History & Culture

Inscriptions talk of fascinating Kongu connection

The entrance to the Perur temple, Coimbatore, which has attracted thousands of pilgrims, especially from Kerala  

First generation immigrants usually remain connected to their roots, and retain their customs and traditions. With subsequent generations, the old links get attenuated. And yet, the past is not erased totally. The research of epigraphist Pulavar Dr. S. Raju shows the vestiges of the Kongu connection among the Vellala migrants to Palakkad.

“There is a Kongu Chola inscription, more than a 1,000 years old, which talks of Vellalan Kumaran Kumaranaana Dhananjaya Pallavaraiayan, living in Palakkad. Many Kongu Vellalas lived in Palakkad, Chittur, Kollangodu and Alathur. One story that repeats in literature and copper plates is that of the marriage of a Chola princess into the Chera royal family, and the subsequent movement of 8,000 Kongu Vellalas to Chera Nadu. ‘Alagumalai Kuravanji’ talks of these Vellalas,” says Raju. “According to Mezhi Vilakkam, the Vellalas had landed rights (kani urimai) in Kochi, Kollam, Kozhikode and Palakkad. Kongu Vellalas came to Palakkad from Kangeyam, Karur, Kaadiyur, Sanguppalayam (corruption of Sankarandampalayam) and Pazhaiayakottai.”

Record of Kongu-Chera war

C.M. Ramachandra Chettiar, the first to record the history of the Kongu region, wrote of a Kongu-Chera war about 1,000 years ago. When the Kongu king died in battle, some of the Kongu generals stayed back in Chera Nadu. In the Bhagavati temple in Chittur, the Kongu-Chera war is enacted during Siva Ratri.

“Mannadiyar is a title, which the Angarath and Vadaseri families of Kerala have,” says Raju. William Logan, in his Malabar Manual, says that the Mannadiyars were a caste of Vellalars from Kangeyam, in Coimbatore province, who had settled in Palakkad. Mandradi is a title held by many Kongu Vellala families, says Raju. Mandradi became Mannadi in Malayalam, just as the Tamil nandri (thank you) becomes nanni in Malayalam. When Raju visited Mannadi families, some said that their ancestors moved to Kerala with their cattle. Others said that they had bought land in Kerala.

“Vadaseri Mannadiyars have the privilege of opening the Western entrance to the Perur temple, near Coimbatore, because they once owned all the land to the West of the temple. They owned forests, running to thousands of acres in Kerala, from where they used to supply wood for erecting pandals during the temple festival in Perur. Mannadiyars were disciples of the Melmatam in Perur, to which many Kongu Vellalas owe allegiance,” says Raju. “When a

Mannadiyar died, concluding rites after 14 days, were performed in Perur, on the banks of the Noyyal. Vadaseri Mannadiyars owned a choultry in Palani, where pilgrims were served food throughout the day. Provisions were supplied by the Mannadiyar family. The choultry was sold in 1974 to the Palani Devasthanam and now a Nagaswaram college functions there.”

Palm leaf manuscripts

Raju found many Tamil palm leaf manuscripts in the possession of Vadaseri Mannadiyars. In Vannaamadai, even in Malayalam manuscripts, names of Vellala migrants were in Tamil. Mannadiyar families in Mathur, Palakkad district, were familiar with Kamba Ramayanam. Pavakoothu, based on the epic, is a 14-day festival in the Chunanghi Bhagavati temple in Nallepilly.

Both Palakkad and Kongu Nadu have villages with the same name - Ayilur, Velladhi and Alathur, to name a few. In most other cases, there are only slight variations between the Kongu and Kerala names - Neelamperur in Kongu Nadu and Nilambur in Kerala, points out Raju.

Raju says that Menon is a title indicative of a person’s social status, and derives from the Tamil word Melavan, meaning a person of high rank. He points to L.A. Anantakrishna Iyer’s observation in his book, Cochin - Tribes and Castes that Menons are connected with the Vellalas. Interestingly, many of the Mannadiyars are Menons.

“Krishna Menon of the Valluva Nadu royal family had five sons, of whom the fourth was Sankunni Valiya Mannadiyar, born in 1832. Sankunni Mannadiyar held a judicial post in Cochin. His son was Gopala Menon, born in 1884. Gopala Menon’s wife, Satyabhama, belonged to a family in Mathur, which was referred to as Vadavanur Vellalar in copper plates. To Gopala Menon and Satyabhama, a son was born in 1917, who was to become famous not only in Tamil films, but in the political scene in Tamil Nadu. That son was M.G. Ramachandran! So MGR had Kongu Vellala ancestors, both on his father’s side and mother’s side!” says Raju.

Other communities beside the Vellalas also made Kerala their home. According to Cochin Manual, the Tamil merchant communities in Kerala - Moothaan and Tharakan - followed a patrilineal system. Sociologist M.N. Srinivas writes in his book, Social Change in Modern India, “…the Tarakans of Angadipuram and the Mannadiyars of Palakkad, gradually changed… from patriliny to matriliny.”

Vellaan Chettiars moved from Dharapuram, in Coimbatore, to Velladi, near Palakkad. There is a popular legend about Pannirandam Chettiars, who were merchants. While returning from Kerala to Tamil Nadu, they were accosted by a girl, who asked them for some pepper corns. Not wanting to give pepper corns gratis, they said all they had with them were pulses. When they reached home, they found that the pepper corns had changed to pulses. They realised that the girl must have been a goddess. So, they built a temple for the goddess in Paarai, near Palakkad. Raju says that according to an inscription, the Paarai Mangaraiyamman temple was built by Muthu Chettiar in 1115 C.E. The temple continues to be administered by his descendants.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 9:47:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/inscriptions-talk-of-fascinating-kongu-connection/article31470952.ece

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