Legends of the PI (Palghat Iyer)
The arrival of Tamil Brahmins to Kerala is shrouded in some amount of mystery. No specific details are available and only general conjectures can be made. While the migrations to Palakkad or Palghat can be summarized to be from Kumbakonam or Trichy, the arrival of Brahmins to the Tali area of Calicut was for other reasons and happened much later. This article will then go on to spend some time on the stone inscription at Kalpatti.
As is commonly understood, Kerala Iyers, like the Iyers of Tamil Nadu and the Namboothiris of Kerala, belonged to the Pancha Dravida classification of India's Brahmin community and mostly belonged to the Vadama and Brahacharanam sub-sects. Iyers were usually employed as cooks, musicians and temple assistants, since they were not allowed to conduct pooja as the priest (shanthi) in Kerala temples which followed Tantric rituals. So Kerala Iyers built their own temples in their Agraharams to conduct their poojas and rites. In Kerala, these migrant Brahmins are commonly referred to as Bhattars. This was one of the earlier surnames used by the Tamil Brahmins and later on got corrupted to Pattar by the Englishman who coined the usage in English.
According to the Shashibhooshan's, the word agraharam has various etymological meanings. It indicates the conglomeration (haram) of the first among the four varnas (castes). Agraharam also indicates a cluster of houses with a temple of Shiva on the agram (extreme tip) of the street. Agraharams are inherently inhabited by the Brahmins.
Logan in his Malabar Manual, lists the 19 gramam’s of Palghat being Kalpathi, Pazhaya Kalpati, Chatapuram, Govindarajapuram, Vaidyanathapuram, Kumarapurama, Lakshminarayanapuram, Mukka, Chokkanathapuram, Puttamkurichi, Sekharipuram, Ramanathapuram, Tarekad, Vadakkanthara, Noorni, Nellisheri, Thondikulam, Pallipuram, Tirunellayi. Mukkai is where the rivers of Palayar, Walayar and Malayar unite to form the Kalpathy River. Out of the 18-19 gramams in Palakkad, Thirunellai and Pallipuram are settled by Vaishnavites, whereas the rest by Saivaites. It is also said that migrants from Madurai established themselves first near Chokkanathapuram, and those from Pollachi and Dindigul established the villages of Kollengode, Koduvayur, Chittoor, and Thattamangalam which were nearer to their travel route. Sekharipuram, was perhaps founded by migrants originating from the village of the same name near Tanjore (It is also possible for Sekharipuram to have been named after Rajashekara Varma of Palghat). Those from Vaitheeswaran Koil called their village as Vaidyanatha puram, those from Madurai called their village as Chokkanathapuram , those from Champa called their village as Chempai and so on. But then, Pallipuram as the name itself indicated, the existence of either a Moslem mosque or a Jain temple in the past, perhaps the latter, and Noorni as a word is also considered to be non-Hindu.
Kalpathi or Kalpathy also known as Dakshin Kasi or the 'Varanasi of the South is an early Tamil Brahmin settlement (agraharam) is close to the Olavakkot ( Now called Palghat) railway station. Like before we will start with a legend. Until the turn of the last century, an Iyer widow was never allowed to remarry. Once her husband dies, an Iyer woman had to tonsure her head. She had to remove the kunkumam or the vermilion mark on her forehead, and was required to smear her forehead with the sacred ashes. Well one such widow tracing the route of Kannagi, ventured out to Cheranad around the early decades of the 15th century. She was obviously wealthy, for she carried with her some 1,400 panams – presumably in gold and naturally did not want to have anything to do with her punya bhumi. Legend has it that this Lakshmi Ammal, a widow of Sekharipuram (Ammal, brought the Shiva Lingam from Kasi (Varanasi) during her visit to that holy place.) and gave the prince Ittikombi Achan, 1320 of those gold coins in 1424-25 AD and requested him to consecrate the Siva Lingam and construct a temple on the banks of Nila River. Legends also say that Lakshmi Ammal handed over the responsibility of managing the temple affairs. While the involvement of the king is confirmed, the donor is still a legend.
The temple, regarded as one of the oldest in Malabar is also known as Kundukovil and of course as mentioned previously, Dakshina Kashi. The temple houses the deities of Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, who is worshipped as Visalakshi. The temple as such is built on the banks of the Kalpathy River a tributary of the NIla or Bharathapuzha, and surrounded by New Kalpathy, Old Kalpathy, Chathapuram and Govindarajapuram. The Kalpathy temple is linked to the Kasi Viswanatha Swami Temple, because the main deity here is Lord Siva and the temple is on the banks of river Kalpathy, like Kasi on the banks of river Ganges. This is the reason for the saying, Kasiyil Pathi Kalpathy, that is, half of Kasi is Kalpathy. Towards the end of the year, the PI’s come back on vacation with trainloads of relatives to partake in the Ratholsavam or the chariot festival. The Kalpathy car festival is one of the biggest festivals of Malabar and a week-long Carnatic music festival, in which leading musicians perform, precedes the car festival.
Thus, the subject matter of the inscription is the grant to the deity Viswanatha Swamin of the Kalpatti temple of so much property real and moveable and the constitution of members of the Ittikombi section of the Palghat Raja’s family as trustees thereof.
When you study the essay in more detail or try to understand the exemplary study done by Prof Venkateshwara of Kumbhakonam, you wonder at the way these experts get to the bottom of the story by the study of words and script. I have deliberately not gone into those details for fear that such aspects would scare away the interested readers I still have in the study of Malabar’s history. But if somebody is seriously interested, you know whom to contact.
Malabar Manual Volume 2 - Logan
Historic alleys – Malik Kafur in Malabar
Historic alleys – Revathi Pattathanam
Historic alleys – Royalty of Palghat
A video on kalpathy
Inside the drama house- Stuart Blackburn