Madayi – The heart of Kolathunad that’s lost to time

Madayi is a sleepy little village, around 25 kilometres north of Kannur. It is bound by Ezhimala on one side and the Pazhayangadi town on the other side, and beautifully placed beside the Kuppam River. It is basically leading an insignificant, lonesome subsistence in today’s world.

 
Do its residents or people around Madayi know that their little hamlet was once the centre of world politics? I don’t think so.
 
Malayalees are educationally very forward, but when it comes to knowing, studying and understanding their history and traditions, they are an ignorant lot. I still remember the hot topic of discussion that was going on in online forums when the epic movie Pazhassi Raja was released. There were literally hundreds of ignorant fools who were shouting over rooftops that how come MT has managed to create a king for Kottayam when the said district was already a part of Travancore. Little did these fools realise that there was, and even now there is a place called Kottayam in Kannur district, and Pazhassi was the ruler here. The level of ignorance was such that even a small research over the internet could have given them enough scope to understand that the current Thalassery Taluk, till not so long time ago was called as Kottayam in the maps of Kerala and India.
 
Same thing goes with Madayi also. Madayi is home to a few temples, like the Madayi Kavu and Vadukunnu Siva Temple. The major chunk of people visits Madayi to offer prayers here. Then there is the famous Madayi Para, which is an ecological heaven for various kinds of herbs, trees and birds. Then there is the Vadukunnu pond, also known in historical terms as the Jew pond, a pond that never dries out even in the harshest of summers.


The Vadukunnu pond at Madayipara. Image © Nidheesh Narayanan

So, what is so significant about Madayi? There are a few friends from around this place and I casually asked them if they know anything about the heritage of this place. The answer was negative as expected, and I don’t blame them for that. We Malayalees have been growing up in such an environment where denial of our roots and traditions is regarded as fashion.

 
Madayi was home to the Kolathiris – one of the oldest aristocracies in the world. They had ruled over northern part of Kerala for most part history. They had shifted across their capitals many times, but a major chunk of their reign happened from their affluent palace and fort that was situated at Madayi.
 
The Kolathiris had a long and prosperous history of trade with the outside world. While Calicut and other port cities of Kerala were concentrating on spice trade during the medieval period, the Kolathiris gave preference to Horse and Timber. Although not as prosperous as their Samuthiri counterparts in Calicut, the Kolathiris were well-heeled enough to stand on their own and build a Kingdom driven on the values of sanathana dharma, worshipping the Bhagavathi and Perumal, which gave equality and opportunities for all people from cross-sections of the society including the traders who had come and settled from far off places including Arabia, Gujarat and even China. These included Muslims, Jews and Buddhists also.
 
Then there is the Madayi Kavu. This temple is dedicated to the Goddess who protected the Kolathiri dynasty, and had been under the control of the Rajas from time immemorial. During its heydays, the estimated wealth of the temple was far greater than most of the temples in India. Along with the Vadukunnu temple, Madayi had taken its place among the people as a centre for spiritual activity in erstwhile Kolathunad. Also, it was a great centre of learning and education.
 
The Madayi Para holds an important position among all these spaces of significance. This was where, the country was ruled from. There existed a grand palace, a formidable fort and significant ramparts, which have been lost beneath the sands of time.
 
So what went wrong? Where did fate play a decisive role in all this turn of events which saw a city fall into insignificance?
 
The Europeans were doing peaceful trade here, unlike in the other kingdoms of Samuthiri at Calicut. The Portuguese, Dutch and later on the English had good relations with the Kolathiri, and the mutual benefits involved in the trade were greater that the price of enmity. Even thought the quality of spices was a little inferior to those of Calicut, they had to prefer Kolathunad mainly due to the existence of a friendly establishment. This continued for almost three centuries, till the event that changed and shaped the future course of destiny of Malabar happened.
 
When the whole of North India and Deccan was being ravaged by invasions, erstwhile states of Kolathunad and others in Kerala were protected by the natural boundaries of the formidable Western Ghats. This region did not know what as invasion was till Hyder Ali from Mysore decided it was time to do some damage.
 
This is the spot of bother that I really feel sad for Malayalees. We do not have even an iota of attention to comprehend the accuracy behind our history. We have never been taught the correct history ever in schools or colleges. For the rest of India, Hyder and his son Tipu were fighting the British. But if that was the case, why did he have to invade the peace loving country of Malabar? History books teach us that he came in to throw the British out? But were the British really having a significant presence in Malabar?
 
The British were till the arrival of Mysore army, just petty traders. On the pretext of attacking an almost nonexistent British presence, Hyder and Tipu for more than 2 decades overran the entire region, and destroyed the entire social, economic and secular fabric that existed in the Kolathunad society. Large-scale forced conversions of Nairs and Namboothiris were regular happenings during this time. The entire top brass of the country, except for the Pazhassi Raja, had to take refuge in Thiruvananthapuram and could only return after Tipu surrendered to the British.
 
To protect the temples in the environs, Kolathiri had to pay a huge indemnity to Hyder and Tipu. This amount was estimated to be in Lakhs and looking at the value of money involved at today’s prices, it would be a lot more that the numbers involved in the 2G scam.
 
The rule from Mysore lent the death knell for the importance of Madayi and the Kolathiri dynasty. Tipu withdrew, the rule of the Raja never returned and the British were the new masters of the land.
 
The temples that were tortured and shattered by the ravaging invaders had to be restored in the coming years, without the patronage of the people who were masters of the land.  The palace and forts were lost to time. Even now the only remnants that can be seen in the vicinity are a few bunches of laterite stones which look like what was once a fort. Even for this there is a lot of debate that is going on – if this was actually a Kolathiri fort or one built by Tipu? I remember my grandmother saying that there were the foundations of a palace that still existed during her young days, somewhere in the area around the Vadukunnu temple, but this is nowhere to be found now.
 
Slowly but surely, Madayi started slipping into its insignificant future. Time erases a lot of reminiscences. Madayi, where the Europeans, Arabs and others had a lot of diplomatic parleys, where the Black gold of the time, Pepper was in abundance for the entire world to trade, was lost to time.
 
Today, the temples stand, renovated and looking good, but the entire ecological balance of Madayi Para has been disturbed due to the unrestrained mining for China Clay and laterite in the area. If it continues at the current rate, nothing will be left there in the coming decade and a precious gem will be lost completely to history.


Madayipara. Image © Nidheesh Narayanan

Now most of you would be under the doubt what made me write this piece of literature. The significance of the place and times hit me when I happened to listen to the thottam paatu, that song that describes the valour and bravery of the forefathers in the family, which is a sort of curtain raiser for the annual theyyam at the family temple. My family temple is located close to Madayi, and in the heart of erstwhile Kolathunad. Listening to the hymn and gripping the connotation, I thought it was my obligation to try and understand my culture and absorb the ethnicity.  

 
It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition. The times lost may never return and Madayi and Kolathunad might never regain its worth on the world map, but we can at least try to bring up the significance of its tradition in our hearts and mind. 
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4 thoughts on “Madayi – The heart of Kolathunad that’s lost to time”

  1. dear nidheesh..i am a frequent visitor of madayi temple,,,your description of the place and the history lying there you have mentioned in the above post was very informative,,,i really thank you from my heart,,bcz we never studied or came 2 know some facts which u mentioned….cheers mate ..gr8 job done…hopping we get more of the same kind..best of luck..

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  2. the story of the kolathiri's is a chequered one, especially the connections with the portuguese, english and the mysore sultans. it is not really available in one place, but is spread out in many different books..a short article is on the way..keep a look out

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