Aati (July – August) is a month of great significance not only for the Tulu-speaking community, but also for other communities in Kudla. Many people strongly believe that it is an “inauspicious” month. You don’t see many people doing important things like taking loans, purchasing jewellery or houses, getting married, conducting house warming ceremonies, and so on during this month.
What is Aati?
To understand Aati, you have to first take a look at the Tulu calendar. Today, Tulu speakers are more familiar with the Gregorian calendar that begins with January and ends with December. But they haven’t forgotten their traditional calendar made up of twelve months—Paggu, Besha, Kartel, Aati, Sona, Nirnaala, Bontyel, Jaarde, Peraarde, Puyintel, Maayi, and Suggi. Aaati is the fourth month of the traditional Tulu calendar.
Interestingly, the first month in the Tulu calendar corresponds with the Phalguna, the last month of the standard Indian calendar. According to the standard Indian calendar, the twelve months are Chaitra, Vaishaka, Jeshta, Ashada, Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashvina, Kartika, Agrahayana, Pausha, Magha, and Phalguna.
Why is Aati significant?
Aati is the worst month of the year for agrarian societies. K. Chinnappa Gowda, a folklore expert and Kannada professor at Mangalore University, explains that it is a month of heavy rainfall, owing to which people get no crops, vegetables, or food grains. It is, therefore, a month of poverty for farmers who make a living out of selling agricultural produce. People fall sick often during this month because of heavy rainfall, pests, and lack of food.
Since Aati was a month of illness and poverty for agrarian societies, they stayed away from celebrations. They also dedicated the month to deceased members of the family and offered food to family spirits.
To boost their immune system and keep diseases away, they ate food having medicinal value. Here is an incomplete list of the various dishes people eat in July – August—Santhani, Uppad Pacchil, Tevu, Appala, Kanile, Gonkuda Mambala, Kukkuda Mambala, Pacchilda Balaga, Kaatkene, Kerengda Balaga, and others.
Aati Kalenja – An article on Aati would be incomplete and meaningless if mention is not made of the Aati Kalenja. Prof. Gowda says that members of the Nalike community, known for their ability to heal diseases, dressed up as Aati Kalenja and went from house to house dancing, begging for food, and blessing the families. People welcomed the Aati Kalenja because they believed he could eradicate all evils, including poverty and illness, from their homes.
Today, the Aati Kalenja has lost his significance owing to modernization and the availability of better medical facilities. You can view the traditional Aati Kalenja dance only in remote villages.
Aatida Thammana and Aati Kullunu – This is another fast disappearing tradition. In the past, newly married women were sent to their parents’ house because it would be unlucky for them to conceive in Aati. At the end of the month, her husband and his family would go to her parents’ house to bring her back. On this occasion, they would be treated to a delicious meal (Thammana).
Paleda Ketteda Kasaya – The most significant day in Aati is Aaati Amavasye. On this day, people drink a special decoction made out of the bark of the Alstonia scholaris (Devil’s Tree or Paleda Mara or Satanacho Rook). Many people, irrespective of their religious beliefs or community, believe that the bark of this tree has medicinal properties and that drinking its decoction (mardh) would protect them from diseases for the rest of the year.
Needless to say, most Aati traditions are hardly followed now. One can see them only in remote villages. Still, city dwellers make an attempt to preserve these traditions by organizing special events. Although these events last just a day or two, they serve the purpose of educating the general public about the significance of this month.