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Vararuchi and Mezhathol Agnihothri

Note: In almost all the accounts on Vararuchi and Mezhathol Agnihothri, the name of Aazhvaancheri Thampraakkal is referred to. But according to historical evidences, Mezhathol Agnihothri and Aazhvaancheri Thampraakkal are not contemporaries. Also, Aazhvaancheri Mana is not seen in the list of seven families selected by Mezhathol Agnihothri to perform 99 Yaagams (See the article "Classification" in this site to know more about it).

VARARUCHI: This is the story of Vararuchi, a great Brahmanan Scholar in the King Vikramaadithyan's court, (around 300 AD) highly learned in all the Saasthrams (sciences). He is said to be the son of famous Govinda Swamy and the author of "Vaakiam" and "Paralpperu", two treatises in "Jyothissaasthram" (Astronomy), both of which were then popular in the Kerala region.

One day, King Vikramaadithyan asked Vararuchi as to which is the most important verse, and in it, the most important phrase, in the entire Ramayanam epic. When he was unable to answer correctly, the king ordered him to come back with the correct answer in 41 days. Vararuchi approached many scholars but still could not come up with the correct answer. On the night of 40th day, as he was resting under a banyan tree, he got a clue to the answer from two spirits  which had come there in the form of Kaalameni birds to visit two spirits of the forests who were residing on that tree. According to them, the most important verse was the advice given by Sumithra to Lakshmanan, when Sri Raman, Seetha and Lakshmanan started for forest exile.

"Ramam Dasaratham vidhhi, maam vidhhi Janakaatmajam
 Ayodhya mataveem vidhhi, gaccha thaatha yattha sukham"

(Consider Raman as if he were their father Dasarathan, Seetha as mother and the forest as Ayodhya; may the journey be a blessed one).

And the most important phrase in it was "Maam vidhi Janakaatmajam" (Consider Seetha as your mother). At the same time, the birds also brought the unhappy tidings that Vararuchi, the great Brahmanan, is destined to marry the girl just born in a Parayan (very low caste) family.

Vararuchi then returned to King Vikramaadithyan's court and recited this most important verse of Ramayanam which greatly pleased the king who presented Vararuchi with felicitations. Vararuchi used this opportunity for escaping from his fate and convinced the king that unless that child is put to death, the entire kingdom will be under threat. Accordingly, the little girl was traced, kept in a small raft (made out of banana plant peelings) with a lighted torch stuck on its head and floated in the river.

One day, many years later, Vararuchi, during one of his travels, went into a poor Brahmanan's house for food. When Vararuchi set some preconditions (in code language) for taking food there, a girl from inside assured that all the conditions will be met. Impressed by the intelligence of the girl who could understand the complicated conditions he had put forth and the perfect arrangements she made for him, he was attracted to her and married her.

Vararuchi soon realised that the girl he married was the same one who was sent afloat in the river, and that none can change the course of destiny. It was an Antharjanam (Namboothiri wife) of Narippatta Mana of Kodumunda village on the northern bank of Nila (Bharathapuzha) across from Thrithala who had found the floating girl and had raised her.

Thereupon Vararuchi proclaimed ex-communication for himself from the Brahmanan community, due to his marriage with a low caste girl. Along with his wife, Vararuchi started on a pilgrimage.

During Vararuchi's travels along the Nila river, his wife had given birth to twelve children. Each time he told her to go into a denser part of the forest and upon delivery, asked her if the baby had mouth. If she said yes, he would say, "God will feed it if it has mouth", and would ask her to leave the child there and then proceed. Grieved by these, when the 12th child was born, she lied and said the baby did not have a mouth, upon which he permitted her to take the child along. But when she was about to breast-feed it, the mouth was actually not there, proving that the words of great personalities do indeed become real. Vararuchi then deified the child on a hill, which is called "Vaayillaakkunnilappan" (Hill Lord without mouth), near the place Kadampazhipuram (in the present Palakkad dist.).

The children left out in the forest were subsequently found, adopted and raised by families belonging to different communities, recognised one another as they grew up, and used to get-together at the Illam (residence) of the eldest son, Mezhathol Agnihothri, on their father Vararuchi's death anniversary (Sraadham) - so goes the story or myth. These twelve sons are: Mezhathol Agnihothri (Brahmanan), Paakkanaar (Parayan, a very low caste), Rajakan (Washerman), Naaraanathu Bhraanthan (Elayathu, a lower class Brahmanan), Kaarakkal Maatha (high caste Nair), Akavoor Chaathan (Vysyan), Vaduthala Nair (Nair Soldier), Vallon (Thiruvalluvar of Tamil Nadu), Uppukottan (Muslim), Paananaar (Paanan, a very low caste of country musicians), Perumthachan (carpenter), Vaayillaakkunnilappan (deity).

After the "Prathishta" of "Vaayillaakkunnilappan", Vararuchi is believed to have undergone Samaadhi at Mannoor, to get "Moksham", though there is another version that he continued his pilgrimage.

Most of these twelve families still exist in the southern part of Palakkad district (Shoranur, Pattambi and Thrithala areas). Recently, on 30-11-97, all of them met in Vemancheri Mana, the Illam (residence) of Mezhathol Agnihothri, near Thrithala.

1. MEZHATHOL AGNIHOTHRI: The first born of Vararuchi couple, Mezhathol Agnihothri (Brahmadathan), of the twelve children, is said to have been born on a Thursday on the 2nd day of the month of Meenam in Kali year 3444, (342 AD) based on the Kali number "Parudheesamaashraya:". The Antharjanam (Namboothiri wife) in Vemancheri Mana, who found the new-born baby abandoned by Vararuchi on the bank of Nila river and raised it like her own, recognised one day that the child had divine powers. The boy who had accompanied her to bathe in the river performed deification(sanctification or Prathishta, in Sanskrit) of Sivalingam in the Taali (herbal paste for cleaning hair) plate and diverted the course of the river at Varanduttikkadavu. It is believed that the deity which Agnihothri had made out of river sand in the "Thiruthaalam" (sacred plate) later came to be known as "Thrithaala Appan". As a hongover of a custom, even to this day, the Vemancheri Mana members do not offer prayers at the Siva temple at Thrithala.

According to history, after Budha and Jain periods, the deteriorated Vedadharma and Yagna (Yaagam) culture were rejuvenated in Kerala, several years later, by Mezhathol Agnihothri, by performing Yaagam ninety-nine times, one after the other. Only seven of the thirty two Namboothiri Graamams (villages) co-operated with Agnihothri and accepted the Yaagam culture again. Even today, only these seven Graamams (Thaliparambu, Alathur, Karikkad, Panniyur, Sukapuram, Perumanam and Irinjalakkuda) have families having right to perform Yaagams. It has to be noted that seventeen experts are needed to perform Yaagam. For all these 99 Yaagams, Mezhathol Agnihothri drew these seventeen experts from seven Namboothiri families, viz, Kalakandathur Griham, Maathur Griham, Kulukkamillaavur Griham, Chemmangad Griham, Paazhoor Griham, Muringoth Griham and Vella Griham.

It is said that a person who performs 100 Yaagams will become god Indran. When 99 Yaagams were over, Lord Indran feared that his power would be lost to the Yajamaanan (leader) of this Yaagam. Indran personally arrived in the 99th Yaagasaala to accept the oblations meant for each of them, and pleaded to Mezhathol Agnihothri to stop performing the 100th Yaagam. The leader, Mezhathol Agnihothri, declined the request saying that he is performing it not for a better position but for retaining the culture of Yaagam among Brahmanans. Indran then conceded Mezhathol Agnihothri and his seven colleagues, his equal status.

The 99 Yaagams of Mezhathol Agnihothri were performed at "Yagneswaram". After the Yaagam fire (Yaagaagni, energy) extinguished, the Yagna gods, Siva and Vishnu were deified in the fireplace (Homakundam). The northern dry branch (struck by lightening) of the huge banyan tree (Arayaal, in Malayalam) to the south of the temple planted and grown by Agnihothri for his Yaagams, is even now used for making "Arani" for Sroutha rituals (like Yaagams). It is now believed that Aazhvaancheri Thampraakkal performed the duties of "Brahman" in all these Yaagams. Vaidyamadham family members were the Yaagasaala physicians. [ Click here for "Saalaa vaidyan"]

The story goes that once a huge vortex appeared in the river Cauvery. An Amyar (Malayalam term for Tamil Brahmanan lady) girl residing on the bank of the river apparently got a divine message and said that only Mezhathol Agnihothri can find a solution for this cyclonic formation in the river. When invited, he went there, went down into the waters and came up on the third day with three spears in his hand. Some Gandharvans had apparently lost them there.

Agnihothri accepted the Amyar girl as his third wife, returned and installed the gold spear in his own house, the silver spear at Velliyamkallu and the copper spear at Kotikunnath. It is believed that the gold spear installed on the west side of the quadrangle (Patinjaatti) in Vemancheri Mana, later grew itself as a large stone lamp (Kalvilakku). The twelve brothers of Agnihothri (Pantheerukulam) are said to have been meeting at Vemancheri Mana, the home of Agnihothri, every year on the Bheeshmaashtami day of Utharayanam to perform the death anniversary rites (Sraadham) of their father, Vararuchi. It is from the Agnihothra smoke-stained Patinjaatti of this Mana that sparked the beginning of Sroutha culture now existing in a relatively pure form in Kerala. Vaastu Vidya (part of Architecture) and Thachu Saasthram (also part of Architecture) are integrated in this Mana retaining the Yagnasaala's arrangements and sanctity. Symbolised here are the peaceful Bhagavathy in the Patinjaatti and in the central quadrangle (Nadumittam), the Durga, Bhadrakaali and Krishnakaali.

It was to this Mana that Agnihothri's brother Paakkanaar of Paraya caste had turned up carrying the udder chopped off from a dead cow in order to perform Sraadha (in his own style) of their father Vararuchi.

The first wife of Mezhathol Agnihothri was the wife who participated in Yaagam along with him and hence received the title "Pathanaadi". Disturbed at having to cook and serve for the brothers-in-law belonging to various lower castes and due to incompatibilities with other wives, the first wife left and stayed at Velutha Patteri Illam nearby. The second wife, after receiving the spirit of Bhagavathi on to a Vaalkannati (a copper mirror which a bride carries during marriage, and kept safely later) also left childless and started living in Koodallur Kodanat Mana, nearby. The Vemancheri Mana members, in order to sustain the sanctity of the temple deities, shifted to the adjacent building (Pathaayappura) and later to Kadambur near Ottapalam.

Across the river Nila from Yagneswaram is the rock called Velliyamkallu (silver rock), where Agnihothri's silver spear was installed. On the full moon night (Veluthavaavu) in the month of Thulaam when it is usually crowded there, one can see the marks of Velliyamkallu where Agnihothri used to spread his clothes to dry. During Thrithala temple festival, the deity used to be taken to Velliyamkallu in a procession and do the "Thidampu Aaraattu" (deity immersion) there. Thus the rock is also known as "Aaraattu Paara". The rice mound, which Agnihothri used to make for his Yaagam, and the channel into which the rice gravy (kanji) used to be poured still exist in Thrithala as "Arikkunnu" (rice hill) and "Kanjithodu" (rice gravy stream) in memory of Agnihothri.

The famous astrologer Puthussery Vishnu Namboothiri has, according to Kalidinasamkhya "Yagna Sthaanam Samrakshya" determined that Agnihothri ended his last Yaagam on Tuesday, the 28th of the month Kumbham in Kali year 3479 (AD 377-378). Agnihothri's age was then said to be 34 years, 11 months and 26 days.

According to Kesari Balakrishna Pilla, Mezhathol may have come from Mezhithol, which could mean Karinthol, which could be the Graamam by the same name (Karanthola) among the 32 Namboothiri Graamams.

It is believed that Agnihothri wrote the books "Bhaavanaavivekam", "Sphotasidhi", "Brahmasidhi", etc. using the pen name "Mandanamisra" and three poems in Chenthamizhu included in "Purananoor" in the pen name of "Vanparanar". The famous scholars Payyur Bhattathiris claim their ancestry to Agnihothri.

2. Paakkanar: Just a shout away from Mezhathol Agnihothri's home Vemancheri Mana in Thrithala, is the Paakkanar colony otherwise known as Eerattinkal Paraya colony adjoining Arikkunnu mentioned earlier. In the traditional caste hierarchy in Kerala, the Paraya caste was considered a lower caste. Families of Paakkanaar lineage live in this colony in 18 houses. The story goes that it was Paakkanar who actually made a "Thampraakkal" out of "Aazhvaancheri Thampraakkal", who is considered as the head of the Namboothiris of the region.

3. Rajakan: It was a washerman living along the river Nila who found and raised another child abandoned along the river bank by Vararuchi. Since his five children were girls, the washerman was happy to raise the boy as their own, and was named Rajakan. Rajakan instituted a religious learning centre (Vydikavidyaalayam) at Kadavalloor which later became the prime venue of the Vedic testing process ( Click here to know more about Kadavalloor and Anyonyam). It may have been as a result of difference of opinion between Rajakan and his teacher (guru) Kumarilabhattan that "Poorva meemamsa" (a branch of study) branched into Rajakan's Prabhakara school and the guru's Bhatta school, the latter getting more popularity in Kerala. As time passed, the educational centre instituted by Rajakan at Kadavalloor disintegrated and the Thrissur and Thirunavaaya schools took over and controlled Kadavalloor Anyonyam.

4. Naaraanath Bhraanthan: If one proceeds westward beyond the silent valley of the high Athipatta hill situated along the Thootha river, tributary of river Nila, one would reach Aamayur Mana, also known as Narayanamangalathu Mana. This is the illam to which the crazy boy, one of the new-borns left behind by Vararuchi, was taken and raised, and who later became the famous "Naaraanathu Bhraanthan" (The mad man of Naaraanath). Later an Illam was built at the foot of the Raayiranellur hill, into which they all moved. Still later, upon partition of the family, the elder brother Kumaraswamy Bhattathiripad, also known as Malayil Patteri, moved to Raayiranellur. Naaraanath Bhraanthan's craziness was well told through stories of his living in cremation ground, and rolling of rocks up and down the hill. Naaraanath Bhraanthan was so intelligent and courageous that he performed the Upanayanam of a mad boy of a mad member of Kalpuzha Mana, during midnight the most auspicious time he found during that year for that boy. Upanayanam is considered as a second-birth of the boy. The mad boy later became a perfect gentleman and did many wonders. One can see the temple built and deified by Naaraanath Bhraanthan on the top of the hill at Raayiranellur near Koppam, in the western border of Palakkad district.

Though raised as a Brahmanan, Naaraanath Bhraanthan did not follow the rites and rituals of Namboothiris, which is perhaps why he was considered as "Elayathu" (A semi-Brahmanan caste). It is believed that Naaraanath Bhraanthan is the author of "Harithakaranam", a treatise in Astronomy (Jyothissaasthram). Some believe that as a person who loved the stars, he would have been in the habit of lying in the sands of Thootha river at nights looking up and watching the stars, constellations and their movements! Still one can find the remnants of unbroken links by which the Bhraanthan was chained to a "Kaanjiram" tree and the temple deified by him, just a stone's throw away from Rayiranelloor, on the top of a hill. This is known as "Bhraanthankotta" (madman's fort).

5. Kaarakkal Maatha: It is said that Kavalappara Swaroopam, who observes "pula" with Mezhathol Agnihothri, owes ancestry to Kaarakkal Maatha, the only girl in the Pantheerukulam.

6. Akavoor Chaathan: Chaathan was the manager of Akavoor Mana, located at Vellarappilly, near Aluva, on the bank of the river Periyar. He is the "Vysyan" in the Pantheerukulam. Vararuchi, during the pilgrimage along the Periyar had abandoned the boy there. The "Cheruman" (a low caste) who found the child named it Chaathan (typical of that caste) but entrusted it with an "Ambalavaasi" (one who serves in temples), but Chaathan family ended up in Akavoor Mana - so goes the story.

7. Vaduthala Nair: Vaduthala Nair, the "Soodra" of Pantheerukulam belongs to the present Kundooly Nair family of Mezhathur, near Thrithala. It was this family who took and raised the infant left behind by the Vararuchi couple while on the pilgrimage along the river Nila banks. Vaduthala Nair was an expert in martial arts.

8. Vallon: It is said that the Vallon of Pantheerukulam is actually the very renowned  "Thiruvalluvar" who composed the Dravida Vedam. Vallon belongs to the higher sect among Paraya caste (a low caste) in Tamil Nadu. Traditionally Valluvans (reduced colloquially to Vallon) teach how to write, perform astrological/astronomical computations, and practice medicine and "Manthravaadam".

9. Uppukottan: Uppukottan, who was raised as a Muslim, was born in Ponnani at the mouth of the Nila river. He was a crazy trader, mainly in salt and cotton, who used to bring salt, which is so common in Ponnani, from Palakkad, and take cotton to Palakkad, which is common there.

10. Paananaar: Paananaar belonged to Thiruvarangu. It is believed that the Paanar of Kerala owe ancestry to this Paananaar. The traditional function of Paanan is to sing "Thukilunarthal". Paananaar is referred to in the famous Tamil grammar text (Vyakarana Grantham) "Tholkkaappiyam", the Sankara period treatises "Akanaanooru", "Pathittupathu", etc., and in the northern ballads (Vatakkan Paattukal).

11. Perumthachan: The head carpenter of Uliyannoor found and raised one boy and made him "Perumthachan". Temples designed and built by this genius of a carpenter can be seen all over Kerala. The Viswakarma (builder) of these wonderful edicts is claimed to be the ancestor of the Perumthachan carpenter family of Uliyannoor.

12. Vaayillaakkunnilappan: This is the only one among the Pantheerukulam without progeny. Vararuchi consecrated (deified) alive one of his sons on the top of a hill in Kadampazhipuram, in today's Palakkad district. It is believed that this deity of silence is actually the lord of sound and ability to talk.

EPILOGUE: The place of Mezhathol Agnihothri as a social revolutionary is quite unmatched. This great rejuvenator of the Yagna (Yaagam) culture was also instrumental in eliminating child-marriage, and in the amicable integration of the Saiva (Sankaran) and Vaishnava (Narayanan) schools, a unique venture among Braahmanans in India. Kerala has many Sankaranarayana temples.

| Article No:2.2 | Last update of this article:14th September 2000 |
Article written in Malayalam by Dr. Rajan Chungath, Chief Veterinary Officer, Palakkad 678001 and Prof: V.M.N. Nambudiripad
English translation by K.D.Nambudripad

Several books have been published on this topic.
1. "Innalathe Mazha" (Yesterday's Rain) - by late N.Mohanan [Publishers: Current Books, Thrissur, (1999), Rs. 50/=]
2. "Agnihothram" - by Mrs. K.B.Sreedevi
3. "Parayi Petta Panthirukulam" (Children's novel) - by P.Narendranath [Publishers: Prabhath Book House, Thiruvananthapuram (4th Ed; Jan.2000), Rs. 85/=]
4. "Parayi Petta Panthirukulam" (children's literature) - by A.B.V.Kavilppad [H.& C. Publishing House, Thrissur (Aug. 1999) Rs. 10/=]
5. "Parayi Petta Panthirukulam" (Poetry) - by Dr. T. Govindan Nair, Chennai.

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