The Manthitta ‘mana’ in Thrissur district is the favourite hunting ground of travellers who want to take a peek into a bygone era and are in search of riveting legends. Hundreds of visitors throng the ‘mana’ (a Namboothiri homestead) to get a feel of antiquity and immerse in the grandeur of legends. Here’s a lowdown on why the Manthitta ‘mana’ should be on your travel bucket list.
The Manthitta ‘mana’, which found mention in ‘Bhramara Sandesham’, has a great legacy and still stands tall in the rather sleepy hamlet of Venkitangu. It is worth noting that ‘Bhramara Sandesham’ is a popular ‘Sandesha Kavyam’, which is a form of lyrical poem that revolves around sending messages through messengers, was penned by celebrated poet Avittom Thirunal Rama Varma Valiya Raja. The verse, which was written in the year of 1083 as per the Malayalam calendar (Gregorian calendar – 1908-1909), beautifully documents everything from the poet’s hometown of Poonjar to the main female character’s abode in Venkitangu. The poem also talks about Kunju Namboothiri, a ‘nyaya’ luminary of the Manthitta ‘mana’. In ‘Bhramara Sandesham’, the messenger is a beetle (bhramaram) that starts its journey from Poonjar and travels through Erattupetta, Bharananganam, Pala, Ettumanoor, Vaikom, Kochi and Thrissur before reaching Venkitangu.
The aesthetically designed Namboothiri homestead was built following the ‘ettukettu’ (eight- block structures with courtyards) style of architecture. The ‘mana’ was demolished to pave way for new living spaces for the members of the Namboothiri family in 1985. But the pond, bath houses, granary and arched gateway attached to the old structure could be found at the ‘mana’.
Shastra Sharman Namboothiri, Shankaran Namboothiri and Vishnu Namboothiri who were the sons of Vishnu Namboothiri, who was the patriarch of the Manthitta ‘mana’ family, and Nangeli Andarjanam, who hails from the Elagannur ‘mana’, stayed in three different sections of the household. Presently, Shastra Sharman, who is also known as Nambyathan Namboothiri, and Uma Andarjanan’s sons Vishnu Namboothiri, Narayanan Namboothiri, Shastra Sharman Namboothiri and Shankaranarayanan Namboothiri are staying in the ‘mana’. Their children and grandchildren are staying adjacent to the building steeped in history.
The ‘nadashala’ of the expansive granary where Vishnu Namboothiri and his family is staying has been converted into front yard. Interestingly, the kitchen is situated behind the front yard, and the kitchen and rooms are separated by narrow corridors. When Namboothiri women get married, they come to their husband’s houses with wooden boxes with four legs (kaalpetti) and the Manthitta ‘mana’ has many such wooden boxes. The ‘aavana palaka’ (a flat piece of wood used for sitting on the floor) carved like a tortoise is exclusively for hermits and the normal ones are used by others. The Manthitta ‘mana’ boasts of many such ‘aavana palakas’. Antiquity oozes in the ‘mana’ as one could find veena, which is played in the function marking the seventh month of pregnancy, made of leather, a 90-year-old coconut, bhasma kotta (a small wooden urn to store holy ash), Madambi ‘vilakku’ (traditional brass lamp) and other age-old things that reflect a bygone era.
Many ponds in ‘mana’
Ponds played an important role in the lives of people belonging to the Namboothiri community. The Manthitta ‘mana’ has many ponds that were put in place for various purposes. In the olden days, the Namboothiris believed that they had to take a dip in the pond to cleanse themselves after using the public pathways. Taking baths two times a day, offering prayers in the morning and evening and reciting ‘Gayatri’ and other mantras were part and parcel of the lives of Namboothiris. It was believed that the pond that was adequately exposed to sunlight, moonlight and wind had pure and clean water.
Once mud was an integral part of the cleansing process and each pond has a stone bucket to store mud. A wooden box in the bath house (‘kulipura’) had everything that was needed to take a bath. The ‘kulipura’ also had rooms to change clothes and dry them. The ponds also have salutation stones for those who want to perform ‘surya namaskaram’ (sun salutation). The steps leading to the pond is designed in such a way that there is a room in the middle with two ghats on both sides and the roof will be abutting the water body. The pond near the granary was built for Kunju Namboothiri so that he can go to the pond during rains without drenching himself. Interestingly, there is also a bath house for ‘patra kulam’, which is used for washing the utensils.
Rich in history
In the olden days, Venkitangu had a ‘thanneer pandal’, a modest facility that provides drinking water and other thirst-quenching beverages to passersby, under the patronage of the Manthitta ‘mana’. The premises of the grand household still have the well that was used to draw water and the big stone bucket that was used to mix butter milk for the ‘thanneer pandals’.
Sri Shastra Sharman known as Kunju Namboothiri was born to scholar Subramanian Namboothiri and Parvathy Andarjanam, who belongs to the Kirangattu ‘mana’, in the Malayalam year 1052 (Gregorian calendar 1877-1878). After ‘upanayanam’ (scared thread ceremony), Kunju Namboothiri started learning vedas at the nearby Sree Shankaranarayana Temple. At the age of 15, he joined Brahmaswom madom in Thrissur for higher studies in vedas. He also learned grammar and ‘nyaya’ from Rama Shastrikal, who used to stay at his mother’s Kirangattu ‘mana’. Kunju Namboothiri did his higher studies in the science of ‘nyaya’ from the Kodungallur ‘kovilakam’ and pocketed the ‘Pandita Raja’ degree.
Kunju Namboothiri who was decorated with the Kochi king’s ‘Tharkika thilakam’ degree later married Kochikavu Thampuratti. Though there were many ‘nyaya’ pandits, Kunju Namboothiri’s books on the subject stood out and his prominent works include Gangatarangini, Navarathna Malika and Noothanalokam. He was appointed as the ‘Nyayaacharyan’ of the Sanskrit ‘padashala’ in Tripunithura in 1902 and his disciples include Achuthapoduval Ramavaryar, Valiyamangalam Kesavan, Ilyathu Tharakkal Shankunni Variyar and Kuttancheri Manu Moos Raman Nambiar.
The residents of the Manthitta ‘mana’ are one of the administrators of the Valiyambalam Sree Shankaranarayana Temple. The premises of the ‘mana’ have a scared grove and idols of family deities.
An agriculture-related ritual by the name of ‘nira’, which was performed in the Malayalam month of ‘Chingam’ (August-September), existed in earlier days. As per the ritual, a bunch of freshly-harvested paddy spikes will be kept at the gateway to the ‘mana’ at night. The next morning the patriarch of the family will take the paddy spikes to the ‘illam’ in the presence of a lamp. If it’s not a ‘thiruvonam’ day, the patriarch will enter the ‘illam’ only at an auspicious time.
It is noteworthy that the Manthitta ‘mana’ with its age-old wells and ponds still stands tall with its rich heritage and glorious past.