It was a dark, moonless night. Somewhere an owl hooted and a stray dog howled. The man walked with brisk steps towards his destination – the back gates of a huge compound that housed the palatial tharavad of Madhavakutty Menon. He reached the back gate, knocked the iron gate twice and merged into the shadows.
Few minutes later, an old man dressed in a silk mundu and angavastaram made his way towards the back gate. The old man wore an assortment of rings around his fingers and a clutch of gold chains around his neck. He walked with a pronounced limp and a permanent sneer was housed on his lips. He was Madhavakutty Menon, the elder of the family.
‘Is everything set?’ Madhavakutty Menon barked out a question.
The man in the shadows came out with his head bowed. He looked like a granite statue with his dark colour and chiseled features. He nodded and said, ‘Yes, swami. Waiting for your command.’
Menon growled, ‘You have it now. Get it done, none of my rivals should see the sunrise tomorrow.’
‘It will be done, swami.‘
‘Good, here’s something for your troubles.’ Menon removed one of his chains and flung it in the general direction of the other man and walked back into the house. The man picked the chain and hurried back to meet his sons.
‘Achha! We are ready,’ His first son showed the marunnukoottu prepared for the odividya. He nodded and looked towards his second son – a lad of fifteen. He nodded his head vigorously. The house had been marked.
‘Show me,’ The man said and the lad started running. The man walked briskly towards the house marked by his second son.
‘Are you sure?’ He asked once they had reached their destination.
‘Yes! I saw the woman of the house. She’ll suit our purpose.’
The man sat outside and started chanting the spells of odividya. A few moments later, the door of the house opened and a woman walked out. She was heavily pregnant and appeared to be in trance. The man stood up and walked ahead, chanting the spells and the woman followed him. They reached their initial location where his first son was waiting.
They sat down and started chanting a different set of spells. The woman walked over to a marked spot and lay down. The man took a piece of bamboo, one end sharpened to a knifepoint, and used it to pierce the woman’s stomach. Soon, he had removed the foetus from her stomach. The woman, still in a trance and now bleeding heavily, stood up and walked towards her home. He knew that she’d lie down in her bed and bleed to death.
The man hung the foetus from a pole and harvested the fluid from it, which he used to mix with other ingredients to prepare the marundhu. They buried the foetus, got rid of all their other items and walked away towards their next target – the enemies of Madhavakutty Menon.
Outside the tharavad of Suryanarayana Pillai, the man and his sons took place and applied the freshly prepared marundhu behind their ears. Around four in the morning, the men of the house came out to perform their morning ablutions. They saw a bull and two calves standing just outside their gates. Without paying heed they started walking towards the river. As they passed the animals, the grandson of Pillai called out.
‘This calf has only three legs, and the bull doesn’t have a tail.’
His words sent a collective shockwave through the party as they realised what was happening.
Someone screamed, ‘Odiyaan…’
The bull and its calves charged and started attacking the men. Soon all the men of the Pillai household were murdered in cold blood by the Odiyaans sent by Madhavakutty Menon. Their job done, the odiyaans switched back to their human forms and went back to their own village.
Madhavakutty Menon was enjoying a cheerful sunrise when his son-in-law came running in.
‘Lakshmi…’ he gasped. Lakshmi was the daughter of Madhavakutty Menon.
‘She’s dead!’ His son-in-law started weeping. ‘Someone entered our house in the night and slit her stomach…’
Note: The legend of Odiyaans is popular in Kerala’s vibrant folklore. Usually, odiyaans are lower caste people who are said to practice dark arts that gives them the power to take the form of any animal or inanimate object like a wall or a rock. The Odiyaans are hired by the people belonging to the higher castes in order to take revenge against their enemies. This can also be viewed as a commentary on the social hierarchy.
The ‘marunnukoottu’ is the technique for preparing the ‘marunnu’ (oil/medicine) which an odiyaan applies behind his ears, thereby getting his shape-shifting powers. Odividya is the art/knowledge used by Odiyaans in their endeavours.
Usually, the forms taken by odiyaans have inherent flaws – like a 3 legged buffalo, or a dog without ears. People who know to look for such flaws can spot the odiyaans much before they could cause damage.
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1. Tales With A Twist – A collection of my short stories.
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