RR Srinivasan

Masi Maham

The moon festival of five elements

RR Srinivasan is an Indian photographer, film society activist, environmental activist, writer, and editor who has been actively involved in the film appreciation movement in Tamil Nadu through societies and alternative film journals. He emerged from Kanchanai film society in Thirunelveli, which has played a key role in bringing serious cinema to the non-metropolitan audience. He has directed and produced several documentary movies on social issues, including 28 documentary films on folk art traditions in Tamil Nadu. His photographs have been exhibited in several exhibitions in India. He has to his credit a photobook on Narikuravas, a nomadic tribe in India.

Masi Maham 

The moon festival of five elements

Irular, one of the primitive tribes of India, celebrates the Masi Maham festival on the seashore at Mamallapuram near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The festival happens on the full moon day that aligns with the Magha star in the month of Masi as per the Tamil calendar (usually in March). The Irulars celebrate the festival in memory of their god Kanni Amman. They believe that Kanni Amman got angry with people, left their villages, and came to the seashore. During the festival, the tribals assemble at the shore and pray to Kanni Amman so that the god will return to their villages. 


I have been closely following this festival for over 15 years. The Irulars have been celebrating this festival for several centuries and their association with the coastal town of Mamallapuram can be dated back to the pre-Pallava period before the seventh century.  The festival can be seen as a celebration of nature. The tribals reach the shore almost a week before the festival and set up temporary shelters. They sleep on the beach under the moonlight. On the full moon day, they wake up early and start the rituals. There are a few festivals that allow people to connect with nature and its five elements - water, sky, fire, earth, and wind. Most people miss the connection with these elements in their daily lives, but the Irular people live with the elements all the time. At this time of rapid and widespread destruction of nature, shifting to the tribal consciousness about nature is the only way to save our planet

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