Whenever I think of Mamakam, I feel that India should revive it and should celebrate as a national festival with the government leading it. It’s not religious, it’s a show of strength of the ruler – the military processions, a public show of strength of the ruler, fireworks, navy excercises – all of them are candidates for revival. But well, below is the description of the festival.
As soon as the rains subsided in August-September, preparations were began for the coming festival. First, a letter was “written to Pandy”, a reminiscence of Chera days when the relations between them and the Paudyas were very intimate. Then circular letters were sent to the feudatories and bodyguards, commanding them to be present at Tirunavayi for the Mamakam as in days past.
“Royal writing to the Akavipati Janam (body-guards)
(On the 5th Makaram 858) is Mamuka Talpuyam and the Lokars are required to attend at Tiruuavayi as in olden times, Mangat Raman and Tinayancheri are sent to collect and bring you in regular order for the Mamakam. You must come to Tirunavayi (on the 3rd Makaram) to fight and foil as usual. But all of you should come for the Mamakam.’’
Special officers were appointed for the festival, the most important of whom was Parappalli Nayakan, who was responsible for the construction of sheds, houses and palaces to house the vast multitudes that assembled there.
At an auspicious moment fixed by the Alur Kanikal, the state-astrologer, a decorated pillar was planted at Vakayur and the construction of the Manittara or the dais, on which the Zamorin had to appear on certain days of the festival, was begun. The two banks of the river, the right and the left, were guarded by Kottol Patanayakan and Vayyavinat Nampati respectively.
The Tiruuavayi temple, which the Zamorin had to visit on certain days, stands on the north bank of the Ponnani River.
On a smooth plateau of hard laterite rock, raised some thirty or forty feet above the plain, that the platform called Manittara was erected, on which the Zamorin had to take his stand with the his sword in his hand.
About half a mile to the west of the platform was the palace of Vakayur, extended and made gay with flags, festoons and flowers, the residence of the Zamorin during the festival.
On one side of the palace, commanding a view of the whole scene from the platform to the temple, was the Ampati or the palace of the Tampurattis. On the left front, behind the temple, were the mansions of the third, fourth and fifth princes, while opposite to them stood the residences assigned to the four ministers, Acchan, Elayatu, Panikkar and Nampi. The Erlapad had his camp on the left bank of the river. Within its enclosure was constructed a platform similar to the Manittara at Vakaynr. In the middle of the river was erected a two-storeyed pavilion for the Zamorin’s nirattukuli or bath. The straight piece of road, leading from the western gate of the temple to the palace at Vakaynr, was protected from the rushing crowds by barred palisadings, placed two spears’ length apart, on either side of which stood the guards during the procession.
The Zamorin came to Vakayur on Punartam, the seventh lunar asterism, in Makaram, and the next day the festival began. For him it was not a merry round of sight-seeing and pleasure; it was an ordeal, severe but pleasant, which taxed all his energies to their almost.
Early in the morning of Puyam or the eighth lunar asterism, after ablutions and Vayarattam, he put on his jewels, wearing a frontlet instead of a crown, and gave presents to Tamme Panikkar, which consisted of a cloth and a head-dress, and to drummers, trumpeteers and horn-blowers. And after worshipping Ganapati, the lord of obstacles, and the Bhagavati, the guardian deity of his house, he proceeded in state to the Manittara. First, went the Moplah drummers and fifers, then came the Maramars, playing upon drums of various kinds to the accompaniment of trumpets and horns. They were followed by all the paraphernalia of a royal procession, banners, flags and pennons, fans made of peacock feathers, fans surrounded by peacock feathers, and parasols on staves. Behind them came seven beautiful damsels, strayed in their best, sprinkling water from silver vessels, followed by the Cheraman Sword, the Bhagavati and the Pallimaradi. Last of all, appeared the king in his royal litter, with long-handled lamps before and behind, with his attendants bearing his sword and shield, and with pages fanning him with chowries and holding a white umbrella to keep off the sun.
Descending from his litter at the base of the lower platform, he slowly mounted it and bowed towards Tirunavayi with palm joined to palm. Then he ascended the upper platform, called the Manittara, and shook his sword. Immediately the Nayar guards, who stood on either side of the platform, shook their shields, which were inlaid with gold and silver. A salute was then fired, which was the signal for the Eralpad on this left bank to appear on his platform. Then three rounds were fired from both banks, after which the Zamorin, bowing once more towards the Lord of Tirunavayi, descended from the Manittara, and returned to the palace, the ceremonies coming to a close with the damsels above mentioned waving lighted wicks and pots of saffron water before him.
Next day, Ayilyam or the ninth lunar asterism, after the usual ablutions and Vayarattam, the Zamorin, dressed in a coat and a cap, went in procession to the bathing pavilion, entering the river at the Kuriyal or the stunted banyan tree. The afternoon witnessed the grand procession on elephant-back, attracting immense crowds from far and near, who could hardly be kept out of the palisaded route by the guards, from the river to the temple and thence back again to the palace. The elephant which carried the Zamorin was so richly caparisoned that it looked like a mountain of gold. Encircling its body was a
huge chain of solid gold consisting of one hundred and fourteen links and a clasp, making in all one hundred and fifteen, which, by the way, was stolen by an east coast Brahmin professor of Chora Sastra or the art of stealing in the course of a procession during a Mamakam as a demonstration of his skill and the scientific principles underlying the art.
In this way, for twenty-five days, from Ayilyam, the ninth asterism, in Makaram to Tiruvatira, the sixth asterism, in Kumbham, went on the processions, each day surpassing its predecessor in pomp and display. All the while the Zamorin’s person was guarded with all the vigilance which the bravest and most faithful of his Nayars were capable of. The turns of this duty on the last seven days of the procession are specially mentioned by the court chronicler. “On the first day the body-guard consists of the Thirty Thousand and Vayyavinattu Nampati ; on the second day of Kadannamanna Elaya Vakayil Vellodi ; on the third day of Nediyiruppil Mutta Eradi Tirumalpad ; on the fourth day of Edattaranad Nampiyaiti Tirumalpad ; on the fifth day of Ernad Munamkur Nampiyatiri Tirumulpad; on the sixth day of Ernad Elamkur Nampiyatiri Tirumulpad; and on the seventh day of the Ten Thoussand, Calicut Talacchennavar and Ernad Menon.
On the last four days there was no procession either to the river or to the temple On Punartam and the two succeeding days the Zamorin and the eralpad showed themselves on their respective platforms and the crowds on either bank were regaled with fireworks and mock-fights between ships, arranged by the Sahabantra Koya. On Puyam and Ayilyam the Kuriyal was decorated, and under it the Rajah of Bettet and the Munalpad respectively stood in state, facing the Zamorin on the Vakayur platform.
On Makam, the last day of the festival, in the morning, after ablutions and Vayarattam; the Zamorin came in procossion to the Manittara. As soon as he ascended it a salute was fired. Thereupon the Eralpad mounted his platform and two Volleys were fired from both banks. Then the Eralpad descended from his platform, and, after prostrating at its base got into his litter, accompanied by Tirumanasseri. Crossing the water-course, they emerged from the river and joined the road at the Kuriyal. Here they dismounted from the palanquin, and advanced on foot, the Eralpad prostrating four times towards the Zamorin, once at the eastern end of the palisaded lane, twice in the middle, and once at the foot of the terraces. And after due permission was sought and obtained, they took their place on tbe Zamorin’s right hand, the Koya standing on the left.
After this Mangat Acchan and Tinayancheri Elayatu, preceded by the Murasappantara kuttam or the palace drummers went to Acchantara, where the Ten Thousand were waiting, assembled in the Nilalkuttam, and brought them with music and pomp to Vakayur to make their obeisance.
Then salutes were fired, and the Zamorin, after bowing to the Lord of Tirunavayi, as usual with palm joined to palm, proceeded to his palace at Triprangot, where the ceremonies came to a close with the Ventiammar waving lighted wicks and pots of saffron-water before him.
In the year immediately preceding the Mamakam a festival called Tai-Puyarn was held on Puyam, the eight lunar asterism, in the month of Tai or Makaram, corresponding to January-February . It was a miniature Mamakam, the Zamorin going through all the ceremonies which marked the last day of the great festival, which lasted thirty days from Puyam in Makaram (January-February) to Makam in Kumbham (February-March).
During the Mamakam festival and even during the Taipuyam festival, the followers of the Vellatri used to come with the avowed object of killing the Zamorin. Some times they appeared at night sometimes when the Zamorin took his stand on the platform, and sometimes after the close of the ceremonies, when the guards had dispersed.
Logan, accepting the explanation of Hamilton and Sir James Fazer, remarks;— “Those who acknowledged the Zamorin’s suzerainty sent flags in token of fealty, and the places where these flags used to be hoisted at festival time are still pointed at. The Valluvanad Raja, who is still represented in the management of the Tirunavayi temple by one out of the four Brahman Karalars, instead of sending a flag, used to send men called Chavers (men who have elected to die), whose office it was to endeavour to cut their way through the Zamorin’s guards to his throne in a manner to be presently described. If they had succeeded in killing him, as on the occasion cited by Hamilton, whose statement, except as to the date, is moreover corroborated by tradition, it is uncertain what would, have happened; but probably if a capable Raja had been ruling in Valluvanad at such a time, popular opinion would have endowed him with the suzerainty”.
The Calicut Granthavari gives a different interpretation. “The subjects of the Vellatri,” runs the chronicle, “unable to bear the oppression of their master, gave up all earthly pleasures and comforts, and prayed to the Bhagavati, residing on the sacred hill called Tirumanamkunnu for a means (of deliverance in this life and) of salvation in the next. She told them that they would obtain salvation if they sacrificed their lives in battle near the temple of Vishnu on the river bank at Tirunavayi in the month of Magha when Jupiter was in Leo. Hence, from the land, sacred to the aforesaid Bhagavati, persons, whose Karma had been worked out, used to come, possessed with the divine spirit, and die fighting with our soldiers during the Mamakam festival”
They were really the Chivers of the Vellatri. They sought, according to the immemorial custom of the country, to avenge the death of the princes in the Tirunavayi war.