Hidden histories Metroplus

Those emerald fields of yore …

The Panniyarathala thai veedu.Photo: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

Emily Gilchriest Hatch in her book Travancore:A Guidebook For The Visitor (1933) states that Trivandrum [Thiruvananthapuram], except for the Fort and its immediate surroundings, has very little congestion. In fact, “ the large stretches of paddy fields within the municipal limits are always a source of interest and surprise to visitors, as such cultivation is hardly expected in a city of this size,” she observes. Emily’s observation highlights traces of an ancient agrarian lifestyle, which was the major source of livelihood for a majority of residents of erstwhile Travancore.

Ancient agrarian lifestyle and practices had an important role in shaping the architectural vocabulary of the region. Timber houses, called Arappura Veedukal, scattered along Southern Travancore region, including Thiruvananthapuram, were specially designed to store and preserve paddy harvested from the fields.

Panniyarathala Veedu in Jagathy, an ancient Nair homestead, is perhaps one of the few existing examples to survive in the modern context. The house derives its name due to its location, in an elevated terrain, overlooking the ‘Panniyara’ paddy field. The old residential complex consisted of a ‘valiya padippura’, the ‘thai veedu’ with ‘adichoottupura’, and a well. They also had a private cremation ground situated to the West of the complex. “The thai veedu or the main residential unit was an ‘ettukettu’ with three ‘aras’ and an underground ‘nilavara’,” says Raman Nair, current occupant of the thai veedu. The family still maintains a private temple and is closely associated with the Jagathy Mudippura temple lying to the East of the homestead. As the yield from the farmlands increased, an arappura for storing the grain was added to the residential complex, this was followed by the addition of three ‘udambaras’, also for storage.

In the old set-up, the matriarchs of the family resided in the thai veedu and associated structures. The male members of the family occupied the valiya padippura and associated structures. A double-storied mansion (now demolished) was added to the complex by an early patriarch karanavan and thereafter the mansion became their principle abode.

Jagathy, as the name indicates, is a low lying watershed region, once dotted with many perennial tanks and water bodies. Dewankulam, an old tank associated with Bhakti Vilas compound (residence of the erstwhile Travancore Dewan), and Jagathy kulam, a perennial pond, were the important ones. “Cochar, a stream that supplied fresh water to the Padmatheertham tank inside the Fort, flowed in front of the Panniyarathala Veedu,” recollects Nair. “The stream, in its course irrigated the farmlands in Edapazhanji, Jagathy, and Valiyasala regions,” he adds. “In olden days special officers, known as ‘Cochar Pillamar’, regularly inspected the stream. The local residents were free to draw water from the stream for their domestic activities as well as for irrigating private farmlands,” he recollects.

Panniyarathala family held on to its agrarian traditions as far as 1970s, after which they sold off the farmlands. “The arappura and the udambaras were lying vacant after that,” recalls Raman Nair. The old house was revamped to suit to the needs of its later occupants. The paddy storage units were dismantled and converted into usable rooms. Today, the old house still retains the charm of its age and excellent craftsmanship; however, the emerald green farmlands have become part of history.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 9:35:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Those-emerald-fields-of-yore-%E2%80%A6/article14490896.ece

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