nights that’s common in this season,” he narrates.
So, what is maavali? How is this made? Mark William from Villupuram’s Narasinganoor — Viswa’s supplier this year — has the answers. Maavali is made from the flowers of the male palm tree. “You need to pick flowers from the top branches; the lower ones will be wet from the rain. This is then dried. These flowers are burnt in a pit in the ground. When it’s nearly done, the pit is closed with a leaf and sand, so that the flowers continue to burn in the heat and harden like cooking coal (aduppu kari). You take this and grind it coarsely in the ammi. Then, you take a length of cotton cloth (usually coloured to add to the aesthetics) and pack the powder in it. This bundle is then tied together and secured in place by palm leaves,” he explains. The cloth bundle is the part that you light. You hold the other end of the palm cracker and swing it around to get the ember-lit display.
Viswa, too, is familiar with the process, having done this for a good part of his childhood during this festival. Over the past ten years, however, the practice has died even in villages where this was a tradition, he says. Maavali was also accompanied by sokka panai — where palm leaves were heaped into a pyramid and burnt in front of houses. This, too, was a measure to counter the darkness of the nights. But this has now become an activity confined to the temples of certain regions instead of being a lifestyle practice, he points out.
Mark adds that it’s no different in his village. Even he had not made maavali in a long time. If more people like him were to revive its making, there’ll certainly be more people interested in buying, he suggests. “Vaanga aal iruku, seyya dhan aal illa. If there are orders next year, I’d like to keep doing this,” he declares.
Besides the religious connotations and festive use, maavali could perhaps offer an alternative to our regular firecrackers. After all, it’s completely natural, points out Viswa. People over at the art gallery NativeKrea — one of the beneficiaries of Oor Vaasam Farms’ maavalis — certainly agree. Having experienced it first-hand, the palm cracker had them feeling like delighted children, reports Shaan Raj, its founder. “It felt like gazing into an individual campfire. When I was kid, we used to light up a tyre and let it run around. But, you get a foul smell (from burning it). This is just flowers and palm leaves.
All of us enjoyed it immensely. Some of our staff connected it to the song Maavuliyo maavuli; now the song seems even more beautiful. There is now the desire to get this more often,” he shares. Perhaps, if Oor Vaasam takes cues from its customers, we’d be seeing more of maavali in our midst.