A journey to Churuli village through the forests of Wayanad

A journey to Churuli village through the forests of Wayanad
Road to Churuli, a forest village in Wayanad. Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

Ever since Lijo Jose Pellisery’s Churuli got released on Sony Liv, social media is going bonkers over its excessive usage of profanities as well as the narrative's various hidden meanings and of course Lijo’s absolute mastery over his craft. And now we heard there is an actual place called Churuli in Wayanad! It’s not a fictional name. The funny bit is that they are unaware of the uproar their village name has created on the internet. Not just Churuli, but all the places mentioned in the film like Koorachund, Irutti, Perambra, Karikottakari exist. Everywhere there are all kinds of people. Let’s take a journey to Wayanad’s Thondarnatil’s forestry village called Churuli.

In this Churuli, there is a mountain God. A king for the people of Churuli - Pulliyaran. A huge fight erupted between Malakkari and Pulliyaran on a night when all the stars are half-hidden. Who is greater, God or King? When no one won the dispute, it became a gamble. When none of the bets won, the church was hunted down. When no one won the hunt, the archer fired.

All around Churuli forest, the salt water of the sea rose after the Pulliyaran stuck an arrow. As the sea in Churuli grew larger, the god of the mountains built a fort and prevented it. But that wasn’t enough as the fort of Malakkari got demolished and the sea stretched out. When Pulliyaran closed the hole with his toes, the sea swelled and the quarrel between the two returned. Now Pulliyaran is guarding the Churuli at the ancestral compound in Churulikkad. Right next to it, the mountain God is also there.

If you thought magical realism only happened in the movies, think again. There are even more mind-boggling stories revolving around the village of Churuli. This forest village called Churuli is situated in Wayanad. Mountain God and Athiralan Theyyam are their protectors. But unlike in the movies, this Churuli won't trap anyone. The ones who come here and can easily make a return journey. But having said that the Churuli comes with us as we leave the forest. That isn’t going to leave us alone for sure.

Churuli village. Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

This is a different land
Churuli’s Balan has apparently heard all about the Lijo Jose Pellisery movie. “I am sure that film has nothing to do with Churuli and our villagers. The one shown in the film would probably be something else,” says Balan. There are around 55 families in Churuli and they all belong to the Kurichyar tribe. Also known as Malai Brahmins or Hill Brahmins, the Kurichiyas are the second-largest Adivasi community in Wayanad. They stand at the top of the caste hierarchy among the hill tribes of Wayanad and used to practice pollution with all other caste and tribal communities. The community was named Kurichiya by the Kottayam Raja for the community’s expertise in archery. The name is derived from the phrase ‘kuri vechavan’, which means ‘he who took aim.’ Agriculture is the main source of income.

At the border of Churuli village. Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

You can spot wild buffalo, wild elephants, and even wild pigs in the recent past. But you won’t hear gunshots in Churuli. The police force has no role here. Most of the people in Churuli loves to chew betel leaves. No one consumes alcohol here like in the film which had an arrack shop crammed with people day in and day outplaced right in the middle of the forest. You won’t find an arrack shop in this place. You will find Ayurvedic shops though. Steam bath is one of the most important forms of therapy here.

Churuli is in the first ward of Thondarnad panchayath in Wayanad. From Kuttiyadi, you have to climb the pavement pass and turn left from Niravilpuzha. On the way, there is the Kunjom Forest Outpost. The building was set on fire by the Maoists years ago. The forest will start after some distance. The road is broken. You will see a board that says Welcome to Churuli. The jeep rolled over the cobblestones and entered the curb. If you look at it closely, this does remind you of the Churuli you have seen in the movie. The forest is all around.

Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

Pulliyaran which swallows the moon
There was a big palm in the middle of the Churuli. One night two Churuli residents tasted palm toddy and fell asleep under the palm tree. It is said that14 mountains guarded them. When the second one woke up from his slumber, he saw his friend climbing the palm tree. It's like crossing the sky bridge with your legs straight. As the Churuli villager started climbing, the palm started growing upwards. As the man on the ground looked up, he realised that the palm and the man had already touched the moon. In the blue light that spread there, the first one stood wearing a crown and a robe. Seeing that sight, the man on the ground called out with a hug - Thampai Pulliyarane!

The foreigner's palm

Just like it is shown in the film, there is a wooden bridge in this village as well. But a jeep can’t pass through that bridge. You need to walk. So the jeep was parked on the other side. And if you thought the men turned abusive and wild when they crossed the bridge as it happened in the film, think again. Nothing of that sort occurred. The people who crossed the bridge remained pleasant and soft-spoken. Apparently, so many people tried to make this bridge a vote bank, promising to reconstruct it once they are voted back into power. Here also they saw a woman who carried a bundle of grass on her head with her eyes fixed on the ground. But she had the grace to smile at strangers and even helped with directions to the forest village.

Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

The road next was built by a foreigner long back. The boy they saw earlier during the journey had a 'Karanavar'; Kelu. The foreigner who came on a horse to Churuli, put up a tent there eventually became friends with Kelu Karanavar, and never left the place.

That was the first time one heard the sound of a gunshot in Churuli forest- from the foreigner's gun. Everyone fled. The foreigner planted coffee in Churuli. He also dug a well. When it was time to return, the foreigner gifted Kelu a bracelet and told him, “Listen, now this place is all yours.” Kelu, who had been silent till then, grabbed the bracelet and gave it back to him. “This entire land is ours. We don’t need your obligation or permission to own it.” The foreigner perfectly understood what Kelu was saying. He left Churuli on a horse. The remains of the foreigner's bungalow can still be seen in the village.

Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

The Gandhian Churuli
The legend of this village is the pulse of agricultural life from the preservation of the ancient paddy seeds of Wayanad. Organic farming is the mainstay of the place. There is also rice. Their livelihood is earned from paddy, Wayanad pepper, and coffee-growing farms. Jeep is the main means of transportation here. Some of the young people have bikes. It is a land that has been cultivated by ancestors since ancient times. However, the Adivasis became forest encroachers to the forest department. Owners are now looking for at least a possession of the land that has been considered theirs for centuries. The older generations here were more likely to earn a living from farming on their own farms than those who returned from working outside.

Photo: Jithin Joel Haarim

Foresters uprooted the grass and planted acacia. When there was no fodder, the wild animals came down to the fields of the land. The Vellayan Moopan of the Churuli people was stabbed last day. The old Mooppan always carried a nice sharp knife around his waist. But it is said that the people of Churuli rarely take out their knives, even if the situation is potentially life-threatening. It's Thampai's knife. One should never spill blood on it. The philosophy of the people of Churuli is that simple.  

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