The imposing 300-year-old Ullannoor Mana, which is situated at Venkitangu in Thrissur district, is laden with tradition and takes pride in its rich legacy. Legend has it that Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, had crystallised 64 Brahmin villages, out of which 32 are in Malayalam-speaking regions. The members of the Ullannoor Mana (a Namboothiri homestead) are part of the Peruvanam village, which is the biggest and prominent Brahmin hamlet built by Parasurama in Malayalam-speaking areas.
The traditional homestead had been constructed following the ‘nalukettu’, meaning four blocks, style of Kerala’s classical architecture. The structure has a spacious central courtyard with four blocks namely ‘Kizhakkini’ (eastern block), ‘Thekkini’ (southern block), ‘Padijattini’ (western block) and ‘Vadkkini’ (northern block). The first floor of the mana houses three rooms and above that there is a roofed ceiling.
The interiors of the house are replete with exemplary woodwork. The age-old homestead is a repository of single-piece wood pillars and beams supporting the rafters of the roof. The wooden beams supporting the pillars are masterpieces with intricate engravings. There is a well attached to the kitchen on the north-east side of the mana and also a stairway without hand railings. Another notable feature is that the expansive house is encircled by spacious verandahs.
Long ago, there was only one Ullannoor but later one of the family members moved out of the homestead. It is believed that subsequently Ullannoor became two distinct families as those staying at Venkitangu were known as Kakkara Ullannoor and the family members at Ammadam got the appellation Kadavathu Ullannoor. It is also believed that the old mana was near the present Venkitangu registrar office.
When the Kanjani-Chavakkad road was opened for all, earlier people belonging to certain caste were barred from using public roads, during the reign of Portuguese, the family members constructed a mana near the Elumatha paddy fields, which were 1.5km south-east of Venkitangu. Later, another mana replaced the homestead at Elumatha.
Teeming with tradition and antiquity
The ‘sreelakam’ (pooja room) of the mana has many idols including that of ‘Bhagavathy’, ‘Annapoorneswari’, and Shiv lingams. The central courtyard houses the idols of ‘Kodungalur Bhagavathy’ and family deity ‘Thiruvullakkavu Sasthavu’. There are also snake groves on the mana premises. The members of the Ullannoor mana are also one of the nine administrators of the Venkitangu Sree Shankaranarayana Temple also known as Venkitangu Valiyambalam.
It is believed that the powerful Choonamana merged with Ullanoor mana and the Korali Narasimha Temple, which was part of the Choonamana, is now under the administration of the Ullannoor mana. The members of the mana have the right to pay obeisance to the revered ‘Sri Chakra’ during ‘Makara Chowa’ rituals at the Kodungallur temple, offer ‘ottapanam’ and have food at the main hall. It is noteworthy that the members of the Kodungallur royal family won’t visit the temple on that day.
Three groves, six ponds and as many wells
Three sacred groves, six ponds and six wells, which were built without disturbing the ecological balance, can still be found in their pristine form at the mana. The building still boasts of bathroom (kulappura) constructed using laterite stones, pestle room (uralppura) and a school shed. During earlier times, teachers visited the ‘llams’ or manas to teach children and took classes at the school rooms.
The ‘manaparambu’ attached to the age-old building was home to many elephants and the area was flooded with elephant enthusiasts, mahouts and others who were interested in jumbo rides. A huge vessel carved out of a single stone, which was used to provide water to the pachyderms, can still be found at the homestead.
The Ullannoor members have a rich heritage in farming and agriculture and the family owned majority of the paddy fields in the region. The mana has a large granary that once stored huge quantities of paddy sourced from the fields, and the farming equipment were stored in the small barn and the room housing the granary. A cattle shed can also be found on the premises of the Namboothiri homestead. The ‘pozhutha ariyal’ ritual, whereby the paddy spikes (kathirkatta) were sliced and taken inside the mana before the ‘Vishu’ festival, is performed every year without fail at the ‘illam’. While workers are gifted paddy on the occasion of ‘Vishu’ and ‘Karkidaka Sankranti’, they are given raw rice and ‘mundu’ for Onam festival. As many as 60 families come to the mana to receive their share of gifts.
Importance to ‘Kathakali’
The mana always gave due importance to the classical art form of ‘kathakali’ and once had ‘kathakali yogam’, ‘kalari’ (training space) and ‘koppu’ (the crown and other ornamental paraphernalia used for performing ‘kathakali’). The homestead also boasts of the first ‘kathakali yogam’ in Thrissur district. Moothamanakkal Namboothiri, the doyen of ‘kathakali’ percussion, received his favourite ‘chenda’ from the mana’s ‘kaliyogam’. Moreover, the mana is a favourite hunting ground for filmmakers and was featured in many Malayalam films such as ‘Kattu Vannu Vilichapol’ and ‘Thrissivaperoor Kliptham’, among others.
A peep into history
An old man from the mana became a hermit at the ‘Thekkemadom’ in Thrissur. With the passing away of Brahmasri Brahmadattan Namboothiri and Aniyan Brahmasri Trivikraman Namboothiri, the ‘illam’ is now run by former’s son Biju Namboothiri and latter’s son Brahmadattan Namboothiri. Brahmasri Brahmadattan Namboothiri was active on the socio-political spectrum and was a vital cog in establishing the Enamavu School and the Venkitangu cooperative society. His wife Leela Andarjanam, who has also passed away, is a member of the Tirunavaya vadyan mana.
Vimala Andarjanam, daughter of Ayurveda expert Valur Manakal Cheriya Shankaran Namboothiri, became the daughter-in-law of the mana after marrying Tivikraman Namboothiri in 1975, and with her arrival, a glorious phase in healing tradition was ushered in at the Ullannoor mana. The ‘illam’ is still taking forward 45 years of healing techniques with élan and great distinction, and even at the age of 71, Vimala is treating scores of snakebite victims free of cost. Brahmadattan Namboothiri learned the nuances of Ayurveda ‘visha chikitsa’ (treatment of snakebite victims) from his grandfather and later followed the footsteps of his mother Vimala in providing relief to affected people. He is also taking classes for medical students at the mana.
Brahmadattan Namboothiri is the resource person of many domestic and foreign universities including the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, Kyoto University of Advanced Science in Japan and University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. He was also part of research studies of various universities and has published Ayurveda-related articles in international journals.