Long long ago, an average Malayali used to dread the Malayalam month of Karkidakam (mid July-mid August). Back then, it was that time of the year when the relentless rain lashed mercilessly; penury and diseases were rampant. And everyone used to wait for the month to get over and Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam calendar to dawn. Chingam, that brought with it hope, abundance and the festival of Onam. But then, there were special moments in Karkidakam too, the most popular back then, being the Pilleronam.
Pilleronam (piller being Malayalam for children), was a mini Onam celebrated for the kids. The day corresponded with the 'Thiruvonam' star in the month of Karkkidakom, which fell 27 days before the real 'Thiruvonam' in the month of Chingam. It is dependent on the Lunar calendar. This year, it falls on the 1st day of Chingam, instead of Karkidakam.
Pilleronam was a unique festival. It was not just a day to celebrate childhood, but also have a first-hand experience of being groomed into being a responsible adult. According to old timers, the children were given the responsibility of running the household on Pilleronam day. They could plan everything – from finances to games and what they would eat. The elders used to support the children in everything.
The day begins with a bath and then the children would go to pluck flowers for the Pookolam, a flower carpet made in a pot full of water. Water lilies and lotus the main flowers for this ritual. The ritual demands a small puja. The pot full of water would be kept before a lit lamp and eight plantain leaves containing eight different seeds laid out around it. This ritual, it was believed would enhance the well-being of all people in the land.
Then came the 'Chenakavadi'. Children used to go out into the yard and uproot elephant foot yam and bring it home. This would later be used as a dish during the festive season. The Kudamudachonam was a fun activity which required prior planning and help from elders. Children along with the elders would identify some pumpkins in the yard and three days after it flowered place clay pots around the flower. On Pilleronam day, the kids would go to the yard and pluck out the pumpkins along with the clay pots. It was considered auspicious if pumpkin had broken the clay pot. These clay pots were brought home and broken with a lot of celebrations and laughter.
The celebrations were not restricted to poo kolam and food, there were games too. And competitions.
The parents used to buy new clothes for the children and a mini sadhya (meal) used to be cooked. 'My mother used to cook payasam for us', says Vinod A S, a graphic designer, 'and when we asked her what the occasion was, I remember, she used to tell us that it was 'Pilleronam'. It used to make us very happy, but now sadly no one follows this custom even in our house'.
According to old timers, Onam celebrations at the Thrikkakkara temple used to begin on the Thiruvonam day in Karkidakam and continue for another 28 days after Onam. But these days, the festivities last just for the ten days of Thiruvonam in Chingam, which, this year falls on September 14th
'Pilleronam', was a harbinger of hope, of Onam, which used to come 28 days after. Yet another of those traditions that are fading in the era of smartphones and readymade Onam package meals which can be bought off the shelves.