Thanks to the Palakkad Gap, a 32km wide pass through the Western Ghats, which also
Thanks to the Palakkad Gap, a 32km wide pass through the Western Ghats, which alsohas the distinction of being the widest pass in the world, Palakkad is known as the Gateway to Kerala. The Palakkad District of Kerala lies next to the Coimbatore District of Tamil Nadu, and the Palakkad Gap forms a link between the two states. The Palakkad Town is also known as the land of the Palmyra Trees, which are an intricate part of Kerala’s image.
Strange stories, without date or precise location, are tightly woven into the collective cultural memory of Palakkad. The story of how, just a week before his coronation, the king was found washing dishes in a hotel in Andhra Pradesh, is just one of them. Like the king’s memory in the tale, stories about Palakkad’s past are like fairy tales ringing with the echoes of old truths half-forgotten and buried. This is a town where the present and the past are oddly blurred, but the ambiguity here is not one of confusion so much as it is something of a characteristic.
Palakkad cannot be easily defined; no label fits and no description is precise. It is a town that would rather be a village, making way for chariots during festivals and processions like little villages might, brightening up each morning as the sunlight falls on its golden paddy fields. But it is also a village that wants to be a town, with air-conditioned restaurants, faux amusement parks and local cable channels that cover everything from school sports to dirty streets.
The enticing aroma of Palakkad’s unique cuisine, which skillfully combines elements of cooking from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, also blends with the flavours of the north. Tandoori Chicken and Gobhi Manchurian coexist with the traditional fare. While none will endorse the cola companies that are draining the region of its natural resources, most enjoy a nice aerated drink with their meals. The mesmerising beats of the panchavadyam coexist with popular Malayali film songs.
It seems as though Palakkad revels in defying descriptions. Even in the story, the king who went missing clearly refused his title, albeit passively, only for a few days after his crowning.
Most sights, hotels, restaurants, shops and cab services can be found on or around Palakkad’s arterial Sultanpet Main Road, bisected by the main Market Road. Tipu’s Fort is at the southern end of this road, the DTPC Office just west of the fort. The KSRTC Bus Stand lies further west, opposite Hotel Green Park. Other sights, like the Vishwanathan Temple, the Jain Temple and Vadakkanthara lie towards the west as well, while the Kumarapuram Temple can be found in the north. Palghat Station lies at the heart of the town, just off Shoranur Road. The Coimbatore Road begins from Sultanpet Junction, heading towards Kunnathurmedu and NH47, which bypasses Palakkad. Beyond Sultanpet Junction, the Coimbatore Road becomes the Valia Angadi Road, and eventually the Shoranur Road. All of these roads lead to the many sights to be seen outside the city limits.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Tipu’s Fort, sometimes called the Palakkad Fort, is integral to the city. Since its construction in 1766 by Haidar Ali, it has served as a kind of motif of Palakkad. It rises just a little above the rest of the city, offering a picture of sombre dignity. Its strong, solid laterite walls and peaceful moat speak of its rather violent history. Although it was built with the intention of improving communications between opposite sides of the Western Ghats, it was attacked and eventually captured by the British under Colonel Fullerton, after an 11-day siege. Now, the Archaeological Survey of India preserves it within landscaped gardens, with paved walkways, an open-air auditorium and a small museum. There is even a children’s park, which makes it ideal for a family outing, and at the same time seems just a little out of place next to the stout little fortress.
Entry Free Timings 8:00am– 6.00pm
Jain Temple, Jainmedu
Palakkad was once home to a community of 400 Jain families, but their numbers are fewer now. This temple, on the Kalpathi river, is believed to have been built about 500 years ago by Jain leader, Inchanna Satur, commemorating the Jain sage Chandranathaswamy. Many idols are housed here in different divisions of the temple: an idol of Chandranathan occupies the first division, idols of Vijayalakshmi and Jwalamohini occupy the second division, one of Rishabhanathan is found in the third, while two idols of Parswanathan and Padmavathi are housed in the fourth. There is a marked aura of austerity about the quiet place, no less emphasised by the unadorned nature of the main alter, only brightened by lamps, and the granite walls devoid of decoration and carvings. This temple is not treated like a tourist destination, and the caretakers of this temple, who live within the compound, will need to be alerted so that they can let travellers in.
Location Southern bank of the Kalpathi river in Jainmedu, just beyond the Chunnambuthara area Timings 7.00–10.30am; 5.00– 7.00pm
The main deity at the Vadakkanthara Temple is Bhagavathi, an incarnation of Kannagi, the heroine of the Tamil epic Silappatikaram, who is in turn seen as an incarnation of Parvati.
This temple has some interesting and unusual customs, the most notable of which is that every day at 6.00am and 6.00pm, 101 crackers are burst within the temple complex, as a motif for driving away evil spirits. The temple also witnesses a ritual called the ‘Laksharchana’, literally meaning ‘one lakh poojas’, conducted in honour of the Goddess. Close to 15,000 people are offered food on this day as a part of the celebrations. Most rituals performed here are connected with driving away negative spirits and influences: Rakta Pushpanjali uses blood red flowers to ward off attacks, while Vedi Vazhipadu drives away the ill-effects of envy and jealousy with a firecracker.
Additionally, Valiya Vela is celebrated every three years with a procession of 15 elephants.
Location Near the Jain Temple, in Jainmedu, close to Chunnambuthara Timings 4.30am–12.00pm; 4.30– 8.30pm Tel 0491-2500229
The Manapullikavu Temple is one of the two major temples in Palakkad, the other being the Vadakkanthara Temple. It is believed to be an ancient temple, which is constructed on ‘yakkara’, or ‘yaga-kara’, grounds that are on the banks of the Bharatapuzha river.
The main deity here is the Bhadrakaali version of the Goddess, also thought to be a female incarnation of Paramashiva.
Legend has it that the Goddess came here to protect the temple from an asura called Neelan, and upon defeating him, she showered her devotees with prosperity and love. Even now, it is believed that the Goddess protects her devotees from evil and grants them all their wishes and desires. The main festival of this temple, Vela Pratishtha, is held in May.
Location East Yakkara Timings 6.00–10.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and 6.00–11.30am on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, 5.00– 7.00pm Pooja Timings 6.00– 9.45am
Kalpathi Agrahara and Vishwanathaswamy Temple
The Kalpathi Agrahara is a mainly Brahmin settlement on the banks of the River Kalpathi, who decided to settle here in the late 18th century. This Agrahara is one of four in Palakkad. The banks of Kalpathi is also occupied by relatively small, and yet impressively built, Shiva Temple. Modelled after the Kashi Vishwanathaswamy Temple of Banaras, the Vishwanathaswamy Temple is a low quadrangular building on the banks of the Kalpathi river, dating back to 1425, with an imposing kodimaram, or flagpole. The temple banner flies on this post during the Kalpathi Ther, a chariot festival usually held in November, wherein all temples in the area participate. Traffic comes to a halt as Kalpathi is decked out for the festival. Streets are lined with stalls selling balloons and knick-knacks, full of people praying and shopping with equal enthusiasm.
Location On the southern banks of the Kalpathi river, on the road leading to Mannarkad and Kozhikode Timings 5:00–10:00am, 5:00–8:00pm
The Kumarapuram Temple, which can be accessed through the Kumarapuram Agraharam on the banks of the Bharatapuzha river, was once a major centre of Vedic learning. The main deity here is Prasanna Venkatachalapathy, who is flanked by his consorts, Alamelu and Mangalambal. The rituals performed here are similar to those at the famous Tirumala Temple in southern Andhra Pradesh. It is believed that Balaji in Andhra Pradesh and Venkatachalapathy here both have equal powers.
Location Near Kalpathi Bridge Timings 6:00–11:00am; 5:00– 7:00pm
Emoor Bhagavathi Temple
The Emoor Bhagavathi Temple is located in Kallekullangara, 8km from Palakkad on the way to the Malampuzha Dam. Only the hand of the goddess is worshipped here. Legend has it that the goddess Bhagavathi agreed to appear before a holy man one day so long as he kept it a secret. Out of excitement, the man told many others, and when the goddess appeared, she found many people had gathered around. She disappeared so abruptly that devotees saw only her upraised hand, which is worshipped at the temple. Adi Shankara is said to have brought some order to the daily prayers here. As a result, the goddess is worshipped in many forms, according to the time of day: at dawn, she is Saraswati, at noon Lakshmi, and in the evenings she is worshipped as Durga. There are two very old Shiva Temples in the vicinity. The main festival here is Navarathri, and Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays are considered auspicious days.
Thiruvalathoor Shiva Temple
This Shiva Temple is unusual, with a conical, mint green roof and whitewashed walls studded with oil lamps. The woodwork and stone sculptures in the temple, believed to have been carved in one night, are beautifully executed. The Karthik Poornima and Mahashivaratri are the main festivals celebrated here.
Location Junction of Chittoor Road and Sultanpet Main Road, in southern Palakkad Timings 6:00am–12:00pm; 5:00–7:30pm
The Agraharams of Palakkad
Legends trace the setting up of Palakkad’s agraharams to a romantic story. It is said that a prince of the royal dynasty of Kochi fell in love with a tribal girl, and was ostracised for his relationship with an outcast. The prince decided to leave his family and settled down in the area to set up the royal dynasty of Palakkad. The Namboodiri Brahmins in the region, who wanted no part in officiating the ceremonies of an ex-communicated prince, left the area. The Palakkad Kings sought the help of Brahmins living on the other side of the Palakkad Gap, who graciously agreed. As a result, Tamil Brahmins settled down in Palakkad. The areas where they settled grew into gramams or agraharams.
Along the banks of the Kalpathi river lie the agraharams of Kumarapuram, Ramanathapuram, Ambikapuram and Chokkanathapura. Ramanathapuram (the abode of Ramanathan or Shiva) has three shrines, dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesh. Around 35 families who still live here have preserved their way of life. The Vedas and shastras are orally passed down from one generation to the other. Lovingly prepared delicacies here include murukkus, cheeda, kozhu–kattas, devi payasams, sukhiyan, ela ada and chamanthi.
Palakkad’s Valiya Angadi, which means ‘big bazaar’, is full of shops stocking traditional bell metal ware, peacock villakus, thooku or hanging villakus, nilavillakus, and utensils such as kindi, lota, mondha and ashtamangalyam sets, with which new brides are welcomed into the house. There is a nameless, antique warehouse, just opposite the Nurani Saneeswaran Temple – a treasure trove of touristy souvenirs, artsy objects and furniture from illams, manas and Chettinad palaces. Mannadiar Handicrafts also offers reasonably priced Kerala souvenirs.
For saris and traditional mundus, head to Nedungadi’s Saree Paradise on Court Road and Maharaja Silks on Sultanpet’s Main Road, both of which have a wide variety of neriyathu mundu sets and traditional Travancore cream and gold saris.
Palakkad has the second largest number of jewellery shops in Kerala, next only to Thrissur. Check out the latest designs in gold jewellery at New Mannadiar on Market Road, Pavizham on Gandhi Bazaar (locally refered to as ‘GB’, and Alukka’s on TB Road.
WHERE TO STAY
Palakkad has a few decent hotels, but some of the nicest are outside town. Sri Chackra International (Tel: 0491-2570901-06; Tariff: ₹1,600– 3,700), at Krishna Gardens in Chandranagar, is among the best, with 49 rooms, a pool, bar, restaurant, coffee shop, an Ayurvedic centre and a health club. Their Rice Bowl Restaurant serves good Kerala seafood and more. They also offer tours to Palakkad’s tourist spots including the peacock sanctuary at Mayiladumpara. Hotel Gazala (Tel: 2546581-84; Tariff: ₹2,300–4,000) is among the nicest mid-range options, though located on the main market road, near the Head Post-Office. It has 31 rooms, a restaurant and travel desk.
Hotel Indraprastha (Tel: 253464147; Tariff: ₹1,700–6,000), near the fort on English Church Road, is also a good hotel, with a separate veg-only coffee shop that looks like a koothambalam. Hotel KPM Regency (Tel: 2534601-02; Tariff: ₹1,250– 4,500), also near the fort on the Press Club Road, is within walking distance of most places. Marhaba Residency (Tel: 2525262-64; Tariff: ₹1,200– 2,500) has Choice Family Restaurant and 30 rooms on Robinson Road, near District Hospital.
Kanoos East Fort Resort (Tel: 2532507, 2526935/ 47; Tariff: ₹560– 900) at Fort Maidan is a good budget hotel with 23 rooms and a restaurant. Kairali Towers (Tel: 2547174-77; Tariff: ₹700–2,000) offers 20 rooms, a restaurant and a travel desk on Coimbatore Road, near IG Stadium. Kapilavasthu (Tel: 2515897-98; Tariff: ₹775–1,800) is centrally located near the KSRTC Bus Stand on Shoranur Road, and has 26 rooms, a restaurant and travel desk. Fort Palace Hotel (Tel: 2534621-24; Tariff: ₹1,500–3,750) has 19 rooms on West Fort Road, in the centre of town. ATS Residency (Tel: 2537477; Tariff: ₹2,000–5,000), with 19 rooms and a restaurant on Yakkara Bank Road near the District Police Office, and Hotel Ambadi (Tel: 2531244, 2532244; Tariff: ₹900–1,500) with 15 rooms opposite the Telephone Exchange on TB Road, are among the older, well-reputed budget hotels.
On the Chittoor Road, 16km from Palakkad in Kodumbu, is the plush and popular Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort (Tel: 04923-222553, 222623; Tariff: ₹19,800–32,400, with meals and one herbal massage). It blends a 5,000-year-old discipline of life with 5-star comforts, and is spread across more than 50 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. Kairali’s amenities include a fully-equipped health centre, yoga, and meditation. Kairali offers 3- to 21-day Ayurveda packages. A firsthand experience of the Palakkad way of life can be had at Kandath Tharavad (Tel: 04922-284124, Cell: 09349904124; Tariff: ₹7,600–12,600), the ancestral homestead of the Bhagavaldas clan in Thenkurussi village. This house, dating back more than 200 years, is built in the ettukettu style.
To stay in one of the state’s best-preserved heritage Namboodiri illams, book yourself into the venerable Olappamanna Mana (Tel: 0466-2285383; Tariff: ₹6,474– 15,000, with meals), in Vazhukappara village, just 2km off the road to Shoranur.
Planter’s Retreat (Tel: 04924238232, Cell: 09847032804; Tariff: ₹9,750, with meals) is set in cocoa, rubber and spice plantations, 42km northeast of Palakkad, via Chirakkalpadi (en route Mannarkkad). The plantation offers just three rooms and home-cooked meals, tours of the plantation, fishing and Internet.
WHERE TO EAT
For the gourmand, Palakkad has many authentic culinary delights to offer: masala vadas, bondas, kozhukattas (sweet dumplings filled with coconut and jaggery), sugary unniappams, spicy bajjis and the like. Some tea stalls on the outskirts of town serve Ramasseri idli, a flat, steamed delicacy that bears little resemblance to the common or garden idli that is better known, but tastes differently delicious. There are a couple of excellent restaurant choices on GB Road in Sultanpet. Ashok Bhavan, near the Head Post Office, is undoubtedly the best place for steaming hot breakfast. The Noorjehan Hotel, though it is located in a crowded area, offers authentically prepared nonvegetarian biryanis, pathiris and mutton curries. They have an outlet at Fort Maidan too.
For pure Iyer Brahmin food, Hotel Hariharaputhra on Market Road is the best. Good vegetarian food and sweets can be enjoyed at Hotel Kapilavastu, near KSRTC Bus Stand. Arippa, on Post Office Road serves good biryanis and fish.
Food Fort at Joby’s Mall has Kerala, Arabic and Chinese cuisine. Royal Treat on College Road serves succulent chicken tikka. It’s a good place for tandoori items. For good South Indian food, Nalanda, near Fort Maidan is great. Modestly priced, its nonvegetarian fare is good as well.
Other good outlets that offer delicious nonvegetarian Kerala food include Malabar Fort near Fort Maidan, and Hotel Ambadi on TB Road. Nobel Plaza, opposite the KSRTC Bus Stand on Shoranur Road serves decent fare.
Magic Oven on Court Road has good confectionary and tempting specials. For good coffee, visit Indraprastha on Church Road.
Also visit Rava Stores near the Head Post Office to pick up packets of gigantic rice murukkus, melt-inthe-mouth chakka varatiya (jackfruit jam), fresh and crisp tapioca and banana chips among others.
Mangottu Bhagavathi Temple (24km)
Located at Athipotta, this temple is known for being the abode of the Goddess Mangottu Bhagavathi. Her idol sits at a height, and she is worshipped here in her most fearful form, as the avenger. In fact, offerings to the goddess include red sandal-wood, known as raktachandam, and a paste of red chillis, which are offered as pushpanjali to the goddess. The main sanctum is flanked by shrines dedicated to Ganapathi and Mookken Chathen.
Timings 5:00–11:00am on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; 5:00am–12:00pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays; 5:00–8:00pm Tel 04922-232248
Thunchan Gurumadom, Chittoor (15km)
This sight is known for its association with 16th century Malayalam poet Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan, who is said to have lived here for a while. It is located 2km from one of Palakkad’s typical gramams on the banks of the now sparse Sokanasini river. People call this area Gurumadom, as it is here that Ezhuthachan translated the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to Malayalam. On display here are a srichakra, some idols worshipped by Ezhuthachan, his wooden slippers and some of his manuscripts. On Vijayadashami Day, numerous children are brought here for a ritualistic initiation to learning.
Thenkurissi Shiva Temple (18km)
This 800-year-old temple has many strange characteristics. The traditional gremlin-like figures of rakshasas drinking the abhishekam (holy water) are distinct from the ones present at other Shiva temples in terms of their iconography. The temple was constructed in the shape of a deep inverted cone, and rests on a smooth round column of granite, with exquisite tile-work.
Timings 7.00–9.00am; 5.00–8.00pm Main Festival Mahashivaratri
Kottayi Village is the birthplace of the doyen of Carnatic music, the late Sri Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, the maestro who was popular singer Yesudas’s guru and mentor.
The village celebrates his birth anniversary with grand celebrations, and ganamelas at his memorial in Kottayi village. The village also hosts an annual musical festival in honour of the great singer.
Location 20km from east of Palakkad, on Pudur Road
Kunchan Smarakam, Lakkidi (34km)
Killi Kurushimangalam, Lakkidi, is the birthplace of Kalakkath Kunchan Nambiar, the poet who represents the golden age of Malayalam literature. He was also the creator of Ottanthullal, a traditional dance form (see p44). Today, the Kunchan Smarakam is a national monument, with a library and auditorium. It offers a three-year course in Ottanthullal, Seethamkan Thullal and Parayan Thullal and employs the artistes attached to it. The Smarakam celebrates the Navarathri festival with much pomp and grandeur, while 5 May is celebrated as Thunchan Day.
Location 32km from Palakkad, on the Palakkad-Shoranur Road, via Olavakkod Timings10:00am–5:00pm Tel 0466-2230551
Silent Valley National Park (65km)
One of the least disturbed and extensive patches of tropical rainforests left in the Western Ghats, Silent Valley National Park lives up to its name. Situated in the Kundali Hills in northeastern Palakkad District, this National Park is bound by the Attappady Reserved Forest to the east, and the vested forests of Palghat and Nilambur Divisions to the south and west respectively. The plateau, with an area of about 240sq km, is topographically isolated, cut off on all sides by steep ridges and escarpments, which has allowed the valley to endure as an ecological oasis, preserving fauna and flora. Some of the species here are 50 million years old, as old as the valley itself. The isolation has also successfully prevented human habitation and the forest remains as it was in the middle of the 19th century, when it was discovered by botanist Robert Wright.
This area, known locally as Saindhirivanam, is home to thousands of birds, animals, insects, trees and flowering plants, of which many are endangered or threatened. The Mudugar and Irula tribes are indigenous to this region, and many tribesmen are now employed by the Silent Valley Park itself. The entry point to this valley is Mukkali, 20km from Mannarkad. The Wildlife Warden at Mannarkad issues permits, while the office of the Kerala Forest Department at Mukkali controls access to the park. Mukkali also has a 30-m high watchtower which offers some spectacular views of the valley. Visitors may walk or take a jeep up to Sairandhiri, 23km from Mukkali, along a route that is peppered with plantations and can sometimes afford one sightings of animals such as deer, elephants and langurs. It is possible to arrange for one’s stay at the Inspection Bungalow at Mukkali by the Bhavani River (Tariff: ₹100 for a dormitory bed; ₹600 for a double room; ₹30 for bonafide students and USD30 for Foreign Nationals).
Entry ₹25 Timings 8.00am–5.00pm Vehicle ₹1,600 per jeep, for 5 people, including guide fees Photography ₹25 Videography Rs. 200 Tel 04924253225/ 222056
Email [email protected]; [email protected] gov.in W silentvalley.gov.in
The Colours of Piety
The Palakkad countryside is known for cattle races through paddy fields and the annual festivities of the Bhagavathi temples and colourful Mappila Muslim nerchas.
Held annually between December and January when the farmers are relatively free, under the aegis of the Cattle Race Club of India, this race involves about 120 pairs of cattle. Palakkad is the only place where cart races are also conducted. These races draw in crowds of up to 50,000 each year.
Chittoor Kongan Pada
This festival is celebrated on the first Wednesday after the new moon in the month of Kumbham (February–March). It is connected with the story of Singamanan, the ruler of Ramapattinam Zamin, west of Pollachi, who waged war on Chittoor on the pretext of the latter having stolen silver and muslin from Tamil merchants. Although the people of Chittoor were unfamiliar with warfare, they were able to defeat their attackers with the help of their local deity Bhagavathi.
Kummatti performances, or mock enactments of the war, and a pooja is conducted by a woman chosen specially, and velli chappads (oracles) dance like dervishes to commemorate this victory at the festival.
The residents of four neighbouring villages participate in this vela at the 1,200-year-old Manappullikaavu Bhagavathi Temple, to honour the Bhadrakali form of the goddess with a raktapushpanjali, elaborate devi pujas and fireworks. The festival is held twice a year, in Vrischikam (November–December) and Kumbham (February–March).
The Chinnakkathoor Vela, held near Ottapalam in the month of Kumbham, has some odd rituals, including a march with participants crying out “Aiyyo, we are being killed!”
The festival involves the kalampattu, which lasts for 41 days, 17 days of tholpaavakoothu (puppetry shows based on stories from the Ramayana), Kathakali performances, 16 effigies of horses put on display, horseplay, bullock and ox play, and elephant processions. All these festivities reach a crescendo on the Chinnakkathoor Pooram day, towards the end of Kumbham.
The nercha, held in at the Ottappalam Juma Masjid, commemorates the death of Saint Uthaman Auliya. In a grand procession, offerings of rice and coconuts are brought to the Ottappalam Masjid. These offerings are then cooked for a feast that is then offered to the destitute.
The famous Nenmara-Vallangi Vela invokes the blessings of Nellikulangara Bhagavathi on the 20th day of Meenam (March–April) every year.
The two villages of Nenmara and Vallangi compete, though the festival involves five villages in the area. Folk rituals of Kummatti, Karivela and Andivela are performed, but the main attraction of the festival is a bright and loud fireworks display.
Thh Ratholsavam is a chariot festival held in Thulam (October–November) in the Kalpathi village of the Palakkad Distrinct. It starts at the Vishwanathaswamy Temple at Kalpathi, and is simultaneously celebrated in Chathapurma and New Kalpathi, all on the banks of the Kalpathi Puzha. This 10-day chariot festival includes chanting of sections from the Vedas, chariot processions and cultural programmes.
This festival is held at the Pattambi mosque in the month of Makaram (January–February) to pay tribute to Saint Aloor Valia Pookunjikoya Thangal.
Puthunagaram Theruvath Palli Nercha
This nercha is held at the Aloor Mosque in memory of the bravest of Tipu’s troops, in the month of Kumbham.
A Way of Life in Palakkad
Huge banyan trees, rows of close-set, small, tiled houses, a pair of temples on either side of the village, women drawing kolams (rangolis) in front of their houses at dawn, the strains of nadaswaram music from the temples – these are sights and sounds particular to the agraharams of Palakkad, villages which still hold onto a traditional way of life, common all across Palakkad, from the largest village at Kalpathi to smaller ones like Lakshminarayanapuram, Kumarapuram, Sekharipuram, Noorani and Tarakad.
Agraharams are Brahmin colonies, their name originating from the phrase ‘agaro harascha harischa’, which literally means ‘temple on either side’. These colonies are structurally similar: all villages have two temples on either side of the village, the houses which follow a similar style, with small artistically carved doors, with 6–7-ft long latches and thick wooden vasapadis (thresholds).
Although agraharams are found across all the southern states, there is a larger number in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when Brahmins in Vijayanagara came further south to escape persecution from Muslim invaders, agraharams grew in number following Brahmin exodus from the Muslim-dominated states of Kanjeevaram, Madurai and Tanjore. At Palakkad and other smaller polities across south India, local rulers and zamindars offered them land to build homes. These new settlers became priests, making a living by veda parayanam (vedic chanting), and over the course of time also became landowners. In Kerala, while agraharams are found in Kollam, Thrissur, and Trivandrum, Palakkad is home to around over one hundred agraharams.
Agraharams became associated with divinity. Kalpathi, in Palakkad town, grew to be compared with Kashi in north India, and was sometimes called ‘Kasipathi’, while the River Bharatapuzha was thought to be a tributary of the sacred Ganga. Each new agraharam acquired a rath (chariot), leading to important festivals such as the Kalpathi annual car festival, which attracts over one lakh devotees.
The residents of the Palakkad agraharams have been noted for their intellectual accomplishments. Education is also an integral part of many agraharams; the primary school in villages such as Chokkanathapuram date back 120 years. Many of these students made their way to the prestigious Government Victoria College, which was the main recruiting ground for clerks during the British Raj. Several stalwarts of the Indian Administrative Service come from these agraharams, with modest beginnings and local schooling.
The agraharams have also produced outstanding Carnatic musicians such as Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagawathar, MD Ramanathan, Palakadu Mani Iyer, Palakadu Raghu, Kalpathi Ramanathan, Subba Iyer and Rama Bhagawathar. Perhaps the numerous temples of the agraharams provide an inspirational setting for the highly bhakti-oriented Carnatic music, the elaborate poojas at each festival, the annual car festival, the sparkling santhana kaapu (sandal paste applied to the idols of goddesses) every Friday and the fragrance of incense and flowers, adding to the unique atmosphere. The region is also known for the typical Brahmin cuisine, famed all over the south.
The agraharams honour their pioneers by retaining the original names and characteristics of their institutions. As do the shops named after owners who have passed away or moved to different cities For example, the Seshu Kadai shop in Chokkanathapuram is known by its old name, even though the original owner is now in Nagpur. Similarly, Kittan Kadai, the well-known Kalpathi grocery shop, and the Ambi Saar Primary School at Chokkanathapuram, are named after the Brahmins who set it up.
Yet, while the agraharams retain much of their original character, they have changed with the times. Originally, they housed only Brahmins, but most Brahmin settlers have shifted elsewhere, having sold their homes to non-Brahmins, mostly Nairs. Even so, new settlers have adapted to the traditions of the agraharams. For instance, most families here do not cook meat in their homes.
The agraharams have been declared as heritage sites by the Government of Kerala, and major architectural changes and rebuilding is prohibited. As a result, most houses do not have toilets within the main home space; they are located in the randam kettu (second section). Some changes have occurred, of course. Patthayams, rooms used to store grains, have gradually disappeared from the buildings, and the cowsheds have been relocated so that, unlike in the past, the cows do not come traipsing in through drawing rooms. TV antennae have started to sprout from the roofs of the homes in Kalpathi. The Chokkanathapuram Krishna Temple, always short of funds, is now managed by the residents themselves, while the Shiva Temple receives funds from the erstwhile rajas of Palakkad.
But most traditions continue unamended, and there is the distinct air of preservation and tradition in most of these villages. The mornings are still full of nadaswaram wafting from the temples and young women etching kolams outside their homes.
Malampuzha Gardens: A Huge Family Picnic Spot (15km)
The landscape of Malampuzha is dominated by the stunning concrete sculpture of Yakshi, by Kanai Kunhiraman, Kerala’s most famous contemporary sculptor. The statue, Rubenesque and powerfully feminine, combines elements of Flemish baroque art with the motifs of the somewhat dangerous sensuality and wild tension that yakshis are associated with in Kerala. Sometimes referred to as the Vrindavan of Kerala, the place derives its name from the Malampuzha river, a tributary of the Bharathapuzha. The beautifil gardens are managed by the Tourism Police, who can be contacted for any help.
Entry Adults ₹25; Children ₹10 Timings 9.00am–7.30pm Photography ₹100 Videography ₹1,000 Cell 09497962893, 09496097274
There are a number of attractions at the Malampuzha Gardens, including the Rose Garden, the Snake Park, the Fantasy Park and boating at the Malampuzha Reservoir (see below for details). There is also a swimming pool at the gardens, with provisions for the safety and ease of visitors of all ages.
Charges ₹75 per hour Locker Charges ₹15 Security Deposit ₹100 Timings 10.00am–6.00pm
The Rose Garden houses over a hundred varieties of roses, best viewed from the ropeway, said to be the first of its kind in south India. The ropeway offers a clear view of the gardens from a height of 60ft. The 20-minute ride is particularly popular with children.
Ropeway ₹50 Timings 10.00am– 12.40pm; 1.40–6.00pm Tel 04912815129
The Malampuzha Snake Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre houses several rare species of snakes, a number of which can be seen at the Snake Park. These include Forsten’s cat snake and brown vine snake. The park also has all the cobras one would ever want to see, including the King Cobra. It also houses some varieties of water snakes, crocodiles and the American green iguana.
Entry Adults ₹10; Children ₹5 Timings 8.00am–6.00pm
The Fantasy Park, separate from the Malampuzha Dam and Gardens, offers 20 rides in three different settings – a dry park area, a water park area and a planetarium, which is designed as a tool that is both educational as well as entertaining. The park is an excellent weekend getaway.
Entry Adults ₹450; Children ₹300; Senior Citizens ₹220 Timings 10.00am–6.00pm
It is possible to hire rowboats, pedal-boats, water scooters and motorboats at KTDC’s Garden House Hotel near the Malampuzha Reservoir (Tel: 0491-2815217; Charges Pedal Boat ₹100–200, Motorboat ₹300–800, depending on size and number of people). The hotel, located near the gardens, also has a restaurant and beer parlor. In addition to these, visitors can head to Hotel Tripenta for Swedish massages and reflexology treatments (Tel: 0491-2815220; Charges ₹2,500 onwards).
To get away from the crowds, head to Meenkara Dam, 18 km further north. This is a far quieter spot than Malampuzha. A boat ride on the Gayathri river also offers lovely views of the ghats.
Inputs by Deepa Anand and K.G. Kumar
When to go September to April offers cool, pleasantly breezy weather; summers are incredibly hot, and monsoons extremely wet
District Tourism Promotion Council
Location Palakkad, the district headquarters of Palakkad District, is located about 350km from Trivandrum, and 47km W of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
Distances 141km SE of Kozhikode
Route from Kochi NH47 to Palakkad via Ernakulam, Aluva, Angamaly, Chalakudi, Thrissur, Vadakkancherri and Alathur
Air Nearest Airports: Peelamedu Airport, Coimbatore (55km/ 1.5hrs), is connected by daily flight to Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune. Less frequent flights connect it with Kochi. Prepaid taxi (Cell: 09976494000) to Palakkad will cost approximately ₹1,700. Palakkad is also close to Kochi’s Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery (115km/ 2.5hrs), which is connected with most cities in the country. Prepaid taxis (Tel: 0484-2610115, extn: 2107) to Palakkad will cost between ₹2,650 and ₹2,950
Rail Nearest Railhead: Palghat Station is well-connected by the Amritha and Kerala Expresses to the capital Thiruvananthapuram. These also serve Ernakulam which has daiy connections to Palakkad. The Kanyakumari Express serves Bengaluru and the Alleppey Express serves Chennai
Road Palakkad is on NH47, which links Salem to Kanyakumari via Coimbatore (47km), Thrissur (67km), Ernakulam (146km), Alleppey (209km), Thiruvananthapuram (359km) and Kollam (296km). Additionally, NH213 links Palakkad to Kozhikode (141km) on NH17 via Mannarkkad, Perinthalmanna and Malappuram
Bus Palakkad’s KSRTC Bus Stand (Tel: 0491-2527298) on the Shoranur Road has daily services from Thrissur, Kochi, Kozhikode, Bengaluru among others
Emoor Bhagavathi Temple