Of a majestic dam, the hands who build it & protecting the dead

Mullaperiyar Dam

Kumaly: A small patch of land next to the spillway of the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala’s Idukki district holds within the historic tale of how the majestic reservoir was built over a century ago. This nondescript land is the final resting place for the people who toiled hard to build the dam. Wilderness has claimed the area and the tombstones are slowly being hidden from public view and wiped out from the minds of people as well.

Though the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department used to maintain the cemetery for a while, nothing much is done now and the nature is reclaiming the land.

Of a majestic dam, the hands who build it & protecting the dead

The Mullaperiyar dam was built by British engineer Colonel John Pennycuick to solve the water crisis in the five districts of the neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

It was Pennycuick's idea to build a dam across the Periyar River and route the water to Tamil Nadu via a canal. As many as 483 people, who stood with the British Army engineer in implementing the idea, perished during the construction and were buried here. Most of them died due to Malaria while working in the deep forests. While the officers and engineers from England were buried in specific tombs, the labourers were buried in another area.

The officers' tombs have become a memorial of that time in history and the struggles they had to endure in completing it in 1895.

Of a majestic dam, the hands who build it & protecting the dead

From Thekkady, the engineers and labourers had to walk through the treacherous forest to reach the area where the dam was being built. As the construction was progressing, relentless rain battered the region and even the river breached its bank. The dam structure was also swept away in the deluge. The erstwhile Madras government then decided to abandon the project.

However, Pennycuick was not ready to give up. He sold his assets back home in England to help realise his dream. Those who stood with him in his endeavour were laid to rest in this piece of land near the dam.

Though the burial ground is being neglected, the people of Tamil Nadu still revere Pennycuick who led the dam construction despite the odds stacked against him.

Of a majestic dam, the hands who build it & protecting the dead

In the honour of the British engineer, the Tamil Nadu government has set up a memorial at the lower camp.

Tomb of a British lady

The tomb of a British lady is also among the land which is slowly being claimed by wilderness. The cemetery, which came into existence first, belongs to the CSI church at Old Munnar. At the highest point in this cemetery lies the tomb of British lady Eleanor Isabel May, who fell in love the mist-clad hills of Munnar.

After the wedding in England, Munnar plantation manager Henry Mansfield returned to the Kerala hill station with his beautiful wife Eleanor in October 1894.

They spent their honeymoon in the picturesque Munnar town, 125 years ago. Eleanor was literally blown away by the beauty of the land. Once while she was out with her husband, she told him in jest that she should be buried on the hill when she dies. Days after, she died due to cholera. Her husband kept his word, and built a tomb for her in Munnar.

People, including foreigners, who know of this history, pray before Eleanor's tomb even to this day. However, this memorial is not getting the care if deservers. Wilderness and weather have been gnawing on this piece of history.

Downy - white horse

The British cemetery of the St George CSI church at Pallikunnu has a unique tomb too, where a she horse was buried. Downy, the white mare, belonged to John Daniel Muro, who owned the tea plantations of Munnar. As part of his plantation business, Munro had travelled to Peermade from Munnar. As his last wish, he had said that he wanted his dear mare to be buried opposite to his tomb. His relatives and church authorities decided to grant Munro his wish and Downy was buried in the cemetery and a tombstone installed in its memory. This is one of the rare instances even in the country for a horse to be buried in a cemetery.


Downy’s tomb still attracts foreign and domestic tourists.

Pattom Colony

Nedumkandam: The Kallar Pattom Colony is celebrating its 64th year since its formation. The pattaya (title deed) land of five acres was given to carry out agriculture to those who did not have farm land. Staying in trenches, battling the wild beasts, and without even having food for days at a stretch, they lived on at the Pattom colony.

Of a majestic dam, the hands who build it & protecting the dead

The colony played a crucial role in high-range regions becoming part of Kerala, when the states were being formed on linguistic basis.

The current Udubanchola, Peermade, and Devikulam taluks were then Tamil-majority regions. As demands were raised to merge the high-range area with Tamil Nadu, the then Thiru-Kochi Chief Minister Pattom Thanu Pillai declared high-range colonisation. Kallar Pattom colony, Marayoor, Kanthaloor and Deviyar were the four colonies formed then.

The Pattom colony was the biggest among them. As many as 1,397 blocks each of five acres were distributed. The 15km region stretches from Kallar to Ramakkalmedu. The then Revenue-Finance Minister P K Kunjumuhammed Sahib inaugurated the colony on January 20, 1955.

Don't forget the martyrs

Cheruthoni: When mega projects materialise, a memorial is generally erected to honour those who have sacrificed their lives for it. However, not even a plaque has been installed at Idukki, Kerala's power centre.

Around 15,000 labourers had worked daily in the first phase of the Idukki project. When the construction of the three reservoirs progressed concurrently, the number of labourers also rose. Due to labour problems, the work had to be stalled several times. Even shooting was reported during volatile situations.

As many as 84 people, including those killed in the shooting, became martyrs during the course of the project's completion. Skilful engineers from Canada, and India had supervised the work.

Thousands of people had toiled hard to complete these projects, which help Kerala gain crores of rupees in revenue every hour. However, authorities are not even thinking about erecting a memorial for those who helped put Idukki in a prominent spot and gain even international attention.

There are also instances of memorials being installed but little done to preserve them.

A column installed at Kallarkutty by the electricity board is in a perilous state. The dam at Kallarkutty was built as part of the Neriamangalam hydroelectric project in 1961. The work superintendent, contract agent and 10 labourers had lost their lives during the construction. When the dam was commissioned, a memorial with their names was also erected.