Villagers turn to age-old ritual for rains

People of western mandals of Chittoor district resort to ‘Valasa Devarlu’

‘Valasa Devarlu’, the age-old rural festival, has returned to a number of villages in the western mandals of Chittoor district in the face of drought conditions and only a few weeks left for the sowing season to close.

‘Valasa Devarlu’ is a traditional ritual, and some say a festival, dating back to the reign of emperor Srikrishna Devarayalu. During failure of rains and blight affecting the crops, and breakout of epidemics, the entire population of a village would abandon the households at dawn and retreat into the fields or tankbunds till dusk. The village elders would initiate special pujas to goddess ‘Valasa Devaramma’, an idol made of clay, consecrated under a tent or a tree. After having community lunch, the population would return to their village. The time is marked by dancing, singing and chit-chatting.

This ritual is popular in about 50 villages Chittoor bordering Karnataka. Legend has it that during the regime of the Vijayanagara king, hundreds of villages had experienced pestilence – failure of rains, crops drying up and strange epidemics knocking their households. On the advice of a mystic, the people commenced the ‘Valasa Devarlu’ ritual, and this continues through generations till date.

Four-day event

About 700 families of Narasapuram village of Ramasamudram mandal in the district initiated the four-day ritual on Sunday. About 2,000 persons of the village had left their households at dawn, reaching the nearby fields. Elders initiated pujas to the deity which were repeated at dusk. Special dishes, purely vegetarian, were cooked and offered to the goddess.

Two Grama Talaris (sanitary workers) would guard the households from thieves and ‘evil spirits’ during this period.

On Monday, the male members of the families offered prayers at the famous Gangamma temple atop Boyakonda hillock nearby, followed by animal sacrifices.

For the next three days, the families would spend a hectic time, with invitations among the neighborhood and relatives from other areas.

Several of the families, who make liberal donations for the ritual, are well settled in Bengaluru, Bellary and other places in Karnataka. This ritual is largely prevalent among not only the Backward Classes, but also among the Vysyas and Brahmins. Interestingly, all the Brahmin families of Ramasamudram mandal, have a day for observing ‘Valasa Devarlu’ as per the schedule fixed by the elders.

Grand assemblage

Ramachandraiah, an 80-year-old farmer of Ramasamudram, summed up its importance. “Valasa Devarlu is like walking history. Whenever hard times hug us, we remember the deity. We make a grand assemblage. This invariably helps us sustain family bonds, happiness and preserve it for posterity. Some major changes have seeped into the ritual, but the central theme remains the same,” the octogenarian maintained.

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