Alummoottil meda: haunted house that inspired movie 'Manichitrathazhu'

Alummoottil meda
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The 'Alummoottil meda' is an ancient 'tharavadu' (traditional house) located at Muttom on the Nangiarkulangara-Mavelikkara road in Alappuzha district. Some tragic incidents that had taken place here inspired the writer Madhu Muttom to pen the story for 'Manichitrathazhu,' the best pyscho-thriller movie produced in Malayalam.

Years ago, the 'karanavar' (head of the family) at the meda, who held the title of 'Alummoottil Channan' and a servant girl were brutally murdered in the mansion.

The compound of the meda is now overgrown by vegetation, but the building still has a stately appearance. The old legend related to the meda goes as follows.

Alummoottil meda was an Ezhava feudal landlord family in the kingdom of Travancore. Even though untouchability existed at that time, the Maharaja had conferred the title of 'Channan' to the family. There were only three or four motor cars in Travancore those days. Apart from the Maharaja, the karanavar of Alummoottil was among those few car owners.

Hundreds of servants were employed by the tharavadu. A visitor to the mansion was served food any time of the day. While the male folk lived in the main building called meda, the women's accommodation was the 'ettukettu' beside it. The servants lived in separate quarters.

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The shocking murders took place when the Alummoottil tharavadu was at the height of its glory. As per custom, matriarchy was followed by the family. However, a rumour spread that the karanavar had willed his wealth to his children instead of nieces and nephews. As a result, the karanavar's nieces and nephews plotted against him and soon murdered him.

They took the keys of the storerooms from the karanavar and carried away all the money and jewellery. When this gruesome crime was being carried out, a servant girl wandered into the meda. In order to destroy evidence, the murderers killed the girl, who was an eyewitness, too.

The Alummoottil meda gradually was abandoned by the residents after this shocking incident. Its wealth and prosperity vanished and the mansion became known as a haunted house. All the culprits were later brought before the law and the nephew who hacked karanavar to death was hanged.

Madhu Muttom, a resident of the area, had heard about these historical facts. They spurred his imagination and led to the creation of the script for 'Manichitrathazhu' (The ornate lock).

An eerie atmosphere prevails near the meda but the building evokes a feeling of grandeur. The gate of the compound wall lies open and the entire premises are covered with weeds and dry leaves. Two massive mango trees stand on either side of the mansion. On one side of the main building is the ettukettu and on the other the granary.

The ettukettu is a fine example of traditional Kerala wooden architecture. A black and white photo of a woman hangs from the wall. There is no idea about the identity of the woman but a visitor would be compelled to stare at the photo for some time. The old prayer room is adjacent to this photo.

A peep into the building through the gaps in the windows would reveal that several ancient domestic utensils still remain there. The façade and the roof display intricate artwork on wood. On one side is the secret path to the cellar. But it is locked now. One would wonder whether the footsteps of the murdered Channan could be heard inside.

Visitors to the meda may sometimes be greeted by the sight of a woman. They may be perplexed to see a woman on the premises of the abandoned mansion. But she and her husband live nearby and are tasked with watching over it. If visitors can meet her, the woman would show them around the premises as well as the interiors.

Symbols of past glory are present everywhere inside the building. The woodwork with dragon faces is still intact. The room where the murders took place would remind visitors of its similarities with the scenes in 'Manichitrathazhu.' Bats flutter around in the room, which is covered with cobwebs. The room has been closed with a manichitrathazhu (ornate lock). Anybody who has watched the movie would try to pick up strains of anklets. Could they hear the lines of the song, ‘Oru murai vanthu parthaaya…?'

But such thoughts are unfounded. Another person in the village has already let his imagination fly based on the myths surrounding the ancient mansion. He is Madhu Muttom, who wrote the story for 'Manichitrathazhu.'

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Madhu lives barely a km from Alummoottil meda. His house resembles a hermitage. The central courtyard is expansive and a flowered 'vayana' tree spreads fragrance all around. Madhu lives alone in the house after the death of his mother. He has no siblings. A bachelor, Madhu has no other relative to live with him.

Visitors to Madhu's house may meet him relaxing on an arm chair in the front verandah. Madhu would welcome them warmly and may offer sugar candy. Living alone, Madhu prepares all the food himself. Even though a path-breaking scriptwriter, Madhu prefers to keep away from the limelight now.

Any visitor calling on Madhu Muttom would instinctively want to know about 'Manichitrathazhu.' He is not reluctant to open up. "I am not a great writer, but scribble something to brighten up my lonely days. It is like painting a picture. Some people found that my work was suitable for films and adapted it. They found that their artistic talents too could be expressed this way," he says.

"After my stories became films, even the young generation still discusses the movies," he adds.

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