A walk through the world of Malayalam letters

A walk through the world of Malayalam letters
Mananchira Square. Photo: Manorama

Certain places have a rich legacy and have a story or two to narrate to every generation. One such place is the Mananchira Maidan in the heart of Kozhikode city. When you step into the square, the rhythm of metrical verses and the beauty of the Malayalam language would flood your mind. Even now the 'maidan' resonates with the laughter and banter of Malayalam literary giants such as S K Pottekkatt, Uroob, N V Krishna Warrier, Thikkodiyen and U A Khader as they used to get together at the square in the evenings.

Many generations of Keralites might have passed through the historic maidan centuries ago. The ‘Pathinettara Kavikkal’ (18½ poets or scholars), who came from Zamorin’s Pattathanam, could have definitely visited the iconic Mananchira maidan. But no one knows whether Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, father of Malayalam literature, had ever visited the maidan in his lifetime.

Interestingly, Ezhuthachan’s birthplace Trikkandiyoor is close to 50km away from Mananchira maidan and a 90-minute drive from the square will take you to the place where the ‘Kilipattu’ genre of Malayalam poems originated.

To reach Trikkandiyoor from Mananchira, one has to take the Palayam road in the south and later enter the Kallai road. After travelling for a while on the road, you will pass Panniyankara and Meenchanda before reaching Cheruvannur. From Cheruvannur take the road on the left and cross the Faroke old iron bridge, which was built by the British across the Chaliyar River. A railway bridge goes parallel to the age-old Feroke bridge, where time stands still.

Feroke town will welcome you as you leave the bridge. But you don’t have to enter the town while travelling to Trikkandiyoor. Take the road on the left side after exiting the bridge. The road with a downhill slope will go through two underpasses with bridges overhead, and an old tile factory will catch your eye.

Photo: Manorama

Going by the names of bus stops on the way, it seems that the local residents are a bunch of jovial people. One bus stop’s name is ‘punchiri’ (smile) and another one is called ‘pottichiri’ (riot of laughter).

The coastal road will greet you as you reach Kadalundi after touching Chaliyam. It is a long strip of road and mirages could be spotted up ahead if you are travelling during summer. You will reach Tanur after passing through a small town called Parappanangadi. While travelling on this route, you could soak in the beauty of some of the small towns in north Kerala. If you want to offer prayers at the Shobha Parambu Temple, the holy place is on the way to Trikkandiyoor.

The road will take you straight to Tirur bus stand. Tirur is a town with traffic snarls and sometimes the town roads will be chock-a-block with vehicles all around. It is said that Tirur was always a busy market place. History has it that India’s best betel leaves were sold at the Tirur market and foreigners used to drop in at the market place to source quality betel leaves even centuries ago.

Finally Trikkandiyoor
The narrow pathways would lead you to a pond and a huge banyan tree is literally standing tall in front of the water body. There is a temple with thick grasslands in the foreground facing east and this is the Trikkandiyoor Shiva temple. One thing that will catch your eye is that the houses and buildings near the temple follow the traditional style of Kerala architecture.

Now you have to cross the main path and travel towards west to reach the birthplace of Ezhuthachan. After a while you will be greeted by a Kerala style monumental tower and this is the gateway to the hallowed Thunchan ‘smarakam’ (memorial). This is the memorial that had been put in place to keep the memories of the ‘Father of Malayalam literature’ alive.

You have to take entry tickets and once you step inside the premises, a big stage would catch your attention. The Kerala style building on the right houses the Malayalam language museum.

Air filled with poetic rhythm
You won’t miss the mandapam and the huge bronze sculpture of a parrot, which is the central character of Ezhuthachan’s works. The bronze replicas of ‘thaliyolakettu’, a bunch of palm leaves on which manuscripts were written, and ‘narayam’, an iron stiletto once used as a writing instrument, are also displayed. Four lines of Lakshmana’s advice in ‘Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippaatu’, written by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, are etched below the sculpture of the parrot.

Lot of trees form a canopy in the open space and in between the trees one could find a pond, which was once used by the ‘Father of Malayalam language’.

The Thunchan ‘smarakam’ was inaugurated by then Punjab Governor Pattom A Thanu Pillai on January 15, 1964. When one walks leisurely through the memorial building, you have an opportunity to look back at the illustrious life of Ezhuthachan whose contribution to Malayalam literature is sublime and rich.

Photo: Manorama

A pioneer in every respect
Though Ezhuthachan is hailed as the ‘Father of Malayalam literature’ even the historians don’t know much about his history. Some believe that his name was Ramanujan and others think that his name was Krishnan. It is believed that Ezhuthachan was born in Trikkandiyoor, which was part of the Vettathunadu Kingdom, in the fag end of the 15th century.

Though celebrated Malayalam poet Cherusseri had penned poems before Ezhuthachan, the former had weaved the verses in the ancient script of ‘Vattezhuthu,' which had 30 letters. It is believed that Ezhuthacahan had ushered in a 51-letter Malayalam script. It is also believed that it was Ezhuthachan who started the practice of writing ‘Om Namah Shivayah’ on sand as part of ‘Vidyarambam’ (initiation into the world of letters). Ezhuthachan travelled extensively to spread knowledge to new generations and it is supposed that he visited Chittoor in Palakkad.

It may be noted that Vettathunadu or Vettom comprises Tanur, Trikkandiyoor, Chaliyam and Triprangode. It is believed that the rulers of Vettathunadu were Kathakali enthusiasts and they introduced a ‘vettom technique’ into the classical dance-drama form.

History has it that during the Vettathunadu rule in 1521, land was given to Portuguese to build the Chaliyath fort.

Vettathunadu is not only the birthplace of Ezhuthachan but also that of Mahakavi Vallathol.  

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