Manorama Thampuratti – The Princess Poetess

An erudite Sanskrit scholar from Calicut

Peeking out from the murky depths of the history of Malabar during the Mysore invasions is an interesting person, and a Sanskrit scholar with the title Manorama. I was always intrigued by this quick witted lady who proved to be quite a character even in exile and one who competed in the mostly male dominated Sanskrit literary sphere of Kerala during those times. She did not write any treatises or books when she left us at the age of 65, but her character and wit in an age of despondency, enthralled many a learned person, from the king to the common man, leaving an endearing memory of a scholar poetess. A number of her students followed in her wake and went on to become great scholars. That was Manorama Thampuratti, the only female scholar in that male-dominated galaxy, and somebody who set the beat for the next Sanskrit scholar from the Zamorin’s family, Vidwan Ettan Thampuran.

Those abreast with Sanskrit development may recall that there were two Manorama Thampuratti’s from the families of the Calicut Zamorin’s, the first being a sister of a certain Zamorin Manaveda. The second was the Manorama we are now talking about, born in 1759 (935KC). Manorama belonged to Kizhakke kovilakom (She was the daughter of the sister of the Zamorin who immolated himself), one of the many palaces or kovilakoms of the royal family of Calicut.

Let’s first get an idea of the Calicut that Manorama had to flee from, in her teens. I have covered the details over a number of posts at ‘Historic Alleys’ so a general idea will suffice for now. By 1706, the original matrilineal lineage in the Zamorin’s family had become extinct and fresh adoptions from the Neeleswaram Kovilakom up North had to be resorted to (If you recall a girl from the Zamorin family had eloped with a Kolathiri Kovialkom boy many centuries earlier and resettled at Neeleswaram, and as her line maintained the Zamorin’s lineage, thus an adoption was permitted). We will talk about the problems this adoption created, in a later article, for it did prove to be the reason for some sticky issues. In the period 1758-1766, Hyder Ali from Mysore attacked Calicut and subdued it, decimating the frontline forces of the Zamorin. Due to various reasons which we have discussed earlier, the reigning Zamorin immolated himself and eventually Hyder left Calicut, leaving control of the city with Raza Ali, Asad Khan and Madanna. In 1774, rebellions broke out and Hyder’s troops arrived again. At this juncture, the new Zamorin, some members of the three families and all the women fled to a palace in Ponnani, obtaining temporary respite and to plan an ocean voyage to Cranganore, where the Zamorin once had his own palace but which was now under Dutch control.

As many will recall, there were three branches in the Zamorin’s family and the offspring were titled with the names of the palaces or Kovilakoms they resided in. Before the Hyder epoch, the main palace was at Kottaparambu adjoining Mananchira and located centrally in Calicut, the Chalappurathu kovilakom was next, the Kizhakke (east) kovilakom near the present Zamorin’s College Chintavilappu, and the Puthiya or new kovilakom west of the Tali temple. Most of the women stayed at the Ambadi Kovilakom near the Puthiya Kovilakom. It was only much later that the Kizhakke Kovilakom moved to the Venkatakotta Kovilagom premises in Kottakkal and the Mankavu Padinjare Kovilakom was formed. The Puthiya kovilakom moved to Panniyankara and the older buildings and parts of Kottaparambu palace gave way to public buildings and offices.

The Padinjare kovilakom story is interesting – After the two Neeleswaram sisters came to Calicut to become part of the Kizhakke kovilakom, a third also joined them. The Zamorin of that period settled her too and her line is the so called Padinjare kovilakom (originally Thekke kovilakom).

A Thampuratti - Travancore
Ptg - Ravi Varma
Members of the Kizhakke kovilakom branch, after having left Calicut during Tippu’s invasion of Malabar, had to temporarily settle in Ennakkad Palace in Travancore under the hospitality of Trippapi Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, the then Maharaja of Travancore. One of those members was a winsome girl who grew up in Calicut amidst a retinue of relatives and servants. Born in 1760AD (935) Makaram under the Swati star, she was endowed with ample intelligence. She was just five-six years old in 1766 when Hyder attacked Calicut and by 1774 the family been resettled temporarily in Ponnani.

During this period she excelled in Sanskrit under the tutorship of the brilliant Deshmangalam Uzhuthi Rudra Warrier. Interesting is also the fact that nobody knew her real name, for Manorama (delighting the heart), the name which she is known by posthumously, was a name acquired at the age of 12 when she recited and explained the whole of Bhattoji Dikshita’s double volume grammar work Praudha Manorama from the 17th century (The first part of this work has three chapters on grammatical terminology, laws of euphony, and the variations and combinations of nouns. The second part is also arranged under three heads, viz., the Tinnanta, Krldanta, and the Yaidika, treating respectively the conjugations of verbs, formation of verbal nouns, and explanations of Vedic anomalies and accentuations – totaling to some 6672 slokas). Some others feel that it was the Siddhanta Kaumudi of Bhattoji which she recited at the age of 12 and not the later version, the Praudha Manorama, which in any case is no less daunting.

One should also keep in mind that the movement of knowledge was not really curtailed by distances, for example, the Mukundamala composed in Kerala in the 8th or 9th century by the ruling monarch Kulashekara Alwar, was very soon found in a revised version in distant Kashmir, according to Dr KPA Menon writing on the subject of language movement. Knowledge was transferred by word of mouth and very limited amounts of written text. So imagine the onerous task of correct memorization!

It was in 945 (1769AD), i.e. at Calicut during the period when the 10 year old girl was studying grammar, that an interesting event took place, involving the great Chelaparambu Namboothiri, a Sanskrit scholar visiting the Kizhakke Kovilakom at Calicut.

The old scholar was looking at the mirror, at his silvery grey hair, and humming in Sanskrit, perhaps seeing the young girl observing him, from the corner of his eyes

Many more interesting situations have been recorded between these two. Chelapparamabu Nampoothiri was always famous for his extempore Malayalam Manipravala slokas hinging on a bit of eroticism, but in good humor and in a couple of cases, it involved this Manorama Thampuratti.

Once it seems the two of them were crossing the Chaliyar River in a boat when the weather worsened and heavy winds and rain buffeted the boat. An instant sloka by this Nampoothiri begging for calm is said to have stilled the storm!

In another case, he is said to have uttered the sloka below when he went to see Manorama Thanpuratti at the kovilakom, praising her smile, her hair, her breasts and a woman’s potential for deceit, all of which working together with Kamadeva could always affect youthful minds.

Note that in the medieval times, ladies of high birth in Kerala did not cover their breasts and breasts were not considered as ‘private’ parts, which were to be hidden. They were an object of beauty, just like hair, eyes, smile etc and treated so….

All we can conclude from all this that she was a comely and well-endowed lady, but at the same time not one awed or upset by remarks passed by otherwise illustrious people taking liberties with their words.

Before long, Manorama’s Talikettu kalyanam had been done with, presumably by the Kodungallur Raja and very soon she got betrothed to the prince from the Parappanad - Beypore kovilakom named Ramavarma Thampuran. In 954 (1778AD) they were blessed with a daughter, when Manorama was just 17-18 years old.

However the princess met with tragedy early in life when he passed away, but she was soon married off again to a good looking but ebyian (virtual nitwit) Namboodiri named Pakkatthu Bhattathiri. She had no qualms expressing her dissatisfaction of this mismatched union of minds, to her uncle, for she said so, after subjecting her husband to a simple Sanskrit test…

Nevertheless the couple was blessed with two sons and three daughters. One of the sons became a later day Zamorin in 1024. One of her famous and poignant Mukthakam’s (4 line poem) goes thus (again a rough meaning only provided)

Meanwhile, the ravages following the Mysore attacks were becoming intolerable for the family in exile. As Hyder and later Tipu surged southwards with the Zamorin’s treasures in mind, the families had to flee again. A lot of intrigue can be seen in the movements then, with Isaac Surgun, Tipu, the Zamorin, Rama Varma, Keshava Das, the Dutch etc negotiating over who did what. We will cover all of that in a separate article. Travancore as you may recall, was by then already allied with the British.

Let’s now get to know the reigning king of Travancore. Having succeeded Marthanda Varma, Rama
Varma ruled Travancore from 1758 until 1798. As is said, he was called the Dharma Raja due to his staunch belief in Dharma Sastra, and he provided asylum to all who had to flee Malabar during the unforgettable outrages committed by the marauding Hyder and Tipu. His complete name was Maharaj Raja Ramaraja Sri Padmanabha Dasa Vanchipala Rama Varma II [Kartika Tirunal] Dharmaraja and during his period, courageous dewans like Keshavadas withstood the onslaught of Tipu at Nedumkotta. He was also very much into arts (though not mohiniattam or bharatanatyam like the later king Swati Tirunal) and was a scholar in music and dance, composing many Kritis. He was perhaps the first violinist from the royal family and it was due to the various Kathakali plays he composed that a few reforms were brought in Kathakali. Dharma Raja took in the fleeing public from Malabar, which comprised not only the royal families but a large retinue of Brahmins and Nairs and ensured that Dewan Keshavadas took personal care of all these asylees and resettled them properly.

It was in 964 (1788 AD) that this beautiful poetess now aged 27-28, moved with her family to Ennakkad near Chengannur in Travancore, to live there for another 12 years.

This was a period when noble or upper classes conversed in Sanskrit whereas early Malayalam, Tamil etc were the languages spoken by the masses, and manipravalam, a mixture of the two was taking shape. As the Raja was a Sanskrit scholar himself, word of the arrival of Princess Manorama and her fame as a Sanskrit scholar reached the 65 year old Travancore Dhrama Raja’s ears, quickly. The king was quite taken in by the Thampuratti, perhaps overtly involved and he started to write to her.

This infatuation of the king led to a relationship of sorts between the two of them, well evident from the amorous couplets that passed.  All this is quite evident from the following exchanges between the King and the princess and the fact that the Raja ‘apparently’ moved his own court from Anantapuram to Mavelikkara in order to be near her. The king later remained at the lake palace to form a central base, to direct and spearhead the fight against Tipu of Mysore who was close to destroying his kingdom.

Readers may recall that Rama Varma had no male offspring from his four consorts (a girl from the fourth – so I wonder why he mentioned about the lineage break) and the Kilimanoor family line was about to end. Though a union could in theory have helped continue his lineage, it would have been of no use to the Princess. Considering the traditional matrilineal succession, the adopted Avittom Tirunal Baralrama Varma would in any case have occupied the throne and Manorama would have gained nothing even if they had a son. But we can assume that the relationship itself was really not an issue for Manaorma, she may have gained from it.

One could always question as to whether the poems were really written by them or just attributed to them. Of that I am not sure, as it is not easy to get the question and the reply ola’s at one source, unless the reply grantha ola repeated the question and they were found in the Kings archives. These were private communications, and scribes would not have been used. Also per rumor, the king’s nephew Ayilyam Thamburan who was enamored by the same Manorama leaked these stanzas (See Ramachandran’s article). But for a moment let us assume that the communications took place as detailed below. I would believe that further corroboration can be established from the note sent by the princess after she got back to Calicut, which you will agree, confirms the events.

A study of the amorous epistle – the text in the verses will show that the old king flirted with the young lady making it clear that though he was in the wrong, his actions were a result of his infatuation and that logic had no place in these games of Kamadeva. Taken aback, the princess was at first worried by gossip mongers, but seeing that the king was serious, gives in and even suggests ways to get around the presence of her husband. Naturally she would have been taken in by the Sanskrit scholar and the lord of the land, though a bit old, compared to the young but dimwit of a husband. She goes onto say that rules won’t stop her and that she is agreeable to a liaison.

She is seen complaining next of RamaVarma’s declining interest, for he is busy in the war with Tipu.

As the war wound down Tipu left Kerala and was again defeated in the third Anglo-Mysore war of 1792.  All the refugees and asylees from Malabar were now starting to troop home. The Padinjare Kovilakom Thampuran remained as he was well past 70, but Kishen raja, his son took the Zamorin’s position and went back to Calicut to negotiate with the British. Manorma also left, but somewhat later and she wrote a pained lovelorn note to Rama Varma from Calicut or Kotakkal.

The family re-settled at the Venkatakotta kovilakom in Kottakkal during the year (975)1800 AD. Interestingly this was perhaps the only time somebody from the Travancore royal family got involved with a lady from the Zamorin’s family. The involvement of a Zamorin girl with the Kolathunad family was detailed previously.

Rama Varma’s main work Balaramabharatam on the art of drama and dance, which some believe was purportedly compiled with the help of Manorama, was completed during their stay at the lake palace. Since the entire family was troubled by the invasion of Haidar Ali and Tippu Sultan, the patronage for literature suffered a decline and Manorama's verses were never published. But her legacy continued through her students, such as Thonnikkal Kunjitti Raghavan Nambiyar (son of the Kudallur Namboothiripad) who was an expert in the Anandalochanam. Another student was the Aroor Atithiri who later went on to create his own list of famous students such as the Kodungallur elaya thampuran whose student was Vaikkom Pachumuthathu, whose student was Keralavarma Koilthampuran and so on. Govinda pisharodi was another. It is said that a grammatical work on Paniniyam under the title Manorama located recently, was written by the Thampuratti.

In Manavikramiya, a stanza which describes the great poetess is worded thus

And Madhava (Arur Madhavan Atitiri) her pupil says (rough meaning only provided)

The poet and literary historian Kerala Varma Valiakoyithampuran pays the following tribute to her.

Tipu Sultan had by now been done away with and the British were happily consolidating their power in Malabar. Avittom Thirunal Bala Rama Varma succeeded the Dharma Raja and during his reign had to contend with various issues concerning Veluthampi, Jayanthan Sankaran Nampoothiri etc (which we talked about earlier).

It is mentioned that Manorama rose to the title of senior most princess at the Ambadi Kovialkom before she passed away at the age of 65 in the month of Edavom, 11th of 1003 (1828AD). One of her sons became a later day Zamorin and the present day Zamorin K.C. Unni Anujan Raja is also from the same Kotakkal Kovilakom and lineage. These days I understand that a Manorama Thampuratti award is being presented to literary achievers in Calicut during the Revathi Pattathanam at Tali temple.

But then again, when I write all this, I smile as I compare myself to that dimwitted husband of Manorama, who knew no Sanskrit, and one who knew not the difference between Vihasya, Vihaya, Aham or Katham, like me. Nevertheless, in those days Sanskrit was a revered language. Today even Malayalam is falling by the wayside in our rush to embrace a single global language.

Kerala Sahitya Charitram V3 – Ulloor P Iyer
Purusartha Sathakam – Dr KPA Menon
Kozhikodinte Charitram – K Balakrishna Kurup
Padyasahitya Charitram – TM Chummar
Zamorins of Calicut – KV Krishna Iyer
Bālarāmabharatam: A Critique on Dance and Drama – Easwaran Nampoothiri
Kerala and Sanskrit literature – Kunjunni Raja


To see a rough location where Manorama lived, see picture above. I do not know if the same structure existed in her times

Related articles
1-      It is not easy to translate these slokas into English due to a lot of inner meanings and word plays. So what is provided in all these translations is only a rough gist of the conversation. I got an initial explanation on the epistle from a friend of mine, proficient in Sanskrit – Naresh Cuntoor, whom I would like to thank. The translations used come from KPA Menon’s book. Anybody offering more precise translations are welcome to provide it to me in the comments section and I will add/correct.

2-      The somewhat complete communications between Rama Varma and Manorama as well as other verses attributed to and relating to Manorama cannot be found in any one source. I have obtained them from the listed references and compiled the whole collection here for the benefit of others hunting for these in future.

3-      Sanskrit manuscripts from all over India are typically written in the Devanagari script whereas ancient Sanskrit had no such lipi or native script. In Kerala, Sanskrit is usually written using the Malayalam script.

4-      It is interesting to note that practical applications of Sanskrit learning such as Ayurveda and architecture survived in Kerala, while traditions of philosophy and grammar continued in other regions. Even the Syrian Christians of Kerala and a few Muslims were well versed in Sanskrit during the medieval times and the tradition continues even today.

5-      Sharat Sundar providesthis information on Rama Varma - Dharmaraja married four times, his first wife was a Thankachi named ‘Vadasseri Kali Amma Nagamani Amma’ of Vadasseri Amma Veedu. Later he also married from Arumana, Thiruvattar and Nagercoil Amma Veedu. The story goes that the king made four separate mansions for his ‘Ammachi’s’ in Thiruvananthapuram and shifted them to the new houses. 


Chicory and the South Indian

As RK Narayan once said, I never tire writing about coffee. This is perhaps my fourth article on the subject, but this time it is about an adulterant added to coffee, called chicory (Chichorium Intybus). From that original purpose, it has morphed into an ingredient integral to South Indian coffee and has the potential to trigger many a deep debate over its merits and demerits, much to the amusement of the western onlooker who still believe that pure coffee is the right coffee (never mind the fact that the supposedly pure coffee from major brands has many more additives and chemicals than you would choose to believe). Alas! Chicory never gets its due and is always treated as a step brother, so I guess it is time to try and change the status quo.

I still remember, as a child, I was the one usually sent to buy coffee from the local grinder. My mother would instruct me to say ‘Robusta or Peaberry with 20% chicory’ and my father would pull me aside as I stepped out, and ask me to change the proportion to 25% chicory. This had repeated itself so many times in the past that it now remains as one of those indelible memories etched in this now old head.

Recently, a reader ‘kannurgal’ professed some interesting advice on how to make South Indian style coffee from local US blends. She suggested a couple of options, such as adding Louisiana chicory coffee to Melita coffee in a 2:1 ratio to create a version similar to the typical S Indian blends. Another idea was to buy chicory and grind it with Malabar monsoon coffee. And that thought took me to the plantations in Wynad where I was born, where my dad was practicing medicine in those days. I still recall going to the tea factories, and the smells come wafting back from Mananthawady, though at that time, the coffee plantations were struggling with the widespread effects of the coffee leaf disease.

Just imagine the scene with an avuncular South Indian wearing his dhoti, lounging on his easy chair in his house nestling in between many others in the busy side lanes of Triplicane, not far from Wallajah road, and his pondatti robed in her many meter long silk saree brings him his specially brewed coffee infused with chicory, see how his nostrils twitch as the smell wafts up from the glass! He takes the glass reverently in his right hand, the dowarah in his left and proceeds to transfer the contents from one to the other till the right temperature for its ingestion, into his portly frame, has been reached and a half inch thick foam has formed on the surface. Then he takes a short sip from the steel glass in his right hand (mind it – right hand!) and his eyes close, his spirits lift and his mind drifts to days long gone, usually his younger days. His wife of many moons is now on her way back, but asks…sariyayirikka? Nodding, our man who has been jolted back to reality, stoops left to pick up the Hindu paper which had been cast aside. He will now continue reading S Muthiah’s ‘Madras Miscellany’, masterly writing even today craftily composed in the old fashioned way by the 85 year old Muthiah, on a typewriter….

Coffee has always been a drink with strong history, which waxed and waned in popularity – from being a favorite at times to becoming a banned substance. Now that brings us to an interesting discussion – somebody tried to ban coffee? Sacrilege!! In 1511 coffee was banned in Mecca as the governor Khair Baig believed it promoted radical thinking and augmented mental stimulation (not done!). Soon it was almost banned in Italy as the clergy believed it to be a satanic drink, but Pope Clement ruled otherwise, even going on to say that it should be baptized. In 1623 it was banned in Istanbul and anybody caught drinking it was lashed for the first offence and packed in a leather bag and thrown into the Bosporus to die, for a second offence. Sweden banned it in 1746 and decided that it should be used as a killer potion for death convicts!! In 1675 it (together with sherbet and tea) was banned in Britain. In 1777 it was banned in Prussia as the king decided that it interfered with beer drinking. He said - “It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects and the like amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors.” Needless to say that all these are interesting stories and make great telling on a rainy day with a ‘Cuppa Joe’ in your hand…

But then let’s get back to the subject at hand, and focus on Chicory, which interestingly turned out to be a wartime beverage additive, and a biblical plant with obscure Indian origins! The cultivated chicory plant has a history reaching back beyond Egyptian times. Its bitter leaves were originally used in salads and was found to be particularly useful in treating intestinal worms, and eventually became popular in German medicine for all kinds of ailments from inflamed sinuses to gallstones. In Europe, Chicory was popularized in Austria after Frederick banned coffee itself. And an innkeeper in Brunswick found that its root when dried, ground and roasted made a bitter but tasty substitute for coffee. Medieval monks raised these plants and when coffee was introduced to Europe, the Dutch thought that chicory made a lively addition to coffee. It became very popular as a coffee substitute and adulterant during wars and in prisons, and has been widely used by the French in Napoleonic wars from where its consumption moved on to the French territories in America. Louisiana started to add it to coffee in the 1840’s (some say it came much earlier with the Acadians when they were ousted from Canada) when Coffee imports were curtailed during the civil war.

For the uninitiated, this herb (which btw a form of endive) had a long white root with a bitter juice. If by itself, it is brewed in hot water, all it produces is a bitter, dark drink without the aroma, flavor, body, or caffeine kick of coffee, but when mixed with coffee, well, that’s another matter altogether…
You will be surprised really, to read all the stories about Chicory, a wayside plant with bright blue flowers. While the Dutch still use it for salads, and have tried various methods to get rid of the bitter tastes, the race which picked up where the Austrians left it were the French who developed a taste for chicory during the Napoleonic era, and continued to mix the herb root with their coffee even after. The Creole French as they say, adopted the taste and made it popular in the USA.

Some might wonder why I mentioned it a biblical herb – Well, it is not proven, but it comes from Exodus 12:8 where it is said - And they shall eat that flesh in the night, roast with fire and unleavened bread, and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Experts opine that Chicory from India or the Mediterranean was perhaps one of those bitter herbs, so mentioned. The word 'Chicory' is apparently derived from the Egyptian word 'Ctchorium' and the plant was cultivated as early as 5,000 years ago by Egyptians as a medicinal plant while Greeks and Romans used chicory as a vegetable and in salads. As is mentioned, references to the plant exist in the writings of Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny, while Galenus gave it the name 'Friend of the Liver', because of its supposed stimulating effect on that organ.

Simmonds explains its introduction in Europe - The manufacture of a factitious coffee from roasted chicory root would seem to have originated in Holland, where it has been used for more than a century. It remained a secret until 1801, when it was introduced into Prance by M. Orban of Liege, and M. Griraud of Homing, a short distance from Yaleneiennes. This root is not superior to many others which possess sweet and mucous principles, but of all the plants which have been proposed as substitutes for coffee, and which, when roasted and steeped in boiling water, yield an infusion resembling the berry, it is the only one which has maintained its ground.

But as the price of coffee rose up and production failed to catch up with demand, clever merchants cheated using chicory as an adulterant. This became rife and in Britain the use of chicory in coffee was banned altogether in 1832, and for many years it was mired in legal wrangles due to all these nefarious traders desiring to profit, but not with any intention to improve the taste of the resulting concoction. Many representations and articles followed.

Charles Dickens writing in ‘Household words’ (Justice to chicory) following the ban of Coffee and Chicory in London- Because we do not like to receive chicory under the name of coffee, it by no means follows that we object to receive chicory in its own name, or that we consider it wrong to marry chicory and coffee to each other; the alliance may be advantageous, only let it not be secret. Secret marriages can scarcely lead to any good. Any stranger reading an order of this kind, and knowing how many poisonous adulterations are familiarly tolerated in this country, would suppose chicory, which must not be kept in a loose state under the same roof with coffee, to be some very dreadful thing, some dietetic gunpowder that grocers use for the undermining of the constitution in this country. In truth it is, however, one of the most harmless substances that ever have been used for the purpose of adulteration, not excepting even water, as it is obtained in London. In the case of all low-priced coffee- of all coffee purchased by the poor, adulteration with chicory yields profit to the grocer, simply because it yields pleasure to the customer. Good chicory and middling coffee dexterously mixed can be sold at the price of bad coffee, and will make a beverage at least twice as good, and possibly more, certainly not less, wholesome.

He continues - By the combination of a little chicory with coffee the flavor of the coffee is not destroyed, but there is added to the infusion a richness of flavor, and a depth of color—a body, which renders it to very many people much more welcome as a beverage. The cheapness of chicory enables a grocer, by the combination of chicory powder with good coffee, to sell a compound which will yield a cup of infinitely better stuff than any pure coffee that can be had at the same price.

Why did Dickens launch his tirade in support of chicory? The history of the legislation upon chicory, so far as it is necessary for an understanding of the order of last August, may be very briefly told. It was provided by an act in 1832, the 43d George 111, c. 129, s. 5, that if any vegetable substance shall be called by the vendor thereof British, or any other name of coffee or cocoa, the article shall be forfeited, and the owner shall be fined one hundred pounds. The said ban continued until 1853.

But chicory was not just for the coffee drinkers, for example it has been part of many other legends. The Wegenwarte story is interesting– it is lore that a German girl waited and waited for her lover who had gone on a voyage, never to return that she eventually took root and turned into the blue Chicory. Others believed that it provided a measure of invisibility when consumed, so much so that warriors afraid of death hung it on banners while going about the medieval crusades, Californian prospectors kept a bit of chicory root in their pockets while digging for gold, and then again it was supposed to help locked boxes, while others said that the woodpecker got its strength by rubbing its beak on chicory stems, as ladies used it as a cosmetic to remove skin blemishes and (apparently) to firm up breasts after childbirth, while those sick used it as a perfect potion to combat jaundice.

I could not help laughing after reading this outrageous remark from a Frenchman - Mizaldus a French Physician and astronomer in the 16th century- If a Woman anoint often her Dugs or Paps with the juice of Succory (chicory), it will make them little, round, and hard; or if they be hanging or bagging, it will draw them together, whereby they shall seem as the dugs of a maid. God! I can’t believe today’s women applying chicory to their dugs and paps!!!!

The impatient may hasten to pipe in with the question - how did the herb, which was lost out over generations to India, come back to India and become popular as an additive? Well, in Mughal Delhi, coffee drinking was popular. Ed Terry writes in 1616- "Many of the people there, who are strict in their religion, drink no wine at all; but they use a Liquor more wholesome than pleasant, they call Coffee; made by a black Seed boiled in water, which turns it almost into the same color, but doth very little alter the taste of the water: notwithstanding it is very good to help digestion, to quicken the spirits, and to cleanse the blood." By 1780 coffee houses had come into vogue in India, a Madras coffee house was opened, and later one called Exchange coffee house had been opened in 1792 at Ft St George.

The British can be seen at work here and many feel it has to do with what they called camp coffee.
Camp Coffee is a Scottish food product, which began production in 1876 and is a brown liquid which consists of water, sugar, 4% caffeine-free coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. Subsequently a number of Indian soldiers were exposed to this and the chicory mixed coffee, during the world wars when rationing was resorted to. Some of them started military hotels and messes after coming back to Madras. Whether all this is directly connected to the South Indian filter coffee is not clear, but the common man had close proximity to the British military officer and so the camp coffee or adulterated mixes and/or its taste must have remained in their minds for somebody to develop the concoction later. I would also go on to assume that while the burra sahib consumed proper coffee, he recommended coffee adulterated with chicory for his menial staff, if at all he gave them some.

Perhaps that was the version which became popular among the general public and as time went by, Chicory got accepted as an additive that makes coffee ‘stronger’ in taste.

Aparna Datta in her fine article traces the coffee route and shows that it was a popular and exotic drink offered in shops near temples which was imbibed by curious men, thus finding its eventual route into the Madras Kitchen. But how? She explains - By 1860, coffee cultivation in the Western Ghats had gained momentum, and by the late 19th century, it may be assumed that apart from the coffee destined for export, some bags of coffee found their way into the domestic market. Facilitated by the railways and orchestrated by enterprising local traders and vendors, coffee moved from road-side stalls into the Tamil home, finding aficionados who roasted their own beans – peaberry preferably – and devised their own unique gadgets and utensils for roasting, grinding, brewing and serving. In the process, they elevated filter coffee into an art form and created a coffee culture that practically defines a community.

Very soon coffee clubs increased and even Iyer coffee clubs came into being in Madras. This Madras version is called ribbon coffee or degree coffee, but that is another subject requiring a long discourse on another day nevertheless, to clarify the former, ribbon coffee or meter coffee is called so  due to the meter long ribbon look created by a ‘kappi man’ making it. And how is it in other places? The content of chicory is quite high in Kerala, with the percentage going as high as 47% in many brands, with Kerala and Andhra Pradesh recorded as two the states where people prefer higher blends of chicory.

A little aside – what is peaberry and why is peaberry coffee special? Erin Meister explains that it is one of two in the pods in a coffee bean, smaller, denser and cuter than its twin and a mutated one at that. According to Erin ‘Fans think they taste noticeably sweeter and more flavorful than standard-issue beans; naysayers insist they can't tell the difference. Continuing, she says - Because there's no way to tell from looking at the cherry itself whether there's a single- or double-header inside, these little guys need to be hand-sorted after picking and processing in order to be sold separately. As a result, in many cases the peaberries are sold for roasting right alongside their normal counterparts. Occasionally, growers will hand-select the tiny mutants for special sale, sometimes at a premium—not only because of their taste, but also because of the amount of labor involved, as well as their relative rarity.’

Venkatachalapathy’s book, especially its first chapter is perhaps the most illuminating when it comes top coffee consumption in S India – He explains that the habit of drinking a morning coffee came into being around 1915, replacing the morning gruel or Kanji and even coolies had come to demand it during breaks. So much so, it soon became known as kutti-kal or junior alcohol amongst chaste Gandhians.

Muthiah and Chalapathy quote Pudumaipithan’s writings to demonstrate the holiness of chicory - In Kadavulum Kandasami Pillayum, Lord Siva has an encounter with one Kandasami Pillai of Madras and discusses earthly matters. In one sequence they both enter a coffee club (as the coffee pubs were once called) and God tasting the coffee is extremely taken up with the aroma and taste. He says after sipping it that he felt as though he had tasted Soma Bana itself, and declares, “This is my leelai”. Pillai retorts, “No, it is not your leelai but that of the coffeemaker here, who has used chicory!” God reacts, “What is chicory?” Pillai replies, “It is something like coffee but not coffee! It is actually cheating, like some cheat does in the name of God!”

S. Muthiah remarks- One problem with coffee consumption in India is the preference of the consumer for coffee mixed with chicory and upto a 49 per cent admixture is permitted. He adds - Pure coffee is a thing of the past, even in South India. Coffee purists insist that even the 51:49 regulation is not right and that Chicory is good only for improving profits. They say that the damn root masks the intrinsic properties of coffee, suppresses its aroma and destroys the real flavor. But then again, the content of chicory has become a marketing gimmick for most south Indian brands, proudly upping the percentage as time go by…

Today we have many specialty coffees and the monsoon blend from Kerala (perhaps Nelliyampati or Idukki) is picking up steam, what with the pods swollen by the monsoon moisture and providing a special intriguing mellow aroma. As ace coffee taster Shalini Menon puts it, a good coffee taster should have a long nose and a good tongue. I have along nose and I think a reasonably good tongue, perhaps I should have become a coffee taster (a country cousin became a tea taster!) but then I would have to decry Chicory….

And then again, I like the coffee story about Turkish bridegrooms who were once upon a time required to make a promise during their wedding ceremonies to always provide their new wives with coffee. If they failed to do so, it was grounds for divorce! And one must not forget Beethoven who was a coffee lover, he was so particular about his coffee that he always counted 60 beans (whether he did it with purpose is not clear, for he even fired and then re-hired his maid in a day because he couldn’t figure out how to light up his stove) for each cup when he had his cuppa made.

But nothing to beat RKN when it comes to description of the whole coffee making process or for that matter Shoba Narayanan with her reminiscences in Monsoon Diary, all stuff which are recommended for serious coffee enthusiasts..

A bit about Coffee estates in Wynaad – Quoting Waddington, In Wynaad coffee cultivation was first started by military officials. The first plantation was started by a military official at Mananthavady, known as Captain Bevan, who was in charge of the 27th Regiment of the Madras Native Infantry of the East India Company. He bought coffee plants from Anjarakkandy and it grew well. Because of this successful experiment, the then-collector of Malabar W. Shefield encouraged the cultivation by sending Anjarakkandy plants to Wayanad. But the largescale cultivation proved a failure during the period, because of the lack of technical knowledge regarding the process of cultivation. Agents of Parry and Company, while on their way to Baba Budan hills in Bangalore, passed through Wayanad and were struck by the flourishing coffee plants in Wayanad. They were impressed by the growth of the trees and the quantity of the crop. Immediately, they made arrangements to start a coffee plantation near Mananthavady in North Wayanad. Within a few years several entrepreneurs started estates in Mananthavady. Glasson, Richmond and Morris were the pioneers among them.

Then came the gold rush - see my article on it and after that debacle and the leaf disease, tea emerged as a popular beverage, with high demand in Britain, slowly displacing coffee.

Notwithstanding the great benefits of regular or adulterated coffee, an enterprising company has recently launched something called Ayurvedic Roast - a coffee substitute which borrows from both the American tradition of using roasted barley, rye, and chicory, and the Indian Ayurvedic system of health by adding the traditional herbs of ashwagandha, shatavari, and brahmi.

Well well….Not for me though…..

Household Words: A Weekly Journal, Volume 6 – Charles dickens
In those days there was no coffee- AR Venkatachalapathy
Herbs of the Bible - Allan A. Swenson
Dictionary of Plant Lore - D.C. Watts
Coffee and Chicory - Peter Lund Simmonds
A Connoisseurs book of Indian coffee – Coffee board & Aparna Datta