Kottayil Kovilakom is a village that breathes history. Tucked away at one end of Chennamangalam, a small town in Ernakulam district that is famous for its handloom weaving and coir manufacturing units, this tiny village revels in its past with many significant monuments in the vicinity.
The village is located on the banks of the Periyar. A regular ferry service connects Kottayil Kovilakom to the neighbouring villages.
A temple, mosque, synagogue and church are located within a radius of just 500 metres, manifesting the village’s secular culture.
Added to all this are the beautiful river, swaying coconut palms and the majestic Malavanapara, a sculpture-like rock in the middle of the river that evoke a sublime feeling.
Once the seat of the Kshatriya chieftains of Villarvattom, Kottayil Kovilakom was a centre of learning during the Chola reign and has a defined role in the history of Kerala. Villarvattom and the stories of the last Christian kingdom are part of folklore.
The kingdom was said to be headquartered here and later moved to Udayamperoor (Ernakulam district) when the Arab invaders attacked the island.
According to records, Kottayil Kovilakom was founded during the period of Perumakkanmar. Historians find mention of the place in the ‘Sangakala Kritis’.
There is a strong link between the history of Kottayil Kovilakom and the Paliyathachans, or the prime ministers of the erstwhile Cochin maharajas. In 1663, the Dutch built Paliyam Kotta (fort), as a gesture of gratitude to the Paliyathachans, for helping them defeat the Portuguese. Inside the fort a kovilakom (palace) was built specially for women, and hence the name Kottayil Kovilakam.
In 1790, when Tipu Sultan’s marauding army reached this place one of the caretakers of the Paliyam family, named in records as Koya Muhammed was killed and his last rites performed by the Paliyam men. The mosque at Kottayil Kovilakom that stands close to the Sree Krishna temple is testimony to this amity. The narrow road that runs close to the mosque leads to the rundown Jewish cemetery. The Jews were supposed to have settled here in the 15th Century. A synagogue they built still stands but the Jews have all migrated.
Close to the synagogue, stands the church built by the Jesuit missionaries in 1577 and the Vaipikkotta Seminary. Both structures were severely damaged during Tipu Sultan’s attack. Although the church was restored, the ruins of the seminary can be still seen. Stone inscriptions in ancient Malayalam script provide valuable information of a long-lost culture.
A well in the churchyard, now closed, is believed to have led to Tipu’s fort. A printing press, started here by the Jesuits that was completely destroyed by Tipu’s men, also stood in this compound.
It’s evening and you hear prayers from the mosque and feel the cool river breeze. In the distance you hear the bells ring. The tranquillity is palpable; so also are evident symbols of religious harmony.