The serene banks of the river inspired and nurtured many a musician, poet and composer

Nila (Bharathapuzha) in Northern Kerala, Cauvery in Tamil Nadu, and Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, along with many other famous rivers in India, are well known for the cultural life they nurtured along its scenic banks. Karamana river is no match for the Nila or the Cauvery in terms of length or for the kind of history and culture these rivers catalysed. It is nevertheless the Cauvery of Thiruvananthapuram.

Swati Tirunal, the composer king, was a lover of the river. In 1831, Travancore records show that Swati Tirunal visited Karamana Padmanabha Shashtri’s residence to watch the river in spate. He gifted silk clothes to the family on the occasion. Another record of 1837 indicates that a bungalow and bathroom were constructed in Karamana ‘Aattuvaram’ as a summer resort for the royal family of erstwhile Travancore.

Another one of Swati's favorite spots in the city, the Kunnubungalow near Mudavanmughal, overlooks the Karamana river. The view from this spot is indeed breathtaking with the expanse of green on the western side and the Arabian Sea beyond that. On the eastern side is the panoramic view of the Ghats. It is windy and pleasant here all day. It still has the remains of a flight of steps leading to the river. The bungalow is believed to have been used by Swati Tirunal to spend time to compose music. Foreign visitors also used this as a guest house later. In 1962, the Government took over the bungalow and housed a lower primary school in it. After the school got shifted, the building was completely left to the mercy of the elements, a couple of decades ago. Presently a huge water tank of the Kerala Water Authority has taken away all romance left at the spot.

Karamana can also claim a share of the fame of the popular poet, composer and Kathakali exponent, Irayimman Thampi, best known for the lilting lullaby ‘Omana thingal kidavo’ and also the erotic ‘Prana naathan enikku nalkiya’. Irayimman Thampi was a member of the Puthumana Ammaveedu; its majestic entrance can still be spotted in Kunchuveedu Lane at Andiyirakkam on the National Highway at Karamana.

A memorial to Thampi is also located on the premises. The 16-kettu that was originally there has vanished. Irayimman Thampi owned a stretch of land in Karamana and also Neeramankara, on the other side of the river. The records relating to erecting a bungalow in ‘Karamana Aattuvaaram’, north of the Karamana bridge, mentions the land belonging to Irayimman Thampi being taken over by the Government, for a compensation of Rs. 150. The plot is referred to as being en-route to Chenkalchoolai (not the present place near Thycaud). There were, and still are, many brick-making spots on the river bank, and south of the lane to Parvathipuram Gramam.

Yet another musician of the same time as Thampi and Swati who lived close to Karamana was Vadivelu – composer, violinist and dance choreographer. He stayed at Shankara Vilasom in Pazhayasala, close to the Killiyaar (parallel to the south end of Chalai street). More than a dozen members who adorned the famous court of Swati Tirunal were from Karamana. All the following artistes had the prefix ‘Karamana’ in their names – Veena Subbu Bhagavathar, Shesha Bhagavathar, Padmanabha Bhagavathar, Thiruvenkita Bhagavathar, Krishna Bhagavathar, Veena Subramonya Bhagavathar, Ramaswami Bhagavathar, Shakthi Bhagavathar, Bhagavathom Vankiteswara Bhagavathar, Cheria Venkiteswara Bhagavathar and Kulathooran Bhagavathar.

Neelakanta Sivan, famous Carnatic composer born a quarter century after Swati Tirunal, spent a major part of his life in Karamana (he married a woman from this village) and was a devotee of the Karamana Sathya Vageeswara. His songs are quite popular in Carnatic concerts all over South India (the best example being ‘Aananda nata’ in Poorvikalyani Raga). Neelakanta Sivan has composed songs that refer to this deity, such as the song ‘Nithya Kalyani’ in Dhanyasi raga. He also composed songs on even minor temple deities (like the deity of Krishna of Krishnan Koil Street Temple) in Karamana Gramam. The village community has erected a memorial for the composer, on a spot behind the temple, overlooking the river. A Neelakanta Sivan Music festival is also held in the village during July every year, for many years now.

There was a practice of holding concerts at Karamana by artistes who were giving Navaratri concerts in Navaratri Mandapam. This was organised by P.K. Subbayya Pillai, a hardware merchant and resident of Karamana (at Andiyirakkam).

Playback singer K.S. Chithra (as well as her sister K.S. Beena, an equally brilliant singer who did not pursue it as a profession) and her father and singer of yester years, Karamana Krishnan Nair, both hail from Karamana. Her great-grand father Judge Govinda Pillai (after whom the Judge Road in Karamana-Nedumcaud is named) was also a connoisseur of music. One of the popular Carnatic musicians of younger generation – Trivandrum Krishnakumar – hails from Karamana.

(Continuing the weekly series on the Karamana river, written by Dr. Achuthsankar S. Nair, head of the Department of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Kerala. He is a music and history buff.)