Navratri is celebratedby worshipping goddess Durga in her diferent forms and incarnations all over India except for Kulasai. In the Thoothukudi District of Tamil Nadu, a village named Kulasekarapattinam is famous for its Sri Mutharamman Temple or Kulasai Mutharamman Temple where the devotees dress up like Kali and other forms of gods and goddesses offering prayers to the goddess Mutharamman.
Kulasai Dasara (Dusshhera) is a rural festival that continues for ten days with the start of Navaratri and finishes on the tenth day that is Dussehra in the celebration of killing the demon called Mahishan/ Mahishasura. It's an iconic festival known for its ritualistic celebrations and the most surreal avatars with outrageous costumes and visages, that hundreds of thousands of people attend from across the country, especially photographers.
Legend goes that as demon Mahishasura attained dangerous powers for conquering all the worlds and started destroying them, devas and rishis prayed to lord Shiva who asked them to worship the goddess Parvati. She then, through a yagna (sacred ritual), took the incarnation of a girl child named Lalithambika in order to kill the demon. The girl grew up into adulthood within nine days and on the tenth day, she was transformed into Parasakthi Lalithambika, who slayed the demon. The tenth day is thus celebrated as Dasara in this temple.
Arunkumar Marimuthu, a photographer from Perambalur, Tamilnadu captures this animated festival in his photo series. The images captures the devotees dressed as goddess Kali, Lord Shiva, gypsy hunters, monkeys, beggars, kings and local gods like Chudalamadan, Kariyilamadan, Changalamadan, Asuran etc. ; allcovered head to toe in red, yellow, blue, black, and green; performing, dancing and singing completely entranced as they walk towards the temple.
Devotees arriving for the festival fast for 41 days. During the last ten days, which fall under Navaratri, they dress up emulating the gods and goddesses of the local pantheon. Those dressing up go through penance like procedures for more than a month before the festival with one meal a day, self-cooking, practicing asceticism, living outdoors and keeping away from intoxication and other forms of indulgent activities, as well as refraining from violent and sinful acts.
As per ritual, the dressed-up gods and goddesses also go around their towns taking alms. The people of Kulasekarapattinam believe that goddess Mutharamman comes to their houses in a disguised form to take alms. So, the residents graciously welcome the costumed devotees and donate whatever they can like rice or money. On the day of Dusshhera, the devotees arrive at Kulasai to offer the collected money or grains. Kulasai Dasara ends at the sea where devotees take a dip in the water and perform their final poojas.
Arunkumar has spent a dedicated amount of time to this festival capturing its fierce, divine essence through the people that passionately participate in it. The photographer travelled to multiple towns for these pictures and was exposed to societal injustices and inequalities that he wishes to reflect in his work. He wants to bring change by shedding light on the real India that in unaltered by colonial narratives; an India that is untamed, much like this wild, ethnic festival.