There was a tale linked to the festival of Mamankam, of the twelve-year reign of the lord of Quilacare (a dependency of the kingdom of Quilon) and of the ritual suicide that brought his rule to an end. In the province of Quilacare there is a gentile house of prayer in which there is an idol, which they hold of great account, and every twelve years they celebrate a great feast to it, whither the gentiles go as to a Jubilee. This temple possesses many lands and much revenue. It is a very great affair.
The province has a king over it, which has no more than 12 years to reign from Jubilee to Jubilee. His manner of leaving is in this wise, that is to say: when the 12 years are completed, on the day of this feast, there assemble together innumerable people and much money is spent in giving food to Brahmin. The king has a wooden scaffolding made, spread over with silken hangings: and on that day he goes to bathe at a tank with great ceremonies and sound of music, after which he comes to the idol and prays to it and mounts to the scaffolding, and there, before all the people, he takes some very sharp knives, and begins to cut off his nose, and then his ears and his lips, and all his members, and as much flesh off himself as he can, and he throws it away very hurriedly, until so much of his blood is spilled that he begins to faint, and then he cuts his throat himself. And he performs this sacrifice to the idol, and whoever desires to rule other twelve years and to undertake this martyrdom for love of the idol, has to be present looking on at this: and from that place they raise him up as a king.
It is probable that already by the 16th century the real ruler of Quilacare did not die, and that only a proxy carried out this gruesome self-immolation, for in The Golden Bough Sir James Frazer quotes an account of certain princes of Malabar who delegated their powers in a part of their domain to a substitute who would accept on their behalf the ritual sacrifice. This institution was called Thavettiparothiam or authority obtained by decapitation. It was an office tenable for five years, during which its bearer was invested with supreme despotic powers within his jurisdiction. On the expiry of five years the head of the man was cut off and thrown up in the air amongst a large concourse of villagers, each of whom vied with the other in trying to catch it on its course down. He who succeeded was nominated to the post for the next five years.
Another aspect of the ritual sacrifice appeared in the feast of Mamankam which was last held in the year 1755, by the Zamorin of Kalikod (Calicut) in the holy town of Tirunavayi in Malabar. As the festival was then carried out, the king offered himself for assassination by whoever dared attempt it. The successful assassin (there are no known instances of such success) would rule in his place. The ceremony was regarded as confirming the status of the Zamorin as the suzerain of all northern Kerala. It was said that he had usurped the right to hold the festival, and hence the right of suzerainty, from the Rajas of Valluvand, and it was these rulers who always sent their chavers, or suicide fighters, to attempt the killing of the Zamorin.
A ceremony is followed by the Samorin, that a Jubilee is proclaimed throughout his dominions at the end of twelve years and the tent is pitched for him in a spacious plain, and a great feast is celebrated for ten or twelve days with mirth and jollity, guns firing night and day, so that at the end of the feast any four of the guests who have a mind to gain a crown by a desperate action in fighting their way through thirty or forty thousand of his guards, and kill the Samorin in his tent, he that kills succeeds to him in his empire.
In Anno 1695 one of these jubilees happened when the tent was pitched near Ponnany, a seaport of about fifteen leagues to the southward of Calicut. There were but three men that would venture on that desperate action who fell on with sword and target, among the guards, and after they had killed and wounded many were themselves killed. One of the Desperadoes had a nephew of fifteen or sixteen years of age that kept close to his uncle in the attack on the guard, and when he saw him fall, the youth got through the guards into the tent and made a stroke at His Majesty's head and had certainly dispatched him, if a large brass lamp that was burning over his head, had not marred the blow; but before he could make another he was killed by the guards, and it is believed that same Samorin reigns yet.
All the accounts of the feast of Mamankam present it as a festival of great antiquity, dating to the time before the Chera empire disintegrated in the early twelfth century, and all indicate the former existence of a custom of sacrificial kingship, actually observed by early Dravidian rulers, but long transformed, by a series of evasions, into a ceremonial in which either a substitute victim suffered or the ruler presented himself for a combat which only by an extraordinary accident could end in his death. After the Aryanization of Kerala, religious dedication was accepted as another kind of substitute for the physical sacrifice of the king on the termination of his customary period of office for twelve years. At least two Chera kings renounced their temporal power and took up the life of the religious renunciate. One was the Vaishnavite devotional poet, Kulasekhara Alwar, who ruled Kerala in the eighth century and a later renunciate king who became the most famous ruler of Kerala was Cheraman Perumal, and it is believed that he gave up his throne in 825 and went on a pilgrimage from which he did not return.
(Last Updated on : 21-03-2013)
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