Bringing in the Harvest: Puthari

Of all the festivals in Kodagu, puthari is filled with the greatest beauty and grace. A wash of gold and green lies across the land as rice ripens in the fields, turning a glowing silver by night. The first sheaves are ceremonially harvested by the light of a full moon after the sheaf-cutter pours milk, bitter gourd shavings and honey at the base of a cluster of paddy. Under the light of a full moon, the deep, powerful beat of a lone pare (war drum) pounding across the valleys, and gunshots echoing through the clear air, it is a surreal experience, one where you can feel the presence of the many generation that went before you, watching the first sheaves of paddy come home.

It is impossible to imagine Kodava culture without rice. Rice is present at every ceremony, symbolic of prosperity and auspiciousness. Clusters of freshly harvested golden paddy will decorate doors, granaries, kitchens and ancestral homes, welcoming a year of food on tables. On harvest night, a few of the newly harvested grains go into elakkiputt, a mixture of grains of rice; slivers of coconut; peppercorns; cardamom; ginger and sesame seeds, seven of each, kneaded into a paste of ripe bananas, placed on a pipal leaf, and tossed up to the ceiling, towards the ancestors of the clan, to seek their blessings. Stark, evocative palmprints of rice paste decorate the walls. Stencils cut out of bitter gourds create patterns of rice paste on doorways and walls. Puthari brings the okkas (clans) together, in community, to invoke the ancestors, celebrate, eat and finally dance together. Traditionally, this is the time when a truce was called between warring clans, and old enmities were forgotten —or at least for a while.