Paambu kulam in Vellammal’s backyard at Maruthur in Vedharanyam
A pond built by a hutment dweller venerates the guardian deity and the snakes that inhabit a grove
Beneath the dark shade of the wooded Wodier grove is a stone structure of Veeran, the guardian deity of the hutments of Velliammal and her three sons.
Modestly decorated with specks of vermilion, Veeran is seated a stone’s throwaway from the Velliammal hutments — a cluster of three huts and the Paambu Kulam (snake pond) that fringes her backyard. The paambu kulam or the snake pond has been in existence for close to 28 years, says Velliammal.
In these times of human-animal conflict, Velliammal’s snake pond in Marudhur village, some 20 km from Vedaranyam, represents a tale of ecological harmony and coexistence between humans and the snakes that frequent their houses.
The snake pond is Velliammal’s way of venerating Veeran and the snakes that inhabit his wooded grove. For, it is on the temple lands of Veeran that the hutments are situated, she says. “Where will the snakes go to quench their thirst? So, the kulam was dug so that they do not stray.”
Each year, the family of farm-wage labourers spends some money to desilt and deepen the pond so that the snakes can come and quench their thirst. They do not step into the pond unless it is full to the brim. Velliammal believes that the snakes guard not just Veeran but also her property. Her anecdotal references attest to her belief. “The household objects may lie around, and on several occasions, a snake will be guarding my property. No outsider can cross over or touch the objects,” she says.
There is the problem of peacocks in the fields that the snakes are pushed to human habitations, says Rani, Velliammal’s daughter-in law, whose hut is fully thatched from the roof to the walls. Snakes have no place to go, and the pond is necessary. When the pond is dry, the women pump just enough water into the pond from the lift pump for the snakes to drink from. Within the space of the bamboo fenced hutment, Velliammal rears goats, pigeons, a cow and a dog.
The women of the household will do nothing that may offend the gods and snakes that live around the Veeran temple. “We do not even wash our hands in the pond during our menstrual cycle. That will be an affront to the snakes,” says Rani.