The Kundara Proclamation and the ensuing revolt in erstwhile Travancore culminated in the tragic death of Velu Thampi, the Dalawa, in 1809. The lifeless body of Thampi, who bravely opposed the British was brought to the city, where it hung on a gibbet in Kannammoola hill before being interred in an unmarked grave.
The fable of the Dalawa dawns from Thalakulam Desam in Eraniel Thaluk (now in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu), an important principality in the old Venad realm. Before setting their base at Kalkulam, the monarchs resided at Eraniel and consequently the region was inhabited by numerous aristocratic Nair families who assisted the royals in resisting the Pandya and Chola incursions to Venad.
A short distance from Eraniel palace was located the ancient Thalakulathu Valiya Veedu, the residence of Thalakulathu Mootha Kurup, traditional landlords of Eraniel region. It was in the famed Valiya Veedu that Velu Thampi was born, in 1765, as the son of Valliamma Pillai Thankachi and Kunjimayitti Pillai.
Those who investigate the life and times of Velu Thampi are sure to arrive at the gates of the ancient Valiya Veedu in Thalakulam, now a museum maintained by Chitrakalamandalam. The unkempt surroundings around the statue of Thampi erected on a pedestal and a few architectural interventions with absolute disregard for the historic context are the only eyesores in the otherwise rustic setting.
It will be a surprising revelation for the visitors to know that the present Valiya Veedu is actually a reconstruction of the ancient tharavad where Thampi was born. The original house which stood further north of the present structure was razed to the ground by British forces following the revolt.
Later, in mid-19th century, Kesavan Thampi, a descendant of Velu Thampi, procured permission to construct a house in the plot where the original ancestral house once stood. Kesavan Thampi’s dream took shape as a sprawling mansion, lavishly embellished, and, supposedly, a faithful reproduction of the old tharavadu .
Today, the house is accessed through a large padippura, built to accommodate gatherings and discussions. The doors open to an inner courtyard, where the Thai Veedu and the Thekkath, housing the family deity, is located on a high plinth. Climbing the neatly dressed stone steps, one reaches the poomukham that can rival any palace in its design and superior craftsmanship. The udambara and the ceiling are adorned with most curious designs. Floral patterns, playful parrots, elephants and vyâlis can be spotted in abundance. A realistic carving of a chained mare with a foal suckling stands out from the traditional motifs. Another relief carving portrays a man, sporting a bushy moustache, seated on a galloping horse – a depiction of Velu Thampi, perhaps?
The inner quarters reveal a spacious three courtyard house with numerous rooms and chambers. The front ara (which used to be granary) houses a portrait of Thampi. The kitchen is separated from the Thai Veedu by means of a large courtyard, which, obviously, is a later addition. The walls facing west have been constructed using stone, in order to resist the harsh sun. The pond lying in the northeast corner of the complex is completely hidden amid the plantain garden.
(The author is a conservation architect and history buff)