The great Nila river is the soul of Kerala which replenishes and nourishes its soil. This pristine river which played vital role in many historical events has millions of unique tales to tell. It was on its banks in Thirunavaya that the historic Mamankam, a prominent festival and trade fair, was held in the medieval times. Thirunavaya, the land of Mamankam, is now famous for its beautiful temples, historic places and other archaeologically significant sites.
The great fest
Mamankam was a grand duo-decennial festival which lit up the banks of the Nila, in Thirunavaya. The Samoothiris or the Zamorins saw this as an opportunity to show off their pomp and power in front of the other provincial rulers. The festival began in the Malayalam month of Makaram, on the day when the Pooyam star fell. It would end, 28 days later, when the Makam star fell in the Malayalam month of Kumbam. It is believed that the word Mamankam originated from 'Magha Makam.' Historians record Mamankam as an art and cultural celebration and also a science and trade fair which lasted for 28 days.
Not just from the various provinces of Kerala and the North Indian states, traders and pilgrims from Arabia, China, and Greece, too, arrived to take part in the great festival of Mamankam. People from different corners of the world came together to celebrate culture and promote trade at the banks of Nila. This Valluvanadan festival was also an occasion which projected the religious unity and cultural vividness of the provinces. However, the Thirunavaya banks, where the Mamankam festivals were held, also echo battle cries of cavers or sworn warriors who preferred death to defeat.
Mamankam has been immortalized in the cultural history of Kerala through the writings of great historians, travellers, literary legends and even through popular film songs like 'Mamamkan palakuri kondadi.'
Kerala was once divided into many provinces which were ruled by the Perumals, the Chera kings, the Perumbadappu family, the Valluvanadu kings and the Vettathiri kings who conducted Mamankam festivals in Thirunavaya. On the last days of the Mamankam festival, the rulers of all the provinces in Valluvanad would gather together and elect the new king ('pernumal') who would rule for the next 12 years or until the next Mamankam. As per the historical records the Zamorins who ruled Kozhikode fought a series of battles and captured a number of Valluvanadan provinces, including Thirunavaya. After the great victory against the Valluvanadan kings, the power to hold Mamankam rested with the Zamorins. He was hailed as the supreme protector of the land. Mamankam, hence, became the venue of kutipaka or blood feud between the Zamorins and the Valluvanadan kings.
When the Mamankam was held, all the adjoining kings used to send their flags to the ruling Zamorin as a proof of their loyalty. Konathiri, one of the chieftains of Valluvanadu, in order to express his displeasure over the Zamorin’s highhandedness and to retrieve the right to conduct Mamankam, had sent a group of Chavers to assassinate the Zamorin. These sworn warriors fought with the Zamorin on the nilapaduthara. The dead and the badly wounded Chavers were thrown into the nearby well called the manikinar and trampled down using elephants. The temple, nilapaduthara and the manikinar could still be seen in Thirunavaya as remnants of this historical festival. Mamankam, now, is also remembered for the great courage and dedication of the hundreds of chavers who had sacrificed their lives for the sake of their sworn duty.
The Navamukunda temple, on the banks of Bharatapuzha River, near Thirur in the Malappuram district is one of the 108 temples in India that are especially dedicated to devotees of Lord Vishnu. It is believed that this ancient temple, which is around 5000 years old, was built by the Navayogis during the dwapara age.
According to the puranas, the navayogis are the sons of Rishaba, the king of Ayodhya. The legends say that the Navayogis, who were noted travellers, had established the Saala villages at the confluence of the Bhagmati and Gandaki rivers in the North India (today's Nepal) in the Navamukunda temple for the greater good humanity. Around 1300 years ago, master craftsman Perunthachan had renovated the sanctum sanctorum of the Navamukunda temple as per the instructions of the Vettathu king.
The unique construction of the sanctum sanctorum is so mesmerizing and awe inspiring as the sun rays fall directly on the idol, on the morning of the Vishu day (1st day of the Malayalam month Medam; Uttarayanam or the first half of the year) and the 1st day of the Malayalam month of Kanni (dakshinayanam or the second half of the year). The Pazhukka mandapam which has significance in the history of Mamankam is situated in the south east corner of this temple. It is believed that the members of the Zamorin’s family had watched the Mamankam festival from the Pazhukka mandapam.
The Mamankam memorials, rebuilt by the Kerala government under the Nila project, in 2010, are maintained by the archaeology department. It was at the Nilapaduthara that the Zamorin stood, in all glory with his sword drawn, along with his guards and other convoy. He watched the Mamankam and gave the instructions from the Nilapaduthara. It was at this spot that the Chavers tried to assassinate the Zamorin.
The Valluvanadan rulers had often tried to assassinate the Zamorin who had defeated them and taken over Thirunavaya, while he was at the Mamankam festival. The brave warriors who fell dead or wounded were thrown into the nearby well and trampled down by the elephants. This well called the manikinar is protected as a historical monument in honour of the chavers who gave up their lives, fighting for their honour and upholding their duty.
Marunnara and Changampally kalari
The Marunnara or the armoury where the Zamorins kept the gun powder is located between the Nilapaduthara and the Thirunavaya temple. Legends say that the 'marunnara' was used to store the herbs or medicines used to treat the wounded soldiers and also as a treasury where many precious objects owned by the king were stored. Some historians say that this was an ancient cave temple of the stone ages.
It was at the Changampally kalari (traditional learning centres of martial arts) that the body guards and the soldiers of the Zamorins were trained in kalaripayattu and other methods of warfare. The warriors who were wounded in the wars or during the Mamankam were treated at this kalari. The Changampally kalari was started at Thirunavaya by the eminent kalari practitioners who came from Tulunadu upon the special invitation of the Cheraman Perumal king to perform at the Mamankam festival.
The sacred river
The tales of bravery and honour, and deceit and defeat are aplenty about the Mamankam, just like the rapid waves of the river Nila. The believers of the Hindu faith greatly revere the Bharatapuzha River which flows near the Brahma – Vishnu – Shiva temples, as river Perar. Special obituary rituals, in honour of the departed souls, have been held on the banks of this sacred river, called Pratheechi or dakshin Ganga in the Bhagavatham, from the ancient times itself. Bharatapuzha Rriver which originates in the Anamala in the Western Ghats covers around 200 kilometres before falling into the Arabian Sea at Ponnani. This great river, which could be called the lifeline of Kerala, is the longest river in the state.
It is assumed that the last Mamankam was held in the year 1755 AD. It was at this Mamankam that the Zamorin narrowly escaped death after he was attacked by the 18 year old chaver Puthumana Kandaru Menon. The majestic festival of Mamankam came to an end when, in 1765 AD, Hyder Ali defeated the Zamorin.