Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Family Background

Ponnappa was the youngest of the four sons of T.R.Chandrasekhara Shastrigal, a Sanskrit scholar of the very highest order, who was also popularly known as Rama Shastrigal or, as some people used to refer to him,Govinda Shastrigal. He, I am told, adopted Rama Shastrigal when, writing a major Sanskrit exam, or perhaps when employed at the Travancore Court, found there was another Chandrasekhara Shastrigal. So, he decided some differentiation was necessary. But Chandrasekharan was his official, given name and one that many of my maternal uncles, his grandsons, and my cousins, his great grand sons have carried. He was a Sanskrit Scholar in the court of the Maharaja of Travancore at Trivandrum . He had retired from the court to North (N.) Parur in Central Kerala by the time Ponnappa was about 12 years old i.e by about 1912. The house in Parur had been built well before the birth in 1900 of Ponnappa on land provided to Rama Shastrigal by the Travancore Highness styled Colonel H.H. Maharaja Raja Ramaraja Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Sri Rama Varma VI Kulasekhara Kiritapati Manney Sultan Bahadur, Shamsher Jang, Maharaja of Travancore, GCSI , GCIE or H.H Rama Varma VI but popularly known as Shri Moolam Tirunal.Shri Moolam Thirunal was the Patron of Rama Shastrigal and fl. 1885 -1924 as Ruler of Travancore.

Travancore is the Anglicised form of Thiruvidamkodu (or Shri Vaazhum Kodu) meaning the abode of the goddess of prosperity. It is also known in Malayalam as Thiruvidhamcore or Thiruvancore, much the same thing.



His Highness Raja Ramaraja Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchi Pala Moolam Thirunal Sir Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal Kiritapati Manney Sultan Bahadur, Shamsher Jang, GCSI, GCIE, was the ruler of the Indian state of Travancore between 1885 and 1924, succeeding his uncle Maharajah Visakham Thirunal (1880-1885).


Early Life and Education

The Maharajah Rama Varma was born on the 25th of September 1857 to Prince Raja Raja Varma of the Changanassery Royal Family and Maharani Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore, niece of the illustrious Swati Thirunal Maharajah. He lost his mother when he was only a few days old. The Maharajah had an elder brother, Hastham Thirunal. After the usual vernacularMalayalam studies the two princes were placed under the tutorship of Annaji Rao B.A. and later under Raghunath Rao B.A. at a special country house built for the purpose. Hastham Thirunal soon had to stop his studies owing to ill health and so Rama Varma remained the only pupil under the tutor. He was taught subjects such as History, Geography of the world, Arithmetic and Grammar initially. His great grandmother was the illustrious Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore.

Chief Reforms

The Travancore Legislative Council was established under a Regulation in the year 1888, three years after Rama Varma became the Maharajah succeeding his uncle Maharajah Visakham Thirunal who died in 1885. This was the first Legislative Council for a Native state in the whole of India. Prior to that in 1886 a Proclamation was passed relieving the people from payment of penalties on documents executed on unstamped government cadjan leaves (Paper was not in common use yet in Travancore). In 1887 the penalty on non payment of stamp duty was reduced as it was found to be a huge burden. Likewise in the same year another Royal Proclamation was passed relinquishing the right of the Government in property left by a person under the Marumakkatayam matrilineal system of inheritance when a person died without heirs. Likewise under the then system, when a tenant of a Jenmi or landlord died heirless instead of the land passing in entirety to the landlord, it passed with sovereign right to the Government who auctioned it later. This was abolished. In 1888 the Anchal System of post was improved and postage stamps of new values were introduced.

Several other reforms were also brought in by Maharajah Sir Rama Varma in the fields of education, medicine, law and order, civil service etc. Sanitary Departments were opened and female education progressed. Changes were brought in the management of prisons and the Public Works department was reorganised. Life Insurance system was introduced by the Maharajah.


All through the reign of Maharajah Sir Rama Varma he was assisted by able men asDewans or Prime Ministers. These most illustrious personalities included:
Dewan Ramiengar (1881-1887)
Dewan T. Rama Rao (1887-1892)
Dewan S. Shungrasoobyer C.I.E. (1892-1898)
Dewan K. Krishnaswamy Rao (1898-1904)
Dewan V.P. Madhava Rao (1904-1906)
Dewan P. Rajagopalachari (1904-1914)
Dewan Krishnan Nair (1914-1920)

Family and Demise

Since the Royal House of Travancore followed the Marumakkathayam system of matriarchal inheritance the presence of females was very essential in the family. Since the family had failed to exist in the female line two princessess including the Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi were adopted from the cousin Royal family at Mavelikkara . Sethu Lakshmi Bayi succeeded Moolam Thirunal Sir Rama Varma in 1924 as Regent till 1931, when her nephew Maharajah Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma took over as Maharajah and became the last Maharajah of independent Travancore.Maharajah Sir Rama Varma married twice, both noblewomen of the Thampi clan of theNairs as tradition. His first wife was Panapillai Amma Srimathi Anantha Lakshmi Pillai Kochamma of the Nagercoil Ammaveedu Family. She died one month after the death of her husband Maharajah Sir Rama Varma in August 1924 at Sundaravilasam Palace, Trivandrum in September 1924. They had one son, Sri Narayanan Thampi. The Maharajah's second wife was Panapillai Amma Srimathi Kartyayani Pillai Kochamma of the Vadasseri Ammaveedu Family. She originally belonged to the Kaipally Veedu family of Palkulangara but was adopted before marriage to the Maharajah into the Vadasseri Ammaveedu. They had one son, Sri Velayudhan Thampi and a daughter, Kartyayani Pillai Bhagavathi Pillai Kochamma, Vadesseri Ammaveedu, K.I.H Gold Medal.

The above has been extracted from Wikipedia (and most of the links removed and replaced with plain text) and I supplement below with what has been gleaned from A Travancore State Manual by T.K.Velu Pillai (1940).

By all accounts, Shri Moolam Thirunal was the Ruler who oversaw the transition of Travancore to the modern, progressive 20th century principality it became. His predecessors had initiated the alliance with the British as early as 1644 when the British were given trading outposts near Trivandrum. This was an alliance which endured and became stronger over 300 years until Indian Independence. Prince Marthanda Varma, in 1726, entered into a treaty of "league and friendship" with the British which strengthened the ties further. In fact, Marthanda Varma's faith in the alliance was such that he told his nephew and succesor, Maharaja Rama Varma, "to maintain above all the friendship existing between that Honourable Association and Travancore and to repose in them full confidence", a policy that always marked Travancore - British relations. The alliance seems to have been the result of a mutual appreciation of the strength and prestige of both parties.

This association of three hundred years stood the Travancore State in good standing with the British Government, in spite of none, except the last, of the Maharajas visiting England due to religious scruples about crossing the Black Water. The Dewanship of Velu Thampi Dalawa between 1802 and 1809 was marked by serious deterioration in this relationship and led to what could well be one of the early battles for independence. This seems to have been brought about by the bloodymindedness of a high-handed Resident, Col Macaulay, the upright Dalawa paid for initiating the uprising with his life and the relationship resumed its even tenor thereafter. Nevertheless Travancore, which started with the award by the British of a high gun salute of 19, remained a 19 gun state and was never elevated to 21 by successive Viceroys. This, in spite of the state ranking far and away the best among the Indian states, and even British India, in terms of economic progrss, law & order, communications, medicare and literacy (albeit 2nd to Cochin State in literacy), a seeming act of churlishness on the part of the Viceroys.

This longstanding, and willing, association with the British proved to be a far sighted measure when it came to the development of the state. English was the medium of instruction in the state for all secondary and higher education for about a 100 years before independence. This gave the subjects a clear edge in the professions and in business. Also, the cosmopolitanism of the benign Travancore rule was further strengthened by the association in more ways than one, principally the assimilation of contemporary and progressive attitudes, and the different communities of Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Tamilians and Jews enjoyed excellent social and business relations.

One notable feature of the Travancore State is that, nearly 300 years ago, the ruling family decided to dedicate the state to Padmanabhaswami, the presiding deity in the temple at Trivandrum. The rulers have therafter considered themselves administrators and Viceroys of Padmanabha. The rulers since then have adopted Padmanabhadasa or servants of Padmanabha as their principal title. This is the sort of high minded public spirit that has always characterised the Travancore administration.

Shri Moolam Thirunal's reign is one to be marked with a white stone in the story of Travancore , for no Indian ruler dedicated more energy and attention to public affairs and none sanctioned more resources for nation-building education, heakth, communications, industry and irrigation than that Prince of happy memory. He strengthened the Governance of the State and local administration by establishing the Legislattive Council, the Popular Assembly and a number of Municipal Councils. The Government of Madras, in its annual reports to the Viceroy on Travancore, was fulsome in its praise for the "high standards of efficiency " in year after year.


I recall being told that the house in Parur, known as Thoppil Matom (meaning Brahmin residence set in the grove), was built about 10 years before Ponnappa's birth, say 1890 or thereabouts. In actual fact a garden of about 2 acres or less with an old house on it was gifted to Rama Shastrigal by the Maharaja and the old house extended and restored by the latter thereafter.

Now, there is a theory in some sections of our family that Chandrasekhara Shastrigal or Rama Shastrigal was actually born in in a village called Chandrasekharapuram in Trichy District of Tamil Nadu, learnt his Sanskrit in Tiruvaiyaru near Tanjore and came in to the employment of Shri Moolam Tirunal. And that, once in Trivandrum, he married my great grandmother, Parvathi or Ammai Patti, whose family had lived in Kollengode for several generations. I think nothing could be farther from the truth. See below.

Chandrasekhara Puram

This is a Palakkad village in the banks of Soka Nasini River(Thekke Puzha). The land of this village belonged to the Pathayikkara Namboodiris in the olden age.It is told that these Nambbodiris donated the entire land to iyers and left the place.There is only one street with houses on both sides of the street.In the olden times there were about 150 brahmin houses in this village.Now there are only about 80 houses.There are three main temples that of Siva, Kroshna and Ganapathi.There is also a temple of Sastha along with his consort, PoornaPushkalamba. The siva Parathishta was done by the Tamil Iyers who settled here but the BhagawatiPrathishta in this temple is of the Namboodiris. Vinayaka Chaturthi is celebrated in the Ganesha Temple with an Ezunnellathu.In the month of Thula, there is Annabishekam in the siva temple.In the month of Makara Sastha Preethi is celebrated in a grand scale in this village.During Ashtami Rohini there is festival in the Krishna temple in which there is Uriyadi.In the olden times some of the villagers adopted to Sanyasa and their samadhis are in the river bank.There were many musicians and Vedic Pundits belonging to the village like Krishna Vadhyar, Mathru Jada Vallabhar, Viswanatha Bhagavathar, Vaidyanatha Vadhyar,Chellappa Deekshidar, Yagnendra Deekshidar etc.

N.B : Taken from the Kerala Iyer Resources Web Page.

Now, it should be clear that Chandrasekhara Shastrigal came from this Palghat Gramam of Vedic Scholars, a Chandrasekharapuram right in the heart of Pattardom. He probably did go to Tiruvaiyaru in Tanjore to learn Vedas, Vedanta, Tarka, Meemamsa and all those things and, thence, to Trivandrum. Because, Tiruvaiyaru, in those days, was the foremost centre for Sanskrit scholarship in the South.I do not know whether or not he was a Maha Mahopadyaya nor whether such titles and standing were known in Kerala in those days.

I know from various things that Ponnappa has told me that Chandrasekhara Shastrigal was about forty in 1900, the year of Ponnappa's birth. And that he had retired with a pension from the Travancore court by about 1910 or 1912. He was, therefore, born circa 1860 and I think he lived up to 1935 or 1936 by which time my mother, who had memories of him, was 7 or 8. And I rather think that we may place the year of birth of his wife, Ammappatti, at about 1875. The eldest male child of this marriage, T.R.Ranganatha Iyer or Parur Anna, was born in 1894 and there was at least one girl, the mother of my paternal grandmother Meena Pattiammai, born around 1888 . So, the dates of birth of Rama Shastrigal and Ammappatti may be safely placed between 1855-60 and 1870-75 respectively. I do know that Ammappatti, who I vaguely remember as a cold, authoritarian matriarch of stern bearing and deportment, died in 1956 0r 57, aged about 83 or maybe 84.

Ammappatti's family were from Kollengode and her eldest daughter, who became my paternal great grandmother, was married into Ammappatti's natal family. I think she was married to Amma Patti's own brother who was himself a renowned Sanskrit Scholar. Which makes me think Ammappatti's father must have been a Sanskrit Scholar in his own right and that that is how the marriage between his daughter and Rama Shastrigal came about. It was very unlikely, probably unheard of, for a Kollengode family, circa 1875, to give their daughters away to Kongans in distant and almost alien Tanjore when plenty of Pattans were available in the neighbourhood. I have been told by my mom and others that even in the 40's Pattars, by and large, considered an alliance with Tanjore akin to "Pulivaal" i.e catching a tiger by the tail. Nor did the Tanjore folk seem to have entertained anything but reciprocal sentiments.

In any case, if he had been originally from Trichy or Tanjore, there would have been brothers or sisters or a cousin or, at the very least, distant or country cousins who would have kept in contact with him. There were none such and no talk of such connections.

Parur & Kodungallore

Now, Parur, or Paravur, itself was, and is, a lively and bustling melting pot of different cultures, Hindu, Syrian Christian, Jew and Muslim and, in that respect, unique even for Kerala. Parur is just south of Cranganore or Kodungalloor which has been clearly identified as the Muziris of Pliny's time (1st Century B.C.) and Ptolemy's. This busy port served the hilly terrain to the East and much shipment of produce, timber and spices was done out of Cranganore in the times gone by. And Parur, which is just south of Cranganore on the southern side of the Periar inlet and about 4KM from the former, it seems became the mercantilist base for all the maritime shipments conducted from Muziris.

In any case, if he had been originally from Trichy or Tanjore, there would have been brothers or sisters or a cousin or, at the very least, distant or country cousins who would have kept in contact with him. There were none such and no talk of such connections.

Kodungallore in 1752, a panoramic view by Philip Baldaeus, a Dutch missionary

"The Prospects of Cranganor all sides - India. London: Lintot & Osborn, 1752. Copper Engraving from the 1752 London edition of 'A True and Exact Description of the most Celebrated East-India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel; as also of the Isle of Ceylon' by Philip Baldaeus."

Some views of Cranganore actually taken 1672 (the date of 1752 refers to the particular edition from which these etchings are taken) by Philip Baldaeus, a Dutch Missionary & Traveller. The author of this blog has the first, full 4-frame version (Prospect of Cranganore on all Sides, from which some frames are shown enlarged in pics 2, 3 & 4 above) in his proud possession and that is from the 1703 English edition of Baldaeus's book.
Now, the Dutch excelled in landscape painting and you can see the appeal of these beautifully sepia tinted views (mine are exquisitely hand coloured) showing Dutch topographic art at its best : a sheet of water in the foreground, very common in Holland, the arresting middle line formed by the buildings, accurately silhouetted with the camera obscura, and the blue sky in backdrop. Parur, just across the rivermouth, has a similar landscape but not a Baldaeus of its own to celebrate the topography.

The result was that the settlement attracted various trading communities, the Jews of the Bene Israel community from Baghdad and elsewhere who arrived, it would seem, well before the turn of the first Millennium , the indigenous Syrian Christians or Nazranis (meaning followers of Jesus of Nazarene), and Muslim Moplahs. Add to this a leavening by the latterday arrival of a community of Tamil Brahmins from Palghat and the Pandikkara Brahmins from Nagercoil and you have a rich and colourful mosaic of communities which, if by no means melding racially, made for a very cosmopolitan environment and culture in Parur.

That is how I myself remember Parur from my school and college hols in the 50's and upto the end of the 60's. Besides, my mother used to fondly recount to us her childhood and schooldays in Parur, growing up in a joint family. She has said that, Parur being a part of Travancore, the schoolkids, and perhaps the adults too, felt a superiority over what they considered to be the less cosmopolitan Cochin State all around them. Distinct from nearby Cochin State, Parur had its own Travancore holidays, including one for the Ruler's birthday which was celebrated with great fanfare, and its own Travancore National Anthem. Also, English, not Malayalam, was the medium of instruction in all the schools, including hers. And she had many Nazrani and Nair friends from school. I t was also the case that the Brahmin, Christian, Nair and also Moplah communities used to visit each other socially and were good friends. Thoppil Matom had its share of such friendships and social status or equivalence, rather than caste or religion, was the common factor.

The scene then in Parur, in Ponnappa's boyhood and youth, was of a very unique social mixture, even for Kerala, with various communities of Nazranis such as Jacobites, Mar Thomas, Canaanites and Syrian Catholics, Moplahs, a sprinkling of Jews and the ubiquitous Pattar community of Palghat Brahmins plus the Pandikkaras from further south who had moved in to Parur. Parur, although enclosed on all sides by Cochin State, was a small, roughly crescent shaped enclave of the Travancore State, though just about contiguous with the rest of Travancore. (The map shown above is a combined one for Travancore and Cochin States, the boundaries between the two not shown.Travancore ends where you can see Paravur on the map and, to know the extent of the state, all you have to do is draw a straight line west to east at Parur. The territory above Parur is Cochin State).

Throw in the rest of the Hindu majority of Nairs, Ezhavas, a very few Nambutiris and the other castes and in Parur there was a very civil and cultured social milieu in which a young lad learnt quickly to work in friendship and accord with people of diverse backgrounds. Parur had a great mercantilist tradition, trade was the all-purpose solvent so, when you were in business or in the legal profession, you learnt to get along. The wholly benign and beneficent rule of the Travancore Highnesses, a good extent different even from the very progressive Cochin State and totally welcoming to all races and communities, only facilitated this process.

One of Ponnappa's boyhood escapades is worth mentioning from the many he has related to us. This goes back to 1913 when he was about 13 and fell in to the daily habit of enquiring of the Postman if there were any letters for him. Now, it was inconceivable in those pre-war days that a schoolboy of 13 in a place like Parur, which for all its merits was only a backwater of the Dominion of India, would get mail every day. The long suffering Postman one day burst out:

എടോ, തന്നെപോലെ ഒരു പ്പീക്കിരി ചെരുക്കന്നു ആരെങ്ങിലും കത്ത് അയക്കുവോ? താന്‍ ഒന്നു പോടോ ഇവിടന്നു. അല്ലപിന്നെ!!

(Dash it! D'you seriously expect any one would write you a letter, you little twerp? Get lost").

An admirable sentiment and very well put, I think, but an incensed Ponnappa snatched the Postman's mailbag and dunked it into the Mookambi temple tank with the result the mail became unfit for delivery. The upshot was that he was promptly frog marched to the local cooler and put in the Lock-up. When news reached home, and news travelled fast in the Parur of those days, his eldest brother Parur Anna turned up at the station house. Ponnappa, by now, was crying his heart out and swearing vengeance on the entire constabulary of Parur, but Parur Anna was already studying to be a lawyer and knew that small boys could not be held for more than a few hours. Some negotiations with the cops followed and he was taken home and given a sound beating.

Whereupon betook himself to Trippunittura side, about 30 KM from Parur,and secured a job as a cook's assistant or dogsbody in the Illam of a Nambutiri . He was traced there, about two weeks later, immensely enjoying himself, lording it over in the kitchen and ordering other factotums as well as the cook himself about.Repossessed, taken home again and administered the necessary and inevitable second beating .

The Travancore Anchal

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

The Travancore Local Government had its own postal system. It was called the Anchal Department. Anchal Boxes were set up in different parts of the Taluk and these places are now known as 'AnchalPetty'. In every week the 'Anchalottakkaran' (Postman) runs from one place to another ringing a bell to collect and distribute letters and money orders. The Travancore Anchal Stamps and coins whereon 'Sankhu Mudra' (Sea Shell Symbol) was inscribed have gone into history and turned to be rare antiques now. Only a few local governments were allowed to issue stamps and coins under the British supremacy. The Travancore Local Government had its own postal system. It was called the Anchal Department. Anchal Boxes were set up in different parts of the Taluk and these places are now known as 'AnchalPetty'. In every week the 'Anchalottakkaran' (Postman) runs from one place to another ringing a bell to collect and distribute letters and money orders. The Travancore Anchal Stamps and coins whereon 'Sankhu Mudra' (Sea Shell Symbol) was inscribed have gone into history and turned to be rare antiques now. Only a few local governments were allowed to issue stamps and coins under the British supremacy.


Philatelic Stamp Description:

The stamp is a reproduction of the Travancore Anchel Stamp of 2 Chuckrams denomination. The former Idian Sate of Travancore had an independent postal or Anchal System with a mail transport service including a boat mail service and the Railway Anchel Service. The first adhesive Anchel Stampwas introduced on 16-10-1888 in denomination of 1,2, & 4 Chuckrams (1 Chuckram = 3.57 paise) in ultramarine, red and green printed on laid paper bearing a large sheet watermark showing a conch shell surrounded by "GOVERNMENT" in an arch with "OF TRAVANCORE" below in a straight line. These were the earliest feudatory stamps surviving till 1953. (Text based on material in publication "The Travancore Anchal" by Dr. N.S. Moos; Anchel Stamp courtesy PMG, Kerala Circle).

Though the Princely States merged with Indian Union as per dates described above, all post offices of such Feudatory States except Anchal Offices of Travancore and Cochin State, merged with Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department from 1st April 1950. The validity of such States' stamps remained till 30th April 1950. And after such date the stamps and postal stationery could be exchanged with current issues of India at any ex-State post office, till 31st July 1950.

The Anchal Offices of Travancore and Cochin State did not become integral part of the Indian P & T Department on 1st April 1950. The special postage rates and fees which would apply to the internal service of the State would be notified by the PMG Madras. These special postage rates would be valid only within the State. If postal articles were sent outside the T & C State, the rates and conditions of the Indian P & T Department would apply. The Anchal postage stamps and postal stationery would be accepted in payment of postage for articles posted at Anchal office deliverable within the State. It means that Anchal stamps and stationery could not be used for correspondence deliverable outside the State, or otherwise such articles would be treated as unpaid, vide DGPO Circular No.69 dated 27th March 1950.
Anchal stamps and postal stationery became valid even outside the State of Travancore and Cochin, vide DGPO Circular No.18 dated 5th June 1950. DGPO Circular No.48 dated 30th September 1950 reads as follows:"It is hereby notified for the information of all concerned that "Anchal" service articles, that is, official postal articles pertaining to the business of the "Anchal" system ( i.e. ex-State Postal System) in the Travancore - Cochin State posted by Anchal (Postal) Officers & Postmasters, etc., should be given free transmission through the post within and outside the Travancore - Cochin State, in the same manner as P & T Service articles bearing the inscription "Indian Post and Telegraphs Department". Such articles should on no account be taxed. Unless it is found that they do not relate to the official business of the Anchal System and are not posted by persons authorized in this behalf". On 1st April 1951 Anchal offices of Travancore - Cochin State merged with Indian Postal System, vide DGPO Circular No.90 dated 31st March 1951. The DGPO Circular No.1 dated 5th April 1951 clarifies as follows:"With effect from 1st April 1951, the Anchal or Local Postal System, in Travancore - Cochin State will be directly administered by the Central Government and the "Agency" system by which the State Government managed the system from the 1st April 1950, will cease". Anchal postage stamps and printed postal stationery would cease to be valid for prepayment of postage with effect from the 1st July 1951, vide DGPO Circular No.10 dated 9th May 1951. Till then, they should continue to be recognized as valid on postal articles destined for places both inside and outside the Travancore - Cochin State. And after 30th June 1951, these Anchal stamps could be exchanged for India postage stamps till 30th September 1951.

Anthappan the 'Anchal' man

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
If Anthappan had been in service today he may have occupied a formal slot in 'Class this' or 'Level that' in the structure of the Department of Posts and been designated accordingly. However, many decades ago when I knew him in my childhood days he was quite content being Anthappan the 'Anchal' man. Prior to Independence and until the erstwhile native States were integrated by Sardar Patel these States were independent of each other. They were administered by their respective Maharajas with the help of their Prime Ministers or Dewans. The States owed allegiance to the Paramount Power represented in India by the Viceroy. Each State had its own tax and postal systems and adjacent States even had toll gates separating them. The postal system in the southern States of Cochin and neighbouring Travancore was called 'Anchal'. It printed its own stamps for communication within their boundaries or with other States with which they had agreements covering this matter. Anthappan was part of the Cochin Anchal service and he delivered mail in the Perumanoor area of Ernakulam. I can still picture Anthappan's arrival in my grandparents' house every morning around 11 a.m. His appearance was preceded by the flip-flop of his rather massive leather chappals and then one would see the large frame turn into the gate. He wore his khaki uniform almost as a concession to the system. His trousers were usually too short, ending somewhere above his ankles. Over the trousers he wore his own shirt hanging loose and then came the khaki jacket. This last was fully unbuttoned, perhaps because it was too small for him. Its pockets were bulging with forms and papers of all kinds and over his shoulder was slung a canvas bag with the mail. Staring from the left pocket of his jacket was a huge fountain pen.
Anthappan did not rush into each house, toss the letters where he could and exit just as rapidly. He spent time in conversation with whichever member of the family was available. He kept in touch with domestic happenings and we children were subjected to a friendly interrogation on our performance in school, our misdemeanours of the day and such other matters which reflected a personal interest in the families he served. Beyond dutyAnthappan's official responsibility ended with the delivery of mail but for him the line separating his official obligations from his personal was a thin one. There were lonely families who shared confidences with him. The illiterate on his beat would ask him to read their mail for them or write letters on their behalf. For the latter chore he would take out his fountain pen, open it, and shake it a couple of times outside whichever house he was in to get the ink going. It did not matter to him that these jobs were all 'above and beyond the call of duty'. He would do all these without complaint. He carried oral messages from one house to another purely as a service. He knew the state of the relationships between families and where friendly relations existed between two families Anthappan would keep them abreast of the latest happenings in each other's houses. Where 'diplomatic' relations were known to be suspect he passed on information but made sure it was suitably censored. Festival mealsBirthdays, religious festivals and such occasions brought out clearly the position held by Anthappan in the families he served. Where food was the highlight of such occasions he was invariably invited to the meal. I have often wondered how he dealt with the many invitations on a festive day such as Onam celebrated in Kerala! Anthappan was a Christian but this was a very private matter and did not impinge on his relationships with a predominantly Hindu community in the area in which my grandparents lived. On Vishu, the local New Year's Day, the head of the family presented coins, varying from four annas to eight annas (25 to 50 paise - current equivalent in arithmetical but not in value terms) to members of the family and those who called on him. Anthappan was one of those outside the family who received this traditional gift. It was not different on Onam, a festival to do with the harvest, when instead of coins as for Vishu, cloth in various forms was gifted.
Anthappan was a regular beneficiary of this practice. During Christmas Anthappan's family brought us sweet biscuits baked at home. Strange as it may seem now, religion was something that brought communities together in those days. I remember the day Anthappan came on his rounds for the last time as an Anchal man. The 'native' States had disappeared into the bowels of the old provinces and their traditional tax and postal systems had been wound up. Anthappan had been offered the option of becoming a postman and informed that with the merger of Posts and 'Anchal' he would have to operate on a different beat. The last part which involved his separation from what had become his extended family did not appeal to him. He had a small piece of land a few miles outside Cochin on which he could farm and, with just a few more years of service to go, he decided to exercise his other option of retiring. He announced his decision to each family on his beat spending a few minutes in each house to lament the impersonal service which he was sure was inevitable after the change. When he had spent time reminiscing with us, not entirely tearlessly, and was on his way out it looked as if he was already taking the first step out of service. He was last seen struggling to get out of his under-sized jacket. This story is from a series that the author has penned based on his reminsicences of growing up days in an 'ettukettu' or double courtyard, the traditional homes found in Kerala that are fast vanishing

Parur Church, Synagogue & Temple

Parur is an ancient seat each of Judaism and Christianity in India and has a Synagogue originally dating to 1164 A.D but with the last worship or service conducted in 1988. The Jews have mostly left for Tel Aviv and Queens in New York city and the family of Mr Simon live in a few rooms in the front of the Synagogue as caretakers. The Jacobite Church of St Thomas is one that dates from A.D 52 reportedly, thus both Synagogue and Church could be the oldest in Kerala. The Portuguese Baroque facade of the Church dates from the 16th century when the Church in Kerala was sought to be controlled by the Catholic Portuguese. But this facade is nothing more than a cut-out in the front of the Church, as you can see in the pics to follow, reflecting the superimposition of western ideas and influence on what is essentially an Eastern religion. But, at least in architectural form, the conjoining has worked well.

According to the history and traditions of the Indian Church, Apostle St. Thomas (Mor Thoma Sleeho) who reached 'Maliankara' (Malankara) in AD 52 had established a Church at 'North Paravur' (then known as Kottailkavu). This is said to be the first Christian congregation in India. This historic site is located just a few miles south of the ancient port of Kodungallor (Cragnannor). The early Christian converts are believed to be, the Jewish settlers who migrated to the India for trade purposes and also some upper caste Hindus. North Paravur in the early centuries was the most prominent Christian centre in India and it still holds a unique position in the Malankara Church. A large Christian population, mostly Syrian Orthodox and Roman Catholics, lives here. Angamali, which was the headquarters of the Christian community for many centuries, is located near to this town of North Paravur.
St.Thomas Syrian Church (Cheriapally) at Pararvur.

The St. Thomas Jacobite Syrian Church at North Paravur where the mortal remains of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem - St.Gregorios Abdul' Galeel - is entombed, was founded in AD 1566 by the parishioners of the old MorThoman church located nearby, under the leadership of Big Bazar Tharakans the local merchants . When they approached the Ruler of Paravur (Paravur Thampuran, an Hindu King) for sanction, he happily donated a plot of land situated in the midst of the seven bazaars of Paravur Town, tax free. The Church built here was consecrated in the name of St. Thomas, the Apostle. This event has been inscribed in old Tamil script, in a plaque in granite stone and embedded in the wall near the front door of the church. Paravur Thampuran, also donated a very big five tier oil lamp (Alu Vilakku) which is even now used in the Church. He had also provided some land tax free, for meeting the expenses to light this lamp perpetually.


This church built in the 16th century was comparatively bigger in size in the Indian context. Some of the missionaries from Kottayam in a letter dated 13th March 1822, to the Resident, Cononel D. Newall, had recorded thus: "The Paravur Church can accommodate 1500 persons comfortably at a time". The main altar of this Church is made of ornamental wooden carvings and inlayed with golden leaves, is an architectural wonder. The ancient wall paintings inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Church depicting sixteen Biblical episodes, are over 400 years old. The 16th Century architectural style of the Church is retained as such even to this day. The Baptism stone (117 cm. in diameter) in this church, which is one of the biggest in Malankara (Kerala) is carved out of a single granite stone. On the sides of the Baptism stone there is an inscription in old Tamil script thus: "This Baptism stone was donated by a parishioner in 1625 (A.D)".

The famous historians, Whitehouse Padiri, Dr. Buchanan and others have recorded that they had visited this Church. Whitehouse Padiri, during his visit in 1857 A.D. had recorded that the four storied square type Bell Tower of this Church is the only one of its kind in Syrian Churches of Kerala. This Bell Tower could be seen even to day in its original shape. There is a very old brass bell in this Tower. On this bell, the following inscription in Latin can be seen: "NON EST, INTE. TOTA PALCLARA. ES. MARIA ET MACAIA".

The famous Kannankulangara Sree Krishna Hindu Temple is situated just opposite to this church. The Jewish synagogue is also a few yards away from this Church. It is a fine example of the religious harmony that exists in this great country. This Church named after St.Thomas the apostle is also known as Kizhakke Pally or Cheriapally . The church has become a major pilgrim centre of the Malankara Syrian Christians because of the tomb of St. Gregorios.

Parur Synagogue - Dating from A.D.1164.


Located about 35km north of Cochin, this town encapsulates the cultural and religious harmony of this region. There is a synagogue built around the same time as that of Mattancherry. Nearby is an Agraharam (place of Brahmins), a small street of closely packed houses that was settled by Tamil Brahmins. Parur also has a Syrian Orthodox Church, a Krishna temple and a temple to the Goddess Mookambika. Located 4km away from here is Chennamangalam, which has the oldest synagogue in Kerala, apart from a Jesuit Church, a Hindu temple, a 16th century Mosque as well as Muslim and Jewish burial grounds.


Significance : One of the rare temples in Kerala, dedicated to Goddess Saraswathy .

Timings : 5 am to 11 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm

Saraswathy temple, also known as the Mookambika Temple is situated in North Paruvur a small town in Kerala. It is one of the rare temples dedicated to Goddess Saraswathy (the Goddess for arts and learning) in Kerala.
According to legends, a local Thampuran (ruler) in Paravur was a great devotee of Goddess Mookambika. He used to visit the Kollur temple in Mangalore every year to pay homage to the goddess. But when he became too old, his health worsened and he could no longer undertake the long journey to Kollur. The goddess appeared to the sad devotee in a dream and ordered him to build her idol near his palace so that he can have daily darshan of the goddess. Thampuran followed her instructions and built a temple at Paravur and installed the Goddess.


The 'Srikovil' stands in the middle of a sacred lotus pool. At the corner of the Nalambalam (the inner wall) a Ganapati is enshrined and surrounding the nalambalam, there are idols of Subramanian, Mahavishnu, Yakshi, Hanuman and Veerabhadran. Besides this, a Ganapathi Temple is situated near the large sacred pool. Traditionally the main poojas here are performed by the Namboothiris ofthe Puliyannur Mana in Thrippunithura. The main Vazhipadu or offerings in the temple are 'Navum Narayavum' - offered for children to speak clearly and to succeed in their exams, 'Thattam nivedyam', 'Srividya manthra Pushpanjali', 'Kalabham' etc
The famous Navaratri festival is celebrated here with great fervor. The ten-day annual festival in kanni (October) starts from the Uttrattati asterism. Music festival and 'Vidyarambham' ceremony are the main features of this festival. Thousands of people participate in the Navarathri music festival. On Durgashtami, books are arranged before the image of Goddess Saraswathy and on Vijayadasami morning, 'Ezhuthinirithu' or 'Vidyarambham' ceremony takes place at a special mandapam which begins from 4 am and lasts till 11a.m. Thousands of little children are initiated into the world of letters by making them write the word 'Harisree' on rice, their tongues or sand with a golden ring. The temple is now under the administration of the Travancore Devaswom Board.
Saraswathy Mookambika Temple
Near Transport Bus stand
North Paravur

The above from the webindia site :

Education & Attire

Ponnappa's academic background as I remember it is that he spent about 6 years in Madras, doing his B.A Sanskrit and M.A. Philosophy at Presidency and 2 more years at the Madras Law College.I think he told me that he did his Inter at Trivandrum, perhaps Maharaja's College, if there is such a college in Trivandrum.

So, his formative years were at Presidency and Law Colleges between the age of about 17 to 23 and the years must have been 1917 to 1923. And most of his tutors and Professors at both places, especially Presidency, were Englishmen of the Madras Educational Service, almost all of them Oxbridge graduates. Although his brothers Chitthappa and Kunjappa (respectively Vaidyanatha Iyer & Padmanabha Iyer, brothers 2 & 3) did go to St Joseph's Trichy and Madras Christian College, respectively, they do not seem to have absorbed to the same degree the sartorial tastes that Ponnappa acquired. So, I think it was something innate in him and Madras gave him the chance to observe those Englishmen and, no doubt, the Madras boys (many preparing for the ICS) who were more familiar with such European dressing and habits.

The fashions prevalent among the English in Madras in those days were totally Edwardian and I think England was no different. King Edward the 7th had died in 1910 but he was a leader in men's fashion right up to the end and his influence continued to dictate choice in men's style upto the beginning of the 2nd World War, I think. This is the style that Ponnappa had assimilated as I am sure most of the English in Madras were slaves to Edwardian fashion and manners.

The style preferred pin-stripe shirts of cotton Poplin, a strong but soft material, still universally popular in the UK and US. The stripes were blue, pink or green usually and many shirts had detachable collars and cuffs, always white. Ponnappa's shirts were mostly pin-stripes or lovely graph checks and he wore many shirts with detachable cuffs & collars in white and the shirt material was always Poplin. He got them done in Ernakulam and used to have them previously made in Madras for a long time, I think.

The shirts mostly had studs of 14 or 18 carat gold plating to be fitted in place and not buttons sewn on. And, of course, only cuff links were used by the English, then as now. And Ponnappa's ties were all tasteful stripes, mostly broad stripes and some with Paisley patterns. And he wore mostly suspenders with his trousers of cotton drill or grey or dark blue flannel, sometimes trousers with buckles but never a belt.

Ponnappa mostly used Krementz cuff links, usually of 14 K gold or gold plated and some set with Opal, Topaz or Cabachon stones in blue or brown etc. Also, he had at least one set of Krementz gold studs, some silver ones and a few of ivory. And he always used silk ties made by Tootal. Tootalused to be available in U.K upto some 15 years back, perhaps is still available and is a good, though not top bracket brand. Krementz no longer make links but the old links are still sold on the Net.

And Ponnappa always used a cut-throat razor to shave which he used to strop with great care about once a week. He also used to hone the razor about once a month and always used alum after a shave.

He had a taste for many things English like Wright's Coal Tar soap and Huntley & Palmer's Glasgow biscuits, tins of which he used to get us from Ernakulam. And he had several balck blazers, none, I think, in blue as Black was required in the legal profession.

He was a most immaculately attired man and one who used to both select his clothes and dress with great care. In my mid-thirties, I got influenced by the tastes of Ponnappa as I realised that my Brit colleagues were still following Edwardian maxims of dressing, though the collar may have bacome a little lower, the cut different and shirt fronts full open with buttons, cuffs and collars sewn on. So, I have always preferred shirts with stripes, graph checks and, often, with contrast cuffs and collars in white. Also, silk ties by Turnbull & Asser, Hawes & Curtis, Sulka or Hermes in stripes mainly but never Tootal. And lace-up brogues, rarely slip-ons! He was, and has been, a definite influence in shaping my tastes. I also got into pipe-smoking as Ponnappa was a regular pipe smoker. I also fool about sometimes with a cut-throat razor! Imitation is the best form of flattery.

Legal Practice & Public Life

So the early beginnings in Parur were reinforced in Ponnappa's case by the exposure to Madras and Presidency and Law Colleges. And, after getting his law degree, he was keen to study law in London for a couple of years and to eat his dinners at one of the Temples i.e Associations of Lawyers at the Inns of Court and thus qualify as a Barrister-at-Law. But that was not to be as his mother wouldn't hear of sending him across the Black Water for any length of time, leave alone two or three years. The family finances could have afforded it, in Ponnappa's opinion, for Amma Patti had been endowed some lands in Palghat as her dowry, there was an income from this so-called Manjakkani property and the family had been able to put all the four boys through college in Madras (more or less simultaneously, except Ponnappa who was the youngest and went up a little later).Also, an education in England in those days did not cost an arm and a leg and was possibly only about double the expense of education in Madras.It was more a question of not wanting to let him go so far, perhaps also a reservation about the Black Water and, moreover, she wanted to get him married. I am also not sure if Chandrasekhara Shastrigal was consulted in the matter at all. The matriarchal Ammappatti ruled with an iron hand while old Shastrigal pored over his Sanskrit tracts and manuscripts.

But his upbringing in Madras and Parur had already made him a clubbable and convivial man though he also used to oftentimes display a fearful, dyspeptic and choleric temper. People were careful not to expose themselves to this facet of his personality. But, as quickly as he flared up, he would cool down and all would be sunshine again! He practiced in Parur and Alwaye courts and, later, in the High Court at Ernakulam and became an important and senior member of the profession, specialising in Criminal Law. He, and before him, his immediate elder brother were also Presidents of the District Board, a position of high standing in the public domain. In his late forties, he shifted to nearby Alwaye, now Aluva, a salubrious resort town on the Aluvappuzhai or Periar and very much a part of the Travancore State. He was doing more work, by then, in the Alwaye court and the Ernakulam High Court which was closer to Alwaye.

Life in Alwaye & Some Rara Aves or Memorable Characters

We, that is mom and my brother Kannan and sister Shobhi or Shobha, his grandchildren through his daughter, used to visit Alwaye for two months or so in the summer holidays. He often used to journey down to fetch us from wherever we were, Madras or Madurai, and a first class train journey to Alwaye by the Cochin Express, our favourite train, would follow (if we went by ourselves, it was always 3-tier sleeper no first class!). The time at Alwaye each year was the highspot of our growing up but this write-up is about Ponnappa not us. So I will throw in those bits later, if appropriate.

But when in Alwaye we saw something of his practice, his clients and his social life. The clients were mostly those involved or implicated in murder and other serious crimes as well as Syrian Christian bus owners fighting litigation for the negligence, alleged or real, of their drivers or Planters from the hills, including some Firangis, dealing with violence among the labour - a true cross section of society. I remember two visitors especially of whom one was a Mr P.K. Julian, a Syrian Canaanite Catholic of the Old Schism and the owner of Jubilee Motors and Union Motors, both limited companies engaged in bussing people around point to point. (In those days, from the 30's or 40's, the Syrian Christians of Travancore were in the forefront in passenger transportation by bus, a sector in which that community took the lead as with rubber and other commodities).

Julian was a tall, well-built, fair and handsome looking man in his late forties (I am writing of 1958 when I was about 7 or so and onwards to the end of the 60's) immaculately attired in white kurta or jibba, spotless mundu, slip on shoes well shined, the mandatory leather bag clutched in his armpits, gold Rolex wrist watch and a tin or case of cigarettes (what else but State Express) in hand. In those days, men of substance in Kerala, such as Ponnappa and Julian, used only cigarette cases not packs. Julian,bluff, hearty and genial, large as life, a typical Acchayan of his times, educated, prosperous, was a friend and client of Ponnappa and a buddy to us kids. He always made time to chat with us and sometimes used to bring a little gift, bicuits or a few pencils or old tennis balls. I kept track of Julian for a long time and learnt that he had died in the early or late 90's aged eighty plus. How I wish I had kept in touch with him.

There were many Nazrani clients and friends as also Moplahs from all walks of life and Nairs and others. One Moplah, not a client but the news agent who delivered the papers, that we kids and Ponnappa were friends with was Mohideen or Moidukka, a tall, gangling, cheery, voluble man of six foot four dressed in a white lungi, pink or white shirt and a white or green kerchief for headcloth. Mohideen always had a special word for us kids and we looked forward to our daily chat with him. And to the Saturday Evening Post, Time, Life, Readers Digest and stuff he delivered regularly. Also, the occasional Potti, Embrandiri - who were Tulu speaking South Canara Brahmins resident in Kerala for centuries - or Mudalalimar (a term for Gowda-Saraswat Brahmins from South Canara, Prabhus and Pais etc, resident in Kerala for generations) clients. So quite a cross-section of Kerala types and I used to observe them all, utterly fascinated.

The criminal clients were a motley and sometimes piratical crew, terrified of Ponnappa's forbidding presence and of the unenviable context they were placed in. He always managed to get them a light sentence, if not acquittal, and was the local leader in Criminal Law Practice. And, he made sure to collect from the Police the weapons used as evidence in the case, almost always the knives used as murder weapons. He thus had a collection of various and deadly knives, swords, kukris and daggers, well over two dozen, which he used to lovingly strop and polish about half-yearly and wrap up in a cloth bundle. All the weapons were individually labelled in English and Malayalam with the facts of the particular case and were his mementos, keepsakes, of his exploits in court.

Incidentally, since Ponnappa's death in 1972, I have been trying to get hold of his collection of these beautiful knives but have been repeatedly foiled in my efforts. Firstly by my mother, later joined by my wife Vasumathi, both of whom took a completely different view of the matter and regarded this collection with jaundiced eyes, considering the knives the gruesome and grisly relics of heinous, dastardly crimes, a collection that no respectable home should have. They have consistently refused to see the merit in my rightful view of the knives as mementos of Ponnappa's court room skills and beautiful weaponry in their own right which deserve to be properly regarded as the priceless heirlooms they are. But hope springs eternal and I intend one day to broach the matter with my aunt Rukmini who, if she takes a view similar to Vasumathi's. will no doubt happily let me take them away.

One such murderer that I knew well and whose knife is in the collection was a blacksmith called Narayanan, a strong, silent and severe looking man who did murder his wife. But only in a fit of rage on catching her in flagrante delicto with her lover. Ponnappa proved the mitigating circumstances and got him a 5-year sentence, later remitted to about three for good conduct etc. Ponnappa also charged him only a nominal fee for a case that went on for over two years. He forever placed himself in Ponnappa's debt and used to make his annual visit around Vishu with gifts of Jack, tender Coconuts, Nendran,Pine-apple and Kashuvandi or Cashew from his homestead. He would be given a cup of tea and a cigarette, a little chat would ensue with Narayanan squatting on the floor and off he would go.

There were many other clients he similarly bailed out and many of them, post acquittal or release from a relatively light sentence, felt beholden to their Vakil Swami. They used to come and visit him occasionally as a mark of regard and gratitude, even after resuming the straight and narrow. I remember a few such who, on being told Ponnappa is out, would go out the gate and squat patiently by the roadside, chewing on their beedies while awaiting his arrival. All they wanted to do on meeting him was to greet him, ssay they were passing by, enquire after his welfare and so on.

സ്വാമിയേ ഒന്നു കണ്ടേച്ചു പോകാവുന്നു കരുതി വന്നു, അത്തരയെ

(I just came to pay my respects).

After these courtesies were done with, these tongue-tied, strong, silent men would take leave and depart! Ponnappa held the office of Jail visitor in Alwaye and Ernakulam for many years in succession because of his natural sympathy for the underdog.

I once heard one of them saying to a new client that he fell into a conversation with :

എല്ലാവരും കൂടി എന്നെ പ്രതിസന്ധിയില്‍ കുടുക്കിയപ്പോള്‍ ഞാന് സ്വാമിയേ കാണാന്‍ വന്നു. പിന്നെ സ്വമിയാണ് എന്നെ രക്ഷപ്പെടുത്തിയത്.

(When circumstances and people conspired to send me up shit creek I came to the Swami. And was rescued).

The interesting thing, of course, is the suggestion or self perception that he was only a victim of circumstances and not directly culpable. I feel in retrospect that Ponnappa empathised with this view or, at least, understood this perception and tried to help these people. I have also gathered from Ponnappa's replies that most of them led normal lives after the crisis was resolved with conduct that, occasional drunken brawls in toddy shops excepted, was street legal!

Ponnappa in the Round

Now, Ponnappa used to occasionally visit the local Union Club (there was a Union Club in every town in Kerala I think), to shoot the breeze with his friends, though none of the members were Pattars. On such occasions, I believe he also indulged in a moderate tipple, always Brandy and soda, the favourite drink in Kerala of those days. But even this was gradually given up by the time he was sixty .

In talking about his sartorial tastes, I may have unwittingly given the impression that he was anglicised or perhaps even a Brown Sahib of the provincial variety. True, he liked to wear suspenders or braces with his trousers, never a belt and used, as many of his generation in Kerala did, only a pocket-watch with chain. In fact many educated people in Kerala, Christians and Nairs followed a similar dress code in those days. But he was no dandy fop nor was he anything but totally Indian, a well educated Indian lawyer, and a true Pattar. He was a strict vegetarian who said his Sandhyvandanams regularly and had exemplary knowledge of Sanskrit, a language in which he could converse fluently. He also was fond of reading Kalidasa and works of Vedanta and especially fond of the Upanishads. He often used to recite or quote Sanskrit shlokas or Upanishadic couplets in a very appealing and practiced cadence and , no doubt, in all this there was the imprint of his father and of his Sanskrit and Philosophy degrees.

He liked western philosophy, especially Kant and George Santayana (he taught me to pronounce Santa Ana with the A as in Agent). He also used to exhort me in Kant's famous phrase " Sapere aude" or Dare to be Wise. And he could reel off long passages from Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Pope and Milton for our edification, and when in the mood. This was a habit I cultivated from him i.e reading up the old lit not the ability to quote! He also taught me one Tamil song of his boyhood which went :

முத்துவுக்கு பொண் எங்கே? சேஷா,

முத்துவுக்கு பொண் எங்கே?

அலமேலு பொண் அது அமாவாஸை இருட்டு!!

அத்தங்கா பொண் அது அத்தனையும் திருட்டு!!

அம்மாஞ்சி பொண்ணை நீயும் அறிவாயோடா சேஷா?

அது உதட்டுக்கு ஒன்றரை முழ நீளம் பல்லு!!

(How do we find a bride for young Mutthu? Sesha, tell me where do we find a bride for Mutthu? Alamelu's daughter is dark as the New Moon night. Our cousin's daughter is given to thieving!)

He was also fond of the Malayalam song in the 1951 Film Jeevitha Nouka that goes like this:

ആനത്തലയോളം വെണ്ണ തരാമടാ ആനന്ദ ശ്രീകൃഷ്ണാ വാമുരുക്ക്

but only used to hum it sometimes, never vocalise. But he was not a Kathakali or Chakkiyar Koothu enthusiast unlike my dad and uncles who are men of South Malabar.

Ponnappa took me twice to Chidambaram for Arudra Darishanam and we got ringside seats thanks to father's official assignment. Explained the principle of the cosmic dance and the significance of Arudra as alos the Deepa Aradhanais and the various upacharams or services to Nataraja. I still catch Arudra Darishanam whenever I can as the Abhishekhan and Alankaram are grand sights to behold in the silence of a December morning.And the Nataraja idols are beautifully bedecked with jewelry and garlands.

Although I have rambled on, I have said very little about his family life, the death from leukamia of his second daughter at 16 or the conflicts between him and my uncle, happily reconciled by efflux of time. For this is about the life and times of a Pattar in the erstwhile Travancore State, the influences on the man, his professional life and the fascinating, multicultural environment in which all this was going on. In other words it is a celebration of his life and memory and personal details do not belong here.

A Pattar of Travancore

In closing I want to relate another vignette, for want of a better term, from his Parur days. This was recalled to mind in 2006 when, at dinner with a friend in Madras I met his mother-in-law who is from Parur. The lady said her family taravad where she grew up is next to the Namburi (Nambutiri) Acchan Aal (Banyan tree) in Parur. Now, Ponnappa had told me that in times long since, perhaps mid 19th century, a Namburiacchan had hung himself to death from this Aal. And he was reputed to haunt the place. Once, in his late teens, when Ponnappa was walking home past the Aal around midnight, he saw a figure in the usual Kerala whites under the Aal. Thinking it was old Shangunni Pillai, a man who lived nearby, he hailed him :

എന്ധാ പിള്ളയച്ചാ, എന്ധാണോ ആവോ ഈ അസമയത്ത്?

(Hallo Mr Pillai, why are you abroad at this late hour).

And the figure, all of a sudden, disappeared . A disconcerted Ponnappa, who was only about 18 then, walked briskly homewards humming "Mmmmmmm ...." to keep up his composure! Of course, he never believed in ghosts as an adult, and has told me we should fear only the living human who is capable of incalculable harm and not an imaginary ghost which could do nothing. But still! I mean he was only 18 and surprised suddenly.

The lady confirmed the facts about the Namburiacchan Aal and added that she too has heard that one Shangunni Pillai used to live nearby in the old times. So this, for me, was Parur being unexpectedly brought to life in almost Proustian fashion, a pleasantly agreeable way of touching the remote past once again. It was good to know that the Aal still stands, at least she thought so, that Shangunni Pillai was remembered in her time and that the past, thus, lives on in the oral tradition. If this write-up can similarly bring Ponnappa to recall again among my family and cousins and aunts I will be delighted.

I also wrote this as an account of a Pattar life in the larger backdrop of Travancore mores and culture, as I understood them to be in his time, and of how the life of a Pattar in the Travancore region was different socially from Pattar life in Malabar and Palghat. It is also my impression that those in Malabar and, especially, in Travancore were more closely knit into the fabric of Kerala society than the ones in Palghat area. This, of course, is a statement on which there can be more than one take but that is what I think!


Nidhin Chandrasekhar said...

Wonderful write up..By the way let me confirm u that the AAl still remains as a sign of the its feudal past

Richey said...

I think that it's important to keep in touch with your family heritage. It's important to know who they were, where they went to church and what they did for fun.

Bala Menon said...

Interesting article. I enjoyed it. Just wish to point out that the picture of the synagogue is not the one that is at Parur....

This picture is of the Chennamangalam Synagogue, after its restoration some years ago.

Work is now progressig on the Parur synagogue..
Bala Menon
Toronto, Canada