Undoubtedly, there is a touch of uniqueness to the heritage streets of Kalpathy in Palakkad district. Though the village is in Kerala, people living in this modest hamlet hold Tamil language and Tamil culture dear to their hearts. Do you know the reason behind that? Even if you haven’t set foot on Palakkad, you might be aware of the glorious past of the Kalpathy and the Fort of Tipu Sultan, also known as the Palakkad Fort. But not many are aware about the glory days of Tipu’s military, the history of Palakkad streets and farmers, and the past of Palakkad that boasts of a collage of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh cultures.
The history of Tamil Brahmins in Palakkad begins with their migration to Palakkad from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu during the reign of Chera and Pandya kings around 700 years ago. History has it that King Rajashekhara Varman brought 10 Tamil Brahmin families from Thanjavur to Palakkad to conduct poojas at the temples as the Namboothiri priests quit their jobs after a difference of opinion with the ruler. This migration paved the way for the mushrooming of ‘agraharams’ (Brahmin streets) and eventually Carnatic music and the famed ‘Ratholsavam’ (chariot festival) entered the cultural landscape of Palakkad. Though the present generation of Tamil Brahmins knows Malayalam and the culture of Kerala, they haven’t completely forgone the traditions of Tamil Nadu.
The Moothans and Tamil Chettiyars who had also moved to Palakkad from Tamil Nadu acted as a catalyst for the spread of Tamil culture in the region. The diversity of Palakkad is reflected by the presence of Pattanis, a sect of Muslims who migrated from Karnataka during the reign of Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali; Tamil Rawthers, who are traditionally traders, and people belonging to the Christian community who were influenced by the British rule in India. There are multitudes of streets with curious names in Palakkad and a walk through them is an experience in itself.
Mettupalayam Street – the flower hub
The Mettupalayam Street in the middle of the city that spreads fragrance to the entire area is still going strong. The shops on this street are always stuffed with flowers of all hues such as ‘Mallika’ (Arabian jasmine), ‘Jamanthi’ (Chrysanthemum flower), ‘Mullapoovu’ (Jasmine), roses and ‘Kanakambaram’ (Crossandra or Fire cracker flowers). People come to this street to buy flowers for marriage and other functions.
The small flower street has a story to tell. In the past, only flower merchants used to stay along the street and sell flowers. It is noteworthy that flowers were transported to other parts of Palakkad from this street on bicycles. Large loads of flowers that bloom on the fields of Pollachi and Dindigul are brought to the Mettupalayam Street for sale. Earlier, the narrow road had only flower shops on both sides but now other outlets have also found place on the street. Moreover, many florists have migrated to other places.
The ‘Erumakkara’ Street (‘Eruma’ means buffalo) was the place where the buffalo traders used to converge during earlier times. In the olden days, buffalo trading was the main source of income for Tamils living in villages. The street used to be jam-packed with people coming from different parts of the district to buy buffaloes. The street always brimmed with activities as buffalo dealers from Pollachi and Coimbatore used to assemble at this center.
Once upon a time, ‘Thunnalkkara’ Street (‘Thunnalkaran’ means tailor) was known as the fashion center of Palakkad. All types of dresses were stitched as per the prevailing social norms at this road. The street came into being when the caste system was at its zenith. The people of Palakkad used to flock to ‘Thunnalkkara’ street to stitch their favourite half-sleeve shirts and ‘jubba’ but not anymore.
Bags of rice from northern parts of Palakkad were brought to the ‘Arikkara’ Street (‘Ari’ means rice) and it was the center for rice merchants in the days gone by. It is worth noting that women from nearby villages brought rice to the street after processing paddy.
The market place of yore
Presently, there are many stretches in Palakkad that reflect the grandeur of the town’s great market place of the yore. One of them is the ‘Ennakottil’ Street (‘Enna’ means oil). The oil traders from Kunnamkulam in Thrissur district were the mainstay of this street. Years ago, the stretch buzzed with activity as people who extracted oil through oil press (‘chakku’) came to the street to sell fresh oil. Though the ‘Ennakottil’ Street is still in Palakkad, none of the shops on the stretch are trading in oil. This street was the source of livelihood for people who made both ends meet by selling oil in villages. Many similar streets such as ‘Vandi’ Street (‘Vandi’ means vehicle) and Godown Street have faded into oblivion.
‘Agraharams’ (Brahmin streets)
Though many streets came into being in regions with strong Tamil Brahmin presence, some of these roads are known presently by different nomenclatures. One of them is the Kalpathy Street, which is Palakkad’s popular landmark.
There are many streets in Palakkad that rekindle memories of Tipu Sultan’s military march. ‘Pattanitheruvu’ is the center where Tipu’s trusted lieutenants stayed put. The street got its name as Pattani Muslims who tended the horses of Tipu’s horse cavalry lived on this stretch. The Pattani Muslims also stayed at Daira Street near Mettupalayam Street. Many of the streets such as ‘Peerangitheruvu’ (Peerangi’ means cannon) and ‘Pattalatheruvu’ (‘Pattalam’ means army) had hit the scene during the days of the army’s advancements. Slowly but surely the names of these streets are drifting into oblivion.