Trivandrum Iyers by Ramya

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!

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39 thoughts on “Trivandrum Iyers by Ramya

  1. nice to see someone writing about Puthen street Iyers. As i belong to that place, it brought nostalgic memories. any way can all of you identify your TC nos or something recognizable so as to know each one of your

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  2. You have to include the streets in karamanai, thaliyal , attingal , chalai, aryasalai, chenthittai etc. when you say “Trivandrum iyers” . It is not the fort area alone that has agraharams.

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  3. Nice articles my grandparents were from thirunelveli (karukurichi)but used lot of malayalam words in their conversation.my mother has told me that they hail from ottapalam and vadakancherry (can yoy do some write up on theses too)i still remember celebration of vaikadashtami in the village. Nice article ramya. Keep writing for our future generation

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  4. Me too, these days, a north Indian TI hard pressed to distinguish myself from a PI. Enjoyed reading, including the comments. But why not include Karamanai, Chalai etc too in the sequel you are planning. Best Wishes,
    Narayanan.

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  5. Memories…
    I grew up in 1st puthen street, seems like about a century ago.
    The things I remember most clearly are the pattaperus – nicknames.
    In my circle there were 4 Kannans. Gundu kannan, Hanumar Kannan, Chokka Kannan, Olli Kannan. 2 Kichas – vattu Kichan and beedi Kichan. 2 Ambis – ottatheru ambi and anaval theru ambi.
    When our son was baking in the oven, we had a hard time deciding on a name.
    At one point my wife (she grew up in 2nd puthen street) threw her hands up and suggested, “why don’t we just name him Kannan and call him Ambi at home?” 🙂

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      1. Nice article taking me to my childhood.I was in A naval street ,studied in kothalam bursary,sathram school,manacaud GHS,&Zanana Mission school.In those days my school journey was through Paanabha swi temple.Deepavali special food Okkara & Kadalaparippu Boli with Palpayasam for marriage feasts are our own specialities
        Tk u Ramya wish to read more about TVM

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  6. The agraharams of Trivandrum or “Thirvandhooram” as the locals call it 🙂 are characterized by
    – one religious festival or other – on any given day of the year
    – excellent home made food, available any time
    – a lively social atmosphere, where every one knows everyone else in community pretty intimately
    – almost everyone has a pet name that is used by most of the others (some of these names are really humorous) ….
    – a general culture of excellent academics among the kids

    and so on …..

    Looking forward to the post on the food part, Ramya !
    Please include the following 🙂 🙂 🙂
    – BoLi, Maladu, thogayal podi, the different thorans and the ultimate palada pradhaman …. …..

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  7. Well there are kerala iyers extending from kasaragod in the north of Kerala to Thiruvananthapuram at the south. But primarily Kerala iyers are devided only into two categories – Palakkad iyers and Travancore iyers. Or in otherwords Palakkad samooham and pandi samooham. This is because of the way they migrated to kerala from Tamil Nadu and from where they trace their origins.
    My mother is from a town in Ernakulam and this said town has a good population of iyers. However these iyers living in a single agraharam there, were devided into two groups, pandi samoohakara from Travancore and palakkad samoohakara from palakkad. Now this distinction existed even though their native place was this very town I’m talking about. That’s how distinct the cultures are. But having said that iyers extending south upto eranakulam or even kollam have cultures which are variations of the palakkad Iyer culture. It’s only down south after there, where a distinct Travancore culture starts. This is because these Iyers from other districts of kerala have just secondarily migrated to these districts. I’m saying this with certainty because my immediate family has a kannur iyer thathi, Travancore Iyer Chithappa, thrisur Iyer Chithappa, Bombay Thrissur Iyer Athimber (yea they are a distinct variety :p ) , kasargod Iyer Chithi, alapuzha Iyer mami, wayanad Iyer mami, kollathu iyer mami,etc,. All our cultures are confluent except for the travancore iyers’ family .
    Palakkad iyers are more famous because primarily they are larger in number and when the kerala agrerian bill was passed, they lost a lot of land and hence had to move out for a livelihood.

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  8. That is a good article, Ramya. Thanks for explaining the various agraharams and the interesting legends around their names.

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  9. Ramya Akka! That was a good one! I too get irritated when ppl from TN address me as a PI. Long back in OI(If I am right, you too were a member), someone told me that I speak Palakkad Tamil. I tried to convince that I am not a Palakkadian, that person did not accept it. PIs and TIs are very much different from pickles to Kalyana bhakshanam! Someone mentioned above that ancestors of Palakkad Iyers are from Tanjore. But the fact is Palakkad Iyers treat Tanjore Iyers (all Iyers from TN) differently and call them Kizhakethukaraal(people from East). If I am to write more, I can go on and on.
    Anyway, this one made me proud again of my Trivandrum roots and Trivandrum as a whole. 🙂
    PS:- I am married to a pure PI family! 😛

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    1. Thank you Veena. The point I really wanted to convey here is, PIs are not superior to any other KIs. Thrissur Iyers have their own language, slight variation of cuisine, Eranakulam Iyers have it slightly different, Kozhikode, Kannur, Kottayam, Kollam Iyers and definitely Trivandrum Iyers. All of us are different from Palakkad Iyers, and it is wrong to label us all as PIs. As someone stated here, in the comments – Palakkad Iyers migrated to other parts of India in search of a better life, but most of Trivandrum Iyers from that generation did not need to do so, being in the capital city. Though today we travel far and wide for a livelyhood, our roots are still there in Trivandrum in the form of our parents/siblings. I just wanted to highlight the not so subtle difference of Iyers from Trivandrum.

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  10. Born in Palakkad (and visiting very often) and brought up in Trivandrum, I can relate to both places and know exactly what you mean. 🙂

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  11. I am a proud Palakkad over and would proudly say that Palakkad iyers are famous than any other iyers in kerala. Only Palakkad iyers have Vaishnavites among iyers and our cuisine remains unaffected by other kerala cuisine unlike TVM whose food items are more or less same as that of other malayali items.

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    1. Rajesh. Maybe you are wrong. We also have our family god as Perumal. Do you know that all villages in Tirunelveli has a Perumal Temple and Siva Temple. Some families have had Perumal as their family god.

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  12. Good one! Although I have a number of relatives in TVM, I never got to know the details mentioned here. My Sammandi (Pucca Trichy/Tanjore) sometimes states that we are Palakkad, although we have told them that we are Tirunelveli. They got their son married to a girl from Ernakulam, and told us, “Onga oorkkara than!”. My wife can speak Malayalam because she lived in Kerala for some years before marriage. However, a few Malayalam words and phrases have got into our lexicon because of her! Our daughters in law are foxed!

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  13. At last, at last I am happy to see somebody is writing about TVM Iyers also. I would have been happier still if you had just listed Ramaswamy Kovil St.also since I spent my toddler years and left for good returning only occasionally for summer vacations. Yes the language spoken in TVM is very distinct from that of Palakkad. As you say a substantial number of TVM Iyers reach for their roots in Tinneveli Distt. One can see this from the very common names like Nellaiyappan, Gomathi, Aavudai, Kulattu, Chuppaiya, Sankaranarayanan/ Sankaralingam (deities of Sankarankovil) Thanu etc. In contrast most of the Palakkad Iyers hail from various agraharams of Tanjore which is seen from the names of Palakkad villages and also names of people which are largely after deities of Tanjore distt. It is indeed a fact that Palakkad Iyers are more famous, probably because they had to leave their villages seeking jobs elsewhere while in TVM, there were always enough jobs in the state government offices, schools and colleges etc. And as it usually happens an emigrant always tends to work really hard, and in Bomby, Calcutta, and further north Palakkad Iyers managed to thrive with their innate intelligence and had work.. I think even for marriages a Tanjore person is preferred to a TVM person for Palakkad parents and a Tinneveli/Nagarkovil person is preferred for a TVM person rather than a Palakkad and TVM bride & groom. This is just my guess as I left the state as a child and may be corrected if it is wrong assumption.
    I remember a funny incident when I was a child. After a big function like a marriage all the women of the extended family gathered together were taking rest chitchatting with one another. One my mother’s aunts was from Tinneveli and as it happens she would always be referred to as “Pandi Chitti” since she came from Pandi Nadu. When somebody casually addressed her by this term she returned in half humour and half irritation. “I am married in TVM and have been living here only for over 30 year and participating in all the family functions just as any one of you but still I am Panikkari only. Is it fair?”

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    1. Thank you so much, Sir for your nice comment. It is indeed a great miss from my side about Ramaswamy Kovil street. I also missed to list the Pazhavangadi Theruvu, though most of the houses there are now been converted into shopping complexes. You are absolutely right about the employment opportunities in Trivandrum, most of them took up a job in the Govt, or KSRTC, or Banks or Colleges/Schools. Travancore was a self sustained state and the Maharajas along with Diwans like Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer, governed the state very well. Even today, all the basic amenities in TVM are the contributions of Travancore Kings.

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  14. Nice article. It is important to distinguish between Iyers from various regions in Kerala / TN, not to divide the community but to understand the various customs, traditions, rituals and cuisine that have evolved over the years. Few traditions followed by Iyers in TVM are surprisingly different from those in Kollam and the same with Kottayam or Thrissur. Understanding them and preserving the traditions, should be our duty. Needless generalization and empty criticism should be avoided. Get positive people!!

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        1. Mahadeva Ashtami which falls in the Tamil month of Karthigai is also known as Vaikathashtami. Vaikom is a place in Kerala, which is famous for Mahadevar temple, and the belief is that the Lord himself appears in the form of a chef and cooks the meal on Vaikathashtami day at Vaikom. This Ashtami day is an important festival in Siva temples. For more details : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaikom_Temple

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  15. Good one, not all iyers are from Palakaad and not every one love the Palakaad special ‘molagukottal’ a must have for Palakaad iyers. Trivandrum iyers speak good Tamil and Malayalam unlike the Palakaad Iyers who do a mashup. Happy i am from Trivandrum.

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    1. A Hi5 to you, Rajesh. That is exactly the same point I was driving home. I am planning to write another blog about the food and especially festival food that is Trivandrum specialty. We don’t claim to be superior to Iyers from anywhere else, but we have our own slight variations of rituals and traditions. That’s all.

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  16. Ram, your article about Trivandrum Iyers is very lucid & well written. True, is is generally assumed that Iyers originating from Kerala are mostly referred to as Palkkad Iyers. Your article is an eye opener. It also true that Palakkad Iyer is more common in usage & my wife is incidentally is from there even though I am originally from TN.

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    1. Thank you 🙂 Palakkad was part of TamilNadu till 1956 when the southern states where formed, but Trivandrum had always been in an independent state called Travancore, which spread till Tirunelveli. We exchanged Kanyakumari with Palakkad when Tamilnadu and Kerala where born.

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  17. Totally agree. My mom is from Karamana as well and I was born right there. Love the place and cherish the memories of my child hood at my grandma;s place in Karaman. Love the Aandi Yettam over there.

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