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The Royalty of Palghat

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We talked a bit about the Cochin Kings, we talked much about the Zamorin, we mentioned the Kolathiri and Arakkal Beevi in passing and we even sidestepped the Velathiri thus far, but did not forget the king of them all, the Cheraman Perumal. We met them all in many historical alleys over the past few months. As I stumbled past these dark alleys with little fear but much excitement, you all kept me company. Thank you for that


The various Naduvazhi swaroopams, like the Perumbadapuu, Nediyirippu, Kurumbra, Kola etc were mentioned and we talked of external factors like the Dutch, the Portuguese the English and so on. We also mentioned the Achans of Palghat, but I did not venture to detail that part at all. I even entered the Nila valley and talked about the lesser though richer Kavalappara feudal family and the Palghat gap, though not getting involved in the history of Palghat itself or its kings. Now that was not quite nice on my part as my origins are actually from Palakkad and so this is overdue.

So we go to Palghat for a while, we will talk about the past of the present granary of Kerala, the un-spoilt green lands, where we still have tribal dwellers, silent valleys, majestic elephants wandering in forests, lush paddy fields, gramams, tharas,  and traditional tharavads with a tank or two, temple festivals and so on…and I belong to such a village and a tharavad in that small village called Pallavur.To get to Palghat from the East in the past, one must cross the Western Ghats and trace out the Palakkad gap which I talked about some time back. As you cross over, you are struck by the change of soil type and green ambience. Gone is the dry and black cotton growing soil and you now see lush green with wetter soil and a spread of paddy fields. From here the Bharatapuzha flows serenely westwards, to meet the sea.

Palghat was unfortunately or fortunately in the paths of hungry people, greedy traders, marauders preying on them, fugitives and of course travelers. On the Tamil side were weavers, grain and gem traders, and on the other side the kingdoms of Cochin and Calicut, vying to maximize the spice trade with the Arabs and the Chinese. The flow of goods and wealth was always through the Palghat country and the strategic location as a wedge in the middle of them all made Palghat a veritable battlefield on many occasions as I detailed out some months ago. Different kinds of people came, went or settled in these plains and later, paddy cultivation ensured low level work. While the Kongu kings never settled, the over-lordship of Palghat careened between the Cochin and Calicut kings acting as Suzerains. Many a type of people remained, like the Tamil Iyers, the Mannadiars, Chettiars, Moplah’s, the Rowthers and of course the Namboothiris and Nairs. They were coexistent with the aborigine indigenous hill tribes, many of whom are still present. And so it was an amalgam of cultures and dialects, each peacefully living in harmony, except when one or the other among the mighty neighboring kings decided to create havoc in those placid lands, and later even the greedy and ruthless Sultans of Mysore.

But to put it in a nutshell why did Palakkad present such a strategic importance to Calicut and Cochin? Because both were dependent on imported rice and other grains from other states, especially Tamil Nadu and Orissa which reached them through the ships of the Marakkar sea merchants. In good times, all was well, but with the arrival of Western powers who threatened these staid shipping lines for their own greedy purposes, the Zamorin believed correctly that he would be in deep trouble if there was a rice shortage. As you may recall, almost all sundry payment to soldiers and services was in rice. So he looked southwards into Palghat which had abundant rice cultivation. For some years the relationship was fine, during some years it bristled, some years it erupted in violence.

The two ruling clans of Palghat were established when the lands were once upon a time  split along the Bharatapuzha with the more productive south ruled by the Nambiati’s from Kollengode and the lands North by the Palghat Achans. As you could imagine, whenever faced with a problem, these two less than mighty rulers, curried favor with the opposite suzerain (Cochin & Calicut) to maintain a proper balance. This continued till eventually the Mysore Sultans destroyed it all, like the veritable monkey and cake story. After the British took over, the North portion belonged to the British, whereas the South continued under the Cochin administration as Chittur – Cochin.

It is said that the very first ruler of Porainad the old term for the area was a Pandian Tamil king called Subhangi who turned out to be a woman in mans clothing. The ruler was called Poraian and the region was part of the Chera empire as time went by this became Nedumporiyar. In 980 Ad we have the Kongu pada story when the Kongu kings army was defeated by the armies of the Nedumporiyar, Ernanad,Perumpadappu (Cochin) & Valluvavad. In compensation, the Poriyar had to give the Chittur area to the Cochin king, Koduvayur to the Ernanad people etc. In all the region had over 15,000-20,000 Nairs of fighting force which naturally was a very important statistic in times of war.

Of course there was a time before these kings when Palghat was the seat of Jainism and Buddhist learning, the birthplace of many famous astrologers and astronomers. But that is something I will cover later in a separate article, some other day.

The Nedumpurayur or Tharoor swaroopam

As thus I get into the story of Shekari Varma.  Ancient Tamil literature terms the raja of Palghat as the Vellappanatta (Vellapanad) raja and the Tharur family traces their lineage back to Sekharai varma. Their original palace and tharavad were once located close to the present Victoria College grounds, but moved to Kallekulangara after Haider came to Palghat. The Southern tip of their rule was Tharavur which later became the seat of the junior branch. They had a peculiar relationship with the Zamorins of Calicut (and a stronger relationship with the Cochin raja as you will see) for on one side there were a number of sambandham’s between the two families, but they also stood in the way of the Zamorin’s expansionist policies. The Nedumpurayur royal family was later known as Tarur, Taravur or Taruvayur Swaroopam and finally as Palakkad Raja Swaroopam. The Tarur Swaroopam covered Palghat, Alathur and Chittoor Taluks.

Sreedhara Menon mentions that the original seat of the Palghat Rajas was at the Athavanad Amsam (Ponnani Taluk) and they are believed to have exchanged their lands there for their later dominions in the Palghat-Chittur area with the Azhuvancheri Tamprakkal. The Nairs of Kongad, Edathara and Mannur were originally feudatories of the Palghat raja, but were later courted by both the Zamorin and Cochin Rajas during the medieval periods. Some time in the 13th century, a couple of princes from the family married into the Cochin family to maintain the line of male succession.

But for the origin story, and the first connection to the Cochin royal family, we go a long way back, to the fun part, for this sounds like it is straight from a movie story.

The story ( I quote Sibi) is that once in the unmemorable past, the land around Palakkad consisted of thick forests covered by hilly granite heaps, where human habitation was virtually impossible. It is said that four big elephants of Raja of Cochin once ran amuck into the forests of the 'Kuthiran' hills The Raja sent his soldiers with mahouts in search of these elephants, but in vain At last one of the princes of the Cochin Royal family entered into the thick forest with four Nair soldiers He obtained the assistance of some hill tribes and with their help regained the lost elephants The prince and the Nairs returned to the Raja of Perumpadapu and were received with great jubilation But the prince himself felt bad as his heart was weighed down with grief. The members of the Kshatriya Royal house found to their dismay that this prince was deeply in love with a tribal girl with whose help he had obtained the assistance of the hill tribes.

The rigors of the caste system were immediately evident from the reactions. This resulted in the immediate excommunication of the prince. He returned to the Palghat hills, where he got married to the tribal girl. With the help of the tribal’s who rallied around him with all sincerity and enthusiasm, the Raja established a royal dynasty and extended his sway over these uninhibited regions. The wisdom and statesmanship in him, combined with the courage and dedication of the jungle heroes, released a new lease of life, among them. It is believed that this prince was the founder of the dynasty of Palghatcherry.

Shekary Raja, then lorded over eight edoms (houses or major tharavads), divided between its Northern and southern branches. The Southern or Thekke thavazhi comprised Elayachan, Peruvakal, Naduvil and Ponnil edoms. The vadakke (Northern) thavazhi comprised Cherukotta, Pulickal, Mele and Poojakkal edoms. The members were called Achanmars (fathers) and the eldest five were the rajas 1-5 (shekhari, eleya, cavasseri, talantampuram & tariputamuran raja). So you can imagine that the raja, being the oldest was usually a grand old man who really could not govern, in return employed an able Achan as his deputy, to do the real ruling. As time went by the eight edoms became 27 (20 in the north sect and 7 in the south). The female members were called Nethiars.

Anyway the family continued to have troubled or cozy relationships with the Cochin king and Zamorin and got into serious trouble with the latter at times. In between we even had the case of the Portuguese and the Vijayanagar rayars coming to Palght to fight the Zamorin (actually Krishnadeva raya did not come himself as alluded – see my earlier article, but his generals Ramapayya and Devapayya came, and were aided by the Tharur Nairs in a battle against the Zamorin which the Mysoreans lost miserably). But these skirmishes continued on during the continuing times.

It was in the 18th century that the Zamorin finally took over some territory of the swaroopam as a result of the rice blockades and various other issues.  It is said that in the 1756-7 period, the Zamorin summoned the Achans to Kalpathi (Palghat Granthavari) where some of them were murdered. It is also mentioned that Kombi Achan who escaped the tragedy turned to Hyder Ali and thus brought in the miserable reign of the Mysore Sultans to Malabar. Today the family is sparse and separated, and we have of course some illustrious sons in the forefront these days. 

The Kallekulangara Bhagavathy temple in Akathethata (also called the Kaipathi temple or Hemambika temple which has a pair of hands as the main idol) is the family deity of Palakkad kings.

Kollengode Nambiatis

It would not be appropriate to leave this topic without mentioning the other power brokers of PALGHAT, namely the Kollengode nambiatis, though it is a long and somewhat interesting story by itself. As we all know, the panas and yakshis of Palghat are famous and I had written about them some time ago. But there cannot be the two without Gandharvas. So we get to the land of the Gandharvas or the south of Palghat, ruled by the Kollengode family.

Kollengode is the seat of the Venganad Nambidi whose family claims descent from an ancient Kshatriya Raja named Vira Ravi. The name Ravi Varma is accordingly still affixed to the names of all the male members of that family. Note here that the region named Venkunrunad or Venkatanad was corrupted to Venganad above in writings as time went by. The Venganad Nampitis are regarded as "Three-fourths Brahmin"; for they have the Upanayana ceremony, but are not entitled to study the Vedas, can sit and dine in company with Brahmins (though not sitting in the same row as the Brahmins). They were later termed the Valiya Rajahs of Kollengode after Tipu left the area. The location and strategic importance were high for it was another entrance to the Kerala side from the pass through the Anamalai hills. The Zamorin’s Naduvattom Nair was given the key responsibility, which as I understood, he sublet to the Kollengode Nambitis. Thus the nambitis ruled roughly the small region below the river comprising some 8 amsoms with the Zamorin as suzerain.

The traditions recorded by the family traces their beginnings to a royal person named Dharmavarma, who belonged to the Chera dynasty. The earliest story starts with the arrival of Dharma Varama to the Tiru Kachamkurissi temple near Payylur. As the article in The Hindu explains Dharma Varman, a prince, from what is now central Kerala, came, in search of a cure for a debilitating ailment. It is said that the dying Dharma Varman bathed in the healing spring waters that then existed in the forests around the temple, and after undergoing many days of ritual penance at this temple, at the feet of Perumal, returned to his kingdom, completely cured. Dharma Varman's grandson, Vira Ravi, became the first `utaiyvar' of this region, and it is a popular thought that he named his miniature principality, `Venkatanad' (later `Vengunad') in honour of Mahavishnu Perumal of Thirukachamkurissi.

But as legends go, Dharmavarma's son Hamangoda, is brought up to become a professional hunter, archer and warrior, by a black smith living near the Palghat gap, is supposed to have given the name Kollengode which literally means the land of the black-smiths, to the region which came into his possession. At this stage of the legend, a sister of the King, named Dronavadi appears and it is from her son Vira Ravi that the descent of the dynasty is traced, reflecting the matrilineal origins of this family as it was the case with most other families of chieftains of Kerala. As time went by another legend came up about Indra, the various Yaga rites and so on, but it would take too much space to cover that story. The family then split into 3 and migrated, one lot to Vendavanad-Pollachi, another to Thriprayar – Irinjalakkuda and finally the third to Thalipparamba in North Malabar. The palace they constructed can still be seen in Kollengode in full splendor though it is a popular Ayurvedic spa these days.

But a keen reader would get back and ask a question, why were the Kollengode kings half Brahmins or ¾ Brahmins? It appears that a girl was the cause, as most stories in history are, when heart ruled over the brain. The Raja of Kollengode was also ostracized by the Namboodiri Brahmins for his alleged illicit liaison with a low caste girl; however no real story could be traced out. Well, the raja was a clever man, he did not give in to the Naboothiris, he invited the Tamil Brahmins (who were at that point fleeing Madurai) over to his territories and bestowed his patronage in the form of lands, jobs and other amenities to them. But then again, it just might be a jumbling of the Skekharai varama story, with the story of the Nambiti. The Venganad Nambitis were mostly aligned to the Zamorin and figure in the list of feudatories usually invited for the Ariyittuvazhcha (coronation ceremony).

For a very detailed study of the Kollengode nambitis, please refer the NM Nampoothiri’s book, SammothiriNadu chapter 27.

References

A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar - Francis Buchanan
Malabar Studies – Samoothirnadu – N M Nampoothiri
Hyder & Tipu Sultan in Kerala - CK Kareem
Political development among the Tribals – Sibi Zacharias
Hindu Article

See new article on the Kollengode rajas - The Venganad Nambitis of Kollengode



38 comments:

  1. Venkat Ramanan Radhakrishnan

    Hi Maddy, Thanks for the post. happy to know about one of my native places. I have heard, though I don't remember the sources, that the very old building (or rather ruins) adjacent to PMG school on college road is Palakkad Raja's house. Wonder if you know about it.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks VRR,
    I saw a picture of that palace facade in an old book. But that is perhaps a new one (The tarur palace was destroyed by the Zamorin), as i mentioned in the blog, and as you said, it was close to the victoria college, also close to the PMG Motilal school. I think it was called deva Vilas palace.
    you can see the picture here
    http://books.google.com/books?id=_9RJAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA312-IA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

  1. Aristanemi

    It is good article. However No mention of Koduvayoor Kotta or Kongasseri Puthukulangara later called Kuthiravettam family, a strong alley of Zamorine, who helped Zamarine to win over Taroor swarupam
    KCD

  1. Maddy

    thanks aristanemi..
    i am ashamed to state that even though I have lived in koduvayur (though it was ages ago) i know little about the kotta. could you provide me more details?

  1. Padmakumar Subramanian

    Thanks Maddy and Aristanemi,
    Will provide more details regarding Koduvayyur Kotta but it was not Kuthiravattathu Thampan but Kannambra-Thrikkadeeri-Chunangad Nairs with Dharmoth Panicker distroyed Koduvayyur Kotta.Again Tharror was not get in to the position of a Swarupam the then time as Nedungalaya nattudayaver set to put forth even a settlement type entity to Zamuthiri

  1. menokki

    Hello Maddy,

    jayan here

    My father is from Chakkungal House, Kollengode. he is now 89 and suffering from dementia. Otherwise he would have thrilled with this site

  1. supriya

    my father is also from kollengode chakkungal which branch ofchakkungal are u from

  1. supriya

    my father is also from kollengode chakkungal which branch ofchakkungal are u from

  1. Jai Krishnan

    I think the palace near victoria college belongs to Kollengode rajahs and the property is kept for sale.The area has become a hot commercial spot in last one year or two.

  1. Jai Krishnan

    To introduce my self,
    jaikrishnan from Kovilkkat ( Kokat panicker of Valluvakonathiri ) panicker veedu,keralassey,palakkad...

  1. Bindu Varma

    Thankyou Maddy for the whole lot of information. The Elayachan edom does exist at akathethara, though in a poor condition. you can find a great snap in my time line.

    Thanks a lot.
    Bindu Varma


  1. Unknown

    From A.R.Venkatachalam/Double st, Koduvayur
    Thanks for your article Maddy.
    I am native of Koduvayur and B.Com 1961 and my forefathers lived during 1900. We heard out Koduvayur Kotta which begins from
    Ramapuram Temple to Govt Higher sec.school.I have seen some old houses during my childhood.

  1. Maddy

    thanks mr venkatachalam..
    i have to do some more research and write about koduvayoor. lived there for 3 years

  1. PRADEEP

    Hi All

    Just chanced upon this site looking for some some pictures of Palakkad.

    I belong to Tarur , and am from the eastwhile Rajavansam. I have heard that Tarur, Nenamara, Vandazhi, Akathethara are all part of this Rajavansham clans. There were many edoms, Tarur had Tarur Elachinadom, Padur Naduvilodom which all got sold for scrap wood a decade back . Too sad state of affairs. My grandfather was from Akathethara elechanidom .

    I go to kerala once a year for the past 30 years - settled in Delhi for long .

    Nice to read - take you to memory lanes and the bus conductor's yelling on the Palakkad -Malampuzha bus still rings when the bus reaches my college - "college victoria" please get down all of you. !!!!

  1. sridhar sankaranarayanan

    Wonderful to understand the history of my place. Always had an incomplete version of this history. Well thank you for that.

  1. shilpa

    Hi,

    Am so happy to have known about kollengode's history.Stayed almost 20 years outside kerala.I am basically from a small village called Panangattiri.Would like some light on people of Panangattiri since I am not aware of my own lineage.Am also sad that the kovilakkam was not taken up by ASI and its a popular ayurvedic spa now.I strictly believe that the palace belongs to the people of Kollengode and something should be done to own it back by Government.

    Thanks,
    Shilpa

  1. Maddy

    thanks pradeep, shilpa and sridhar
    i am not sure about the history of panagattari, let me check

  1. senthilkumar

    My Father is from KAVALATH House,Kollengode,He came to TN in 1942 to Study here and got settled hereitself,I like to know the Lineage and Tharavadu God of KAVALATH House.Thanks.

  1. Sidhan

    Hi,
    Am also from Ethannur near koduvayur, studied and settled in Tamil Nadu. Very happy to know about my native place history, can you give details of kakayur and Ethannur. Thanks
    Siddharthan

  1. saran

    My grandfathers family is chakkingal ..palakkad cvm ketitundo ..chakkingal vadudeva menon ..wich branch of chakkingal are u from ..

  1. saran

    Dear maddy im planning to write a amall book on palakkad sekarivarmas .if u cud help me with something ..i will be happy . watever info u have can share it with me ..my ammayi or aunt is the grand daughter of last sejari varma. Not the present and anoyher uncle has married the daughter of elayaraja ..

  1. saran

    I would like to inform you all that present palakkad raja passed away 3 days back at calicut ..his higness sekarivarma .m.s.varma . and he is the son of kp kesavamenon .founder of mathrubumi newspaper ..and the new raja is from puzhakalidom if im right and he was the elayaraja and now becoming sekarivarma. After the rajas demise ...and hw will hereafter br the head for all customs riruals and temple functions.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Saran
    for all the information and for taking the time to read this..
    you can perhaps read this next
    http://historicalleys.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-palghat-achans-or-shekhari-varmas.html

  1. saran

    Dear Maddy
    OK will continue reading ur blogs ...I love the way u present it ...

    All d best n be in touch

  1. saran

    Dear Maddy I will be taking few of ur findings n study to post in this page Nd will mention about ur articles also

  1. Varghese Philip

    Dear Maddy,

    I'd like to make a small correction, regarding the Kollengode Palace. The property is now a full-fledged Ayurveda Hospital with NABH Certification. It is not a spa. Thank you.

  1. senthilkumar

    Still No one Replied for my Earlier Post,Tracing the Family Lineage of KAVALATH HOUSE in Kollengode.
    Kindy Help Me In Tracing the Family Deity.Thanks.

  1. Unknown

    Hai Pradeep, Iam also from Tarur Raja Swaroopam. My grandfather is from Konikkalidom. Hope to meet you soon

  1. Ramachandra Babu

    Dear Maddy,

    I am the cinematographer for the film Oru Vadakkan Veera Gaadha which was extensively shot at Kollengodu Kottaram, as Aringoder's house. I came to know that it was demolished some years back. It is sad that such beautiful and historic buildings were destroyed. I would like to know more about the history of that old Palace, but it is not available in Internet sources, not even old photographs are available. While searching I came across your fine article. I understand that the adjacent Kalari Kovilakam had been converted into an Ayurvedic resort.

  1. Varghese Philip

    Dear Mr Babu,

    I am the General Manager of the Ayurveda Hospital (not resort) that is now housed in Kalari Kovilakom and the adjoining School Building. The Kalari and the School Building is still owned by a branch of the Vengunad Royal Family. The CGH Earth Experience Group (which owns the Casino Hotel in Willingdon Island, Kochi) has a lease agreement with the Royal Family to run the Ayurveda Hospital. Kalari Kovilakom in its current "avatar" has been running successfully for more than 11 years now.

    What I have heard is that in the 1990s, the then inheritors of the Kovilakom (the main Palace) could not maintain the property and sold the building and its adjacent land to a collector of artifacts. This person demolished the building, collected all the artifacts, and dumped the residual building material in the 3 ponds in the property. In 2000, the current owner of the Kalari and the owner of CGH Earth Experience Hotels met, and the Hotel group bougth the land where the Kovilakom was situated. The ponds have been restored and a Ayurveda Treatment Center is now located where the Kovilakom stood. The result of the colloboration is the Kalari Kovilakom Ayurveda Treatment Center that offers Ayurveda treatment in a form that is as close as can be to the texts of old.

    There is a person in Palakkad who is a direct descendent of Madhava Raja the younger brother of Vasudeva Raja, the last Rajah of the Vengunad Royal Family. He is a reticent person, and it will be difficult to get information from him. He does possess a photograph of the Kovilakom, but from what I have seen, watching your movie may give a clearer picture of the Kovilakom.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Ramachandra babu

    I will consolidate the material i have and pen a short article for you.
    The venganad kovilakom does indeed have some background stories...

    thanks vargheese philip..for your comment
    I am happy that at least the kalari kovilakom survives in all its glory...

  1. Ramachandra Babu

    Thank you Mr. Varghese for the valuable information regarding the main Palace. I am happy that you have restored the three ponds and maintaining the beautiful Kalari Kovilakam.Actually we wanted to shoot our film there but were denied permission . Any how it was destined that my film had to record for posterity the glory of the Main Palace. My article about the making of the film Oru Vadakkan Veera Gaadha will soon be published in Mathrubhumi Weekly as part of a series on my films.

    Thank you Maddy for offering to write a short article.

  1. Maddy

    All

    the new article on Kollengode has been posted
    The Venganad Nambitis of Kollengode

    http://historicalleys.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-venganad-nambitis-of-kollengode.html

  1. Lakshmanan Pb

    I am Lakshmanan born in Karippode anthoor house and lived in koduvayur in my childhood days for 20 years. Koduvayur kotta used to be the place where we play cricket. Studied in govt HS school and Murali kumaran memorial school in koduvayur agraharam. Went on college at chittoor 1971 batch of B.Com
    Believe I am a descendant of swami tapovanam clan
    Anyway nice to see this article.
    Contact me at 9945515774

  1. Hemachandran Venkatarajan

    Hai Maddy, I am from Chakingal House but my Grandfather Dr. Naranana Menon left Kollengode if iam right in 1923 and has visited somewhere in 1952 after which no one had visited the place. I am trying to find out my roots and going through your article iam sure i will be helped to get to my roots

  1. saran

    U can get so many friends from Maddy's blog itself who belong to chakkingal ...and in fact I know a few of them.please mail me at
    Saranvasudev@gmail.com

  1. Jaagarooka

    Does Kollengode Chakkingal bear any connection with Pattanchery Chakkingal? Is anyone here aware of this? Please respond if you do...

  1. DK Mishra

    Any knowledge about Kalyan Ram in palghat, got to know he is a clan of earstwhile maharaja but keep his profile simple, any knowledge would be appreciated, thanks