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Pattathaanam and the Role of Namboothiris

Many royal dynasties in Kerala used to hold scholarly debates to find out and give awards of excellence to the scholars in different disciplines. One of the best known debates of this type was the Pattathaanam of Zamorin Raja (Saamoothiri) of Calicut (Kozhikode). Pattathaanam means convocation of the degree (Sthanam) "Bhatta".  It was an yearly meeting of scholars in different faculties such as Meemaamsa (the science of critical interpretation of scriptures, Vedic exegetics), Vyaakaranam (grammer) and Saasthram (sciences). Scholars were selected and honoured in these meetings. The Tali temple in Calicut was the venue of these debates. The Pattathaanam extended for a period of seven days beginning from the star Revathy, in the Malayalam month of Thulaam and hence also known as Revathy Pattathaanam. On the last day, money purses (Kizhi, in short) were given away to the toppers in this rigorous competition. Hence it was an early form of today's University examination and convocation.

History says that Saamoothiris started organising Pattathaanams to expiate certain sins they committed in the past. Pattathaanam helped to promote the image of Samoothiris by encouraging the scholars and poets. Saamoothiris wanted to see the spread of knowledge in their principalities. They spent money liberally as scholarships, etc. for promoting studies in vedams and sciences.

Pattathaanams were held regurlary till Tippu Sulthan's invasion of Malabar. But the last Pattathaanam was held in 1110 ME (1934 AD). It was during the golden days of Pattathaanam that the nineteen poets, popularly known as "Eighteen-and-a-half poets" [Click here for Pathinettara Kavikal] (Eighteen Sanskrit Poets and one Malayalam poet - Punam Namboothiri) adorned the Pattathaanam stage. Chennas Namboodiripad, Kakkassery Bhattathiri, six Payyur Bhattathiris and Uddanda Saastrikal were prominent among them. The fact that even Melpathoor Bhattathiri, an exponent in Grammer, Poetry and Philosophy (Vedaantham) failed six times on this stage and thereby missed the purse and position, shows how high the standard of this assembly was.

A brief description and responsibility of each official would help the readers to understand better, the Pattathaanam ceremony. Holding of Pattathaanams and selecting the scholars were the responsibility of members of Kudalloor Mana. Kudalloor Mana got this status due to the excellent performance of its members in Pattathaanam, continuously for around 15 generations. The responsibility of delivering the invitations of Pattathaanam to various individuals and organisations rests with Karuvaat Bhattathiri.

The lighting of four lamps at Vaathilmaadam (gateway) marks the beginning of the meeting. The job of lighting lamps rests jointly with Thaliyil Koima, Mangaat Achan and Peroor Namboothiri. Traditional meeting positions are :

1. southernmost end of the south side, for Prabhaakara Meemaamsa,
2. north of it, for Bhatta Meemaamsa,
3. northernmost end of the north side, for Vedaantham and
4. south of it, for Vyaakaranam.

Those who come out of these rigorous examinations successfully are declared eligible for the purse along with the "Bhatta" degree. A typical arrangement consisting of sandalwood, betel leaf, fresh arecanut, jasmine, etc. would be prepared on the western side of the conference hall. Between two lighted lamps, a royal wooden seat (Pallippalaka or Aavanappalaka) would be kept, covered by a royal carpet in front of which Saamoothiri Raja would sit, facing east. Mullapally Namboothiri would escort the recipients of previous years, specially invited to witness the function, to their respective seats. When Mangaat Achan reads out the names of the new recipients (new Bhattans), Kummil Eledath Namboothiri escorts them one by one, with the accompaniment of a lighted lamp, to the carpeted seat in front of the king. The "Thevaari Namboothiri" would hand over the betel leaf, arecanut, sandalwood and jasmine to the Saamoothiri who in turn gives it away to the "Bhattan" along with the purse. The "Bhattan" would bless the Saamoothiri and sit among the audience.

After completing the individual awards, a large purse would be kept by the Saamoothiri on the carpeted seat, which would be shared by all the awardees, later. The Saamoothiri, along with his younger brothers would move around these "Bhattans" in the clockwise direction (Pradakshinam Vakkal, circumambulation) and prostrate before them, as a mark of submission or humility. The "Bhattans" in turn would bless them with both palms spread. This marks the end of that year's Pattathaanam function.

Throughout these days, the general feasts would be held in the palace at Chalapuram, near the venue of the function and those for Brahmanans, at the residence of Chennas Namboodiripad, the Thantri of all the temples under Saamoothiri Raja, including the Tali Temple.

After a gap of many years, Pattathaanam was resumed recently. Though it remains to be an annual meeting, it is conducted in a different form.

| Article No:6.2 | Last update of this article:8th November 2001 |
Article prepared by Prof. V.M.N.Nambudiripad with inputs from Prof. P.C.K. Namboodiripad (Thanthri, Tali Temple), Perindiri Chennas Mana, Guruvayoor.

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