KERALA

Elavumthitta — the birthplace of Sivagiri pilgrimage

(From left) Salina, grandaughter of Mooloor Padmanabha Panicker, beside his portrait; the Mooloor memorial; the items used by Sree Narayana Guru preserved at the memorial.— Photo: Nidhi Surendranath  

Getting to Elavumthitta village could be a frustrating task. The nearest town is at least 10 km away and few buses ply on the undulating route surrounded by paddy fields and rubber plantations.

But it is from this little village, 10 km from Kozhencherry town, that the now famous Sivagiri pilgrimage started in 1932. What began with five people’s determination to spread the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru has 80 years later become an annual pilgrimage undertaken by thousands of followers.

At Elavumthitta stands the house of poet Mooloor S. Padmanabha Panicker, which has been turned into his memorial. Mooloor along with Vallabhasseri Govinda Vaidyar and Kittan Writer are said to have got Guru’s consent in 1928 to hold a pilgrimage, which took off only after their death. A pilgrimage, they felt, would be a good way to spread Guru’s teachings. Sree Narayana Guru passed away soon after and the pilgrimage could not be started for several years. Mooloor too died in 1931 before his dream of holding a pilgrimage could be realised.

The next year, his eldest son P.K. Divakara Panicker and four of his relatives set off from their home to Guru’s final resting place at Sivagiri — a 5-day journey on foot covering around 90km.

“The pilgrims wore yellow clothes as Guru said their attire should be the colour of Lord Krishna’s garb,” says Sahrudayan Thampi, Mooloor’s grandson and secretary of the Samithi managing the memorial. The colour has now come to be associated with Guru and his followers.

While people from all over the State and Malayalis from abroad undertake the pilgrimage, a group still sets out from Mooloor’s residence every year. More than a hundred pilgrims accompanied a statue of Sree Narayana Guru that was taken from Elavumthitta to Sivagiri during the pilgrimage this year. The house is now maintained as a memorial by the government.

Items used by Guru when he visited Mooloor’s house in 1915 are preserved here. An inscription on a wall here recounts an anecdote from Guru’s visit, when he was offered some ‘puzhukku’ on a large plate. “You have served enough to feed the 18 lakh Ezhavas of the State,” Guru remarked. Mooloor’s family also remembers that his daughter was named by Guru during the visit. “He called her Karthyayini,” says her daughter Salina Mohan, who lives adjacent to the memorial.

Mooloor was devoted to Sree Narayana Guru and his cause, she says. He wrote several poems that spoke against casteism. In his youth, he was also a victim of casteism. “The higher castes would not let someone from the lower caste study Sanskrit with them. But Mooloor’s father arranged a tutor for him at home,” says Salina. Mooloor went on to become a great Sanskrit scholar, poet, and even a minister at the court of Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran of Panthalam, who conferred on him the title of ‘Sarasa kavi.’ The memorial contains samples of his poems that speak out against casteism. Mooloor’s diaries, written in his neat, angular hand, are also preserved here.

For the people of Elavumthitta, however, Mooloor is more than a poet. The Elavuthitta market here, which attracts tradespeople and customers from far and wide twice a week, was started by him. He also started 12 schools now run by various trusts. He contributed to the abolition of casteism through his poetry and propagated Guru’s teachings through bhajans.