Feb 27, 2009

Revathi Pattathanam - A historic perspective

Traditionally a seven day event, this grand festival event is held at the Thali temple grounds in Calicut under the patronage of the Zamorin of Kozhikode. The event culminates with the conferring of the title Bhatta along with a panakizhi (purse of money) to selected scholars. The word Pattathanam is derived from Bhatta-danam, which means "awarding of the Bhatta".

Well that is how this is defined. It was as you may have heard, a very scholarly event full of Vedic debating. But what on earth would it have to do with a love story involving a couple from rival (feuding) chieftains of Malabar? And how did this love story become a reason for the early rise in the power of the Zamorins of Calicut and its culmination in conducting the Pattathanam?

To know that we have to go to the 12th century Calicut, a time when today’s Chalapuram in Calicut (where I grew up & spent my childhood days!!) was Salapuram, a place belonging to some 50-60 Nambuthiri/Moosad families of the Thali ‘gramam’ (village) and where they ran a Vedic ‘patashala’ school.

Readers & followers of Malabar history would know of the rivalry between the Kolathiri raja’s of Chirakkal and the Zamorin (that by itself is a long story – with the origins of the animosity resting on who held suzerainty rights over whom, what & when – to say the least) that lasted centuries and were the reason for many wars and skirmishes. The uneasy truce between the two was finally drawn up towards the later part of Portuguese reign over Malabar trade.

The Kolathiri prince’s reckless adventure
In those times (~ 12th century), the Mussad Urulans were the trustees of the Thali temple. The Mussads in addition to priestly duties were also a caste of Vaidyars or physicians, but placed below normal Namboothiri levels in the caste ladder due to handling blood & operations (Thurston – castes). Elayadhu, Mussad & nambiaydi are the castes lower to the Namboothiri. Mussads (Muttattu) are Siva worshipers. It was once said in Kerala that Muthads (Moosad’s or Moose) are to be regarded as the highest of Ambalavasis, and the Elayads as the lowest of Brahmans.

The Moosads had lost their patron the Polathiri and the Zamorin was now firmly in power at Calicut, which had also just been declared a free port. The Polathiri’s Kuttichira Siva temple that had been desecrated during the war by the bloodshed was made over to the Moplah’s (History of Kerala - KVK Iyer) to construct a mosque. The rules of law had been put into place and trade had started to thrive. The powerless and sidelined Mussad Uralans now decided to throw their lot with the Kolathiri and got involved in a scheme where a Kolathiri prince was smuggled into the Zamorin’s palace disguised as a Brahmin lad. The lad was handsome, well educated and was eminently eligible for a palace ‘sambandham’. But naturally a Thampurati fell for him, only to know his real guise too late. Eventually they eloped during a festival at Thali, with the Mussad’s support, when everybody was busy at the temple, aggravating their guilt even further. The enraged Zamorin disinherited the girl and took his troops to signal the next war against the Kolathiri & Parapanad raja’s where the couple went to. The Kolathiri raja had by then lost face (the prince had committed a grave crime in eloping - he had gone against the ‘Kerala Maryada’) and unable to fight the Zamorins troops, ceded his lands and ‘Koyma’ (suzerainty) rights in the North. The love story as such had a happy ending and the Zamorin, much success.The young couple were eventually settled at far away Nileswaram and provided an allowance.

But the Zamorin I believe, would not rest at that, he turned his rage against the Mussads who had engineered the whole fracas. The Mussads had believed that as Brahmins, they would be untouched by the Zamorin who was after all, a lowly Samanthan Nair in the caste hierarchy. The Zamorin took charge; he banished them all (except one family) out of his kingdom and took over the Thali temple management. The Brahmins would not budge; they resorted to ‘Dharna’ or ‘Pattini’ (fasting unto resolution or death) on the Durgam or mound near the temple. The Zamorin refused to accept what he termed blackmail and did not do much to negotiate a settlement. What happened next is not clear, some Moosads died and reached ‘Swargam’ from the Durgam and it is for this reason that the mound is even today called ‘Swargam’. It appears that since then, the Zamorins never entertained Brahmins from south of Gaunipuzha

The ‘bhrama hatya’ (or being a reason for it) cost the Zamorin dear. Court astrologers blamed every misfortune in his family, on this event. The misfortunes reached a stage where the very possibility of lineage & succession was threatened due to the absence of progeny. Finally on the advice of Kolkunnattu Sivankal during the 14th Century, the Pattathanam or gifting scholars was resorted to as ‘Prayaschitam’ and every Brahmin who came to Thali temple was fed for a period of 7 days. The event takes place in the month of Thulam, with a feast beginning on Revathi and ending in Thiruvathira. 101 Smartans (Vedic scholars) were presented with a purse of 101 Panams each in those days.

With this, it appears that the curse was finally removed. Since then it is an annual event at Calicut. This is roughly the Krishna Iyer version.

A second version can be seen in Sreedhara Menon’s ‘Survey of Kerala History’. According to him the Viceroy of Pantalayani belonging to the Kolathunad family met & fell in love with a Thampurati of the Zamorin family during a visit to Calicut and thence eloped to Pantalayani. The enraged Zamorin attacked & captured the port area and then aimed his sights at the Kolathiri Raja. However he does not get into the Thali Moosad aspects at all.

Another story (briefly alluded to by MGS Narayanan– ‘Calicut City of Truth’) mentions vehement disagreement on the banishment order and an altercation in which certain Mussads were executed by the Zamorin’s men and buried under the Durgam.

The Pattanam or Pattathanam as it was
An event that attracted scholars from afar, it was a serious contest in which scholars vied with each other for the coveted price. As they attended and got more and more Thanams, they got elevated to the position of judging the event. They then became the old Sabha judging the new Sabha. It was a tough event and even Melpattur Narayana Bhattatiri the author of Narayaneeyam got through only after 7 attempts. The Vathil Matam housed the event and Bhattas from Cheviyannur and Kothamangalam yogams representing the Northern and southern parts. Finally after 7 days of dissertations and debates, the winner’s name was announced by the Mangat Achan and the purse of 300 (went upto 1141 panams) panams was handed over by the reigning Zamorin.

By the 15th century, the Pattathanam was a veritable mental feast for contemporary scholars, lorded by the Saraswathanidhi Zamorin (a leaned one) surrounded by 18 ½ poets. The half poet was the one who wrote in Malayalam, namely Poonam Namboothiri. Some historians however contend that it was a collection of eighteen ‘half scholars’ for they all had scope to improve.

Some call the Pattathanam of these days a farce and a touristy type event with dances, Kathakali events and spiritual lectures, but it still has its scholarly elements and awards presented to the best temple art personality, best poet etc.

As such the Pattathanam at the Calicut Thali temple is stated as an example of aristocracy surrendering to divinity.

Samoothirimar – PCM Raja
History of Kerala KV Krishna Iyer
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Survey of Kerala History – Sreedhara Menon
Calicut - City of Truth – MGS Narayanan
Castes & tribes of Southern India – E Thurston
Nayars of Malabar – F Fawcett

Picture – Courtesy Hindu: Zamorin of Calicut P.K.S. Raja leading a procession from the Tali Mahadeva Temple as part of Revathi Pattathanam in Kozhikode on November 11, 2008. Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

Videos of recent Revathi Pattathanam

Part 1-
Part 2 -

Authors Note:
Many centuries later, members of the Zamorin family got involved in another Brahma Hatya attempt. More on that follows in another blog.


Boundlessdreamz said...

Where can I find all the books you have mentioned in this post ?

Maddy said...

books 1,4&5 - bookshops carry it - Try TBS calicut or try via
Book 2 - not available
Book 3 - Calicut university book stall
Book 6&7 - Google books

P.N. Subramanian said...

I was delighted to learn about the Pattadanam at Thali temple, the significance of the mound et al. Thank you sir.

harimohan said...

dear maddy
i read this post onlynow for a person intrested in the samorins it is a treasure trove indeed wish my grandpa pcm raja was still there so i could have asked him all this and more

Anonymous said...

Folklore alert (absolutely no research has been done to verify the folowing data)!

1. The prince from Kolathiri Swaroopam and the princess from Nediyirippu Swaroopam were given Neeleshwaram and the surrounding areas, and they formed the Alladathu Swaroopam. This area was previously under the rule of one Allon, hence the name.

2. I believe the princess' servant also came along with her during the elopement. She marries the soon-to-be-karyasthan of the Ulladathu Swaroopam, a Mullancheri Nair.

The story is a little more sympathetic to the Kolathiri prince this side of the Korappuzha. And I hope you mispelling Kolathiri as Polathiri was merely a typing error ;-)


Anonymous said...

Maddy, I'm a bit confused regarding this statement: "the Zamorins never entertained Brahmins from south of Gaunipuzha". If he was angry that the Kolathiri prince had come in the form of a Brahmin, shouldn't he have banned Brahmins from the north?


Maddy said...

Thanks VG for completing the missing elements of the story..

No! I did mean Polathiri who was defeated by the Samoothiri but the dates are a bit confusing because some say that was in the 14th century, I believe it is the 12th.

Maddy said...

VG - About the Bhrahmins south of Gaunipuzha, I got that bit of info from a Nambuthiri family that emigrated to Kottayam. I will send you the link separately. I had it originally in the blog, but it seemed a little out of context, so dropped it.

Anonymous said...

hi maddy,

just wanted to knw.there is an ayurvedic physician by the name of Thykkattu moosu in kerala. is it the same family ?

also i was under the impression that it was in the 14th century that the eradis( samoothiris) killed the polathiri?

ur article somehow leaves the impression that it was in the 12th century. please correct me if iam wrong.


Nikhil Narayanan said...

Treasure this post is.


Maddy said...

Thanks Nikhil

Sriram, thanks for stooping by. You have indeed stirred Murky waters. the arrival of Zamorin's at Calicut and the Porlatiri war is not at all clear, While some say it was 1340 or so, others dither around 1200 AD, 1300, etc. While most hover around the 13th century (e.g. Leela Devi, KK Moorthy, Krishna Iyer etc) the most authoritative account I have read is by K Balakrishna Kurup who says it happened in 1180 AD.

I understand that MGS Narayanan is presently discussing this in his Mathrubhoomi Nagaram articles. Let us see what he says.

As regards Thykatu Moosu, I don't know the answer. If I come across something I will post it here.

Anonymous said...

Pls advise if you have info on the Vydiars at Zamorin especially if any links to Nangaleri Tharavad

Maddy said...

Thanks Pravin - No I do not have any information about the Vaidyars to the Zamorin..especially Nagaleri.

But these are what I picked up.

ramesh said...

can you tell me where is kezakedath nair family located in panthalayani,koyilandi tq.

Maddy said...

must be in perambra..

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Kakkashery Bhattadripad is mentioned in the Aithihamala and used to attend the Pattathaanam.

His story is provided in the link below:

Unknown said...

Kakkashery Bhattripad story is mentioned in Aithihamala....