History & Culture

Suryakaladi Mana, in Kerala, is a slice of heritage

A view of Suryakaladi Mana from the side of the Meenachil river.

A view of Suryakaladi Mana from the side of the Meenachil river. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Divya Menon

The Meenachil River flowing through Kottayam in Kerala is sometimes in spate, and at other times a spectacle of grace. Her banks have stories to tell of the ravages of time. Standing on the cobbled stone steps that lead to the river, the mind’s eyes perceives a conduit between the past and the present.

Overlooking the Meenachil, soaked in the silence of nature, is the Suryakaladi Mana, an antiquated mansion that echoes with Vedic chants. This is the home of the legendary Suryakaladi Bhattathiripad.

It is believed that 13 generations ago, a Kaladi Mana Bhattathiripad from old Ponnani district set out to propitiate the Sun god, to vanquish a Yakshi, who killed his father. The Sun god appeared before him, and gifted a treatise of sacred mantras. Thus, the Mana came to be known as Suryakaladi, and the male members of the family added the prefix ‘Suryan’ to their name. A temple feud with the Zamorin, an invitation by the Raja of Kottayam to take over as their raja guru, and their subsequent relocation to Kottayam are other lavish narratives recorded by historians.

The front view of Suryakaladi Mana, in Kerala.

The front view of Suryakaladi Mana, in Kerala. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Archaic yet modern

Standing before the Mana, you cannot help but be drawn by its architecture. The design — both subtle and opulent — exemplifies Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous words that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Deeply archaic yet perched on the wings of modernisation, history lies embedded within its pillars, inner quarters, and the lush courtyard. Here, converging time frames and memories absorb one instantly into a vortex of shared experiences, that speaks to the mind conditioned by legends and myths – true and imagined.

Constructed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal, the mansion showcases an elaborate Nalukettu and Nadumuttam — a rarity in Kerala’s architectural landscape of today. The Nalukettu’s four halls — Vadakkini, Kizhakkini, Thekkini, and Padinjattini — is joined by four verandas to form a quadrangle called Nadumuttam.

Miki Desai in his book, Wooden Architecture of Kerala writes, “This mana is based on a near perfect-square, derived from the canonical text M anushyalaya Chandrika. A front room for collecting agricultural produce, a large courtyard, a temple within the house, an ara, a spacious dining area, and verandas on all four sides of the mana are the main features. The northern and eastern verandas are enclosed. It is built largely in wood but the wooden aras are protected by laterite walls”. Dr. Henri Schildt’s study ‘The Traditional Kerala Manor: Architecture Of A South Indian Catuhsala House’, also refers to the Suryakaladi Mana and the Ganapathi statue installed in its ‘eastern house’.

Erected on gigantic pillars, a majestic Nadappanthal leads to the inner patio of the Mana, where Suryan Subrahmanian Bhattathiripad, the current head of the family, performs the daily morning ritual at the Ganapathi Temple. The Sun’s rays filtering through the quadrangle's roof, play with the clouds of smoke.

Subrahmanian Bhattathiripad, an expert in the vedas, vedanta, astrology, sciences of tantra and mantra, is also an artiste and sculptor. He has thrown open the Mana’s doors to people of all castes.

The Suryakaladi Mana bears the imprints of a mystical past even while being drenched in the vibrancy of the present and its Nadappanthal’s pillars, still growing, aim skywards, metaphorically announcing the future.

The Kerala-based author writes on art and architecture.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2022 8:27:04 am | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/suryakaladi-mana-in-kerala-is-a-slice-of-heritage/article65488011.ece