Saturday, 11 April 2009



Cheriyanad, a village in Kerala state belongs to Central Travancore Region and specifically comes under Chengannur Thaluk in Alleppey District. It is placed almost midway between Chengannur and Mavelikkara towns. Cheriyanad is a special grade panchayat. Cheriyanad Sri Balasubrahmanya Swami Temple is a famous spot in Cheriyanad.

Cheriyanad was once located on the boundary of the kingdom of the Kayamkulam Rajah and in 1746 along with the rest of the kingdom it was annexed to Travancore. Cheriyanad possesses a Padanilam or a battlefield, which is now occupied by a school. Some prominent families owned Kalari i.e. martial arts gymnasiums and private temples. Traditionally Cheriyanad consisted of nine original Karas or villages, which are Athimanchery, Edavankadu, Mandapariyaram, Thuruthimal, Moolikode, Edamuri, Mampara, Ariunnisery, and Alakode. For administrative purposes, the region was subdivided into fourteen Karas. Cheriyanad is home to an important temple, dedicated Subramanyan, 
located west of Padanilam junction, in the Mavelikara-Kozhenchery road. This temple is under the jurisdiction of the high priests of the Sabarimala temple, the Thazhamon Madhom Nampoothiri family of Chengannur. 

‘Edavankadan Achari’ is the hereditary title given to the head craftsmen of Edavankadu; they were the moothasaris of the kings of Travancore. Their ancestral tharavad is located in Alappuzha District, in a small village named Cheriyanad in Chengannur Thaluk. No details are known about the origin of the family, but it may have some connection with the construction of Subramanya temple of Cheriyanad. The family has two branches, Thundiyil Veedu, the main branch and Edavankadu Valiya Veedu, which now houses the ‘Ara’ or thekkath of the family with all their family deities including Lord Vishwakarma. Even now yearly festivals are conducted for 41 days. Thundiyil Veedu has now fallen with time, the last moothachari of the family Edavankadu Padmanabhan Achari hailed from Thundiyil Veedu.

Edavankadan Achari was the moothachari’s of many palaces built by the kings of Travancore. They were specialized in woodcarving. The members of the family had good knowledge of the Shilpa Shastra and Vedas and were given the titles like ‘Randam Brahma’. The members of the family were the head craftsmen of Subramanya temple of Harippad.

Edavankadan T.N. Padmanabhan Achari and his wife Karthyayini Ammal - Photograph from the private collection of Joseph (Babu).
I have heard from my uncle that his ancestors were the moothacharis of many of the palatial mansions of old Christian families. They perform the duties of stapatis. Once they went to build a house for a wealthy Christian landlord. One day when the moothachari was cooking food in a small hut made for him, the patriarch of the family came and asked him to give some food. The moothachari was surprised - a rich landlord asking food from him when enquired the landlord said that their Lord, Christ was the son of a carpenter.

A story is that long ago an Achari of the family presented the king of Travancore with a lotus, made of wood, so delicate that its petals fluttered with the wind. The Achari was given a horse as a reward (late nineteenth century).

The moothacharis of the family used to accompany the ‘Naduvazhi Nampoothiri’ of Cheriyanad on special occasions. It is said that the people of the village, on seeing the Achari wearing ‘Poonol’ mistook him for the Nampoothiri and bowed before him. On seeing this naduvazhi ordered the Achari to carry a ‘muzhankol’ in his hand. It is said that the moothachari made a silver muzhankol for the purpose and on seeing the silver staff the locals mistook him for the naduvazhi and showed greater respect.

Unlike ordinary Achari families, the members of the family enjoyed privileges and can be considered as ‘nobles’ among Acharis. The title of ‘Edavankadan Achari’ title was usually given to the eldest male members of the family; they usually stayed in Travancore, the capital city and had to attend in all the major functions in the family. The family was given large areas of farming land as ‘Uurhiyam’ by the king’s of Travancore; they had their own ‘Pulayan’ family to do the farming. The last patriarch of the family who was given the hereditary title was Kochu Kunju Achari, son of Neelakandan Achari of Thundiyil Veedu (Kochu Kunju had an elder brother, but due to some eye ailments he was not qualified for the title). Kochu Kunju Achari and his younger brother Padmanabhan Achari came to live in the capital city.

The fame of the brothers crossed the seas with the life-size and miniature wooden statues of Kathakali figures made by them. The royal family of Travancore who were the major patrons of the family owned many of the masterpieces made by the brothers. The life-sized Kathakali figures made by the brothers are now exhibited in Kuthira Malika and Napier museum; some of the most intricately carved statues are still in the collection of the royal family. For their services, they were given ‘Veerasringala’ by the Amma Maharani Sethu Parvathy Bai.

Edavankadan T.N. Padmanabhan Achari with the Kathakali figures - Photograph from the private collection of Joseph (Babu).
In 1958, the ‘Edavankadan’ brothers settled in Manacaud (Kuriyathy) and later shifted to a house near Attukal temple. However, in late 1950’s Kochu Kunju Achari passed away, he was a bachelor, so with his death, the title passed down to his younger brother T.N. Padmanabhan Achari. The knowledge he had on ‘silpasastra’ made the Maharaja Sree Chithira Tirunal appoint Padmanabhan Achari as the supervisor in charge of the new idol, which was being sculpted for Sabarimala by Chengannur Neelakanda Panicker. It was Padmanabhan Achari who performed the rituals of ‘opening of the eyes and mouth’ of the newly installed idol of Sabarimala temple, using a small chisel made of gold.

Receiving the first National Award for woodcarving from President Dr. Radhakrishnan,1966 Picture reproduced from Vishwakarman (magazine, 1969 edition).
In 1966 T.N. Padmanabhan Achari received the first National Award for woodcarving from President Dr. Radhakrishnan. Padmanabhan Achari married Karthyayini Ammal of Karthikapalli Veedu of Harippad. In 1985, the couple settled in Pattom. However, it is unfortunate that with the death of this master craftsman, his children did not carry on the family traditions and crafts.

Sharat Sunder Rajeev