The backwater paradise
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Kuttanad

Kuttanad - The Rice Bowl of Kerala

The Kuttanad region in Alleppey district is named the 'rice bowl of Kerala' for its picturesque expanse of paddy cultivation which forms the main source of the famous 'boiled rice' of the state. As a tourist destination, it holds some geographical peculiarities. It is a vast area of partly reclaimed land, covered with the bright green paddy fields, separated by dykes. The unique feature about paddy cultivation in Kuttanad is that the level of water is a few feet higher than the level of the surrounding land. It's the area with the lowest altitude in India, and one of the few places in the world where farming is carried out below sea level. The place is an amazing labyrinth of shimmering waterways composed of lakes, canals, rivers and rivulets. Lined with dense tropical greenery, it offers a glimpse into the rural life-styles of Kerala. Kuttanad is a backwater paradise and an ideal destination for a backwater cruise in Kerala. It is possible to drift along in a houseboat and enjoy the scenic view of the Kerala countryside.

With the Kuttanad region and the Vembanad Kayal nearby, Alleppey attracts tourists throughout the year. The criss-crossing canals in the area evoke comparisons with Venice, but the differences are also substantial. Each has an identity of its own. Amongst the notable sights is the palm-covered Pathiramanal Island in Vembanad Kayal, which can be accessed through an hour cruise by boat from Triveny River Palace Champakkulam. The district is famous for its snake boat races and also houses a number of historic colonial buildings and a beach.

The major occupation in Kuttanad is farming, rice being the staple crop. More than two crops are grown alternately each year.

Large farming areas near the Vembanad Lake were actually reclaimed from the lake. Following the Land Reclamation Act which decreed that whoever reclaims land from water can own it, many enterprising farmers took up the challenge leading to massive redemption of land from the lake.

As the farming in the area increased, farmers felt themselves constrained by the two cycles a year for rice cultivation owing to the limited availability of potable water in Kuttanad. During the monsoon seasons, the water from the mountains flow through the rivers to the sea, bringing potable water to Kuttanad. But during summer, due to the low level of the region, seawater enters Kuttanad and makes the salt content of the water high making it unpotable.

Origin, history & Contributions

There is no recorded history on the origin of this land. But the oral history among local people, transferred from generation to generation, is a blend of myths and legends. There is reference to Kuttanad in the epic Mahabharata of ancient India. During their exile, the five Pandava princes are said to have travelled through this land. In those days, Kuttanad was part of a dense forest, later destroyed by a forest fire which is also mentioned in the epic. Thus came the place name Chuttanad or the burnt place. In course of time Chuttanad became Kuttanad. Reportedly one can still see kari or coal if we dig deep into the soil of Kuttanad, pointing to the fact that the place was once a forest, destroyed by wild fire. In Kuttanad most of the local place names end in 'kari', some familiar ones being Ramankary, Oorukkary, Mitrakkary, Mampuzhakkary, Kainakari and Chennamkari.

Kuttanad is known for its contributions to the field of Malayalam literature and cinema besides the classical dance-drama of Kathakali. Jnanpith-winning novelist, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, hailed from Kuttanad, so is late Malayalam poet Dr K. Ayyappa Panikkar. Scholar-folklorist Kavalam Narayana Panikkar and his musician son Kavalam Sreekumar are natives of this place, so was late filmmaker John Abraham. Renowned film actor Nedumudi Venu too hails from this belt.

Among the leading Kathakali exponents from Kuttanad today are Mankompu Sivasankara Pillai, Mathoor Govindankutty, Thalavadi Aravindan, FACT Padmanabhan and Kalamandalam Shanmughan. Its Kathakali masters of earlier days include Mathoor Kunhukunhu Pillai Panicker, Chennithala Kochu Pillai Panicker, Mankulam Vishnu Nambuthiri, Champakkulam Pachu Pillai, Guru Gopinath, Pallippuram Gopalan Nair, Harippadu Ramakrishna Pillai, Chennithala Chellappan Pillai, Ambalappuzha Sekhar and Kalanilayam Mohanakumar.

Champakulam Kalloorkadu St. Mary's Forane Church (Valia Palli) Champakulam Kalloorkadu St. Mary's Forane Church (also called Champakulam Valia Palli) is one of the oldest Christian churches in India and the mother church of almost all Catholic Syrian churches in Alleppey District. Believed to be established in AD 427. Rebuilt many times and the many rock inscriptions found around the church tell us about the history of the church. The open air Rock Cross at Champakulam church is one of the most ancient ones with clear documentation of its antiquity up to AD 1151. There are many archaeological artefacts found around the church about its history. Champakulam church was once under Niranam Church. Champakulam Church had very friedly relations with the Jacobite Syrian group and had a pivotal role in many ecumenical efforts in the Eighteenth century. Belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of India.

The annual feast at this church is on the 3rd Sunday of October every year. The feast of St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19.

Champakulam Moolam Boat Race

Champakulam Boat Race is held every year at the Champakulam Lake in Alleppey, Kerala. This is the first boat race of the harvest season of the state. The race is organized in the Malayalam month Midhunam on the moolam day, the day of the installation of the deity at the Sree Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha. Champakkulam Boat Race is the most popular and oldest snake boat race of Kerala. This race is associated with a legend. On the advice of a royal priest, Maharaja Devanarayana of Chempakasseri built a temple at Ambalappuzha. But, just prior to the installation of the deity, the king came to know that the idol was inauspicious. The ministers of the king told a solution to the problem. They suggested to bring the idol of Shree Krishna, presented to Arjuna by the Lord Krishna himself, from the Karikulam temple of Kurichi. The ministers went to the place to bring the idol. While returning from the temple they spent a night at Champakulam to perform a puja. From there, boats of the entire area accompanied the idol in colorful, ceremonial procession through the lake to the temple. Celebrating that moment, the whole procession is enacted every year with the same enthusiasm. A line of boats festooned with colourful parasols and performing arts delights the spectators before the Champakulam Boat Race. After that, a proper race is organized in various stages for different categories of boats. The song of the oarsmen, the Vanchipattu, and the breathtaking Chundanvallom race are the other attractions of the event.