July 5, 2009

Kanjirakolly – A Brief History

Situated among the foot hills of Western Ghats, and bordering the Coorge range of Karnataka evergreen forests, Kanjirakolly is a very beautiful village in Kannur district and can aptly be called “GODS’OWN HIGHLAND”. In a broader sense Kanjirakolly- especially before the arrival of the settlers from Central Travancore- was an extension of Manikadave and shares a common history. As the crown of Manikadave, there lays ‘Kurisu Mala’ (mount / hill of the cross) forest in the west beyond which it is Paadan Kavala and other tourism points of Kanjirakolly. It is a location of exotic beauty of unpolluted ranges of the Western Ghats with friendly people.

The history of human habitation in this region trace back thousands of years. The Hindus, Muslims and Christians here live in amity and have joined together to improve themselves. The settlers from Travancore form about 70% of the population and have spent their lives to make this land ever so productive and have in these years – since 1948 when their migration began – struggled with nature and produce spices, rubber, cashew nut, vegetable etc.


Endowed with the bounteous splendor of nature, Manikadave- the foot station of Kanjirakolly- is located 60km from the district headquarters of Kannur. Distance to Manikadave from neighboring places in km: Iritty16, Ulickal (village panchayat headquarters) -8, Taliparamba (taluk headquarters) – 45. From Kannur we can reach Manikadave via Iritty- Ulikal- Vattiamthode- or Iritty- Ulickal- Nuchiad – Manikadave and from Taliparamba via Payyavur- Nuchiad- Manippara.

Before the advent of settlers from Travancore, the only inhabitants of the land comprising the present day Nuciyad, Manippara, Manikadave, Kanjirakolly and adjacent places were a tribal people called Karimpalans. The place, a part of the dense private forest owned by an aristocratic ‘Janmi’ (Landlord) family- the “Karkkat Idam” family of “Nayanars”- and shared a common life style and history.

The Land of Karimpala’s

Kanjirakolly and the adjacent villages, in the pre-independence days of India, were private forest owned by a land lord family of Nayanar caste called “Karaykkattu Idam”. They were the subjects of Chiraykal Rajas ; gained and retained power as the loyalists of British Raj. As per the local version of feudalism, the ‘janmi’ (land lord) family not only owned the land but also ruled over its tenants. The tenents of this forest land were the Karimpalans, the first ever inhabitants of the region. Though some very old Karimpala elders say that there lived in ancient days a tribe called ‘Vedikalamar’, there is no proof of it.



A little cottage and its inside settings for the spirits of the dead -,a usual sight near the house of karimpalas


The 95 year old Pallath Ambu s/o Kanna Kelan.He is the “Aattukaran” or the sole priest of the Karimpalas of the region

For thousands of years the people of Karimpalan tribe were leading a most eco-friendly life here; quite a jungle life indeed. They adopted very crude and ancient ways of agriculture. They never used spade, used only “periya” instead. “Peria” is a three inch long and one inch broad miniature of spade with a wooden handle one foot in length. Sparing the huge trees and clearing bushes, creepers and other wild plants, they prepared ground with their “peria” and cultivated paddy and other seasonal crops. Beating “thudi”, a typical drum of the tribal, they would sing melodiously their traditional “vaalichappaattu” while preparing ground and sowing paddy. Every year after harvest, they shift to a new place abandoning the old. They called this system “ponam krishi”. “Ponam” and “krishi”in their language means forest and farming respectively. Besides they went on hunting and fishing to find their daily food. They had to give the Janmi a portion of the animals they hunt.

Exploited by the rich nobility, the ignorant and quite illiterate tribal people led a miserable life. They had to pay the land lord 1/4th or even more of the crops as ‘vaaram’ also known as ‘purappadu’ (“Purapadu”- a fixed percentage of crops as levy to the land lord). During the months of ‘Kanni’ and ‘Thulam’, the loyal official of the Janmi (the land lord) called ‘surveyor’ would come to the jungle land, allot land and fix ‘vaaram’ for the next year’s cultivation. The tribal people had to travel a lot by foot through the jungle paths carrying the huge load of vegetables and other crops to offer at the Idam, the janmi’s palatial home in the village out side the forest. There the poor untouchables always got a cold reception. Quite down below the courtyard of Idam, they were stopped and the ‘Karyasthan’ or the chief executive officer of the Janmi would accept their offerings and give them ‘choru’ (cooked rice) in plantain leaf. For drinking water they had to go to the stream nearby and no vessels were provided.
The Janmi’s words were binding. He had the right to give the poor tribal even the capital punishment. He could also evict the tribal people from their cultivated land. The Janmi’s men would put small branches of trees with its leaves and put stones on the same to demarcate the land of a tenant who had acquired the wrath of the Janmi. The evicted person thereby lost all the rights over his crops and was thereafter forbidden to enter his hut or even the cultivated land. This practice was known as ‘Kallum Tholum Vaykal’ (putting stone and leaves).
The Karimpala elders say that it was an ancient custom among them to offer‘kattas’ (bundles of paddy) to Goddess Mani at the Nuchiad temple. The ‘kattas’ were accepted from outside the temple compound by the ‘embrassan’, a temple official. They were given “payasam” made of rice, sugar and milk, but- since they were treated as untouchables- not permitted to enter the temple. The story about an ancient civilization still lingers among Karimpala elders. It tells us that there was a Brahmin settlement at a place formerly known as ‘Illathumpadi’ somewhere near present day Manipparathattu. Reminiscent of destructed or deserted ‘Illams’ (Brahmin homes) were found scattered at that part before the deforestation after the advent of settlers from Travancore. Similar stories are there about ‘Onapparambu’ and ‘Nambadipparambu’, two places existing only in legends passed over through ages. Those two places –on analyzing the tribal stories we can conclude – were flourishing centers of ancient Hindu culture, existed somewhere near present day Nuhiyad.

The ritualistic worship of Mani Bhagavathi (Goddess Mani) known as ‘kalasam’ is performed by ‘Aattukaran’, the tribal priest of the Karimpalans. Pallathu Ambu, the present Aattukaran, believes that there lived Kolantha Chemmaran, the first Aattukaran of this place, even at the time when there was stone and earth. He had come to this place from a place called ‘Erelantha Naadu’. He made there a ‘valappu’ or a small estate of coconut and areca nut trees and also cultivated paddy. In those days the Aattukaran was the only Karimpalan with a permanent dwelling place and around it there were coconut and many fruit trees including jack fruit trees and mango trees. This ancestral property of Aattukaran known as ‘valliyeriyka valappu’ was later acquired by a timber trader, who was also a money lender, in a quite deceitful manner- laments the present Aattukaran. When the present Aattukaran took charge, Manikadave and surrounding places were the part of a dense forest known as ‘Manjalaadu kaadu’. He and his family began life here at ‘Vallya cheriykal parambu’. The ‘janmi’ had given them the land with the right to use at their discretion.
It was from the officials of the janmi known as ‘karyasthans’ that the illiterate Karimpalas knew the dates of the year and the names of the months and seasons. For medicine, they used only the herbs got from the forest.
Only the Aattukaran of the Karimpalan tribe has the right to perform ‘kalasam’ (‘kalasam kettiyaaduka’). The ‘Peruvannaan’ from ‘Parikkalam’, a nearby village, also comes to this place to perform some other forms of rituals to goddess Mani like ‘theyyam’ or ‘Manippothiye kettiyaadal’. It is believed that it is Mani Bhagavathi who speaks through the Aattukaran, while he performs ‘kalasam’. Though quite illiterate, the humble simple tribal priest knows the language of Goddess Mani. The Aattukaran claims that during kalasam he sees Goddess Mani as a silent tall lady of the complexion of red silk, with long silky hair and closed eyes. On the day of kalasam a small miniature of a hut called ‘maadam’ is built and an oil lamp is kindled inside to honor and pray to the late karanavars. The ritual related to this function is called ‘kudiyiruthal’. If this ritual is not performed, the Karimpalans believe, the departed souls will wander in agony.
The present Aattukaran inherited the title from his father. Every night he kindles the light calling God: ‘Iswari Mathave’ (Goddess Mother). The first Aattukaran got the title from the Nayanar family of ‘Karaykkattu Idam’ (the family of the land lords) along with a sword, red silk and gold bangles symbolizing the priestly position. In ancient days the Karimpalans had no deities other than ‘Sri Muthappan’ and ‘Goddess Mani’. On special occasions they offer chicken to the Aattukaran, especially when kalasam is conducted.
In the olden days, the Karimpalas had their own way of celebrating their ‘mangalam’ (marriage). The friends and relatives of the groom assemble first at his residence. Then beating ‘thudi’ and singing their traditional songs, they all go to all go to the residence of the bride’s uncle. There they would stay for a day. Most often the number of the team exceeds 100. Up to dawn they would all feast, beat their ‘thudi’ and sing ‘mangalam paattu’, their traditional songs meant for marriage celebration. Dowry system was quite unknown to them. Marriage among them was really an agreement between two families. If a boy and a girl fell in love with each other, his parents and ‘karanavars’ (uncles) would visit the girl’s uncle and offer him paddy, discuss the proposal and fix the marriage. Together they would drink toddy –the only liquor then known to them – and their merrymaking often went on for a whole day. Cucumber was the main dish of those days. ‘Thali’- the ornament worn by Hindu women as a symbol of wedlock – was not used by them before the coming of settlers from Travancore. The marriage celebrations were conducted at the ‘karanavar’s house and expenses were met by him.
The culture, and even the food habits, of Karimpalas have much changed after the large scale migration of Christian settles from Travancore. Tapioca and many other new crops were introduced by them. The settlers bought the forest land from the janmi. They cleared forest, began to cultivate seasonal as well as permanent crops. The vast stretch of land used until their arrival at the will and pleasure of the Karimpalans for ‘ponam krishi’ thus became the land of the settlers. The particular way of farming – ‘ponam krishi’- , thus, came to an end and the Karimpalans were thereafter confined to a few acres of land at a hill called ‘Karimpalakkunnu’ (known also as Gandhi Nagar) in the outskirts of Manikadave and also at Chittari near River Udumba at Kanjirakolly.
The elders among them remember their first encounters with the settlers. It was from them that they got tapioca to eat and country liquor to drink for the first time. From them, for the first time, they heard the word ‘kristhiyani’ (Christian), learnt about the way of a settled life and knew about cash crops.

There is a myth relating Kanjirakolly to the temple of Lord Siva at Payyavur and the Coorge (Kudagu) district of Karnataka. Centuries ago when most part of the present day Payyavur Panchayat was part of a vast stretch of private forest owned by Karakkat Idam , one day, some ‘adiyans’ (tenants) went for hunting. They sharpened an arrow on a rough stone. Pure blood then flowed from the stone to the great surprise of the hunters’ team. As per the direction of the ‘Velichappaad’- a Hindu prophet like holy man who performs sacred rituals -, the stone was later covered and tender jackfruit and tender coconuts were offered there on the first of the month of ‘Kumbam’. Message about the divine manifestation was sent to ‘Kudagu’ (a district in Karnataka neighboring Kanjirakolly) and the villagers there agreed to offer rice to the new temple at Payyavur. The Kudagu people did not know the way to the temple. They tied sacks of rice on bullocks and, believing that Lord Siva would lead them through the right path, just followed them. They reached Payyavur from “Kambam medu” via “nadakothippara”→ Udumbei forest→ Chittari→ Kanjirakolly. From that day onwards this has become the shortest jungle path connecting Kudagu of Karnataka state and Kannur district of Kerala. Every year, the devotees from Kudagu walk down through this jungle path.

The Muslim era

The Muslim connection of this area has more than a century’s tale. Muslims at first came here as timber traders or as their laborers. They came here mostly from Irikkur (a Muslim dominated village in Kannur District) and its surroundings. Laborers, chiefly the Karimpala men, fell down huge trees for them which were dragged to the river side by elephants. The wood thus collected was tied together along with bamboo poles, which was called ‘Pandi’ (raft), and was transported through the river to Valapatanam.

Kanjirakolli- Today
Kanjirakolli with its exotic beauty of unpolluted ranges of the Western Ghats with friendly people has changed much especially after the advent of settlers from Travancore.
In the last seven decades people have struggled with nature and produce spices, areca nut, rubber, cashew nut, vegetable etc. The settlers from Travancore have spent their lives to make this land ever so productive.
The Hindus, Muslims and Christians here live in amity and have joined together to improve themselves.