Friday, June 24, 2011

TALES FROM THE CAPITAL CITY -XIX

STONE MASONS OF CHITTATINKARA, THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Killi Ār*, the chief tributary of Karamana River flows to the east of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. Built across this water body is the famous ‘Killipālam’. The King of Venad dynasty, Veera Marthanda Varma (1706-1758) who personally supervised the renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple ordered his workmen to find a suitable monolith hill from where he could get a chunk of granite, so big to make a monolith ‘mandapam’ in front of the main shrine at Padmanabha Swamy temple. The workers located a small granite hillock not far from the temple. Thirumala, as the place is now famous, indicating its connection with the sacred hillock, was at that time a part of Chittatinkara in ‘Anjam mada’ village (‘mada’ means drain). Anjam mada or ‘Anchamada’ - were the five madas dug for draining water to Karamana and Killi River. Kaduvetty, Maruthankuzhi, Pangode, Kundamankadavu and Vallakadavu were the five madas and these areas are still known by the names of the respective madas.

Stone masons were employed to cut the large boulder into required size and the mathilakam records states that Nair and Ezhava labourers toiled for days to get the large boulder to the worksite near Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. A large cart with huge wooden wheels was made for the purpose of transportation and the stone was hauled by elephants. A new road was made by the labourers, connecting the granite quarry to the temple. The road running through Poojappura, Karamana, Aranoor, Chalai and connecting to Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is still in use. A small guild of stone masons was located near the quarry and they were assigned the task of hewing granite blocks into required size for making the pillars and roof slabs. The descendants of these masons still live there.

On top of the hillock is a small temple ‘Trichakrapuram’ Sree Krishna Swamy temple (also known as 'Parakovil') dedicated to Lord Sree Krishnan. It is said that the hillock got its name, ‘Thirumala’, meaning ‘sacred hill’, due to the presence of this ancient temple.

Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna Swamy temple, on top of the granite hill - Photograph taken by the author.
The spot from where the large boulder was cut for the 'ottakkal mandapam'
- Photograph taken by the author.
The huge granite boulder, in its journey to the work site passed through Karamana before reaching the Killi River, in those days there were no means for transporting the huge stone to the other side. Marthanda Varma gave instructions to divert the river. The course of the river was changed and thus the boulder reached the other side of the river. There are many stories circulating amongst the local population about the King and the divine assistance he got from Sree Padmanabha Swamy to get the boulder to the other side of the river. One of the senior members of Chittatinkara guild narrated such a story that he has heard from the elders. The labourers on reaching Killi River found it impossible to transport the boulder and their leader went to the King and told him about the situation. The King after thinking for a while took a palm leaf and the stylus in his hands, wrote something in it and handed it over to one of his ministers. In the leaf was written the number ‘six’ (6) in the Malayalam numeral and there was a cut across it. The clever minister got the point and asked the labourers to build an embankment across the river. In Malayalam the numeral six (6) is pronounced as ‘Ār’/‘Āru’, the same word for river. The line drawn across meant that an embankment was to be constructed across the river.
The Malayalam numeral 'six' (left) - Ar and the sign given by the king to built an embankment across the river (Ar).
The granite boulder being hauled to Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple - Sketch by the author.
Vettamukku Vilakathu Veedu (Shiva Bhavanam) an old Tamil Vishwakarma family of stone workers (silpins) is settled in Chittatinkara. Padmanabhan Achari (b.1850s), an early ancestor of the family owned large areas of land near Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna Swamy temple, his son Shiva Thanu Achari (d.1940s) was a well known figure. Senior citizens say that in old days there were three Tamil silpin families in Vettamukku, associated with the renovation work of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. Thirumala and the surrounding areas like Edapazhinji and Vattiyoorkāvu had large rock boulders. The large rocky hills in Thirumala region provided enough granite for the construction of the temple and the fort walls. According to present family members, Uchudamakali Achari, son of Shiva Thanu Achari used to say that the granite panels, used as roofing for the ‘Sheevelipura’ of Padmanabha Swamy temple were made by his ancestors. Going by the popular family traditions and hearsay the ancestors of this family had settled in Thiruvananthapuram during the reign of Marthanda Varma (c.1730s). They were stone workers associated with the renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The present descendants claim that their ancestral family was located in Dhanushkodi, near Rameshwaram. The ancestors of this family had initially settled in Karamana and Choorakattupalayam, where many of the Vishwakarma families were concentrated. In due time the region occupied by this guild came to be known as ‘kalppalayam’ - meaning abode of stone masons. The temple housing their principle deity - Goddess Amman is still there in Karamana.The renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple started by Marthanda Varma was carried forward by his illustrious successor, Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma a.k.a. 'Dharmaraja'. In 1768 AD/ 943 M.E., Ezhava labourers were employed for bringing to the temple, twenty eight Mandira Moorthy pillars, which were made in Thirumala (Churuna 28, Olas 99 & 100, Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi.)

P. Shiva Thanu Achari and his wife Valli Ammal – From the private collection of Mr. Padmanabhan.
The old house, Shiva Bhavanam was made by Shiva Thanu Achari. Unlike other houses seen in the surroundings, we can see perfectly dressed granite blocks serving as steps and the plinth above which the house is built. Behind the house was a large pond (14.5 cent) formed as a result of cutting out of large blocks of rock from the boulder. The pond was used by the family and the locals of the region.

Later, during the latter half of 18th century some families from Karamana settled in Chittatinkara. They were all involved in the cutting and dressing of granite for the construction works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The stone blocks for building the Fort walls were also supplied from Thirumala. Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna temple was a small structure during that time and it seems that the guilds of stone masons were involved in the construction of the temple and the associated structures in the present form. They were given land near the temple. The ancestors of this family, along with the craftsmen families like Chatharathala and Eruparathala families formed a guild of village artisans.

*Ār - means river in Malayalam.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

As the Treasure trove news continue to flood in, ur blog was one of the first things that came to mind.thought u might have some fascinating stories to tell abt the temple wealth. if u have any, plzz do share it with us. your is one of the few blogs which makes history living and an absolute delight. plzz do write more. regards,Padma Chandran

Brahmanyan said...

Very good effort to trace the History of the kingdom of Trancore. Please keep it up.
Blessings.
Brahmanyan.

Sunil Nair said...

Interesting blog with very engaging style of writing and great sketches. Keep up the good work,one can no more rely on history from the regular books as most are distorted.It's a sad and shameful situation.

Shefali Tripathi Mehta said...

Very informative, wonderful blog. best wishes,

d prem nath said...

Your writings throw light on an important aspect of the temple, that is of its construction and the granite used. The article has many aspects which are verifiable. The text has been suplemented with sketches which is a welcome initative considering the numerous blogs that come up on all and sundry matters. The fundamental questions on the origins and the antiquity of the construction, motives behind the design, origin of rocks(certainly the granite blocks were not all sourced from trivandrum and the answer to that remains an enigma). Like the Brihadeeshawara Temple of Tanjore, the materials could have come from distant places so as to not evoke local interests. It can be well imagined that the temple would have been an area cordoned off during construction to mprevent the entry of all and sundry, especially the non brahmins.
The style of the constgruction is similar to the one seen in Tamil Nadu and the necessity of constructing a massive structure with hidden cellars concealing vast amounts of wealth require further explantion. It can be well recalled from history that Travncore was never a seat of power in south with riches like the Vijayanagar Empire, neither can it boast of a tradition of riches as a port city how then were these riches accumulated..? Can all the treasures of a tiny agricultural state accumulate to such a staggering figure of Rs.1,00,000/- crore. Was the temple constructed to serve as a secret repository for the riches of the erstwhile Pandy and Chola kings whose wealth is legion..? Is it not a fact that the state is well guarded by the Western Ghats on the East and numerous rivers that criss cross it to make it a time consuming a labourious effort to attempt to overrun the place, giving much lead time to the custodians to shift the wealth further...? These questions when answered will reveal the true story of the temple and the origin of the wealth found there. Of course it should be admitted that a part of the horde is offerings made by devotees but then how wealthy were the people of this tiny agricultural land to make such staggering offerings.. true there appears a mismatch. The above questions require further explanation.

Notwithstanding the observations as above, as as result of logical thought process, this writer is a fully committed Hindu and true believer of the presiding deity of the land.

The demand by the Kshathriya Mahasabha made yesterday (16/07/2011) to obtain WORLD HERITAGE STATUS for the temple is the only sane voice heard in the cacophony that has erupted. The treasures of the temple should be exposed to public eye for the people and posterity to see as they too have a right to know. This was done in repect of the Pyramids, Ankhor Watt, Parheneon marbles, Mayan settlement, Idols of Easter Island, the STONEHENGE , the Acroplis etc. The treasures can be displayed as done in the New York Metropolitan Museum of ART, Smithsonian Museum etc to actas drivers of cultural tourism.

d.premnath
+919446073668

Vijay Anand said...

Very informative. Thank you.

Pranavam Ravikumar a.k.a. Kochuravi said...

Well explained. I loved the sketch too. It too me back to the conversation I had with Princess laksmi Bayi, where she explained how the stone brought to the temple.

Thanks for the post. Have a good day!

Rengaswamy said...

Very informative indeed. Thanks and I do look forward to more and more info. on early Travancore history which is a mystery.

Satheeshchandra Chekavar said...

'Vishuwakarmavu' is the God of creation. By the grace of God Vishwakarma community has inborn talent. They are good artists and artisans. I like Viswakarma community.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev said...

Dear friends, thanks for the comments.

CR.Girijan Acharya said...

DEMANDING A SHARE OF THE PADMANABHA SWAMY
TEMPLE COMPLEX EXCAVATIONS

Today it is the moral responsibility or duty of every Indian to preserve temples, churches, mosques, palaces and all other magnificent structures that are older than 100 years. It is part of our civilization and heritage. Many temples are in a dilapidated stage. Huge amount would be required for the restoration and preservation of all these temples. My humble appeal to the people of Kerala is to drum up a mandate for preservation of whatever is of historic value from this treasure in a museum. The remaining part of the treasure must be utilized for (a) restoration and preservation of all the temples in Kerala (b) for opening a University and several institutions under that for research, development, education and preservation of Viswakarman Arts, Science and Technology and (c) for conducting appropriate abridging courses for those Vishwakarmans who are still carrying out traditional work, by awarding credit points and promote them to the mainstream of technology.

Shinu said...

Got to your blog accidentally but it stole away a lot of time. Understand from your profile that you are a student. Is the blog and its content some how related to your studies? And where do you collect the data from?

Any how its readability is on the higher side, and of course the pain behind it is to be rewarded.

Go ahead with the effort and let the urban lot feel the root

Sharat Sunder Rajeev said...

Thanks for the comment Shinu,
As you have observed from my profile, I am a student. Now I am in Delhi, doing PG in architectural conservation. And in a way these posts reflect a part of my studies on the various communities and their history. The exposure that I received as an architect and now as a student of architectural conservation has kindled my interests in anthropology.
About the data collection, all the data posted in this blog have been collected through field works and interviews which I have conducted back at home.

Thank you once again,

Sharat Sunder Rajeev,
09-11-2011.

Hai Baji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.