On Trodden Paths

Kannur or Cannanore, is a coastal town in the Southern Indian state of Kerala. I was born there and hence, I hold a special attachment to that place.

Kannur is known for its handloom industry and its various traditional rituals, still prevailing in modern times, and giving us a feeling of how small towns are a tad slow to be intimidated by the modern world.

While most Indians jest Kerala, as being a land of lungis, I have seen a transition in the mindset of young Keralites, who now prefer Denim Jeans and Corduroy trousers over the easy wearing lungi (despite its new avatar of Velcro and Pocket lungis) and therefore, adding the lungi clad men in the list of endangered species.

Speaking of the place, Kannur is home to several age-old temples, such as, the Kadalayi and the Parassini-kadavu temples.

I had been to the Parassini-kadavu temple with one of my friend, a Bengali, and who was so keen to visit the small towns of India that I took him to my place on our next visit. It is a famous temple, whose primary deity is Muthappan, a widely regarded, powerful God in Kannur.

Although, I’am a Malayali (native of Kerala) by birth, I do not know much about the local traditions, because I was brought-up elsewhere in India. Hence, me and my Bengali friend were total strangers in the temple. My friend was the most affected (as the traditions of North India varied by the extremes) and was a perplexed lot by the strange customs. He even had difficulty when the priest offered him the holy vermilion. It was a comical situation. He protruded his head forward, expecting that the priest would smear the vermilion on his forehead (as customary to the North Indian temples), but, that did not happen, and both seem to stare at each other, questioning their stance. I later informed him that most temples in Kerala, offered the vermilion by hand, rather than smearing it on the fore-head.

We had come at a good time, as the temple was performing a Muthappan Theyyam, a ritual involving Muthappan, who is a representative of Lord Shiva, and who is believed to fulfill the wishes of the devotees.

Muthappan is home to the people of Kannur alone, and is worshipped only at the Parassini-kadavu and Kunathoor  Pady temples.

The Parassini temple is special, as it is the only temple that offers non-vegetarian offerings (Dried fish and toddy) during the festival season. Legend says that Muthappan was always accompanied by a dog and therefore, the temple authorities has sculpted an idol of a dog at the entrance of the temple. We saw dogs wandering inside the temple premises and it is said that, till date, there were no attacks caused to human beings by these creatures.

I had witnessed the Theyyam, on a couple of occasions. It is a part of the local tradition and is conducted only once, at a specific time of the year. The start of this ritual commences after the Pooja at Kotiyoor temple and the last Theyyam is conducted at Kalarivathukkal Bhagavathy temple.

It is believed that the Kalarivathukkal Bhagavathy derived its name from the ancient martial art form Kalaripayattu, as the Goddess Bhagavathy was considered as the mother of this martial art.

While the Muthappan Theyyam is dedicated to Lord Shiva, there are other Theyyams, dedicated to other forms of the Lord, and which are not conducted at the temple premises, but, at a Kavu (a piece of land as sacred as the temple premise).

The ritual is performed from dusk till dawn and is attended by numerous devotees (including Western tourists), who spend their time watching the performance.

Kannur is lustrously green, in fact, almost the entire Kerala belt is a vast-stretch of green carpet. You could see wild shrubbery all around (peer your eyes and you could find more greenery) and the walls are still covered with lichens. This greenery coupled with the monsoon rains is a real treat for people from the city. The tiny droplets of water falling from tree-tops, tiled roof-tops; the red muddy channels of flowing rainwater on roadsides, children playing in muddy puddles; the occasional peep of the sun and then, the rainbow introduces an euphoric experience to one and all.

A little mention on St. Angelo Fort, one of the well preserved forts of the country. Built by the first Portuguese Viceroy of India, Dom Francisco de Almeida, it portrays the glory and the charm of an old European citadel. I like this fort, because it faces the vast Arabian Sea on one-side and you could actually walk on its ramparts and enjoy the warm sea breeze. This fort is protected under the Archaeological Survey of India.

I had been to India’s longest drive-in beach, the Muzhapillangad Beach. This beach in Kannur is about 5.5 kms in length and is considered amongst the top six beaches in the world for driving. Once could see many bikers enjoying their evenings, performing stunts and taking snaps with their crazy postures. There is also one Dharmadam Island, just across the beach. At low tides, people could walk in the knee-deep waters towards the island.

There are other notable beaches in Kannur, the most famous one being the Payyambalam beach. But, I prefer the calm Chaal beach. It is a pretty little beach, always isolated, and I last went there with my wife, my brother (cousins included) and the Bengali friend. Upon seeing the beach and its serenity, the youngsters immediately removed their shirt and trousers, and hurled themselves in the sea for bath and sport, whereas, me and my wife had a long walk.

We all know that Keralites love their coconuts and majority of their cuisines are prepared using the coconut oil. Coconut oil is well known for its digestive abilities and is also considered good enough to be consumed by an infant.  The dish I like the most is fried Sardine or Mathi and I’am a pampered lot by my in-laws who treat me with my favourite dish and many others, on each visit. I think being in Kerala, you are treated with the best fish dishes in the world for that matter.

There is much to explore this beautiful town and I shall write more about it after my next visit.