Every day, as the dusk falls, Shyamala would light a lamp in a small stone structure in front of her house. Once in a month, she would offer meat, toddy (alcohol), cigarettes and boiled eggs to the deity installed in the structure, hoping that it would ward off all evils.
The folk deity who goes by the name ‘Kappiri Muthappan’ is a saviour not only for Shyamala’s family.
Around 15 families living at Veli, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry worship the deity, a cigar-smoking treasure-guarding spirit, which has its roots in Africa.
The lore goes like this: when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala, about 500 years ago, they brought with them many ‘Kappiris’ or native Africans as slaves. But the whole scene changed when the Dutch usurped power from them. It was a violent takeover.
With little time to take away their amassed wealth,they buried them in deep trenches along the bodies of ‘kappiris’ whom they slaughtered, in the fervent belief that their ghosts would guard these treasures. But the Portuguese never returned.
As the years passed by, the tale assumed the nature of a myth and the people started believing in ‘Kappiri Muthappan’ who rests on a wall called ‘Kappiri Mathil’ (‘Negro’ wall), smoking a cigar.
Jaya Ramesh Pai says she has observed the ritual from the day she bought the house where she is living now.
“When I bought the house, the stone structure was there and the previous owner said that it would do me good if I observe the ritual. I light the lamp everyday and give the offering once in six months,” she said.
Jaya said being a Brahmin, she offers the deity bread, cigarettes and delicacies made of rice flour, instead of meat. The offerings are later consumed as ‘prasadam’.
People from different communities worship ‘ Kappiri Muthappan’ and the variety of offerings made to the deity go up when there’s an event at home.
” We offer the deity a sumptuous meal during auspicious occasions,” he said. Believers in the cult of ‘ Kappiri’ say that it’s a faith and tradition handed over to them by their forefathers. Others started venerating the deity as the stone structure was handed down to them along with the house, when they bought it. They did not knock it down because of the belief that the ‘Kappiri Muthappan’ has nothing to offer them but goodness.
There are around 20 such walls in and around Mattancherry. And I have lighted the candle too.
Pictures courtesy : Artist Dinesh R Shenoy
If you are someone who are fascinated by the stories of ‘ spirits’ and ‘ ghosts’, then these places can fuel your imagination.
“ Did you come across any such place in your life time or during the course of your travels? If yes, please do share?”