History & Culture

History etched in stone

SURVIVORS OF TIME: The Canal House, which stands on the land which once formed the boundary between Kochi and Thiruvithamkur Photos: Special Arrangement  

Everything that you find in the Muziris region has a story to tell you, including the stones. The kothikkallu or kothi stones found here bring back to us our state’s history — of invasions and expansions, of gains and losses.

Boundary stones

Before independence, Kochi and Thiruvithamkur were two adjacent native kingdoms. The stones that marked the boundary between ‘Kochi’ and ‘Thiruvithamkur’ were known as kothikkallu. Travancore and Cochin were independent states under British India until 1947 and under the Government of India till 1949.

Though the kothikallu are found in several other places as well, the ones that are found in the North Paravur-Kodungallur region, have a special archaeological significance.

Kothikkallu are found near forts, canals or houses and the natives of the region know that once upon a time, they marked the boundary between Kochi and Thiruvithamkur. In some places, you see them about 15-30 m apart from each other. It has the inscription of the Malayalam letter ‘ko’ on one side representing Kochi and ‘thi’, which stands for Thiruvithamkur on the other side.

Kothikkallu are found in plenty in the Kottappuram, Pallipuram, Thiruvanchikulam, Cherai and Moothakkunam regions which lie close to the border between the erstwhile states. Ullasan, who operates the Lakshmi Fireworks near the Sahodaran Ayyappan Memorial in Cherai, says, “I have seen kothikkallu in these areas. They used to be here in my childhood. In those days, our roads were very narrow. Later, when the roads were widened, kothikkallu might have been removed as they stood right in the middle of the roads.”

In the complex that houses the Sahodaran Ayyappan Memorial, which includes the house in which he was born, one kothikallu remains intact. Pradeep Kumar K.K., a librarian, at the Sahodaran Ayyappan Memorial Library near Cherai, says, “People from different parts of Kerala have come here to have a look at this stone. We point it out to the foreigners who visit the Memorial.”

At Chathedam–Thuruthippuram, on both sides of the canal, the kothikkallu can still be seen. It is said among the locals that these regions witnessed a regular ‘change of guards’. History has it that North Paravur and Alangad were once part of Kochi and that they were later annexed by Thiruvithamkur.

The legendary Marthanda Varma and his successor Dharmaraja expanded the small state and brought it to the borders of Cochin. Local people have heard of Nedumkotta or the ‘Travancore lines’ built by Dharmaraja in order to prevent invasions.

Dr. S. Hemachandran, chief expert, Muziris Heritage Project excavation team, says, “Border issues had arisen in the native states of Kochi and Thiruvithamkur during the latter part of the 18th century. In order to solve the issue, the governments might have jointly conducted surveys under the suggestions of the British Government around the middle of the first half of the 19th century. In the 18th century, land survey and some demarcation of the border may have happened.

But it is likely that the frontier boundary fixations were far from perfect. So, it might have been during the British rule that official marking stones were installed and borders fixed for the two states. Also, a study of the shape of the stones and the nature of the inscriptions found on them reveals that the stones were erected during early 19th century. These stones were placed on both sides of the boundary, the boundaries being mainly rivers, canals or roads.”

The area between the two lines of border stones used to be known as ‘no man’s land.’ Toll-collection centres known as chungappura share history with the kothikkallu. The region where the ‘Canal House’ stands, on the bank of Anappuzha in the village of Methala, formed part of the geographical boundary between Kochi and Thiruvithamkur. As part of the boundary, Anappuzha had the significance of being a chief trade route between Kochi and Thiruvithamkur. Hemachandran says, “The ‘Canal House’ was the toll centre established by the Kochi government for the collection of toll from the trading boats plying the Anappuzha. A map of the Dutch period marks a ‘Tol Hys’ in this area. But the present building is not a Dutch construction, probably one that was built by the kings of Kochi in the place of ‘Tol Hys.’

Need for research

Hemachandran concludes: “Here is matter for extensive study and research as the stones are archaeological monuments. The Muziris Heritage Project is not limited to historic sites and monuments alone. Exploration, research and discussions with experts will reveal many hidden facts and add authenticity to the existing stories.”

Certainly, the kothikkallu will continue to tell their tales.

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 8:52:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/history-etched-in-stone/article4504820.ece

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