Saturday, February 27, 2016

History of Changanassery

[This is an article I had written for Wikipedia about 10 years ago with a lot of help from Mr. Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair, a noted historian. Discussion with Mr. G. Mohandas, Professor of History, N.S.S College, Changanassery also was helpful. The article was pruned to make it concise then. It was the first article on the history of Changanassery to appear on the web. Collection of data for the article spanned decades, during my irregular visits to Changanassery. It took a year to finalize the article and publish it. Since Wikipedia does not allow articles based on personal researches, it was later removed. In the meantime, the article was copied by many. The list of such names is given in this blog. In addition, it is being freely copied on Facebook too. I request readers to desist from lifting information from this article. Please refer always to this blog when you use the information painstakingly collected. Any further information collected by me will be added appropriately. Readers may also suggest changes.

The article had to be revised yet again following meetings with Mrs. Maya Vasundhara Vazhuveli Idathil, a princess from the Thekkumkoor royal family, and based on other materials collected].

Profile of Changanassery


Changanassery at 9.670 N and 76.550 E, is a municipal town admeasuring 13.5 sq. km with 37 revenue wards. It is the administrative capital of the taluk (subdivision of district) bearing the same name and lies about 1 to 30 m above sea level. Located in Kottayam district, Changanassery lies 20 km south of Kottayam town, in Kerala, India. The town is a part of the constituency of Changanassery which is represented by a member in the state legislature. It falls in the Kottayam constituency for electing a member for the Indian parliament.

Six km down south is another town called Thiruvalla of Pathanamthitta district. The three towns are connected by the Main Central Road which used to be called the raajapaatha (രാജപാതRoyal Highway) before southern Kerala (known as the state of Travancore-Cochin then) was merged with the Union of India in 1947.

The Arabian Sea shore was close to the western side of Changanassery till about C.E. 1st century. Due to geological disturbances the sea retreated 18 miles to the west  creating Kuttanadu, the famous rice bowl of Kerala.

In 1991, the state government officially ‘corrected’ the spelling from CHANGANACHERRY to CHANGANASSERY.


Besides the local language Malayalam, the residents are conversant in English. One may also come across people who can communicate in Hindi.


The town has a number of hillocks. The eastern suburbs are on an elevated terrain. The western rice fields of the town are just 1m above sea level while some areas near Kurushumoodu in the east are at an altitude of 29m. The hillock of Malekunnu (മലേക്കുന്ന്) north of N.S.S. Hindu College is at 28m, (As per Google Map).

Population (2011)

According to the 2011 census, of the 47,685 (Male 22,854, Female 24,831) residents, 97% are literate. Changanassery town has the highest population density in the district with 3,532/ against Kottayam’s 3,463/ Hinduism (48%), Christianity (34%) and Islam (17%) and are the faiths of the people. There is a negligible percentage of people under Buddhism and ‘No Religion’ as per the census report. Catholicism is the predominant denomination among Christians. Churches, temples and mosques co-exist - an indication of peaceful life not mired by communal intolerance. (Population of Kerala: 3.33 crores). The urban agglomerate of Changanassery which includes the municipality and the urban-like periphery contains about 128,000 people.


The Catholics of Changanassery have been more organized than others since the 16th century. It is they who were instrumental in spreading modern education in the town which benefited even people in distant areas. Their first school was started in the 1880’s.

The Nair Service Society (N.S.S), an organization of Nairs too began establishing educational institutions by the 1920’s. This organization is head-quartered in Perunna, a suburb of Changanassery. Founded in 1914 by Mannath Padmanabhan and a group of Nairs, N.S.S is one of the largest entities in the field of education. It also owns hospitals and plantations.

The Puthoor Masjid, the second masjid of the town, established a school in 1885 (?). It was called Mohammedan School. The school was later transferred to the government..

The following are the early schools and colleges of the town with dates of establishment in brackets:
  1. The Mohammedan High School (1885*): This was later handed over to the government.
  2. St. Joseph’s School (January 16, 1888)
  3. St. Mary’s L.P. School (October 15, 1888)
  4. Government English High School (1889): This later became the Government High School (near Revenue Tower)
  5. St. Berchman’s High School (February 3, 1891): Poet Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer, Kainikkara brothers, Mar Antony Padiyara, Mar Joseph Powathil and M.K. Joseph IPS (DGP) are among the august alumni of the school.
  6. S.B. College (June 19, 1922): The college was initially started in a building (now it is a museum) at Parel church compound. It was a junior college affiliated to Madras University. In 1927, graduate courses were started. Travancore University was founded on November 1, 1937 to which the college was then affiliated. Postgraduate courses were started in 1957.
  7. N.S.S. Hindu College (July 1947): The college was started in the rooms provided at the N.S.S. High School and it was shifted to a new building subsequently.
  8. The Assumption College for Women (1950).
*to be verified

Two schools were started in Perunna by Kainikkara Govinda Pillai in the 1880’s details of which are not available. Both are defunct now.

Mahatma Gandhi had visited N.S.S. High School in 1937. Standing under a Jackfruit tree in the compound, he had addressed a gathering. Although the tree was protected by the management by constructing a round structure around its trunk for about 50 years as per the instructions of Mannath Padmanabhan, the founder of N.S.S., nothing is left of them at present!

There are professional colleges, schools, modern hospitals including a Government Hospital, and cinema houses. There is only one public park though, with a large pond behind it. It is near St. Berchmans’ College. There was a smaller one in Perunna, but it was thoughtlessly destroyed by the dimwitted authorities to for opening a government Ayurveda Clinic.

There was a vedic school, details of which are sketchy, at chaalagramam (ചാലഗ്രാമം/ശാലഗ്രാമം), Vazhappally during the reign of Idathil Kings of Thekkumkoor. It was run exclusively for brahmins. This is the oldest educational institution of Changanassery on record.

Libraries & Reading Rooms

Despite a high literacy rate, the residents of Changanassery are not avid readers of books and periodicals. Therefore, libraries of Changanassery mostly cater to readers of pulp fiction.

Municipal Library: The state of the Municipal library (Est. 1935) must be seen to be believed. Once it had a large collection of books in Malayalam and English. Many of them – including priceless publications of 19th century – have been lost. The Municipal authorities and politicians have turned a blind eye to reviving the library. Local politicians, like their counterparts elsewhere, do not seem to be well-educated although they may flaunt many degree certificates. Years of misuse and negligence have resulted in absolute dysfunction of the library.

Mannam Library (Est. 1949):  This institution in Perunna also has lost a number of books but seems to have managed to put everything back on track with whatever collection they have.

There are good libraries attached to educational institutions. The best among them is the library of S.B. College. There is a University library at N.S.S. College.

Changanassery was the favorite town and capital of the erstwhile Idathil kings of Thekkumkoor. This dynasty had bases at Thaliyil (Thazhathangadi, Kottayam), Vennimala (near Pambadi, Kottayam), Nattasseri and Puthuppally. The kings used to camp at 5 to 10 places. Towards the end of their rule, they stayed more at Changanassery and Kottayam.


The word Changanassery supposedly derived from "Changanattusserry" (ചങ്ങനാട്ടുച്ചേരി). The root of the name is linked, debatably though, to the measurements used for rice in old era, viz., "Changazhi", "Nazhi" and "Uzhi". The name might have originated from a combination of these three measuring containers. The word 'changazhi' seems to have more relevance because there was a prominent illam (a lesser brahmin's residence) by name Changazhimattam. This family owned a large part of the Changanassery. (See under 'History' below).

An interesting story mentions that during the reign (1729-1758) of King Mārthānda Varma of Travancore, steps were taken to build a Catholic church by giving out plots. The measurement was based on 'Changazhy', 'Nazhy' 'Uri', 'Payattupadu' (Malayalam terms of measuring grains). All these terms may have contributed to the place being called Changanacherry. (However, the hypothesis is quite complex because the land for the church was given by the local king of Thekkumkoor, centuries before Mārthānda Varma was born). Another belief is that the name is derived from three separate words 'shankh', 'nadam', 'cherri'. The story goes that sometime in the past, the ruler of Changanacherry commissioned a church, a temple and a mosque to be built so that he would wake up every morning to the call of the conch shell (shankh), the chimes of the church bells (nadam), and the muezzin's call. The theory sounds quite absurd.

Prof. Rama Varma, Head of History Department, U.C. College, Alwaye (Aluva), believed strongly that the name Changanacherry has its roots in 'Sangamanathacherry' (സംഗമനാഥചേരി). Sangamanathan is another name for Siva, the deity of Vazhappally temple, 'Cherry' refers to settlement of people. But this suggestion seems too far-fetched. Yours truly was among the audience when the learnedprofessor put forward this theory while addressing students of history at the N.S.S. Hindu College in the early 1970’s.

The word can have its roots in Thenganattucherri (തെങ്ങനാട്ടുച്ചേരി in Mal., தெங்கநாட்டுச்சேரி in Tamil), a probable suburb of Thenganaal, which might have been a commercial hub during and before the Thekkumkoor reign.

Changanassery, Thiruvalla, Kaviyoor, Mallapally, Chingavanam, Mavelikkara and parts of Kuttanadu were all dominated by Buddhism till 8th century C.E. Vazhapally might have supported Buddhist monasteries. Some scholars maintain that Vazhappally was a stronghold of Jainism before Buddhism arrived. The areas surrounding the Mahādéva temple of Vazhappally might have had Buddhist settlements. 'Palli' was used by Buddhists to name many places in Kerala, especially southern Kerala. The word 'sangham' or its corrupt form 'changam' is related to Buddhism. Perhaps, it could be the root of 'Changanacherri'. I have read about references made by Italian Missionary Bra Paulo (Brother Paul) and the Portuguese colonialists in which the words Changarnate (ചങ്ങര്‍നാട്) and Changacherri (ചങ്ങച്ചേരി) are used.

There is a belief that 'changam' means water. Changanattucherri (ചങ്ങനാട്ടുച്ചേരി) according to this line of thought, is 'land of water'. No Malayalam dictionary carries the word 'changam'; it seems to be a wild guess. However, the theory cannot be rejected outright.Changam’ appears in another name – Changamkari (ചങ്ങംകരി), near Edathua in Upper Kuttanadu. (Changamkari was either a Buddhist centre, the Ayyappa temple being an indication of Buddhist heritage, or the place was no named because the ‘Kari’ - probably formed from the Tamil word ‘Karai’ or it is a reference to the black soil - was surrounded by water). ‘Changampuzha’ is another word that sounds to have derived from ‘water’. Changampuzha literally means Alappuzha. (aalam, ആലം = water) ‘Changampally’ near Thirunavaya is yet another example. ‘Naa’ (nā, നാ) in Malayalam means ‘middle’. The meaning of Changanassery then could be land surrounded by water or marshy place, pointing to the type of topography in the early years of the last millennium. If you split the word Changazhimattam, you will again come back to ‘changam’. Changam+azhi+mattam. ‘Azhi’ means river mouth or mouth of any water body. ‘Mattam’ refers to high terrain or a slope. We can interpret Changazhimattam as ‘land lying close to water’.

(This is a personal conclusion of the author. Let historians and linguists take over. It needs to be studied further).

It is the prefix 'Changa(na)' that is a conundrum. Sad to say, no theory has been accepted as yet and the name remains a poser to historians and linguistic experts alike.

However, another explanation is more acceptable. Chengazhi, a herb, grew abundantly on the slope (mattam) of western Vazhappalli. This resulted in the locality being named after the herb. The slope was called Chengazhimattam, not Changazhimattam. Ancient Keralites somehow developed a habit of naming places after plants/trees etc. It was at this place that the Pottis had settled in. Chengazhi is also known as Malankoova. There are more varieties of the herb with different names and synonyms.

History of Changanassery Municipality

In 1912, Changanassery, till then a village,  was put under a Town Improvement Committee (TIC) by the government of Travancore as per the rules prevailing then. TIC was a precursor to the Municipality that would be formed 8 years later. In 1921 the first Municipal Council was formed with Father Dominic Thottassery as the first president of the town. The municipality had then 6 wards and each ward had 2 councillors. There were 3 nominees of the government - the tehsildar (a local revenue official), a doctor and a section officer of the municipality. Mannath Padmanabhan, the founder of the Nair Service Society, was one of the councillors. In 1945 with the introduction of a municipal commissioner, the president was redesignated as municipal chairman with less powers. The commissioner was later redesignated as Municipal Secretary.

There is a road built in 1957 that connects the town to Alappuzha, the Venice of the east and a port town on the Arabian Sea. The road (christened Alappuzha-Changanassery Road or AC Road) is almost like a straight line drawn through the vast paddy fields that lie between the two towns. (The area comprising a large network of rivers and backwaters is collectively called Kuttanadu).

Now there are 37 wards with a representative each.  They elect a chairman and a vice-chairman every 5 years.

Trade and Transport

There are two industrial estates accommodating small scale units. Dense population does not offer any scope for large-scale agricultural activities, though small plots of rubber and coconut plantation are not rare; and there are a few hundreds of acres of paddy field on the western side. Productive people are mostly service-based or traders. Due to paucity of land, a sizeable portion of the wetlands and agricultural plots have disappeared to make way for houses and commercial buildings.

The town has 3 bus stations. Interstate travel is possible from one of them belonging to the State Road Transport Corporation. The railway station, obviously, is the link to the 115,000 km network of Indian Railways. Private bus operators extend their services even beyond the neighbouring states of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The state government runs boat services to distant low-lying areas famous for their backwaters and to Alappuzha from the boat jetty, 2 km west from the heart of the town.

The state Public Works Department is said to be measuring distances to certain places from the boat jetty, instead of from the main junction of the town. If this is true it is obviously for favouring private bus operators with undue fair stages. The politicians of Changanassery have not objected to this. Ultimately, they too get a share of the loot.

Till about 50 years ago, one could use the network of canals from Kuttanadu to reach a quay close to the M.C. Road, near the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Perunna, the south-west suburb of Changanassery, says G. Mohandas, retired professor of history, N.S.S. College, Perunna. Country boats could go up to the distant Paippad in the east through the Laikad canal. The canal forms the southern boundary of the town. One cannot any longer travel to the quay in Perunna. It has vanished without a trace. The narrow boat canals have been encroached upon – courtesy corrupt officials and politicians - to build houses, wiping off a part of the town’s heritage. A quay for boats was constructed in 1958 at Manakkal Chira but it is no longer in use except for an annual boat race.

Though Changanassery was one of the capital towns of the Thekkumkoor kingdom and the kings stayed in the town from circa 14th century, it was more or less like a village till the Catholic population flourished and contributed to the trade and commerce of the town. Many of them settled in the town at the invitation of the kings. Muslims, mostly from the neighboring state of Tamilnadu, too joined them later. The rulers understandably wanted the town to grow like the seaport towns of Alappuzha and Kollam of the neighbouring kingdoms. Kottayam too was on the road of development, but Changanassery was more suitable for water transport than Kottayam as its western regions are connected with Alappuzha by a network of shallow rivers. Cordial relations with the kings of Amabalapuzha to which Alappuzha belonged also came in handy.

The foundation stone for rapid development was laid when the Catholic Christian community established a church in the 16th century. This is now the largest church of the town – the St. Mary’s Metropolitan Church. There is an argument that it was established in the 12th century. This is discussed separately later in the article. More devout Christians were lured in to the town with the church in place because there were not many churches around in those days and they had to travel to distant places like Niranam for their weekly offer of prayers. The Muslim community who too were wooed and patronized by the kings began playing a significant role after 13th century C.E. The kings provided all with whatever infrastructure possible. By C.E. 1600 the society was more organized.

By the middle of the 17th century it was a prosperous town and ranked along with Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha and Kottayam. After the removal of the Thekkumkoor dynasty in 1750, the state of Travancore provided further impetus to the trade and commerce resulting in gradual rise of population.

The first petrol bunk of the town was opened in 1938 by Pai brothers.

The Changanassery Market

Changanassery was known as the Gateway to the High Ranges and Kuttanadu. The ‘High Ranges’ refers to the mountainous border area of Kerala about 100 miles to the east where farmers produce a variety of spices and rubber that used to be taken to Changanassery for further distribution. Rice, the main produce of Kuttanadu, used to be transported to the High Ranges through the town. The main market, an ideal entrepot, near the boat jetty was opened in 1805 CE (Malayalam Era 980) by the then Dalava (the equivalent of Divan/Prime Minister) Velu Thampi of the Travancore Kingdom. Since the town is well-connected these days by road and rail to all important commercial centres and ports of the state, the waterways play a lesser role in transportation of goods.  Consequently, Changanassery’s once-famous market and boat jetty are only a shadow of what they were once. Before 15th century C.E., Thengana (തെങ്ങണ), a corrupt word for Thenganaal (തെങ്ങനാല്‍), was the major and, perhaps, the only business hub.

It is said that the Dalava inaugurated the renovated market by selling an elephant. This is, in fact, nothing but misinterpretation of his speech. He had merely said he hoped ‘the new market would do well to have income of elephantine proportions’ (‘ആനവരവുണ്ടാകട്ടെ’).

To commemorate the centennial celebrations of the market the locals installed the "Anchu Vilakku" (Five Lamps), now seen near the Boat Jetty, in 1905. The town was therefore called Anchu Vilakkinte Pattanam (അഞ്ചു വിളക്കിന്റെ പട്ടണം), Town of Five Wick Lamps. However, hardly anybody in the town remembers this.

Changanassery Market - 1950. (Such photographs are availabe on the web)

There is an interesting octet about the market written by an unknown humourist:

Meeshayaa shobhathe monthaa, Monthayaa messhayum thathaa, Monthayaa meeshayaa chaiva, Pumaanettam viraajithe, Chaalayaa shobhathe chantha, Chanthayaa chaalayum thathaa, Chanthayaa chaalayaa chaiva, changanasseri raajathe.

(മീശയാ ശോഭതേ മോന്താ
മോന്തയാ മീശയും തഥാ
മോന്തയാ മീശയാ ചൈവ
പുമാനേറ്റം വിരാജതേ

ചാളയാ ശോഭതേ ചന്ത
ചന്തയാ ചാളയും തഥാ
ചന്തയാ ചാളയാ ചൈവ
ചങ്ങനാശേരി രാജതേ)
Moustache lends grace to face. So does face to moustache. Face and moustache lend grace to man.
Sardines lend grace to the market. So does the market to the sardines. The market and sardines lend grace to Changanassery. [Source: Changanassery ’99]


Hinduism, Other Religions and Venad Kings (1st Century CE to 10th Century CE)

Cheras, Christianity and Islam

Like other regions of Kerala, probably Jainism and certainly Buddhism had dominated the area in the distant past. However, no Jain vestiges have ever been found in the town. As mentioned earlier Jainism is believed to have flourished in Vazhappally, before 500 C.E.

Hinduism, even if was not the full-fledged Vedic Hinduism of north ndia, was totally replaced in the early centuries of the Common Era. The advent of Chera Kings towards the end of the 1st millennium of C.E saw Jainism and Buddhism being virtually decimated in Kerala by immigrant Brahmins, who styled themselves as ‘Malayala’ Brahmins, with the help of rulers and illiterate locals, especially Nairs. The earliest reference to the town is in the edict of Rajashekhara Varman of Venad dated C.E. 830. Varman was a king of the second Chera dynasty (probable reign C.E. 820-844). This inscription or royal proclamation on copper plates, is called Vazhappally Cheppedu (വാഴപ്പള്ളി ചെപ്പേട്), named after the suburb from where it was discovered.

‘Pally’ (പള്ളി) refers to Buddhist viharas (settlement / monastery / place of worship). There are many places in Kerala with the suffix ‘pally’ indicating Buddhist connection. Taking a cue, Christians and Muslims adopted ‘pally’ for their places of worship.

A section of the historians is of the opinion that Christianity, brought to India by St. Thomas, set its roots in Kerala as early as in the first century C.E. Islam reached the shores of Kerala as early as in 7th-8th century, C.E.

The Cheraman Masjid at Kodungalloor or Crangannore, as the British called the town, is believed to have been established in 629 C.E.

Subsequently Changanassery and other nearby regions fell in to the hands of Venad, a tiny kingdom in the southern tip of Kerala, but it lost these areas soon.

Ancient Kerala had the notoriety of having been ruled by 3 to 4 dozens of rulers and chieftains that included Nairs and Brahmins on many occasions. In 12th century C.E, with the fall of the second Chera dynasty, smaller kingdoms came in to being. They were Venad (Kottarakkara to Thiruvananthapuram), Odanadu (Karunagappally, Karthikappally and Mavelikkara), Nanruzhai Nadu (Changanassery-Thiruvalla-Kidangara), Muthanadu/Munjanadu (some areas of Kottayam), Vempolinadu (Vaikom and Meenachil) and Keezhmalainadu (Thodupuzha-Muvattupuzha). There were many others up north - from Kalkarainadu (Kochi) to Puraikeezhaanadu (Wynad region). There were 14 such principalities. They all are said to have been the administrative divisions of the Chera kingdom. Each division had a satrap called Naduvaazhi. The Naduvazhis declared themselves to be the rulers at the end of the Chera rule.

From 8th century C.E, Hinduism was back in the shape of Brahminocracy by Nampoothiris, Bhattathiris, Pottis etc. Christianity, which had few followers till then, started having a firm grip on the society, thanks to the caste system that Brahmins had propagated.  Islam also was a direct beneficiary of the caste system. Both communities began growing all over Kerala. Obviously, that was the case in Changanassery too. The Venad king's proclamation in 830 C.E was ostensibly for strengthening the stature and status of Brahmins and it acted as a fillip to the worsening of caste system.

Arguably, majority of the Hindus in Vaikom-Changanassery-Pala-Thodupuzha belt belonged to the Ezhava community, believed to be descendants of immigrants from Eezham/Eelam (Sri Lanka). Most of them embraced Christianity. The caste system that humiliated people of the lower rung acted as a catalyst for the growth of Christianity and Islam. Changanassery is believed to have been a stronghold of the Ezhavas. To avoid being taunted for their low caste origins, a large section of them along with other low caste people became Christians.

Nanruzhai Nadu and Idathil Kings (circa 1130-1750 CE)

The Changanassery-Thiruvalla region was ruled briefly by the kings of Nanruzhai Nadu (നന്റുഴൈനാട്). The capital of Nanruzhai Nadu was Thrikkodithanam. This small kingdom and others mentioned above disintegrated or were nibbled by others in 12th or 13th century C.E. Historians surmise the kingdoms of Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor came in to existence during this period, i.e. between C.E. 1102 and 1150. Koor in old Malayalam means house, plot, land, lineage etc.  Thenceforth, till 1750 C.E, Changanassery remained with the Thekkumkoor monarchy. Their span of reign is only second to the Zamorins’ (1150-1799 C.E.).

Nothing is known about the origin of Thekkumkoor kings except that they started ruling in 12th or 13th century C.E. Unnuneeli Sandesham, the famous 13th century literary work refers to their capital town Vennimala. In 14th century it was shifted to Thaliyil, Kottayam.  Changanasserry became another capital in 15th century. It is also believed that Nattasseri (നട്ടാശ്ശേരി), north of Kottayam was their first capital, and that they were Nairs with family name ‘Idathil’ (ഇടത്തില്‍). The founder of Thekkumkoor kingdom could be a powerful Nair landlord who exploited the fall of Nantuzhainadu to the hilt.

Migration of Nairs practising crude tribal Hinduism in to Kerala was complete by the 1st century C.E (or so we assume) and their hegemony was intact till Tamil rulers from principalities beyond the mountains in the east and the immigrant Brahmins set their eyes on Kerala. Nairs were placed below the Brahmins and royals in the notorious caste system. The Kshatriya (royal) community is an ‘elevated’ group of Nairs. The latest theory is that both the Thekkumkoors and Vadakkumkoors belonged to a family of north Kerala and that they were Samantha Nairs, a kind of demi-royals among the Nair caste of northern Kerala. The Zamorin of Calicut is also believed to be a Samantha Nair. Perhaps, they reached Kottayam at the right time. They established a tiny kingdom which split later to form two branches – the Vadakkumkoor (northern land) and Thekkumkoor (southern land). Elders in Vaikom and Ettumanoor believe the Vadakkumkoor kingdom belonged to a family of Nambyathiris (നമ്പ്യാതിരിമാര്‍), a sub-caste of Brahmins. However, in Kerala Mahacharithram (1949) by Kuruppam Veettil K.N. Gopala Pillai, it is stated that the only Brahmin kingdoms of Kerala were (North) Paravur, Edappalli and Chempakassery. The debate continues.

The anarchy following the collapse of Nantuzhainadu, Vempolinadu and others was a blessing in disguise for Idathil Nairs. They conferred upon themselves the surname ‘Varma’. Records in the state Archives department in Trivandrum, however, refer to them as ‘Thekkumkoottil Nayari’ (തെക്കുംകൂറ്റില്‍ നായരി). [Nayari seems to be a corrupt for of ‘Nayaru’ (നായര്). The writers of the documents were semi-literate; there are grammatical gaffes and spelling  errors in such documents].

Please see the location of Thekkumkoor in 1150 C.E here: (There may be difference of opinion about the maps of kingdoms of Kerala. Also see the map of 1498 C.E on the same site).

Established circa 1130-1250 C.E, the Thekkumkoor kingdom, or rather principality, covered a large area that included Thiruvalla and beyond, but probably excluded Pandalam. (It is difficult to find out which part of southern Kerala was ruled by the Pandalam kings; they were probably big landlords, not kings). The kings ruled by appointing administrative heads for small village-like areas. The administrative head was designated as 'Karanavar' (കാരണവര്‍) who were the equivalent of Paarvathyakaars (പാര്‍വത്യകാര്‍) of modern TravancoreKaranavar was a designation, but the descendants of the Nairs who held the post continue to use it as a surname. The designation was first used in Vadakkumkoor for its administrators.

Neerazi Palace (നീരാഴിക്കൊട്ടാരം)

The notion that the kings of Thekkumkoor stayed at Neerazhi palace near the Bhagavathi temple at Pizhavathil till their ouster in 1750 CE does not pass the test of logic. The Neerazhi palace was earlier known as Neerazhikettu (നീരാഴിക്കെട്ട്). It is a word used in Malayāļam for ‘royal bath house near a pond/river’. It means the Neerazhi palace was not where the kings of Thekkumkoor stayed. During their early days at Changanassery they might have stayed there and used it later as a bath house. The pond was said to be behind the Bhagavathi temple, Pizhavathil. They must have later shifted to a new palace in Pizhavathil itself and the Neerazhi palace was used either as a residence of the relatives of the king or as an administrative office.

The Neerazhi palace compound  admeasures 1.23 acres. The palace must have been rebuilt after C.E. 1600 and modified again by the Travancore kings in 18th century.

After the reigning king (Aditya Varma Manikandan) of Thekkumkoor was toppled by Mārthānda Varma in 1750, the Neerazhi palace was used to house the fleeing princes and princesses of Parappanattu (near Tirur) royal family of Malabar during the infamous raid of Hyder Ali in 1766. Hyder Ali was at that time only a step away from being the Sultan of Mysore. Later in 19th century, the fugitives were shifted to a new palace (Lakshmipuram Palace) the regent Rani Parvathi Bai had constructed. She was the sister of Lakshmi Bai, mother of the illustrious Travancore King Swathi Thirunal.

The first occupant of the Neerazhi palace was Injanji (ഇഞ്ഞഞ്ഞി) Thampuratti, the 5th daughter of Kunjikutty Thampuratti who left Malabar in 1766. Due to financial problems, one of the princes leased the Neerazhi palace out in 20th century to a local Jacobite advocate. After a hard-fought battle that ended in Supreme Court, the lessee obtained the ownership of the property. The palace is now occupied by the grandchildren of the advocate.

Neerazhi Palace
Mārthānda Varma did not disgrace Aditya Varma (1717-1750), the deposed king. The former, one assumes, was more preoccupied with the civil unrest that lasted from 1750 to about 1757 in Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor against the seizure of the tiny kingdoms. Mārthānda Varma died in 1758. The popularity of the ousted kings was the main threat to Mārthānda Varma. He could not have done anything to vandalize the properties of the Thekkumkoor kings at various places, fearing more public wrath. But his successor seems to be the villain de piece - Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (1758-1798) aka Dharmaraja, the ‘righteous king’ who not only disgraced the dethroned king him but also tried to wipe off all the heritage of the Thekkumkoor dynasty during his reign of forty years. ‘The regents and kings of Travancore continued to humiliate the family of Thekkumkoor by treating them as commoners and annexing their personal properties’, says Rajiv Pallikonam, founder of ‘Nattukoottam’, a cultural organization of Kottayam. 

The fate of the last king of Vadakkumkoor and his family was not different either. What the Travancore kings and female regents did to both Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor dynasties was far worse than what a combined Muslim army did to the Vijayanagaram empire. While there was no massacre or mass destruction, gradually the Travancore rulers ensured that the dynasties were removed from the annals of history.

The Neerazhi palace was demolished by the Travancore king in 19th century to construct a new palace - the Lakshmipuram palace – to accommodate the fugitives from Malabar.

Lakshmipuram Palace or Kovilakom

As mentioned above, the Lakshmipuram palace was built (circa C.E. 1804-1805) after demolishing the palace that the Thekkumkoor kings might have built.  The old palace might have been as big as the Lakshmipuram palace, if not bigger. Inside the palace compound, the Thekkumkoor king had a private temple. It is now called the Vaikunteshwaram Temple with Santhana Gopala Moorthy, a form of lord Vishnu, as the main idol. In a separate room of the temple one can find a few more idols of Vettakkaruman (വേട്ടക്കരുമകന്‍, wrongly pronounced as വേട്ടയ്ക്കൊരുമകന്‍) Ganapathi, Hanuman etc. These idols might have been worshipped by the Thekkumkoor royal family.

The Vaikunteshwaram Temple, Pizhavathil
When the Lakshmipuram Palace was rebuilt, a granary (അറ) and a few wooden pieces were brought from a house at Vaikom demolished by the government of Travancore. The demolished house belonged to Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai (1767-1809), the forgotten hero of Kerala and a general in the Travancore army. Pillai, a staunch associate of Velu Thampi Dalava, was hanged in 1809 for rebelling against the British. It is wrongly propagated by local historians from Vaikom that he was a general of Vadakkumkoor, a small principality with its capital at Vaikom. It is nothing but rubbish. Vadakkumkoor ceased to exist when it was seized by Martanda Varma in 1750 whereas Pillai was born in 1767).

The idol of Santhana Gopala Moorthy, a deity believed to bless childless couples with progeny, seems to have been installed by the Travancore royal family for getting a male heir. The temple was rebuilt by them in C.E. 1812, retaining many of its features and structures, but somehow the figures of two lions on the granite frame of the entrance door (gopura-vathil), escaped the sledgehammer. The well-carved out lions– the insignia of the Thekkumkoor dynasty - can still be seen!

Two Lions, the Royal Insignia of Thekkumkoor Kings at the Entrance of the Vaikunteshwaram Temple
Many historians including Prof. N.E. Keshavan Nampoothiri, the only person to have made a detailed study of Thekkumkoor (Thekkumkoor Charitravum Puravruthavum, NBS, Kottayam) confirm the events mentioned above. The members of the Thekkumkoor Idathil family also firmly endorse the view.

The temple was in a state of neglect for decades. In 1985, it was handed over to Kerala Kshethra Samrakshana Samithi and is maintained reasonably well.

Santhana Gopala Murthy-Another Mystery

The presence of Rama, Vettakkarumakan and Hanūmān among the idols of the palace temple is intriguing. Southern Kerala did not practise worship of these deities. Temples dedicated to Rama and Hanūmān were rare even in north Kerala, and rarer in south Kerala. (Even the famous idol of Hanūmān at Kaviyoor temple was, I strongly believe, installed by the Brahmin rulers of the village who came in from north Malabar, the legend attributing to Saint Vilvamangalam installing the idol notwithstanding). Vettakkarumakan was the hunter god of Malabar. These deities must have been introduced to the temple by the royalty of the Parappanattu dynasty that occupied the Lakshmipuram palace. The Manayam rajas, a branch of Parappanattu family still owns a Vettakkarumakan temple in Beypore. The entire clan could have been worshippers of Vettakkarumakan. If that be so, all the idols in the small room could not have belonged to the Thekkumkoor kings. It is possible that all of them were bought to Changanassery by the Parappanattu royal family as fleeing families always did and deposited at the temple later. We may conclude that, for the convenience of the members of the royal family, a room was built in the temple for keeping their deities where now a traditional lamp is being lit daily.

If Santhana Gopala Murthy was enshrined by the Travancore kings in C.E. 1812, what was the main deity during the reign of the Thekkumkoors? Perhaps the idol of Siva now kept in a small shrine in the north-east corner of the temple precinct might have been. The Travancore kings might have replaced Siva out of the sanctum sanctorum with Santhana Gopala Murthy. This appears to be far-fetched since normally Hindus do not supplant deities. Did the Travancore kings simply renovated the temple and reinstalled the idol of Santhana Gopala Murthy? In that case, was Santhana Gopala Murthy, the main deity worshipped by the Thekkumkoors? Worshipping Krishna/Vishnu in the form of Santhana Gopala Murthy is very rare. Like many enigmas of the Thekkumkoors, the mystery of Santhana Gopala Murthy will perpetually haunt the inquisitive minds of historians.

The suggestion that the Thekkumkoors were northern Keralites can, if proved, put an end to the debate as to who were worshipping these idols.

Noted scholar and poet Kerala Varma Valiya Koyil Thampuran, more famous as Kerala Kaalidaasan, was born in this palace. Another famous poet of repute from the family was Ravi Varma (1862-1900).

A structure called Kulappura Malika (കുളപ്പുരമാളിക, the bath house of the royals), built near Lakshmipuram Palace has since been demolished and converted in to a residence by one of the Lakshmipuram royals.

It may be noted, by 18th century C.E, palaces were being built with stones, laterites and wood. In the construction of most palaces earlier, roofs were made of cadjans weaved out of coconut palm leaves (ഓല മേഞ്ഞത്). This was the practice throughout Kerala barring a few exceptions. Kottaram is the word used for all palaces. However, Kovilakom is the name used to denote palaces housing royals not in line for enthronement. The males of Kovilakom were called ‘Ko(v)yil Thampurans’.

Brahmins' Rule

The Pathillam system of rule of Graamams (village-agglomerate) by a group of ten Brahmin families, widely prevalent in Kerala had a temple at its core. Pathillam alludes to 10 shares (Detailed meaning given below). The temple deity was the titular owner of the Graamam. The income from the temple  was divided by ten and shared by the families of the Brahmin rulers. In certain cases, the number of illams was more than ten in which case some illams got less than what others got (e.g. Kaviyoor graamam). Each Graamam comprised a number of Deshams (sub-areas), the borders of which were decided by the Brahmins. It was a brilliant proxy rule which was stopped gradually by the British in 18th and 19th centuries. In the name of the deities of temples, the shrewd Brahmins amassed wealth. Questioning them was punishable for they were the bhoosuras (ഭൂസുരന്മാര്‍, divine beings of the Earth). Scriptures (Puranas) had already been manipulated instructing others to worship them. Locally, they were called Pathillathu Nampoothiris/Pottimaar (പത്തില്ലത്തു പോറ്റിമാര്‍). Pathu/പത്ത് = 10; Illam is the Malayalam word for homes of lesser Brahmins. Potti refers to an immigrant Tulu Brahmin and it means ’provider’ or ‘lord’.

There could also have been a 2-tier system in Changanassery with the king at the top and Brahmins at the Graamam/Desham level, which obviated the need of Karanavars in many places. Since Changanassery was a pprovince of Thiruvalla Grāmam, part of the income might have gone to the Thiruvalla Brahmins. The powers of the Changanassery Brahmins were confined to the Mahādéva temple, Vazhappally and its properties. They did not have the right to administer Changanassery, mainly because it was a province of Thiruvalla Graamam.

Changanassery has also links with the legend involving Parashurama, a Hindu god. It is still believed by many that Parashurama, a Vishnu incarnate, brought Brahmins from Karnataka in the north to Kerala and established 32 Brahmin Graamams (ബ്രാഹ്മണഗ്രാമം). This alludes to the migration of Brahmins at the invitation of King Cheraman Perumal, the last King of the first Chera dynasty of Kerala or other kings in the 7th/8th/9th century C.E. As in the case of many other theories, this too is not devoid of controversy. There were another 32 Graamams too, but they were in south Karnataka. The Brahmin Graamams nearest to Changanassery were Kidangoor, Kaviyoor and Thiruvalla. The Thekkumkoor kings freed it from Thiruvalla, but how and when this happened is not documented. Later, Thiruvalla and beyond also fell under the Thekkumkoor king, as mentioned earlier. All this happened circa 12th-13th centuries. Still, the kings made sure that the local Brahmins were not displeased; except for collecting taxes, the kings never interfered with the temple administration.
Out of the ten Pathillathu Nampoothiris of Changanassery, names of nine illams (homes of leser Brahmins) are available:

Changazhimattam, Kainikkara, Eravimangalam, Kunnithidasserry, Athrasserry, Kolencherry, Kizhangazhuthu, Kannancherry and Thalavana.

These rich local Pathillathu Brahmins controlled or dominated the political scene south of Kottayam, covering a huge area under Vazhappally temple (as per the temple-centric administration described above). The Changazhimattam Potti was the most powerful of them. The Vazhappally Cheppedu of the Venad king (വാഴപ്പള്ളി ചെപ്പേട്) was found from Thalavana Illam. As their power waned, two new groups of Brahmins appeared on the arena – from Perunna and Umbizhi (the area that extended from Vadakkekara to almost Fathimapuram). They also lasted barely 150 years. All the Brahmin families had become financially weak by 1850 or 1875 C.E because of the administrative reforms introduced by the British, the new masters. Bereft of power and modern education, the Brahmins kept a low profile thereafter, confining their activity to being priests of temples; mostly as employees. Changanassery started witnessing the rise of educated youngsters from all the communities. The social edifice was to see major changes in 20th century.

History of Suburbs 

Thenganaal (തെങ്ങനാല്‍)

Thenganaal, 5 km east of the town and now part of Madappally panchayat, was the busiest business centre, though Vazhappally remained the main place of worship and 'capital of the Desham' till about 15th century because of the Siva temple. The ancient road connecting Trivandrum and Kottayam passed through Thiruvalla-Nalukodi-Thenganaal.

This route is mentioned in Unnuneeli Sandesham (ഉണ്ണുനീലിസന്ദേശം), written by an unknown poet suspected to be a member of the Vadakkumkoor royal family in 14th century C.E. It is an anthological work, which is in the form of a travel guide in Malayalam script using profusely a mix of Malayalam and Sanskrit. Through the poem, the poet gives instructions to Aditya Varma, the young brother of king of Venad for delivering a message from the poet to his wife/lover in Vadama(a)thira, വടമതിര/വടമാതിര, identified as Kaduthuruthy (കടുത്തുരുത്തി), north of Kottayam. Kaduthuruthy served as the capital of the Vadakkumkoor kingdom for some time. The entire route described by the poet was traced by journalists from Malayala Manorama, a local daily, a few years ago. Nothing but part of a pond mentioned in the book survives now in Kaduthuruthy.

[The tsunami theory of C.E. 1341 may be wrong, as far as southern Kerala is concerned. The retreat of sea might have been at least a millennium earlier].

Thenganaal was a distribution centre for sending merchandise to the northern, southern, eastern and western regions. Goods for Kuttanadu and foreign countries were first moved to the quay in Changanassery for further transportation by country boats. The quay was later developed in to a large jetty by the Thekkumkoor and Travancore kings. Thenganaal thus lost its importance.

Vazhappally (വാഴപ്പള്ളി)
‘Vazhappally’ might have been the area now known as Changanassery because of the ancient settlements there. The word ‘Changanassery’ might have been confined to the boat jetty.

Vazhappally is famous for its Mahadeva temple, managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board. Now Ganapathy, the sub-deity of the temple seems to have acquired more reputation than the main deity. It was likely that the temple was originally a Buddha shrine, like the Mahadeva temples at Vaikom and Trichur. All the ruling Brahmins who once owned the temple and its properties used to stay here – one reason why it was not a trade centre. The Brahmins never allowed traders, who obviously belonged to lower castes or other religions, to stay anywhere near their illams. Thus, what is now Vazhappally was neither a ‘business centre’ nor a ‘busy city’ as claimed by some writers. There are two ponds, both dirty – one each on the east and west of the temple.

Another Devaswom Board-managed small temple dedicated to Sri Krishna exists near the western pond.

Chakkulathu Kavu, (more correctly Chakkalathu Kavu, ചക്കളത്തുകാവ്, as it was originally called because a chakku – coconut oil extractor – was run there), about 100m west of the Mahadeva temple, was the fane of a tribal goddess worshipped by the original settlers of the area. The shrine was subsequently absorbed in to Hinduism. According to a legend, Pappadathu (പാപ്പാടത്ത്) Panicker and his preceptor Kannimattathu Kurup, two locals, established the temple after a visit to Kalkulam Devi temple in southern Travancore (now in Tamilnadu). This is believed to be in the Malayāļam month of Idavam, in 522 M.E. (May-June 1378 C.E). The original idol was initially worshipped at the home of Kurup. It was later shifted to the present location on Kumbham 5, 772 M.E. (Feb-Mar 1598 C.E). It is not known if here is any proof to corroborate these claims. An entry in the Changazhimattam family’s chronicles (granthavari, ഗ്രന്ഥവരി) says the idol, which was damaged when a tree fell over the shrine, was reinstalled by Narayanaru Narayanaru of the family on Idavam 28, 1001, M.E (May-Jun 1826, C.E).

The deity is now worshipped as Bhadrakali. The temple’s name has been wrongly changed to ‘Kalkulathu’ Kavu (കല്‍ക്കുളത്തുകാവ്) citing the legend. The shrine is famous for the Mudiyettu (mudi=crown) ceremony held every 12 years. It is also said that the large pond built with laterite (chenkallu, ചെങ്കല്ല്) near which the temple was built was called was called Kalkkulam (pond built of laterite).  The plantain for the ritual is brought from Valady, a nearby panchayat. The reason for bringing the plantain from Valady is not known. The idol of Hanūmān worshipped by Panicker is kept in another shrine near the Kavu. The procession from the shrine used to visit the Changazhimattam illam when the Potti of the illam was the most powerful Brahmin of the area. (All the Kavus of Kerala used to be worship centres maintained inside clumps).

‘Kottayam Kovilakom’ was a small residence built in Vazhappally East for the royals of the Kottayam royals from Malabar late in the 18th century. They had come with their family deity -  Porkali Bhagavathi which was installed in a small shrine. The shrine was originally called Porkulangara which later became Morkulangara. The name must have been Mokulangara (മോക്കുളങ്ങര. Mo' also means 'draw water' in ancient Dravidian language; probably the word referred to a pond from which water was drawn by the locals). During his visits, Velu Thampi Dalava had stayed in the Kovilakam on a few occasions. Perhaps, it must have been vacated by the royals in the early 1800’s. (The Dalava had committed suicide in 1809, aged 44). The Kovilakom does not exist now.

Vazhappally has an old Catholic church and a girl’s high school run by the Catholic Archdiocese.


Shiva Temple, Chithrakulam
The Thekkumkoor kings stayed close to the Changanassery market. The palace was adjacent to the temple of the dynasty’s tutelary goddess – Kavil Bhagavathy (Bhadrakali). The temple additionally houses Durga (Parvathi, as warrior goddess), another tutelar deity of the ruling family. The temple is also called Sri Chakra Rajanilayam. One of the kings had built a fort around the palace, starting from an area near the pond Chithrakulam. The king might have built the fort in the 14th or 15th century on the ruins of an old fort – a mud wall - built by the ancient Nantuzhainadu kings before C.E. 1150. Their fort was quite long - from Thrikodithanam to Kidangara. In Pizhavathil, the area outside the fort was called Kottapuram and the area inside was called Kottakuzhi because of the moat that had been dug to protect the palace and surrounding areas. The southern part of the land of the Metropolitan Church was inside Kottappuram.

         The old Thanni tree -താന്നി (also known as അടമരുത് , Adamaruthu, Common name: Bedda Nut Tree, 
                                              (Terminalia Bellerica) at Chitrakulam

The fort near the Chithrakulam pond might have been where convicts paid their penalties (പിഴ). The door (വാതില്‍) leading to the place might have been called ‘Pizhavathil’. This version of guess by elders may be correct.

The Anandapuram temple near Lakshmipuram palace could have been a Buddhist shrine, according to Kerala Mahacharithram.

The offices (the equivalent of a modern Secretariat) of the royalty were near the Kavil temple. The small building outside the Kavil temple was from where the Thekkumkoor kings watched all the festivals. The place was therefore called Thiruvathilkal (തിരുവാതില്‍ക്കല്‍). It is logical to conclude this part of Changanassery was not called Pizhavathil. The word ‘Pizhavathil’ was applied only to the Chithrakulam area and it was only years later that the area beyond it too acquired the same name.

Mandapam, during the rule of the Travancore kings, was the name for the revenue office. The locality near the palace and mosque thus came to be known as Mandapathum-Vathil. This name was not obviously in use during the reign Thekkumkoor kings.

Perunna and Umbizhi (പെരുന്ന, ഉമ്പിഴി )

Perunna, another suburb, was originally called Perunneythal (പെരുന്നെയ് തല്‍). It is also referred to as Perunnainalloor (പെരുന്നെയ് നല്ലൂര്‍) in the 10th century stone inscriptions of Bhaskara Ravi Varma of Venad at the temple in Thrikkodithanam, the capital of Nantuzhainadu, confirming the fact that Changanassery was under Nantuzhainadu. The name appearing in the inscription may be a corrupt form of Perunneythalloor (പെരുന്നെയ്തല്ലൂര്‍).

The Arabian Sea might have been only a few km away west of the M.C. Road before it retreated to create the low-lying areas of Kuttanadu in 14th century. Neythal in Malayalam means fen.

Brahmins of Perunna and Umbizhi (ഉമ്പിഴി or ഉമ്പഴി; etymology not traceable), became very weak due to frequent infighting for taking control of the Perunna Subrahmania Swami temple and were, it is to be surmised, gradually phased out by the kings who are thought to have allowed another set of Brahmins  like the Kumaramangalam Nampoothirippad to rise in to prominence. The descendants of the new set of Brahmins still live in Perunna. Nothing is left of Umbizhi, except a place by name Umbizhi Chira (ഉമ്പിഴിച്ചിറ), about a km north of the railway station, and 'Pattathi Mukku' (പട്ടത്തിമുക്ക്), a road junction south of the railway station, was where, perhaps, the last of the Tamil Brahmins were staying. The lone elderly woman (Pattathi, പട്ടത്തി) who stayed near the junction was responsible for giving that area the name Pattathi Mukku.

[Another conjecture is that the place was called Pattam (പട്ടം). In ancient Malayalam 'Pattam' means reservoir/pond. The low-lying areas probably used by old settlers as rice field near the junction suggest this could be the correct name. There could have been one or more reservoirs/ponds for irrigation in this area. Thus, the actual name could be Pattathu Mukku (പട്ടത്തുമുക്ക്)].

Umbizhi extended from Vadakkekkara, east of Vazhappally to Pattathi Mukku/Fathimapuram, north/north-east of Perunna. The Tamil Brahmins always stayed close to temples and Brahmin homes. Poothottam, about hundred meters east of the Subrahmania Temple, in Perunna, was another place where a few Tamil Brahmins settled, but this too does not exist now.

The Umbizhi Brahmins had always wanted to take control of Perunna and the Subrahmania temple which was thwarted by the Brahmins of Perunna. Leaders of the Brahmins of Perunna belonged to Ezhanthi illam (ഏഴാന്തി ഇല്ലം). It is also referred to as Vezhanthi illam. The Umbizhi Brahmins were notorious for performing malicious rituals [thanthras called Aabhichaara Karmamആഭിചാരകര്‍മ്മം ) not befitting pious Brahmins. The Ezhanthi Brahmins could be Bhattathiris, not Bhattathirippads.

In the caste hierarchy among Brahmins, Bhattathirippad/Nampoothirippad is two rungs above Bhattathiri/Namboothiri. Bhattathirippad’s/Nampoothirippad’s residence is called Mana (മന), not illam.

It is said by elders that Umbizhi Brahmins ‘created’ a demoness (കൃത്യKruthya or Maranam, മാരണം) for destroying Brahmins of Perunna. Bhattathiri believed that the first victim of the demoness was Chaathavattam Warrier employed by him as property administrator (കാര്യസ്ഥ). Warrier was found dead. The demoness was eventually ‘tamed and sanitized’ and a small shrine was constructed for her (Maaranathu Kavu, മാരണത്തുകാവു്) in the Ezhanthi (Vezhanthi?) Illam compound. Māranam in Malayalam means sorcery or a devilish female entity. It was decided by Brahmins of Perunna that they should not perform poojas here so as to prevent the demoness from becoming ‘more powerful’! The 'bad' job of performing poojas for the evil deity was thus entrusted to Nairs. This was continued for a long time by N.S.S too which owns and manages the shrine, but now Brahmins have been roped in for all daily rituals. Edamana Illam, Perunna was another rich family of Brahmins in Perunna. They continue to stay in Perunna. A lot of data on local history was collected from the palm leaves obtained from this illam by noted historian Thiruvalla P. Unnikrishnan Nair and his research paper was published by M.G. University, Kottayam (Thiruvalla Granthavari). Warrier’s residence, or waaryam (വാര്യം) and his private temple were behind the N.S.S Medical Mission Hospital, Perunna. The property is now owned by N.S.S. His family deity along with a small piece of land was taken over by N.S.S much earlier. The shrine is called Chaathavattam (ചാത്തവട്ടം, slang for ശാസ്തവട്ടം, Shasthavattam) temple. Two prominent deities here are Sri Krishna and Shastha; for reasons unknown, Sri Krishna became the chief deity and the temple is now known as Thrikkannapuram. It is said that the temple was built circa 1625 C.E. by Kothavarma Veerakerala Perumal, king of Thekkumkoor .

(Another version of the story says the fight was between Umbizhi Brahmins and Kumaramangalam Namputhirippads. The leader of the Umbizhi pack in this version was Ezhanthi Bhattathiri who conducted a ritual -homa- and desptched Bhadrakali to kill Kumaranamangal Namputhirippad whose assistant committed suicide to propitiate the goddess. Immensely pleased, the goddess agreed to Namuthirippad’s request to exterminate the Umbizhi brahmins. The Namputhirippad gratefully harnessed her at the very place where the ritual was conducted. It is where the Maaranathu Kavu was built. Legends like this point to the intra-brahmin rivalry to seek control of temples).

N.S.S. acquires Ezhanthi Illam

The property (about 19 acres) of the Ezhanthi Bhattathiris was acquired by the Kumaramangalam Nampoothirippads. The Bhattathiris might have sold it to them; or, under the custom of escheat implemented by the Brahmins throughout Kerala, they became owners after the Bhattathiris died without legal heirs. The Nampoothirippads sold it subsequently to others. Eventually the Nair Service Society (N.S.S., Est. 1914) brought over 5 acres for their use.

The following institutions can be seen in what was once the compound of the illam: 
  1. N.S.S. High School with Maranathu Kavu temple behind it: This was purchased by the local N.S.S. Karayogam in 1910 from the Nampoothirippads and later transferred to N.S.S.
  2. N.S.S. Head Office:  This plot was first purchased by the Travancore government. They demolished the illam and built a rest house. When N.S.S. purchased it from the government, they used the rest house building as a temporary office, shifting the functions from their Head Office at Karukachal, 12 km east of the town. Afterwards, they built a new office complex, demolishing the rest house building.  Thus, the N.S.S. Head Office stands where the Ezhanthi illam had stood once.
  3. N.S.S. Hindu College: This is the northern part of the illam’s property. It was sold to the public by the Nampoothirippads. N.S.S. bought it in the 1940’s. The college was opened in 1947. The evictees of the land managed to get decent governmental and private jobs, which had to be arranged by the management of N.S.S in the bargain. (An unfortunate fallout of the establishment of a college in Perunna was the overt miff of the Catholic Archdiocese of Changanassery. The latter had started the St. Berchmans’ College in 1922. They vehemently objected to the grant of a licence for the new college, fearing another college in a small town would jeopardize the viability of St. Berchcmans’ College. Despite this N.S.S. went ahead with its project and the foundation stone was laid in 1947. Mercifully, the friction did not last long. These events are narrated in the autobiography of Mannath Padmanabhan, founder of the N.S.S. The diocese then decided to start a separate college for women, the Assumption College, in 1950 – a probable offshoot of the ‘cold war’).

Sadly, nobody remembers the Ezhanthi Bhattathiris

Vedikkunnu (വെടിക്കുന്ന്)
The mound on which the S.B. College was built was called Vedikkunnu. It might have been connected with artillery training or arsenal used by the Thekkumkoor kings. The mound was acquired by the Archdiocese of Changanassery and a building was built to house the S.B. High School. The church authorities, however, decided to use it for the S.B. college which was being run at Parel. The old block (central building) thus became one of the landmarks in the educational history of Kerala. The other blocks and hostels of the college were added later.

Irumpanakunnu (ഇരുമ്പനക്കുന്ന്)

The Arch Bishop’s house is situated on this hillock. The name must have derived from the fishtail palms (ഇരുമ്പന/ഇരിമ്പന) that grew there once upon a time. The palm is also called Eerampana (ഈറമ്പന).

Pandibhagom (പാണ്ടിഭാഗം)

The early Muslim traders were predominantly Tamilians. Their settlement, called Pandibhagom was near Pizhavathil.

Vilakkili Pottis vs Thekkumkoor kings

As mentioned elsewhere, the Changanassery desham was the northern province of Thiruvalla Brahmin Grāmam.

The Changanassery desham’s northern border was Kannamperoor chira (കണ്ണമ്പേരൂര്‍ ചിറ). The canal south of Perunna was the desham’s southern border. The locality south of the bridge was called Laaka-kadu’ (ളാകക്കാട്). The word ‘Laaka’ (ളാക) means border in old Malayalam. It was the thickets and dense wood in the area that gave the locality the name ‘Laaka-kadu’ (ളാകക്കാട്). The bridge over the canal was called ‘Laaka-paalam’ (ളാകപ്പാലം) which became ‘Laa-paalam’ (ളാപ്പാലം) over a period of time. The area, now known as Laay-kadu (ളായ്ക്കാട്) should have been called Laaka-kadu (ളാകക്കാട്). Although the Thekkumkoor kings regarded Thiruvalla as their territory and never approved the authority of the Vilakkili Potti, the head of the Thiruvalla Brahmins, the latter never agreed with this claim. Further south in Chengannur, another Brahmin – the Vanjippuzha Thampuran (വഞ്ഞിപ്പുഴ തമ്പുരാന്‍– had also defied the authority of the Thekkumkoor kings.

However, till about 1600 C.E, it was Vilakkili Potti who dominated the Brahmins of Vazhappally. The main poojas (rituals) of Vazhappally Temple were conducted by the eldest male member of Vilakkili Pottis. The visits of Vilakkili Pottis to the Mahādéva temple of Vazhappalli during C.E. 15th century are listed in the ‘Thiruvalla Granthavari', by Thiruvalla P. Unnikrishnan Nair.

The Malayala Brahmin families now found in Changanassery did not have any role in the politics of olden days.

Venad’s Capture of Thekkumkoor

It is believed that originally the Changazhimattam Pottis were vassals of the Vilakkilis and that they changed their loyalty to the king of Thekkumkoor. In 1750, with the aim of establishing Thiruvithāmkoor (Travancore), Anizham Thirunaal Mārthānda Varma (1706-1758; reign 1729–1758), King of Venad, marched northward to conquer the small kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha.

The Venad King had with him a brilliant administrator (Dalava/Dewan) called Rama Iyer (also called Ramayyan). A Brahmin of Tamil origin hailing from Attingal, near Thiruvananthapuram, he was a shrewd military general too and was the real creator of Travancore. The relationship between the kings of Ambalapuzha and Thekkumkoor was close and cordial. After defeating Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha, Ramayyan took over Thiruvalla where the Vilakkili Pottis did not offer any resistance. His next target was Thekkumkoor. The king being a close ally of Ambalapuzha, Ramayyan expected some sort of reprisal from him. Besides, only Thekkumkoor had an army larger and stronger than the other kingdoms Ramayyan had conquered.

Murder of Thekkumkoor Prince

The reason for the sudden attack on Thekkumkoor was the fratricide committed by the Thekkumkoor king, according to P. Sankunni Menon, historian. For the time being let us accept the generally held view that the name of the last king of Thekkumkoor was Aditya Varma Manikandan. The Thekkumkoor king was advised by his younger brother (name not known, but could be Manikantan Kotha Varma, who is mentioned as a Kovil Adhikari in a document of 1747 C.E. Obtained from Ettumanoor, this document was examined by historian M.G. Sasibhoosan) that the country did not have the wherewithal to resist the expansionist plans of Venad. The king, however, did not agree with his brother. He was, perhaps, influenced by the fact that both Mārthānda Varma and Ramayyan had earlier personally tasted defeat at the hands of Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha more than once. But in 1750, Venad had better options, including a more disciplined army trained by de Lanoy, the Dutch captain.

The younger brother or Ilaya Raja (ഇളയരാജ) decided to have a diplomatic way out. He reached Thiruvananthapuram and met Mārthānda Varma. The king agreed to grant Thekkumkoor autonomy, under the overall control of Venad. The Thekkumkoor king was furious that his brother had gone to his enemy. He conceived a plan to kill him. A messenger was sent to Thiruvananthapuram carrying a letter purportedly written by his ‘sick’ mother. The prince had told the Venad king that this was a ploy to eliminate him but the Venad king persuaded him to go to Changanassery to see his mother, sending with him some gifts for Aditya Varma Manikandan. As the young prince reached Kotayam, he was murdered by royal guards, under instructions from the elder brother. They informed the public that the prince had died of snake-bite. Mrs. Maya Varma Idathil, a princess of Thekkumkoor family and a descendant of the Ilaya Raja informs that he was actually murdered by Meenachil Kartha, a baron loyal to the Thekkumkoor kings. The murder definitely provoked Mārthānda Varma to seize Thekkumkoor. Orders were issued to Ramayyan and de Lanoy to capture the king of Thekkumkoor.

When the heirs of the Thekkumkoor family later settled at Nedumkunnam, Changanassery, they built a pagoda-like structure to honour and worship their ancestors, and an idol representing the slain
The Commemorative Structure of Thekkumkoor Royals at Nedunkunnam
prince was also installed there. However, deeper research by Mrs. Maya Susheel has revealed that the idol is not of the hapless prince, but a tribal or traditional family deity.

The Travancore army led by Ramayyan and de Lanoy reached Aranmula in 1750 where Aditya Varma was camping. Menon says the king had arranged some Telugu (might be Tulu) Brahmins to block the army’s way because he thought the army would not dare to manhandle them. But Ramayyan used de Lanoy and some Christian and Muslim soldiers to deal with the Brahmins upon which they retreated. The fracas had given the king enough time to escape to Kottayam. Ramayyan decided to go to Changanassery first and then to Kottayam.

Although not relevant to this article, it must be noted that the houses where the Thekkukmkoor kings stayed while visiting various places for administrative reasons were named Idathil as per the family’s convention. In Aranmula too a plot and with an old house bearing the name Idathil existed. After Aditya Varma was deposed in 1750 C.E., much of his assets were either taken over by the Travancore rulers or sold to others by the descendants of Varma. The Idathil house (or palace, though it is a small structure) was also lost to others. It was built by the Thekkumkoor kings and modified by subsequent owners that included the descendants of the murdered prince Manikantan Kotha Varma. The name of the property was changed from Idathil to Vazhvelil, if a version of the story is to be believed, by the Kotha Varma’s lineage. The property is now owned by the famous poetess Sugatha Kumari. We do not know whether the original house was demolished by her forefathers and a new one built in its place. The house appears to be over 200 years old. (Locals I had met had averred that Vazhvelil was the name used by the kings for the temporary residences that they had used during their journeys. They believe that the house at Aranmula was always known as Vazhvelil; nobody had changed the name and that it was here that Aditya Varma had camped when Ramayyan and his army moved to capture him).

At the time of the last king of Thekkumkoor, parts of Changanassery i.e., Vazhappally South (the market area of the modern town) and Puzhavathu (originally called Pizhavathil, Mal: പിഴവാത്/പിഴവാതില്‍), but excluding Perunna and Umbizhi were mostly owned by the Potti family of Changazhimattam (ചങ്ങഴിമറ്റം). Known as Changazhimattam Potti, the eldest male member of the family, he was a close friend of Adithya Varma Manikandan.

Changazhimattam Potti & Betrayal by Thekkumkoor's General

Changazhimattam Potti got wind of Ramayyan’s move. He asked the king of Thekkumkoor, who was in his palace in Kottayam, to ready his army for a battle. It was the peak of monsoon and the torrential downpour, Potti had thought, could dampen the spirits of the Venad army. He then asked his men to deliver what he thought to be a strategic master stroke. He ordered his men to destroy the Kannanperoor bridge at Palakathara (പാലകത്തറ, literally settlement of people near a bridge; mispronounced now as Paalaathra, പാലാത്ര) that connected Changanassery with Thuruthy area in the north. The wooden bridge was longer than it is today. Potti had thought that Ramayyan's army would not move northward to Kottayam in the inclement weather. Little did he know that he would pay a heavy price later.

By then, Ramayyan, the best military chief Kerala had ever seen, had won over Vaazhappaadathu Panicker (വാഴപ്പാടത്തു പണിക്കര്‍), the chief of Thekkumkoor's army. He belonged to Perunna and meekly allowed himself to be manipulated by Ramayyan for the favours the former had offered. (Seven years later Mir Jafar played a similar in the battle of Plassey, siding with Robert Clive against the Nawab of Bengal). The plans of Potti were leaked to Ramayyan. Though the bridge was destroyed, the invaders crossed to Thuruthy and reached Kottayam without any resistance, courtesy Panicker. Aditya Varma fled to Kozhikode, where the local king Samoothiri (Zamorin of Calicut) provided refuge. The action was all over on September 11, 1750 (M.E. Chingam 28, 925).

The king of Venad showered gifts on Panicker, giving him among other things, a huge area of paddy field in Poovam, Perunna. There is no specific reference made to Panicker by historians in the apocalypse of Thekkumkoor. However, it is evident that Aditya Varma was betrayed by his army and Panicker was the one at the top.

Extermination of Changazhimattam Family

Mārthānda Varma was livid when he learnt of Potti's deeds. He ordered Ramayyan to destroy the illam and confiscate all his assets. The king was particular that the destruction of the illam and its inmates should be such that no traces of them should exist. Some believe the order was issued on the advice of Ramayyan whose penchant for cruelty is legendary. Each and every member of the family - male or female, young or old - was put to sword. The illam was razed to the ground. Fearing the king's wrath, even the locals stopped talking about Changazhimattam Pottis. The family faded away into oblivion. The illam with huge walls on all the four sides is said to have had a large compound extending up to what is now Mathumoola. A part of the corner of the wall (മതില്‍) survived for a few years and the place came to be called Mathil Moola, (മതില്‍ മൂല). Now it is known as Mathumoola (മതുമൂല); some foolishly call it Madhumoola (മധുമൂല). There was, however, some confusion as to whether the ‘mathil’ actually belonged to the Changazhimattam property. Some feel that it might have belonged to the illam of one of the Brahmins belonging to the Changazhimattam camp who had fled the village fearing similar fate. This may be true because the Changazhimattam illam was nearly 1 km away from the Mathil Moola junction.

While destroying the houses of 'undesirable' families, kings of Kerala made sure that a large pond was dug up overnight where their houses stood. This practice led to the birth of the Malayalam phrase 'Kulam koruka' (കുളം കോരുക), meaning extermination without trace. At Changazhimattam Illam, this was not done since Mārthānda Varma’s government took over the land. Potti’s assets were appropriated among other Brahmins who Ramayyan felt were on his side.

The Changazhimattam Brahmins, a family of Tulu Pottis, are believed to have come from another graamam – Kumaranalloor. But there are a few who believe that the illam branched out to Kumaranalloor which may be correct. Those who survived Ramayyan’s massacre might also have settled in other places. Kumaranallloor Brahmin graamam extended from Thuruthy to Kottayam and further up to Kumaranalloor. The Thekkumkoor kings had sidelined them too because Kottayam was one of their capitals. The Changazhimattam family had many branches in Kottayam and Idukki districts, many of which have disappeared, presumably due to further migration or absence of male heirs.

The Pottis might have been Vaishnavites. The Changazhimattam illam was on the south-west of the Mahādéva temple, Vazhappally. Only 1½ cents of the illam’s property remains now. There is no trace of the illam. The private shrine of the Pottis which might have been within the illam’s compound is preserved there. It houses the idol of Durga. The caretaker of the shrine is a local Nair family.  The remaining land of the illam is occupied by others who do not have any clue as to what had happened in C.E. 1750; nor do they know that their houses are built on where a number of people were massacred. Since the Changazhimattam Pottis were the most prominent of the Brahmins, they had the upper role - koyma, in Malayalam – in running the Mahādéva temple and its properties. It is likely that all other Brahmins were also Tulu Brahmins. All of them left Vazhappally after the massacre. It may be incorrect to say that the Changazhimattam family was murdered en masse in 1750 C.E. Please see the 'entry of 1826 C.E.' from the family’s granthavari mentioned under ‘Vazhappally’ earlier. It means that even after the capture of Thekkumkoor in 1750 C.E. the family did live in Vazhappally. They might have left the place towards the end of the 19th century or at the beginning of the 20th century.

Panicker and his descendants, inept as they were in handling their newly acquired wealth, gradually fell in to penury. A branch of the family is said to exist in Perunna (west of Perunna Subrahmania temple).

The Thekkumkoor king eventually came back three (?) months after he had fled to Kozhikode on being promised by Mārthānda Varma that he would be treated honorably. He settled in Nattasseri (നട്ടാശ്ശേരി), the home of his dynasty. Incidentally, his family name ‘Idathil’ was used as suffix to various places. For instanceChanganassery was referred to as Changanassery Idathil in documents. Pizhavathu was Pizhavathil Idathil.

The Kings of Thekkumkoor and the Vilakkili Potti of Thiruvalla always had strained relations for obvious reasons and this had permeated the minds of their subjects as well. Citizens, especially Hindus, of Thekkumkoor even avoided marital alliance with people from Thiruvalla Graaamam. Till a few years ago, a phrase advocating not to marry girls (why only girls?) south of Laa-palam was used by people in various areas of Thekkumkoor ('ളാപ്പാലത്തിനു തെക്കു നിന്നു പെണ്ണു വേണ്ട').

In addition to Vazhappadathu Panicker, many Nair landlords of the kingdoms seized by Varma had sided with Ramayyan. Sometime later, the king of Ambalapuzha, who was held as a prisoner in Kudamaloor, near Kottayam, escaped to Calicut. There he met with the other defeated kings of Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor and all of them decided to launch one final assault on Venad, with the help of the king of Kochi, to recapture their thrones but were driven off, thanks to a tip off to Venad by the Dutch governor at Kochi. The king of Kochi had confided in the governor his plans, thinking the latter would, as always, lend his support, but the Dutch were desperately trying to reestablish themselves after the loss at Kulachal to Venad on August 10,1741 and chose to win the favour of Travancore for enlarging the business of the Dutch.

There were many landlords and common people who rebelled against Mārthānda Varma. The movement, grew in strength by 1754 and had spread to become a civil strife in Ambalapuzha, Changanassery, Kottayam, Ettumanoor and in all the northern parts of the new kingdom christened Thiruvithamkoor (Travancore). When Ramayyan and even the king himself failed to suppress the rebellion, the latter sent a letter to Hyder Ali, then the faujidar (commander) of the Mysore army at Dindigul, Tamilnadu. Notorious for his atrocities, Hyder Ali readied an army. The thought of being brutally assaulted by Hyder Ali’s barbaric soldiers sent shivers down the spines of the leaders of the movement. The rebellion died down on its own. Meanwhile, Hyder Ali sent a message to the Venad king asking when should he move in. The king politely replied that the army was not any longer required because peace had returned to his kingdom. Sankunni Menon indirectly concedes that this, probably, was the only act of military indiscretion of Mārthānda Varma. The reply must have upset and antagonized Hyder Ali. Menon says ‘the seeds of enmity between Hyder Ali and Kerala kings were thus sown’. Hyder Ali, who became the Sultan of Mysore in 1768, and his son Tipu would later attack Kerala from the north.

In 1756, the Zamorin of Calicut sent his navy to attack Travancore. At Purakkad, they were trounced by Ramayyan’s army and navy. The Zamorin was in the process of another wave of attack when threats from Mysore forced him to focus on the northern border.

The Shrine of Changazhimattam

In 1757, the king of Kochi was forced to apologize to the Venad king, by signing a treaty at Mavelikkara as per which he had to surrender some provinces of his kingdom to Travancore and give an undertaking that he would never throw his lots with the vanquished kings of Kayamkulam, Ambalapuzha, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor. Destined to be sandwiched between local rulers and/or foreign forces, the kings of Kochi were always at the receiving end. The comeuppance was largely due to the crude teams of ministers and generals - especially the Paliyath Achans - that they had to work with for generations. Travancore had grown bigger now, from Kanyakumari to river Periyar. Later it was extended to north of Ankamali by Karthika Thirunal who succeeded Mārthānda   Varma.

King of Thekkumkoor - Secular Outlook

The last king of Thekkumkoor was the most revered and efficient ruler that Kerala had seen. His secular outlook, far-sightedness, intense wish to serve his subjects etc. are not matched by any king of Kerala. It was he who asked Changazhimattam Potti to donate land for churches and mosques. He also started the Muslim festival of ‘Chandanakkudam’ and ensured the business community received full protection and encouragement, irrespective of their caste or religion. He developed Changanassery as the main commercial centre of his kingdom with the help of the Christian and Muslim merchants. Maliaekkal, a Christian family, in particular, was close to the king. The head of this family was a confidante of the king as well as his advisor. The credit for developing Changanassery further goes to the kings of Travancore. The key to growth thereafter was the construction of the Main Central Road (M.C. Road) that runs through the town.

Ashes of Ettuveettil Pillais

At Vettady shrine, in Pizhavathil, Mārthānda Varma had arranged to keep the ashes of Ettuveettil Pillais, his fierce rivals and supporters of his uncle’s children who were clamouring for the throne.  They were slaughtered in or around Thiruvananthapuram by Varma.  Before their ashes were sent to Pizhavathil, the king had promised to take ‘their souls’ back to Thiruvananthapuram during his subsequent visit to Changanassery. The king later took a vow not to step on the soil of the town fearing he would be forced to take the ashes and the ‘souls’ back to Thiruvananthapuram. The kings succeeding him stuck to this vow strictly and during their visits, which were rare, they used carpets to walk on to avoid contact with the land's soil. However, this vow was broken when, around 2000 C.E, the head of erstwhile ruling family of Travancore visited N.S.S Headquarters at Changanassery for attending a function. A more reliable version says that Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the Raja Pramukh (the ceremonial head of state) of the combined Travancore-Cochin state (est. 1948) had visited St. Berchman’s College in 1952 for inaugurating a science exhibition. Whether he used carpets to walk on is not mentioned anywhere.

The goddess of Vettady is the patron of the Kuttandan ricefield that fell within Thekkumkoor. The Kumaramangalam Namputhirippads own the temple. However, the presence of the idol of Vettakarumakan raises a doubt – Was this another family temple of the Thekkumkoor kings?

Ramayyan died a peaceful death in 1756 at Trivandrum. While on deathbed, the king (Mārthānda Varma) offered to fulfill every wish of him.  Ramayyan politely replied: "I want nothing, your Majesty; my only regret is that I couldn't seize Kochi and add it to Travancore!". Two years later, Mārthānda Varma also died. Ramayyan’s live-in partner was a Nair woman of Mavelikkara, according to Sankunni Menon. Nothing is known about the family. There is an anecdote of Ramayyan approaching the king after retirement to get his son employed (Aithihyamala by Kottarathil Sankunni). This does not seem correct since Ramayyan died while he was in active service.

Descendants of Thekkumkoor Kings

I have been fortunate to be in touch with Mrs. Maya Varma Idathil after she commented on the earlier version of this article. This revision is based on lengthy discussions with her. Mrs. Maya is presumed to be a 9th generation descendant of the Ilaya Raja who was murdered in 1750. The princess has informed that a few families of the Thekkumkoor royalty still reside in Changanassery. Others including Prof. Soma Varma Raja, the eldest member of the family, stay around Kottayam. They will be covered in another article.

Temples, Churches and Mosques

Only major worship centres are discussed here.

The Mahādéva Temple, Vazhappally

As mentioned earlier, Vazhappally might have been a Buddhist vihara during the early days of the first millennium. The Mahādéva temple might have been built over a shrine the Buddhists had used. It might have been a Jain temple earlier. The oldest epigraph available in Kerala (830 C.E) was retrieved from Thalamana illam, Vazhappally. It speaks of a grant by Kulasekhara Ravi Varman, the Venad king of Chera dynasty, inscribed on a copper plate (cheppedu, ചെപ്പേട്, a corrupt word for chempedu, ചെമ്പേട്. Edu/ഏട്=sheet/page) . The currency mentioned therein is Dinar which is believed to have been introduced in Kerala by foreign merchants or by the immigrant Brahmins from north India. The temple, which was a small structure, was developed in to its present form by the kings of Travancore. Of the Pathillam Brahmins only one remains now. The rest had fled the Grāmam following the tragedy of Changazhimattam Pottis. Since Potti was a Tulu Brahmin, the entire Pathillam group might also have been Tulu Pottis.

There is no record showing any patronage extended to Vazhappally temple by the Thekkumkoor kings. They seem to have focused more on their family shrine – Kavil Bhagavathi temple - in Puzhavathu. It may be because the Thiruvalla Brahmins deemed Vazhappally/Chanaganassery as a province (Desham) of their Thiruvalla Brahmin graamam.

The indifference shown by the kings is strange. Vilakkili Potti, the head of the Thiruvalla Grāmam  used to come to Vazhappally for conducting temple rituals which is also surprising because the Vazhappally Pottis could have performed the rituals themselves. Similar arrangement existed at Kaviyoor temple too.

The temple is also famous for the sub-deity Ganapathi. There are notable wooden carvings on the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

The murder of a young Brahmin belonging to the Changazhimattam Potti family by the king of the neighbouring Chempakassery principality resulted in his soul being deified. An idol was installed in the Siva temple, Vazhappally as a mark of respect to the young man. This demi-deity is being called ‘Brahma-rakshas’ (ബ്രഹ്മരക്ഷസ്, soul of a departed male Brahmin). This did not affect the relationship between the Thekkumkoor king and the Chempakassery ruler. This seems to be a figment of imagination of the locals. There are historians who believe that Brahma-rakshas was brought in to  Hinduism from Jainism. Recall the earlier statements elsewhere that Vazhappally had a Jain settlement.

Kalkkulathu Kavu Bhadrakali Temple

Please refer to Vazhappally mentioned earlier under ‘History of Suburbs’.

Subrahmanya Swami Temple, Perunna

Located at the southern end of Changanassery, the Subrahmanya Swamy temple at Perunna is one of the oldest temples of Kerala. There is an inscription adted 1079 C.E. at the temple regarding collection of rice from some of its properties. Changanassery was at that time under Nantuzhainadu. Although the temple was being controlled by a half a dozen Brahmin families led by Kumaramangalam Nampoothirippad, the pathillam system was not in vogue. Nor did the Brahmins have any administrative rights outside the temple. Post 1150 C.E., as in the case of the Vazhappally Mahādéva temple, the Thekkumkoor kings seemed to have kept themselves off the temple matters.

Subrahmanya’s idol is different from other temples in that the lord holds his vel, the lance, upside down. The idol is believed to depict a raging Subrahmanya after he murdered the demon Tarakasur. The income of the temple might have been quite substantial centuries ago which led to the attritional war between the Perunna Brahmins and Umbizhi Brahmins discussed earlier for taking control of the temple. The Kumaramangalam Nampoothirippads were not in the picture then.

The temple might have been a minor shrine patronized by the residents of Perunna. Occasional visitors from what is today Tamilnadu also contributed to its coffers. The present structure could be hardly 300 years old and there is nothing spectacular about it.

Siva, Ganapathi and Krishna are also enshrined as sub-deities along with serpent gods.

The temple is managed privately by a Brahmin body that runs many other temples of southern Kerala.

Mahatma Gandhi visited the temple on January 20, 1937.

Thaipooyam (the Pooyam day in the Tamil month of Thai) in January is the major festival here which is as important as the regular annual festival (utsavam) when Kavadi Attam is performed. (‘Kavadi’ means ‘burden’ or ‘That which is carried on the shoulder with a pole’- Madras University Lexicon. It has thus a wider meaning but for Keralites it is only a ceremonial structure for Thaipooyam. The Kavadi has a decorated arch and a base to keep it on shoulders. Kavadi Attam is often translated as ‘burden dance’). The peacocks kept in the temple are an added attraction. The lord may be benevolent but the behaviour of the temple staff is one reason why many devotees think the visit to the temple is a nightmare.

St. Mary’s Metropolitan Church

This is a place of worship every lover of art and architecture must visit. The staff is very courteous and helpful unlike the ‘divine’ staff one finds at the Perunna temple. The original structure of the church was demolished in 1887 to construct a new church that retains the old style. It has a small companion church called Cheriya Palli. Built on a vast ground, it has an office and additional buildings besides a cemetery. Every structure is delightfully built to evoke awe from visitors.

It was in one of the buildings that the Archdiocese of Changanassery started their schools in 1880’s and 1920’s.

St. Mary;s Metropolitan Church
Till the church came in to being following a gift of land by a king of Thekkumkoor, Christians of Changanassery had to travel to Niranam, west of Thiruvalla for their religious chores. The Church was established circa 1550-1600 C.E. The gift was actually made by the Changazhimattam Brahmins at the direction of the king. The belief that it was built in 1177 C.E. appears to be erroneous. This can be inferred from the report on the meeting that Archbishop Alexei Menezes of Goa had in the church with the king of Thekkumkoor in 1599 C.E. The Christians of the time used to have their ceremonies done mostly at their homes in private without involving the church. When this was informed to the king, he summoned prominent Christian citizens and asked them to abide by the instructions of the church. He had also threatened them with punishment should anybody flout the orders of the church. It may be that the church might have been established only a few years before this order was issued and a life under the umbrella of the church was unfamiliar to Christians. If the church had been established in 1177,C.E. everything would have been in place and a directive from the king would not have been warranted in the 16th century. The church, therefore, must have been opened in the last decade of 16th century.

The Baptistery, Circa C.E. 16th century
Another reason is that Changanassery was yet to become a territory of the Thekkumkoor kings in 12th century. They made Changanassery their base only after they shifted their capital from Vennimala to Thaliyil, Kottayam in 14th century. The kingdom was originally confined to southern Venpoli Nadu and Munjanadu in the 12th century. Changanassery (or rather the areas under Nanruzhainadu) was a subsequent addition.

The Church was rebuilt in 1887. Its leaning flag mast, about 30 ft. tall, is covered with copper foils. It is one of the tallest of its kind in Kerala. Though the tilt of the mast is not at all alarming it surprises visitors, but its foundation is strong enough to thwart further inclination.

The smaller Cheriya Palli, built after the Valiya Palli was constructed, is incredibly beautiful. Its age is said to be about 600 years but could not be older than 300 years, considering that the Valiya Palli itself 

could have been built circa 1590 C.E. The granite baptistery which is as old as the church is obviously the product of a supremely talented artisan. The interior has excellent carvings. A few years ago a team of carpenters added some beautiful external features on the eaves. The team was led by Mr. Chakkappan of Kannampuzha (കണ്ണമ്പുഴ). He is a former Kaikkaaran (an external associate) of the church and an art lover with expertise on wood-related work.

The Palm Leaves of Metroropolitan Church
In the Valiya Palli, one can see a huge trove of palm leaves centuries old, carrying numerous inscriptions written in old Malayalam language - the vattezhuth. Nothing has been translated in to modern Malayalam. The palm leaves would have been lost forever, but for the intervention of Mr. Chakkappan. Sadly, he says, scores of them might have already been lost in the past when people not aware of their historic value were handling the records of the church. One only hopes that the Archeological Department of the state would make efforts to catalogue them after translation.

Mr. Chakkappan says that during the construction of the two churches and other buildings the carpenters seemed to have worked according to the Vastu Shastra of Kerala, though such Hindu beliefs are not recognized by the Church. Knowledge of Vastu Shastra had also helped Chakkappan and his team of carpenters during the dismantle, repair and refit of the ceiling, eaves and the top grid of the small church a few years ago.

St. Sebastian’s Feast or Makara Perunnal (മകരപ്പെരുന്നാള്‍)

This is a festival of the cheriya palli celebrated in the Malayalam month of Makaram (January) for 11 days. The statue of St. Sebastian (died circa C.E. 288) kept in the church is taken through the streets of around the church on the 11th day. The statue is first taken out by the president of the Kavil Bhagavathy temple committee. It is brought before the Kavil temple and after formal reception of the celebrants, it is handed over to them. Gifts are formally exchanged on the occasion. The Travancore government had sanctioned to the Church 3½  fanams for covering the cost of oil for lighting the traditional wick lamps. Rs 3.02 is still being collected by the church from the state treasury.


Although Anandashram is not a temple it has to be included here for the spiritual and social role it has played in uplifting the lives of the Ezhavas, a Hindu caste smothered by casteism for over a millennium. It is a hermitage established by the local Ezhavas.

The forerunner of the hermitage was an association Sadachara Prakshini Sabha founded in M.E. 1085 (1917-18 C.E). The revered monk Swami Sathyavratha was the spirit behind the movement. There was an old building built for the stay of the renowned social reformer Sri Narayana Guru (1858-1928) when he visited Changanassery in 1928. The Guru’s dream of having a base for social reformation was fulfilled when his disciples like Sri Narayana Theerthar and T.K. Madhavan converted it in to hermitage. It was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi on January 19, 1934. It was here that R. Shankar, a distingushed politician, was elected as the General Secretary of the S.N.D.P., the social organization set up by the Guru and it was here that the Nair leader Mannath Padmanabhan dropped his surname ‘Pillai’.

Juma Masjid, Pizhavathil

The claim that the cheriya palli, the small mosque – so called because there is a large mosque that came up later - was built in 12th century is yet to be verified. Probably it must have been built three or four centuries later. Locals believe that the Thekkumkoor king was impressed by the spiritual powers of Haji Meesah Oliyullah, a Muslim saint and when he died the king built a mosque near his tomb. It was the first prayer centre of local Muslims.

Puthoor Pally, Downtown

This was established in 1787 C.E. as the Muslim population increased and all could not be accommodated in the cheriya palli.


Right from the inception of the small mosque in Pizhavathil, there was an annual festival when a procession would come to the gate of the Kavil Bhagavathi temple. Receiving the procession, the king would bestow gifts to leaders of the Muslim community. About 1802 C.E., the festival became more elaborate and came to be called Chandanakudam (Chandanam=sandal, kudam=pot/container). The procession now uses a decorated elephant that carries a pot containing sandal paste. The Travancore government had sanctioned 6½ fanams as gift which would be given to the office-bearers of the Juma Masjid when it reached the Kavil temple. As per the old custom, exchange of gifts is still being continued, with the president of the temple committee representing the local Hindu community.
Chandanakudam is now held on the eve of Christmas.

The call by Muslim hardliners for stopping Chandanakudam which they consider as un-Islamic is likely to create discomfort among the peace-loving residents of the town. One hopes the movement is nipped in the bud.


Acknowledgements to:
  1. Prof. G. Mohan Das for the information on Perunna quay and ‘Poothottam’
  2. Late Mr. Thiruvalla Unnikrishnan Nair for providing details about the annexation of Thekkumkoor by Mārthānda Varma, the king of Venad
  3. Mrs. Maya Vasundhara Vazhuveli Idathil
  4. Mrs. santhanavalli Vasundhara Devi Vazhuveli Idathil

Suggested readings:
  1. Census:
  2. Census:
  3. Municipality:
  7. Kerala Mahacharithram by Kuruppam Veettil K.N. Gopala Pillai
  8. Changanasseriyum Changanassery Palliyum by Joseph Koottummel
  9. Changanassery’99
  10. A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times by P. Sankunni Menon
  11. Wikipedia

First published 27 Feb 2016
Revised 06 Jun 2016
Edited on:
22 Jun 2016
30 Jun 2016
07 Jul 2016
23 Feb 2017

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