ODIYAN

our valluvanad was one of the final frontiers for western civilization. A land of immense beauty inhabited by people with strange traditions and practices which could at best be called Paganism . Hinduism which used to be practiced here identified itself more with the plethora of indigenous beliefs  than with the Vedas. Though Tippu Sultan’s invasion and the subsequent British rule did expose us to the world outside , we remained in our small universe happy and content.  Hence till the 1970s most of this region was untouched by modernity therefore unlike the rest of Kerala we still have Tharavads , sacred grooves called pambin kavu , velichapad and of course the rich mythology inherited from our ancestors . Odiyan and the stories associated with it is a major part of our folklore .

odiyan were the professional assassins (yes!) hired by landowning nair/ ezhava families to kill members of the families whom they thought were their rivals . Being an agrarian society most of the rivalries had to do with land disputes . The succession issues with in the families were also settled in this manner. Odiyans hailed from panar,pulayar and choklear communities (untouchable castes)  .  People belonging to these casts were well known for their physical stamina  and was feared for their worship of tribal deities which were considered more powerful than the local gods and goddesses. It was believed that DURMANTRAVATAM (Bad rituals and practices) gave them powers which could be matched only by a seasoned MANTRIKAN (powerful magicians).

the powers

As the folklore goes , the odiyans used to apply an oil obtained from killed human fetus  on their ear . This was supposed to give them powers to assume forms that they desired. They never changed into the forms or object they intended to be,  but created a sensory illusion on his prey. Odiyan would assume the shape of a bull or a cat or  even rocks and lay on the route that the victim routinely uses at night .when the victim approaches he would transform instantly and kills the prey within seconds .

The question that popped in my mind was , why go to such lengths to kill someone if he could be stabbed or shot like the assassins do these days. The reasons told by my grandmother were :

1.Most of the able bodied men at the time had kalari training from a young age hence it would have been difficult to over power them other than through a ruse.

2. The operations were covert so the people who arrange the assassin did not want themselves to get involved in the mess.

3. Odiyans were experts in disposing off their victims , leaving no trace .

The tactic used to over power the victims was the element of surprise .  The odiyans may take the form of a bull but there might be some sort of deformity to it . For example it might  appear three-legged or tailless which could amuse the onlooker and would make him go for a closer examination .  This gives the odiyan enough time to mount an attack and kill the prey as he approaches .  unfortunately these deformed bodies could be their undoing . A seasoned mantrikan or a Tharavad elder could easily recognize the anomalies the odiyan mounts on the senses and act accordingly to uncover the bluff.  There is a story about a well known mantrikan who was returning home at night when he encountered two bulls . He soon realized the trap , pronouncing some spells to counter the odiyan and overpower his charm , the mantrikan tied the two bulls together and took them to a riverine nearby and washed their ears . With the oil washed off they retook their human forms and begged the mantrikan for forgiveness.

the oil

The illusionary power of odiyan comes from the oil they apply on their ear. It was derived  from the amniotic fluid of an unborn human fetus. The targets were young women during their first pregnancy.  Odiyans like any pulaya or pana men of the time worked as serfs at large tharavads.  During the day time while at work they would identify their victim and mark her off with a sign which would be inscribed on the walls of the tharavad . At night , the pulaya or pana would return as odiyan and using his spells  make the woman walk unconsciously in her sleep to a predetermined spot where the he would be waiting for her . The woman would be split open with sharpened knifes made of bamboo and the fetus taken out . The fetus is then from a bamboo pole to harvest the fluid while the woman would walk back home to her room where she would bleed to death.The amount of oil obtained would be only a few drops but it could last  for a handful of odi tricks.

The history of Malabar is obscure before the advent of the British . The odiyan belief could have its roots in the tamilakam period of Kerala history when tribal practices played a major part in religious beliefs of the people.  Sangam literature talks about a magical force that resides in all objects – living or non living called ANANKU . During that period  panans and parayas (who were the untouchables then too)  were enthrusted with rites and rituals to appease the ananku . A person with uncontained ananku was considered powerful , making the guardians of ananku dreaded beings . The concept of odiyan taking up different forms could be attributed to the presence of ananku in all beings. Like many of the sangam traditions ananku might have metamorphised into the whole odiyan tradition over time. But unlike most of the tamil practices which became part of vedic religion it remained in the fringes , away from brahmanical strong holds hidden in the foothills of western ghats.

what happened to them

Valluvanad still believes in Odiyan and there are many deaths that are attributed to odiyan seva ( even one case was reported last month) . But in reality, With the modern education, the western lifestyle and more importantly the emancipation of panars and pulayars there are no takers for the job. More over their patrons found new ways to settle disputes and the odiyan died out without revealing many of its secrets like many other Indian traditions.

 

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27 thoughts on “ODIYAN

  1. Yea… I have heard such stories in my childhood too… also that they have an alternative “marunnu” from a particular plant… also heard that some DYFI people tried to destroy these plants in Karalmanna… but never heard these recently!!!

  2. I lived in my mothers place in about 2000-2002…!!Her house was near the forest….One night i heard a howl…I thought it might be a wolf or something..but my grandma told that it was an Odiyan…!!
    I don’t know whether to believe her or not…….but i am sure that the howl i heard was surely different from that of a wolf’s howl…!!!

  3. Traditions of Kerala have erased from d history…….??? What will the coming generations do to know more about the tradition or the real history of these beliefs……..where the new generation like us believe all this illuminati’s only with proofs……..

    • Its been a part of Valluvanadan folklore for a long time . As far as i know this myth is quiet prevalent through out the Malabar region . Though there is a caste angle to the belief with most of its practitioners from the so called untouchable castes , I wont link its origins to the feudal era . May be it has something to do with the earlier tribal beliefs before the Brahmanisation .

  4. Even though it is difficult to believe for modern generation; one must believe it. There was a time when it was dangerous to walk at night. Odiyan is not a myth. It is genuine. How a magician shows his magic in front of a gathering or a camera? Same way odiyan too doing his magic but night only. Only difference is he will kill human being or even dogs, but will not die at same night but with in a weeks time. He can kills barking dogs also; it means even dogs can’t see odiyans. Oidyan carrying strong bamboo stick and brake the prays neck and his evil power put on the pray and it will live a weeks time and will die. After dying if we bury the body at 1st night the odiyan definitely will come and dig out the body. It seems he wants back his evil power which he had been put on the pray. Because of this evil power the pray living a few days. I have seen my dog digged out and my mother had heared the screming of the dog at night because of strong hit by odiyan. Morning we saw the dog was laying with tears flowing from both eyes and it died within 2/3 days. My mother’s father also was killed by odiyan and his body also was digged out by odiyan. Why I’m writing this to share the information with new generation. The fetus oil alone is not the thing but an evil power too, which traditionally they had been worshiping at home. Odiyan (naked) and his evil power follows with him. If evil walks ahead Odiyan walks back side and vice versa. Evil makes an illusion there stands a dog or bull with three legs. His two legs & bamboo stick makes 3rd leg. When one sees 4 legs no tail will be visible, when 2 legs and tails can see together there wont be 4th leg. Even torch light can’t pass through. One will feel a curton blocks the light. Odiyan to scare the man will hurl sands or soil at. Immediately the pray will identify the situation and will paralysis because of high fear. Once paralysed with fear he can’t makes voice and can’t even walk. This time odiyan kills him. To counter odiyans there are mantras.

  5. The fetus oil applying only for clear Night vision. Even in thick dark an Odiyan can see things like in broad day light! Illusions of animals are made by Evil force. Only mantras can counter effectively Odiyans. Rain or Water sprinkled over him will make him normal human being. So during summer seasons an odiyan prefer to play or enjoy this hobby. In olden days people used Odiyans to protect their crops from thief’s as a watch man to their plantations like Banana Plantation, Coconut, ariconut and cashewnut plantations. And some people used them to kill their enemies.

  6. I have heard a lot of such stories from my Grandad/Grandmom. My Grand dad himself was a school head master and a part time healer/Mantravadi. He learnt his mantras from the famous yeroman Nair (MT’s Naalukettu has reference about this person). He had had multiple face-offs with Odiyan on his way back from Mantravadam/ Ozhippikkal etc.

    One story I remember is when he took his son-My uncle with him once and they were returning through the paddy fields very late. They saw a Bull which however did not come close to them. Next day a Paanan comes home and asks my Grandad not to venture out at night as its dangerous. It was him disguised as a bull apparently but did not want to harm my grandad as he had lots of respect for him.

    Another instance was when he say a dog tailing him on his way back home. He said some mantras to his Knife -which he carried all the time and stuck it on the varambu. The odiyan was unable to move till the time he came back to the fields in the morning and removed the knife.

    He used to tell us,
    1. Odiyan when they are disguised as cow/dog etc will be missing tail and this is how he recognize them.
    2. They can stay disguised in darkness only and turns back to human by daybreak.
    This makes me think they were just wearing a disguise so in dark it was tough to make out. In those ages, with no electricity or public lighting, Odiyan would have been the legend people created as well.

    However, I somehow find it hard to disbelieve my Granddad’s stories and the possibility that he lied. He was a man of integrity.

    These stories came up from the back of my mind offcourse due to the upcoming movie. 🙂

  7. Mohanlal and Prakash Raj are coming together after two decades in the most expensive Malayalam film ‘Odiyan’, an untold story of Malabar region’s tribesmen. The film is based on the life of a tribal community of a remote village of Palakkad-Malabar region who have the extra terrestrial power to transform themselves into animals and scare people.

  8. Your observations about the pre-vedic or the earliest non vedic rituals and practices followed in Valluvanad is very true. In fact there were so many beautiful customs and rituals that the elders in our family used to discuss about- afraid many of them have vanished with the present onslaught of homogenous religious rituals. Wish some one would document and preserve them .

    • Thank you for your insight. Homogenisation of Hinduism is the greatest threat that we are facing right now in the cultural front. There must be more voices like yours against the North Indian tendency towards a forced Hindu identity.

  9. Well they existed, exist or not, all this could be superstitious who cares. I as a person believe in both science and fairies. I never knew much about Odiyan. I loved your writing. I enjoyed the comments of Prabhakaran and Kiran as well. Folklore’s are always part of great culture not sure for how many more years all this will be remembered by the people. I wish I lived in that old era too, could have heard , seen or experienced such presence.

  10. i have encountered it with my grandappa wen i was 4 . Basically i was born in chennai and my native is kerela interior palakad i still remember at my 4 age i went to kerela to visit my great grand parents and on that time there wont be that much electrical facilities a single small street bulb will be there for around half kilometer and its hilly region cause of that the light brightness will be covered by trees and only moon lights will be available and my grand father use to practice some ritual things like we use to mention (kudumba daevatha or amma ) not dhur daevtha . Once all my family with my grand parents went to a pooram and my family members all were started to return home within 9 itself as i grown in chennai . i use to sleep by 10 or 11 only at night and in pooram by 10 only all crackers (vedi pooram ) so i stayed with my grand pa to see that and since my grand father was horribly drunked yet also standing tall so he also accepted me for staying in pooram and everything gets over and we were returning home at that time i have afraid a lot since my grand pa with he took me on his shoulders like i am sitting in his shoulder holding the eatables and a torch over his head and showing light in the way and he holds bedi in one hand and eatables in other while we returning back as i was playing with the torch while showing him the way suddenly i saw two horse standing far away as we coming down from a hill and i said to my grandpa about this suddenly he ask me to switch off the lights and he put me down and took charayam (old age alcohol) from the eatables and washes his face and then he make burnning torch by grabbing some sticks around there with his dhoti and charayam he lighted it up and put me again in his shoulder and started to tell some rituals and ask me to close my eys and should not to take as we were approaching near by that he started to spell it loud and even in that much noise i heard a noise like how dogs use to breath wen they run a long distance like that noise but i saw it like a horse standing wen i saw it first and till my grandfather says i didnt open my eyes and talked but instead of that i have done other two things i cried silently and i pee in my grandpa shoulders in fear and after that we came home cleaned our self but still i was in shock and crying as i belive it like a ghost and after that i dnt remember how i sleep but in the next morning wen i wake up my grand mother and my mom told its odiyan and they were staying to kill some one else but as we were came in there way and my grandfather was well known all about this so we escaped like that they told and now my age was 26 and a lot of things were changed in my native but even now i am afraid to going outside my house after 6pm cause of that incident i will never forget that in my whole life and i have survived that time may be cause of grandpa and i dnt know about these odiyans and all . I have thought that it was like a ghost or something else like that but since that incident wen ever i go vactions always my grand mother have latest and new stories about this odiyattam .

  11. valluvandu (especially malappuram and palakkad ditricts) is the capital of blind thoughts in Kerala. it never ends in an odiyan. Gandharvan , yakshi, chathan the list continues and every where you have some proof and witness. But this shows clearly how powerful landlord played with people ignorance.Brilliant criminals and there handlers were active on that time using maximum available “technology”

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts…yakshas and gandharvas are not limited to valluvanad. They were once worshipped through out India before the advent of modern Hinduism. Yaksha , Naga motifs dating back at least 2000 years could be found in many museums across India .I even saw one at the Asian Civilisation Museum – Singapore. All these practices could be an extension of our animistic past when Indians were much closer to nature than to the gods of shaivism,Vaishnavism or shaktheism

  12. I just want to correct u guyz..the fetus oil is jst a rumour ….my ancestors never said about fetus oil….bt said about a plant which is common bt only can be identified by us I mean odiyan …..as grandmother said the last odiyan was my great grand dad and my grand dads brother…and she also said tat great grand dad was very evil nd would do any thing fr money ,she said tat he had killed many fr the old vazhunor (janmi or landlord) ,as my grand dad didnt like harming others he didnt use his powers (as per my grand moms knowledge ) my dad hates when I ask him about all this …my grandmom said about extracting a spcl kind of oil frm the plant through a sacred ritual and ten mixing it with the blood of a sacrificed wild hen or peringodar kozi(sacrificed to chatan mar and thondachan inorder to plz tem ) applying it to forehead with betal leafs nd sme other thing … nd so nd so…tey go out in night nd focuses strongly on what tey want to be seen to others …only the one with strong mind nd will power could be a true odiyan…my grand dads brother (who was an odiyan ) went missing after duel with a manthravadi..bt my muthashi (grand mom) says tat my grand dad used to meet him secretly ..and my dad also said tat a bull appeared out of no where during his marriage ceremony..nd was not seen again..there is also a cain made out of bamboo with a silver coated handle in the house muthashi asked to keep it safe before her death saying it is a family property nd nt to lose it …I live in north malabar (dont want to disclose which distrct) nd no one even knew about it until a movie based on it is gonna release…am still trying study about this lost family fortune, bt no elders are ready to disclose wat tey know about it execpt my grand ma … as promised to muthashi I cant disclose any thing else about this ..though I can correct ur misunderstandings about we odiyans…..

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