This 130-year-old 'pattar mattom' in Thrissur is riddled with tradition

This 130-year-old 'pattar mattom' in Thrissur is riddled with tradition
Venku Pattar Mattom. Photos: Manorama Online

The majestic Pandikaran Venku Pattar Mattom is the favourite hunting ground of those who are on the trail of centuries-old manas replete with legends and folklores. The age-old palatial home belongs to a family of Tamil Brahmins in Thrissur district’s Venkitangu panchayat. Though Venkitangu had the presence of six to seven Tamil Brahmin families years ago, currently only the Pandikaran Venku Pattar Mattom family is staying in this nondescript village.

Wrapped in antiquity
The mattom, which is near Valiayambalam Sree Shankaranarayana Temple, is close to 130 years old. The spell-binding structure, which is spread across three storeys, was built using laterite stones and lime mortar. One of the notable features of the mattom is the winding verandahs that hug the ancestral home. Roofed platforms could be found on all sides on the top floor and on the eastern and western sides on the lower floors. The well-crafted twin pillars that dot the verandahs and the exquisite three pillars of the portico are a sight to behold. The charm of the structure is augmented by the fact that the verandahs and the elegant courtyard are made of timber. The closely-knitted joist beam gives a touch of class to the inner courtyard.

Teak and ‘irumullu’ (xylia xylocarpa), which is a hard wood, were used to produce intricate wood carvings in the grand home. The stairways look classic with flowers, flower buds and small chambers carved out of wood.

The structure has a tall roof that comfortably sits on six-foot-tall walls. Interestingly, an engraving on the wooden beams supporting the roof says that the house was built by Paratty Kunjan 120 years ago. Paratty is a neighbouring place known as Pavaratty in Thrissur district.

The Tamil Brahmin family
The family members are Tamil Brahmins who had settled in Kerala long ago. At that time, large tracts of land in Venkitangu were owned by Namboothiris and it is said that the Brahmins came from Tamil Nadu to cook for the Namboothiris. Others came to Kerala for trading purposes and one such family is the Pandikaran Venku Pattar Mattom.

Four generations ago, Veera Raghavan, known as Veera Pattar, settled in Venkitangu and his son Venkita Subramanian, Venku Pattar, became a landlord of the area.

Hariharan alias Koluthu Swami, one of the 16 children of Venku Pattar, and his wife Kanthimathi Ammal, who hailed from Vadakumchery, and their four children stayed in this expansive home for a certain period of time. Koluthu Swami’s eldest son Venkita Subramanian retired as a chief engineer from Coal India Limited, a public sector undertaking owned by the central government. Koluthu Swami’s second son Ramakrishnan died at a young age and his daughter Gangabageerathi was married off to Nurani village. Presently, Swami’s youngest son Swaminathan and his wife Latha are staying in this spectacular house.

Mother tongue is Tamil
Quite obviously, Tamil is the mother tongue of all the family members and everyone would learn to read and write Tamil from an early age. The family members hold tight to their traditional values and even now one side of the wedding card is printed in Tamil. Moreover, going by the tradition, one side of the marriage invitation card will be in pink and the other in yellow.

Festivities galore
Along with the predominantly Tamil festivals such as Deepavali, Trikarthika, Akshaya tritiya and Navaratri, the family also celebrates Kerala festivities like Onam and Vishu. They worship Sree Ramaswami of the Tripreyar Sree Ramaswami temple and their family deity is in the Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli.

Interesting wedding rituals
The wedding ceremonies of Tamil Brahmins are like a story unfolding. The groom and relatives are received with the accompaniment of traditional music involving percussion and wind musical instruments. The rituals kick start with the ‘brahmachari’ groom preparing to set off for Kashi with an umbrella and a walking stick. Seeing this, the bride’s father would stop the bridegroom and inform him that he will give away his daughter as bride (kanyadaan) and can later lead a family life. Garlands are exchanged three times between the groom and the bride, and the ceremonies are conducted with the bride sitting on the lap of her father.

While the ‘paanigrahanam’ ritual, where the groom holds the hands of the bride and recites certain mantras, is conducted, water is poured over the hands of the groom and bride. After this ceremony, the groom ties the ‘thali’, which is knotted thrice by the groom’s sister. Later, the ‘saptapadi’ ceremony, whereby the newly-wed couple takes seven steps, is held. The women usually wear nine-yard saree for the ceremonies and the wedding dais will be replete with intricate ‘kolams’ (floor drawing) drawn with rice flour.

Homage to the departed soul
The Tamil Brahmins offer food to three previous generations while paying homage to the departed soul and the food is served by invoking Lord Shiva. Two plantain leafs are kept together for serving food as rice is served on one leaf and the curries on the other.

At least two persons should be invited to have food. They should also be given oil and ‘cheevakka’ podi (shikakai) to take bath and a brand new ‘mundu’. And honey is a must for this ritual. ‘Donna’, a kind of vessel made of plantain leaf, is also inevitable while paying homage to the departed soul.

Plethora of savouries
The Tamil Brahmins’ spread of delicacies include ‘appam’, ‘uzhunuvada’, ‘sukhiyan’, ‘kanji’, ‘kozhukatta’, ‘ammini kozhukatta’, ‘seva’, ‘vepilla katti’, ‘mahani kaimurukku’ and ‘jilebi’, among others. The traditional food of the family members of the Venku Pattar Mattom includes different varieties of ‘kondattams’ (dried veggies) and pickles.

The hand blender used to churn curd and the wooden ladles are lying idle at the house. A wooden Pallanguzhi game board, which was used by women and children to play the ancient game, can also be found at the mattom.

High official positions
The members of the Pandikaran family were well-educated and high-ranking officials in the government service. Balakrishna Iyer, the elder brother of Pandikaran Koluthu Iyer, studied ICS in London and retired as the Madras High Court Judge circa 1950 and his son Venkita Subramanian was the cabinet secretary of the central law ministry. Balakrishna Iyer’s son-in-law K V Ramanathan had served as the member secretary of the Planning Commission and his second son Krishnamoorthy was a Madras High Court advocate.

Many of the descendants of the family are settled outside Kerala. It is noteworthy that a wall separates Valiyambalam Sree Shankaranarayana Temple and the mattom. The pattar mattom, which is replete with coconut trees, ponds and mango trees, was featured in many telefilms.  

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