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It's feast time for Kerala fish

For two days, fishermen don't cast their nets to let the finned guests sup in peace, reports Ramesh Babu.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2006 12:56 IST

It's payback time for fishermen along Kollam coast in southwest Kerala. Hundreds of fisherfolks gathered on Pandarathuruth beach on Saturday for a two-day ritual to feed the fish, which they net round the year.

The ceremony, accompanied by a two-day fast and elaborate prayers, is symbolic. It aims to give to the fish what they give to us — food. And reverse the roles on the plate, for once.

The pisci-platter is exotic, with a hefty price tag. Two quintals of rice, several kilograms of turmeric powder and expensive spices are used in the meen oottu (fish-feasting) festival.

After special prayers at the Mookumpuzha temple, devotees roll the offerings into small balls and throw them into the sea. The gesture does not end here. For two days, fishermen don't cast their nets. The reason: To let the finned guests sup in peace.

Moreover, there is a blanket ban on curried, pickled and fried fish in the area for two whole days.

"We started meen oottu in 2004. Last year, it could not be held because of the devastation caused by the tsunami," says Sohan Lal, an organiser of meen oottu.

Hence, the unprecedented rush. "Kollam and Alapuzha were grappling with the aftermath of the killer waves," says fisherman Sathyan. But the damage suffered by these two districts were minimal, compared to other areas. The local residents believe that the ritual shielded them from nature's fury.

"We are flooded with inquiries, especially from the coastal areas. There are many who want to replicate our festival," says Sohan Lal. He plans to host a more elaborate ritual next year.

"We plunder the sea ruthlessly. We have to do some penance and propitiate the sea god, Lord Varuna," Sohan Lal adds.

Thanks to the festival, and to an extent the tsunami, the poor fish that find a prominent place on the dining table may now be able to enjoy many more such repasts in the future.

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 12:56 IST