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Namboothiri Rulers


Sage Parasuraaman, after creating the land of Kerala and dividing it into 64 Graamams, then assigned some families to protect the land. The first to receive arms was "Idappilly" ("Mumbinaan Aayudham Vaangiyathu Idappilly Nambiyaathiri").

During the reign of the Perumaals (click), Ilangalloor Nambiyaathiris (ancestors of Idappilly) were brought from Venthanaattu village of South Malabar, to Trikkakkara, the then capital of Kerala, to perform the daily rituals in their temple. With the decline of the power of Perumaals, the local principalities attained more power, led by Ilangalloor "Swaroopam". Trikkakkara became an important Vaishnava centre, and came to be known also as "Kaalkkara" and hence "Sreepaadapuram". By the 12th century, the seat of governance was shifted to Idappilly Kovilakam (palace) or "Mattham".

The Idappilly-Kochi feuds started in 1147 (AD) and was based on the controversial acquisition of properties in the Kochi - Kanayannur area from the "Thampuraan" by his wife from Perumpadappu. The feud had continued for centuries. The arrival of the Portuguese turned such rivalries into bloody battles with looting and burning. While Kochi was helped by the Portuguese, Idappilly got support from Saamoothiri. Kochi lost the 1503 battle and the Raja fled to Cheruveyppu. But soon thereafter and later in 1536, the Portuguese invaded, looted and burned Idappilly. In 1740, there was truce between Idappilly and the Dutch. In 1825, the British brought Idappilly under Kochi, but soon brought it back under Thiruvithaamkoor. The Portuguese records show Idappilly as "Ilamkon", while the Dutch called it "Dapleem".

They were active against foreign aggression too. A son, Valloor Unni, nicknamed "Kuthirappakshi" (flying horseman) was the army chief of the combined forces of Thiruvithaamkoor (Veluthambi Dalava) and Kochi (Paaliyath Achan) against the British Macaulay in1808. Till the first half of the 19th century, Idappilly enjoyed an independent status, with Kuroor Namboothiris as their traditional ministers. Since they had five battlefields, they were also called "Pancha-Rangaadhi-Naathhan".

The palace was a haven for anyone seeking asylum, including destitute "Antharjanams" (Namboothiri women) and those found guilty ("Bhrashtu") after "Smaartha-vichaaram" (click). They managed 244 Devaswams with 71 temples, which were later handed over to the Devaswam Board and the "Kshehthra-samrakshana-samithy". Their royal ladies managed Thrikkanaapuram temple. The 28-day "Utsavam" (temple festival) in Trikkakkara temple used to be conducted jointly by the entire 56 principalities under the Perumaals. The Rajas were considerate to people of other beliefs too. They supported eight destitute Muslim families during Saamoothiri’s period, and also built the Juma Masjid. They also gave land and other supports for the famous Christian church there.

The "Paradevatha" of Ilangalloor Swaroopam is Ganapathy located within the "Ettukettu" (house with two central courtyards) itself. Even today, one of their members will be named "Ganapathy Raja". They had always promoted arts and literature, and used to conduct scholastic conventions ("Vidwal-sadass"). The expansive palace and the ten-acre grounds are somewhat quiet now, but Ganapathy continues to remove all hurdles and protect them.

Source: "Edappilly Kovilakam - Charithrathinte Naazhikakkallu" ("Saga of Edappilly")

- Unearthing a God-centered Kingdom

Purakkaadu had Roman trade connections as early as the first century. A Namboothiri aristocracy from Kumaranalloor (near.Kottayam) took over the rule of Purakkaadu (present Ambalapuzha and part of the Kuttanaadu). They had a strong naval power with a huge collection of a special type of boat known as Chembaka and so they came to be also known as Chembakasseri Raja. After the construction of the Ambalapuzha temple, their kingdom came to be known as Ambalapuzha. They also assumed the title of Devanarayanan. Raja Devanarayanan dedicated his kingdom to the Thrimoorthi (holy trinity) and reigned as a servant of God considering himself as a humble divine instrument. Thrimoorthi worshippers used to choose a deity as representative of the trinity. Raja Devanarayanan’s deity was Lord Krishna. The king ruled the country as His vice-regent. Raja was an attendee of faith. He never claimed to be a defender of faith. To use a catchword from the Roman history; it was a "holy Ambalapuzha kingdom".

During the 17th and 18th century, Ambalapuzha had commercial contacts with the Portuguese and the Dutch. Devanarayana Rajas had friendly relations with both the Portuguese and the Dutch. But they favoured the Portuguese. These kings had a friendly military treaty with the Portuguese to help them in times of crisis. In Ambalapuzha there was a harmonious blending of medieval Portuguese and Namboothiri Sanskrit culture. Legends related to Ambalapuzha royalty are too many.

Kunchan Nambiar and Chembakasseri Raja

Kunchan Nambiar (1705-1770) spent his earliest childhood in Killikurissimangalam, his boyhood in Kudamaloor patronised by the Devanarayana Swaamikal. Kunchan was a pet name given by the Antharjanams of the palace. He was appointed as a helper of the Chaakyaar in Ambalapuzha temple. He played Mizhaavu for "Chakkyaar Koothu". Nambiar is responsible for the art form "Ottan Thullal". He is the greatest satirist in Malayalam. Nambiar was a beloved poet of Chembakasseri Raja and he has praised the selfless love of his master in his poetry as well referred humorously about the receding forehead of the king!

Vela Kali

Vela Kali is a martial art display to commemorate the armed conflicts with foreign invaders by the Ambalapuzha dynasty. Chembakasseri had fought several wars with foreign powers in the sea and on land. This dance form was derived from an earlier art called Naaikkan Tullal. The deity of the temple was also taken on a caparisoned elephant to witness the Vela Kali while the Raja who is a servant of the deity watched this martial art display with the accompaniment of the beating of Valiyapara, the main percussion instrument.

Ambalapuzha Temple

Ambalapuzha temple is famous for its temple architecture and the milk porridge - "Paalpaayasam". Chembakasseri Pooradam Thirunal-Devanarayanan Thampuraan built this temple in 790 M.E. One of the legends connected with the origin of this temple is related to the sage Vilwamangalam Swaamiyaar. Devanarayana Raja surrendered his kingdom to Sreekrishnan after the consecration of Ambalapuzha temple and assumed the name Devanarayanan. The Vigraham (idol) of Ampalapuzha is likened to Parthasaarathhi with a whip in the right hand and a Shankhu (sacred conch) in the left. The Aaraattu festival commences with the flag hoisting ceremony on the Atham star in Meenam (March-April). The important Aaraattu festival takes place on the Thiruvonam day of the same month.

Champakulam Boat Race

This is the oldest and most popular snake boat race in Kerala and is connected to the Sreekrishna temple of Ambalapuzha. The race takes place on the Moolam day on the Champakulam lake in the Malayalam month of Mithhunam, the day of the installation of the deity at the temple of Ambalapuzha. According to legend, Maharaja Devanarayanan of Chembakasseri was instructed by the royal priest before the installation of the deity that the idol is not auspicious and the minister made a suggestion to bring down the beautiful idol of Sreekrishna from the Karikulam temple of Kurichi. The minister with his assistants went to Kurichi, met the authorities there and returned with the idol. On the way, they stopped at Champakulam to spend the night and perform Pooja. The idol rested in the house of a Syrian Christian. The next day, boats from the entire region assembled to escort the idol in a colourful ceremonial procession through the lake to the temple. Years later the pageant is still re-enacted with the same enthusiasm. The flag and coir rope for Champakulam boat race are still supplied from the local Kallurcad church.

Devanarayana Raja and Christians

Chembakesseri Thampuraan had a broad religious outlook. He built a Christian church at Kudamaloor which is still preserved as a precious monument of interfaith collaboration and has existed in this part of Kerala since by-gone days. This church believed to be seven centuries old was dedicated to the mother of Christ; Mukthiyamma, means heavenly mother. Unlike many Christian pictures, infant Jesus has been painted with the colour of Lord Krishna. The church used to have a pulpit built on a wooden elephant and the main beam is still decorated with elephant’s head; these features are very characteristic of the Hindu influence. Chembakasseri Thampuraan used to take off his crown in reverence when he passed in front of this church. Chembakasseri Raja was the patron of the Syrian Christian community in this part of Kerala. He trusted the Christians and some Muslim families that he appointed them as the bodyguards of his Antharjanam. Syrian Christian families like Kallukulam, Madathiparambil, Muttathupadam and Payanadan flourished under the auspices of Chembkasseri Raja.

The Fall of Ambalapuzha Royalty

The last Ambalapuzha sovereign had a colourful personality. Contrary to the royal custom, the second son of the deceased Thampuraan declared himself as the King. He was a very intelligent and shrewd king with considerable artistic, linguistic and scientific creative talents. He married young and his wife died soon after the marriage without children. The last Chembakasseri Raja did not have any direct descendents. The royal astrologers forbade the king from remarriage lest he would loose his kingdom if the Thampuraan married again.

Devanarayanan at the throne in Ambalapuzha could speak Portuguese language fluently and he was a highly motivated king. Thekedathu Bhattathiri was the chief minister of Devanarayanan and Mathoor Panickar was the military commander. Sreekandhan was one of his favourite ministers.

Marthanda Varma ruled from 1729 to 1758. When the ruling king passed away Marthanda Varma was proclaimed as the successor according to "Marumakkathayam". Ramayyan Dalava was his ablest lieutenant. Kayamkulam Raja broke his "Mannar treaty" with Marthanda Varma. He also liaised with Ambalapuzha Raja, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor Raja against Thiruvithaamkoor. Thiruvithaamkoor army marched towards Kayamkulam. The king fled to Thrissur after hiding his valuables at the bottom of Ashtamudi lake. Ramayyan Delava discovered swords with the inscription of "Devanarayanan" at the palace of Kayamkulam and he declared war with the Raja of Ambalapuzha. During this time Raja Devanarayana Swaamy had discovered a special poison that he applied to the sword to kill his enemies instantaneously. Thiruvithaamkoor soldiers refused to kill the soldiers of the Braahmanan king because of fear of eternal damnation. So Chembakasseri initially won the war. But Marthanda Varma organised a special army consisting of only Muslims and Christians who did not have the belief system of the Hindu soldiers. This time, luck was not in his favour.

The oracles of Devi temple got enraged with the Braahmanan Raja for his discovery of poison and blamed the Raja for the epidemic of cholera as a curse of God for discovering the new poison. His chief minister Thekkadathu Bhattathiri and commander of army, Mathoor Panickar defected to the Thiruvithaamkoor side. He allowed the enemy army in through a secret passage in the fort by revealing to them that a damaged part of the fort was quickly fixed with mud and palm leaves. He also passed the blame of his cheat to Sreekandhan, the favourite of Devanarayanan’s ministers and got permission from Chembakasseri Raja to declare him as a traitor. A death warrant was issued on Sreekandhan. On his way back from Irattakkulagara temple, the king’s soldiers surrounded Sreekandhan and stabbed him. Sreekandhan declared his innocence and cried out "Lord Krishna." Coincidently the western door of the temple closed on its own when Sreekandhan was breathing his last breath and for a long period it is believed to have remained closed. Following a fierce battle at Thottakad, Chembakasseri king was defeated. The subjugated king was taken as a prisoner to Thiruvananthapuram.

The presence of a Braahmanan king was considered as ominous by the court astrologers of Marthanda Varma and was thought to be the cause whenever royal members had an ailment. It is recorded elsewhere that Ramayyan Delava who was furious at the "spiritual attack" of the Namboothiri Raja even tried forcibly to make him forgive the atrocities committed by the Thiruvithaamkoor king! At that point, Devanarayana Swaamikal simply stated that those who have committed the mistakes have to endure the Karmic effects. Eventually he was released and allowed to stay at Kudamaloor.

The home-returned Raja wanted to recapture his lost kingdom. He liaised with the Portuguese and formed an army with Christian soldiers. It is a matter of simple logic that Chembakasseri could no longer trust the soldiers of his own kind as they betrayed him in the previous war. His future existence was dependent mainly on the Syrian Christians whom he patronised and they remained faithful to him till the end. It is claimed that Kallukulam Thomman Panicker who served as one of the body guards of his Antharjanam was appointed as head of his new army. This period of Ambalapuzha history is shrouded in mystery as the pro-Thiruvithaamkoor historians conveniently overlooked these major events. Chembakasseri Raja had several miscalculations of this war. He was expecting Portuguese military help. But fate was against Devanarayana Swaamikal.

The army led by Thomman Panicker fought against Thiruvithaamkoor without success. Purakkaattu Mannan surrendered his kingdom after placing the key of the state granary and the royal treasury at the feet of the Lord in the Ambalapuzha temple and he was taken as a prisoner to Thiruvananthapuram. The royal poet Kunchan Nambiar joined the Thiruvithaamkoor court reluctantly but returned to Ambalapuzha in 1765 where he died in 1770.

After a period, once again Chembakasseri king was released from captivity. Devanarayana Swaamikal spent the evening of his life in spiritual matters only. He lived in Kudamaloor. It is recorded that Devanarayanan did Pooja in front of every idol in the Kumaranalloor temple and afterwards he spent the time reading Bhagavad Geetha at the palace till noon every day. He is also believed to have participated in the holy week ceremonies of the Kudamaloor church with his family.

Ambalapuzha temple and the Kudamaloor church still remain as the silent witness of these tragic historical events. If imitation is the best form of praise, Marthanda Varma had great appreciation and respect for his captive in the sense that the Thiruvithaamkoor king dedicated the expanded kingdom to his deity and followed the spiritual line of Devanarayana Swaamikal. The defeat of the Namboothiri king turned out to be the triumph of the holy Thrimoorthy; Kerala once again became God’s own kingdom.

Article by : Dr: James Paul Pandarakalam (Athirampuzha), 6, Fountain Lane, Barming, Maidstone, Kent, ME16 9AR, UK


They are certain Namboothiris belonging to the Perinchellooor (Taliparamba) Graamam. Long ago, Chirakkal Raja went with his army to capture and take over Taliparamba temple. The Namboothiris of the area got together at Kottupurathu and decided that one young person from each Illam would take up arms and fight against the Raja. Seeing them, the Raja realised the futility of the venture with possible curse of the entire Braahmanan community, and decided to turn back. He declared : "Thangalude Rakshakku Thangal Thanne Mathi" (Thangals can protect themselves.); and these Namboothiris got the title "Thangal"!

There were perhaps a thousand Thangal Namboothiri Illams. Because taking up of arms changed their status to "Kshathriyans", they approached the Raja of Kottayam (North Malabar), who readily gave them land and other supports for their livelihood and protection. Thus, most of the families were settled in the old Kottayam Taluk (a large portion of the present Thalasseri Taluk). Out of these, only the following ten families exist now :

1. Aayithara Puthiyidath Illam
2. Mattannur Poroli Illam
3. Kannambeth Illam
4. Maanaatt Illam
5. Kovilakath Illam
6. Kummil Illam


Ponnyath Illam
(Respectfully called "Thirumumb")
Kambett Illam
Thurutheri Illam
Chaathamangalath Illam

The "Dharmadaivam" of the Thangal family is "Thaliparambathappan". As guests they used to be received with two "Aavanappalakas" (wooden low seats), one for sitting, and the other apparently for keeping their arms.

Article by : Vaidyabhooshanam K A Krishnan Thangal, R M P, Kunnirikka Akathoottillam, PO : Pathiriyad, Via : Pinarayi - 670 741, Kannur Dt. Phone : 2384407


During the reign of Perumaals (click), Kerala (in its entirety from Gokarnam to Kanyakumari) had been divided into four regions with centers at Perinchelloor, Panniyur, Paravoor and Chengannur Graamams. These regions or states were governed by Namboothiris assigned to each, and titled "Thaliyaathiris". The regions were :

1. Thulu state
2. Koopa state

Gokarnam to Perumpuzha (Chandragiri river, Kasaragod)
Perumpuzha to Puthuppattanam (Korappuzha alias Kottappuzha, just north of Kozhikode)
3. Kerala state
4. Mooshika state

Korappuzha to Kannetti (near Kottayam)
Kannetti to Kanyakumari

A central government under the Perumaal was also established with its capital at Thrikkanaamathilakam near Kodungallur, with responsibilities of general taxes, army, legislation, etc., along with advice to and oversight of the governance of the four states. The state governments were responsible for imposition and collection of various taxes, education, health, buildings, transport, etc. Any subject or official who felt that injustice had been done could appeal to the central government who would then look into the matter and make a decision. Officers of the central government were required to be Namboothiris.

In each state, every Graamam had a "Panchayath Sabha" to deal with religion, caste, traditions, and Graamam governance. Membership of the Sabha, in addition to officers, included also Vaidikan and Vaadhyaan. Sabhas used to discuss all relevant administrative matters, make decisions and report to the Thaliyaathiris, who would make their own decisions or, in turn, report to the central government, who would then take decisions and implement them - a truly decentralised governance.

Source : Article - "Namboothirimaarum Perumaakkanmaarum" By Chirakkal Rama Varma Valiya Raja

| Article No:3.3 | Last update of this article:12th November 2004 |
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