It’s December. A time when the mouth-watering smell of hot chocolate wafts by. A time for people to burry into their comforters and whine about their dried skin. The last month of an exhausting year to some and the beginning of a new and a better one for others. A harmonious holiday enjoyed by children of all religions, irrespective of the reason.
‘December is different for me’ is an understatement. December in Kodagu is a season of chapped lips and socks clad feet. It is the time when the sun shines the brightest but your layers of clothing do not agree. It is the time when children wait impatiently for their boxes of crackers to arrive from Mysore or Bangalore. It’s the time of Huttari/ Puttari, the harvest festival.
Huttari, (meaning ಹೊಸ ತೆನೆ -New paddy stalk) along with being a promise of a reunion of scattered relatives is also a season of the rustling of dry, golden, and proud paddy stalks. A time when parrots soar the sky with a determination to taste the golden cereals of delight. A time when wild boars and elephants are head over heals to munch down the fibrous goodies. And thus, the season of sleepless nights for farmers on stakeouts with battery torches, lighters ( Both to drag a beedi to keep them warm and also to light the sutli bombs) and two well trained dogs.
The season of Huttari along with the gentle aroma of dried paddy straws is also the time for yellow and Orange-headed marigold flowers to bloom. Huttari genasu ( Chinese yam), a very significant root vegetable for the festival is swollen with pride at this time and is soon dug out from the earth, cleaned, and circulated amongst families. Every local shop is seen with bunches of Gali bale Hannu ( Karpooravalli banana) which at the end of the day is always sold out for the preparation of thambittu, another famous Huttari delicacy.
Days prior to Huttari, the faraway relatives are busy planning a trip to their homeland while the people back home dust the brown windows, sweep the spider webs and whitewash their houses. The ಕಳ/ Kala ( A cleared piece of land especially for post-harvest activities) is swept clean and applied a thin coating of cow dung solution. This when dried gives a smooth finish to the ground. The same procedure is followed in the front yard and also in the attic if any. This is because of the belief that cow dung has anti-bacterial properties, which is scientifically proved.
On the day of the festival, Thoranas are made with marigolds and mango leaves and hung on the front door. Being a festival celebrated mostly at night, the house becomes lively at around 6 PM. Men and women wear the traditional dresses of Kodagu. The clinking of bangles, rustling of clothes, kids running around, heavy laughter, metal spoons clashing, recently washed plates clattering, and everything that truly defines the festive spirit. Pots of sambars stirred and gossips cooked. Children burst crackers with their laughter louder than the former.
At around seven or so, the men gather in the hall with leaves from 5 different trees piled up in the corner. These being ಕುಂಬಳ ಮರ ( Gmelina arborea), ಮಾವಿನ ಮರ ( Mangifera indica), ಕಾಡುಗೇರದ ಮರ ( Terminalia catappa), ಹಲಸಿನ ಮರ ( Artocarpus heterophyllus), and ಅರಳಿ ಮರ ( Ficus religiosa). The men sit on the mat clad floor and take up each of the 5 types of leaves and place them on top of another in the very same order. The stack of leaves is rolled into a pipe-like hollow structure and tied with a fiber strand from ಅಚ್ಚಿನ ಮರ ( called Nere). The stalk of paddy that will be harvested later is put in the very same.
The very first ritual of harvesting takes place in the Igguthappa temple. An astrologer is called from Kerala to decide the timings of Huttari, which does not have a particular date. But is always followed by Onam. The date is announced all throughout Kodagu for the festival to commence and also the timings for the main ritual. Back in the days, it was said that the people were restricted from hunting at this time.
Based on the timings provided, the family members gather around the Pooja room and pray to goddess Laxmi for prosperity. They take the blessings of the elders and move to the fields. Chants of Pole Pole Baa ( Pole: Goddess Laxmi and Baa: A gesture of calling), loud crackers, and gunshots are high in the air. Women hold lamps on plates of bell metal while the eldest man holds a bamboo traditional container called guthhi. The place where the stalks are to be cut would be decorated with banana trees and flower garlands. Some also chant songs and play traditional drums on the way. The eldest person or Pattedhara of the family cuts the stocks of paddy necessary for the pooja while the others chant in bliss. This is the tradition of bringing along Goddess Laxmi, home.
The stacks of paddy is distributed to the family members. They are put inside the Nere and tightened. This is tied to the pillars of the house, the gun, the Pooja rooms, vehicles etc., in the belief that the goddess lives in all the corners of the house.
People enjoy the night with rounds of traditional dances and mouthwatering food. The delicacies of great significance for the festival include Thambittu ( A sweet dish made from rice and banana), huttari genasu sambar, ginger chutney, and akki paisa ( Rice paisum). Seven grains of paddy along with seven stones are added to the paisum and thambittu. The people who get the stone in the payasam are said to have a Kallina ayasu / ಕಲ್ಲಿನ ಆಯಿಸು ( as in the person will live a long life). There is also a tradition in which the thambittu is held on a betel leaf and thrown upside to the floor of the attic, by calling out the name of the recently married bride. If the betel leaf sticks to the roof, the bride is said to love her husband.
Some families follow the tradition of singing songs about their brave ancestors and passing down stories to the next generation. Finally, all the family members gather around the Pooja room and sit for dinner. Food is served on the banana leaves by women. While the other family members enjoy the night with blissful talks and gossips left abandoned in the previous festive reunion.
And that my friends was Huttari, supposedly in a nutshell. A Merry Christmas and a happy new year!