Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ODIYAN : A Mallu Animagus/ Hitman

My mother belongs to what you can call a typical orthodox Malayali Nair Tharavadu which in my grandmother's time was a Naalukettu and her grandmother's time was an Ettukettu. For those who are not familiar with Kerala's cultural setting, a 'Tharavadu' refers to an Hindu ancestral home. Naalukettu, and Ettukettu( which is almost like a Naalukettu doubled, nalu being four and ettu being eight) is a traditional architectural style now on the verge of extinction. Nairs are a matriarchal society and the lineage passes from Mother to daughter. Unfortunately by the time I was born my mother's family had shifted from their orginal place which was 'Nelluvaya' to Trichur. The huge joint family was broken down into nulcear subgroups leaving the age old home with its huge 'Thodi' (frontyard and backyard combined) and sarpakaavu ( a sacred grove for serpents) to remain as fragments of memories, the backdrop of the very many stories or legends that runs in my family to this day.

When I was a child a good portion of my summer holidays was spent in rummaging the memories of my aging grandmother and her mother, who is thankfully still alive, to gather bits and pieces of my fading legacy. I constantly ransacked the 'Thattumpuram' ( somewhat like an attic) of my mom's tharavadu ( which is traditional but sadly not a naalukettu) looking for anything that could link me to that long forsaken home. I know for a fact that it doesnt exist now, the Naalukettu with all its pride and glory, though the saarpakavu is still preserved with yearly rituals. But somehow it still stands, high and mighty, in my imagination and continues to be an obsession.

The stories of the legendary 'Odiyan' are plenty in my family (skip the final two generations). He has always appealed to me more than his counterparts like Chattan, Kuttichatan, Gandharvan, Marutha etc. Odiyan is an indispensable part of mallu folklore. They are supposed to be people practicing black magic which helped them to acquire the shape of animals or things. To be more precise, though they dont physically change into anything, the intended victim while looking at the odiyan would be seeing a cat or a bull or a rock or anything that the odiyan wants. The power of the odiyan was so immense that any physical contact with him could result in instant death. He could charm you as a harmless calf or charge at you as an angry bull.

I would classify 'odiyans' as hitmen of olden times. They were set up by rivaling uppercaste families and were paid for their services. The interesting hitch in the story is, while the 'marunnukootu' ie the ingredients for the secret portion and the way of preparing it was held secret by the upper castes, they themselves never performed the 'odividya' ( the art of the odiyans'). Instead they chose people belonging to the lower castes like Paanan, Pulayan and Chovan, taught them the rituals and stuff and made them do their dirty work. This was because apparently the person who practiced as an odiyan was bound to die sooner or later by his own sword.

The thing that gives me goosebumps about the odiyans is not their very concept or the eerie stories told by my grandma but the way they made their secret medicine. Legend has it that the odiyans made a secret medicine out of the fluid carrying the unborn fetus. This was mixed with some secret herbs to make some sort of an oil mixture which was then places behind the ears of the odiyan. The odiyan had his powers as long as the mixture was behind his ears. Some alternate versions however claims that the odiyans would appear as animals or things to everyone and not just his victim and that an odiyan can transform back to human only when his master or helper removed this oil from behind his ear with a special stick. What is even more creepy are claims about how these people charmed pregnant women and lured them from their homes in their sleep and slit their stomach to take the fluid. The woman would be found dead in her bed the following morning without any cut marks on her body. Creepiee... dont you think??

I would tell you a little odiyan story connected to my family now. This is about how my grandmother's grandmother died. Apparently she had a rivalry with some distant relative. Once when she had gone out to the temple pond at around 4 am in the morning she saw a calf, which kept on following her. Suspicious she skipped the bath and hurried back home. This calf kept on following her and started to grow bigger and bigger in size. The calf brushed against her and disappeared and she started sweating profusely. My grandmother's mother, ie her daughter, took her to her bed and she died that evening. There is another one about my grandfather. Once long back, while he was about 10 or 12 years old, he went to the field with this brother, who was around 8 or 9. This was again at around 5 am in the morning. They had their dog with them. When they reached the middle of the field the dog wouldnt let them move any farther. It blocked their way. After sometime they saw this huge ball of fire about the size of a man at around one feet from them. It glowed for a while and then circled the feild fast and started chasing them. Luckily they ran back home and nothing happened.

I know these stories sound silly and that the odiyans are now considered as nothing more than another manifestation of superstition among innocent village people. As time progressed, and modern education crept into villages emancipating the lower castes, things like Odiyans and the beliefs associated with it disappeared. One can appreciate a thing or a belief like this only when we consider the time when it existed and its historical backdrop. I have never met an odiyan ( or any other ghost or paranormal being) in my life and I cant say for sure that such things exist. But nevertheless the Odiyan , appearing and disappearing on rainy evenings spent in my grandmother's lap, continues to be, for me, an enigma a mystery and a childhood friend. :)

26 comments:

  1. that was quite an interesting read, creepy too .... i picked this up from the net too: "but here there was a problem, if they (the odians) took the shape of an animal like a bull ,the bull appeared three-legged or tailless so that a person who is careful could understand what he was seeing and act accordingly."

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  2. Ammukutty, i was quite amazed to know how u have analysed the ancient stories u picked from ammoomma and muthashi...and one thing i should add to it..we cannot all together deny the strenghth of human mind to hold upon and act, which is the underlying theory of 'odividya'..it is nothing but a kind of mesmerism, with which supertitous minds were scared to death...and that 'ettukettu' u refered is still there my dear, with all its glory lost without maintenance...i will take u there once..its a promise..

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  3. Well, this is interesting. I liked your write up in all of the "malayalathanima". I am a malayali and have heard similar stories from my father and our servant folks. As a child I used to device means to thwart an odiyan attack in my day dreams. I believe that these stories are 90% fiction and 10% fact. My father used to say that one remedy is that if you suspect an animal you encounter to be an odiyan, then you beat the hell out of him, especially the ears so that the medicine (in the shape of "gulika" or pill) will fall off and reveal his true identity. If you consider the fact that street lights were absent in those days, it is possible that people died of heart attack when confronted with an animal attack in the dark. Alternatively, an odiyan could wear an animal mask (seen the movie Thenkasippattanam???) and ambush their target in the dead of night. Even otherwise in those days it would have been easy for an odiyan or any other person to attack and kill anybody in the dark. Remember that Kerala was thinly populated 40, 50 100 years ago. I suspect that the legend of odiyan was created to discourage people from going out in the dark and also to accentuate the effect and divert the blame. Even now you see highly superstitious people in our society. If odividya was such a profitable/useful enterprise it would be in existence even now. In any event, thank you for the write up. My imagination traveled decades into my past and helped me relive my cherished childhood memories albeit for a few moments.

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  4. hi..I am from a nair family of trichur. your rendition of childhood memories rekindled some sweet memories of mine too. my ammuma too has told me similar odiyan tails ,she believed they existed and her personal experience was of a cloth cradle catching fire with her new born daughter (one of my aunts)in it she panicked..screamed for help but in a short while the fire had disappeared and sanity restored. another odiyan story she told me is about a man who went through a jungle path late at night and while returning was shocked to see a wooden gate in the middle of the path. he collapsed instantly and died in a few days. the gate was an odiyan she said. it was nice connecting with you. rgds santosh sandy menon . just to conclude with magicians like david copperfield performing unbelievable magic tricks for pure entertainment why could'nt somebody like our odiyans harness similar powers but with evil intent?

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  5. Lord Jesus has died for your sins. He gives forgiveness free. Just receive it with humility and enjoy peace now and in after life. lawtru@yahoo.co.in

    The Blood of Lord Jesus Christ will protect you from all evil ghosts and evil spirits. Trust in Lord Jesus only.

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    1. nothing in this world is for free...everything..everything lil thing comes at a price...if jesus doesnt charge you for forgiveness then vatican does!! The only gods you will ever see in this life are your mother and father.

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  6. I loved reading this! Mallu hitman!! that was a nice way to put it!

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  7. Today at the breakfast table me my wife and my parents had a talk on old glorious times in our families and the talk on odiyan's came up... After the breakfast i happened to google on odiyan which took me to this write up.I loved reading it.I would also like to add to it... A version of odiyan retaining his original self as told to me by parents nd grandma is "parayi(odiyan's wife would pour hot water on him as soon as he is home after the so called 'odi kali' and that if u encounter an odiyan on ur way...u shud walk back and never look back at him to save urself.There were also stories of 'karingutti chathan' acting up on his master's orders.i'm sure ur grandma wud have told u tat too.... It was a awesome writeup...

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  8. Love your writeup. We were just having small talk after lunch @ office and like typical mallus landed up in discussions aout home and stuff long gone. The topic of Odiyan and chattan also came up which led me to google for the same & ending up in this page. Thank you for the share. I also have some recollection of my ammomma telling such stories @ d vaccations we spent with ther :)

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  9. You know that was good.i too have heard a lot about these.but like u people i 2 don't bilieve this.if these things were right,just think of the secret medicine they had prepared..that too at that time.....it's unbilievable..as the others say mallus are the most intelligent people..

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  10. My point is that if this was pure myth or legend as some may claim how come persons from different parts of Kerala have heard the exact same versions of the story? Without fire there cannot be smoke. I was also told about the use of fetus extract as a means for this cloak of invisibility or change of form as the odiyan represent. I do understand that it may not stand scrutiny faced with logic or modern scientific inquiry but some thing in the tale leaves one with a puzzle of it being true !

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  11. This article takes me back to the days , when my grandmother's mother used to tell me and my cousins the story of Odiyans. The thing they keep behind their ears, the way they kill people. Its creepy and the kid version of me lost a lot of sleep over this. Like Parijat mentioned in the comment above, a person with a keen sense of observation can differentiate odiyan(ised) animals from the real ones and hence escape. I used to wonder the same when she(grandmas mother) told those stories.
    Anyways, This is gonna give me the creeps when i visit her next time, in our nalukettu.

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    1. I don't know if I have a keen sense of observation - but I am known to have a keen sense of observing stuff and relating - let's say something that helps in my high-paying job. Coming to the point, once a bull charged at me. I just kept watching it, I don't know if I suspected something, certainly I could see the sharp horns and all and it was charging to hit me for sure, but what really I realized was that it was not trying to do me with its horns, and it was as if all it wants to do is to knock me off the ground as if a man or wrestler would do, so I was really thinking something equivalent of "Is this a bull is it kind of ". I don't know what happened, I just stayed as it is, perhaps made some movements without taking eyes off it and as it was near, I realized my cousin's hands (I was talking to him at the busstop when this happened before we said goodbye) just pulling me aside. Then I think the bull did not do anything nor did we care about it.

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  12. thanks for recollecting my memories with my old stories which heared from my grandmother ...........
    thanks thanks


    by unaisck

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  13. thanks...........

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  14. I am from a Christian family and have heard similar stories too. We converted to Christianity in 1535 when we were Namboothiris. There is a story of my Christian ancestor finding some "mantra shlokas" on old palm-leaf manuscripts in the "thattupuram" of our ancient house and reading them when there was a resounding thunder that scared the *hit out of him. Then they collected those palm manuscripts and threw them in the fire remarking that those magical writings were against the Christian faith. To everyone's amazement, they did not not burn and were wafted away in the wind. It was believed that those were the mantras belonging to "Kadmattathu Kathanar".

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  15. hay i am mallu i want to know ...........do u know mandram ,for odiyan.
    i Herder some methodology from my grand ma.she says that brunnam and some kind of pachhamarunnu that used for odyans ......is it as corect
    help me

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  16. very interesting. I have heard the same odiyan stories. To add to this mixture, I have heard that and odiyan whistles, announcing his presence to his victim and the victim can be pay him to ward him off!!

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  17. Even the 1989 film - Pradeshikha Varthakal makes a mention at 0:25:25 - "yedo odiyan da aduthu mayam venda tto" - interesting. So odiyans were there during that time around too?

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  18. very nice and as a person interested in myth and folklore....

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  19. I'm from a Menon family in Valluvanad. All of you have pretty much covered everything regarding the Odiyan concept. Two things that I would like to add. One, consider the Odiyans as akin to the Ninja of Japan. They were rented night warriors for the feudals and also there were ones whowere rookies or freelancers. They practiced Odividya. It was their martial art. I have friends in the Paraya community. They practice an off shoot of Kalari called Para-thallu. The sampradaya or traditional lineage that they venerate is in a sloka "...vadakku vayanadan Odi Bhairavan Odi Bhadrakali..." Very ancient forms of Siva sakthi that you see in Nair Kalaris.
    Second, ever thought why the art was called Odi vidya? Its the way they specialise in killing their targets. Once the victim is subdued and on the ground, they place a wooden staff across the neck and bend the body backwards. So the neck snaps at the joint (odiyum). The pose would be like the Halasanam in yoga. Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in..

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  20. HI,
    i liked your storey and that was soo intresting....even iam from a muslim family,i heared about this from my mother and it was at her childhood time.i had met some of them near my moms house.but now they are too old and live like common people.....
    iam more interested in such topics,but i dont have a source to know about it except my mom,and she dosent know more about it...
    i was on the internet for more details and thats how i got you.
    Thanks for sharing your valuable experience...

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  21. "odiyan"......yez ...my grand father ....me know the odiyan's moolamanthram and all other details...we have a thaaliyola..( old leaf book).....

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  22. It was a highly informative story , chechi ......
    I was hoping if u could tell me about therottam ??

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  23. I KNOW IT IS TRUE.
    ODIYAN IS REAL.
    IN MY CHILD HOOD I HAD SEEN IT. MOORKANAD ,OTHAYI IN MALAPURAM DISTRICT IN KERALA FAMOUSE FOR ODI VIDHYA.MUKKAM TOO

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  24. I too am from a Nair family from Kuttipuram, Kerala. Have heard similar Odiyan stories from my grandma too, during our summer vacations to the naalukettu (sad no loner being maintained). In fact one o ammuma's brothers was confronted by an odiyan , who were hired by some jealous villagers (since my ammumas family was prospering in their business). Her brother was returning from his shop late in the evening and saw an extremely shiny looking cow in the middle of the field. Later he began hiting them and the odiyan came back to his original form. My grandma's brother later took a promise from the odiyan not to trouble and return to our village. Post that there has been no issues. Also have heard from her that Odiyans wife used to throw hot water for them to return to their original form.

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