Black magic is big bucks for Kerala village

KOCHI: Peringottukara used to be a sleepy little village. Crudely printed black and white fliers pasted on walls or pinned to lamp posts used to be the only signs that strange and special services are offered here. These days, however, this Thrissur village’s reputation precedes it, a line of luxury cars stand parked close to medieval manors, yet another proof of the schizophrenic nature of modernity in Kerala.Many centuries coexist here and the tradition of rational thought and healthy skepticism that the state is famous for is nowhere to be seen. For Peringottukara is best known for the practice of black magic, especially one involving chathan or kuttichathan. This figure is a dark avatar of Vishnu who rides a buffalo, and whose mastery in removing, or placing, hurdles in mortal life is never questioned by believers. The chathan could blight your love life, business dealings or general prosperity but could also set things right if placated.

The families of Avanangattil Kalari and Kanadi are the resident experts in this trade. They are at pains to explain that, rumours of black arts notwithstanding, they are harmless folk. “We only seek to protect people from evil spells and help them improve their lot through our prayers to the presiding deity in our family temple,” said Rishikesha Panicker of Avanangattil Kalari. “We seek guidance from kuttichathan through an oracle,” said KK Vishnu Bharatheeya Swamy of Kanadikavu.

The seekers of such guidance include politicians, industrialists, film personalities and of course ‘ordinary’ people. Interestingly, chathan’s “victims” come from all religions even if he is a Hindu construct.

The ‘treatment’ is often elaborate tantric pujas that involve ornate symbolism, much mumbo-jumbo, trances, communion with saturnine powers and the like. If you are here, it is hard to remain untouched by the rituals. There are more worldly matters to be dealt with as well. Even as this correspondent was chatting up a priest at Avanangattil Kalari, an NRI nonchalantly placed a fat bundle of notes as ‘advance’ for the chathan’s intervention in his business empire.

A couple of minutes later, a poor, halfblind lottery ticket vendor too lands up to lament business losses. All he has to placate the mischievous chathan is a one rupee coin. The priest seems to show no particular interest in the money being offered.

Those in the know, however, will tell you how easily and seamlessly these priests shuttle between the spiritual and temporal worlds. Many of them have got incredibly rich and run petrol pumps and cinema theatres. They have also put in place a fairly well-oiled structure to run the faith industry, including staff to woo devotees from far and wide.

According to advertising industry circles, the Kanadi groups spend lakhs on publicity every year. Some of the Malayalam newspapers which were reluctant to carry advertisements of such “dispensers of divine blessings” have now changed tack.

Sociologists say that for all its literacy and Left-dominated political and cultural scene, Kerala is fast falling into the hands of the faith industry. Peddlers of faith-based and magical solutions are active even among the many Muslims and Christians in the state.