Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kasargod – Laterite Country

Standing at Bekal, the huge laterite built fort near Kasargod, you think of the bygone days, the soldiers of Tippu Sultan, the uniformed British sailors, long lost sounds of marching orders. Now it is silent, the Archeological Survey of India looks after the ruined fort being given a face lift. The watch towers here give a breath taking view of the coast, the sickle shaped beach with palm trees can be seen up to great distances. Obviously a reason why the fort was built here, it is also shielded by natural rock formations. Bekal is grooming up to be the most sought after tourism destination of the far north of Kerala. There is a corporation floated to promote tourism here, the lawns and amenities tell about some work going on. These are laterite plains and the myriad uses of laterite here makes one wonder, temples, houses and other buildings made from laterite are beautiful. Some of the ancient ponds with intricately laid laterite sides are artistic creations that call for preservation. At Bekal the fort makes profuse use of this material from the pre-concrete era, with massive structures that makes one spell bound. There are step wells for drinking water, of course now dead, ammunition depots, secret caves and hide outs for attack and defense, all made of laterite. The door opening to the sea is still intact and must have seen several gun salutes and cannon fires.

The coastal plains of Kolathunad, the old name of the region, have the Kannada and Malayalam cultures melting in to each other. The theyyams, dance dramas, of the temples here are famous and the Islamic and Hindu beliefs co-exist with great resilience. The people show unusual grace and humility and are in general cautious of those from the south, this except at the hills on the east where the settlers from south have taken over. Once part of Mahodayapuram, the Cheras ruling from Kodungalloor as Perumals, it later came under various dynasties including those from Karnataka, the Nayakas. Later Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan took over, till they were defeated by the British. It was these two, Tippu and the British, who added many features to the fort as believed. Like the spaces for cannon fire, tiled bungalows and sea facing entrances. The Nayars here trace their ancestry to the Perumal era martial lords. Muslims speak both Malayalam and Kannada and also another dialect. One can see name boards in Kannada all over and the population at many places are mostly Kannadigas. The rich green plains of South Kanara are just across the borders and the terrain is contiguous. The coastal marshes and mangroves of Kasargod are luxuries that the rest of Kerala lost out, but south Kanara retains. As ancient Kerala is believed to be from Kanyakumari to Gokarnam, the changes show the wars and annexations in between.

The larger Kerala culture can be predominantly seen and the universal traits of Kerala, as among the Nayars, are likely to be from the Chera past, though many assimilations must have taken place since. There is also a flourishing Theeya community. In a strange connection the influence of the Tulu culture here has reached across Kerala and the Padmanabhaswamy temple, in the far south at Thiruvananthapuram, has Tulu Brahmins as priests. Perhaps these are traces from the days of the Vijayanagara empire that once held sway over the local kingdoms of Kerala. Due to some curious historical links the Travancore kings adopt from the royalty here, Kolathunad, when without heirs. Kasargod has its unique features and the Malayalam spoken here is difficult for others, more so that of the Muslims. The name Kasaragod , as some scholars maintain, is from Kasara, nux vomica tree called Kanjiram in Malayalam. Perhaps this was a forest of the tree as the nearby town is called Kanhangad, which came from Kanjirakad as some say. The place finds mention in most ancient Hindu works and the nearby Ezhimalai, also called Elimalai, is a land mark. Even the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama took this coastal hill shaped like a rat, hence the name eli-mala, for his voyage to Kozhikkode, as the travel records tell.