KBF commissions ‘Pappanji’ for year-end celebrations

Dated: December 27, 2014

Kochi, Dec 27: It is the season of traditions, celebrations, and revival.

The Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) is organising the traditional ‘Pappanji’ celebrations for 2014 at Fort Kochi beach carnival where thousands of people, including foreign tourists, gather annually to mark the end of the outgoing year.

Typically, a huge figure of the Pappanji — Portuguese for grandfather — is brought to the beach on December 31 and set alight to mark the end of the year, in a custom that has its origins in the area’s cosmopolitan history.

In 2013, when the KBF first commissioned the Pappanji figure, filmmaker Lal Jose did the honours. (The burning of the Pappanji also marks the end of the annual Cochin Carnival, which began in 1984.)

This time around amid the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, KBF has roped in a young artists’ group under Jasinther Rockfeller. It was the 32-year-old sculptor who led an eight-member local team that recently drew graffiti at the KBF office in Fort Kochi. Now, Jasinther and his group will make the figure of the Pappanji — measuring 22 feet high.

“We are shaping Pappanji out of cloth, paper, straw, and sack on an iron frame,” said Jasinther, who is an alumnus of RLV College of Fine Arts in suburban Tripunithura. “It is nice to contribute and be a part of a celebration that is so rooted in the local culture.”

KBF notes that ‘Burning the Pappanji’ is an irreligious and secular celebration that has evolved from the history of the area. “The KBF, now an intrinsic part of the local cultural scene, is lending the celebration an artistic view,” said Bonny Thomas, Research Coordinator of the 108-day biennale which concludes on March 29 next year.

The custom of torching the Pappanji stems from a Portuguese belief that a year is born and matures before growing old — and is then burnt in effigy. It is a practice believed to have been brought to the area by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

Thirty years ago, when the carnival started, organisers used to make the figure of an old, bearded European man in a suit and hat that was brought to the beach and lighted.

There is a similar summer tradition among the local Konkanis who came to the area from Goa in the 16th century in the wake of Portuguese persecution. A figure called the ‘Bothan’ is hung from a banyan tree and burned, after which families take a bath in turmeric water. It is apparently to ward off the germs of the season and build immunity.

The local Jews, who were once a prominent community in Mattancherry, too carry out a similar ritual. They make an effigy of a minister in the court of Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar and throw stones at it for the cruelty he committed against Jews in ancient times.

CB

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