The Ennakkad palace of Alappuzha is a heritage building that has been witness to crucial episodes in Kerala history but is on verge of collapse. Located in the Onattukara region in the present day Chengannur in Alappuzha district, the palace presents a sorry picture now.
In the past, its granaries were always filled with paddy and the place was crowded with farmers, supervisors, cooks, and carpenters who competed to make the building look new all the time. However, the interiors of the once stately palace are now filled with darkness. Reptiles creep on the verandahs and premises. Many wooden beams have broken and hang precariously. The brass locks have all tarnished. Empty liquor bottles can be seen on the compound. They are new.
The history of Ennakkad Palace and its impact on Kerala society have never been properly recorded.
From Tipu's conquests
A visitor to Ennakkad Palace should be able to listen to several momentous tales from the past. They include the conquests of Tipu Sultan. Then a royal lady who recited Ramayana every day lived here. She was Manorama Thampuratti. She spent her days of exile at Ennakkad. The rocky steps at the ghats of the Kuttamperoor river were the stage of several events of the freedom movement. Certain unwritten episodes of the Left politics in the state took place at the palace. Even discussions on Calcutta Thesis were held here.
Gingelly fields of Onattukara
A part of Onattukara, where rich cultural traditions existed, Ennakkad had large tracts of gingelly fields in the past, giving the place its name. Gingelly was grown to produce oil and 'enna' stood for oil, while 'kad' meant forest.
The Ennakkad palace had control over several villages in the area including Gramam, Peringallippuram, Kuttamperoor, Elanjimel, Ennakkad, Ulunthi, and Thayyoor. These places are part of the present day Budhannoor panchayat on banks of the Kuttamperoor. The palace also had the right to collect toll from the boatmen who passed along the river.
The palace during its glorious days had 20 sections ('irupathukettu'). But over the time, the size gradually shrunk and now all that are remaining are the ruins of a four-sectioned house ('nalukettu').
When Tipu Sultan conquered north Malabar, several members of the royal families in the area sought refuge in Travancore. They included the Zamorin of Kozhikode. Manorama Thampuratti of Zamorin's palace was also among them. She initially reached a palace near Sasthamcottah on banks of the Kallada river in Kollam district along with the other members of the Zamorin's family. She lived for some time there with her children.
The beautiful and scholarly lady, Manorama Thampuratti was invited to the Ennakkad palace by the Maharaja of Travancore Karthika Thirunal Ramavarma, who was better known as Dharma Raja. The Thampuratti was there as long as Tipu controlled Malabar. After Tipu's time, Thampuratti returned to Kozhikode along with her children and other members of the Zamorin's family.
Later, a family belonging to the Puthuppally branch of the royal family of Kolathunadu resided at Ennakkad Palace. The descendants of this family are the present owners of the palace. The family was earlier handed over a large paddy field near the Kayamkulam town for their upkeep. The prayer room of the palace has an idol of Lord Krishna which is believed to have been installed by Vilwamangalam Swamiyar. The maintenance of the temple and the rituals are now carried out by the family trust.
R Sankaranarayanan Thampi
The Ennakkad palace found a place in Kerala history as the paternal house of R Sankaranarayanan Thampi, the first Speaker of Kerala Legislative Assembly. His father Revathy Thirunal Ramavarma Raja was a Gandhian and a social reformer, while Pandavathu Thankamma Kettilamma, a Nair lady, was his mother. Thampi was the second among 12 children. Sankaranarayanan Thampi was inspired by the noble deeds of his father who encouraged community feasts, opposed untouchability and educated students belonging to Scheduled Castes to enter politics.
After working for the State Congress and being elected to the Travancore Assembly, Thampi was attracted to the Communist ideology. His siblings Balakrishnan Thampi, Krishnan Thampi, Rajasekharan Thampi, Velayudhan Thampi, Subhadramma Thankachi and Radhamma also later joined the Communist Party.
Several old Communist leaders had spent their days in hiding at the palace during the time of Calcutta Thesis. As a result, the family members faced social boycott, forcing them to shift to the Tharayil palace nearby.
When united Kerala came into being and the first elections were held, Sankaranarayanan Thampi contested successfully from Chengannur constituency. He became the first Speaker of Kerala Assembly. However, he did not fight the 1960 elections to uphold the noble democratic tradition of an Assembly Speaker keeping away from electoral politics. When the Communist Party split in 1964, Thampi withdrew from active politics. He later died at a rented house in Thiruvananthapuram in 1989.
When the property was partitioned and the inheritors settled in other places, the days of decay set in for the Ennakkad palace.
Subhadramma Thankachi and Radhamma
The history of the palace will not be complete without mentioning the names of two brave women. They are Subhadramma Thankachi and Radhamma, the sisters of Sankaranarayanan Thampi. The story of the farm labourers' movement in central Travancore is intertwined with their lives.
They had founded the Mahila Sangham and fought against eviction as well as police torture. Both women were forced to spend time in prison. Subhadramma Thankachi had decided to go to jail with her infant. But the then government and the police chose to mentally harass her by separating the child from Thankachi. When she was dragged into the police van, Thankachi cried out, "look after my baby." The farm labourers' families took over the task. However, when the policemen later informed Thankachi that her child had died, she did not budge. She refused to apologize and become free.
Subhadramma even abandoned her first husband to prevent the leaking of party secrets. She later found a companion in Communist leader George Chadayammuri. Subhadramma has written that she suffered psychiatric issues when the Communist Party split in 1964.
Radhamma had married the Communist ideologue C Unniraja.
Historian professor M G Sasibhooshan has termed the Kuttamperoor river as a double-edged sword in his book 'Kuttamperoorile Darusilpangal.' Such swords were made in Kayamkulam in the past. The description refers to the strong current towards both banks of the river.
The Kuttamperoor River connects two branches of the Achenkovil and Pamba rivers. It is believed to be a man-made waterway and is under the Ennakkad village. Flowing through Mavelikkara and Chengannur Taluks, the river is in the area of the Budhannoor panchayat. The boundaries lie along the Chennithala and Mannar panchayats.
A tributary of the Achenkovil river joins the Kuttamperoor river near the Ulunthi bridge in Mannar. When the river reaches Kadamboor in Budhannoor, a branch of the Pamba river joins it. Depending on the strength of the flow, there will be currents to either side of the Kuttamperoor. From the Budhannoor bridge, a panoramic view of the Kuttamperoor can be enjoyed.