THE RICE BOWL OF KERALA – PALAKKAD
Palakkad (Malayalam: പാലക്കാട്) is a town and a municipality in the state of Kerala in southern India.The town is situated about 350 kilometres (217 mi) north of state capital Thiruvananthapuram. It is the administrative headquarters of Palakkad District. Palakkad lies near the Palghat Gap, a pass or natural depression through the Western Ghats ranges that run parallel to the west coast of India, and connects Kerala to the plains of the state of Tamil Nadu to the east.
There are many views on how Palakkad (or “Palghat” the anglicized version) got its name. One view is that the word ‘Pala’ (barren land) together with ‘Kadu’ (jungle) gave the land its name. Yet others believe that it is connected with the ancient Jain temple in the town: ‘Pali’ being the sacred language of the Jains, giving the land its name as ‘Palighat’, which over the years changed to Palakkad. However, most believe that Palakkad is derived from ‘Pala’, an indigenous tree which once densely occupied the land, and hence Palakkad or “the forest of Pala trees.”
In earlier times Palakkad was also known as Palakkattussery. Some etymologists trace the word “Palakkad” from the word Palai nilam, which means “dry lands”. The commonly held belief, however, is that the name is a fusion of two Malayalam words, Pala, a tree (Alstonia scholaris) that is found abundantly in Palakkad, and Kadu, which means forest.
Not much is known about Palakkad’s ancient history. It dates back to the Paleolithic period, and several megalithic relics have been found in the region. At the turn of the first millennium AD, for several hundred years the Perumals ruled the land. Later their governors called Utayavars took possession of this land and divided it among themselves. William Logan, the Scottish author of the celebrated Malabar Manual, suggests that one of the hubs of the Pallavas of Kanchi who invaded Malabar in the second and third centuries was Palakkad.
Palakkad district has its own special characteristics. The fort of Hyder Ali tells us the story of Mysore invasions and the advent of the British to this part of the country. The Victoria College, started in 1886, marks the beginning of higher education in Malabar. The Jain temple near Chunnamputhara speaks of the magnanimity of the king of Palakkad who provided shelter to the people who escaped the religious persecutions.
One of the earliest records about Palakkad has a chronicle of a war victory in A.D 988 when the king of Palakkad, Nedumpurayur Nadudayavar, stopped an invasion by the forces of the King of Kongunadu at Chittur. Even today, a festival is celebrated in memory of this victory at Chittur. The Nedumpurayur royal family was later known as Tarur Swaroopam and finally as Palakkad Raja Swaroopam.
In 1757, to check the invasion of the Zamorin of Calicut, the Raja of Palakkad sought the help of Hyder Ali of Mysore, who freed all parts of Palakkad invaded by the Zamorin. Eventually, Haider helped himself to Palakkad and later his son Tipu Sultan was the unquestioned ruler of this region. But after his defeat to the British, Tipu ceded all his Malabar territories to the British following the treaty with the English East India Company in 1872. Palakkad formed part of the Malabar District of the Madras Presidency thereafter.
Palakkad, branded as the rice-bowl of Kerala, has fertile plains where substantial quantities of rice are produced by scientific cultivation methods. Groundnut, black gram, coconut, cotton, ragi, pepper, banana, cashew, sugarcane and pea add in to the roll of other major crops. Sugar Cane is grown extensively in the Chittur taluk. Around 284 lakh hectares of the district (64 % of geographical area) is used for farming and some key agricultural institutions of Kerala including Regional Agricultural Research Station, Soil Testing Laboratory, Fertilizer Quality Control Laboratory, Mushroom Laboratory and Agricultural Engineering Workshop are located at Palakkad.
Places to Visit
Palakkad Fort : One of the best preserved Forts in Kerala, was built by Mysore’s Haider Ali in 1766 AD. In 1790, the Fort was taken over and renovated by the British.This old granite Fort is situated in the very heart of Palakkad town.
Also known as Tipu’s Fort, Palakkad Fort was supposedly built to hasten communication between Coimbatore and the West Coast. In 1784 AD, after a siege lasting eleven days, the British Colonel, Fullerton stormed the Fort. It later fell into the hands of the Zamorin’s troops but was recaptured by the British in 1790 AD. Martyr’s Column, Open Air Auditorium called “Rappadi” are located in the spacious grounds of the Fort, now preserved by the Archaeological Survey Of India. There is also a Children’s park on one of the sides of the Fort.
Chittur Gurumadam : Located on the banks of the River Sokanasini (the destroyer of sorrows), this is a memorial to Thunchath Ezhuthachan, the author of Adhyatma Ramayana, who spent his last days here. Chittur Gurumadam is situated in Thekkegramam near Arikkode.
A Srichakra, some of the idols worshiped by him, a stylus, wooden slippers and a few old manuscripts are exhibited here.
Attapaddy : Situated 40 kilometers from Palakkad, on the northeastern side of the district of Palakkad and spread over an area of 827 sq. kms and has the largest tribal settlement. The place consists of mostly hilly highland terrain, fed by the tributaries of the River Cauvery.
An extensive mountain valley above the crest of the Ghat ranges with numerous rivulets of the Bhavani River, Attapady is inhabited mainly by tribes and some settlers from Tamil Nadu. A beautiful synthesis of mountains, rivers and forests, Attapaddy is of great interest to anthropologists, as this is the habitat of many tribes like the ‘irolas’ and ‘mudugars’.The Malleshwaram peak is worshipped as a gigantic ‘Shivalinga’, by the tribals who also celebrate the festival of Shivratri with great gusto. The tribals celebrate the festival by lighting the top of this peak.Silent Valley National Park, Siruvani Drinking Water Reservoir are the tourist centres of the valley. The highest peak in the district is situated here. A PWD rest house and a few private hotels offer accommodation at Agali.
Dhoni : A fairly long climb of a 3 hour trek from the base of the Dhoni Hills. This reserve forest area with its small, beautiful waterfall has many tourist all thrrough the year. It is a splendid and captivating waterfall.. Dhoni provides trekkers the opportunity to explore its hilly terrains.Its lush green surroundings are a pleasure to watch. Dhoni is also famous for its farmhouse, harbouring hundreds of cattle of Swiss variety.
Kalapathy Temple : The Vishwanatha Swamy shrine, the oldest Shiva temple is situated 3 kms from Palakkad. The annual chariot temple is a gala event. The annual ‘Ratholsavam’ or Chariot Festival at Sree Viswanantha Swamy temple lasts for seven days.
On the last three days, beautifully decorated temple chariots are ceremoniously drawn through the streets by thousands of devotees whose soul stirring chants rent the air. The festival is dominated by three magnificent chariots, bedecked with flowers and flags, each sanctified by the presence of the Lord.Teeming crowds of people and millions of hands try to reach out to be one of the privileged to have the honour of pulling the chariots, as they proceed in stately grandeur.
Mangalam Dam : The Mangalam Dam is constructed on the river Cherukunnapuzha, a tributary of the river Mangalam. A popular picnic site, The Mangalam Dam is located south of Palakkad town. The construction of the scenic dam was completed in the year 1956. Located on the Alathur – Vadakkanchery Highway, the reservoir fringes on the forest area teeming with wildlife like deer, elephants and a variety of birds. The entire area is quite fascinating with beautiful parks, lawns and statues.
Nelliampathy : The ranges here consist of a chain of ridges cut offf from one another by valleys. The highest peak is Nellikota. The forest contains teak of extraordinary height and girth. Estates of tea, coffee, orange and cardamom dot the ranges. Located at a distance of 52 kms from Palakkad, the cool hills of Nelliampathy, nestling atop the Western Ghats, offer a breathtaking view of the misty mountains and enchanting valleys interspersed with sprawling tea, coffee, cardamom and orange plantations.
The bracing climate and green magic of nature enhance the exhilarating experience. For a vantage view of the spectacle, one must visit Seethakundu, where a 100m high waterfall provides an added attraction. It offers a fantastic view of the valley below a wide-angled vision of one-third of the entire Palakkad area. A forest range 75 kms from Palakkad, the Nelliyampathy hills comprise a chain of ridges cut off from one another by valleys of dense evergreen forests and orange plantations.
The height of the hills ranges from 467 meters to the tallest peak Padagiri looming at 1572 metres. Nelliyampathy has immense trekking potential. The community hall at Kaikatty provides a good camping ground for the trekkers.
Accessing Nelliyampathy from Palakkad is a sensation on its own, as one has to negotiate over a dozen hairpin curves on the Ghat Road, passing through the fascinating jungles of the Sahya Ranges. En route, 17 kms from Palakkad, the shimmering Pothundi Reservoir and its manicured surroundings make for the ideal stop over.
Silent Valley National Park : Located 40 km from Mannarkkad in the Palakkad district, echoes with the sounds of teeming wildlife. The denizens of this sprawling habitat of endangered virgin tropical forests include Rare Birds, Deer and Tiger. Perhaps, nowhere else can one also find such a representative collection of peninsular mammals as in this park, which was declared a National Park in 1980.
The Wild Population : The park has a huge variety of wildlife, with over a 100 species of Butterflies and 400 species of Moths and other animals like the Ceylon Frog Moth, Great Indian Horn-bill, the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush and the Lion-Tailed Macaque.The park has around 26 species of mammals and 120 species of fauna, many of them considered endangered. Apart from these, there are 11 species of snakes, 19 species of amphibians, and nine species of Lizards in the park. The Silent Valley has over 110 plant species of medicinal value, and seven new plant species have been discovered here.
Jain Temple : The 2,000-years-old Jain temple at Jainmedu is the remnant of what was once a thriving community of diamond traders. Four hundred Jain families lived here, with 24 wells, each dedicated to a tirtanker, till Tipu’s invasion drove them to Wayanad. Descendants of one family are the keepers of its fascinating history. It is an impressive, silent monument overhung with trees and heavy with the weight of centuries.
Malampuzha Dam : At the Malampuzha dam, visit the snake park, and the beautiful nursery near the bus parking lot.
Kanjirapuzha : 24 kms from Palakkad , this catchment lake of the dam lies in a single stretch. An evergreen forest, the ‘Vettilachola’, provides the backdrop to a lake surrounded by hillocks. During the rains, the mist-draped mountains create a picturesque landscape.
Kottayi : 15 kms from Palakkad, this village is the native place of the late Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, the doyen of Carnatic music.
Chulannur Peacock Protection Centre : Mailadumpara, in Chulannur is situated 22 kms away from Palakkad town and 5 kms from Peringothukrish, is also famed. It is here the peacock protection center is located. Kunjan Nambiar Smrudhi forest is also here.
Seetharkundu : Seetharkundu at Nelliampathy offers a fantastic view of the valley below. The 1000 meters high water falls is one of the major attractions. Legend has it that during the ‘vanavasa’, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana had lived here. Seetharkundu got its name from the legend that Sita devi during the vanavasa period with Rama, took a bath here.
Parambikulam : 97 kms from Palakkad, The Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary is a reservoir of tranquil greenery ensconced in a valley between the Annamalai ranges of Tamil Nadu and the Nelliampathy ranges of Kerala.
JP Smirthivanam and Deer Park : JP Smirthivanam and Deer Park are located at Walayar reserve forest which has an area of 100 acres. One can see here deer and other animals roaming about in their natural habitat. This is situated 22 km away from Palakkad town in Palakkad-Coimbatore road. Here facilities for elephant riding are also available.