Society

Hidden histories: Curse of a Rani

The Madan temple guarding the gates of the burial ground. Photo: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

Located to the South-east of the Fort is Puttencotta, one of the oldest cremation grounds in Thiruvananthapuram. The antiquity of the place is entwined with local lore and it had made a clear mark on the history of erstwhile Travancore.

Ward and Conner, in their survey report (1827), record Puttencotta as a hamlet “ of a commanding height, situated between the Killyaur, and a street of wet cultivation”. They also described the ruins of a “ fortress or prison” in its summit. Historians Pachu Moothathu and Shungoonny Menon have written about the citadel that once existed in Puttencotta.

Around 1675 A.D., the old Pullukottukottaram located near the Southern gateway of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple was set ablaze by the Ettuvettil Pillamar. Soon, Aditya Varma, the then ruler, constructed a palace in the nearby Manacaud hill. The citadel came to be known as Puttencotta, meaning the ‘new fort’. The site for the palace was carefully chosen, for it was on an elevated terrain, with the meandering Killi River acting as a natural barrier against enemy assaults. Moreover, it was one of the most scenic areas in Thiruvananthapuram at that time. Puttencotta became famous as the abode of Umayamma Rani (r.1677-1684), the successor of Aditya Varma. The palace and the environs, it is widely believed, were associated with some of the most tragic episodes in the Rani’s life.

The early historians have written in great detail about the strained relationship between the royals and the Ettuvettil Pillamar. The Pillamar, it is said, were responsible for destroying the ancient Pullukottu palace and, later, they managed to poison the king. Not satisfied, they are said to have targeted Umayamma’s family and drowned five of her children in Kalippankulam, not far from Puttencotta. Shungoonny Menon wrote that the grieving Rani cursed Puttencotta, “ for the spot where the castle and fort called Puttencotta once stood, and where the poisoned body of the pious AdithiyaVurmah Rajah and the bodies of the murdered Princes were burnt, was subsequently converted into a Hindu burial ground, where to this day numbers of dead bodies are daily cremated”.

After these most unfortunate events, the Rani and one of her surviving sons shifted to the Koikkal palace in Nedumangad. T.K. Velu Pillai who wrote the Travancore State Manual dismisses the above incidents as mere fables lacking historic backing. Modern historians also viewed these popular oral traditions with a certain amount of scepticism.

However, it is known that soon after the Rani relocated to Nedumangad, Thiruvananthapuram fell under the siege of Mukilan, a Muslim general who camped at Manacaud. The Rani invited Kerala Varma from Kottayam (North Kerala) to fight Mukilan. After vanquishing Mukilan, the Rani ordered for the demolition of the Puttencotta palace and used the salvaged building materials to construct two new palaces inside the Fort. The arch gateway of the mud fort encircling Puttencotta palace survived the onslaught of time and stood till the Fifties in the last century, a silent witness to the turbulent days in Travancore history.

Puttencotta, once the seat of a powerful Rani transformed into a dense residential area. However, as if to remind one of the Rani’s curse, the old burial ground still exists.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 10:15:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/hidden-histories-curse-of-a-rani/article7235030.ece

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