The Killi, a tributary of the Karamana river, nurtured centres of learning and temples on its banks

‘Killiar’, a tributary of the Karamana river, is a major presence in the city. It is much shorter than the Karamana river, with a length of about 24 km. The name Killi is reminiscent of the name of the ancient Dravidian Goddess and is also the family name of some Chola dynasties (Nedumudi Killi was a king who lived during the Silappadhikaram period). There are names of places etymologically related to Killi in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, such as Killikurussimangalam. A megalithic urn burial site has been identified at Sasthamangalam, on the banks of the Killi river, by B.S. Harisankar, a Pune-based pre-historic researcher.

Ward & Conner writes about the Killi river thus: Between Kuramunnay and the commencement of the town, there is an open street of paddy fields through which flows the Killyaur, over it is a wooden bridge, this stream meanders to the East of the suburbs in which are few rocky heights of inconsiderable size. The town commences a short distance West of the above river... Its source is in the Nedduvencaud district – enters this 5 miles North of the Capital, meanders in a Southerly course three miles and is turned by the rivulet from Wutteeoorkauo S. S. W. 3 1/4 ¼ miles to the high road which crosses it then through: a wide stripe of cultivation nearly S. 1 3/4 ¾ miles forms a junction with the Kurramunnayaur. There are two dams thrown across it on the West of Wutteoorkauo, the Northernmost is dilapidated and the other called Murthengoe Ana, a canal branches off it, and is conveyed into the fort of Trivandrum. A mile South of the above dam is one in ruins across the original track of this river. The nullahs that rise in the Northern ridges of hills fertilizing the paddy glens, verge towards one point and discharge themselves into a backwater which communicates with the sea at the Vailey bar; the principal branches pass by Palliapooram, Cullicoottum & c. and is termed the Chittar.”

At Maruthankuzhy is one of the oldest ‘anaikettu’ (anaicut) in Thiruvananthapuram. Maruthankuzhy forms a part of the five ‘madais’ harvesting water for enriching the Killiar (the fifth one is called ‘anachaam mada’). The anaicut has three gates with stone pillars that are grooved to enable placing of shutters in them. The granite floor slabs are held together with metal clips. When the shutters are closed, water rises and flows into the canal under the road and turns right to proceed through a channel known as Kochar, on the right side of the road by the same name, from the Anaikettu spot to Edapazanji. It proceeds via Jagathy, Valiyasala, Powerhouse road, Thakarapparambu and Padma Nagar to supply water to the Padmatheertham pond inside the Fort. The scheme seems to have been in existence at least 200 years ago. Maruthankuzhy Ana also houses a river-gauge that is used to measure the river discharge. Killi river has, in addition to the Maruthankuzhy bridge (a new one is also getting ready), has bridges across it at Jagathy, Pangode and Killippalam.

Udiyannoor Devi temple at Maruthankuzhy is beside the Killi river. The Thottam Paattu in Maruthankuzhy Bhadrakaali temple has words of praise for the Killi river. The Mahadeva Temple at Sasthamangalam is yet another temple on the banks of Killi river, upstream of the Ana at Maruthankuzhy. The famous Attukal temple is also on the bank of the ‘river foot’, and hence the name ‘Attukal’ (its literal meaning is the foot of the river).

On the banks of the Killi, at the spot today known as Valiyasala (near Killippalam on the National Highway), is the famous Valiyasala temple, associated by many with the Kanthaloor Shaala, the historic university that received students from various parts of India. A war was fought by Chola king Raja Raja I over this “Nalanda of the south”. The deity in the temple is still called Kanthalloor Shaala Mahadevar. Puthankotta, the palace of Umayamma Rani, was also on the banks of this river.

The Killi’s vicinity to Chalai, the historic trading centre of the city made it one of the routes for moving trade goods. Boats could take goods through the Killi river, enter the Karamana river (at Kalladimugham at Konchiraravila) and reach Poonthura, which at one time served as a port. Reminding us of this old status of the river, we can still spot timber depots in Killippalam-Attakulangara bypass. There are two schools by the riverside, the Chalai Boys’ and Girls’ schools. Floods of the Killi river used to disrupt functioning of the schools for days.

More than a 100 years ago, Dewan Nanu Pillai wrote to the Chief Engineer thus: At a short distance from the Killiyar bridge on the main line. There existed a breach or rather a gap in the embankment. The whole Shala and the parts of the roads in the front of the fort by the eastern fort gate were inundated. The walls of houses have mostly tumbled down. His Highness could not drive by the road. In fact communication was stopped. I wish you will conceive some project for water communication near the Anjengo bar in times of floods. If this is not done, there is scope for danger land accidents. The embankment of the Killiayur on the southern side of the main bridge has to be strengthened and the breach should be repaired.”

(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. Contact the author at sankar.achuth@gmail.com)