Pilgrims of Kulasai

or Halloween of the South

Sri Mutharamman is no ordinary Goddess. No wish remains unfulfilled and no appeal goes unanswered at her abode. Believers are blessed and faith is handsomely rewarded.

Dassera signifies the end of Navratri (Festival of Nine Nights). One of the most auspicious days of the Hindu calendar, it celebrates the slaying of the evil forces by the Goddess and heralds a new beginning. Every year, on this literally colourful day, Sri Mutharamman Temple in Kulasekarapattinam (an idyllic coastal town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India) is flooded by a tsunami of devotees. Over a million embark on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine to receive the blessings of the benevolent mother. The devout swarm the village in colossal hordes, swaying to the high-decibel, hypnotic rhythms belted out by classical and modern drums.

Many of Her followers observe a 41-day vridham - period of alms and abstinence leading up to Dassera. It’s also a time-honoured tradition for men, women and children alike to don various disguises - mostly Hindu mythological characters or that of the fiery Goddess Kali. This is either to solicit Her blessings for a particular personal prayer, or as a thanksgiving gesture for those answered the past year. There are some who have their faces painted (or whole bodies) and even wear a fancy attire every single year without fail, just out of love and reverence. Villages in this district (and beyond) have their own community rituals, mini-pageants and local temple fetes during Navratri that finally merge with the sea of humanity on D-Day. A heady confluence of crowds, colours and costumes marks this cinematic carnival.

And legend says, none return from this divine experience empty-handed. Whether it’s faith that draws you here, or fate.