Once, Niramankara and the nearby Karamana were considered strategic locations, for this region served as the gateway to the old Thiruvananthapuram. The most important historic route connecting Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari District passed through Karamana-Niramankara. It is no wonder that Niramankara, located on such an important route, had made a mark in early literary works. Iravikuttypillaiporu , a popular ballad from Southern Travancore dated around 17th century A.D. gives a detailed list of all the important places between Thiruvananthapuram and Kalkulam (Padmanabhapuram). Here, ‘Niramankara’ appears as ‘Nirkan-parambu’, which, according to Thikkurishi Gangadharan, an expert in folk literature, was once famous for its lime kilns.
The lime kilns may have vanished from popular memory, but the elderly still cherish a faint memory of Niramankara being a sought-after name in supplying fine-quality clay roofing tiles. The records pertaining to the erection of a three-storied mansion in Arumana Ammaveedu (the Villa Maya Heritage Restaurant) during the last quarter of the 19th century reveals that the small roof tiles and the burnt bricks were procured from the Niramankara kilns.
Niramankara’s tryst with history goes well beyond the reference to these kilns. According to some historians, the ‘Nirman’/‘Nirmanna’, is one of the 32 Brahmin settlements scattered across Kerala and can be identified with Niramankara in the city. Historian Kesavan Veluthat, in his Brahman Settlements in Kerala , points to fact that the existence of an old temple in Niramankara may provide clue to the existence of an old Brahmin settlement in the region. The temple in question, an ancient one dating back to 13th century A.D. is none other than the famed Niramankara Siva temple.
The ancient Siva temple was lying in ruins when, in 1940s, it caught the attention of Dr. Stella Kramrisch, the reputed American art historian. Dr. Kramrisch, along with Dr. J.H. Cousins (Art Advisor to the Travancore Government.), and R. Vasudeva Poduval (Travancore Archaeology Director), had done extensive research on the ancient temples of Travancore kingdom. The rectangular garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple, containing a Sivalinga , was enclosed within a circular prakara made of stone. The garbhagriha and the sikhara on top were made of laterite stone. Dr. Kramrisch noted that the Niramankara Siva temple “appears to bear a close resemblance to the Watta Dage of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).” A photograph by Dr. Kramrisch remains faithful to her description of the ruined temple. The heavily damaged vimana , which occupied a conspicuous position then, as correctly pointed out by Dr. Kramrisch, was once hidden beneath “a conical roof surmounted by a finial.”
The ancient temple, a stone’s throw from the main Karamana-Kaimanam-Nemam route, is still an important place of worship for the locals. However, the present temple is certainly a far cry from its former architectural glory. The interventions later have marred the ancient beauty of the structure. The beautiful conical roof made of wood and covered with thatch has now made way for a huge bulbous mass of a vimana . A glimpse of the original conical roof of the ancient temple is perhaps only available in an old photograph of the Siva temple now housed in the Padmanabhapuram Palace Museum collection.
The author is a conservation architect and history buff