Vidwan Ettan Thampuran – My Great Grandfather
Padnichare Kovilagath Manavikraman (Ettan) Raja, Zamorin of Calicut.
The period following the accession of the British over Malabar was a time when the Zamorins of Calicut, those suzerains who ruled over vast swaths of territory in Malabar for over 500 years, had descended into holders of simple titular positions with just a small privy purse from the British Government. Gone were the days of pomp and splendor, gone was the palace and fountains in the middle of Calicut, burnt to cinder or carted away by merchants. All they were left with was some property and oversight of temples, but with little malikhana income. The administrative staff and the Nair pada they once commanded was no longer in the payroll. The cheer that you see mentioned in a formal report quoted below was notably absent.
Quoting law journals - In 1792 Tippu ceded Malabar to the East India Company and ever since it has been under the rule of the Government of India. On the cession, the ruling powers of the rajahs and the chieftains were taken away from them. They were not deprived of the possession of their landed properties, but they were compelled to pay land revenue in respect of them and consequently became mere holders of land held under ryotwari tenure. Upto 1806 the deposed rulers were allowed to collect the land revenue and retain for themselves one-fifth of the net income, but in that year the East India Company itself undertook the collection and thereafter the Government granted to the deposed rulers annual allowances (malikhana) for the maintenance of themselves and their families. The malikhana was liable to forfeiture on proof of disloyalty or mis-conduct. The only ruler with whom the East India Company entered into an agreement in writing in respect of the payment of malikhana was the Zamorin (the Rajah of Calicut). It is only fair to add that the Zamorins, having loyally accepted the great change in their destinies, have ever since cheerfully and faithfully discharged their obligations to the Power which supplanted them just a century ago.
The Zamorin family after losing their territory first to the Mysore sultans and later the British, were mostly wrestling with court cases and arguing over property with the new owners, who had opportunistically taken them over or in some cases, just assumed ownership knowing that the Zamorin families had no power to do anything otherwise. Even the temples, previously a large source of revenue were languishing and the regional economy in a state of shambles. The succession structure of the Zamorin family was as always quite complicated and involved selection of the senior most person from the three kovialkoms or ancestral palaces – Padinjare (West) Kovialakom at Mankavu, the Puthiya (New) Kovilakom at Panniyankara and the Kizhakke (East) Kovialkom at Kottakkal.
|Ettan Thampuran and Ambalakkat Lakshmi Amma|
It was in those days that Manvikraman Thampuran, the Ettan Raja, went on to grow up in the Mankavu Padinjare Kovilakom and right from his childhood days found security in the world of music, literary works and the study of Sanskrit. There was no dearth of it in the vast home, as well as the temple complex of Thali nearby. The annual Revathi Pattathanam was still in vogue where a large number of Pundits attended, but not held often enough. While we do have some idea of the general situation, not enough of specific information is available about his younger days. In fact we do not even know when he got married, but I would peg that roughly at 1870. Around that time, he got married to Ambalakkat Lakshmi Amma, the beautiful lady you see in the photograph. That friends, is my great grandmother on my father’s side. They had four children among whom the youngest was Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon, a leading advocate of Calicut and a congressman. The eldest was Ambalakkat Gopala Menon, my grandfather, the Calicut registrar in those days. So now you know my connections to a Zamorin from the Padinjare Kovilakom i.e. the Padnichare Kovilagath Manavikraman (Ettan) Raja, Zamorin of Calicut 1912-1915, otherwise called the Vidwan Ettan Thampuran or the Kerala Bhoja.
I delayed writing this article for a period of time for want of information, but it is interesting to confess that it was this person who started my interest in Malabar History many years ago, years after the people who could have given me firsthand information, like my father and his sisters had passed away from this world. It was a painstaking process to gather whatever little information I could unearth on this very interesting stalwart, famous for his literary and poetic skills as well as the personal support and grooming provided to budding writers who went on to become big names, like Vallathol Narayana Menon and VC Balakrishna Panikkar. Later I went to the Padinjare Kovilakom to see if I could find somebody there and to get some inputs, and it was Mr Virarayan who got me started by showing me the place where he lived and by providing a booklet on the Kottichezhunellath and some more details. He also gifted me with a book Samoothiriyum Kozhikodum written by PCM Raja….As I sat in those hallowed but now dilapidated premises and took a moment to imagine the days when my ancestors sat at that poomukham listening to poets or making compositions, I could feel an occasional shiver down my spine, as I drifted off thinking about their lives and better times.
Anyway let us get to the interesting persona my great grandfather was. That he was a writer of repute is mentioned often in history texts. In fact he was one of the early nonfiction writers in Malayalam, and his travelogue Kasiyathra charitram (travel in 1896, published in 1903), only the second to be written in Malayalam (First was Romayatra by P Thoma Kathenar). I will try not to do too much of a eulogy here as some others have worked on lengthy doctorate theses on the very subject of Ettan thampuran’s contributions to Sanskrit.
A great scholar poet, titled Vidwan Samoothiri (rare in the line of Zamorins), he was instrumental in publishing many works in Sanskrit during his time. He became the Eralpad (2nd in line) in 190 and the Zamorin in the year 1912, and the various ceremonies are documented in the book of Duarte Barbosa (ML Dames) with a good amount of details (VET provided the specifics to collector AC Thorne who translated it for the book).
|Mankavu Padinchare Kovilakom - Poomukham|
A quick overview of some 40 or so of his works in Sanskrit includes three dramas Odanavaneswara vijaya, Lakshmikalyana, and Samskrita Lakshmi kalyana, a translation of the Malayalam Social play Lakshmikalyana by KC keshava Pillai. Then there was the Dianadayal paracampu based on a Hitopadesa fable, a Shloka in praise of Nemam Subramanya Iyer(now sung as a kriti in raga Kapi set to Adi tala), Vishakhavijayollosa, Parvathi Parinayam, a collection of essays and poems including – Sringara manjari madana, Rana singuraja charitra, Dhruvacharitam, Pratisrudha dasaka, Kerala vilasa, Bhikshu gitastava, dhatu kavya, Jnana pradipika, Champu bharata, Parvathi Swayamvaram, Prethakamini and finally Kasiyathra Charitam in Malayalam – covering his own trip to North India in 1895 and detailing amongst other things prosperity seen in North Indian cities. Keralavilasa incidentally contains 105 verses based on Keralolpatti. A few of his ragamalikas are also mentioned here and there. Manavikrama samutiri charita is a historical kavyam by Vasunni Musat which gives the life history of Ettan Tampuranas well as one throwing much light on the period. People say that it is highly useful in understanding the period, but I have not been able to find this anywhere.
But more than anything else, he was a patron and teacher for others interested in the field of music and literature. The Padinjare kovilakom at Mankavu at the turn of the 20th century was the place where sahridaya sagamam meetings were held and poets like Vallathol and Balakrishna Panikkar were groomed. Vallathol, in one of his poems, has recalled how the Ettan Tampuran sought his company at poetry recitals, music concerts and literary discussions. Lt is written that in their company, Vallathol went about with his meagre resources, composing slokas in Sanskrit. Vallathol gratefully mentions Ettan thampuran as the 'reincarnation of the great ‘Bhoja Raja. Ettan raja was also well known as a convener of regular literary meetings attended by great South Indian writers and poets. He was the main sponsor of the Kerala granthamala which published many works of Kerala writers.
V Unnikrishnan Nair and NV Krishna Warrier writing in the Calicut souvenir state that he was the third Zamorin who contributed much to the literature of Malabar and was a great patron of budding writers and poets. They list people who regularly attended the Sahridaya sangamam as Punnaseeri Nambi Neelakanda Sharma, Kaikulangara Rama Warrier, Mahakavi Kunjukuttan Thampuran, Vellanasseri Vasunni Mussad, RV Krishnamacharya, Telappuram Narayanan Nampi, Vallathol, VC Balakrishna Panikkar etc and state that Ettan Thampuran was known as the Abhinavabjoja Raja amongst the Sanskrit pundits in India those days. Balakrishna Panickkar VC, as CHF wrote was the pioneer of the Romantic Movement in Malayalam Poetry and composed Manavikrameeyam, a treatise in verse on alankara shastram, dedicated to his guru. Pundit Gopalan Nair who translated the 10 volume Sreemad Bhagavatham in Malayalam was a favorite disciple of Vidwan Ettan Thampuran.
Ettan Raja was also responsible for the Thunchath Ezhuthachan memorial. A conference of eminent writers and leaders of society was held on October 17, 1906 to formulate a scheme for the construction of a memorial and it was this Samoothiri, Vidwan Manavikrama Ettan Thampuran who took the initiative. He was also instrumental in supporting Punnaseri Nampi with the establishment of the Pattambi Sanskrit College and continued to put in efforts in elevating it to college status. He also made a proclamation stating that there was nothing against Sanskrit being taught to everyone sitting together, irrespective of caste and religious distinction (1914-1915).
He was also very keen about the propagation of Ayurveda, and in 1902, the first ever congress of the Ayurveda Samajam was convened at Chalappuram in Kozhikode in the presence of Manavikrama Ettan Raja and Ramavarma Appan Thampuran, the 6th prince, the Kunjunnithampuran of the Kochi state. At this first annual meeting, the name "Keraleeya Ayurveda Samajam" was introduced, 55 years before the state of Kerala was formed.
Though a person who made sure that everybody could be literate and learn languages like Sanskrit, and study in schools and colleges patronized by the Zamoirn, he was also a person with many firm and traditional opinions. Talking at the Malabar marriage commission meeting, he (Fawcett – Nairs of Malabar) informed the Commission that "It has been ordained by Parasu Rama that in Kerala, Marumakkatayam women need not be chaste" and he quoted a shloka in proof that there should be no such thing as chastity excepting amongst the Brahman women. But well, it was a testament of the times I suppose.
It is said that he was a reluctant Zamorin and that administration was not something he enjoyed. Literature and poetry were his life and I also heard that he was close to abdication of the position during his last years. The main reason was that the Zamorin’s estate at that time was in an abject state of penury and his inability to find monetary resources, a huge burden on his mind. The figures are mind boggling, 39,970 acres of land were registered in the family name and an equal amount of unregistered land was apparently held, but all this produced only a gross income of Rs 3,64,000/-. With a family count in the three Kovilakoms of well above a thousand or more people, the income meagre. The estate was eventually taken over by the British court of wards with JA Thorne as Collector. Ettan Thampuran’s death occurred soon after the loss of Guruvayur temple to the court, this turning out to be his greatest disappointment (He would have been happy to hear that it went back to the family 12 years, in 1927). On many occasions he had to request the court of wards for monies to tide over expenses and this weighed his mind greatly, a testimony to the sad state of affairs following the many triumphant years till the Mysore Sultans systematically tore up the fabric of Malabar.
A full account of some of the royal ceremonies "The Eralpad's Kotticchelunellattu", whose Ezhunnellattu as Eralpad is vividly described in this Malayalam account with many interesting details. Mansell Longworth Dames – version of ‘The book of Duarte Barbosa’, Appendix II, JA Thorne’s translations refer to data from the original Malayalam article ‘Ariyittu vazcha’ provided by Vidwan Samoothiri, while reigning as an Eraalpad as well. Noteworthy is the fact that when his portrait in the book was taken, he was in his one year Diksha or mourning, hence the heavy beard (Another interesting fact is that the bust on his right is the Kochi Rajavu – If you will recall, the two families feuded for centuries). Ettan Thamburan, the late Zamorin, was the first to visit Cochin after those turbulent times. He was given a right royal reception by H.H. Rama Varma the Ex-Raja of Cochin, who was then ruling Cochin.
The Kasi trip (Varanasi - Benares pilgrimage) travelogue is pretty interesting – and as you peruse it, you see the country through the eyes of an inquisitive traveler. You can read the views of a deeply religious and middle aged person traveling in an entourage which curiously included just one woman - my great grandmother, proving to be a great eye opener of the times. I found the para comparing a bathing ghat to the manachira tank in Calicut quite amusing and the use of certain Malayalam words archaic. His amazement seeing Bombay and appreciation of the facilities rendered by a Gujarati Seth from Calicut named Vrindavan quite apparent in the words and description. Perhaps someday I will translate this work together with some of the others - who knows! Regretfully I could not find the part 2 of that work and part 1 only covers the journey until the group reach Kasi.
Vallathol of course went on to become a famous writer and poet, established the Kalamandalam and today we can all sit back and see Kathakali the way it should be seen and remember the great poet. And of course, you can go to Kottakkal for an Ayurveda massage to relax those tight tendons or seek relief for some ailment that cannot be cured…
I also recall the meeting with the late Puthiya Kovilaguth Manavedan Kunjaniyan Raja and how he remembered Ettan Thampuran. He was mentioning to me how KVK Iyer got most of his book’s content from Ettan Thampuran’s ‘Agnivamsa rajakatha’, an account detailing the legendary history of the Zamorins of Calicut.
Finally I have to also detail KV Krishna Iyer’s pivotal role in all this, and I am sure you know that he lectured history at the Zamorin’s college in Calicut and taught the rudiments of Malabar history to so many students. A quirky person, KVK Iyer belonged to Pallavur in Palghat where my maternal side of the family lived. KVK Iyer was a good friend of my uncle, a student of history and Iyer’s proximity to the Ambalakkat house and the Padinjare Kovilakom resulted in exchange of matrimonial proposals which cemented the relationships between the two families.
It would have been quite interesting I suppose, if we could meet across generations to discuss matters of common interest, but well, in Kerala that is why a number of families still do ancestral recognition poojas in places like Palghat. They have a ceremony where the food liked by that karanavan is kept and some poojas done. What could be done for this gentleman? Something to think about.
Additional input from Mr CK Ramachandran at Calicut Heritage Forum, gratefully acknowledged and posted below
Incidentally, we at CHF had mentioned the patronage provided by Vidwan Ettan Raja to the young and indigent poet, V C Balakrishna Pillai . We feel this is the appropriate place to place some more interesting tidbits concerning Vidwan Ettan Raja and his proteges.
It was Vellanasseri Vasunni Moosad (you mention him as one VET's friends) who took the young Vallathol to the Mankavu sadass. Vallathol was then passing through a difficult stage in his life. The young man of 24 years had fallen in love with Madhavi, his uncle's daughter (murappennu). But, as the poet himself complained in his 'Bandhanasthanaya Aniruddhan', the course of true love never runs smooth. There were some initial opposition and finally he was to marry on a certain day,and had travelled from Tirur to Ponnani only to be informed that because of a death in the family, the function had been postponed. A dejected Vallathol travelled back to Tirur and sought solace in the company of Vellanassery Moosad. The very next day, Moosad took him to Mankavu as he thought the young lover deserved a change of scene. He spent some unremarkable days there and returned to Ponnai to get married. His second visit came later after he had made a mark in poetry and prose. Returning from Kadathanatt kovilakam (Udaya Varma was another great patron of literature) in the company of Kavikulaguru Krishna Varier, Vallathol visited Mankavu . The benevolent VET enquired of Varier about the financial condition of the young poet. Varier explained that the poet (who had by then become father of a girl) was in dire straits and could do with some assistance. VET gave two offers : he would write to some 20 respectable persons to contribute Rs.50 each (totalling Rs.1000) as capital for any venture that Vallathol may undertake. He guaranteed these loans and even hinted that most of these would be non-returnable loans. The second offer was equally tempting - a job as Malayalam Munshi in the Zamorin's College.
Vallathol rejected both offers. According to his biographer, there could have been two reasosn for this rejection: Vallathol was confident that if VC B Panicker could start his own publication in Trissur, so could he. Secondly, he could not stand VET's antipathy for Kathakali which Vallathol adored. VET had observed that the use of loud instruments like Chenda and Maddhalam and the dinconnect between the songs and the mudras did not appeal to 'modern' tastes. Vallathol who had inherited his love of Kathakali from his father, found that he could not compromise his taste, although he was ever grateful for the offer of assistance made by VET.
Another great figure who enjoyed the patronage of VET was the great scholar Punnasseri Nambi Neelakantha Sharma. You had mentioned about VET's work 'Sringaramanjari'. It was in fact one of the five shatakas (100 slokas) which he had published by the name Panchamrita Shatakam. Each of the five works had 100 slokas . There was some criticism ( by some scholars from Tamil nadu). Punnasseri put up a spirited defence of this work, and this was his first published work also. Another contribution of Nambi is worth recalling: VET had been writing Sanskrit letters to many scholars. It was Nambi who compiled these letters and published with an introduction by himself under the title, Lekhamaala (1898), in his own printing press called Vijnanachintamani. The next year saw Nambi establishing a Sanskrit pathshala and named it Saraswathodyothini. The school which blossomed into the famous Sanskrit College in Pattambi would not have survived its initial years of troubled existence, but for the generous assistance provided by VET.
VET's generosity towards many other poets and writers who became famous, will fill volumes. We hope someone makes a serious study of the contributions of this royal patron.
Further input from Mr Veerarayan at Padinjare Kovilakom
1. EttanThampuran’s mother was Sreedevi thampuratty (1822-1902) born on Malayalam era 997, month Kumbham. Star Karthika at kunnahur Kovilakam near Kallada river, Kollam, while members of the padinchare kovilakam was residing there during Mysorean invasion. Returned to mankave kovilaklam in her 6th year of age.
Father – Appan Namboodiri of Thottappaya Illam near Trissur
Brothers – Eralpad Anujan Thampuran & Ammaman Thampuran (auther of INDUMATHEE SWAYAMVARAM, the second novel in Malayalam)
Grand uncule – Poet Manaveda Eralpadu Raja, a great schjolar, astrologer, social reformer etc.. author of VILASINI ( a work on sukha sandesam
2. Ettan Thampuran was the driving force behind the then Zamorin Maharaja P.K.Kuttiyaettan Raja in his effort to establish Zamorin’s College in 1877.
3. Took over the management of Padinjare covilakam estate in his 27th year of age when his mother became the Valiya Thampuratty (Senior Rani) of the Kovilakam in 1872 and administrated the affairs of the kovilaklam for 30 years.
4. After the death of Valiya Manavikraman Raja (friend of pazhassi raja), the landed properties in and around Kalladikode and nearby cherpulasseri were lost to local janmis . a litigation to get back the properties was initiated VET with the help of his wife’s relatives Ambalakattu Raman menon and the attempt was not fruithful.
5. After entrusting the Zamorin’s Estate administration to the Court of Wards, he returned to the palace of Pallippuram and breathed his last in 1915 there.
Duarte Barbosa - An account of the countries bordering on the Indian Ocean and their Inhabitants – Mansell Longworth Dames
Calicut corporation souvenir – 1966
Kasiyathra charitram – Ettan Thampuran (Those interested can download or read it here)
The Eralpad's Kotticchelunellattu - Ettan Thampuran (provided by Mr PK Veerarayan Raja)
Samoothiri vamshavum Samsrita sahityavum – Dr K Kunjunni Raja (Bhaktapriya April 2012)
Thanks to my cousin Balagopal Ambalakkat, a fine photographer in his own right, for kindly providing a scanned picture of the young Ettan Thampuran. My great Grandmother’s picture was also provided by the Ambalakkat family and though the beautiful lady’s picture had been touched up by a zealous photographer recently, you can make out how pretty she was.
The older Zamorin’s picture comes from the archives of the Cornell University Library – Originally Provided by JA Thorne (ICS, Collector- Tellichery) & printed in Duarte Barbosa’s 1918 translation of – An account of the countries bordering on the Indian Ocean and their Inhabitants. The original of the same picture which I have at hand, is a little bit damaged at the top and edges.
Once again my heartfelt thanks to Mr Veerarayan for assisting me with whatever information he had. He is in the process of making a long family tree chart of the Zamorin's with many details and I hope he completes it to the benefit of interested historians.
The Padinjare Kovilakom pictures which you see is the handiwork of Dr Harimohan. I combined three of them to create the Poomukham picture.
If anybody can contribute more details on Ettan Thampuran, his works or any other details, please do so with a comment or write to me.