From remote times Tirunavayi seems to have been a very sacred place in Kerala. The river here is considered to assume a special sanctity, because it flows between the temple of Mahavishnn, installed by the Mavayogis, on its right bank and the temples of Brahma and Siva on its left. It was the traditional
head-quarters of the mythical Brahmin hero. Parasurama. It was the centre of an amphietyonic league with the control of nineteen temples round about. According to the Keralolpalti. the assembly that came to the momentous decision of bringing a foreign Porumal was held here. It was at this place that the Namputiris invested their first Perumal with his authority; and it was from here also that Cheraman Peramal is supposed to have made his famous partition of Kerala. Before the intrusion of the Tamil rulers the temples were looked after by a Sabhayogam, in which the thirty-two pure Brahmin settlements were represented. And the festival was conducted by the Rakshapurushas or the protectors of the four Kalakams, whose duty was not only to fix the flag-staff and thus inaugurate the festival but to ace that it was celebrated without any hitch or hindrance.
As the festival was held in the year called Mahamagha, one of the twelve years of the lesser Brahaspatya cycle it came to he known as the Mahamagham, which became Mamakarn in Malayalam. During the festival it was believed that Goddess Ganga descended into the Bharatappula and by her miraculous advent made the river as holy as the Ganges itself.
We do not know when this festival was instituted at Tirunavayi. “The institution of this feast”, says Francis Wrede, “seems to be of the most remote antiquity, at least prior to the government of the Perumals, who used to preside over it.” Tirunavayi is one of the very few places in India where Brahma has a shrine. As he is given equal importance with the other two members of the Hindu triad, these temples must have been founded long ago, before Brahma receded to the background and ceased to be worshipped.
At first conducted by the Namputiris, the festival came to be celebrated under the aegis of the Tamil rulers of Tiruvanchikulam. How aud when they became its protectors we can only guess.
Wltcn Cheraman Perumal divided his kingdom, says the Keralopatti, he gave Tirunavayi sand bank and country and the privilege of conducting the Mamakam festival with 10,000 Nayars to Valluvakkonatiri. He also assigned to him, the Tirumanankunnath Bhagavati, sacred to Chovarakkur, as his guardian deity.
During a religious schism between Panniyurkurs and Chovarakkurs where the rulers took sides. When Tirumanasserinad was invaded by Arangot and Perumpatappu, Calicut took it’s side and Vellatiri joined the opposing party. The war was concluded in Zamorin’s favour when two princes of Vellatiri family fell in the battle. Ponnani was ceded and Tirunavayi was annexed, and along with it, the right for Mamakam. However, folklore says, the Calicut Koya, jealous of the pomp and pageantry at the Mamakam festival, annexed the land to his master. It was the Zamorin who made this a secular festival, a show of strength of the ruler from a religious one. Mamakam was held without break till 1755, the last one before Mysore conquest.