Thakazhi is much more than a destination for the people of Kerala. The lakeside village was immortalised by the great Malayalam writer Sivasankara Pillai who prefixed his name with 'Thakazhi'. This place in Alappuzha district owes its popularity to its most celebrated son.
Travellers to Thakazhi know they have seen it all even before they go to the place. The celebrated writer has taken them through the Karumadikuttan, the Sree Dharma Sastha Temple and the local school. His stories have the scent of the Kuttanad soil.
An advocate by profession, Thakazhi found his characters among the farmers, agricultural labourers and fishermen of his village. The village once belonged to the Chambakassery king’s realm and then the Travancore princely state.
Thakazhi recorded the history of the village before the days of motorboats or bridges. He was only 13 years old when he wrote his first story. After school, he went to Thiruvananthapuram to study law. In a sense, he never left the village.
A host of works, including ‘Thyagathinte Prathiphalam’, ‘Chemmeen’, ‘Kayar’, ‘Randidangazhi’, ‘Thottiyude Makan’, ‘Anubhavangal Palichakal’, ‘Azhiyakkurukku,’ and ‘Enippadikal’ catapulted him to stardom. The Thakazhi Memorial at Sankaramangalam on the Alappuzha-Edathua Road offers glimpses into the life and times of the great writer.
Haven of artistes
The only railway station in the Kuttanad region is at Thakazhi. The writer had boarded a train to go the Alappuzha court every morning. A memorial is located near the railway station.
The Sree Dharma Shastha Temple is also close to the railway station. The temple is famed for a legend associated with the great satirist Kalakkath Kunjan Nambiar, who is believed to have performed in the temple in the 18th century.
Kathakali maestros such as Thottam Sankaran Namboodiripad, Guru Kunju Kurup, Thakazhi Kuttan Pillai and Thakazhi Sivasankara Narayanan too have performed in the temple. Guru Kunju Kurup was the paternal uncle of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai.
The young Sivasankaran went to the local school where ancient art forms Koothu and Koodiyattam formed the backdrop.
The Buddhist link
The Kuttanad region boasts of a forgotten link with the Buddhists. Though the claim is not backed by any historical documents, the numerous shrines dotting the region are unmistakable relics of an era influenced by Buddhism.
The temples at Poonthala, Karur, Ayyan Koyikkal, Vandanam, Karumadikkutta, Thakazhi, Keralamangalam, Changankari Kotta, Pandakkari, Anaprambal, Podiyadi and Meenthalakkara are thought to be of Buddhist origin. Only Karumadikkuttan, however, retain evidence of the Buddhist link.
Turn left on the road from Thakazhi to Ambalappuzha to hit the trail to the Karumadikkuttan shrine. Only half of the black stone idol has been preserved. The legend has it that the idol was shattered by an elephant. The idol is under the protection of the archaeology department.
Thakazhi’s stories have painted the picture of a long-forgotten past when row boats where the only mode of transport in the backwater canals. House steps lead into the water where the boats were moored. That was their point of entry. The residents had to yell out to hail a boat. The melody of the mundane call has lived on. A traveller can still hear fragments of the melody in Kuttanad. Not everything about Thakazhi’s world is lost.
The battered road here is flanked by canals. Across one of the canals stands a house by a mango tree. Two cows graze in the yard. A haystack dominates the scene. Hens and ducks disturb the quiet. A row boat is moored along the canal. The boat is the only way for the residents of the house to get to the road.
This scene is not very different from the places that appear in Thakazhi’s stories. Elsewhere the scene has changed. Bridges have come up to connect all islets except two or three. Government boat services have phased out the good old boatmen. Newfound prosperity led people to get their own boats fitted with motor engines. The thatched huts have given way to tiled houses. Slightly richer people have gone for concrete roofs. Telephone cables and electricity wires criss-cross the landscape. Weavers and fishermen have found more profitable employment.
Despite all the modernity, the residents of Kuttanad are wary of a good rain. The emerging water could breach the bund wall and flood their houses and fields. The people of Kainakari in the Kuttanad lowlands had to move to higher grounds for six days during the 2017 monsoon, just like in the stories of Thakazhi.