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Where rivers flow through the hearts of the people!

One of the beauty of Kerala is its nature, in its myriad avatars. It is fascinating is to see how nature here moulds itself so effortlessly into human life. Despite a few challenges, despite sometimes a show of anger by nature and despite some transgressions by humans- they both have become integral to existence of the other. Kerala is one of those places, where the deity, the nature and the human just transform into each other. In the God’s Own Country seamlessly the human becomes the nature and the nature becomes more humane.

Bharathappuzha river at Thirunavaya

Nature has always posed challenge to the humans, challenged them to excel and overcome. It also has been an inspiration. Take rivers for the example, they quench the thirst of the land and give birth to civilisations. Rivers are at many places given a status of living deity. Kerala too is a land of many such live rivers. Specially in the Malabar region, rivers have inspired a many artists and writers. 

I had gone to Kozhikode to do some stories on Malabar region. Deliberately, I had decided to stay not in a hotel this time. I decided to stay with an old age couple Nayana and Vijaykumar who had been renting their two room set on the first floor as a homestay. It was on the outskirts of the city, in the middle of the greens with the couple themselves maintaining a huge area around their home plush with coconut trees and much more. Home was a traditional Malayali structure and so was the hospitality of the host couple. 

To my dismay, when I landed in Kozhikode, it was the day of a statewide bandh. And as we know, in politically charged Kerala, bandh always means total shutdown. For me it translated into a situation with nowhere to go and nothing to see. Even sweet shops and restaurants were completely closed. And, actually bandh continued for a couple of days. The warm and hospitable couple was fully aware of the situation, and they never let me feel disheartened. During bandh days, they offered me meal without me asking for it and didn’t even charge anything for that. I had some of my most delicious traditionally authentic Keralite food in those days, five different local dishes for breakfast in five days… simply amazing. We used to have many discussions and he was the one who gave me many story ideas. Knowing my handicap to the local language, they always made sure that I catch the right bus from the right place to my destination and on way back. He guided me to many places. Their warmth had the free flow like Nila river which I had came to explore more and more.

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Nila river, which is now known as the Bharathappuzha river, have had a huge cultural impact on the south Malabar region. This river origins in the Anaimalai hills of the western ghats and then flows through three districts in the Malabar region- Palakkad, Thrissur and Mallapuram. On the way to meet the Arabian sea at Ponnani in the Mallapuram district it passes through 11 talukas. This particular river is an integral part of the culture of Malabar. There are many legends about the river, temples built along the river, residing deities of those temples as well as the kings ruling the lands on both sides of the river.

Nila river is now known as Bharathappuzha

The banks of the river had been witness to many important historic events. Every 12 years Zamorin kings used to have a summit of all the rulers of the region at Thirunavaya in Mallapauram on the banks of the river. This summit will take place during the 28 days Mamangam (Mamnkam) festival and fair. Last one of this fair took place probably in the year 1755 or 1766. There are different accounts on it. 

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Thirunavaya is famous for its Navamukunda temple said to be 6000 year old. This Mamangam used to be as revered as Mahakumbh fairs in the north India. Hindus still gather here every year for Sarvodaya Mela to pay homage to their ancestors on the banks of the Bharathappuzha river. For centuries, this river has inspired a many writers and artists. From Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan—considered as the father of the modern Malayalam—to many top contemporary writers, have presented this river as a main character in their many legendary writings. Even in the past century many top writers like M T Vasudevan Nair and P. Kunhiraman Nair were greatly inspired by this river. 

Koothambalam at Kerala Kalamandalam

OV Vijayan, famous writer and cartoonist was a recipient of Kerala Sahitya Academy award as well as Padma Bhushan. When he passed away in 2005 at Sikandarabad, his body was brought to Kerala and his last rites were performed on the banks of Bharathappuzha river as per his wishes. There is a long list of poets and writers attached to this place including M Govinda Pai (1883-1963) whom the then Madras Government accorded the title of first Rashtrakavi (national poet). Then there was Moiyeen Kutty Vaidyar (1857-11891) who was considered to be the creator of Mappila Pattu. Muhammad Basheer, S K Pottekkatt, PC Kuttikrishnan, and many other well known writers use to draw their energy and inspiration from the nature of this region. M Mukundan (b: 1942) also wrote one of his very important books Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil on Mayyazhippuzha or Mahe river. 

A Mohiniyattam session at Kerala Kalamandalam

No discussion on the nature and its impact on creativity of the Malabar region could be completed without the mention of Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1958). He had a very strong emotional as well as spiritual bonding with this river. That was the reason he established Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthy in Thrissur district on the banks of the Bharathappuzha river. He envisioned this as a multidisciplinary art centre. It is still considered world over as the most important learning centre of the Kathakali dance. However, it also imparts training for other traditional performing arts of Kerala as Mohiniyattam, Kudiyattam, Thullal, Nangiar Koothu and many more. It is also said that the Koothambalam traditional dance stage at the Kerala Kalamandalam is the only such stage in Kerala outside a temple complex. 

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Vallathol established the Kerala Kalamandalam at the the time when there was sharp decline in popularity of traditional dance forms such as Kathakali, and all other various art forms were also limited to handful of persons or families. So, when he and his other artist friends decided to do something for revival of Kerala’s arts, the banks of Bharathappuzha river again came as an inspiration.

No doubt that rivers here, and nature as a large are instrumental in making people more humane. A visit to Malabar seems incomplete without sitting at the banks of the Bharathapuzzha river and you can feel the history flowing through its waters! Next time you are at Kozhikode, remember Thirunavaya is just 32 kms from Kozhikode international Airport. Cheruthuruthy is further upstream on the river, around 46 kms from Thirunavaya.

(This post has been written as a part of the ‘Human By Nature’ campaign of Kerala tourism. You can also watch a video of this campaign below.)

Have you felt the human side of the Kerala in your visits there? What was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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  1. We did a boat trip in Kerala and although it was incredibly touristy we were able to see haow different life is for these people who are so close but yet very far from the developed cities. It’s a fascinating place.

    1. It is truly very fascinating. Some places have become touristy but you can always find some places away from this chaos, which take you more close to the local culture. Thanks a lot for dropping by.

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