Hidden histories Society

Depths of mystery

Marthanda Varma and Parameswara Pillai in Charode Kottaram, painting by V. Madhavan Pillai.Photo courtesy: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

Through his novel Marthandavarma, C.V. Raman Pillai creates a setting where actual historic characters seamlessly blend with imaginary ones. It is known that C.V. had based his novel on real people, places, and incidents associated with a popular episode in the history of erstwhile Travancore.

C.V. describes an old abandoned palace in Charode thus: ‘... the forgotten relic of a more distant past...within whose mudstained, moss covered walls unknown to the absentee caretaker, now lived only legions of blind bats, bandicoots and hooded serpents’ (B.K. Menon’s English translation). The old palace at Charode was once as important as the palaces in Eraniel and Padmanabhapuram. According to legend, Charode palace was used as a hideout by Marthanda Varma, during the days when he was hunted by the Ettuvettil Pillamar.

“The old palace was in ruins as far I could remember it,” says 88-year-old Bhavanikutty Amma. “My paternal grandmother Ananda Pillai hailed from the famed Muttalakurichi family in Thuckalay. The members of Muttalakurichi trace their origins to the ancient Charode Veedu located near the palace,” she recalls. According to Bhavanikutty, Parameswaran Pillai, a member of the Charode family, was a constant companion to Marthanda Varma during his days of exile. Parameswaran appears in C.V. Raman Pillai’s historic novel as ‘ a Nair yeoman armed with sword and shield, like the Royal Bodyguards.’ Varma gifted extensive farmlands and other properties to Parameswaran. However, it was at a later date that the family moved to the sprawling Muttalakurichi house. Oral traditions mention a tunnel connecting Charode palace with the Padmanabhapuram complex. A tangible proof for this, perhaps, exists in Padmanabhapuram, where the door to a subterranean passage is still visible in the Thai Kottaram.

At the other end, the tunnel was clearly visible amongst the ruins of Charode palace, but no one dared to step inside. “I was around 10 years old when my family members decided to ‘explore’ the old tunnel. We were a group consisting of young men and children. We children carefully followed the footsteps of the elders, who carried lanterns to show the way. The group proceeded slowly, spraying kerosene to keep out poisonous snakes and insects from crossing our path,” recollects Bhavani. The group, after they had walked for some time, reached somewhere near River Valliyar. “The sound of the river was clearly audible, and we could faintly make out the sound of people who were there in the riverside. We decided to stop the expedition and return back to Charode,” Bhavani recalls.

There was no use in continuing with the expedition, for the other end of the tunnel at Padmanabhapuram was locked from the outside. “Padmanabhapuram palace was under the control of a Kottaram Vicharippukar (Palace Manager), who was known to our family,” says Bhavani. “However, the authorities turned a deaf ear to our requests to open the trapdoor. They argued that the tunnel was not at all safe for it has not been used since the days of Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma.” But, Bhavanikutty clearly remember the day the authorities took her and other children to Padmanabhapuram and opened the trapdoor, to reveal the narrow flight of steps that led to the mysterious depths.

( Based on an interview with Bhavanikutty Amma, Chuttumandapam Veedu)

[The author is a conservation architect and history buff]

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 2:35:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Depths-of-mystery/article14553211.ece

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