Friday, February 22, 2013

Date with Nila

A sarkari babu from Thiruvananthapuram, an ad man and a  journalist from Bengaluru, an insurance executive from Pala and a construction guy from Delhi decided to take a tributarial journey along the most romanticized river of  Kerala, Baratha Puzha

They named it "A Date with Nila*"

The serpentine flow of time, while defining itself also animates the space around in more ways than we could imagine. Travelling with the river as a fellow traveller helps in identifying such residual  influences which are otherwise conveniently overlooked. 

Sifting through the fine sands of myth and facts, following his footsteps, in search of the Madman of Naranath , among others.....  

Thunchan Gurumadom, the four hundred year old building where Thunchathu Ezhuthachan, the 'Father of Malayalam' spent his most creative phase of  life was the logical starting point. 

2 km from Chitur, off Palakkad town by the banks of the River is a small street-village, Thekke Gramam. It is here that Ezhuthachan polished the rough alphabets of  Malayalam and formulated the language  as we know it today. A few Brahmin families whose ancestors were believed to have been brought in by  Ezhuthachan as part of his relocation entourage are the current inhabitants of this village. The Gurumadom itself is being maintained by the Nair Service Society (NSS).  Most of the original manuscripts are conserved here for posterity. 

It is from this room that Ezhuthachan gave birth to the modern Malayalam language, it is believed. 
Stories, with lavish helpings of  imagination are  in abundant circulation here about the birth, life and miracles of the great poet who graced this piece of land.

The tone and texture for the onward journey has already been defined.

Next leg of the journey took them to a place where history was made when a modern day myth was exposed. Or many were waiting to be exposed.

The most influential brand on earth- probably next only to the divine ones- Coca Cola waged an unsuccessful war on the people of Plachimada. And they paid a heavy price. The people of Plachimada had to bear an even bigger cost.

After several years of relentless protests and struggles by the locals, aided and propped by a host of non  stake players against the abuse and exploitation of  underground water  by the company, Coca Cola finally closed their bottling plant and left.

On a breezy Palakkadan morning, the cold silence of the  multinational behemoth's skeletal remains  stood face to face with the vacant canopies once occupied by the protesters. Nothing stirred. Except for  the occasional clang of the rusted factory gates nudged by a trespassing stray dog.  And the muted sighs of those assembled in the ubiquitously malayali tea shop next door.

A casual chat with  them revealed much more than what prime time news channels could ever sensationalise  in any of their clamorous debates. Stark reality is that there is no one to tell them if their water table is safe now.

Or anyone to help them get back their lost jobs.

Thasrakh. The search for the swaying palm trees and dreaming dragonflies took the travelers to this nondescript village that launched a million copies of a particular book.

Journey through the mythical landscapes of O V Vijayan, in search of the elusive reality of Kazakh will be documented separately here.


 Kunchan Nambiar, the 18th century poet / performer  epitomized the art of Thullal. He is revered as the greatest satirist Kerala ever had.  His humour, style and ease with which he still connects with the audience could very well be identified with the River on the banks of which he founded the art form.

The banks of River Nila boasts of a suitable memorial to the master.

And thus, the River and the memorial compliment each other. Modern day Malayali's tribute to the master is the  audaciousness with which humour tinged barbs are still targeted  at the holy cows.


Manikkinar, Thirunavaya. Such a seemingly innocuous sounding name. This is were quite a few carefully orchestrated tragedies ended. Only to be repeated again and again.


Till late 18th century, even petty disputes  between feudal lords were settled by legally organised bloody fights. The banks of the River near Thirunavaya is where such battles were organised periodically and the entire fight-flow was outsourced to professional fighters known as Chaver.


The fight until deaths between different groups of Chavers representing  the feudal lords often resulted in a deadly pile up that the logistics of disposing off the dead bodies turned out to be an even bigger problem. It was in this well that the dead bodies were dumped unceremoniously. It is documented  that it was so difficult a task  that elephants were used to foot down the bodies into the well and make way for the continuous inflow of bodies.


A rare monument of a barbarous past. A definite pointer towards the grim modern day reality.

Changampally Kalari, Thirunavaya

Just before embarking on their final journey to fight a proxy war and claim their death , it is here that the Chevars assemble for one last time. Amid battle cries and money changing hands, their family members would be lucky if they could catch one final glimpse of their loved ones - the ones who were born to die for others.

Thiruvilwamala. God's own village will be the next pit stop, for the soul.

Known more for the Vishnu temple and VKN, travelogue for  this blessedly green village will begin and end with a single word - 'serene'. Period.

Village Panniyoor
 Perunthachan, the master craftsman's legend is alive here.

The myth of the geometrical pond

and spaces sculpted by the great carpenter from a different era still stand testimony to Kerala's first high profile engineer.


 Thiruvalathoor , the unfinished Randu Moorthi Temple


It is believed that the 'Pancha Bhoothams' tried to complete construction of the temple overnight but couldn't. A portion of the huge stone wall is left unfinished till date.  


Hundreds of geometrically aligned lamps adorn the outer walls of the temple structure. Revisiting the temple during the annual festival when all these immaculately aligned lamps are lit to please the presiding  sororal deities is a 'must do' mark on the calendar.  


Thunchan Smarakam, Tirur   The circular journey finds its  culmination here in the birthplace of Ezhuthachan. 

A museum , efficiently maintained by a trust under MT Vasudevan Nair with exhibits covering the evolution of art and literature in Kerala is the best possible tribute to Ezhuthachan.


As the travelers end their journey and prepare to return back to their individual karmas, the River continues its flow.....

....remembering its past...

...driving the present...

...carrying its own dreams...

...and aspirations...

...pausing occasionally to appreciate life....

..and share concerns...

....or  a joke....

...or two....

.. nursing a wound from a not so distant past....

...trying to breach its own boundaries...

...even while travelling inwards.......


The endless journey .... liquid Nirvana.

*Nila= Barathapuzha


  1. Loved the description. I just realized how much our heritage has to offer and we often run searching for them outside our own place.......

    Would also want to appreciate "The picture of that rain drop"... beautifully captured!!

    Now feeling jealous of these 4 people.


  2. Brilliant. I get senty when I time travel.

  3. Congrats to all four of you who undertook this 'travel mamangam' !. Excellent descriptions and great pictures. Many of the legends of kerala history are introduced effortlessly. Loved this ..

  4. Whoa ! This was such a great post to read and see. The words and photographs in a perfect symphony. I loved this Kerala Journey of you guys :)

  5. Loved it Babukka. GK

  6. Wow! Wonderful - going green with envy