One more attraction for pilgrims to Kerala

Efforts to restore kalari at Muhamma

About 300 metres off the local bus station at Muhamma in Alappuzha district stands a decrepit structure in wood, under a crumbling thatched roof.

Ste­e­ped in legend but left on the margins of popular history, the structure is believed to be the kalari (a martial art training ground) where Lord Ayyappan – as young Manikandan, the adopted son of the King of Pandalam – was initiated into martial art training by the Mooppan (master) Panicker of the Cheerappanchira family here. A nine-year legal battle later, the family has constructed walls around this tharavadu (family home) and is taking first steps toward developing the property as a centre of spiritual learning and “eco-spiritual experience”.

The kalari hosts groups of pilgrims during the mandalam season at the Lord Ayyappa Temple atSabarimala but a general lack of public awareness on the legend attached to this ancient tharavadu is something that baffles even descendants of the Cheerappanchira family who have maintained the structure over centuries. During the past decade, the family has had to deal with less spiritual issues; encroachment of the 50-cent property on which the structure stands and recurring court battles over ownership of the property, among others.

M Balasubramoniam (72) who is married to one of the family’s descendants, Padmaja, told Deccan Herald that plans were on to develop the kalari as a destination that imparts “boundless knowledge” on the lines of a tapovanam, a mutt set in the woods. The Cheerappanchira family has tied up with emin­ent environmentalist K V Dayal and launched a programme to plant a variety of trees in the property. A team from the state-run Vastuvidya Gurukulam in Aranmula has already visited the property and conducted preliminary evaluation of the centuries-old structure.

A pictorial representation of legends attached to the kalari and a Nakshatra Vanam (a star forest with trees that correspond with star signs) are among features of the proposed centre. Promoters of the restoration project have also proposed to retrieve a lost sword believed to have been used by Manikandan during his days of combat training at the tharavadu. Some of the wood in the structure is in advanced stages of decay. Descendants of the Cheerappanchira family have erected a metallic structure over the tharavadu as part of the first phase of the restoration project. 

“We hope to facilitate a gurukul model of education at the proposed centre. Spiritual discourses and Veda education are being planned at the centre as well; the crucial impetus to the restoration project, however, will have to come in the form of financial and government support,” Balasubramoniam said. The Shambu Balasubramoniam Memorial (SBM) Trust, based in Cherthala in Alappuzha district, is managing the restoration project. The trust that was formed in memory of Shambhu, the teenage son of Balasubramoniam and Padmaja who died in an accident in 2009, also conducts extensive road safety progra­mmes and awareness drives on lifestyle diseases.

The nature of restoration will be finalised as the team advances in its assessment of the structure. “The idea is to retain the structure with all its strong bases while giving it a facelift,” Balasubramoniam said. The SBM Trust is also planning to collaborate with philanthropists for sponsorships to construct amenities at the centre; first on the agenda is a pathasala. 

Muhamma is on the Alappuzha-Thanneermuk­kam road, about 12 km from Alappuzha town. The Cheerappanchira tharavadu is located on the western flank of the Vembanad Lake. Alappuzha, Kochi and Kottayam are the major towns near Muhamma. In the recent decades, the tharavadu has been prote­cted by the family’s daughters over generations; Kaliyamma, Kunjipillayamma, Vanajakshiamma and now, her daughter Padmaja and her family. The tharavadu where legend, faith and history come together is included in the routes of pilgrims who visit the nearby Mukkaalvattom Ayyappa Temple. 

“There are pilgrims who know that the kalari 

exists somewhere near Alappuzha but there hasn’t been any substantial literature on its legend. The destination has immense potential to be developed as one of the many idathaavalams (halting points) for pilgrims with rest-rooms and other amenities during the Sabarimala season. The location’s proximity to routes leading to the hill shrine also makes it easier to be linked with those roads,” Vijayakumar, a resident of nearby Thuravoor and supporter of the SBM trust’s activities, said. 

The life period of Manikandan is considered to be between AD 1125 and  AD 1225 . The kalari is also believed to have hosted social reformer and spiritual leader Sree Narayana Guru during his visits to Muhamma. Representatives of the family said age of the structure is still being ascertained and that there is evidence pointing to its existence many decades ahead of Manikandan’s period. The family is also claimed to have had rights to the vedi vazhipaadu (an offering through fireworks) at the temple in Sabarimala.The Cheerappanchira family believes that the kalari doubled as hermitage for Manikandan and the nearby Mukkaalvattom (mukkaal in Malayalam means three quarters) Ayyappa Temple built by the family is a pointer to the three quarters of the year the Lord spends as residing deity in Muhamma.

“Legend has it that Lord Ayyappan stays here at the temple for three quarters of the year and only the rest of the year at Sabarimala,” Balasubramoniam said. He added that the proposed centre would not limit itself to religion and spirituality and link spiritual awakening with modern facets of science and technology and promote organic farming techniques through workshops and seminars. R 

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