For the following note1 on agricultural ceremonies in Malabar, I am indebted to Mr C. Karunakara Menon, who writes as an eye-witness thereof.
“Vishu, the feast of the vernal equinox, is celebrated on the first of the Malabar month Mēdom, between the 10th and 14th of April. To the Tamulians it is the New Year’s day, but to the people of Malabar it marks the commencement of the new agricultural year. A Malabar proverb says ‘No hot weather after Vishu.’ The first thing seen on the morning of Vishu day is considered as an omen for the whole year. Every Malayāli takes care, therefore, to look at an auspicious object. Arrangements are accordingly made to have a kani, which means a sight or spectacle (see p. 18). After the first sight, the elders make presents of money to the junior members of the family and the servants. After the distribution of money, the most important function on Vishu morning is the laying of the spade-furrow, as a sign that cultivation operations have commenced. A spade decorated with konna (Cassia Fistula) flowers, is brought, and a portion of the yard on the north side smeared with cow-dung, and painted with powdered rice-water. An offering is made on the spot to Ganapathi (the elephant god), and a member of the family, turning to the east, cuts the earth three times. A ceremony on a grander scale is called the Chāl, which literally means a furrow, for an account of which we must begin with the visit of the astrologer (Kanisan) on Vishu eve. Every dēsam (hamlet) in Malabar has its own astrologer, who visits families under his jurisdiction on festive occasions (see p. 275). Accordingly, on the eve of the new agricultural year, every Hindu home in the district is visited by the Kanisans of the respective dēsams, who, for a modest present of rice, vegetables, and oils, make a forecast of the season’s prospects, which is engrossed on a cadjan (palm leaf). This is called the Vishu phalam, which is obtained by comparing the nativity with the equinox. Special mention is made therein as to the probable rainfall from the position of the planets—highly prized information in a district where there are no irrigation works or large reservoirs for water. But the most important item in the forecast is the day and time at which the first ploughing is to take place. The Chāl is one of the most impressive and solemn of the Malabar agricultural ceremonies, and, in its most orthodox form, is now prevalent only in the Palghāt tāluk. At the auspicious hour shown in the forecast, the master of the house, the cultivation agent, and the Cherumars,2 assemble in the barn. A portion of the yard in front of the building is painted with rice-water, and a lighted bell-metal lamp is placed near at hand with some paddy (unhusked rice) and rice, and several cups made of the leaves of the kanniram (Strychnos Nux-vomica)—as many cups as there are varieties of seed in the barn. Then, placing implicit faith in his gods and ancestors, the master of the house opens the barn-door, followed by a Cheruman with a new painted basket containing the leaf cups. The master then takes a handful of seed from a seed-basket, and fills one of the cups, and the cultivating agent, head Cheruman, and others who are interested in a good harvest, fill the cups till the seeds are exhausted. The basket, with the cups, is next taken to the decorated portion of the yard. A new ploughshare is fastened to a new plough, and a pair of cattle are brought onto the scene. Plough, cattle, and basket, are all painted with rice-water. A procession proceeds to the fields, on reaching which the head Cheruman lays down the basket, and makes a mound of earth with the spade. To this a little manure is added, and the master throws a handful of seed into it. The cattle are then yoked, and one turn is ploughed by the head Cheruman. Inside this at least seven furrows are made, and the plough is dropped to the right. An offering is made to Ganapathi, and the master throws some seed into the furrow. Next the head Cheruman calls out, ‘May the gods on high, and the deceased ancestors, bless the seed which has been thrown broadcast, and the cattle which are let loose, the mother and children of the house, the master and the slaves. May they also vouchsafe to us a good crop, good sunshine, and a good harvest.’ A cocoanut is then cut on the ploughshare, and from the cut portions several deductions are made. If the hinder portion is larger than the front one, it augurs an excellent harvest. If the nut is cut into two equal portions, the harvest will be moderate. If the cut passes through the eyes of the nut, or if no water is left in the cut portions, certain misfortune is foreboded. The cut fragments are then taken with a little water inside them, and a leaf of the tulsi plant3 (sacred basil, Ocimum sanctum) dropped in. If the leaf turns to the right, a propitious harvest is assured, whereas, if it turns to the left, certain calamity will follow. This ceremonial concluded, there is much shouting, and the names of all the gods are called out in a confused prayer. The party then breaks up, and the unused seeds are divided among the workmen. The actual sowing of the seed takes place towards the middle of May. The local deity who is responsible for good crops is Cherukunnath Bhagavathi, who is also called Annapūrana, and is worshipped in the Chirakkal tāluk. Before the seed is sown, a small quantity is set apart as an offering to the goddess Annapurna Iswari. By July the crops should be ready for harvesting, and the previous year’s stock is running low. Accordingly, several ceremonies are crowded into the month Karkitakam (July-August). When the sun passes from the sign of Gemini to Cancer, i.e., on the last day of Mithuna (June-July), a ceremony called the driving away of Potti (evil spirit) is performed in the evening. The house is cleaned, and the rubbish collected in an old winnowing basket. A woman rubs oil on her head, and, taking the basket, goes three times round the house, while children run after her, calling out, ‘Potti, phoo’ (run away, evil spirit). On the following morning the good spirit is invoked, and asked to bless every householder, and give a good harvest. Before dawn a handful of veli, a wild yam (Caladium nymphœiflorum), and turmeric, together with ten herbs called dasapushpam (ten flowers), such as are worn in the head by Nambūtiri Brāhman ladies after the morning bath, are brought in. They are:—
“Each of the above is believed to be the special favourite of some deity, e.g., Nilappana of the god of riches, Thiruthāli of the wife of Kāma, the god of love, etc. They are stuck in the front eaves of every house with some cow-dung. Then, before daybreak, Sri Bhagavathi is formally installed, and her symbolical presence is continued daily till the end of the month Karkitakam. A plank, such as is used by Malayālis when they sit at meals, is well washed, and smeared with ashes. On it are placed a mirror, a potful of ointment made of sandal, camphor, musk, and saffron (turmeric), a small round box containing red paint, a goblet full of water, and a grāndham (sacred book made of cadjan), usually Dēvi-Mahāthmyam, i.e., song in praise of Bhagavathi. By its side the ten flowers are set. On the first day of Karkitakam, in some places, an attempt is made to convert the malignant Kāli into a benificent deity. From Calicut northward, this ceremonial is celebrated, for the most part by children, on a grand scale. From early morning they may be seen collecting ribs of plantain (banana) leaves, with which they make representations of a ladder, cattle-shed, plough, and yoke. Representations of cattle are made from the leaves of the jak tree (Artocarpus integrifolia). These are placed in an old winnowing basket. The materials for a feast are placed in a pot, and the toy agricultural articles and the pot are carried round each house three times, while the children call out ‘Kālia, Kālia, monster, monster, receive our offering, and give us plenty of seed and wages, protect our cattle, and support our fences.’ The various articles are then placed under a jak tree, on the eastern side of the house if possible. The next important ceremony is called the Nira, or bringing in of the first-fruits. It is celebrated about the middle of Karkitakam. The house is cleaned, and the doors and windows are cleansed with the rough leaves of a tree called pārakam (Ficus hispida), and decorated with white rice paint. The walls are whitewashed, and the yard is smeared with cow-dung. The ten flowers (dasapushpam) are brought to the gate of the house, together with leaves of the following:—
“On the morning of the ceremony, the priest of the local temple comes out therefrom, preceded by a man blowing a conch (Turbinella rapa) shell.4 This is a signal for the whole village, and every household sends out a male member, duly purified by a bath and copiously smeared with sacred ashes, to the fields, to gather some ears of paddy. Sometimes the paddy is brought from the temple, instead of the field. It is not necessary to pluck the paddy from one’s own fields. Free permission is given to pluck it from any field in which it may be ripe. When the paddy is brought near the house, the above said leaves are taken out from the gate-house, where they had been kept over night, and the ears of paddy are laid thereon. The bearer is met at the gate by a woman of the house with a lighted lamp. The new paddy is then carried to the house in procession, those assembled crying out ‘Fill, fill; increase, increase; fill the house; fill the baskets; fill the stomachs of the children.’ In a portion of the verandah, which is decorated with rice paint, a small plank, with a plantain leaf on it, is set. Round this the man who bears the paddy goes three times, and, turning due east, places it on the leaf. On the right is set the lighted lamp. An offering of cocoanuts and sweets is made to Ganapathi, and the leaves and ears of paddy are attached to various parts of the house, the agricultural implements, and even to trees. A sumptuous repast brings the ceremony to a close. At Palghāt, when the new paddy is carried in procession, the people say ‘Fill like the Kottāram in Kozhalmannam; fill like the expansive sands of the Perar.’ This Kottāram is eight miles west of Palghāt. According to Dr Gundert, the word means a store-house, or place where temple affairs are managed. It is a ruined building with crumbling walls, lined inside with laterite, and outside with slabs of granite. It was the granary of the Maruthūr temple adjoining it, and, the story goes that the supply in this granary was inexhaustible.
“The next ceremony of importance is called Puthari (meal of new rice). In some places it takes place on Nira day, but, as a rule, it is an independent festival, which takes place during the great national festival Ōnam in August. When the new rice crop has been threshed, a day is fixed for the ceremony. Those who have no land under cultivation simply add some grains of the new rice to their meal. An indispensable curry on this day is made of the leaves of Cassia Tora, peas, the fruit of puthari chundanga (Swertia Chirata), brinjals (Solanum Melongena), and green pumpkins. The first crop is now harvested. There are no special ceremonies connected with the cultivation of the second crop, except the one called Chēttotakam in the month of Thulam (November), which is observed in the Palghāt tāluk. It is an offering made to the gods, when the transplantation is completed; to wipe out the sin the labourers may have committed by unwittingly killing the insects and reptiles concealed in the earth. The god, whose protection is invoked on this occasion, is called Muni. No barn is complete without its own Muni, who is generally represented by a block of granite beneath a tree. He is the protector of cattle and field labourers, and arrack (liquor), toddy, and blood, form necessary ingredients for his worship.
“In well-to-do families, a goat is sacrificed to him, but the poorer classes satisfy him with the blood of a fowl. The officiating priest is generally the cultivation agent, who is a Nāyar, or sometimes a Cheruman. The goat or fowl is brought before the god, and a mixture of turmeric and chunam (lime) sprinkled over it. If the animal shakes, it is a sign that the god is satisfied. If it does not, the difficulty is got over by a very liberal interpretation of the smallest movement of the animal, and a further application of the mixture. The god who ensures sunshine and good weather is Mullan. He is a rural deity, and is set up on the borders and ridges of the rice-fields. Like Muni, he is propitiated by the sacrifice of a fowl. The second crop is harvested in Makaram (end of January), and a festival called Uchāral is observed from the twenty-eighth to the thirtieth in honour of the menstruation of mother earth, which is believed to take place on those days, which are observed as days of abstinence from all work, except hunting. A complete holiday is given to the Cherumans. The first day is called the closing of uchāral. Towards evening some thorns, five or six broomsticks, and ashes, are taken to the room in which the grain is stored. The door is closed, and the thorns and sticks are placed against it, or fixed to it with cow-dung. The ashes are spread before it, and, during that and the following day, no one will open the door. On the second day, cessation from work is scrupulously observed. The house may not be cleaned, and the daily smearing of the floor with cow-dung is avoided. Even gardens may not be watered. On the fourth day the uchāral is opened, and a basketful of dry leaves is taken to the fields, and burnt with a little manure. The Uchāral days are the quarter days of Malabar, and demands for surrender of property may be made only on the day following the festival, when all agricultural leases expire. By the burning of leaves and manure on his estate, the cultivator, it seems to me, proclaims that he remains in possession of the property. In support of this, we have the practice of a new lessee asking the lessor whether any other person has burnt dry leaves in the field. The Uchāral festival is also held at Cherupulcherri, and at Kanayam near Shoranur. Large crowds assemble with representations of cattle in straw, which are taken in procession to the temple of Bhagavathi with beating of drums and the shouting of the crowd.”
The fact that the Cherumans, who are agrestic serfs, play a leading part in some of the festivals which have just been described, is significant. In an interesting note on the privileges of the servile classes, Mr M. J. Walhouse writes5 that “it is well known that the servile castes in Southern India once held far higher positions, and were indeed masters of the land on the arrival of the Brāhmanical race. Many curious vestiges of their ancient power still survive in the shape of certain privileges, which are jealously cherished, and, their origin being forgotten, are much misunderstood. These privileges are remarkable instances of survivals from an extinct state of society—shadows of long-departed supremacy, bearing witness to a period when the present haughty high-caste races were suppliants before the ancestors of degraded classes, whose touch is now regarded as pollution. In the great festival of Siva at Trivalūr in Tanjore, the headman of the Parēyans is mounted on the elephant with the god, and carries his chauri (yak-tail fly fan). In Madras, at the annual festival of the goddess of the Black Town (now George Town6), when a tāli (marriage badge) is tied round the neck of the idol in the name of the entire community, a Parēyan is chosen to represent the bridegroom. At Mēlkote in Mysore, the chief seat of the followers of Rāmānuja Achārya, and at the Brāhman temple at Bēlur, the Holeyas or Parēyans have the right of entering the temple on three days in the year, specially set apart for them.”
The privilege is said to have been conferred on the Holeyas, in return for their helping Rāmānuja to recover the image of Krishna, which was carried off to Delhi by the Muhammadans. Paraiyans are allowed to take part in pulling the cars of the idols in the great festivals at Conjeeveram, Kumbakōnam, and Srīvilliputtūr. Their touch is not reckoned to defile the ropes used, so that other Hindus will pull with them. It was noted by Mr F. H. Ellis, who was Collector of the Madras district in 1812, that “a custom prevails among the slave castes in Tondeimandalam, especially in the neighbourhood of Madras, which may be considered as a periodical assertion of independence at the close of the Tamil month Auni, with which the revenue year ends, and the cultivation of the ensuing year ought to commence. The whole of the slaves strike work, collect in bodies outside of the villages, and so remain until their masters, by promising to continue their privileges, by solicitations, presents of betel, and other gentle means, induce them to return. The slaves on these occasions, however well treated they may have been, complain of various grievances, real and imaginary, and threaten a general desertion. This threat, however, they never carry into execution, but, after the usual time, everything having been conducted according to māmūl (custom), return quietly to their labours.”
Coming to more recent times, it is recorded by Mr Walhouse7 that “at particular seasons there is a festival much resembling the classic Saturnalia, in which, for the time, the relation of slaves and masters is inverted, and the former attack the latter with unstinted satire and abuse, and threaten to strike work unless confirmed in their privileges, and humbly solicit to return to labour.”
In villages in South Canara there are certain rākshasas (demons), called Kambla Asura, who preside over the fields. To propitiate them, buffalo races,8 which are an exciting form of sport, are held, usually in October and November, before the second or sugge crop is sown. It is believed that, if the races are omitted, there will be a failure of the crop. The Koragas (field labourers) sit up through the night before the Kambla day, performing a ceremony called panikkuluni, or sitting under the dew. They sing songs to the accompaniment of a band about their devil Nīcha, and offer toddy and a rice pudding boiled in a large earthen pot, which is broken so that the pudding remains as a solid mass. This pudding is called kandēl addē, or pot pudding. On the morning of the races, the Holeyas (agrestic serfs) scatter manure over the field, in which the races are to take place, and plough it. On the following day, the seedlings are planted. To propitiate various demons, the days following the races are devoted to cock-fighting, in which hundreds of birds may take part.
Important agricultural ceremonies are performed by the Badagas of the Nīlgiris, who carry out most of the cultivation on these hills, at the time of sowing and harvesting the crop. The seed-sowing ceremony takes place in March, and, in some places, a Kurumba (jungle tribesman) plays an important part in it. On an auspicious day—a Tuesday before the crescent moon—a priest of the Devvē temple sets out several hours before dawn with five or seven kinds of grain in a basket and a sickle, accompanied by a Kurumba, and leading a pair of bullocks with a plough. On reaching the field selected, the priest pours the grain into the cloth of the Kurumba, and, yoking the animals to the plough, makes three furrows in the soil. The Kurumba, stopping the bullocks, kneels on the ground between the furrows, facing east. Removing his turban, he places it on the ground, and, closing his ears with his palms, bawls out “Dho, Dho” thrice. He then rises, and scatters the grain thrice on the soil. The priest and Kurumba then return to the village, and the former deposits what remains of the grain in the store-room. A new pot, full of water, is placed in the milk-house, and the priest dips his right hand therein, saying “Nerathubitta” (it is full). This ceremony is an important one, as, until it has been performed, sowing may not commence. It is a day of feasting, and, in addition to rice, Dolichos Lablab is cooked.
Another agricultural ceremony of the Badagas is called Devva habba or tenai (Setaria italica), and is usually celebrated in June or July, always on a Monday. It is apparently performed in honour of the gods Mahālingaswāmi and Hiriya Udaya, to whom a group of villages will have temples dedicated. The festival is celebrated at one place, whither the Badagas from other villages proceed, to take part in it. About midday, some Badagas and the temple priest go from the temple of Hiriya Udaya to that of Mahālingaswāmi. The procession is usually headed by a Kurumba, who scatters fragments of tūd (Meliosma pungens) bark and wood as he goes on his way. The priest takes with him the materials necessary for performing worship, and, after worshipping Mahālingaswāmi, the party return to the Hiriya Udaya temple, where milk and cooked rice are offered to the various gods within the temple precincts. On the following day, all assemble at the temple, and a Kurumba brings a few sheaves of Setaria italica, and ties them to a stone set up at the main entrance. After this, worship is done, and the people offer cocoanuts to the god. Later on, all the women of the Madhave sept, who have given birth to a first-born child, come, dressed up in holiday attire, with their babies, to the temple. On this day they wear a special nose ornament called elemukkuththi, which is only worn on one other occasion, at the funeral of a husband. The women worship Hiriya Udaya, and the priest gives them a small quantity of rice on mīnige (Argyreia) leaves. After eating this, they wash their hands with water given to them by the priest, and leave the temple in a line. As soon as the Devvē festival is concluded, the reaping of the crop commences, and a measure or two of grain gathered on the first day is set apart for the Mahālingaswāmi temple.
By the Kotas (artisans and cultivators) of the Nīlgiris, a seed-sowing ceremony is celebrated in the month of Kumbam (February-March) on a Tuesday or Friday. For eight days the officiating priest abstains from meat, and lives on vegetable diet, and may not communicate directly with his wife for fear of pollution, a boy acting as spokesman. On the Sunday before the ceremony, a number of cows are penned in a kraal, and milked by the priest. The milk is preserved, and, if the omens are favourable, is said not to turn sour. If it does, this is attributed to the priest being under pollution from some cause or other. On the day of the ceremony, the priest bathes in a stream, and proceeds, accompanied by a boy, to a field or the forest. After worshipping the gods, he makes a small seed-pan in the ground, and sows therein a small quantity of rāgi (Eleusine Coracana). Meanwhile, the Kotas of the village go to the temple, and clean it. Thither the priest and the boy proceed, and the deity is worshipped with offerings of cocoanuts; betel, flowers, etc. Sometimes a Terkāran (priest) becomes inspired, and gives expression to oracular utterances. From the temple all go to the house of the priest, who gives them a small quantity of milk and food. Three months later, on an auspicious day, the reaping of the crop is commenced with a very similar ceremonial. 
Writing in 1832, Mr Harkness states9 that, during the seed-sowing ceremony, “offerings are made at the temples, and, on the day of the full-moon, after the whole have partaken of a feast, the blacksmith, and the gold and silversmith, constructing separately a forge and furnace within the temple, each makes something in the way of his vocation, the blacksmith a chopper or axe, the silversmith a ring or other kind of ornament.”
In connection with the ceremonial observances of the Koyis of the Godāvari district, the Rev. J. Cain writes10 that “at present the Koyis around Dummagudem have very few festivals, except one at the harvest of the zonna (Sorghum vulgare). Formerly they had one not only for every grain crop, but one when the ippa11 (Bassia) flowers were ready to be gathered, another when the pumpkins were ripe, at the first tapping of the palm-tree for toddy, etc. Now, at the time the zonna crop is ripe and ready to be cut, they take a fowl into the field, kill it, and sprinkle its blood on any ordinary stone put up for the occasion, after which they are at liberty to partake of the new crop. In many villages they would refuse to eat with any Koi who has neglected this ceremony, to which they give the name Kottalu, which word is evidently derived from the Telugu word kotta (new). Rice-straw cords are hung on trees, to show that the feast has been observed. [In some places, Mr Hemingway tells me, the victim is a sheep, and the first-fruits are offered to the local gods and the ancestors.] Another singular feast occurs soon after the chōlam (zonna) crop has been harvested. Early on the morning of that day, all the men of each village have to turn out into the forest to hunt, and woe betide the unlucky individual who does not bring home some game, be it only a bird or a mouse. All the women rush after him with cow-dung, mud, or dirt, and pelt him out of their village, and he does not appear again in that village till next morning. The hunter who has been most successful then parades the village with his game, and receives presents of paddy (rice) from every house. Mr Vanstavern, whilst boring for coal at Beddanolu, was visited by all the Koi women of the village, dressed up in their lord’s clothes, and they told him that they had that morning driven their husbands to the forest, to bring home game of some kind or other.”
Mr N. E. Marjoribanks once witnessed a grossly indecent pantomime, held in connection with this festival, which is called Bhūdēvi Panduga, or festival of the earth goddess. The performers were women, of whom the drummers and sword-bearers were dressed up as men. In a note on this festival, Mr F. R. Hemingway writes that “when the samalu crop is ripe, the Kois summon the pūjāri on a previously appointed day, and collect from every house in the village a fowl and a handful of grain. The pūjāri has to fast all that night, and bathe early the next morning. After bathing, he kills the fowls gathered the previous evening in the names of the favourite gods, and fastens an ear of samalu to each house, and then a feast follows. In the evening they cook some of the new grain, and kill fresh fowls, which have not to be curried but roasted, and the heart, liver, and lights of which are set apart as the especial food of their ancestral spirits, and eaten by every member of each household in their name. The bean feast is an important one, as, until it is held, no one is allowed to gather any beans. On the second day before the feast, the village pūjāri must eat only bread. The day before, he must fast for the whole twenty-four hours, and, on the day of the feast, he must eat only rice cooked in milk, with the bird offered in sacrifice. All the men of the village accompany the pūjāri to a neighbouring tree, which must be a Terminalia tomentosa, and set up a stone, which they thus dedicate to the goddess Kodalamma. Every one is bound to bring for the pūjāri a good hen and a seer of rice, and for himself a cock and half a seer of rice. The pūjāri also demands from them two annas as his sacrificing fee.”
Seed-drills used by agriculturists in the Bellary district are ornamented with carved representations of the sacred bull Nandi, the monkey-god Hanumān, and the lingam, and decorated with margosa (Melia Azadirachta) leaves, to bring good luck. 
1 The note was originally published in Madras Museum Bull., 1906, v., No. 2, 98–105.
2 The Cherumars are field labourers, who were formerly agrestic slaves, and, like other servile classes, possess special privileges on special occasions.
3 The tulsi plant is the most sacred plant of the Hindus, by whom it is grown in pots, or in brick or earthen pillars (brindāvanam) hollowed out at the top, in which earth is deposited. It is watered and worshipped daily.
4 The sacred conch or chank shell is used as a musical instrument in processions, and during religious services at Hindu temples.
5 “Ind. Ant,” 1873, iii. 191.
6 The name Black Town was changed to George Town, to commemorate the visit of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to Madras in 1906.
7 Journ. Anthrop. Inst., 1874, iv. 371.
8 Buffalo races, see my “Castes and Tribes of Southern India,” 1909, i. 157–62.
9 “A Singular Aboriginal Race of the Nilagiris,” 1832, 76.
10 “Ind. Ant.” 1879, viii. 34.
11 Liquor is distilled from ippa flowers.