By Ranjini Sivaswamy
There was a time in Kerala, like in many cultures, when farming cycles set the rhythm of the lives of its people.
One earthy contribution of those agrarian times is Vellari Nadagangal. Vellari, known as sambar-cucumber in urban lexicons, is a vegetable that was grown in between crop cycles. Nadagangal means drama.
The seeds of the vegetable was a favourite among birds and the farmers had a tough time keeping them away from the fields. Guarding the fields during the day was doable, but late evenings was tough. The ingenuity of the farmers gave birth to an incredibly creative idea. They decided to keep the fields alive through the evenings, till late into the night, by organizing theatre beside their Vellarifields. The loud renditions, dramatic drums and an entertained audience enlivened the atmosphere and in-turn kept the birds away from the fields. This folk theatre became popularly known as Vellari Nadagangal or the Sambar Cucumber Plays.
Modernity sent both farming and folk theatre into oblivion in the state. But Kerala is all set to revive this tradition not to keep the birds away to recreate a culture of farming and to emphasise the importance of going organic.