Sunday, March 22, 2015

Kerala House Boats- Part 2

In Kerala there are seven lakes, 44 rivers and large number of canals.The total length  of the canals would be more than 1500 km.There is a network of canals in Alapuzha (Alleppey) town and the tourists like to go around the town through these canals and watch the coir villages and other rural life.Alapuzha is famous as the 'Venice of the East'.
Out of the seven lakes in Kerala the most important  are Vembanad lake,Ashtamudi lake and Sasthamkotta lake.Ashtamudi lake and Sasthamkotta lakes are in Kollam district.Vembanad lake is the largest lake in Kerala and the longest lake in India.It covers a large area and extends to three districts 'Alapuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam'.The same lake is known in different names locally.At Alapuzha area it is known as 'Punnamada Kayal'.'Kayal' is the Malayalam word for lake.The most famous 'Nehru Trophy Snakeboat race' is conducted every year in August at Alapuzha in 'Punnamada Kayal'.At Ernakulam part this lake is called as 'Cochi Kayal'.
Most of the houseboat services in Kerala are operated in Vembanad lake.Many of the cruises originates from Alapuzha and Kumarakom in Kottayam district.Kumarakom is well famous as a bird sanctuary and the tourists can see many species of birds here including migratory birds.From Alapuzha houseboat cruises are available to Kollam and many exciting places can be seen on this  journey.
The Kettuvallams used bamboo poles and palm leaves to make the roof of the boats traditionally and when they

converted them to houseboats such materials  are still being  used but the height of the roof is increased.The oval flooring is leveled using wooden planks and coir carpets are laid.Cozy,luxurious  interior decoration and furnishing is done and the stay on the houseboats will be comfortable as in a hotel room.Usually the  Kettuvalloms were of 50-70 feet long and 15 feet wide at the  middle.New houseboats in large number were also made in recent years.Some of them are around 100 feet long and as per its size one bedroom, two bedroom and up to 5 bedroom houseboats are available.All the houseboats have modern toilet facilities.The houseboats have private balconies, sundeck etc and many of them have separate living room, dining room etc.
The crew will be mostly of  three people, a driver,one Chef and a Cabin assistant.Traditional Kerala style cuisine is made on the houseboats which will be very delicious.
The tourists can select the houseboats of their choice and also select the cruise according to their preference like to the lagoons,deltas,estuaries or pleasure trip through the canals and lakes.
A cruise through the backwaters of Kerala in luxury houseboats  which reveals the marvelous  beauty of the state  will be an exciting and thrilling experience to all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kerala House Boats- Part 1

Till the advent of Motor vehicles, water transport was largely used in Kerala, a state blessed with 44 rivers, several Lakes and a network of canals.This was comparatively a  cheap means of transport also rather than bullock carts and horse carriages.Large quantity of goods could be transported on wooden boats and large group of people also could be carried.For carrying passengers different type of boats of varied shape and size were used and some of them are still in use at 'Alapuzha' and  Kuttanad areas like 'Veppu,Churulan,Iruttukuthi,Odi' etc.For a single person small oar boat  known as 'Kothumbu Vallam' is used.
For transporting cargo large wooden boats moved by long  bamboo poles were in use which were known as 'Kettu Vallams'
In Malayalam 'Kettu' means 'knot' and 'Vallam' means boat.Kettu Vallam denotes the way how they are made.Kettu Vallams are made by tying together heavy wooden planks using coir made from coconut fibre  and by putting knots they are kept intact.The  handicrafts men who makes such kind of wooden boats still adopt the traditional way and they avoid iron,steel or any kind of metal to bind the wooden  planks.Natural glues and wooden screws and nails are used.A particular wood 'Anjili' which resists and beat damage even  by continuous contact with water is used for making these kind of cargo boats.This wood is not attacked by insects also and the final product 'Kettu Vallam, would be sturdy,strong and lasts for centuries.A normal type Kettuvallam usually carried 30 to 40 tonnes of cargo and were  used to transport goods like 'Paddy,Rice,Vegetables,Coir and Coir

products,Coconuts,Sugarcane,sand,bricks,cattle' etc.
Places like Alapuzha,Changanacherry,Kottayam,Champakulam,Edathua,Chengannur,Aranmula,Kollam,Kayamkulam,Ernakulam,Thiruvanathapuram' etc  were all connected by water ways in olden times.Some of the canals on the route  from Alapuzha to Thiruvananthapuram is blocked at present but previously it was also largely used.
 The famous Malayalam poetry book 'Mayura Sandesam'  written by 'Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran'(1845-1914) is  as a message he sends  to his wife at Thiruvananthapuram Palace while he was staying at 'Haripad' Palace near Alapuzha by a peacock.He wrote this poem similar to the old well famous Sanskrit 'message poem'  'Megha Doot' written by 'Poet Kalidas' and earned the appellation  'Kerala Kalidasan'.In the Sanskrit text a cloud carries the message of the sender.
Kerala Varma Valia Koil Thampuran  instructs the peacock to fly near to the water ways up to Thiruvanathapuram and describes all the places on the way up to the destination.The book was published in the year 1901.A  Malayalam verse in the poem is as like this.
"Randum Moonnum thavana krishiyettunna Kandangaleyum
Thandum ketti tharamodu charikkunna Vallangaleyum.....
Kandum konda cheru puzhakal than theera margena poka"

He tells the peacock to fly near the banks of the small rivers which en-route to Thiruvananthapuram   and the bird  could see paddy fields which the farmers cultivates twice or thrice per year, the moving-by  wooden boats on the rivers etc during his journey.He also suggests  that the peacock could  take rest awhile on any of those boats.
In another verse the poet tells the bird to make an offering of one of its feathers at the Ambalapuzha temple for the  deity 'Lord Sri Krishna' and assures the peacock that Lord Krishna who loves his devotees would accept it to adorn his hair.The Malayalam verse is 
"Palikkanay bhuvanamakhilam bhoothale jathanayaa
Kalikootam kalitha kuthuham katha Kannnnu bhakthya
Peelikkolonnu adilalaril nee kazhcayay vechidenam
Moulikettil thirukumathine theerchayay Bhaktadasan."

We can understand from "Mayurasandesam'  poem that water transport was largely used during that period to transport goods and passengers from Alapuzha to Trivandrum.
When speed became the main criteria and new bridges and roads were  made in remote areas also, the usage of 'Kettu Vallams' ceased.
In 1969 a Malayalam film 'Nadhi' was released  in which Prem Nazir was the hero and Sharada was the heroine.Madhu,Ambika,Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair,P.J.Antony,Kaviyoor Ponnamma,T.R.Omana,Sankarady,Adoor Bhavani,Baby Sumathy' etc acted in it.It was scripted by Thoppil Bhasi and directed by A.Vincent.The story concept was by P.J.Antony.
Two rich families who were landlords and owns their own 'Kettu Vallams' spends a vacation on the banks of the river near 'Aluva town' and they live in their Kettu Vallams during that period.Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair acted as Thomachan' who was the head of one of the  family and P.J.Antony as Varkey, the other family head.
A third family   consists of 'Ouseph' (Sankaradi),Kunjeli(Adoor Bhavani) and their son  'Chacko'(Nellikkode Bhaskaran) were also staying there on their 'Kettu Vallam'.
The happenings during a fortnight when the love of 'Johny' (Prem Nazir) towards 'Stella'(Sharada) who were members from the two rival families  became known to others was the theme of the film.
During those period the concept of 'House Boats' was not in Kerala and  many of the spectators of that film wished for a brief stay on such a boat for pleasure  after watching that film.Such Kettu Vallams were only used as cargo boats and were not available for hire to live in.It was a fun and luxury only for its owners.But things changed rapidly and around 30 years back all the Kettu Vallams were converted to Houseboats and made available for hire   to the excitement of tourists and locals.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple

Aranmula in Pathanamthitta District,Kerala is world famous mainly because of the Snake boat race held  here during 'Onam days'(Aug-Sept) every year in the river Pamba.
Aranmula is one of the 108 'Divya Desams (Holy Places) in India  according to 'Vaishnavas' where famous ancient  shrines of Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna of Prime importance are situated.Aranmula Parthasarathy temple belongs to one of  these 108 holy abodes of Lord Vishnu.The deity in this temple is Lord Parthasarathy, who is none other than Lord Krishna.Lord Krishna who was an incarnation of Mahavishnu, participated in the 'Kurukshetra War' between Pandavas and Kauravas but he gave only moral support to Pandavas.He did not use any weapons but acted as the charioteer of the third Pandava "Arjuna'.Another name of Arjuna is 'Partha' and 'Parthasarathy' means charioteer of 'Partha'.
The belief is that Arjuna installed the 6 foot tall idol of 'Parthasarathy' at Nilackal, a place near to 'Sabarimala' which is 85 km from Aranmula.Later the Idol was brought to Aranmula in a bamboo raft through river Pamba accompanied by several Snake boats and to commemorate this event  Snake boat race is held here.Whatever be the legend, 52 'Karas' (small provinces or places) on the banks of river Pampa is associated with this temple and they all have Snake boats of their own which participates in the Snake boat race here every year.The boat race is held on 'Uthrittathi day' of Onam season but on 'Thiruvonam day'(The most important day of Onam) also a Snake boat performance is held at Aranmula and 'Valla Sadya' which is a grand vegetarian feast is served to the oar men at the temple premises.The feast is served on plantain leaves and more than 40 dishes are served according to the traditional style.
Aranmula Parthasarathy temple which is a beautiful monument is situated on a vast elevated land on the banks of holy river Pampa.There is a flight of 18 steps on the eastern side of entrance where a 'Gopuram'(Traditional entrance gate) is existed.At the northern side 'Gopuram' 57 descending steps reaches Pampa river.
Aranmula is famous for 'Aranmula Kannadi' which is a metal mirror made by craftsmen of this place only.It is made out of a combination of copper and white lead.The manufacturing technique is only known to them.This type of mirror is considered  auspicious because of the belief that it was used by Goddess  Devi Parvathi.The belief is that it brings luck,wealth and prosperity.
Now-a-days also it is one of the items of 'Ashtamangalyam'( auspicious items kept in a plate or tray) during marriage ceremony etc.
Aranmula is a heritage Village as enlisted by United Nations.Aranmula is a major Hindu Pilgrimage spot and several famous Hindu and Christian shrines are situated  in the near by places.
'Vijnana Kalavedi', an institute to promote traditional arts,crafts and martial arts of Kerala which  are also  taught to aspirant students (local and foreign) is functioning at Aranmula.
Aranmula Kottaram (Aranmula Palace) which is more than 200 years old made up of wood in Kerala style architecture is on the banks of river Pamba.
The annual festival of the Parthasarathy temple is for ten days and 'Kambam festival' is unique here.Children and adults collects palm leaves and burn them together at the temple premises in remembrance of 'Khandava Dahanam' by Arjuna.(Arjuna cleared a forest area 'Khandava' by burning it even though 'Indra' protested  is the legend).
Rare rituals (art forms) like 'Mayura Nritham,Arjuna Nritham,Kurathi Aattam,Vela Kali' etc are also performed at this temple during festival period.
The 'Thanka Anki' procession to Sabarimala Temple( the procession carrying  gold image of Lord Ayyappa) in December every year starts from Aranmula temple.
The Parthasarathy temple has beautiful murals which are of 18th century.Aranmula is 116 km from Thiruvananthapuram International Airport and 10 km from Chengannur Railway Station.