Thursday, October 9, 2008

Down Memory Lane: MGS Narayanan on Discovery of Cera Inscriptions

THE BEST time to visit a Devi temple is the Puja season when they are decked up in memory of Durga's epic fight with the asura Darika, which culminates in the victory celebrations on Vijaya Dasami day. It is the time when people in most parts of south India take their little children for initiation to letters which is celebrated grandly in most of these Devi temples during this season.

So I was at the Panniyankara Devi Temple, Kozhikode, yesterday, the day of Maha Navami. It is an ancient temple situated on a small hillock on the banks of Kallai river and is a beautiful place to spend your time. It was the second time I was going there, the first time being many years ago when one of my children had the initiation ceremony there.

But last time, I knew nothing about this temple. This time, when I went there I was aware that I was in the presence of a deity that was perhaps one of the earliest in Kerala's known history. This temple's history dates back to the days of the Cera kings who ruled from Mahodayapuram from ninth century AD, and was most likely in existence even during the days preceding their rule.

Dr MGS Narayanan who has done some major works on this period in Kerala history had written extensively about the temple and about two granite inscriptions he had discovered from its precincts which are now preserved at the History Museum at Calicut University, where he had served for a long time.

MGS happens to be a person close to me from the mid-seventies when I was a volunteer at the 1976 Indian History Congress session that he had organized at the university. He was the head of history department there and also a well known authority in medieval Kerala history. I talked to him today once again, about his major discoveries that shed light on a less known period in our history.

It was some time in early seventies when the temple authorities digging in the area for a new mandapam in front of the temple, discovered a granite inscription, which was brought to his attention by a sister of former Parliament member K P Unnikrishnan whose family belongs to Panniyankara.

This inscription related to a land transaction for the benefit of the temple by a Cera king of 10th century. Later a second inscription was also recovered from another part of the temple which belonged to late 10th or early 11th century, again a land transfer deed for the temple. Both inscriptions are very important as they prove that Ceras who ruled from early ninth to late 11th century from Mahodayapuram had control over this region. It also proves that this Devi temple preceded even the origin of the city of Kozhikode, which is traced to 12th century, and the Samuthiris (Zamorins) who ruled it after the fall of Ceras.

MGS felt the history of the temple and the inscriptions that recovered from there were very important. They prove that many of the mythical stories that we read in the Brahmanical chronicle of Keralolpathi, which claims Kerala was reclaimed by Parasurama for them, were not without any basis. For example, the arrival of Samuthiri to the north from his original seat of Nediyirippu near Kondotty is described in the chronicle. It says the conspiracy to open the local ruler Porlathiri's gates from within to allow entry for the intruder Samuthiri was hatched at the vathilmatom, the door place, of this temple which was the only public place available in the region at that time. And of course the conspirators lost no time to put their plans into practice, thus helping the inauguration of the long reign of Zamorins in Kozhikode.

As the Samuthiri shifted his seat to Kozhikode and launched forth his rule, one of the key officials in his establishment was known as Pallimaradi, or the Eradi -official- in charge of guarding royal doors. Who could say the Samuthiri did not learn his lessons from history?

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