Breaking News

Trending right now:
Description
 
Mar 11, 2014

Stone Masons of Chittatinkara and Monolith ‘Mandapam’ at Padmanabha Swamy Tempple

Art & Architecture / Sharat Sunder Rajeev
image Killi Ār*, the chief tributary of Karamana River flows to the east of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. Built across this water body is the famous ‘Killipālam’. The King of Venad dynasty, Veera Marthanda Varma (1706-1758) who personally supervised the renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple ordered his workmen to find a suitable monolith hill from where he could get a chunk of granite, so big to make a monolith ‘mandapam’ in front of the main shrine at Padmanabha Swamy temple. 

 The workers located a small granite hillock not far from the temple. Thirumala, as the place is now famous, indicating its connection with the sacred hillock, was at that time a part of Chittatinkara in ‘Anjam mada’ village (‘mada’ means drain). Anjam mada or ‘Anchamada’ - were the five madas dug for draining water to Karamana and Killi River. Kaduvetty, Maruthankuzhi, Pangode, Kundamankadavu and Vallakadavu were the five madas and these areas are still known by the names of the respective madas. 
 
Stone masons were employed to cut the large boulder into required size and the mathilakam records states that Nair and Ezhava labourers toiled for days to get the large boulder to the worksite near Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. A large cart with huge wooden wheels was made for the purpose of transportation and the stone was hauled by elephants. A new road was made by the labourers, connecting the granite quarry to the temple. 

The road running through Poojappura, Karamana, Aranoor, Chalai and connecting to Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is still in use. A small guild of stone masons was located near the quarry and they were assigned the task of hewing granite blocks into required size for making the pillars and roof slabs. The descendants of these masons still live there.

On top of the hillock is a small temple ‘Trichakrapuram’ Sree Krishna Swamy temple (also known as 'Parakovil') dedicated to Lord Sree Krishnan. It is said that the hillock got its name, ‘Thirumala’, meaning ‘sacred hill’, due to the presence of this ancient temple.

 
Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna Swamy temple, on top of the granite hill - Photograph taken by the author.
The spot from where the large boulder was cut for the 'ottakkal mandapam'
- Photograph taken by the author

The huge granite boulder, in its journey to the work site passed through Karamana before reaching the Killi River, in those days there were no means for transporting the huge stone to the other side. Marthanda Varma gave instructions to divert the river. The course of the river was changed and thus the boulder reached the other side of the river. There are many stories circulating amongst the local population about the King and the divine assistance he got from Sree Padmanabha Swamy to get the boulder to the other side of the river. One of the senior members of Chittatinkara guild narrated such a story that he has heard from the elders. 

The labourers on reaching Killi River found it impossible to transport the boulder and their leader went to the King and told him about the situation. The King after thinking for a while took a palm leaf and the stylus in his hands, wrote something in it and handed it over to one of his ministers. In the leaf was written the number ‘six’ (6) in the Malayalam numeral and there was a cut across it. The clever minister got the point and asked the labourers to build an embankment across the river. In Malayalam the numeral six (6) is pronounced as ‘Ār’/‘Āru’, the same word for river. The line drawn across meant that an embankment was to be constructed across the river.
The Malayalam numeral 'six' (left) - Ar and the sign given by the king to built an embankment across the river (Ar).

Vettamukku Vilakathu Veedu (Shiva Bhavanam) an old Tamil Vishwakarma family of stone workers (silpins) is settled in Chittatinkara. Padmanabhan Achari (b.1850s), an early ancestor of the family owned large areas of land near Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna Swamy temple, his son Shiva Thanu Achari (d.1940s) was a well known figure. Senior citizens say that in old days there were three Tamil silpin families in Vettamukku, associated with the renovation work of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. Thirumala and the surrounding areas like Edapazhinji and Vattiyoorkāvu had large rock boulders. The large rocky hills in Thirumala region provided enough granite for the construction of the temple and the fort walls. According to present family members, Uchudamakali Achari, son of Shiva Thanu Achari used to say that the granite panels, used as roofing for the ‘Sheevelipura’ of Padmanabha Swamy temple were made by his ancestors. 

Going by the popular family traditions and hearsay the ancestors of this family had settled in Thiruvananthapuram during the reign of Marthanda Varma (c.1730s). They were stone workers associated with the renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The present descendants claim that their ancestral family was located in Dhanushkodi, near Rameshwaram. The ancestors of this family had initially settled in Karamana and Choorakattupalayam, where many of the Vishwakarma families were concentrated. In due time the region occupied by this guild came to be known as ‘kalppalayam’ - meaning abode of stone masons. The temple housing their principle deity - Goddess Amman is still there in Karamana.

The renovation works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple started by Marthanda Varma was carried forward by his illustrious successor, Karthika Tirunal Rama Varma a.k.a. 'Dharmaraja'. In 1768 AD/ 943 M.E., Ezhava labourers were employed for bringing to the temple, twenty eight Mandira Moorthy pillars, which were made in Thirumala (Churuna 28, Olas 99 & 100, Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi.)

P. Shiva Thanu Achari and his wife Valli Ammal – From the private collection of Mr. Padmanabhan.
The old house, Shiva Bhavanam was made by Shiva Thanu Achari. Unlike other houses seen in the surroundings, we can see perfectly dressed granite blocks serving as steps and the plinth above which the house is built. Behind the house was a large pond (14.5 cent) formed as a result of cutting out of large blocks of rock from the boulder. The pond was used by the family and the locals of the region.

Later, during the latter half of 18th century some families from Karamana settled in Chittatinkara. They were all involved in the cutting and dressing of granite for the construction works of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The stone blocks for building the Fort walls were also supplied from Thirumala. Trichakrapuram Sree Krishna temple was a small structure during that time and it seems that the guilds of stone masons were involved in the construction of the temple and the associated structures in the present form. They were given land near the temple. The ancestors of this family, along with the craftsmen families like Chatharathala and Eruparathala families formed a guild of village artisans.


( Sharat Sunder Rajeev is an Assistant Professor at Mc Gans Ooty School of Architecture. He has a keen interest in the unique architechture of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore and stories on this city. He  graduated in Architecture from College of Engineering, Trivandrum and studied Architectureal conversation from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. He is an immensely talented artist and an ardent blogger. )