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The Strategic Wedge

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The Checkered Story of Naduvattam, Palghat

Most inhabitants of Palghat would know little about this principality, located right in the middle of the district. In fact, it is the very area I come from, once upon a time full of forests and hillocks, later all paddy fields, sparsely populated. During the history of Malabar, it was a bone of contention that forced three powerful chieftains to fight many a war, the chieftains being the Cochin Raja, the Palghat Raja, and the Zamorin. The story which I narrate is far from complete and I am sure others will someday add to it or correct some errors now and then. What I present comes from the bits and pieces of information cleaved out from various Granthavari’s, NM Nampoothiri’s Malabar studies and KV Krishna Ayyar’s papers.

Most people assumed that the Naduvattam annexation by the Zamorin of Calicut happened in the 1750’s causing the Palghat Raja to seek help from the Foujdar of Dindigul, Haider Ali, and with it accomplished the eventual downfall of Malabar. However prevalent the belief is, it is wrong and the fact is that the Zamorin’s representative lorded over the Naduvattam from a much earlier period, though it was somewhat different from the principality as recorded by the British, when they took over in the last decade of the 18th century.

We read earlier about the continuing strategy of the Zamorin of Calicut in annexing land by the force of his sword, owing to the need of rice farming lands to feed his ever-expanding armies. The lands on either side of the Nila river (today's Bharatapuzha) as well as Ponnani were his early acquisitions and after positioning himself at his military headquarters at Ponnani, his armies marched south relentlessly, conquering Valluvanad, then Venganad, finally stopping at the boundaries of the Palghat Achan’s Nedumprayar Swaroopam.  One must not forget however that in the southern extremities of the Palghat Swaroopam was situated a small but independent kingdom, which was lorded by the Venganad Nampitis, though under the suzerainty of the Zamorin.

The Cochin Raja had fled from his seat at Vanneri near Ponnani to the western extremity of Palghat, near Thiruvilwamala and from there found his way to place himself at Kochi, a story which I will get to another day. The Zamorin was gaining strength and territory, and when the Portuguese arrived, the Cochin king suddenly found a powerful ally who had the strength and the military might to help him keep the Zamorin in check, if only he provided them a factory and the spices for export.

We had looked at the Kunisseri Mamankam and the Kongan Pada earlier, and some of the histories behind them.  We also noted that the Palghat Raja, the Cochin Raja, the Valluvanad Raja and the Zamorin, were involved in the many skirmishes or battles, jockeying for a vantage position and dividing the lands.

As to when the Zamorin’s forces first annexed the Naduvattam lands is not clear, but we do know that it was possibly in the 14th century, following his annexation of Valluvanad and Venganad. The exact composition of Naduvattom at that time is also not clear (It covered at least Manjalur, Chenturutti, Tenkurissi and Nemmini), and we see that the Nair placed himself in the region and lorded over a veritable wedge driven into the Palghat territory, right through the middle, separating Palghat into Vadamalapuram and Temmalapuram.

Anyway, during these military conquests, the Zamorin’s Nair forces surged through the region in 1363, first capturing the home base of the Perumbadappu south of Valluvanad and obtaining the authority of conducting the Mamankam at Tirunavaya. The victorious Zamorin then brought Trichur and the surrounding regions under his reign. Vadakkanchery, and some of the nads we talked about earlier in the vicinity of Pallavur were quickly taken over by the Calicut raja’s forces. But one desam resisted him (through the year of 1364), and his mighty forces, namely the Kunissery desam. Eventually, as we saw in the article related to the Kunissery Mamankham, the Zamorin succeeded and after defeating the opposing forces, he built a Kovilakom there for himself, signifying the importance of the goddess and the location itself, as a perch for future plans of empire-building towards the south and southwest. That these lands were in his name since then is clear from ancient land records and many legal battles between future tenants and the Zamorin which named the latter as the landlord.

The suzerainty of the regional Nairs to the Zamorin Manavedan, is observed in the age-old Desakkali (annual dance festival of the Nairs) songs from Pallavur and mentioned by KVK Ayyar in his studies. The songs also mention other regional chiefs such as the Viran Iravi Vijayan of Venganad as well as the Cochin king, though not the Palghat Achan. We can also see from these poems that the chekavar’s of the regions were Nairs, they are called ‘chekavaraiyaram naynmmar’. In fact, the songs in Pallavur even mention the expulsion of the Portuguese from their Calicut fort in 1525 clearly showing a connection of the locales to the Zamorin quite far back in history (earlier than the 16th century). Nevertheless, even KVK Ayyar agrees that exact details are not available until the 16th century and thereafter.

During the Kurmatsaram, the Venganad Nampitis were on the Panniyur – Zamorin supported side, showing that their connections with the Zamorin date back to a time before the event. In fact, after the destruction of the Panniyur temple, many Nambuthiris migrated to Kollengode. This was the time, it is believed, that the areas of Manjalur, Chenturutti, Tenkurissi and Nemmini were ceded to the Zamorin by the Venganad raja.

I should not fail to mention also that the original Kuthiravattth Nair was the son of the reigning Zamorin of that time and led the forces which fanned out to conquer the Naduvattam region in Palghat for which he is awarded lordship of the area, half the revenues from the new territory, a sword and the left anklet, worn by the Zamorin!

Ayyar explains that with the help of the Panniyur Namputiris and the above grant, the borders of Naduvattam were drawn in 1364 by the Kuthirivattath Nayar and his 3000 henchmen, who drove away all the Nayars supporting Kochi, from the area. At that time, the Kuthiravattah Nair resided in Koduvayur. The Kuthiravattah Nayar was also entrusted with additional responsibility to look after the defenses of the Venganad kingdom, who had just 999 Nair soldiers, and also due to the fact that they were regularly threatened by the Cochin and Palghat rajas, as well as the Kongu kings. As suppliers of 'homa' materials, the Nampiti was very important in the overall scheme of Malabar affairs.

In the early 16th century records, we can see that the Venganad Nanpan as he is called by the Zamorin, is part of the Zamorin’s council and the Zamorin’s commandant at Nenmeni was in charge of all the Calicut king’s financial transactions with the Nampiti, while the commandants of Manjalur and Tennkuricci were responsible for the Zamorin’s accounts with the Kuthiravattam Nayar and Tenkuricci Mannadiyar.

KVK Ayyar in his History of the Zamorins adds that the Nair was sent to rescue the Venganad Nampiti from the Palghat Raja who had taken over control of Venganad. He narrates – In course of time the curse of internal dissension that proved the ruin of many kingdoms and families in Malabar descended upon this family also. One party appealed to Perumpadappu, whereupon the other sought the protection of Nediyiruppu. One among the latter carved for himself a principality near Kollengode between the Chittoor and Nemmara taluks of the present Cochin state and thus became the founder of the family of Venganad Nambidis.

The Zamorin sent the Kuthiravatttath Nayar his captain of the horse, to expel the Palghat Raja from Venganad. The Nayar not only succeeded in clearing Venganad but occupied a large part of the Palghat Raja’s dominions, known as Naduvattam because it ran like a wedge through the centre, dividing Palghat into Temmalapuram and Vatamalappurara. In conformity with the policy of entrusting the newly conquered territory to the general who had conquered it, the Kuthiravattam Nayar was installed as the naduvazhi of Naduvattam with the duties of protecting the Venganad appichichi and the sanctuary of Tiruvilvamala and Chembamkulangara.

Ayyar adds some more meat to the story - The powerful Patinjarretaththu Namputhiri of Trichur offered all support and the Zamorin’s forces led by the Kuthiravattam Nayar proceeded by way of Karakkad to Trichur. As the Para Koyma of Vatakkunathan temple the Perumpatappu had already come there.  The Kuthirvattam Nayar surrounded him in the Vatakkancheri fort, where he had taken up his residence. The intrepid chief, however, escaped disguised as a temple priest

Instead of pursuing him, the Kuthiravattam Nayar continued his advance. Through Pattikkad he descended upon Vatakkancheri and proceeding by way of Thrppalur, Kunisseri, Pallavur and Pallassena, he arrived at Venkunnunad, by the occupation of which they could prevent the Chomatiris of Chokiram from getting the soma indispensable for their sacrifices. On the approach of the Kozhikkode Nayars, Vira Ravivarma of Venkunnunad or Kollangode submitted. Then, advancing as far as Uththukuzhi near Pollachi, the Kuthiravattam Nayar turned back and established his headquarters at Kotuvayur.  An unlooked for opportunity in the south led the Zamorin to suspend operations against Sekhari Varma and turn his arms against Perumpatappu.

We see that honors were regularly bestowed on the Nair by the Zamorin in later years showing that tradition continued without break until 1575, 1600 and 1601 and beyond. A copy of a much later written Nediyirippu Grantha from 825 ME also records this Sanad with great clarity, and a newly ordained Kuthiravattah Nayar is entrusted with the same care of the Thiruvilwamala Thevar, the Cheppangulankara Ayappan, the Venganad Appichi, the Palacheri Vellalars , the ancharacheri chattumar, Moonukadi ezhavas, the thepiars etc, just as they enjoyed it in the past. In various ceremonies lorded by the Zamorin, the Kuthiravattath Nair seems to have been at the top of the hierarchy, also accompanying the Zamorin at the Mamankham.

The traditions between the Vengand and the Kuthiravattath Nayar families confirm this. When one Nayar dies another succeeds him, to the Venganad Appicci or the senior-most lady is sent a cloth for paying the condolence visit and the Elaya Nampiti-second in rank and therefore heir-apparent according to the Marumakkattayam law of succession-receives one silk cloth for attending the formal investiture of the new Nayar! We also note that as time went by, The Kuthiravattah Nair later commanded a force of at least 5,000 Nairs.

So, we can conclude that Naduvattam was formed around the 14th century or so, and had close relations with the neighboring Venganad in the South, bordering the ghats, and that the area lorded by the Kuthiravattah Nair at least covered Manjalur, Chenturutti, Tenkurissi and Nemmini and that he was stationed in Koduvayur.

As time went by and towards the beginning of the 19th century, we see that the Naduvattom became significantly larger and that the Kuthiravattah Nair and the Zamorin had increased their territory to cover Kottayi, Mankara, Kuthanur, Koyalmannam, Vilayanchattanur, Tenkurissi, Tannisseri, Peruvamba, Koduvayur, Kakkayur, Vilayannur, Manjalur, Wrimayur, Kunissery, Pallavur, Kudallur, Pallasena, Vadanvannur, Kizhakettara, Vattekad, Panagattiri and Mutalamada.

By confirmation, we have the Kunisseri Granthavari quote by KVK Ayyar - According to the Kunisseri Granthavari, the Zamorin had conquered Natuvattam, in which Venganad was included in A. D. 1364. This was perhaps the period when a recalcitrant Nampiti from a competing family faction named Venganad Valia Prabhu (supported perhaps by the Palghat Raja) tried to take over but had to flee to Cochin when the Zamorins forces came to the incumbent’s rescue.

The story and the records of the Kuthiravattah Nair should be testimony to the history of Naduvattam, but we don’t have much of it, unfortunately. We do know that a palace or Kottaram (not called Kovilakom for some reason) of the Kuthirvattah Nair (who perhaps drifted westward from Koduvayur) existed at Koyalmannam and that the family finally settled down at Pulapetta near Kadampazhipuram. Anyway, the area of Naduvattam had many temples maintained by the Nair, including small shrines such as the once pretty Murukkunkuli Okkanamkode Siva temple.

We also know that one of the Kuthiravattah Nairs fell afoul of the Zamorin for his mistreatment of the Manjalur chief and was censured, in fact stripped of all his powers! KVK Ayyar explains - The Zamorin’s hand was both long and firm. Even when his power had begun to show signs of decline as the result of his wars with Cochin in the seventeenth century, his hold on his feudatories was unimpaired. The Kuthiravattam Nayar, the Governor of Naduvattam, was condemned in 1658 A. D. to pay a fine of 30,000 fanams and give an elephant for the crime of setting fire to some houses in the Manjaloor Cherikkal. The king had been previously informed of the alleged crime and he sent an officer to prevent abuse and execute the sentence of the council.

So it appears that the Nair had become a bit arrogant and we can see that sometime later, for certain acts of disobedience the Zamorin even confiscated all his lands! Nevertheless, the Nair was reinstated in 1667 as the military overlord of Naduvattam, but with limited authority. Perhaps this is the time when they drifted away to form the Kuthiravattath Swaroopam (Over time the family started to title themselves a Swaroopam, perhaps without approval) based at Pulapetta and when the Palghat Raja started to exercise control over the region. Maybe this was also the time when the Kongan Pada took place as we discussed earlier. We can see in those studies that there is hardly any mention of the Zamorin, though there are mentions of the Eranad armies participating, and specifically, we do not hear of the Kuthiravattath Nair. A topic that remains to be investigated further, I suppose.

Logan or perhaps Innes who authored the Gazetteer were responsible for creating the confusion that the Zamorin conquered and created Naduvattam in 1757 and this was the reason the Palghat Raja invited Haider the Faujdar of Dindigul for help.

Logan mentions – Unfortunately for Malabar the Zamorin did not confine his restless aggressions to Cochin. Some years before he had made himself master of the south of Walavanad from his own country of Ernad to the borders of the Palghat Raja's dominions, and in 1756-57 he drove a wedge into the last by capturing the district named Naduvattam, now a part of the Palghat taluk. The conquest of the whole of Palghat would have been a mere matter of time, had not the Raja paved the way for the Mysorean invasion by applying in 1757 to Haidar Ali, then Fouzdar of Dindigul, for assistance. Haidar’s reply was a force of two thousand horse, five thousand infantry and five guns under the command of bis brother-in-law Makhdam Ali. The Zamorin fell back, and Makhdham Alii carried his arms right up to the sea coast. The Zamorin bought off his opponents by undertaking to restore his conquests in Palghat, and to pay an indemnity of twelve lakhs of rupees. The indemnity was not paid; but Haidar never relinquished his claim, and, when his plans wore ripe, he enforced it by invading Malabar

In the same sources, they provide clarification that the broad statement made earlier was erroneous - In 1757 the Zamorin, who had previously possessed himself of the nad of Naduvattam, overran the remaining territory of the Palghat Raja, and to meet the expenses of the force required as a defense against the Mysoreans, who were then threatening an invasion by way of the Palghat Gap, imposed a land tax called Kavalpanam. This tax was levied at the rate of an anna on every piece of land which required for a single crop one local para (10 seers) of seed. This must have been the issue taken up by the Kombi Achan, as one against nattu maryada.

A little bit on the Koduvayur fort and the properties of the Zamorin as connected to the Kuthiravattom Nair. Legends have it that the Bhagavati temple there is an extension of the Zamorin’s Calicut kuladevata – the Tiruvalayanad Bhagavati, the goddess behind all his powers. It appears that the vala (bangle) the Zamorin carried whenever he traveled was gifted to him by the Bhagavathy and once when he was at the fort in Koduvayur, he kept the bangle on his palmyra umbrella and stepped aside for his ablutions. When he came back, the two items could not be moved and an astrological prasnam revelated that the goddess wanted an abode there. A temple was thus built inside the Koduvayur fort of the Zamorin. Later this area became the dwelling of the Kuthiravattom Nair, on a sizeable area of 2 acres with an 8 kettu mansion. I remember this place as I have been there with my dad and have even gone for a swim in the large temple tank there! It is situated just south of the Gramapeetika junction of Koduvayur.

Now let’s take a look at what happened before the advent of Haider, the so-called second Zamorin attack. An intriguing mention can be seen in the Tarur swarupam granthavari – It mentions that Kunissery was originally ceded to Perumpadappu, but the Tarur Atchan took back Kunissery and Naduvattam after throwing out the Cochin (and Zamorin?) overlordship. This then clarifies the reason for the Zamorin’s overture to reclaim his Naduvattam territory, in 1757.

Around 932 ME, the Zamorin’s forces led by the Chencheri Namboothiri and Unnirarissa Erady (not anymore, the Kuthiravattom Nayar who seems to have fallen out of favor), enters Naduvattam from the south by way of Temmalapuram and camp at Kavassery. The Naduvattom 3000 joins the Namboothiri 30,000 and fight it out with the Kombi Atchan at Yakkara. The other achans flee to Chokinatha puram while the Unnamala Achan joins the Zamorin and moves to Kalpathy. It is at this point that Pangi and Kelu Achan go to Coimbatore to meet the Shankara Raja and from there they proceed to Sriranagapatinam.

That story is long and convoluted and I will narrate the event and the entry of Haider Ali (and his previous relations with the Achans), into these equations, sometime later. Actually, the Palghat Raja had requested help from Mysore to repeal the attack of the Zamorin as early as in 1732. This was repeated in 1735 and in the year 1737, but the Mysoreans attacked the Zamorin’s outposts and raided his territory in 1937 and again fought battles with the Zamorin in 1745! Interestingly, after Hyder’s attack, Palghat was not part of their Malabar annexation, but became part of Coimbatore!!

This landed Kuthiravattom Zamindar family would continue to remain in historical records, representing the jenmis of Malabar now and then, but most usually in one legal fight or the other with others who claimed ownership of the land titled to the KV Nair or the Zamorin, his suzerain. The law books are replete with many such cases, showing the vast holdings the family once had. During the British period, the family had to relinquish all or most of it to the court of wards.

Getting back to Naduvattom and echoing Valath’s emotive conclusions – The history of Naduvattom before the advent of British rule was indeed bloody, for it was always a hotly contested area replete with many many battles, and as the palm leaves fought the stiff Palghat wind sweeping through it high above, the sounds of swords hitting shields resounded below, with troubling regularity. As battles continued on for years, only women, elders and children remained in Naduvattam homesteads. When queried, their morose response was (padakku poyi!) that the Nair youth the men of the house were away, fighting some battle or the other.

Finally, a time followed when those hardy Nairs retired to tending their homesteads, outback’s and fields, engrossed in agricultural matters and temple affairs, reigning as proud serfs. Today those magnificent homesteads are languishing or rotting away, signaling a different future. The many palms they planted in Naduvattam went on perhaps to provide the medium in which grantha’s were written in the various kovilakoms, as Rajendu the eminent epigraphist touched upon, recently.

As a little aside, a friend of mine tells me that my writing is a soft version of "feudalistic nostalgia". I guess I have to agree with him, for after all, my memories will always connect me to my years growing up in a landed family. All I can do is to tell these tales in an interesting fashion, trying to retain some sort of a balance by neither swinging too left or too right and do my best in sticking to a median while penning my thoughts and conclusions.


A history of the Zamorins of Calicut to 1498 AD – KV Krishna Ayyar
The Venganad Nampitis – KV Krishna Ayyar
Malabar and Anjengo – CA Innes
District Gazetteers - Palghat
A history of Kerala- KV Krishna Ayyar
Sthala Charithram – Palghat – VVK Valath
Malabar studies – N M Nampoothiri

Note – A follow-up article will be written on the Kuthiravattom Swaroopam referring to T Balakrishnanan’s book (Thanks to Arun at Intach for helping me here!). There are some contradictions in it and we can see a Thiruvalayanad temple in Pulapetta with the same myth and legend behind it, we come across another legend (Thali story) behind the deputation of the Nair to Naduvattam and more on the family itself, which I will go over in detail separately.

Menon and Menoki – a little study

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Some time ago, we talked about the Nair caste and the various sub castes related to it, as well as their characteristics. Medieval Malabar, Cochin and Travancore had many castes, classifications, do and don’ts, and what not. It was not fun if you did not belong to the top and even if you did, you had to remain in your tramlines (as they say in the US) or dividers. In the Nair caste, there were many more profession related titled classifications as well. Most significant were the Menon and the Menoki titles within the Nair caste, which are not very well understood. Complications also arose due to regional differences between Cochin, Malabar, and Travancore. This little article will provide more details to those interested as well as some background explanation.

Principally all these titles were connected to either supervisory capacities or positions or that of a scribe and accountant in the local chieftain’s Kovilakom or temple, preparing Grantha palm leaf manuscripts! Compared to the foot soldier Nair, these personnel were better educated, were closer in proximity to the ruler or chieftain and were ordained or titled, with the title passing on through generations, in a matrilineal fashion.

In general, Menoki is an overseer — By definition, Menoki in the 1901 Travancore and Cochin Census Reports are classified as a sub-division of Nayars, who are employed as accountants in temples. The name is derived from mel, above, nokki, from nokkunnu which means ‘to look after’.

Rama Nilayam, Trichur - A look back

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An outhouse, a palace, the British residency and now a guest house

On the town hall road, in front of the Kerala Sangeet Natak academy and adjoining the Sakthan Thampuran palace in Trichur is the stately Rama Nilayam guesthouse, recently renovated. There has been a lot of conjecture about its origins and people have opined it was once a palace, a form of military barracks, a recruitment center etc. It is also said that it was once an outhouse of the Shaktan Thampuran palace which was refurbished to create the British residency in the 19th century. Trying to obtain details about this was somewhat difficult but stimulating and here below is the result of that search.

Variyan Kunnath Kunahmad Haji - An Eranad Warlord

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There is a furor these days about this 1921 Eranad rebel warlord and many expert opinions are being voiced. I was a bit intrigued as I had encountered VKH often in my Malabar Rebellion studies, but I had not really paused to study him, though spending a while on the Sinderby account caricaturing an antagonist based on VKH’s character. But it is time to do a little study and I will try to detail his actions as dispassionately as I can, referring to the numerous secondary sources I am in possession of. We will see that this is actually the story of a tired old man who had been perpetually on the run before 1921, nursing his grudges against the British, straying somewhat unwillingly into a larger revolt, with only a desire to help out his benefactor Ali Musaliyar, quickly changing his ideology when he became a fugitive and lording a gang who resorted to tactics he would not have approved otherwise.

Tipu Sultan’s delegation to Istanbul

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The Embassy headed by Ghulam Ali

As the 8th decade of the 18th century was drawing to a close, Fateh Ali, a.k.a. Tipu Sultan was left in a quandary. The Maratha wars had been raging and things were not going too well. The years of conflict finally ended with Treaty of Gajendragad in March 1787, as per which Tipu returned territory captured by Hyder Ali, to the Maratha Empire. Tipu agreed to pay four-years of tribute arrears amounting to 48 Lacs while the Marathas agreed to address Tipu sultan as “Nabob Tipu Sultan Futteh Ally Khan” and recognized his kingdom. Why would this address be so important to Tipu?

Wootz Steel and Malabar

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The Outhaals of Nellumboor and the Wootz steel

'One blow of a Damascus sword would cleave a European helmet without turning the edge or cut through a silk handkerchief drawn across it' that was how the Damascus sword was described during the Crusades, a sword which had a blade patterned “as though a trail of small black ants had trekked all over the steel when it was still soft” in the words of a 6th century Arabic poet, Aus-b-Hajr. Before long, the sword had attained a legendary reputation and the Excalibur of King Arthur had fallen by the wayside. Don’t you think it a good diversion, to learn a bit about all that?

Pooku Moosa Marakkar

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And his involvement in Travancore affairs - Marthanda Varma’s reign

This is yet another interesting medieval trader who made his name and lost it after a lifetime of high-risk balancing acts between the various players at the trade scenes of Travancore during the 18th century. His rise to fame was meteoric, from a simple trader to providing military support to Marthanda Varma with his pathemari boat fleet, going on to become Marthanda Varma’s confidante, and eventually ending up as the Travancore sarvadi karyakkar in negotiations with the Dutch. His fortunes rose and ebbed like tides, till it was cruelly ended when he lost his patron. Let’s see what we can dig up about this bloke, from the deep cellars of history.

The Umbrella Riots

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Out at the islands, long ago - Lakshadweep

Many years ago, a peculiar series of revolts took place in the lovely islands off to the west of Malabar, called the Lakshadweep (100,000 islands), which were and still are sparsely inhabited by Muslim folk who originated from the mainland, moving to settle down there sometime around the 14th century and thereafter. The immigrants carried with them a form of stigmatic caste system separating the affluent upper castes from the working castes which as you can imagine, resulted in a good amount of friction. Caste separatism within this community was the reason for a rebellion, but the triggers are for an outsider, particularly interesting. We had previously discussed the breast cloth movement in Travancore, and this is another tale from a time period, when life was quite a bit different from what it is today!