Monday, December 7, 2015

Cheruvanchery: A Tale of Erased Times

Chervanchery is a small agrarian village forming eastern part of Pattiam panchayat in Kuthuparamba block, Thalassery taluk of Kannur district, Kerala, India. It is located at 11° 48’ 52”N, 75°37’35”E. Altitude ranges from 31-650(MSL).
Cheruvanchery- a distant view

The nearest railway station is Thalassery (Tellichery) which is 23km away and airport is Karipur (Calicut-CCJ) roughly 120 Kilometres away. Nearest towns are Kuthuparamba and Panoor. Pincode is 670650, STD Code 0490.
Population as per 2011 census:
Number of Male – 4900
Number of Female - 5441
Total - 10341
Number of Households - 2179

The village Cheruvanchery came into existence in the year 1962.The present day Cheruvanchery amsam and Poovathur desam formed parts of Kottayam and Kannavam amsams respectively till 1904 and later that of Chittariparamba panchayat.

Geographical Features
Lapped in the western slopes of the Western Ghats and north, south and west surrounded by hills, Cheruvanchery resembles an antenna dish; it slopes slightly to the west. The particular geographical situation, i.e., the surrounding reserve forest and little populated hills kept Cheruvanchery long alienated endowing it with an isolated entity.
Geographical features abounding with hills(Elamankal, Arakkal, Athyara, Kummangadichi, Valiyavelicham, Nellerichaal, Paalayulla Kunnu, Chendayad Kunnu etc) valleys, streams(Parambukkavu Thodu, Elamangal Thodu, Kadavu Thodu, Meenmutti Thodu, Mangott Thodu, Poovanthinchola Thodu, Narimalathil Thodu, Korampatta Thodu, Kuttanchal Thodu, Oduvankal Thodu etc.) and Paddy fields( Naduvayal, Mangod Vayal, Mundayod Vayal, Meenmutti Vayal  Maniyatta vayal, Payyamvayal, Kakkunni vayal, Maviloth Vayal, Chathoth Vayal, Aamakkandam etc.) added with the gentle wilderness and the distant eastern mountain line give Cheruvanchery an enchanting charm.
The streams grow into Madathil puzha or Ambala puzha known as Eranjoli puzha far down finally merges in the Arabian Sea.

Few Other places in Kerala seem to possess the historical importance of Cheruvanchery. The relatively backward present day Poovathur desam of Cheruvanchery amsam which possesses richness of relics of bygone past is capable of lighting up the dark pages of Kerala history since centuries old ruins of tiny clay forms of animals, humans and earthenware had been found buried deep there, which are among very few such traces of existence of Megalithic Civilisation in Kerala.  This may date back between 3000 BC – 500 AD. Elaborate excavation in the area can prove it right. This can be conjugated with the finding of ancient Roman coins in Kuthuparmba area, yet another hint of existence of Megalithic civilisation in Kerala.
Relic supposed to be of Megalithic age unearthed from Poovathur

Again, shrouded in mystery, there lies scattered the devastated remnants of Mahavishnu Temple, Poovathur.It gives all the evidence to presume that once social life flourished and later perished around the temple. The vestige of Tamil architecture found in the relics seemingly suggest that its construction dates back to the early Chera period, ie, almost one thousand years back, the times when Tamil culture prevailed over North Kerala. It is believed that Poovathur was a well-known Vaishnava centre. Though only parts of the main deity are recovered, the lifelike Dhwarapalakas in granite can still be seen relatively unscathed. Remnants of raised pathways made up of earth which were around two metres in height and width leading to the temple from the settlements can still be seen. Wide, age-old wells and ruins of houses are seen scattered in parts of Poovathur. All these suggest a well-developed society once existed around the temple which vanished and lay submerged in oblivion, may be owing to some catastrophe or ravages of wars. The whole remnants lay unknown, covered in thick foliage at least for a century after destruction. It seems the inhabitants of the time perished or deserted the place in an unknown past leaving no link to the present.Historical records kept in custody of Karimpanakkal Chathoth tharavad of Manathana has references to the temple's connection with Kottiyoor temple during the times of Yaga.Sreeyagapuri is said to be the ancient name of Poovathur.

Twin caves believed to be burial sites found in Kannavam Colony
Kottayam Malabar of which Cheruvanchery was a part was subjected to frequent invasions. Haider Ali and later his son Tippu Sultan invaded Malabar during the period 1763-1790. Letters written by Tippu to his generals, contemporary documents and other historical accounts of the past and the present unanimously underline the atrocities both, especially Tippu, committed on the Nair and Brahmin communities across Malabar. It is recorded that it was his mission to exterminate the communities by killing or converting them. Many were forced to flee to Travancore abandoning their property. Large numbers were either brutally massacred or forcibly converted to Islam. Their temples were looted or destroyed. The large list of temples overrun by Tippu, two cannon balls found among the ruins of Poovathur Mahavishnu temple and the sudden disappearance of human folk around the temple seemingly suggest it was destroyed by Tippu during his invasion.
An ancient rock cut cave found in Kannavam forest
Another possibility is its destruction by the British during the Pazhassi War. But History seldom shows accounts of genocides or destruction of temples perpetrated by the British. Yet another possibility is the extinction of the inhabitants due to certain epidemic.
Dwarapalaka recovered from the ruins

History recalls that Kannoth Sankaran Nambiar and his son were hanged for taking side with Pazhassi Raja in the Pazhassi wars. Consequently, a portion of the places connected to him in Poovathur were declared reserve forests by the British. 

Rare sights of dilapidated human settlements of an unknown past can be seen inside the dense forest of Mundayod area.Tracks used by the then settlers, wells lined with laterite stones,and mounds of earth strewn with building stones believed to be of the ruined households denote the settlers vanished leaving no clue of their fate. Such traces of  abandoned houses extend up to Poozhiyod near Kannavam. Ruined temples are also found. The subject deserves detailed study. 

Well of a ruined household found in reserve forest Mundayod
Elders used to mention that once there existed Poovathur Nagaram. The lores Vadakkan Paattukal draws a graphic picture of Poovathur Nagaram which is believed to have existed between 1200 and 1800AD. Kunhinaamar, a warrior of the time happens to meet Chutha Umma of Orom Vayal (still known by the same name) near Kalluvalappu (two kilometers south of Cheruvanchery) on his way to Thulunad for taking a holy dip in Kaveri Theertham. Chutha Umma warns him of the dangers while crossing Poovathur Nagaram incase he fails to pay due respect to the Jonakas (Muslims) and Chaliyas of the Nagaram. She even advises Naamar to take a different and safe route through Mundayod (still known by the same name) avoiding the Poovathur route. Besides, beyond,  there is Kaanthatheru (presumed the present day Puliyanpeedika area) where beckoning women will test his resolve. Anyhow, bold Naamar takes the Poovathur Nagaram route and the inevitable fight follows. In one leap and swerve, he beheads a hundred of the enemy men. The incident is said to be a jolt to the might of the Nagaram. It is said that Aaechukootti Vayal between Poovathur Paalam and Manhampuram was the market place of the Nagaram where barter system was followed. Trade existed between Poovathur Nagaram and Thulunad.It is not known when the Nagaram emerged and perished. However, the time of composition of the ballads suggest that it was in existence in the 16th century.

Present day Cheruvanchery might have been part of Poovathur because the fields beside the town was once known as Poovathur Vayal.

The link to the rich past of Poovathur is missing. Time stood still there for a century at least leaving it to wilderness and sunk in oblivion till inhabitants appeared from nearby places to cultivate in the fertile lands in the last century or so by taking it on lease from Manjakkal Illam of Parasur Devaswom, Chittariparamba, which owned majority of the land, to which it is recorded to have been passed on from a Brahmin family existed then in Chittariparamba.
Cheruvanchery, The land to the west of Poovathur, also seems to have traces of centuries old human inhabitation since manmade cave used as buriel cite is seen at Cheerata further to the west.

The known history of Cheruvanchery is inextricably intertwined with a prominent Nair family known as Venmaani Chathoth. They lived in a Naalukettu near Cheruvanchery town. The tharavad draws reference in Vadakkan pattukal with accounts of Thacholi Othenan and Payyamballi Chandu paying visit to it.

The Venmaani Chathoth family supported Keralavarma Pazhassiraja in the continual wars between the Raja and the British which ultimately culminated in the death of the Raja in 1805. The revengeful British confiscated the whole land of the family towards war expenses and put it up to auction except that of Vettakorumakan Dewaswam. It is a paradox that Varayaal Unni of the Venmaani lineage got the land by auction (reference:Janmaadharam dated 18 June 1880 kept with C V Padmanaabha Kurup).

Later, successor CV Kunhikkutty Kurup emerged in eminence to become assessor and jury in court. The Karanavar was the only one having franchise in Cheruvanchery.
C V Padmanabha Kurup
  at 92, he is the oldest member of the present Chathoth tharavad

In the absence of an heir apparent, the family adopted a girl child from Vadakara in 1917 as inheritor to sustain the tharavad. Hence the present successors.  Akkaraveedu tharavad, Ninkilery Tazhe Illam and Olayikkara Chathomandi tharavad were other landowners in Cheruvanchery.
Vettakkorumakan Temple - Cheruvanchery

Vettakkorumakan temple near the town on the side of Ambalappuzha related to the early Nair soldiers and Chathoth family was destroyed in an unapparent past by external invaders. Later Chathoth family renovated and consecrated it in 1903.

Different communities Coexist in Cheruvanchery. Besides the Nairs who have a fairly long presence in the community fabric Chaliyas deserve an important mention. They keep continuity in Cheruvanchery from the times of Poovathur Nagaram. Cheruvanchery town is still known as ‘Theru’ owing to their presence. The rhythmic sound of weaving shuttles was once the mark of Cheruvanchery. The Ganapathi temple near the town belongs to the community. Karuvan Kannan Chettiar and Chathu Chettiar were prominent men among them.

The Vaniyas probably settled in the beginning of the last century. They are said to have their ancestral roots in Kuttiadi and Thrikkannapuram.

Chathoth family brought the Malaya family headed by Rama Panicker from Manantheri and allotted them land. The purpose was performing religious rituals. Vannan community was brought similarly. Ambu was a known personage among them.

Majority of the Thiyya community emerged in the last century from the nearby places like Pattiam, Muthiyanga, Valliyayi, Chendayad and Kunnothuparamba. Many moved to the eastern side, ie, Poovathur in search of fertile land.

To the west is Cheerata, having a Muslim majority population. A family from Kottayam is the first known Muslims to settle in Cheerata. As early as 200 years back, a few Muslim families settled in Cheeratta migrating from nearby Mooryad and Panoor. The first Juma –at- mosque or Cheerata Valiyapalli was registered in 1890. Thazheveetil, Thaikkandiyil, Thalapaala, Paalayullathil, etc are some of the prominent early Muslim families in the area.

Christian families of Joseph and Varkey migrated to Cheruvanchery from Kottayam in mid – forties of last century. Their successors have a few households in Cheruvanchery now.
Kunkan - a centenarian among kurichyas living in Kadavu inside the reserve forest

An illustrious past marks out the backward tribal Kurichiya community of Cheruvanchery. History has it that they fought on the side of Pazhassiraja against British invasion. The historical figure Thalakkal Chandu, their ancestor, and his bowmen are said to have given the English no peace. Once they laid ambush on mighty Lord Wellesley at Therottuvady near Manjampuram forcing the English General retreat. Kurichiyas fled to interior forests for safety after the defeat of the Raja fearing persecution. However, as per Poovathur desam settlement register it is seen that Thalakkal Chandu and his followers enjoyed ownership of land.
The community is known as Brahmins of forests, some still observe the practice of untouchability. The government established Kannavam tribal colony on the edge of Kannavam reserve forest to bring them to the main stream by proving basic amenities. Many live beside and in the clearings inside the hilly forest of Mundayod, Elamaankal, Kadavu and other hilly regions in rather backward circumstances. The one acre public land at the heart of Cheruvanchery stationing the Govt. Dispensaries is gifted by Kurichiyas a few decades back for the development of the village.  Cheruvanchery village has the largest Kurichiya population in Kuthuparamba block.
Nalla - Paniya woman of Ammarambu

The aborigines Paniyas of Cheruvanchery village live in Ammarambu colony on the northern slope of the hill Kummangaadichi (Namboorikunnu). Their ancestors lived by the Kannavam reserve forest side, hardly a kilometre to the east. They used to depend the forest for livelihood. The tribe has its own dialect. Their existence alienated from the general society and in communion with the forest, their inhibited nature and the authorities’ care limited to subsistence sans policies for uplift keep the tribe in perpetual squalor.

Development and Educational Facilities
Development was late to reach Cheruvanchery due to the peculiar geographical situation of being hidden among hills and forest together with the lack of transport and educational facilities. Before the construction of the first road in 1954 and even later, goods were transported by head load and ‘kavodi’. The earliest roads were Kannavam-Kannancode, Paramberam-Valiyavelicham-Kuthuparamba and Cheruvanchery - Kottayodi. The other roads were of later origin. The first bus route was introduced in late 60s via Kannavam. P R Kurup, the former minister and socialist leader, took patronising role in the development of the area. The first shop came into existence in 1940.

The first Ezhuthupalli, the embryonic form of school, was started in the village by Krishnan Gurukkal of Valliyayi in1902 which later developed into Cheruvanchery UP School. The same year saw the establishment of Cheruvanchery West L P School of Cheerata then known as Mappila L P School. Poovathur New L P School  came into existence in 1941, the early form of which was also an Ezhuthupally initiated by Maraanji Chathu. Tribal U P School Kannavam Colony and PGMP Higher Secondary Schools were established at a later period. Bhagavadpadapuri, where Mahatma Gandhi Arts and Science College and Kannur Navodaya Vidhyayala are situated also form portion of Cheruvanchery village.

Healthcare and other Institutions
Healthcare and other institutions Coming to health care, a Primary Health Centre and Ayurveda Dispensary function in the village. A veterinary hospital established four decades back takes care of animal health. Other notable institutions are Village Office, Post Office, Telephone Exchange, Gramin Bank, Urban Bank, Co-operative Bank, Vanitha co-op Bank, Agricultural Development Bank, Agro Service Centre, Mundayod Cultural Centre, Khadi Board Kannavam Colony, Gandhi Smaraka Vayanasala &Library, Kumaranasan Vayanasala and Library Poovathur and Indirabhavan Vayanasala Poovathur.

Places of Worship
Mosque at Velumbath
Cheruvanchery abounds with centres of worship. Velumbath Makham, Punneri Madappura, Athyara Kavu, Sreedevi Temple Mundayod, Nootali Madapura and Mahavishnu Temple of Poovathur, temple of Lord Ayyappa, Vettakkorumakan Temple, Muchilotu Kavu, Thampuratti Kavu, Cheerata Madappura, Athiyullathil Muthappan Madappura, and six mosques including Cheerata Valiya Palli and Cheriya Palli are notable. Sreenarayana Madams are situated at East Poovathur, Poovathur and Kalluvalappu.

The sparsely populated fertile soil attracted settlers from the neighbouring places, especially to the remote eastern regions, for cultivation in the last century by the time the common people could enjoy land rights. In those days mornings of the rustic village witnessed seemingly endless groups of yeomen farmers, both men and women, and ploughmen and their oxen treading the narrow roads on their trip eastward to fields, and the evenings their retreat home. Main crops produced then included paddy, plantain, coconut, arecanut, pepper, cashew nut, vegetables, little millet, ragi, sesame etc. which fed Cheruvanchery besides neighbouring villages to an extent. Lack of transport and better education facilities had kept the society agrarian for long.  Cattle rearing was another vocation among commoners. Changing times mark a shift to other territories, notable being construction sector.

Unique Past
The people of Cheruvanchery used its times of seclusion in the past to good effects. Unlike others, the village developed its own system of law and order with self-discipline limiting external intervention. Any quarrel, dispute, theft or crime, which was almost unheard of, met with appropriate conciliation or punishment within the community itself. If necessary, even caning was resorted to as punishment. The village was known to the outside world for its unity in decision making to keep law and order situation always within its purview simultaneously assuring that mutual understanding and co-operation prevailed in the community. Frequent meetings of popular committees, cutting across political affinities, took stoke of every situation that deserved attention. Progressive measures were executed for the good of the community. An example is the herculean task of constructing the Cheruvanchery-Chittariparamba road by way of voluntary work (sramadanam).  It was implemented in a single day with the whole multitude of men, women and children offering their might by turning the hilly, uneven, rocky track to one of vehicular access. Purity, refinement and peace prevailed over the base and the sordid in those days. P V Kunhambukutty Nambiar, C V Kunhunni Kurup, K Krishnan Master, Paramban Chathu Mesthri, Koran Master, Kandiyan Kunhikkannan, V P Moosa, Mulloli Krishnan Master, K C Govindan, N K Nanu Nair, Poukkachi Kunhimammad, C V Padmanabha Kurup, K V Sankarankutty Master et al are the leading lights who lead Cheruvanchery on the righteous path in the days. Though underdeveloped, the social fabric of the village then remained an exemplary prototype worth emulating.

Gandhi Smaraka Kala Samithi
Gandhi Smaraka Kala Samithi paid attention to the cultural aspects of social life then. The precursors of the Kala Samiti which originated in 1950 were K P Kunhikannan Nambiar and Narayanan Nambiar. It grew into a well organised team under the doyens K Krishnan Master and P.V Padmanabhan Nambiar. The Samithi’s main forte was periodical drama performances by local artists. With government grants it flourished to the level of rendering stage performances in the neighbouring places. Vandemataram of Pappan Vallikkad won laurels within and outside the state. Some actors worth remembering in the early context were P V Krishnan Master, K P P Ekkal, P Kumaran, C V Prabhakaran Master, Mathew J Murikkan, and T P Padmanabhan.  Notable was the violin of Mani Master which often played ineffable tunes of sad melody that lingers the rustic minds.

Gandhi Smaraka Vayanasala
Gandhi Smaraka Vayanasala & Reading room established in 1948 remained a lighthouse for the alienated village. The general public assembled by its radio, the only source then, to update with news. The immense volumes in the old cupboards preserved under the all-pervasive, tranquil eyes of the librarian P V Raghavan Master enlightened generations. He cared the books as if a serpent incubating her dear eggs. Today the library boasts of a collection of over thirteen thousand books.  With changing times the queues are less; books remain, rather, in deep slumber.

A few persons of eminence
A few personalities deserve special mention. K Krishnan Master, the tall Gandhian, stood tall in every notable development of Cheruvanchery during his days. He was mercy incarnate, who, to tell a tale, once saved a poor rat from a vengeful merchant by  carrying it all the way to Poovathur Palam to land it to safety and fresh lease of life. When he died the people fittingly responded with two memorials. K T Gopalan Nambiar, a freedom fighter lived deaf here because of British torture. Kallyadan Kunhiraman Nambiar is an unknown martyr from Cheruvanchery who contracted death for the cause of national freedom.

Of late, Pappan Vallikkad lived a life of versatility in Cheruvanchery. He was a  writer,an artist and a volleyball player of renown. He dramatized the Malayalam version of the famous novel ‘Gadfly’ by Ethel Voynich as “Kaattukadannal” .The play was a great success in the history of Malayalam stage. Vandemataram is another of his well-known dramatic composition.
Dr. P N K Adiyodi, the jovial homeopath cured the ailing villagers for long. Rama Panicker, Gopalan vaidyar and Kumaran vaidyar were known for indigenous medicine. Mulloli Krishnan Master is known for treatment of fracture and dislocation.

Chiruthaikutty and Ammukutty were the village midwives attending new births.
Rare wild flower seen in forests of Cheruvanchery

Looking Forward
Distinguished past and unalloyed tradition demands Cheruvanchery to make up for its lost time. Recent surge in educational front takes a few among the emerging generation to medical, engineering and similar coveted professions. In Sports V P Dilna marks the village on the country’s sports map with medals, including individual gold, in fencing in the 35th National Games of India 2015. Navarasa and other clubs underline the resurgence of cultural unity among the youths. Steadily and surely, Cheruvanchery is on the path to rediscover its past.