Anyonyam is conducted in the month of November (Vrischikam) every year at the famous Sri Ramaswamy temple situated at Kadavallur. Traditional scholars of Rigveda assemble in the temple and enter in severe competitions in the chanting of Rigveda for eight days. In Kerala, only the Rig Veda used to have an institutionalised teaching system. The Yajur and Sama Vedas were traditionally taught in Namboothiri homes.
Anyonyam represents the meeting of two major Rig Veda practitioner groups based in Thirunavaya Math and Brahswom Math, which were once patronised by the Zamorin and Cochin kings respectively. The competition, which was revived in its present form in 1989, had been wound up in 1947. But ever since, it has been held without fail under the aegis of the Kadavallur Anyonya Parishath.
The two schools send around 16 aspirants each to take part in this cumbersome examination, which is the only one of its kind in the country. The participants are selected at the two madhoms through rigorous tests known as ‘kizhakku-padinjaru’ (literally, east-west) noted for its complexity. The namboothiri boys who are initiated into learning the Vedas at an early age undergo arduous disciplining for several years. Not only are the intonations of supreme importance, but the diction and modulation of the verses, numbering 10,472 riks, can be perfected through a systematic practice, for which a ritualistic and highly disciplined life style is imperative for students.
A spirit of healthy rivalry and competition is discernible even in the preparations, well before the event. The modes of oral test are technically called ‘Vaaramirikkal’, ‘Ratha’ and ‘Jata’ and they are held in the night. One has to recite the verses selected from a particular ‘varga’ of Rig Veda without any slip during the first one. If the memory fails one, a helping hand is rendered by the Gurus, but strictly through gestures, which form an intrinsic part of the training as well.
While ‘Vaaramirikkal’ is held prior to supper, both the jata and ratha, for the winners of the previous one, are conducted during supper. These are more complex as they demand an admixture of both ascending and descending order of recitation of the selected verse.
While it is prestigious to have come out of the three tests successfully, to enter the ‘Kadannirikkal’ and ‘Valiya Kadannirikkal’, the higher tests, are really challenging. The sitting postures of the two opponents, who face each other during these feats, are suggestive of the higher levels to which the competitions are carried out in this unique exercise.