Thursday, November 22, 2012


The history of Payyanur can be divided broadly into two.-Before and after the establishment of Payyanur College. But for Payyanur College, several men holding important positions now should have been ended their life worthlessly. Payyanur College nurtured many intellectuals. Earlier it was the last word of all knowledge. Headed by the mighty Dr. K. V. Surendranath, the departments were the abode of veterans in all fields of knowledge- Johncy Jacob in Zoology, MRC in Malayalam, Kunhiraman Master in Hindi, Raman Namboodiri in English, Achuthan master in Chemistry, Narayanan master in Physics, Raghavan nambiar in maths,KHS in Sanskrit- which other college in kerala can boast of such an assembly of academicians?. With the limited facilities available , the college created magic turning everyone who studied there into men of virtue.
            I reached this abode of knowledge quite by chance. My parents decided to end my studies after SSLC as the fee to be paid for higher studies was exuberant   (The fee for PDC admission was somewhere around Rs. 300/- with  Rs. 15.50 as  monthly fees) I had started working in Gramodaya Khadi Sangham as a weaver at that time . I was busily weaving one day when the manager of the Sangam ,Sri. Ramachandran edichery , came to me. When enquired about my future plans I told him about my parent’s plans. He got  infuriated. “You should go to College!” he shouted on the top of his voice. He took a five rupee note from his pocket and asked me to go to the College at the very moment for buying the application form for admission. He assured me that he would make arrangements to meet the expenses for admission from my advance money at the Sangham. Thus it was he who changed my destiny. It was his kindness and insistence which paved an entirely new path to me.
Payyanur College at that time was a heaven. It was beautiful just like a painting. In the back ground of two green hills the College building stood majestically. The winding perumba river and ezhimala could be seen from the front yard. Shrubs of all kind with multi couloured flowers decorated the meadows.  I will never forget my first view of the College. It was raining and small rivulets could be seen emerging from hill tops. The laughter of girls in frocks and boys in mundu  could be heard from a distance.
My five years at the College was eventful. I took a first class Physics degree from the college. Many faces rush to my mind when I remember those five long years. Mr. Kunhikrishnan, now in ONGC, Mr. Balan, now in Court and Mr. Ramakrishnan A K , now in JNU used to form a company. We were all alike. We do not have money to take a proper lunch. Instead we satiated our hunger with mixture and beaten rice from Damodarettan’s shop. We attended almost all functions in the College. The organizers of all functions used to invite our group to their function.                                                                      
                 Physics batch was unique. Even though the classes were a real bore except a few, we  tried to get into the heart of Physics thanks to our friends like late Ramesh chandra babu (Later became a famous chest specialist at Calicut medical College) and Haridas KV (now a top Officer with SBT) What pained us most was the attitude of some teachers who marked a big zero to our answers to questions for deriving some important laws taken from some Russian texts by Krishnan KV. The teachers except a few lacked any interest in the subject and our queries with regards to day to day puzzles in Physics fell to dumb ears. I remember one such incident when Narayanan , now a Professor in America together with us went to the Department in high spirits to know why Skylab preferred to fall down, The teacher sarcastically answered  "If you fear sky lab remain indoors. Don't make us bother".
                There was real poverty outside. We were pray to it. I had to walk some 10 km daily  as I cannot spare the five paise required for the bus pass. We seriously disused  the   turbulent politics of the times. A majority of us were strong supporters of Marxism. A few like Bhaskaran and Baby  were attracted to naxalism.  Bhaskaran used to argue vehemently in support of the working class. When I pointed out that the path of the movement is immature he used to argue that even though his comrades could not see the dawn of revolution the trees they plant will serve as shades for comrades to come.
                Another important event was the beautiful and informative documentaries shown at the Zoology Dept by the environmentalist Johncy Jocob. These short films were the first exposures  to world cinema for us. They also planted a strong base for our environmental concerns. The 16 mm films from Australia and USA opened up new horizons.
 What we loved most was the strikes. The distant noise of slogans always raised our hopes of seeing a matinee without cutting the class ( which was not uncommon). Usually there used to be a fight after that. The college will remain closed for some time then. The friction will reach its climax at election time. The Chairman of the College was Dr. Pavithran (Now HOD, Calicut University).
The college also taught us to live. Many students liked to walk in pairs. Some emotional experts have many friends belonging to the opposite sex. Some were under the impression that they have selected their partners much earlier. Some were quite infatuations. Some stray incidents of quenching the curiosity of adolescence by going up the hill or beneath a stone cut hole became a talk of the College for some time.
Some real villains were interested in other acts. The teachers also were young. There were inter- departmental relations. So when a teacher of Chemistry went to the Botany Department at noon when no one was present there, the villain peeped through a hole and announced to the whole college that something is rotten in the Botany Dept. The same villain once emptied the reagents in the work bench of girls in the Chemistry lab and replaced it with urine. The girl students were later puzzled to observe the strange behavior of the experimental salt when mixed with the reagents. It was the same villain who once remarked in the Physics dark room that a beautiful girl who is troubling with a spectrometer is not getting the spectrum properly because her slit is very wide.
Now the college has completely changed. The campus atmosphere is gone. After the introduction of UGC scales the teachers have become much affluent. The students lack original thinking. One will feel that a mimicry is being enacted. No one is interested in the teaching learning process. Everyone has become a victim of globalised economy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


The festival of Payyanur has begun. For the next 15 days Payyanur will be under the siege of Aradana festival. All gramers will be on holiday to Payyanur to witness the event which will bring forth nostalgic memories. The entire gramam , roads and alleys alike will be lit with tube lights . The mood of gramers will rise high. Several famous drummers and nadaswaram maestros will camp at Payyanur throughout the festival. The village will echo with drum beats from morning to late night. The orchestra will start at a slow pace in the evening to give way to  nadaswaram by night fall, then to the echoing  thayambaka and finally  to panchavadyam, which will culminate in the sweet panchari and pandi melam.  There will be a cultural extravaganza after that. Several art forms will be staged which will continue unto early morning.
The festival is 15 days long. Not all days are important. 6th and 9th are very important. People from afar will visit the temple on those days. 3rd and 12th also are important.

            Vrichikam is the month of ayyapa devotees also. The whole village will resound with swamiye saranam ayyappa. The colour of the village will change to black. Hundreds of ayyappa devotees could be seen going to the temple early morning and by night fall. The temple pond will be crowded and the temple will resound with saranam call. The perfume of camphor will pervade everywhere.
            Panchavadyam is the main attraction of the festival . Earlier it was headed by the maestro Rama marar . Nowadays many famous artists add splendor to the orchestra. Veteran drummer Sankara marar has now turned into an ashtapadi expert. 
(Visit the link)
            For the young people aradana is their beloved festival. In old times the temple during aradana served as a platform for young people to see and acquaint with others which may sometimes results in marriages. There is in fact a culminating point of aradana on the eastern nada were girls and boys stand face to face pretending to see the panchavadyam (which is in between) but actually concentrating their entire self  in the others eye. Such eye contacts will sometimes develop into a smile the next day , then to a small talk and finally an embrace or a kiss in a dark corner. Times have changed. As there is live telecast of the festival in the local channel, many ladies prefer to remain indoors so that they could see their beloved tele-serials and see aradana during commercial breaks.
            Like many other festivals aradana also has now been under the siege of  commercial interests. The whole eastern nada is occupied by vendors. Fashion shops with kids toys hanging down, amidst  balloons and toys flying up gives the look of a market place.  
            My memory of aradana is not in colour but in black and white. Aradana means the time for joy. But we children have a lot of work to do at home. We were permitted to go to the temple for selling nuts. Still we enjoyed the festival much. At that time there was no electric illumination. Aradana was performed in the light of two large branched wooden oil  torches with cotton soaked in coconut oil. After the ceremony these cotton torches will be left burning near the huge wall of the temple. We used to take those torches, still burning , in green sticks .  I remember those frosty nights when we returned from the temple with the cotton torches lighting the dark alleys on the shivering night. 

Monday, November 12, 2012


A westerner will be bewildered if he witnesses an ottakkolam (fire ablution) performance. For us, payyanurians, it is just a part of our ordinary theyyam experience. But the fact that an ordinary man is throwing himself to burning fires not once but 101 times will be a real shock to others. If you had experienced the trauma ( I had experienced it several times and wondered whether it is a form of art or a cruel punishment imposed by society) you will surely prostrate before the artist in good earnest. The theechanmundi is usually performed in the early hours of the month of makaram (December-January). It will be very cold outside . But inside the palliara(kavu) you could not stand the heat of the meleri(fire) even at a  distance of 100 feet. The meleri is lit ceremoniously by evening using dry chembakom logs. The fire when in full ignition will reach above the tree tops and could be visible from afar. When the fire dies down ambers will remain. The ash is fanned off with mats made from green coconut leaves. Now the red hot fire will be some two metres high and is capable of turning to ash anything within a radius of 20 metres. It is to this firing inferno that the theechamundi has to jump not once but until the koyma( local chief) is satisfied. The theyyam costume is made up of coconut palms and  with aramada and a round head gear. Two ropes are weaved into the body for pulling the artist from the fire.
            The drums will start to beat loudly. The fireworks display outside will culminate in to the climax with deafening sound and intense luminosity. The theechamundi will emerge from nowhere with two aids on either side. After seeking permission from the lord, the chamundi will step into the fire. The devotees will chant a tone and time will stop for several seconds. The chamundi is on the fire which is capable of turning even an elephant into black coal in no time. But the aids will pull the artist up and alas! he has stepped  again into fire. This will continue some 25 times the theyyam circling the fire and jumping into it. After the initial round the theyyam will again go to the koyma and the dialogue will be roughly like this  “ I had fire ablutions several times But still the meleri  is incapable of reducing my chillness “. Can I have 100 more ablutions’? To this the koyma will readily agree and the act will continue until morning (Kaithaprams famous poem theechamundi is the story of one such poor artist who is burned alive in the performance on the insistence of the koyma)
            I had always the feeling that art must be something which should give the performer a satisfaction of communication with the audience. Will the artist be happy after this awful performance? I think never.
            There is one more thing - every artist long for recognition. But here the name of the artist is pronounced nowhere . He is a non entity. In the film industry, even the names of production boys are duly acknowledged. It is very strange that here the artist who have given his life to this art form is never sufficiently acknowledged.
(video courtesy : Ramas, Annur).

Thursday, November 8, 2012


In my childhood I had a fascination for alleys (idavazhi) . You cannot see it in Payyanur nowadays. But the boarder of many compounds used to converge into a deep alley in my childhood. It winds around all the compounds- sometimes merging together and sometimes divulging - and finally leading to the main road. Alleys are a world in itself. They are made of mud usually yellow in colour. The art of ‘kayyala making’ is a job which requires much talent. It serves as a wall against cattle and trespassers.  Here you could walk along and along without being seen by anybody. You could sing, if you can. One cannot predict where an alley will end. Sometimes it will reach a dead end. Usually it winds around unending number of compounds finally reaching at a cross road. There will be owe inspiring corners with Chembakam trees  from which ‘gulikans aniyalam”  and ‘aramadas’ of theyyams  hang down. The corners of all alleys will be having a deposit of old broken earthen ware and decaying broomsticks. These are deposited there after a ritual to evacuate ‘cheta’ at the end of karkkidakam.
            We used to play a game travelling through these alleys. It is called ‘Exploration of route’. We will enter through one of the alleys and explore them until we will find out a short cut to reach some known destination. After this great discovery that route will be named after the person who first found it. We have discovered many such short cuts to the temple , theyyakavu, playgrounds and the like. In one of such explorations, to our great shock, we found that alleys can be used for some other purposes as well. Mundane activities -of course. On one such trip we found a young man and a lady in an embarrassing situation. We got words of wrath in plenty but the incident added to our knowledge of folklore.
            At night these alleys take a threatening stance. We were forbidden to take the alleys at night which were considered to be full of ghosts and yakshis .But I remember the beautiful alleys at dark nights lit by occasional chootu kattas(leaf torch)at night. The light emerging from the torch will paint magic figures on walls. The sounds of the torch bearers could be heard as though from deep wells. It will become surrealistic when a death visits the village at night. Lights from Leaf torches will light entire alleys and the village will be like a large hearth burning from several places. The light emerging from the torches will add up and it will paint the picture of death on walls. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


It will be like a rebirth once you emerge out of Ajanta caves after seeing it for the first time. Your ego will completely vanish. We have great pride in humanity which has built dams, cars, war planes and bombs. But the sight of Ajanta caves built some two thousand years back will just bewilder you. The aesthetics of the atmosphere will thrill you. You will feel that you are nothing but phantoms filled with straw. It is not only the beauty of the wall paintings which have endured the test of time, or the quality of the sculptures ; but the serene atmosphere that will shake you up. Ajantha will belittle you. It will be a shock to us who live in rectangular cages surrounded by filth. Ajantha is a work of art. Not only the caves. The entire valley is like a dream. If you imagine Ajantha in its days of glory you will surely understand the meaning of human existence.

Ajanta caves are not natural caves. They were monolithic rocks. We must salute the first sage who might have conceived the whole idea of cutting these rocks and building a cave monastery with steps leading down to the river. The ambitious project must have been herculean. Buddhist monks took some seven centuries to build this marvel.  They cut open the rock into a cave first with primitive tools according to a master plan. The inside of the cave was sculptured with huge decorated pillars on either side with the idol of Buddha in the sanctum sanctorium. It is said that there is a sculpture in every rock. Here it is literally true –That which is not a sculpture is taken out of the cave. Ajanta appears to be the first prototype of all building in the sub continent. We have such a history of home making. But have we utilized these knowledge in our home making?- never!- We were just copying from European engineering text books how to build a match like house. 

Friday, November 2, 2012


Payyanur has a taste of its own. We had a number of very good chefs who will prepare a delicious ‘sadya ‘ with our characteristic 'sambar' and 'koottukary' within no time. Even the meal one gets at viswabhavan near Payyanur Bus stand will be far better than any meal one gets in moderate hotels elsewhere in Kerala. I have met people who remember the tasty meal and masala dasai of Bombay hotel when I mentioned that I belong to Payyanur.  (There is also a sad reminder- Last week a friend half jokingly remarked that the chicken prepared at all  kitchens in Payyanur is nowadays very identical –it tastes Topform)
What did our forefathers  take as breakfast in the past- Simple- the delicious kuluthu with the previous days meenkari. At noon a delicious meal with fresh vegetable sambar , varavu , moru and pappadam and for supper a splendid meal with fish curry. Tea became a habit only later. 
The mouth of every adult in gramam will water when someone mentions kammarettan’s ,( Pancharakammarettan to be exact)  hotel. The idly and kadla supplied in the early hours of the day was the best available breakfast throughout the district. Several chefs of hotels tried to imitate kammarettan but in vain. He never disclosed the secret combination to anyone. Hence the taste has gone forever except in the memory of the lucky who had the chance of eating the rare combination. There was a time when all elder gramers will assemble at the shop well before 5 am.when the first devotional song is played loudly in the temple player. Kammarettan will be busy with the first set of idlies, after of course lighting the samovar. After enquiring about his health which never failed, queries regarding the health of ailing old gramers on the verge of farewell will be raised which will be amply replied by those present. The samovar will start to tickle by that time. The group will consist of farmers with plough, early travelers to railway station, bus stand and the like. The hotel is the first public place of gramam  . Here everything concerning the community is disused in great details. International, national, local incidents are discussed. Even though Kammarettan will take part in the discussion it will never affect his first devotion. He will make tea in his characteristic way. He will clean the cups and glasses with hot water empty the tea bag (which could later be used as manure) and fill it with fresh fragrant tea. With two aluminum cups in both hands, one above his head and the other well below his knees and the boiling tea in between in a surf , the art of tea making is very difficult to describe but is to be tasted by tongue. The tea together with idlies and kadla is indeed a treat.
It is here that gramam dawned every day. The programmes of all present will be discussed . Someone will vehemently explain the reason of the violent incidents in a home nearby the previous  night. 
As a child, I wished to be in Kammarettans shop in the mornings after my long journey to the milk society every morning at 5 am barring rain or cold. But we were forbidden to go to tea shops. Some parents took their children there . But I never got that opportunity. It was only when I started to earn from Gramodaya that I frequented the shop. Kammarettan was of a peculiar type. He will not serve tea or snacks to people he disliked. He liked me very much.
Now the taste has vanished- The  shop is no more. But Murali, Chindattan’s son is the new star. Some are even addicted to his porotta and masla kari