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Mashinottam, A unique Divinatory Path
By K. S. Narayanan

Divinatory system of Mashinottam is a traditionally given gift from Sree Vishnumaaya, a celestial and is practised with a lot of fervour, worship and dedication, mostly in the Southern parts of India. Mashinottam is mainly practised to get information about missing persons or objects. This is a very useful ancient practice of divination

Some practitioners of this art smear 'the Mashi' on the surface of a betel-leaf for reading to achieve the object, some others use a mirror to have the Mashi smeared and yet some others use their thumb nail for this purpose. But most of the practitioners insist that only a child below the age of 12, be able to gaze upon and relay the events of what he/she sees: while they do this, they may be under a spell cast by the practitioner.


Of the various methodologies utilized to know of the past, present and future, like astrology (natal, as well as horary), divination using Cowries, Betel-leaf etc., there is yet another method, going by the name "MASHINOTTAM" that has been in vogue, since aeon, in Kerala as well as Tamil Nadu regions . This art has been practised by a few select caste / families, to whom 'the art' has been handed-over through generation to generation, by word of mouth .
In Kerala, Trichur or Kunnamkulam, very near to the famous Krishna Temple of Guruvayuur, is a place where there are a number of practitioners, whom are approached by any affected party, especially to know about the following:
  • The place where an absconding or abducted person may be wandering or to know about his present status;
  • The place or whereabouts of a stolen property (like domestic animals, gold sovereigns,documents or any such valuables) may be kept or to know about its present status;
  • The person who might have committed crimes (as in the above cases / even murder), etc. and, as an aid, to have a direction in proceeding for a solution to the problem at hand .

As has been given to understand, the practitioners of this art gets the knowledge on how to go about this business from their forefathers alone and they in turn will transmit the knowledge over, to their own kith and kin only, in due course of time. Generally, it is not taught to anybody else . Thus there is a shroud of mystery.

Mythological Background
There are different schools of thought, as to the origin of this divinatory method . One legend has it that once, while the Divine Couple (Goddess Parvathy and Lord Parameswara) were spending time in Mount Kailasa, in the absence of their children, the Mother one day dreamt of her youngest son and grew anxious and very much worried about. She wanted to be assured that all had been well with her child. As ill-luck would have it, She could not raise the query to her Lord, for, He was in deep meditation and would not, hence, brook interference. At that moment, one of the assistant celestials, "Shri Vishnumaaya" appeared there with 'a special preparation ' , a thick, black liquid, which when smeared onto a BETEL LEAF would appear as a reflecting surface like that of a mirror , and which, when gazed upon and queried, would project the where-abouts and the status quo. She thus had Her anxiety removed, replacing it with happiness and contentment . This special preparation goes under the name, now widely recognized, as "MASHI" (looking like Kaajal or ink) and the process of foreseeing the future, by looking at this coated Mashi came to be known as "MASHINOTTAM".
There is yet another legend: in a place called "Aaraattupuzha", in Kerala, (Trichur Distric), where the famous "Kannamkulaththaama Bhadrakali Temple" is located, once upon a time, when festivitiy (Aaraattu) was going on, a saint attended the celebration, where, to be part of the festivities other devas too had come down. While they departed to devaloka, the saint could not. Then he decided to do penance on the bank of a rivulet, erected an 'ashram', and did prayer and puja to "Aaraattupuzha Saasthaa". To help him in doing these chores, he had an assistant joined at his 'ashram'. The able assistant, now known as "Thottumuththassan", was given, by his very much pleased 'guru', the special preparation called 'Mashi' and special incantations to help the needy populace in redressing their grievances. Later, the saint, by the stint of his meditation power, could gain entrance into 'devaloka", Yet another legend has it that the Mashinottam art was started in a 'Kalari', (roughly equivalent to a 'gymnaseum' of modern times), namely "Aaraattupuzha Kannamkulam Kalari, with the blessings of Goddess Kannamkulaththamma, Goddess Vishnumaaya and Karimkuttyswami.

Procedure of Mashinottam
Practitioners of this art have been entrusted with sacred hymns and special prayers, who with devotion, invoke various demi-gods, conduct the proceedings of Mashinottam in a stipulated method. While some smear 'the Mashi' on the surface of a betel-leaf for reading to achieve the object, some others use a mirror to have the Mashi smeared and yet some others use their thumb nail for this purpose. But most of the practitioners insist that only a child below the age of 12, be able to gaze upon and relay the events of what he/she sees: while they do this, they may be under a spell cast by the practitioner. They will see and come out with the tell-tale to the practitioner, who will explain it to the querant on his inquiry. Some practitioners aver that, they be informed atleast three days before the querant visits them, for the purpose of having mashinottam done, because the practitioner has to conduct and undergo a type of penance to have a correct reading done. The sacred hymn/ incantation and observance they do is kept secret, as also the formula that goes into the making of 'the Mashi'. There seems to be different types of 'mashi', known under different names, depending on the legion of the practitioner / location.
With difficulty though, the scribe could get access to a book where under the caption : "Jnaanachakshussu Manthram", a methodology to gain proficiency in this art is described, whereby a certain "mantra" is required to be repeatedly meditated upon, for one lakh times standing in breast-high water, after 'Ganesa puja', first to attain "Siddhi", before practising this art. As per the given formulae, the 'Mashi' is made of ingredients like rice powder, 'kadali' plantain fruits, flaked rice, sugar-cane, puffed paddy, coconut, sesame seeds, 'modaka' etc. First offering of these is to be made to 'agni', which was started as a sacred fire, while chanting a sacred mantra for six lakh times; then collecting of the charcoalised residual matter is to be done for the latter use.

Case-study quoted from a Memoir
Regarding the effect of this methodology, I shall quote an anecdote as is narrated in a memoir: "Nochur Under Soft Light - Part III "by Shri N.R.Vekataraman , under the caption "Magic Ink" (vide p: 44-62). The year in question was 1943, when the author was doing his college studies at St.Thomas College, Trichur. An avid player of 'ball badminton', he and his friends used to play in the evening hours at the Siva Temple ground at Nochur Village (in Palghat District). Once they were stretching strenuously for a match and it has been their practice to keep the net and bats bundled up and hidden in a house, away from the searching eyes of their elders, who did not approve of their whiling away the time, instead of studying. One day, the whole bundle went missing, in the thick of their practising session. Their frantic search in every known nook and corner could not locate the missing articles. They brooded over and decided to approach a practitioner of "Mashinottam" nearby . They had to take a boy under 12 years of age along with them. The practitioner assured them that everything will be revealed by his 'MAGIC INK' and demanded his share of money, a princely sum at that time, a coconut, two plantain fruits, two tablets of camphor and two betel leaves, all of which were given to him . Then a wooden plank was placed facing East and the boy was asked to be seated therein. A tiny oil lamp was lit and the practitioner spread seven sea-shells (Cowries) also. In loud voice, he started invoking his Ishta Devata, dashed his hand on the floor and looked in the eyes of the boy. On a betel leaf, he poured some drops of thick oil and smeared throughout the length and breadth of the betel leaf and then asked the boy: "look now, look over the betel leaf". The boy, who seemed to be under a hypnotic spell stared at the ink smeared on the betel leaf. After some time, the boy cried " I can see somebody now; somebody with a black bed- sheet covered over his head walking in the street followed by a somewhat well-built fat man wearing a shirt. I see them walking, he has a bundle with him; they walked past the Bhagavathy temple, reaching the tank (thaamarakkulam)..the man carrying the bundle stumbles over a bush and the man behind asks him to bring the bundle somewhere in the water.the man now moving into knee-deep water with mud and slush, taking a heavy stone, binds the bundle over it and pushes the thing into water surrounded by Lily I do not see anything.. .." Later, a search in the said tank, brought out the bundle of net and the three broken badminton bats..!
That this practice has survived time and is still in vogue is a proof of the pudding it is made of.

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