ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Irinjalakuda - A Confluence Of Memories

(This post grew out of an email exchange with old colleague and friend Anil Kumar and is dedicated to our old B.Sc (Physics) batch from Christ College, Irinjalakuda)

"'Iringaalakkuda', 'Koodalmaanikyam', 'Tachchudayakkaimal' - beautiful words, so full of music!" - that was 'Changampuzha', famous early 20th Century Malayalam poet.

The words above, definied: Iringaalakkuda, spelt in English as 'Irinjalakuda' is a small town in central Kerala - about 15 km from my home-town of Chalakudi. 'Koodalmaanikyam' is the name of the presiding deity of an ancient temple of the same name which still flourishes there. 'Tachchudayakkaimal' appears to have been an honorific title borne by the chief of the board of trustees of the above temple.

I spent most of my teenage years as a student at Christ College, Irinjalakuda - once upon a time, according to urban legend (one that I tend to agree with), "one of the best EIGHT colleges in India".

The place name used to puzzle me quite a bit. In Malayalam, 'kuda' alone means 'parasol' or 'umbrella', but 'Iringala' does not seem to make any obvious sense. And why would a place be called an umbrella of any kind? For self, the compound name used to evoke vague pictures of an old and hunched man with an olakkuda (an umbrella formed from palm-leaves).

In our time, Irinjalakuda was a sleepy backwater (unlike Chalakudi, which bustled with plenty of trade and traffic). At 'Thana(vu)', the central road junction, there stood a traffic island, usually unmanned; there was a metallic, umbrella-shaped structure to shield the (non-existent) constable from the elements. This structure was badly rusted and near collapse. Once a newspaper article, criticizing the local civic administration, showed a photograph of it with a caption: "Is this THE Iringaalakuda?" - an obvious pun on the place-name (*)

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Our college stood serenely amidst a sprawl of gardens, atop a hill to the north of the town (this hillock, called 'Mangadikkunnu' was said to be a place where, in the 'good old days', those unfortunate folks who died in epidemics were hastily buried). The plan of the building was said to be in the shape of an 'X', short for 'Christ'. It looked more like a distorted 'H' though; and I have a lingering suspicion that the at least the front elevation was conceived to be a scaled-down copy of the Moscow University Main Building - yes, that show-piece of Stalinist architecture.

The serenity of the place was disrupted only by occasional student 'strikes', which seemed to generally fall on Fridays when new movies would be released. Memories of the college tend to cluster around the 'Mandaram' tree, under which students from Chalakudi used to congregate, the canteen (which served rock-solid 'undamporis' and hefty 'pazham roasts' among other delicacies) and the 'Toddy shop', a small building in an obscure corner of the campus where some of the Mathematics and Latin classes used to be held; and yes, the clock atop the main building which never used to run (for several years, getting it back to running condition was a promise made by candidates in College Union Elections). And from the top of this building, one could take in sweeping panoramas of the countryside all around. Once, after a 'second show' at 'Prabhat', we had spent a whole night up there; it was winter - and a full moon. Everything looked ethereal - dense stands of coconut palms with a strange glitter on the fringes of their swaying fronds, the distant 'kol' fields fading into the light fog... and there was a subtle aroma of coconut oil in the air - rising from a 'country mill' not very far away.

In those days, there were no girls on campus - Christ turned co-ed only recently - and they were safely concentrated in St. Joseph's college (must be one of the very few women-only colleges named after a man) which stood at the opposite corner of the town.

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'Koodalmaanikyam' is another mysterious name. Here is a story I have heard: The material with which the main idol of this temple (a Vishnu-like figure, it is said to represent Bharata, Rama's brother) was moulded allegedly had some special properties which enabled it to be (potentially) used as some kind of touchstone for gems. A certain bigwig had a ruby ('manikyam') which he wanted to evaluate; he forced the priests to rub the jewel against the sacred idol and lo, the precious ruby suddenly merged with the idol and was lost in it. So, the idol and the temple came to have the name 'koodalmanikyam', the one into which a manikyam merged....

The temple is vast and atmospheric and and very rich in legends (one of them relates how the lord is prone to stomach trouble and has to be kept in good health with offerings of an Ayurvedic medicine based on eggplants). The temple tank is among the largest I have seen and is a sanctuary for a huge population of fishes, believed to represent the 33 crore Gods - bathing is prohibited. Within the inner enclosure, one of the walls used to have a cosmogonic chart - showing the Earth (with its concentric arrangement of 7 islands and the 7 oceans) and the six heavens above and the seven netherworlds below, leading all the way to the depths of the Vaitarani river in hell. There was also a declaration written (in English) on the inner sanctum walls - 'My devotee shall never perish' (Pop remarked on seeing it: " It would have been much better to say ' My devotee shall always flourish!'". But it seems the temple has scriptural backing - from the Gita).

And this is ALL I know about 'Tachchudayakkaimal': the post traditionally used to have great powers vested in it so (it appears) it used to be deliberately kept vacant by the local Kings!

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The major festival (apart from the annual festival at the temple) of Irinjalakuda is 'Pindi Perunaal' , 'the Feast of the banana stalks', a grand celebration at the local Catholic Cathedral. In front of every house, a banana stem is planted - and decorated with colorful flags sticking into it - and there are fireworks displays, processions,... I don't know anything about the legend behind this festival. And come to think of it, I know precious little about even the 'Feast of Arrows' celebrated at the Cathedral in my own Chalakudi. Arrows symbolize the martyrdom of St. Sebastian - and indeed effigies and statues of the saint, showing him riddled with arrows are erected and venerated all over the place. But how Sebastian acquired such a strong relevance to Chalakudi is mysterious (**).

Yes, I remember attending 'Kootiyattam' performances at the 'Ammannur Gurukulam'. There would be frequent power outages ('load shedding'); but the actors, in their resplendent costumes and faces strinkingly painted, would continue to perform well into the night - in the pulsating glow of flickering oil-lamps to the rhythms of the 'mizhavu'...

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(*)Recently, I heard that 'Iringaalakkuda' is a trimming down of 'Iru Chaal Koodal', which meant 'confluence of two streams or two canals'. The deity of the Koodalmanikyam' temple is also called 'Sangameswara' in Sanskrit - which translates to 'lord of the confluence'.

Problem: there are no rivers of streams of any kind anywhere near the place. Explanation: The rivers of Kerala are fast flowing and perennial and were prone to floods and frequent course-diversions, so the two streams which gave the place its name would have moved away somewhere. And yes, the Malayalam name of the temple could mean "The jewel of the confluence...", a pure figure of speech.

And, if one were to stretch this confluence argument a bit further, even 'Chalakudi' might be a confluence of 'chaal' and koodal', and might end up meaning the same as Irinjalakuda! At least Chalakudi has a river flowing past it, although there is no confluence there at present.

Centuries ago, there used to be a great Mathematician called 'Madhava of Sangamagrama', one of the leading exponents of the (then) famous Kerala School of Mathematics. The precise location of Sangamagrama is not known but from the literal meaning of the word ("village at the confluence (of rivers)"), claims have been made on him on behalf of Irinjalakuda.

(**) Perhaps, the Pindi Perunaal is also in memory of St. Sebastian. The banana stems pierced by those small flags might symbolize the saint and the arrows that killed him. Sebastian was greatly venerated in Europe (especially Italy) as a protector from epidemics (especially plague). His popularity in Kerala might be for the same reason - with smallpox and cholera the most dreaded mass-killers here. It is also possible that the rituals surrounding the banana stalks hark back to some old local fertility rites - am vaguely reminded of the cult of Jokumaraswamy (Karnataka).

16 Comments:

  • At 7:55 PM, Blogger Random Vandamme said…

    Christ! That's a long blog.

     
  • At 5:28 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks vandamme. and i have made another looong post.

     
  • At 12:55 AM, Blogger jo said…

    NANDU, YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB!

    I HAVE ALSO A LOT TO TELL YOU ABOUT IRINJALAKUDA, PLACES OF INTEREST, LINKS TO SITE PAGES AND A LOT MORE.

    AND WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS BLOG FAMOUS ALL OVER THE WORLD WHEREEVER THE IRINJALAKUDAINS LIVE!!!

    I SHALL DO WHATEVER I CAN TO MAKE IT A BIG SUCCESS BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT WE CAN DO TO OUR HOME TOWN, MOTHER OF US, IRINJALAKUDA; ISN'T IT?!

    YES; TIMES HAVE CHANGED. NOW EVERYTHING IS ON INTERNET. AND WE HAVE TO MAKE OUR IRINJALAKUDA ALSO FLY FAST ON NET SO THAT ALL IRINJALAKUDAINS SHALL HAPPY WHEREEVER ON EARTH THEY MAY BE; EVEN IF THEY ARE BEYOND- I MEAN; IF THEY ARE IN THE SPACE LIKE SUNITA WILLIAMS????! WOW!

    OKAY....NO...NO...I FORGOT TO INTRODUCE MYSELF. I AM JOJI, FROM CHELOOR, IRINJALAKUDA, WEST SIDE OF KOODALMANICKAM(http://www.koodalmanikyam.com/utsavam2007GAL.htm). NEAR POOCHAKKULAM. I DID MY PRIMARY SCHOOLING AT CHELOOR, U.P. & H.S. IN BOYS HIGH SCHOOL, IJK. PDC AT BLM ALOOR, THEN 3 YEARS B.A. IN MADRAS. 3 YRS JOB IN BOMABY. AGAIN 1992 IN MADRAS AS PHOTOGRAPHER. 1997 OWN STUDIO. TILL NOW STUDIO. MATHA DIGITAL STUDIO, CHENNAI-49 E-mail: ajojio@yahoo.co.in, Yahoo Messenger ID: ajojio(24hrs available), website address:- http://www.esnips.com/web/MATHA

    want to know more? do contact me.

    bye, till then

    A.O.JOJI

     
  • At 1:02 AM, Blogger jo said…

    another useful link:

    http://www.irinjalakudamunicipality.com/

     
  • At 4:54 AM, Blogger Joseph Kurumkulathil said…

    Hi,

    nice blog...and quite a good piece on irinjalakuda and christ college.

    was in christ too. bsc physics 1988.

    a nostalgic place and time...
    keep up the good work...

    rgds
    joseph

     
  • At 12:35 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks joji for the kind appreciation.

    and thanks joseph. i do remember you from christ days; guess you were 'fine arts sec.' or 'magazine editor'.

     
  • At 10:52 AM, Blogger Joseph Kurumkulathil said…

    Hey thanks for recalling...yes, editor...

    Wonder what shape the college is in now...

    Cant believe that such a beautiful campus and a stable management have not made it to greater heights...

    I would really be interested in participating in some sort of a campaign to take it to world class status by bringing in some cutting edge research courses and of course, a landscaping expert...

    joseph

     
  • At 2:08 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks again joseph.

    well, i doubt if christ still is the great place it certainly was. now, with pre-degree gone and every other plus two pass chap (or chapess) going for some self-financing professional course or the other, it would be a miracle if christ has continued to get students like... well, how about *us*!

     
  • At 9:44 AM, Blogger Sheeja said…

    Hi there,

    That was a great article about Irinjalakuda!!!.. I am from Irinjalakuda, born and brought up there... Even though I'm continents away at the moment, I keep Irinjalakuda and especially Christ College very close to my heart... I wasn't fortunate enough to study in Christ College (being a girl and all!!!), but lived very close to the college and was involved in all Church activities and had my religious classes in the college premises... I would've loved to have a chance to study in the college, but wasn't lucky enough, the college opened to girls for studies after I had finished my studies.. though one of my sisters was lucky enough...

    Thanks for the article..

    Regards

    Sheeja

     
  • At 10:07 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thank you sheeja for visiting.
    although you missed out on studying at christ, you seem to have had a longer and stronger association with the institution than someone like me. regrettably, i have not been there for nearly a decade now:(

     
  • At 4:58 PM, Blogger RADHAKRISHNAN said…

    I happened to be in Irinjalakuda for three days in October on the occasion of the death anniversary of eminent writer and social critic MN Vijayan.

    The visit was refreshing. I enjoyed it. One place that does not occur in your blog is the Cheraman Mazjid. I visited that.

    I googled just to get the meaning of the word Iringalakuda. I am sure it has a definite meaning in Malayalam. When I was waiting for return train to Chennai someone showed trees in the opposite direction: One home for big bats; another for crows; and so on. I was inhaling deep the fresh native air which I rarely get. An observation I made on my own was that the platform was a rendezvous for human love-birds. Nobody took a platform ticket. I saw a young boy and girl in their teens sitting on a bench for a long time. Probably they were in the same college or class-mates. They left before my train arrived. I was nostalgic. I did not have those young romantic days.

    When I was in Mumbai last month someone introduced me to a young lady in a university and said she is from Irinjalakuda! I thought that was a concidence; and said I was there last month. But she did not show any familiarity with the place. Probably she was brought up in Bombay.

     
  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks for visiting radhakrishnan.

    i am pretty sure the young lovers you saw were NOT from christ. the campus itself has enough picturesque and secluded spots for such meetings. of course, our own times there were rather different!

     
  • At 8:54 AM, Blogger KURUMBAIL said…

    Thanks for the write up. I belong to an ancient family of IJK and graduated from Christ in the first batch(1956-60)', under Rev.Fr.Gabriel CMI. Have written a biography of Fr.Gabriel titled "The Preceptor" and many articles on Ijk both in English and Malayalam, like Bharatha too has a Temple, Koodal Manikkam, Irinjalakuda, etc. A collection of old stories on the temple, church, people, history, legends and the like is under publication under the title "Kudayoor Kathakal"., in Malayalam. K.R.Narayanan, Retd.Dy.Director & Consultant to Govt.of Gujarat, Mumbai.

     
  • At 3:45 AM, Blogger Kumar said…

    Thanks for a nice write up about IJK. I was born and studied in IJK (Govt Boys high School-passed out SSLC in the year 1969) and moved to Mumbai. After retirement (for the last two years) I make it a point to visit IJK once a quarter to visit temples and to meet my friends. IJK has not changed much compared to Chalakudy and Kondungaloor. Very peaceful place without any communal issues.

     
  • At 7:36 PM, Blogger Kumar Dorai said…

    Well written Mr, Nandakumar. Since you covered a lot about Christ College, you should have also added about the football team of christ college especially Kandankulthi Trophy. One time if I am correct, there are three to four players of christ have represented Kerala team in the santosh trophy. Players like vijayan, antho verghese, tharakan, johny, etc. are the leading players of Christ College. Thanks.

     
  • At 12:34 AM, Blogger Aristanemi said…

    I also studied in Christ pre-degree 1968-70 first group , was in hostal Fr Vivian was hostel in charge. Very good college. I feel bad as I am not able to connect with anyone from that batch. I used to be called K C in hostel. Contact 7827865414

     

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