Itty Achuthan Vaidyar was a key figure behind the 17 century treatise.
A function in memory of Itty Achuthan Vaidyar, one of the key figures behind the completion of ‘Hortus Malabaricus,’ the 17 century treatise on plants of the Malabar, was held at Kadakarappally taluk in Cherthala last week. The focus of the celebrations was on a small wooden structure known as ‘kuriala’ – said to have been in existence since the time of the Vaidyar (doctor).
Beside the ‘kuriala’ is the house where 53-year-old Umayamma lives with her two children. Umayamma is a descendant of Itty Achuthan Vaidyar, who was part of the team of botanical experts put together by Hendrik van Rheede, the governor of Dutch Malabar in the 1670s. Vaidyar, along with other local physicians such as Ranga Bhat, Vinayaka Pandit, and Appu Bhat, lent his expertise to the study of plants of the Malabar.
Umayamma had not heard about ‘Hortus Malabaricus’ or van Rheede until a scientist came looking for the place where the famed Itty Achuthan Vaidyar lived. She told the scientist what she had heard from her grandmother when she was a child – that her ancestor was an expert medicine man and that his skill took him to foreign lands.
What remains of Itty Achuthan Vaidyar at Kadakarappally today is the ‘kuriala’ and a small grove of medicinal plants near Umayamma’s house that Itty Achuthan is believed to have used for his studies. The grove and the structure have captured the interest of local residents, and those enthusiastic about ‘Hortus Malabaricus.’ This interest has led to several proposals for government takeover of the land and construction of a memorial at the spot. The plans also suggest developing the spot to highlight its heritage.
As part of the proposals, the State government declared about 3,500 sq.m. land near the ‘kuriala’ as a ‘protected monument.’ More than seven months after the notification was released, situations on ground remain the same.
Former State ministers and MLAs were in attendance at the memorial function recently. Umayamma too has had many distinguished leaders visiting her over the last few years to ensure that the government would take over the land and build a memorial for Itty Achuthan Vaidyar. Umayamma and local residents are waiting for the day when these plans come to fruition. The family itself, meanwhile, is in dire straits. They have been under severe financial distress after Umayamma’s husband passed away a few years ago. But the family happily welcomes all those who wish to visit the grove and ‘kuriala.’ Researches, documentary filmmakers, media persons, and local residents often end up at Umayamma’s doorsteps while studying one of the key men behind the treatise on botany. The family only hopes that the heritage of their ancestor is cherished and preserved with due care.