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Musings on Kannanmoola

Till a few decades ago, Kannanmoola was a picturesque spot with an undulating landscape.

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

TO THE old timers in the city, Kannanmoola is a place that has several historical associations. It was here that Chattambi Swamigal, mystic and avadhuta (renunciate), was born. It was also here that the headless corpse of the great patriot, Velu Thampi, Dewan or Dalava of Travancore, was hung as a gibbet by the British, as a grim warning to resurgent. Kannanmoola, thus, has a place in the pages of Kerala history and culture.

Till a few decades ago, Kannanmoola was a serene and picturesque spot with an undulating landscape. Wide stretches of paddy fields, small hills, coconut groves, winding canal or thodu could all be found here. Waters from numerous waterways and drainage canals in the city flows into the thodu, which ultimately flows into the Aakulam lake.

The etymology of Kannamoola is quite obscure. The madom (house) of the Kolur Athiyara Potti's was situated at Kannanmoola. These Brahmins were also one among the families that constituted the Ettara Yogam (the traditional custodians of the day-to-day administration of the Sree Padmanabha Swami temple until Maharaja Marthanda Varma's reign). It is likely that the name of the place may have originated from the name of some distinguished member of this family who were ardent Vaishnavites.

The historicity of Athiyara Madom is also endorsed by the discovery of inscribed copper plates dating back to 364 M.E.-Malayalam Era (1189 A.D.) from this house. The plates belong to the period of Veera Udaya Marthanda Varma, King of Venadu, who is referred to as residing in `Chomayikudi Koyikkal' Palace in Thiruvananthapuram. Mention is also made on the copper plates of the rituals and lands in possession of the Devi-Deveswaram temple near Kilimanoor. The trustees of the temple were the Athiyara Pottis.

The Kollur madom owned and managed two temples in Kannanmoola too - the Devi Temple and the Sastha Temple. A boy, Kunjan Pillai was born on August 25, 1853, to Vasudeva Sarma, priest of the Devi temple, and Nangamma Pillai, Nair woman employed in the service of Kollur Madom. This boy later came to be called Chattambi Swamigal.

The child listened to Sanskrit lessons that were taught to the other boys of his age in the Kollur Athiyara madom and imbibed them. Later, Kunjan Pillai attended the pallikoodam (school) of Pettayil Raman Pillai Asan, who was a highly revered preceptor of the times. Later, Kunjan Pillai returned to the pallikoodam as an instructor. He was also entrusted with the duty of maintaining the discipline among students. He came to be called `Chattambi' and the name stuck. The young Kunjan Pillai also did a stint of clerical service in the Huzoor Kutcheri (Government Secretariat). The transformation of Kunjan Pillai from tutor and clerk into a mystic and avadhuta was sudden. He had the uncanny ability to communicate with animals such as cats and dogs. People all walks of life flocked to him and began to address him as Chattambi Swamigal.

He authored several books on religion and spirituality such as `Vedadhikara Nirupanam', `Pracheena Keralam', `A critique on Christianity' and `Sarvamatha Saamarasam.' Chattambi Swamigal learned Vedanta from Ayyaswami of Thycaud and Subhajadaapadi of Kalladakurichi. His meeting with Swami Vivekananda, in 1892, was instrumental in bringing about social change in a caste-ridden society. Other spiritual leaders in the forefront of the social reform movement were Sree Narayana Guru, Brahmananda Sivayogi and Vagbhatananda Guru.

The present site of the CSI church and the Kerala United Theological Seminary at Kannanmoola, was the place where the headless body of a great patriot of Travancore, Velayudan Chempakaraman Thampi, or Velu Thampi, was hung on a gibbet on the orders of Col. Macaulay, then Resident of Travancore.

Velu Thampi was an able administrator and reformer, who won the trust and admiration of the British. But, this relationship turned sour, when he refused to toe their line. The revolt that he organised ended in failure. In order to save his king and the country, Velu Thampi compelled the king to proclaim him a traitor. Rather than surrender to the British, Velu Thampi, chose to kill himself in his place of hiding inside the temple at Mannadi near Adoor. His body was brought to Thiruvananthapuram and the rest is history. This was the worst that the British could do to the man whose zealous patriotism and indomitable courage would be remembered forever.

The name of an old aristocratic Nair house, `Nedumanichi Veedu,' here, is mentioned in some old Mathilakom records. However, today, when we talk of this place, it is veteran Malayalam film actor, Madhu, who comes to our mind. Madhu (alias Madhavan Nair), who gave up his teaching career to join films, is the son of R. Parameswaran Pillai, resident of Kannanmoola for long. Parameswaran Pillai was a former Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. Veteran journalist, Thycaud Rajendran, now a resident of Kannanmoola, although he has not removed the prefix `Thycaud' from his name.


Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

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