Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1766 Nayar velichapāḍu

Subjectvelichapāḍu priest / medium
Culture: Nayar/Malayali
Setting: temple divination, Malabar/Kerala 18thc and later

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Sri Ayyappa Bhajanai Sangham online >
"Velichappadu  The word “Velichappad” is well known to a Keralite, but it is a term rarely known to persons of other States. During religious ceremonies, specially in Poojas, a man who takes a leading role gets himself into a trance and utter[s] certain prophecies and blessing words which, according to the devotees present, are the words of the worshipping deity itself and the man has got in him for that period the grace of God and powers of construction or destruction. He will be having, it is believed, the divine wisdom to tell the past, present and future and be able to find solutions to any problem. In short, the Velichappad is well comparable to the ancient Greek Oracle (prophet or man of wise words)."

* Kemp 2019 p23 (describing the Kodungaloor Bahrani in Kerala)
"Oracles called Velichappadus (literally 'revealers of light'), enter a trance and, in a devotional act of self-flagellation, draw blood by hitting their foreheads with the pallival, a ceremonial sickle-tipped sword which is a symbol of Kali."

Swords (Arival, Nandakam)

* Elgood 2004 p75
"The Nayars did continue to use medieval forms of swords from across southern India in their temple ceremonies as no doubt did other temples.  They are only Nāyar by association and adoption and the expression 'Nāyar Temple sword' is best abandoned.  Their thin, flimsy blades have been cited as proof of their poor quality, but the thinness of medieval Indian blades at an earlier date is referred to in Khaza'in al-Fuṭuh by Amīr Khusrāv Dehlavī (d.1325) who used the simile 'trembles like a Hindi sword,' and Jahangīr in the Tuzak refers to a sword that 'flexed like a real Yemeni or southern blade.'  Flexibility is intentional as these swords are required to vibrate during temple ceremonies.  'Trembling or quivering was a means of driving away the devil whenever it was suspected to arrive at any auspicious occurrence to disturb the proceedings.'  The sword used in Bhagavatī ritual is laid on the threshold of the room in which it is worshipped where it is believed to shake for some fifteen minutes of its own accord until the mussad sprinkles on it a sacred fluid, previously used to wash the image of the goddess.  This stills the sword.  A goat is usually sacrificed after this once the appropriate mantras have been uttered and it is noteworthy that the actual weapon used is not the sword representing the goddess but rather 'a chopper-like sword in shape something like a bill-hook'.  The flexibility of the blade was important because it enabled the jingles attached to both blade and hilt to sound.  The hilts also often have rattles in the pommel.  The Nayars also put steel balls or hard seeds into the boss of their shields to create sound.  Noise drives away evil spirits.
    "Swords being ritually used have sandalwood paste (cantanam) placed on the blade.  The rare sandalwood tree (Santala indica) is regarded as sacred, attracting snakes by its fragrance."

* Rawson 1968 p41
"The South Indian flamboyant sword in its modern form with the quatrefoil guard and square wooden cushion pommel has been observed on Vijayanagara sculptures.  On the viragals of the period the same form appears, as well as a form with the same hilt, but a long tapering straight blade.  A form which Lewis Rice says is very common on the viragals is that with a blade which has parallel edges and is deeply double-recurved and terminates in a divided fishtail tip.  Rice also observes that the fishtail tip is very common on other forms of sword as well.  Another form has a gblade which is straight two-thirds of its length, and then terminates in a deeply curved sickle-like section with the fishtail tip.  A Nayar temple sword in the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection resembles this closely.  Yet another form of blade, on an executioner's sword illustrated on a viragal, is descended directly from a form common on the sculptures of Barabadur.  It has a backward-turned right-angled elbow a few inches from the root, and then curves sharply forward to terminate in a deep-bellied Kopis form."

* Elgood 2004 p73-74
"The Pitt Rivers Museum has three temple swords, called nandakam, with thin blades of a peculiar form with jingles attached.  According to the donor, they were carried by Nāyars (Nairs) during processions in honour of Bhagavatī (Puli Bhavagatī the Tiger Goddess), here being used by the goddess as Vishṇu's Saktī; and as an Ayudha purusha, the weapon personified.  Her sword is the vāl, formed like a question mark, and is used by the velichapāḍu, the medium who serves the goddess.   When his services are required at the temple, the velichapāḍu takes a ritual bath and prays before the goddess's sanctum until he enters into a trance; he dons the regalia and takes up the sword, which is the manifestation of the goddess herself.  In a howling frenzy he leaps up and down brandishing his sword.  In this state he addresses individual devotees as the mouthpiece of the goddess, waving his sharp sword about him, the blood from self-inflicted gashes streaming from his flying hair.  The devotee receives paddy grains from the medium and in return places money on the sword blade.  The sacred sword of some of the important Teyyam goddesses is named Tiruvāyutam."


* Sri Ayyappa Bhajanai Sangham online >
"Even now in Kerala, there are Velichappads in almost all the important Devi temples, who on certain occasions, come out and roam in the streets in trance, blessing and cursing the people and forecasting. Their dress will be red, smeared all over the body with red sandal paste, some ringing bells tied around the waist and red vermillion (sindoor) on forehead [SIC]. They will have in their right hand a sword and in the left a plate containing the Prasad of the temple to bless the devotees. The God-fearing and innocent devotees put some coins in the plate and receive blessings of the Velichappad as that of Devi herself. As a matter of fact, the Velichappads as a class being poor, taking advantage of the religious innocence of the mass, make money, some people interpret [SIC]. This article is not at all meant to wound the feelings of anybody or to question the powers of Velichappads, but to ventilate certain events happened in Sabarimalai [SIC]."

​* Kemp 2019 p28
"Red is the color of choice for the Velichappadus[']s clothes. Aramani, brass belts with bells dangling, and chilambu, heavy ankle bracelets filled with little balls, produce a cacophony of sounds as the oracles circle the temple."


* Kemp 2019 p34
"The larger groups are led by male oracles, adorned with garlands and an abundance of gold necklaces."