Kannur, also known as Cannanore, rivals its neighbour Kozhikode in its ancient history subdued by the bustle of later centuries; people in Kannur believe that its history is far hoarier than that of Kozhikode, though the latter is admittedly a lot more illustrious. History may not be very obvious in this idyllic, quiet Malabar town, but it does appear in its stories.

Kannur is identified as Naura in the 1st century Greek travelogue, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. It is believed that King Solomon’s ships collected timber from Kannur to build the great temple of Jerusalem. Marco Polo called Kannur a great emporium of the spice trade. In 1505, Kannur became famous across the world when the then ruling Kolathiri Rajas sanctioned a fort to be built here by the Portugese. Two centuries later, the Arakkal Ali Rajas came to power in 1772 CE, in a dramatic fashion. History narrates the tale of a princess of the Hindu royal family rescued from drowning by a gallant Muslim youth. Cupid struck, much to the chagrin of the Raja, her father, who eventually had to bow down to the legendary determination of Malayali women and founded a separate royal line called Arakkal. The Ali Rajas put Minicoy Island on the map as well, wrestling control over the island in the late 16th century from the Maldives. Later, the Ali Rajas ceded the island and the rest of the Lakshadweep isles to the British.

This tumultuous history with so many different religions, communities and people is reflected in the curious juxtaposition of Colonial buildings and modern residences in places such as Burnassery Cantonment adjoining the beach. It is also evident in the churches, ancient mosques as well as lovely temples that dot green rice fields and coconut groves here.

At the very heart of Kannur is the Muthappan Temple and the Railway Station. Just south of these is the DTPC office, opposite the Mariamman Koil and the KSRTC Bus Stand on NH17. To the west is the Thavakkara area, and turning south, HQ Road leads to Burnassery Cantonment, beyond which is St. Angelo’s Fort and Mappila Bay.

Prashant Panjiar
A visitor walking past the canons at Fort St. Angelo
A visitor walking past the canons at Fort St. Angelo

Things to See & Do

Jawaharlal Nehru once said that Kannur is the garden of India. Set against the background of the moody Lakshadweep Sea, it does offer an exciting array of sights and experiences. From exploratory walks around town, to picnic lunches at local sights to visits to numerous temples, Kannur has plenty to offer to its visitors.

Fort St. Angelo

Dramatically silhouetted against the sea, Fort St. Angelo’s massive laterite blocks give it a faintly menacing air. Built by the Portugese and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a thousand people once lived within the ramparts of the fort. Commanding views of the sea and of Moplah Bay, checkered with boats and small crafts, offer visitors a good photo opportunity. Within the compound are numerous cashew trees, said to have been planted by the Portuguese. The latter introduced the plant to India, and in Malayalam cashews are called parangi mavu or ‘foreign mango’.

Location West of Burnassery Cantonment, on the Lakshadweep Sea Timings 8.30am–6.00pm Tel 0497-2732578 (ASI, Fort St. Angelo), 2702515

Arakkal Kettu

The Arakkal Kettu, the former residence of the Arakkal Ali Rajas, has been transformed into a museum. Located 3 km from Kannur, the monument has been conserved and protected by the ASI, and some artefacts have been removed for safe custody. There are two mosques near the Arakkal Kettu, one right next to it and one around the corner. The descendants of the rajas live nearby.

Location Close to Fort St Angelo Tel 0497-2706529

Theyyams of the Kannur Kavus

North Malabar’s unique, ancient, ritualistic folk art is known as Theyyam. The word itself is a corruption of the Malayalam word daivam meaning god, while the art form is a dramatic blend of dance, music, Kalaripayattu and worship, usually dedicated to specific deities. It is in many ways a reflection of religious harmony. For example, some of the deities to which the art has been dedicated are Mappila Muslim heroes. There are nearly 450 types of Theyyam that are performed in the many kavus, or sacred groves, that dot Kannur District. Many families request performances in their homes to bring prosperity, ward off evil and prevent diseases. The best season to watch Theyyam performances is from December to May. The DTPC publishes a guide each year, listing the dates for the performances and their locations. This book is especially useful if one wants to watch a specific type of Theyyam, such as the Agni Theyyam where the dancer sits on fire.

Payyambalam Beach
Payyambalam Beach

Shri Muthappan, Parassinikadavu

The Parassinikadavu Temple, dedicated to the toddy and fried fish loving deity, Shri Muthappan, sits picturesquely on the banks of the Valapattanam river. Muthappan is an incarnation of Maha Vishnu, and also believed to be the son of Shiva and Parvathi.

Regarding the toddy and fried fish, the legend is that a childless couple found and adopted an abandoned baby boy. As he grew up, he took to hunting and eating flesh, although these were taboo to his parents. The father was so disappointed that he wanted to kill himself. But the boy appeared to him in the form of God Vishnu as the hunter, taking the name of Muthappan. In another legend, the boy was refused toddy by a toddy-tapper and turned the latter into stone. He then proceeded to Paracchinga Katavu, the ‘ghat of thorny plants’, on the Valapattanam River, where a low-caste family recognised his divinity and appeased him with toddy and fish.

The ritual continues to this day, in the form of a Theyyam performance at the temple, where a member of the family continues to play this role. The morning performances entail acts by two performers. Visitors wanting to catch this show will not only have to wake up early but don saris or mundus (no salwaar kameezes or trousers are allowed).

The temple can be reached via road, by travelling along NH17 towards Kasargod for 13km, and then following the signs to the temple, or via a boat ride offered by DTPC, along the Valapattanam river to the Parassinikadavu Temple. The temple also lies adjacent to a Snake Park, which makes for an exciting visit, with snake pits and cages that hold an impressive variety of reptiles.

Location 18km north of Kannur; Timings 5.00–8.00am & 4.00–8.00pm Main Festival Thiruvapanna in January Snake Park Entry  5 Timings 8.30am–5.00pm

Courtesy Kerala Tourism
Valapattanam river flowing placidly past a village
Valapattanam river flowing placidly past a village

Railway Shri Muthappan Temple

Within Kannur town itself, visitors can catch a Theyyam performance at another temple, locally known as the Railway Shri Muthappan because it is a short walk from Kannur Station. Prayers begin here as early as 4.00am, and go on till 9.00am with shorter poojas in the evenings. On Fridays, however, there are no prayers; at 5.00pm, the costumed Theyyam dancers begin their propitiation, dancing till 8.00pm. It is a must-see.

Valapattanam Backwaters

The Valapattanam river, among the lengthiest rivers in Malabar, originates in the Western Ghats of Kodagu. The Parassini Temple’s reflection, lights up its waters just before it meets the Arabian Sea near Valapattanam Village, a timber-trading village that serves Kannur just as Beypore serves Kozhikode. Here, great wooden urus and dhows are made with wood that floats down the river from the forested Ghats of East Kannur. Visitors can hire motorboats or house boats from DTPC Kannur or privately run resorts such as the Cliff Exotel International Beach Resort for hour long expeditions, day cruises or overnight stays.

DTPC Kannur Motorboat Cruise Tariff  800 per hour Timings 8.00am–4.30pm Day Cruise Tariff  3,000–4,000 Overnight Stay Tariff  6,000 per night Tel 0497-2706336

Kannur’s Beaches

The biggest and most popular of Kannur’s beaches is Payyambalam. At the entrance to the beach is a beautiful garden with a massive sculpture of mother and child, by the renowned artist Kannayi Kunhiraman. While the beach is a bit crowded, especially in the evenings, a brisk 10-minute walk along the shoreline leads to a more secluded area where one can watch the sun go down peacefully, seemingly tracing a molten path upon the sea.

Park Entry  2

Baby Beach, much smaller than Payyambalam, and much quieter, can only be accessed through the Burnassery Cantonment. This beach is ideal for spending long, blissfully relaxing hours.

Images of deities for sale
Images of deities for sale

Meenkunnu Beach at Azhikode, about 11km from Kannur, can be approached via a bumpy road, along Azhikode Road past Payyambalam through a patch of coconut groves. But it offers a stunning vista of blue breakers dashing against rocky outcrops. Steps lead down to golden sand take visitors to a beach that is breezy and isolated, with only the sea for miles around.

Kannur’s Temples

Kannur District is scattered all over with small, ancient shrines, set among groves of coconut and banana. Most of these temples are elegant houses of god, reflecting a sort of ancient piety. They are simple structures of wood and brick, no bigger than a large house. Their attraction lies in their hallowed quietude, impressive oil lamps hanging within, lit for the evening poojas lighting up a dark interior.

To enter most temples, men must be bare-chested and wear a mundu and women must wear a sari.

Shri Subramania Temple, Peralassery

The Shri Subramania Temple at Peralassery is believed to be the place where Rama and Lakshmana halted on their way to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita. Inside the temple are bronze and copper idols of snakes. This temple also has a beautiful stepped tank, newly renovated.

Location 14km from Kannur down NH17, then turn left to Kuttuparamba Timings 4:00am–12:30pm, 4:15– 8:00pm Pooja Timings 10:45– 11:15am & 7:20–7:45pm; Main Festivals Kaveri Sangramam in October, Vrischika Utsavam and the seven-day Koodiyattam in December Tel 0497-2827601

Taliparamba Temples

The best known temple in the little hamlet of Taliparamba is the Trichambaram Temple. This Krishna temple is said to predate the 10th century. The carvings and murals within go back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Timings 5.00am–12.00pm, 5.00– 8.00pm; Main Festival 14-day Trichambaram Mahautsavam in the month of March

Devotees outside Trichambaram Temple
Devotees outside Trichambaram Temple

Also in Taliparamba is the Sri Rajarajeswara Temple, dating back to the 10th century. An unusual custom followed here is that women are allowed to worship inside only after 8.00pm; it is said that Lord Shiva is present with Parvathi then and therefore grants all their wishes. The main festival here is the Maha Shivarathri in Kumbham (February–March).

About 6km from Taliparamba lies the Mahatma Nature Cure Centre, whose mud and water treatments and Ayurvedic massages, are both good and affordable.

Tel 0460-3202655/ 3253779 Cell 09387303315/ 9387303318 mncconline.com

Subramania, Payyanur

Payyanur, about 21km north of Taliparamba along the NH17 (46km from Kannur) is home to the Subramania Temple. The famous pavithra modiram rings are available here; made with gold and the holy darbha grass, these are worn by brahmanas while performing rituals. However, they are made on order and can only be worn after being sanctified at the temple.

Timings 4.00am–12.00pm & 5.00–9.00pm

Shopping

Kannur is known for its reasonably priced handloom products of excellent quality. Some of the best handlooms can be found at the government-run Hanveev on Thillery, or Sree Narayanan Road, which sells inexpensive and colourful house linen, bedcovers, table linen and fine cotton saris. Another good shop is Icon, opposite the Collectorate, where one can pick up brass and bell metal lamps of all shapes and sizes.

Where to Stay

Kannur has some very good stay options. Cliff Exotel International (Tel: 0497-2712197, Cell: 098460 30737; Tariff:  2,500–3,000) is very well-equipped with 12 rooms, houseboat cruises, Ayurveda and a travel desk.

Malabar Residency (Tel: 270165455; Tariff:  1,950–4,500), just across from the Railway Station, is an old Kannur establishment with 36 rooms, the Grand Plaza restaurant and Ayurvedic treatments. Mascot Beach Resort (Tel: 2708450/ 55; Tariff:  3,000–6,000) is up on a hillock overlooking the sea, near Baby Beach. All rooms face the beach and its lighthouse. They have a restaurant, swimming pool and an Ayurveda centre. Costa Malabari (Kochi Tel: 0484-28371761, Cell: 09847044688; Tariff:  3,000–4,000) is the flagship of a chain of hotels in north Malabar, with 12 excellent rooms near the beach. The hotel takes you handloom shopping, birdwatching and on village visits in Kannur District.

Courtesy Mascot Beach Resort
Poolside, Mascot Beach Resort
Poolside, Mascot Beach Resort

Asokam Beach Resort (Tel: 2741019, Cell: 09446070373; Tariff:  1,800–4,250) is a clean and well-maintained beachside property with a restaurant, Internet and Ayurveda.

Royal Omars (Tel: 2769091-96; Tariff:  2,000–4,500) has 60 rooms in Thavakkara. The hotel boasts of Paris Restaurant. Palmgrove Heritage Retreat (Tel: 2703182, 2702816; Tariff:  1,250–3,500) is located in the residence of the last Arakkal Ali Raja, with a garden at the back. Kannur Beach House (Tel: 2836530, 2708360, Cell: 09847186330; Tariff:  3,200–3,500, with two meals) near the Thottada beach is a clean and comfortable homestay with awesome views of the sea. Another charming homestay is KK Heritage (Tel: 2835240, 2742025, Cell: 094474 86020; Tariff:  2,700, with two meals) located on a beautiful lagoon. Both serve excellent home-cooked Kerala cuisine.

KTDC has two properties in Kannur. Tamarind Hotel & Motel Aaram (Tel: 2780220; Tariff:  1,400) near Parassinikadavu Temple offers 10 rooms while Tamarind Easy Hotel (Tel: 2700717; Tariff:  750– 1,200) has 22 rooms. Both are equipped with restaurants.

For Ayurvedic treatments, go to the PVA Ayurvedic Nursing Home (Tel: 2760609, Cell: 09447283695). You can get herbal facials, foot and head massage, kalari marma massage and panchakarma.

Where to Eat

Kannur, like the rest of the Malabar coast, is known best for Malabar biryani, made with fish, chicken or meat, a dish worth its reputation. Palmgrove, Mascot Beach Resorts and Cool Land on MA Road offer fantastic biryani that proves very satisfying for the taste buds. Another must try local dish here is kinnathappam, a sweet bread made of jaggery and coconut, available at most bakeries. The multi-cuisine Paris Restaurant at Royal Omar’s has Kerala food on the menu.

Hotel Odhens is all about fish, open only for lunch only. For good continental fare, Sahib’s Grill Kitchen is the place. Hotel Randhaal serves good Kerala meals, while Quality on Station Road serves local vegetarian fare. For somewhat more luxurious dining, head to Chiffonnette.

Adi Shankara – The Philosopher Saint

Kalady’s identity is linked intricately with its association with Adi Shankara. Born at Kalady towards the end of the 8th century CE, Adi Shankara grew to be an important Hindu saint and philosopher. He was the only son of Sivaguru and Aryamba, a Namboodiri couple. When young Shankara completed his education in the Vedas at the age of 16, he decided to become a sanyasi, or ascetic, giving up all worldly pleasures and ties to his family.

Dinodia Photo Libary
Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara

Many legends surround this period of his life, including the story of the crocodile that refused to let him go until his mother gave him permission to become a sanyasi. Another story is that of the gold nellikais (gooseberries). When Shankara was collecting alms as a young brahmachari (a brahmana student who wears the sacred thread), he came to the door of a very poor woman. Despite her poverty, she gave him the last piece of nellikai that she had, inspiring Shankara to compose the powerful Kanakadhara Stotram (the ‘stream of gold’ prayer) and cause gold nellikais to rain down, rewarding the pious woman.

Certainly, Shankara’s life is seen as the journey of an enlightened soul. Although his was a short life of only 32 years, his contribution to what is now known as Hinduism is undeniable. Adi Shankaracharya, as he came to be known, traversed the length and breadth of India on foot. He established four mutts in the four corners of the country – Joshimath in the north, Puri in the east, Dwarka in the west and Sringeri in the south. These mutts are venerated as sanctuaries of Hindu dharma.

His devotional compositions and shlokas (verses of prayer) are considered divine. The most famous of these is Bhaja Govindam, a sublime rendition of which was popularised by M.S. Subbulakshmi. A vast body of work on Hindu theology, essays and treatises on the Vedas, the Brahmasutras and the Upanishads, is attributed to Shankara’s genius. His widely accepted treatise on the Bhagavad Gita is considered definitive and has shaped how the text is viewed in modern times. Adi Shankara also founded the Advaita School of Hindu philosophy, making the suggestion that the first two of the three eternal entities – god, the soul and the world – are in fact one, not distinct from one another. Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara’s travels took him to Lake Manasarovar; he is believed to have attained Samadhi, or become one with god, near Kedarnath, now in Uttarakhand.

While Kalady’s Kaipally Mana is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya, the well-preserved Melpazhur Mana in Piravam, the birthplace of Shankara’s mother Aryamba, also claims the same. For the curious traveller, Piravam is 45km from Kalady, via Perumbavoor along Puthenkurish Road. This sight is managed by the Chinmaya International Foundation, which conduct camps and programmes for tourists. They will arrange for lunch if they are emailed ahead of time.

Timings 9:30am–5:00pm, Closed Sundays Tel 0484-2747307/ 2747104 Email office@chinfo.org

Divya Anand

FAST FACTS

When to go For Theyyam performances, come between December and May. Summer can be quite warm. While the Malabar coast is beautiful in the monsoons, the sea is off-limits at the time for safety reasons

Tourist Offices

District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC)
Kannur
Tel: 0497-2706336
dtpckannur.com

Tourist Information Centre
Civil Station Kannur
Tel: 2703121
STD code 0497

Location On the Lakshadweep Sea in north Malabar, 89km S of Kasargod

Distance 86km N of Kozhikode

Route from Kozhikode NH17 to Kannur via Koyilandy, Vatakara, Mahe and Thalassery

Getting There

Air Nearest Airport: Karipur International Airport, Kozhikode (112km/2.5hrs). Taxis to Kannur cost around 2,000-2,500

Rail Nearest Railhead: Kannur Station is connected with Ernakulam and Trivandrum by the Cannanore, Netravati and Parashuram daily express trains, to Chennai by the Mangalore Mail, and to Mumbai by the Netravati and Mangla Lakshadweep Expresses. The latter begins at Delhi, to which Kannur is also connected by Trivandrum Rajdhani (thrice a week) and Kerala Sampark Kranti (twice a week)

Road Kannur is connected to Kozhikode (86km), Kasargod (89km), Mangalore (138km), Panjim (514km) and Mumbai (1,072km) by NH17. It is 6-hour drive from Kochi (309km), along NH47 to Edapally, then NH17 to Kannur via Kodungallur, Ponnani, Kozhikode and Thalassery

Bus Kannur’s KSRTC Bus Stand (Tel: 0497-2705960) opposite the Collector’s Office near NH17 has regular services to Thiruvananthapuram, Kasargod, Kozhikode, Kalpetta, Ponnani, Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Bengaluru and Mangalore