Whenever Iyers in Kerala are referred to, they are assumed to be from Palakkad. I for one, take offense when anyone calls me a Palakkad Iyer, because I have nothing to do with Palakkad. There are Iyer settlements in different parts of Kerala other than Palakkad. Calling all Kerala Iyers as Palakkad Iyers is like calling all South Indians as Madrasis.
Trivandrum, where I was brought up, has a number of agraharams and Tamil Iyers who migrated mostly from Tirunelveli. The ancestors of the Trivandrum Iyers were brought from “Brahmadesam” or Tirunelveli by the Travancore Kings, to take part in the “Mura japam” ritual of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple.
They were given agraharams around the temple and the fort, as well as in Karamana and Chalai. Since I am from the Ramavarmapuram Gramam a.k.a Puthen Theruvu (new street), I would like to write about the life of Iyers there.
The agraharams around Padmanabhaswamy temple are – The Onnam, Randam and Moonnam Puthen Theruvu (First, Second and Third Puthen Streets), Otta Theruvu (Single Street), Edasseri Kottai Theruvu, Gandharvan Theruvu (the story goes that a mama once spotted a Gandharva in this street), Anavaal Theruvu (Named after a mama who once served as AanavaaL – a post in the court of Travancore King), Thamman Theruvu, Dikshitar Theruvu (Named after one of the teachers of Travancore King), Thekke theruvu, Chinna Palla Theruvu, Periya Palla Theruvu, Chottupura Theruvu, Tippu Theruvu a.k.a Ayya Vadhyar Theruvu.
Tippu Theruvu got its nickname from a story – Travancore is the only state that remains undefeated by Tippu Sultan. During his invasion of Malabar, his spies used to visit Travancore too, for recce. Once when Tippu’s spies were spotted near the street, all the mamas opened the door at once and came out. Seeing their coordination and cooperation the spy fled the scene. The mamas did this by knocking on each other’s wall (all the agraharam houses share the walls with their neighbours) and communicated.
The presiding deity of Ramavarmapuram Gramam is Agneeshwara Mahadevar and Karpakambal. Like Palakkad, we don’t have any Theru, but the main festival in Puthen streets is the Vaikathashtami. There is a Pattakkudi Bhoothanathar Kovil in Second Puthen street, whose main festival is Panguni Uthram.
The other major festivals are Thiruvathirai, Thai poosam, Vaikasi Vishakham, when there would be procession from the temple through all the streets. Not to mention that grand sadya is the highlight of all these festivals. On the day of Karthikai deepam the houses are all decorated with lamps and it is a spectacular sight. We celebrate the entire Margazhi month with bhajan, unchavrithi through all the streets early in the morning, when the streets are decorated with huge kolams (rangolis). We also celebrate Pongal, Vishu, Onam and Deepavali with camaraderie and grandeur. Thyagaraja Aradhana is another festival where the kids in the street get to showcase their musical talents.
Come Ayyappa season, each street has their own sastapreethi which celebrated in a grand way.
We also look forward to the 10 day Utsavam that culminates with the Araattu (holy dip) of Lord Padmanabha in the months of Panguni and Alpasi (March-April and Oct-Nov). The Araattu procession from the temple is accompanied by State Police and the Lord, who is also the ruler of Travancore, is given Guard of Honour. The procession goes to Shankhumukham Beach through the Trivandrum International airport. The Airport is closed on those two days for a few hours in the evening, as the procession goes through the runway. It is a heavenly sight to be scene.
There are many eminent personalities in all walks of life who are born and brought up in Trivandrum. I am fortunate to have spent the first 25 years of my life in Trivandrum – the capital of God’s own Country!