Among the many interesting bills that are displayed on random walls in the alleyways of Colombo, one particular type stands out for any traveler with a connection to Kerala or India.
Some self-proclaimed healers and magicians offer something called Malayali Gurukam or Malayalam Gurukam. It is a form of witchcraft that is used in some cases by people to conquer another person romantically and in others to physically or financially ruin rivals and enemies. In a country where the majority of the population professes Buddhism, it is difficult to find anyone who would openly admit to using Gurukam, but many members of the Sinhalese community have stories to share about others who they believe have used such black magicians.
A posh Colombo resident will be the first to point out that only village dwellers use black magicians, but it was widely believed that Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as the country’s president from 1989 to 1993, hired the services of a practitioner. from Gurukam to cast some sort of curse on LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in order to kill him, but unfortunately for Premadasa, it was he who was murdered at the hands of the Tamil separatist group.
These Malayali Gurukam practitioners usually sit near small Hindu shrines that have printed Murugan cloth images and offer all kinds of services. Those who seek to win the heart of a love are offered powders intended to be mixed with food. In Kerala, it is called ‘aandha podi.’ The mantras chanted by these black magicians are supposed to be in Malayalam, but videos of their performances on streaming platforms show them uttering something that would sound like absolute gibberish to Malayalis.
Sri Lankans insist that these wizards are Malayalis who immigrated to the island when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent. There is probably an element of truth in this belief, as it is a well-known fact that witchcraft and ‘witchcraft’ are still practiced in Kerala. As is the case in Sri Lanka, it is hard to find a Malayali who will admit to hiring a mantravadi to hasten a desire. This writer’s Malay relatives and friends prefer the pilgrimage route to get what they want, regardless of their religion.
You usually only see such things in movies. There was, however, the case of a Malayali employee of a multinational technology company in Bangalore who had a financial dispute with its owner, who was also Malayali.
The latter told his tenant that he would take one month’s rent from the deposit to paint the apartment that became available. Instead of taking his owner to court and wasting time and energy, the young man, who knew his owner was very superstitious, decided to put random objects and oils in a small steel container. and cover it with a red cloth, placing it overnight in the owner’s front yard. As expected, the frightened owner contacted his astrologer, who told him that the contents of the container, which included turmeric powder and rice among other things, had some power due to black magic. The owner ended up paying over INR 50,000 (this story dates back to 2010) to conduct a ritual to remove the negative effects of the curse. The Malayali technician may not have gotten his money back but he was more than happy with the result which he experienced thanks to a mutual acquaintance.
Just about every village in the stretch from Matara on the southern coast of Sri Lanka to Marawila, north of Colombo, has its Kattadiya, a village sorcerer who supposedly uses his powers to cure physical and mental illnesses as well as to help alter a person’s health. financial destiny.
The simple rural people of these villages are often afraid of these Kattadiyas who would have the power to do harm as well as good. Leonard Woolf’s 1913 novel The Village in the Jungle, which was brilliantly adapted into a film (Baddegama) by the late acclaimed director Lester James Peries, examined the superstitious beliefs of villagers in southern Sri Lanka, including their addiction towards wizards and their fear of demons.
Some Sri Lankan historians believe that the Kattadiya community are descendants of migrants from Kerala. Over time, there has been a cultural and religious exchange between Malays and Sinhalese, with the former learning Sinhalese and becoming Buddhists and being considered Sinhalese, and the latter worshiping Hindu gods and goddesses.
The Kattadiyas are an essential part of Sri Lankan folklore and it is an open secret that even some influential families in Colombo rely on them for life guidance.
Sri Lanka also has its own version of velichappadu, an oracle between a deity and his devotees. Dr. D Tennakoon has written extensively about the Anamitirala, which performs the same functions as the velichappadu.
Even with the high literacy rates and human development indicators in Kerala and Sri Lanka, a significant number of people in both places seem to be obsessed with the powers of the supernatural and cling to these superstitious beliefs. While there are people like Dr. Abraham Kovoor from Sri Lanka who have fought these kinds of superstitious beliefs with science, in a country where even a former president relied on random astrologers and charlatans, it is difficult to change a state of mind rooted for centuries.
(Ajay Kamalakaran is the author of ‘A Week in the Life of Svitlana’ and ‘Globetrotting for Love and Other Stories from Sakhalin Island’)
– About Manorama