Discovering the magic of Nila

Meena Vaidyanathan | Jan 01, 2012 | Vol 4, Issue 1
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I have been visiting Kerala since I was a little girl. And thanks to the travel bug of a father, who also has a special place for Kerala in his heart, I have had the good fortune to visit really interesting places across the length and breadth of Kerala. But the road trip I took over a few hours along the river Nila helped me see a face of Kerala, that I didn't know existed.                  

The first revelation was the story behind the famed Codacal Tile Factory, a name that I had been seeing on the roof tiles of my grandfather's house, without knowing anything about its historical significance. Especially that the Codacal Tile Factory was run by the Commonwealth Trust at Codacal, which is the successor to the Basel Mission Industries. It is a standing reminder of the bold and revolutionary attempt at social engineering in Malabar. I didn't realise that Swiss and German missionaries started this initiative to support the newly converted Christians by providing them employment because they were ostracised by their communities post their conversion.

Their activities spread rapidly in Malabar as the weaving factory at Codacal was established in 1860. The Tile Factory at Codacal, started in 1887, is the second tile manufacturing industry in India. What I wasn't prepared for was the spotting of remnants of some megalithic monuments that were buried in the courtyard of the factory. It was heart-wrenching to learn that some of these historical relics, some dating back to late 1800s and early 1900s were destroyed as recently as a few years ago over a petty land-grabbing issue!                        

I had been hearing about the Mamankam festival and the rich history behind it all my life, but visiting some of the newly renovated sites like  Changamballi Kalari, Nilapadu Thara, Manikkinar, Pazhukka Mandapam, and Marunnara, which were closely associated with Mamankam festival was a unique experience, as some recent restoration work had been done by the archaeology department. It is really an inspiration for us, to live our lives today, knowing that so many amazing incidents and experiences, have happened in the past - some that are fresh in my memory even after many weeks of making that trip.                        

The Changamballi Kalari, the only one with an entrance from the right side, keeps up with the Muslim traditions. Even though, Kalari was essentially a Hindu dominated martial art form, it stands testimony to how communities could hold traditions together despite religious diversity. The 'Changamballi family', who manages this Kalari has an interesting history as well. Tulu Brahmins from Mangalore who settled in this part of the world were forced to convert into Islam, centuries earlier. But, they continue to be unique in the sense that they are perhaps the only “vegetarian” Muslim community in Kerala with customs and traditions from their Tulu lineage followed, while they practice Islam. What a beautiful story of amalgamation in society! Perhaps, the closest is the one on how the Parsi community blended with the Gujarati Hindus, upon their arrival on the Indian shores.

Funnily enough, the local school kids who were following us curiously ,had no idea on why these sites were preserved or their historical significance, even though their school was next door! Perhaps the archaeology department needs to invest some effort, in sharing with the local community, why they have taken the pains to restore and revive a site. And the local schools and teachers, definitely have the onus on them, to ensure that the new generation understands the mantle.

The visit to Thunjan Parambu, a place like no other where the Father of Malayalam literature, Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan taught and spent the better half of his life writing the Malayalam Ramayana was a unique experience. Legend has it that the Ramayana in Malayalam was recited by a parrot to the author so that he could write without a break!! It defied any description! One could call it a museum, Literature Park, or a breathtaking model of architecture. It was all this and more. The beautiful bronze statue of the parrot with an Iron stylus and the palm leaf, the unique Nux vomica tree that had sweet tasting leaves as opposed to its usual bitter sour one, just added to the mystique. I need to bring my little boy back to this place that has the largest collection of Malayalam manuscripts, and get him to write on the white sands of Thunjan Parambu, as is the tradition there to initiate the young into the world of knowledge!

While travelling, I got the chance to see the River Nila from many angles, each more beautiful than the other, almost like she was enticing me to discover more. Sitting on the banks of Nila, as the sun was setting, with the ezan from the mosque across the river, almost touched my soul. It took every ounce of will power to get ourselves out of that magical place. I for sure will be back soon to discover yet another magic around the River Nila.

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