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.


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