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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

An 'Oottupura' - to Save and Savor

Note:The Malayalam word ‘Oottupura’ means a refectory or dining hall building, usually one that is part of a temple complex or palace.

I have known this old and massive (approx. 100 ft by 100 ft) building to the north of the Purnathrayeesa temple in Tripunithura for a very long time:

For as long as I can remember, I have heard of the structure being referred to as the ‘abandoned/old Oottupura’. It does stand next to the main Oottupura of the temple (a building very much in active use) separated from the latter by an open ground nearly 40 meters across – a space used as an ‘elephant yard’ by the temple.

The building's strikingly derelict state had always made it stand quite apart from the well-maintained religious edifices nearby. But I had never bothered to investigate further.

…until a few weeks back. A spell of extreme joblessness on a Sunday afternoon made me do a decco (or maybe "recce" is better) of the place. Walking around, I noticed that a portion of the massive tiled roof was sagging down, apparently from structural decay.

Peeping in thru a half-open window, I saw several empty beer bottles lying around. From a corner emanated a overpowering stench and incessant squeaking noises – clear indications of a teeming bat population.

I left things at that for the day and looked online.

And here is the gist of what I gathered (alibi: my comprehension of legalese is patchy. So, those who want primary sources should go to


A few years back, a court case was fought between the Devaswom Board (a state-controlled but semi-autonomous temple administration body) and the State itself. The Devaswom people want the building to be an integral part of the temple complex (and seek to buttress their claim with the curiously circular sentence: “it is indispensable for the Devaswom Board for its welfare and developments as it is badly in need of it”). The State apparently wants it to be converted into an art gallery (some say, a tribal art gallery). A large proportion of the devotee population backs the Devaswom maybe because they don’t like the idea of a secular art gallery (or maybe that of a tribal art gallery) close to the temple or because they think “the State tries to take over and secularize only Hindu religious property; it doesn’t dare touch the wealth of others”.

Both parties to the dispute agree that the building was indeed an Oottupura at some point of time. The lawyer representing the State claimed in Court that it was handed over to the State by the then Maharaja of Cochin in 1960 for use by the Stationery Department and although that particular department vacated the building many years ago (why they did so is not clear), it has remained Sarkari property - revenue documents do support that ownership claim. The Devaswom says the Maharaja had no authority post 1947 and could not have issued an order giving away the building; however they do claim the Diwan (Chief Minister) handed over the Oottupura to the temple much earlier (1922, pre-Independence). Moreover they say that the revenue documents showing the building as State property suffer from an apparent bug that was found and flagged many years previously and regarding which an enquiry was pending.

Everything said and heard, the court judged: (1) the building is an Oottupura because both parties say it was an Oottupura; and because oottupuras are attached to temples, it is temple property. (2) In 1960, India was a republic and the 'king' had no authority to hand over the building to anybody so it is not clear how the revenue records show it as Government property and this needs to be investigated and (3) if the parties to the dispute fight a full-fledged civil case, it can drag on interminably so they had better patch up (4) Until an agreement is reached, no art gallery or anything can be opened there and status quo shall prevail.

My own outsider's take:

The building is not structurally linked to the main temple Oottupura - looks like it never was. Entry into the building appears not to have been from the present elephant yard separating it from the temple complex but via a gateway opening onto a road on the other side. This entrance is fairly grand and the state emblem of Cochin has been embossed on the wall above. This emblem indicates (not proves) that the building was not conceived as a religious structure but a secular, governmental one (note: needless to say, both parties to one particular court case referring to the building as ‘oottupura’ does not in itself make it an oottupura). Elderly residents of the place distinctly recall the building being used around 1950 as a go-down or granary; some even think it had always been a sort of a state-run godown before its Stationary Dept days – like the many ‘pandiyalas’ in places like Mattanchery or Fort Cochin (some of the latter have actually become smart art galleries, thanks to the Biennale) – not a far-fetched thought because the site of the long gone Tripunithura boat jetty is but a furlong away. It was probably due to the secular nature of the building that the Diwan had to explicitly hand it over to the temple – why he did so and if he really had the authority to do so remains unknown (to self).

My thoughts may be ill-informed or invalid and may reflect my (real) personal bias towards the art-gallery idea. But one thing is absolutely certain: whatever any law-court or anyone says, the so-called "Status quo" simply cannot hold.

For the Forces of Nature follow a very different set of laws. Here is a glimpse of what they just did to what was a mere kink in the roof but a few days ago..

Yesterday, marshalling more than the usual energy (and a dash of desperation), one searched and found a way to sneak in and survey the vast rooms and crumbling corridors(*) - and even get up, close and perilously personal with the caved in roof:

But just like the case of the Jewish Cemetery (last post), one realizes that the building is less gloomy ruin than a showcase of that most resilient of phenomena - Life. Indeed, it isn't just the bats - in the wildly overgrown inner quadrangle stands a robust jacktree, laden with fruit. Fallen leaves carpet the corridors and among them, bright scarlet and black millipedes keep their own noiseless tenor. Dense moss coats fallen pillars; creepers rappel up sagging rafters ....

Thanks, Vimal and Ratheesh.


(*) Even in a quick run-thru, it is clear that serious maintenance work has been done on this building until fairly recently: a few concrete pillars have been planted to bolster the ceiling, the walls have been whitewashed and electric wiring done - of course, the light bulbs and other fittings have been wrenched off by vandals and lie heaped like eggshells in the central courtyard.


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