Thattakam is the story of a generation of people who lived in a small village Kandanasseri in Kerla. The village as well the people had glorius historic past studied with myths, legends and real events of social and political significance. It is a real as well as imaginary story at the same time, Even today, the village retains elements of its traditional past while taking a peep into modernity.
Kovilan, the author himself was a rare bridge between the past and the present. His memories of the past invaluable as history, sociology and anthropology. The language that he has used is unique. It has the overtones of the mythical ballads, the poignancy of realism, the rythm of the Dravidian Tribal language and the sheer university of epic structure. It also has the phantasaic quality of a folk tale.
Kovilan (V.V. Ayyappan) has contributed a great deal to the Malayalam language and literature. He has written two types of stories. The army stories related to his life in the Indian army and the biographical and autobiographical stories such as Thattakam which won him the Sahitya Akademi award in 1998. Some of the prestigious awards that he received include the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Basheer Award, Muttathu Varki Award, Basheer Award, Valayar Award and the Mathribhumi Award. Sahitya Akademi had conferred its Fellowship in 2005.
Vansanthi Sanskaranarayanan has an M.Litt and a Ph. D from the Madras University. Besides Thattakam she has translated somes famous novles from Malayalam to English. They are Lalithambika Antarjanam’s Agnisakshi, Matampu Kunhukuttan’s Brashtu, P. Vatsala’s Agneyam, C.N. Sreekantan Nair’s Kanchana Seetha and Sarah Joseph’s Ramayana Stories. She has also written a short biography of Tipu Sultan. Recently, she has published a volume of her poems in Malayalam and a children’s book on Elephant stories. She has worked as a freelance art critic for newspaper and magazines.
The title of the novel “Thattakam” roughly means “domain” or “ arena”. It is a region suffused with the splendour, prosperity, dignity, greatness, prowess and majesty of Bhagavathy temple. A region, with no definite physical boundaries. It can be any region, but it is not one village, one town or even one district or state. Its boundary is not necessarily predictated by the political, social or even geographical requirements. It is therefore, in effect, an abstract idea, an imaginary region, a place inhabitated by people who practiced or observed a whole set of habits, customs, traditions and cultuaral traits based on beliefs, myth, legends and real life experiences, specific to the region. The only distinguishing feature of Thattakam is that it is blessed and protected by the mother Goddess installed in the main temple of the place. At best, it can be compared to the imaginary regions described in Silappadikaram, the Tamil classic such as Mullai, Marutham, Palai etc. But, again, it is not the landscape, the flora and fauna, the animals and birds or any such definable common physical traits or other geographical peculiarities that marked this region. Some of the factors which bound the people of the “region” (Thattakam) are – the belief in a special Goddess whom they worshipped as a “protector” Godhead, the social traditions such as the rituals performed at the birth, at marriage, at women coming of age, at harvest festivals, at the deaths and other such day to day occurrences of an ordinary life. The inhabitants of this region lived as families – joint families known by the name tharaward. These were families, member of which unit (including the Grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts and their children) lived under the same roof, owned properties jointly and shared the wealth and earning from these; later they moved away from the parent family and formed neuter families. The secular head of the region was the king or chieftains who ruled over various such regions; the religious head was the the priest who performed rituals in temples or the trustees who managed the administrative and financial affairs of the temple. But, these were distant figures and played only a very nominal role in the day to day life of the people. Thery were more bound in their private lives to their families, the heads of such families, and in their public life to the prominent families of the region, who had attained their prominence through wealth, landed property and status in life arising from these factors. In some sense the people’s power was also emphasized; all major decisions pertaining to the lives of the people were taken by holding public meetings of the people of the place and discussing the problems on hand. Whether the people should approve of a hindu women marriying a muslim man, the sum of the donations which are to be collected from each family to hold a Koothu in the temple of decided by the representatives of families who assembled at the meeting.
So, when we look at the novel “ Thattakam” by Kovilan we are confronted not by the story, history and happening of one individual or one family. We are faced with the history of a whole region with several families, the happenings in their lives and even the history of a particular time. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuary. Again, like in a typical historical text, it does not give a whole glimpse of the people involved or their experiences. It only gives a partial glimpse of some extra – ordinary events that took place which changed their lives in a small or big way. So, basically it is like having a bird’s eye view of a region and its people. The structure of the novel is predicated by the title itself and its implications; it is non – linear, epic, mixing fiction with fact, myth and magic with real life experience, tradition with modernity, democracy with tinges of despotism, tender humanism with cruel neglect, bounty and plenitude with objects poverty. Here, time takes on a new dimension, erasing the past, present and future specifications instead, life flows on moving smoothly back and forth from the past to the present and the reverse and hinting at the future. A sense of historic reality is combined with sensitive imagination giving it an epic quality.
It is also mainly the story and history of one community the “Ezhaves”. Kovilan himself belonged to this community. Northern Kerala and settled down in the area which was in earlier days known as the native there are two types of the native state of Cochin. According to Kovilan there were two types of people who later came to be known there were two types of people who later came to be known as “Ezahavas”. The first were those who protested against the Brahman domination and accepted Buddhism or Jainism. These people were known as “Ajeevakavas”. There was the second section which practiced martial arts and become soliders and commandants reffered to as “Chekavas”. The name Chekavas dwindled into Chekon and later to Chon. Says Kovillian with pride, “In my village, Kandanansari, which is reffered to in the book as Muppilissery, the Ezhavas were very different from the rest of the Ezhavas in Kerala. They were courageous and willing to face any adversity: the people of this village were practically the only section in Kerala which faced the Mysore army of Tippu , defeated them and preserved their independence. A detailed account of this conformation between the locals and The Mysore army is given in the book. Even before they came into actual contact with the person and teachings of Narayana Guru, they had begun to place emphasis on the main teaching of the Guru such as education , pride in the work they do and tolerance towards other religions.” They lived in amity with the Nairs, Christians, Muslims and other communities who were residents of the villages. They are also addressed in public as Tandars (Tandarappans) as mark of respect. Other castes and communities figure in the book, but they come and go as minor characters in epic play, Nairs, Namboodirires, kings or nomads from other regions.
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