A king, a canal built overnight, and a shadowy enemy

Vehicles ply routinely over the nondescript Pulimuttu Palam (also referred to as Pallichal Bridge) in Palluruthy and people walk across it unmindful of its history. Very few from this generation know of the stories that hang by the bridge and of the canal that flows under it. Such hidden histories, often contested, remain forgotten except when ferreted for some reason. Many-a-time these stories are imagined narrations, exaggerated and many-a-time just half truths. Somewhere in between is authentic history.

In 1997-98 a ‘decentralisation programme’ of the State government led to a compilation of local histories of places and people. It stressed on oral histories that were handed down generations. The compilation, Pradeshika Charithra Shekarnam, is one source wherein is a story of the construction of the Pulimuttu (Pallichal) Canal.

It is said that Maharaja Godavarma of the Cochin Royal Family adopted five boys as his sons and successors. One among them, Veera Kerala Varma belonged to a family who lived in a house behind the Azhiyakavu Temple in Palluruthy. The house which exists till date is called kottaram, meaning palace, in lieu of its princely relation. Veera Kerala Varma is supposed to have ruled for just five years, from 1645-1650, and is said to have ordered for the building of the canal as he often visited the temple. The country boats which the maharaja used to travel in, called palliodams, required a place to harness. Hence a canal was constructed and came to be called pallichal. “Most probably that’s how the name came about,” says Sudhir K. Gopalan, a teacher and social worker from this area. “There are no factual details. Which maharaja, which year, when….all I have are land details,” says V.K. Radhakrishnan of Vadakkumthodam House in Palluruthy about the canal which flows contiguous to his property, a majestic, historical house.

The popular story is that the canal was constructed overnight at the behest of the Cochin maharaja as he made his way upwards on the waterway to survey the lands of his enemies. At these times he made the Vadakkumthodam house, a transit point.

Radhakrishnan is wary. He says it can be just a story. The Vadakkumthodam family were zamindars of the area and owners of land in and around Palluruthy. The maharaja was most probably an ally. According to Radhakrishnan the maharaja had enmity with people living behind their lands. The maharaja wished to see the land of his adversaries and assess the enemy. Hence a canal was built in the night, quietly, for him to go up the waterway.

The maharaja, on these visits, always offered obeisance at the Azhakiyakavu Temple that belonged to the family. “He visited the temple on the first day of every Malayalam month,” says Radhakrishnan.

Prof. K.V. Thomas mentions in his book, Ende Kumbalangi, a possible reason on how Palluruthy got its name. Once, the Vadakkumthodam house became a transit point for the maharaja, the area was referred to as Palli-iruthy, meaning a resting place for the maharaja. Over the years Palli-iruthy changed to a more facile usage, Palluruthy.

Sudhir speaks of the adversaries of the Cochin Royal Family, the muthavadi, who battled for kingship, and always conspired with the Dutch to oust the reigning maharaja, giving good reason to believe that the maharaja journeyed up the canal to assess the enemy territory. The records compiled in the nineties state the length of the canal to be 1.40 km and 5m in width.

Radhakrishnan also talks about the bridge that was later built on the canal over which the main Palluruthy road runs past. It is said that a man called Ramakrishnan began building the bridge but the piling was impossible. Every time the pillars were dug into the ground, it gave way. It is said that only after the appeasement of the Goddess the four pillars to the bridge stood ground and the canal got a bridge over it.

Sudhir hazards a guess about the year of construction of the new bridge. He says, “It must have come after the building of the Harbour Bridge, around the 1930s, out of necessity. By that time of course the maharaja was not visiting Palluruthy anymore.”