Horn Pulling, An Adeema (Sinhala) or Horn Play – An Keliya in Sinhala and Kombu Vilaiyadu in Tamil – is a ritualized game that is performed to venerate Pattini-Kannaki. It is associated with a playful period in her life when she and her husband, Palanga-Kovalan, sought to ‘hook’ a Sapu flower (Michelia champaca) with the aid of two forked sticks. In the process, their hooks got ensnared and a tug o’ war ensued between them. Pattini-Kannaki was the victor, to her great glee. She and her maidservants clapped and danced and teased Palanga-Kovalan much to his annoyance.
This story, nor the one shared by some Hindu devotees in the Eastern Province, is mentioned in the Silappadikaram: “After burning the city of Madurai, Kannaki sat beside the river to cool herself. She spotted a group of cowherd boys (among whom was Lord Krishna) playing with two hooked sticks. The side that won danced and sang with joy and watching them, Kannaki’s anger slowly abated. From then on, Kombu Vilaiyadu was performed every year during the hot, dry months from July to September in order to cool the Amman.”
Both An Keliya and Kombu Vilaiyadu involves a form of tug o’ war between two teams of men. In An Keliya, the teams are referred to as udu pila (upper team – Palanga’s team) and yati pila (lower team – Pattini’s team) and affiliation is patrilineal (through the father). In Kombu Vilaiyadu, Kovalan’s team is known as vada seri (north side) and Kannaki’s team as then seri (south side). Here too, affiliation is patrilineal despite property ownership and caste affiliations in the Eastern Province being matrilineal (Sukumar 2009).
The earliest reference to An Keliya is in Robert Knox’ 17th century account, An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon in the East Indies (1681). Obeyesekere (1984) surmises that it was performed all over the island with the exception of the Northern and North Western Provinces. In some regions, sambhur (Rusa unicolor) horns were used, in other areas, wooden hooks. Unfortunately, it is no longer played in Tamil villages due to it engendering too much discord, even extending to murder, within communities (Obeyesekere 1984; Sukumar 2009). It has more or less died out in most Sinhala villages too with the exception of Panama, in the Eastern Province, where Sinhalese and Tamils have a long history of inter-marriage (see also http://www.lankalibrary.com/rit/ankeli.htm).