Kerala, which is popular for lush green tourist destinations like Munnar, Kumarakom and Thekkady, also has many historical places and monuments dating back to the stone ages. One such place is Onattukara (the land of Onam), a feudal kingdom believed to have existed from 12th to 19th Century. Mavelikara the then Capital of Onattukara finds relevance in the modern cultural history of Kerala. Onam, the festival of Kerala, celebrates the memory of the legendary king Maveli (Mahabali) who ruled here.
History of Onaddu
Many historically relevant places of ancient Onattukara feudal state are found in the towns of Mavelikara, Kayamkulam and surrounding villages. By sparing a day of your Kerala tour to visit the historic Onattukara region you can get an insight into ancient religious, cultural and political history of Kerala. You will be visiting two Towns which are just 10 kms apart which are must visit tourist spots.
The must visit tourist spots
The capital of the Onadu dynasty, Mavelikara from 11th to the 15th Century, shifted to Krishnapuram, in Kayamkulam. This historic town still remains the cultural centre producing many renowned artists including Abu Abraham the famous cartoonist. The internationally renowned Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma, married from the royal family here. Raja Ravi Varma School of Fine Arts is located here producing many eminent artists like famous cartoonist R. Shankar Pillai. There is also a Buddha statue dating back to the 9th Century which shows the presence of Buddhism in Onattukara dynasty.
As the name suggests ‘kulam’ means ‘pond’ which indicates the presence of water bodies in this area. From the 15th to the 18th Century Kayamkulam was the capital of Onadu and Kayamkulam became the commercial centre. Even today Kayamkulam is a commercial centre because of the road and waterway connectivity. There are many temples and traditions here reminding the history of Onadu.
The statue of Lord Buddha, discovered in a paddy field, near Kandiyoor Temple, dates back to the 9th Century. The statue indicates the prevalence of Buddhisim in Onattukara. Now the idol, installed inside a pagoda like structure, sits beside the road that leads to the Sree Krishna Swami Temple. The 4ft. tall idol in a sitting, meditating posture with a smile on the face makes an important landmark. Popularly known as the Buddha Junction.
This is one of the ancient temples in Kerala known as Thekkan Kash (Kashi of the South) which has around twelve sub shrines. The Kandiyoor temple, some historians say, may have been an old Buddhist temple as the temple architect is different from that of other Kerala temples.
Evoor Temple(The Fire Temple)
This temple is famously known as the Guruvayoor of Onattukara. According to tradition Evoor Sri Krishna Temple is mentioned in the Mahabharata (burning of Khandava Forest) and believed to be built in the presence of Lord Krishna. “Raktha-pushpanjali” is a special offering here which is unavailable in any other Vishnu temples. About a century back the temple caught fire, and the king of Travancore reconstructed the temple with all the latest infrastructure available in those days.
It is said that the Kings of Kayamkulam ruled from here when the Onadu capital was shifted from Mavelikara. The exact date of construction of the present palace in not known however it is said to have been built in the 17th Century by Marthanda Varma, the King of Travancore after defeating the Kayamkulam King. The palace is an epitome of the traditional Kerala architecture consiting of gabled roof, inner courtyards, narrow passages, ponds, etc. The greatest attraction is the 49 sq.m mural painting, Gajendra Moksham done with natural vegetable colours depicting a Mythological story of Lord Vishnu redeeming an elephant caught by a crocodile. The painting, believed to be the biggest in Kerala, is placed at the entrance of the bath area of the palace so that the royals can pray soon after bathing.
There is also an archaeological museum exhibiting ancient coins, the famous two edged Kayamkulam word and ancient urns used for burial. Outside the Palace, there is a beautiful garden with native Kerala flowers and plants. One of the four Buddha Statues discovered in Onatukkara is installed here.
Shankars Cartoon Museum
A few kilometers away from Krishnapuram you can visit the museum of the famous political cartoonist of India. K. Shankar Pillai, whose cartoons were appreciated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Apart from his work, personal belongings like reclining chair and table that he used to create world famous cartoons are exhibited here. Also, there are sculptures made by renowned artists depicting the culture of Onattukar.
After visiting the historical sites, you can enjoy the cool breeze from the sea at the Azhikkal Beach (Aayiram Tengu) and Valiya Azhikkal beach (Kochiyude Jetty). These beaches are new and relatively unexploited destinations in tourism hence you can enjoy the beach and sea in all its natural beauty.
House boating in Backwaters
Finally, you can take a house boat and head for a three hour cruise to the Venice of the East – Allappuzha through Ashtamudi Lake watching the Sunset. Or else you can enjoy a boat ride in the lagoon watching the lake opening into the Arabian Sea. If you visit on the Fourth Sunday of August you can watch the boat race held in the backdrop of the famous Chinese Fishing nets. The story goes that when the Kayamkulam King of Travancore defeated the King of Kayamkulam, he immersed all his wealth in this lake and escaped with his family.
There are many more monuments and traditions that preserve the ancient culture of the Onattukara region. Another town Karunagapalli was also part of the dynasty. You can visit the Ochira temple, which does not have an Idol. You can also see the procession of the Chettikulangar Festival know as Kettukazhcha. There the devotees display decorated chariots with large colourful pyramid decorations.
Legend of Mahabali
As everyone knows Onam is the festival of Kerala, celebrated by all Keralites without religious or cast differences. The legend of Onam is about the benevolent King Maveli/Mahabali (great sacrificer). When he ruled Onattukara there was peace, prosperity, wealth and harmony. He was so powerful that he became the ruler of the heaven and earth. His ruled under the guidance of his guru Shukracharya.
Lord Vishu came in the form of a boy, Vamana. At that time yagna was being conducted by mahabali to get a powerful weapon against Indra. The boy asked the King for land as much as three paces of his foot. The kind king agrees. But when the boy kept his first foot the earth covered, the second measured the heaven. And so the King asked the Lord to place his foot on his head. Because there was no more land left. Lord Vishnu sent him to the underworld. But granted him a gift that he could visit his subjects every year on Onam day.
Mahabali in history
According to experts the written history of Onatukkara is less in comparison to the songs and poems of those era which narrates stories originally without adding creative element. According to one such story King Maveli in his old age abdicated the throne to lead an ascetic life. To his emotion ridden subjects he promised that he will come to see them every year on Onam day. Until his death he visited his people on Onam. A popular Onam (Maveli) Song gives the heavenly atmosphere prevalent during his reign:
Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,
amodhathode vasikkum kalam
kallavum illa chathiyumilla
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Deaths of children were unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless races