Life in Udappu, a traditional Tamil fishing hamlet – Photo story
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
â€œUdappu” is situated between the Dutch Canal in the East, Indian Ocean in the West, Poonaipitty village in the North and Pinkatti village in the South. According to some reports, that there was a flood in this area earlier, and it was called â€œUdaippu” afterwards. Another report says that people were looking for pure water and sea side, while searching for such place they found â€œUdaippankarai”. Later, the name derived from â€œUdaippu” to â€œUdaippankarai” to â€œUdappu”, which is currently being called.
This is a traditional Tamil fishing hamlet, which is situated 150kilometers away from the commercial capital Colombo. A sandy stretch road which is about six kilometers off the Colombo to Puttlam main highway takes to Udappu. It is located on a tip of rectangular shape land between Mundal lake and the sea. Udappu’s current population is 15,000. It’s is believed that their ancestors came from Akka Madam and Thangachchi Madam in Rameshwaram in Southern India in 1630, and settled down in Udappu. This small fishing village has a very strong tradition and custom, which is being followed very strictly by the people of Udappu upto now. The fishing folk of this pristine coastal village has a different custom compared to the other fisher folk in the country. They still follow the same tradition which is being followed in Rameshwaram for weddings, funerals and temple festivals. Drama and theatre and folk songs play a major role while observing these traditions. The vibrant tradition keeps the families close to each other.
It is said that due to some ethnic tension in 16th Century, 18 families from Udappu went to Aanai Vaasal and Karaiyaar Kudiyiruppu in Katpitty in 7 fishing boats. The portraits of these 7 fishing boats are drawn on the wall of Sri Veerapththirakaali Amman temple in Udappu. The fishing boats are identified as â€œSinnadappan Thoni”, â€œSinna Thoni, â€œMugaanthiram Thoni”,â€œKappanaa Thoni”, â€œVaavaa Thoni”,and â€œPoththi Thoni”. And those 18 families are known as â€œAmpalakaaran”, â€œSinnadappanpuram”, â€œKathiran Sammaattipuram”, â€œSinnaiyanpuram”, â€œKaamapuram”, â€œAavaththaaarpuram”, â€œPachchaiyappanpuram”, â€œSeruvanththaarpuram”, â€œMoosaapuram”, â€œPaasamandaadi Kudumbam”, â€œMuththupillaipuram”, â€œPalliyar Kudumbam”, â€œSittampuram”, â€œSinnaandipuram”, â€œKottaavaariyaar Kudumbam, and â€œMoovar Kudumbam”.
Most of them are fishermen, some do farming or small business such as owning a grocery shop or tailor shop or a telephone booth or an eating house. And some are vegetable sellers or meat sellers. The people of Udappu read and recite the Mahabharatham epic in Tamil. The â€œAadi Vizha Mahotsavam” of the Rukmani Sathyapama Sametha Sri Paarthasaarathy Thiraupathathevi Devasthaanam is based on the popular epic Mahabharatham, which lasts for 18 days. Dance and drama are performed during these days to attract the devotees and make them understand the epic better. The whole village comes alive during the festival. Udappu is usually known as a very calm and quiet place.
People of Udappu are very entertaining and hospitable. The first invitation that they always extend to a visitor is â€œCome to our house and have meals”. Then the conversation follows with several other invitations such as â€œCome and stay with us in our house”, â€œPlease feel free to ask anything that you need”, â€œWe have made these special curries for you, because you are a pure vegetarian”, â€œPlease let us know when will you be here next time, so that we can make your stay comfortable”, â€œTake some fresh drum sticks and fresh Jasmine flowers with you when you return to your house in Colombo”.Â They do not show any difference between a visitor and a stranger, they treat both equally. It is a beauty of the people in Udappu that, the invitation is always extended wholeheartedly.
The men in Udappu say that â€œThey have â€œMurattu Bhakthi” (pitiless or rough devotion) towards the Goddess”. They say that they are willing to go through any pain in order to fulfill her (Goddess’s) wishes. They gather in groups to carry out the rituals. Most of the men are fisher folks. They are known for their hard work and dedication. Women of Udappu are very passive and soft-spoken. Men and women of Udappu are very spiritual, and they observe the knit tradition very carefully. The people of Udappu are very proud of their more than 350 years old unique and elegant tradition. The people of Udappu insist that they neither belong to the North and East of Sri Lanka nor to the hill country. They always say that, they are different from the rest of the Tamil community in the country. They mostly worship Sri Thiraupathai Amman, Sri Kaali Amman and Sri Maari Amman. These three Goddesses are considered to be the Kula Theivam (Family Guardian Deities) of Udappu. A strict vegetarian regimen is observed during the time of the temple festival.
If a man marries outside Udappu, he will be detached from the family and community, and his mustache will be shaven completely to humiliate him. The custom is called â€œMeesai Kattal”. As a result hardly any men marry outside his village, and the entire population believes that they need to maintain the speciality. Men folks respect the women folks. The men extend their extra care and support to the women during the festival time, because they feel that men from outside visit Udappu during the festival, and the unique culture needs to maintained and protected, and there should not be any room left for misbehaviors and misconducts.
There are 30 Muslim families currently living in Udappu. Sinhala traders from Aaraachchikattu, Aaandigama and Vijayakattupeththa come daily to the main market in Udappu to sell vegetables. They come very early in the morning in a lorry and return to their respective villages after the business. The primary vocation of Udappu was tobacco cultivation, the tobacco plants were affected due to some disease. Thereafter, the people of Udappu began to concentrate on prawn hatchery. There is a couple of medical doctors and engineers produced from Udappu.
A couple of visitors from Jaffna shared their experiences while being in Udappu this year. Most of them said that, â€œWe feel like Udappu is their second home next to Jaffna. And, we like to retire in Udappu”.Â It gives the similar feeling of being in Jaffna, surrounded by coconut and palmyrah trees, mild breeze with the sweet sound of the palm leaves, even though it is hot. The fences for the houses are woven neatly with either coconut or palmyrah leaves. The houses hardly have brick or cement walls. Most of the houses are shady and cool.
The people of Udappu like to remain different, while some of the young men left the village to seek employments in foreign countries. Some of them come annually during the festival time to take part in fire walking. This is when most of the match making takes place in Udappu!
Time for celebration and joy.