Manikkadavu – The Land of Karimpalas
Manikkadavu and the adjacent villages, before the independence of India, were private forest owned by a land lord family of Nayanar caste called “Karaykkattu Idam”. They were the subjects of Chiraykal Rajas who retained power as the loyalists of British Raj
As per the local version of feudalism, the ‘janmi’ (land lord) family was not only owned the land but ruled over its tenants. The tenements of this forest land were the Karimpalas, the first ever inhabitants of Manikkadavu.
Though some very old Karimpala elders say that there lived in ancient Manikkadavu a tribe called ‘Vedikalamar’, there is no proof of it.
For thousands of years the people of Karimpala tribe were leading a most eco-friendly life here; quite a jungle life indeed. They adopted very crude and ancient ways of agriculture.
They never used spade, used only “periya” instead. “Peria” is a three-inch-long and one-inch-broad miniature of spade with a wooden handle one foot in length. Sparing the huge trees and clearing bushes, creepers and other wild plants, they prepared ground with their “peria” and cultivated paddy and other seasonal crops.
Beating “thudi”, a typical drum of the tribal, they would sing melodiously their traditional “vaalichappaattu” while preparing ground and sowing paddy. Every year after harvest, they shift to a new place abandoning the old. They called this system “ponam krishi”. “Ponam” and “krishi”in their language means forest and farming respectively.
Besides they went on hunting and fishing to find their daily food. They had to give the Janmi a portion of the animal they hunt.
Exploited by the rich nobility, the ignorant and quite illiterate tribal people led a miserable life. They had to pay the land lord 1/4th or even more of the crops as ‘vaaram’ also known as ‘purappadu’ (fixed percentage of crops as levy to the land lord). During the months of ‘Kanni’ and ‘Thulam’, the loyal official of the Janmi (the land lord) called ‘surveyor’ would come to the jungle land, allot land and fix ‘vaaram’ for the next year’s cultivation.
The tribal people had to travel a lot by foot through the jungle paths carrying the huge load of vegetables and other crops to offer at the Idam, the janmi’s palatial home in the village outside the forest. There the poor untouchables always got a cold reception.
Quite down below the courtyard of Idam, they were stopped and the ‘Karyasthan’ or the chief executive officer of the Janmi would accept their offerings and give them ‘choru’ (cooked rice) in plantain leaf. For drinking water they had to go to the stream nearby and no vessels were provided.
The Janmi’s words were binding. He had the right to give the poor tribal even the capital punishment. He could also evict the tribal people from their cultivated land. The Janmi’s men would put small branches of trees with its leaves and put stones on the same to demarcate the land of a tenant who had acquired the wrath of the Janmi.
The evicted person thereby lost all the rights over his crops and was thereafter forbidden to enter his hut or even the cultivated land. This practice was known as ‘Kallum Tholum Vaykal’ (putting stone and leaves). The Karimpala elders say that it was an ancient custom among them to offer ‘kattas’ (bundles of paddy) to Goddess Mani at the Nuchiad temple.
The ‘kattas’ were accepted from outside the temple compound by the ‘embrassan’, a temple official. They were given “payasam” made of rice, sugar and milk but, since they were treated as untouchables, not permitted to enter the temple.
The story about an ancient civilization still lingers among Karimpala elders. It tells us that there was a Brahmin settlement at a place formerly known as ‘Illathumpadi’ somewhere near present day Manipparathattu. Reminiscent of destroyed or deserted ‘Illams’ (Brahmin homes) were found scattered at that part before the deforestation after the advent of settlers from Travancore.
Similar stories are there about ‘Onapparambu’ and ‘Nambadipparambu’, two places existing only in legends passed over through ages. Those two places –on analyzing the tribal stories we can conclude – were flourishing centers of ancient Hindu culture, existed somewhere near present day Nuhiyad.
The ritualistic worship of Mani Bhagavathi (Goddess Mani) known as ‘kalasam’ is performed by ‘Aattukaran’, the tribal priest of the Karimpalas. Pallathu Ambu, the present Aattukaran, believes that there lived Kolantha Chemmaran, the first Aattukaran of this place, even at the time when there was stone and earth.
He had come to this place from a place called ‘Erelantha Naadu’. He made there a ‘valappu’ or a small estate of coconut and areca nut trees and also cultivated paddy. In those days the Aattukaran was the only Karimpala with a permanent dwelling place and around it there were coconut and many fruit trees including jack fruit trees and mango trees.
This ancestral property of Aattukaran known as ‘vallyeriyka valappu’ was later acquired by a timber trader, who was also a money lender, in a quite deceitful manner- laments the present Aattukaran. When the present Aattukaran took charge, Manikkadavu and surrounding places were the part of a dense forest known as ‘Manjalaadu kaadu’.
He and his family began life here at ‘Vallya cheriykal parambu’. The ‘janmi’ had given them the land with the right to use at their discretion. It was from the officials of the janmi known as ‘karyasthans’ that the illiterate Karimpalas knew the dates of the year and the names of the months and seasons. For medicine they used only the herbs got from the forest.
Only the Aattukaran of the Karimpala tribe has the right to perform ‘kalasam’ (‘kalasam kettiyaaduka’). The ‘Peruvannaan’ from ‘Parikkalam’, a nearby village, also came to this place to perform some other forms of rituals to goddess Mani like ‘theyyam’ or ‘Manippothiye kettiyaadal’. It is believed that it is Mani Bhagavathi who speaks through the Aattukaran, while he performs ‘kalasam’.
Though quite illiterate, the humble simple tribal priest knows the language of Goddess Mani. The Aattukaran claims that during kalasam he sees Goddess Mani as a silent tall lady of the complexion of red silk, with long silky hair and closed eyes.
On the day of kalasam a small miniature of a hut called ‘maadam’ is built and an oil lamp is kindled inside to honor and pray to the late karanavars. The ritual related to this function is called ‘kudiyiruthal’.
If this ritual is not performed, the Karimpalas believe, the departed souls will wander in agony.
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