The Kaithamukku yarn
Kaithamukku was a bustling commercial centre even in the olden days.
DESPITE THE changes that time has made on the face of Kaithamukku, it retains a few traces of its old self. This is also due to the presence of the quaint old shop called Karalkada.
Karalkada has been selling quality handloom cloth for the past 150 years. The facade of the shop has remained unchanged over the years. It resembles the spacious veranda of an old-fashioned house. Customers and salesmen sit on the floor of this porch, which is completely covered with rush mats.
`Karal' is the corruption of the Arabic word `Karar', which means an agreement that is binding. And as the name vouchsafes, Karalkada has a reputation as a shop where no compromise is made on quality or price! Today, the renown of the shop has crossed the seas, as was perhaps visualised by its early owners such as Kumaraswami Pillai and Padmanabha Pillai.
Kaithamukku, as the name reveals, must once have been a place where Kaitha or plants of the `Pandanus' variety grew in abundance. And as many roads leading from Vanchiyoor, Pettah, Palkulangara and Perumthanni converged here, it was but natural for the name to stick.
The Mutharamman Kovil located here is perhaps the oldest landmark of Kaithamukku. The deity at the temple is Goddess Kali in all her fierceness, a concept widely prevalent among Tamil communities.
Kaithamukku once had a fairly large population of Tamil Viswakarmas or goldsmiths and Chaliyas or weavers. Their presence bespeaks the commercial nature of Kaithamukku of yesteryear.
It is quite probable that a godown was opened at Kaithamukku during the reign of Maharaja Swati Tirunal to store the large quantiies of fine-textured dhotis that were required to be gifted during the Mura-Japam rituals conducted at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. These clothes were brought from Avanavancheri in Attingal, Balaramapuram and Kottar. The Namboodiris and other Brahmins who used to take part in the Mura-Japam rituals carried the fame of the puliyila kara mundu and soman mundu of Thiruvananthapuram to almost every corner of the State.
Old Kaithamukku could also boast of having instituted one of the earliest parallel centres of learning in the city. This was the Cambridge College, run by Cambridge Achuthan Nair, who was not a Fellow of Cambridge, as his name would seem to suggest. Apparently, Achuthan Nair revered the quality of education imparted by Cambridge University. At Cambridge College in Thiruvananthapuram, one could do matriculation as well as graduation in arts. In order to secure a BA degree, however, one had to take the examination in Madras. After Achuthan Nair, R. C. Thampi took over the affairs of the college, but by the late Fifties, the college had closed down.
Another notable institution in Kaithamukku was the Athreya Ashram Ayurvedic Pharmacy, which sold oils and compounds that were said to be proven remedies for sinusitis and piles. The itinerant Namboothiris, who gravitated to Thiruvananthapuram during Mura-Japam, must have again played a part in popularising the medicines sold by the pharmacy.
Kaithamukku also attracted a lot of public attention when an office of the SNDP Yogam was set up there, with Kumaran Asan as its secretary. The young poet found himself in the thick of things controversy with charges of misappropriation of funds levelled against him by a section of his own community. Hurt by the slander, the poet is said to have spoken to Sree Narayana Guru about the issue. The Guru, who had no doubts about the honesty and integrity of the poet, advised Asan to take everything in his stride.
He is said to have urged on Asan the need for transparency and moral courage in a public figure, lessons which the poet never forgot.
Pictures and images of old Kaithamukku have been partially or wholly effaced. The old SNDP building exists no more. On its site stands the multi-storeyed structure housing the Passport Office. Even as modern Kaithamukku bustles with new commercial interests, places such as Karalkada revive old memories.
Old timers of Thiruvananthapuram still shop at Kaithamukku for locally-stitched undergarments. It is also fast catching on as a centre where one can buy hot banana chips straight from the kadai.
M. G. SASIBHOOSHAN & BINDU SASIBHOOSHAN
Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar
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