Wednesday, December 15, 2010



The word Changanacherry is supposedly derived from "Changanattusserry" and has its roots, perhaps, in trading activities. This was a famous trading hub where traders from the Kuttanad area and the High Ranges from the east converged. The root of the name is also linked,debatably though, to the measurements used for rice in old era, viz., "Changazhi", "Nazhi" and "Uzhi". The name might have originated from a combination of these three measuring containers. The word 'changazhi' seems to have more relevance because there was a prominent illam (brahmin's residence) by name Changazhimattam. This family owned a large part of the area.(See under 'History' below).
An interesting story mentions that during the reign of King Marthanda Varma of Travancore, steps were taken to build a Catholic church by giving out plots for sowing 'Changazhy', 'Nazhy' 'Uri', 'Payattupadu' (various malayalam terms of measuring grains). All these terms put together may have made up the name of the place to Changanacherry. (However, the land for the church was given by the local king of Thekkumkoor, much before Marthanda Varma reigned). Another belief is that the name is derived from three separate words 'shankh', 'nadam', 'cherri'. The story goes that sometime in the past, the ruler of Changanacherry commissioned a church, a temple and a mosque to be built equidistant from his palace so that he would wake up every morning to the call of the conch shell (shankh), the chimes of the church bells (nadam), and the muezzin's call (sherry).
Prof. Rama Varma, Head of History Dept, U.C. College, Alwaye (Aluva), believed strongly that the name Changanacherry has its roots in 'Sangamanathacherry'(സംഗമനാഥചേരി). Sangamanathan is another name for Siva - a reference to the deity of Vazhappally temple, 'Cherry' refers to settlement of people. But this suggestion seems too far-fetched.
It is the prefix 'Changana' that is a conundrum. Sad to say, no theory has been accepted as yet and the name remains a poser to historians and linguistic experts alike.
In 980 Malayalam era (1805 C.E), Veluthampy Dalava, the famed Diwan of Travancore, inaugurated the market here, realizing the possibilities of development of this place. It has since become a pivotal commercial link, especially for trading of spices, food grains and other agricultural produce. To commemorate the centennial celebrations of the place, in 1905, the people installed the " Anchu Vilakku" (Five Lamps) seen near the Boat Jetty. The lamp signifies the 'unity in diversity' of the local ethnic and religious sects - a truly fitting tribute to the ethos of Changanacherry. The town was therefore called Anchu Vilakkinte Pattanam (അഞ്ചു വിളക്കിന്റെ പട്ടണം ) in local language, meaning Town of Five Fire Lamps, which symbolizes unity and points to its heyday as an entrepot.
The churches, temples and mosques and the annual Chandanakudam festival bear testimony to the religious harmony that prevails in this town.


Venad Kings
The earliest reference to the town is in the proclamation of Rajashekhara Varman of Venad dated 830 C.E a king of second Chera dynasty. This inscription is called Vazhappally Cheppedu ( വാഴപ്പള്ളി ചെപ്പേട്‌ ). The land that is a big town had no significance till 17th-18th century C.E. Vazhappally,a suburb of the town, might have been a Budhist centre ('Pally' always referred to Budhist school/vihara) till 8th-9th century C.E and the revival of Hinduism saw Brahmins taking over Vazhappally, Perunnai, Umbizhi and other areas of the town. The king's proclamation in 830 C.E was understandably for strengthening the stature and status of Vazhappally Shiva temple. The main south-north route in olden days was via Thenganaal, Nalukodi and Alamthurth. In 'Unnuneelisandesham', written in 14th century C.E by an unidentified poet, the route mentioned between Kottayam and Thiruvalla is Alamthuruth-Nalukodi-Thenganaal. Changanacherry, for all purposes, was a castaway, but became prominent in 17th-18th century when the ruler Thekkumkoor Raja tried to develop it as a commercial centre, especially to move goods to and from Kuttanad and High Range. Good relations with the ruler of Ambalappuzha which lay on the west made things easier.
Vempoli Nadu and Idathil Kings
Earlier, Changanacherry and surrounding areas were part of a kingdom called Nantuzhainadu (നന്‍റുഴൈനാട്). [The kingdom referred to more authentically is Vempolinadu (വേമ്പോലിനാട്)]. The kingdom disintegrated or was nibbled by others in 12th century C.E. The capital of Nantuzhainadu kingdom was Thrikkodithanam. From 12th century onwards, till 1753 C.E, Changanacherry was a part of Thekkumkoor monarchy. The origin of Thekkumkoor kings is not known except that they started ruling in 12th century C.E and that they were Nairs with family name ‘Idathil’ (ഇടത്തില്‍). The founder of Thekkumkoor kingdom might have been a powerful Nair landlord who exploited the fall of Nantuzhainadu to the hilt. These kings never used the surname/caste tag 'Varma' along with their names, although some people wrongly refer to them as Varmas. The only palace of the town, Lakshmipuram, has nothing to do with the rule of the kingdom. The Lakshmipuram palace came up for housing immigrant royals from Malabar in 18th/19th century after the fall of Thekkumkoor and they later mixed with other royal families of Travancore. Incidentally, Kerala Varma Valiya Koyil Thampuran, more famous as Kerala Kalidasan, was born in this palace. So was the great poet Ulloor S. Parameshwara Iyer. Please see the location of Thekkumkoor in 1150 C.E here: . There may be difference of opinion about the maps of other kingdoms shown. You can also see the map of 1498 C.E in the same site).
Established circa 1130 C.E, Thekkumkoor covered a large area, including Thiruvalla and beyond, but excluding Pandalam, when it was a force to reckon with. The kings ruled by appointing administrative heads for small village-like areas called 'Karanavar'(കാരണവര്) who were the equivalent of Paarvathyakaars (പാര്‍വത്യകാര്‍) in Travancore. These Karanavars also were hierarchically below Brahmins (Nampoothiris) who enjoyed great autonomy for administering the territories allotted to them under the Pathillathu Potti system.
Brahmins' Rule
The system of rule by ten Brahmin families, widely prevalent in Kerala, had a temple at its core which was the titular owner of the area. A group of Brahmin families, mostly ten, would control the temple. The Brahmins would divide the income or spoils in to ten equal shares. They were called Pathillathu Nampoothiris/Pottimaar (പത്തില്ലത്ത് പോറ്റിമാര്). There could also have been a 2-tier system with the king at the top and Brahmins at graamam/desham level, which obviated the need of Karanavars in many places.
Changanacherry has also links with this old system of rules by Brahmins. Legend has it that Lord Parasurama, a Vishnu incarnate, brought Brahmins from the North to Kerala and established 32 Brahmin Graamams (ബ്രാഹ്മണഗ്രാമം). This alludes to the migration of Brahmins at the invitation of King Cheraman Perumaal, the last King of Kerala in the 9th century C.E. As in the case of many other theories, this too is not devoid of controversies. There were another 32 Graamams too, but they were in south Karnataka. The nearest Brahmin Graamams were Kidangoor, Kaviyoor and Thiruvalla. At one point of time, Changanacherry was a Desham (ദേശം) under Thiruvalla with ten Brahmin families ruling the territory with Vazhappally as centre of administration. Thekkumkoor Kings annexed it later.
Out of the ten Pathillathu Nampoothiris, names of nine illams are available: Chengazhimattam, Kainikkara, Eravimangalam, Kunnithidasserry, Athrasserry, Kolencherry, Kizhangazhuthu, Kannancherry and Thalavana. These local Pathillathu Brahmins probably controlled or dominated the political scene south of Kottayam, covering a huge area under Vazhappally temple. The inscription called Vazhappally Cheppedu ( വാഴപ്പള്ളി ചെപ്പേട്‌ ) was found from Thalavana Illam.
History of Suburbs
At the time of the last king of Thekkumkoor, western parts of Changanacherry i.e., Vazhappally and Puzhavath (originally called Pizhavath), but excluding Perunnai were mostly owned by the Nampoothiri family of Changazhimattam (ചങ്ങഴിമറ്റം) which was a relic of the Pathillathu system. Not only was Changazhimattam Potti a powerful landlord, but he was also a close friend of the last Raja of Thekkumkoor.
Perunnai and Umbizhi (ഉമ്പിഴി, the area where the Railway station is now located) had another group of powerful Brahmins (Nampoothiris) but they became very weak due to frequent infighting for taking control of the Perunnai Subrahmanya Swami temple and were, it is to be surmised, gradually phased out by the kings who are thought to have allowed another set of Nampoothiris to rise in to prominence. Their descendants still live in Perunnai. Nothing is left of Umbizhi, except a junction name 'Pattathimukku' where, perhaps, the last of the Tamil brahmins were staying. The Tamil brahmins always stayed close to temples and Nampoothiri homes. Poothottam, a few hundred meters east of Subrahmanya Temple, in Perunnai, was another place where a few Tamil brahmins settled, but this too no longer exists.
The land in Perunnai where once a very prominent illam (Ezhanthi Illam, ഏഴാന്തി ഇല്ലം ) stood now houses the Head Quarters of Nair Services Soceity (NSS).They were Bhattathiripads, notorious for performing malicious rituals [thanthras called Aabhichaara Karmam, ആഭിചാര കര്‍മം )not behoving pious brahmins. It is said by elders that Umbizhi brahmins created a demoness for destroying brahmins of Perunnai. The demoness was eventually tamed and a small temple was constructed for her (Maaranathu Kavu) in the Ezhanthi Illam compound. It was decided by Perunnai brahmins that brahmins should not perform poojas here to prevent the demoness from becoming more powerful, but now brahmins are in charge of all rituals, under the management of NSS. Edamana Illam, Perunnai was another rich family of brahmins in Perunnai. They continue to stay in Perunnai. A lot of information was collected from this illam by Thiruvalla P. Unnikrishnan Nair and his research was published by M.G. University, Kottayam.
In the politics of fragmented Kerala, the borders of small kingdoms frequently changed and by 18th century C.E, Thekkukmkoor had shrunk a little. It extended on the south from Laaha Palam (ളാഹ പാലം, now shortened to ളാപ്പാലം, Laappalam) to the southern part of Ettumanoor. On the west its boundary was Kidangara, Kavalam and Thanneermukkam and other wetland/riverine villages. Much of the east including, Palai, Thodupuzha etc. up to the High Ranges, even Pathanamthitta, fell under the last king's jurisdiction. The territory south of Laappaalam was at that time under the control of Thiruvalla Graamam.
Conquest of Marthanda Varma & Ramayyan Dalava
In 1753, with the aim of establishing Thiruvithamkoor (Travancore), Anizham Thirunaal Marthanda Varma (1729–1758), the king of Venad, annexed Thekkumkoor. Vilakkili (വിലക്കിലി) Illam Nampoothiris were then the sole rulers of Thiruvalla. It is believed that originally the Changazhimattam Pottis might have been vassals of the Vilakkilis and that they changed their loyalty to the King of Thekkumkoor as the latter attached Changanacherry to their kingdom. How Thiruvalla became an independent domain by then is a mystery.
Changanacherry was one of the five (some say, ten) capitals of Thekkumkoor kings and they built a palace in Puzhavath. The 'kulappura maalika'(കുളപ്പുര മാളിക ), bath house of the royals, still exists in the same name, to the north of the Puzhavathu Bhagavathy Temple.
The main poojas of Vazhappally Temple were conducted by the head of Vilakkili Nampoothiris even after Changanacherry was seized by Thekkumkoor. In 'The Thiruvalla Granthavari'[2], written by noted historian Niranasseril Unnikrishnan Nair, the records of Vazhappally temple are available about the Vilakkili Nampoothiris' visits to Vazhappally.
When Marthanda Varma, King of Venadu, marched northward to conquer the small kingdoms of Kayamkulam and Ambalappuzha, he did not spare Thiruvalla and Thekkumkoor. The Venad King had with him a brilliant administrator (Dalava/Diwan)called Rama Iyer (also called Ramayyan, a Tamil brahmin, who hailed from Attingal). He was a shrewd military general too and was the real creator of Travancore. The relationship between the kings of Ambalappuzha and Thekkumkoor was close and cordial. After Ambalappuzha, Ramayyan annexed Thiruvalla where Vilakkili Nampoothiris did not offer any resistance. His next target was Thekkumkoor. The king being a close ally of Ambalappuzha, Ramayyan expected some sort of reprisal from him. Besides, only Thekkumkoor had an army larger and stronger than the others Ramayyan had conquered.
Changazhimattam Potti & Betrayal by Thekkumkoor's General
The Potti of Changazhimattam got wind of this move. He informed the King of Thekkumkoor, who was in his palace in Kottayam, to ready his army for a battle. It was the peak of monsoon and the torrential downpour, the Potti thought, could dampen the spirits of the Venad army. The Potti then asked his men to do what he thought to be a strategic master stroke. Palakathara, (പാലകത്തറ meaning settlement of people near/around bridge; often pronounced as Paalaathra, പാലാത്ര ), a kilometer north of Vazhappally had a bridge that connected Changanacherry with Thuruthy area. This was an area where most of the inhabitants were Christians. The bridge is believed to have been much longer than it is today. It was a strong structure, though made of wood. The Potti ordered his men to destroy it, thinking Ramayyan's men would not move north in the inclement weather, crossing the torrents. Little did he know that he would pay a heavy price later.
By then, Ramayyan, the best military chief Kerala had ever seen, had won over Vaazhappaadathu Panicker (വാഴപ്പാടത്ത് പണിക്കര്‍ ), the chief of Thekkumkoor's army. He belonged to Perunnai and meekly allowed himself to be manipulated by Ramayan for the favours that Ramayaan had offered. The plans of the Potti were leaked to Ramayyan. The bridge was destroyed and the invaders reached Kottayam without any resistance, courtesy Panicker. The King of Thekkumkoor fled to Kozhikode, where the local king Smaoothiri (Zamorines of Calicut) provided refuge.
The king of Venad then showered gifts on Panicker, giving him among other things, a huge area of paddy field in Poovam, Perunnai.
Extirpation of Changazhimattam Family
But Marthanada Varma was furious when he learnt of the Potti's deeds. He ordered Ramayyan to destroy the illam and confiscate all his assets. The king was particular that the destruction of the illam and the brahmins should be such that no traces of them should exist. Some believe the order was issued on Ramayyan’s advice whose penchant for cruelty is legendary. Each and every member of the family - male or female, young or old - was killed. Fearing the king's wrath, even the locals stopped talking about the Pottis. The family faded away into oblivion. The illam is said to have had a large compound, with huge walls on all the four sides. A part of the corner of the wall (Mathil) survived for a few years and the place came to be called Mathil Moola, (മതില്‍ മൂല , today's Mathumoola മതുമൂല, and foolishly called by some as Madhumoola, മധുമൂല ). While destroying the houses of 'undesirable' families, kings of Kerala made sure that a large pond was dug up where their houses stood. This practice led to the Malayalam phrase 'Kulam koruka'(കുളം കോരുക ), meaning extermination without trace.
Panicker and his descendants, inept as they were in handling their newly acquired wealth, gradually fell in to penury. A branch of the family is said to exist in Perunnai (west of Perunnai Subrahmanya temple).
Thekkumkoor Raja eventually came back three months after he fled to Kozhikode on being promised by Marthanda Varma that he would be treated honourably. He settled in Nattasserry (നട്ടാശ്ശേരി), north of Kottayam, retaining his family name Idathil for the house. Incidentally, the family name was used as a suffix to places. For e.g., Changanacherry was referred to as Changanacherry Idathil in documents. Pizhavath was Pizhavath Idathil.
The Kings of Thekkumkoor and the Vilakkili Nampoothiri of Thiruvalla always had strained relations for obvious reasons and this had permeated the minds of their subjects as well. Citizens, especially Hindus, in Thekkumkoor even avoided marital alliance with people from Thiruvalla. Till a few years ago, a phrase advocating not to marry girls (why only girls?) south of Laappalam was prevalent in Kottayam areas ('ളാപ്പാലത്തിനു തെക്കുനിന്നു പെണ്ണ് വേണ്ട' ).
Thekkumkoor Raja - Secular Outlook
The last Thekkumkoor Raja was the most revered and efficient king of Kerala. His secular outlook, far-sightedness, intense wish to serve his subjects etc. are not matched by any king. It was he who asked Changazhimattam Potti to donate land for churches and mosques. He also started the Muslim festival of ‘Chandanakkudam’. He ensured business community received full protection and encouragement, irrespective of their caste or religion. He developed Changancherry as the main commercial centre of his kingdom with the help of Christian and Muslim business community. Maliaekkal, a Christian family, in particular, was close to the king. The head of this family was a confidante of the king as well as his advisor. The credit for developing Changanacherry further goes to the kings of Travancore. The key to growth thereafter was the construction of Main Central Road (MC Road) by the Travancore kings through the town which links Trivandrum with Angamaly.
The town's name was officially changed to CHANGANASSERI by the government through an ordinance in 1991 (the same ordinance that changed Quilon to Kollam, Calicut to Kozhikode...),
Raja or Rani?
Changanasseri and surrounding areas never caught the attention of historians, nor are the locals interested in finding out the past. Some believe the last ruler of the Thekkumkoor dynasty was a female! A systematic research would bring to light more information.
Ashes of Ettuveettil Pillais
At Vettady shrine, in Pizhavath, Marthanda Varma arranged to keep the ashes of Ettuveettil Pillais, his fierce rivals for the throne, and vowed not to step on the land for fear of offending the souls of the Pillais. The kings after him abided by this vow strictly and during their visits, which were rare, they used carpets to walk on to avoid contact with the land's soil. However, this vow was broken when, in or around 2000 C.E, the head of erstwhile ruling family of Travancore visited NSS Headqurters at Changancherry for a function.
N.B: Ramayyan died a peaceful death in Trivandrum. While on deathbed, when the king (either Marthanada Varma or his successor Karthika Thirunaal Dharma Raja 1758-1798) offered to do anything that he wished for, Ramayyan politely replied:: "I want nothing, your Majesty; my only regret is that I couldn't seize Kochi and add it to Travancore!". Another version says he died in difficulty in Attingal where he was born, seeking even Karthika Thirunaal's help to secure a job for his son. Here again, facts are not clear.

Source : Wikipedia


  1. Nice article with a lot of details. Just thought I should mention that the Vadakkumkoor and Thekkumkoor families do indeed use the surname of 'Varma'and perform Kshatriya rituals, but because they do not wear the sacred thread, they are often referred to as having Nair origins. And yes the Vazhapadathu Panicker (Unnithan) still exists in Changanassery and have a role to play every year in the temple aratu there, I am told.

    1. Yes..vazhapadathu panicker (Unnithan) still exists. My native is Perunnai west from Koickal family..

  2. This is what I had written for It was removed before I could provide references. It took over a year for me to collect details for the article for Wikipedia. With some changes I'll be publishing the same in I request you to refrain copying and reproducing it in your blog. Don't go for easy money. In a blog, you should write only what you prepare making your own efforts. I'll be bringing this to the notice of blog managers.

  3. @ Manu , All most all the royal of Kerala has a Nair Origin except 3 Namputhiri Kings ( Ambalapuzha Netra Narayanan, Venganttu Nampidi or Kakkad Karanavarpadu and Edapally Nampiyatiri ..Most powerful Kings i.e Samoothiri and Venad Kings has a clear Nair origin.

  4. Very informative. I came across this while searching for the origin of our family. Our ancestors were from Aarangottu, probably the Nair ladies who migrated during the invasion of Tippu.