The Kuravar tribe, an ethnic Tamil community, inhabiting the Kurunji mountains of Kerala, practised the tradition of ear extensions for generations, but now it is gradually dying. Adivasi Awaaz creator Kavipriya, writes about this disappearing tradition, in the following article.
Ear piercings have been a fashion statement for decades. However, in tribal communities such as the Kuravars, it was a traditional practice. Moreover, they also practised growing/elongating the ears. It should be noted that the practice was not exclusive to women. Men also practised this tradition.
How were Ear Extensions Done?
A few days after the birth of a child, the members of Kuravar tribe would pierce the child’s ear and stuff it with a cotton wick. They would then keep dropping water in the pierced hole every two days. The bigger the size of the punching instrument, the bigger is the size of the pierced hole, which increases further due to the stuffed cotton. Prior to stuffing, the cotton is kept in corn husks. The cotton remains in the pierced hole for several days and when the ear heals, a small lid is placed on it. The lobe of the ear is constantly massaged with castor oil, in order to elongate it. Due to the weight of the lid and the constant pulling of the ear lobe, while massaging, the lower part of the ear starts elongating gradually. After this, small rings or ‘thandatti’ are worn in the pierced hole. The elongation of the ear lobe was also practised by the royalty of South India. King Rajaraja I, of the Chola dynasty, in the painting at the Tanjore temple, is depicted with elongated ears, wearing ornaments.
What Kind of Jewelleries were Used in Ear Extensions?
Historically, the Kuravars are known to have worn 39 varieties of earrings. They wore koppu, murukachi, onaputattu, ethirtattu, kurukkutattu, thandatti, mudichi nagavattam, etc., as earpieces. They also wore ornaments made of black moss, red moss, gold amulet, etc., around their necks. They were also known to wear bracelets and anklets.
The Sangam literature mentions certain ear jewelleries that were used by the Kuravars. These include Attikai, Ittatikai, Olai, Manikaolai, Katippinai, Kadukkan, Kannapu, Kundalam, Gunnuku, Kutambai, Kuradu, Kuzhai, Kuvalai, Koppu, Channava Tanjam, Chinnapu, Sevipuo, Thaduppu, Thandatti, Taaluruvi, Trisari, Dhodu, Pondhodu, Manidhodu, Navasari, Navakandikai, Nagapatam, Panchasari, Pampadam, Pambani pukadi, Makari, Manjikai Madal, Maththirai, Muduchu, Muruku, Melidu, Vallikai, and Vaali.
The practice of ear extensions has slowly died among the Kuravars. These days, the only chance of finding ear extensions is on the elderly. The practice of ear extensions has been affected by the market culture, where traditions such as ear piercings or ear extensions have become commercialized, instead of being rituals. Hence, gradually these rituals started disappearing.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.