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 Kuttanadu 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, Kuttanadu 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 Kuttanadu. One can still see Kari or coal if we dig deep into the soil of Kuttanadu, pointing to the fact that the place was once a forest, destroyed by wild fire. In Kuttanadu most of the place names end in Kari. Some familiar place names are Ramankary, Puthukkary, Oorukkary, Mitrakkary, Mampuzhakkary, Kainakari, Chathurthiakary and Chennamkari. It is also said that Kuttanadu was once under the sea. The proof is the land is flourished with seashells.
During the reign of Chera dynasty that ruled over ancient Kerala, Kuttanadu attained an important place in history. One of the powerful kings in the dynasty: Cheran Chenguttavan is said to have ruled his vast kingdom from Kuttanadu, when it was also a famous centre of Buddhism. There is another version for its place name. The Buddhist centre Buddhanad later became Kuttanad.
The Kuttanad region is broadly classified into three divisions:
- Lower Kuttanad
- Upper Kuttanad
- North Kuttanad
Lower Kuttanad comprises taluks of Ambalapuzha taluk, Kuttanad (excluding Edathua, Thalavady and Muttar, and the northern half of Karthikapally taluk in Alappuzha district).
Upper Kuttanad comprises Veeyapuram village in Karthikapally taluk, Edathua,
Thalavady, Kidangara and Muttar in Kuttanad taluk; Chennithala village in Mavelikkara Taluk, Mannar, Kuruttissery, Budhanur, Ennakkad villages in Chengannur taluk of
Alappuzha district; and Parumala, Kadapra, Niranam, Pulikeezhu, Peringara,
Chathenkeri, Nedumpuram, villages of Thiruvalla taluk in Pathanamthitta district.
North Kuttanad comprises Vaikom taluk, western parts of Kottayam taluk, and western parts of Changanacherry taluk in Kottayam district.
A few of the major villages which form Kuttanad are: Kainakari, Ramankary, Puthukary, Chennamkary, Nedumudi, Niramom, Kaipuzha, Kumarakom,Edathua, Mampuzhakary, Neelamperoor, Kainady, Kavalam, Pulincunnoo, Kannady, Veliyanadu, Veeyapuram,Vezhapra, Kunnamkary,Kumaramkary, Valady, Kidangara, Mithrakary,
Muttar, Neerattupuram, Thalavadi, Changankary, Champakulam, Nedumudi, Moonnatummukham,Melpadom, Payippad, Karichal, Ayaparambu, Anary, Vellamkulangara, Pilappuzha, Pandi, Pacha, Cheruthana, Karuvatta, Chennithala, Narakathara,Venattukad, Kayalppuram, Mankompu, Chathurthiakary, Manalady, Koduppunna, Thayankary and Pullangadi among others.
Backwater Paddy Cultivation (Kayal Cultivation)
Paddy fields in Kuttanad
The major occupation in Kuttanad is farming. Rice is the important agricultural product, giving Kuttanad the moniker of “The Rice Bowl of Kerala”. Three crops are grown every year now instead of the traditional two per year. Large farming areas near Vembanad Lake were actually reclaimed from the lake. The history of the paddy cultivation in Kuttanad can be traced back to centuries. The evolution of paddy cultivation in Kuttanad was correlated to the technological advancement and changes in the regulatory frame work existed during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the earlier times, the reclamation was done mainly from the shallow part of the Vembanad Lake or from the periphery of river Pamba. These reclamations constituted small areas of paddy fields called “Padsekharams”. The bailing out of water from those fields were done manually using water wheels named “Chakram”. Gradually the manual method used for bailing out of water gave way to steam engines.
The ‘Pattom Proclamation’ made by the Travencore Kingdom in the year 1865, gave a great fillip to the reclamation activities during 1865 to1890. Venad Kayal that was reclaimed during this period is considered as the first ‘Kayal Nilam’ which was reclaimed from the Vembanad Lake. This pioneering reclamation activity of Kayal cultivation was made by two brothers (Mathai Luka Pallithanam and Ouseph Luka Pallithanam) belonging to Kainady village in Kuttanadu. The period between 1865 and 1890 is usually considered as the first phase of Kayal cultivation.
The introduction of kerosene engines for dewatering resulted in the reclamation of wider areas of the lake for cultivation. It made the farmers to think of venturing into the deeper parts of the lake. During the period between 1898 to 1903, reclamation activity was led by Pallithanam Luka Mathai (alias Pallithanathu Mathaichen) who reclaimed the Cherukara Kayal, Pallithanam Moovayiram Kayal, and Madathil Kayal. But second phase (1890 to 1903) of reclamation activities came to a halt because of the ban on Kayal reclamation imposed by the Madras Government in 1903.
In 1912, Madras Government approved a proposal from the Travencore Government for further reclamations in three stages. Under this reclamation scheme Kayal land was notified for reclamation in blocks each named by English alphabet. Out of the total area of 19,500 acres of Kayal land 12,000 acres were reclaimed between 1913 to 1920. After the removal of the ban in 1913, Pallithanam Luca Matthai along with some other prominent families in Kuttanadu, reclaimed E-Block Kayal measuring a total area 2,400 acres. This is the biggest Kayal nilam in Kuttanadu. C.J. Kurian, Ex MLC and Mr. John Illikalam were his main partners in this venture. The reclamations between 1914 to 1920 are known as new reclamations, which was carried out in three periods. In the first period Blocks A to G measuring and 6300 Acres were reclaimed. C Block, D Block (Attumukham Aarayiram (Attumuttu Kayal), Thekke Aarayiram and Vadakke Aarayiram) and E Block (Erupathinalayiram Kayal) F Block (Judge’s Aarayiram Kayal) and G Block (Kochu Kayal) are the major Kayal nilams reclaimed during this period.
During the second period of new reclamation, blocks H to N measuring 3600 acres were reclaimed under the leadership of Pallithanam Luca Matthai, Cunnumpurathu Kurian, Vachaparampil Mathen, Pazhayaparmpil Chacko and Kannathusseril Peious. During the third period of new reclamation R Block Kayal measuring 1,400 acres were reclaimed by the joint effort of eight families led by Pallithanam Luca Matthai, Vachaparampil Mathen and Pazhayaparmpil Chacko.
From 1920 to 1940 reclamation activity came to a halt because of the steep drop in the price of rice.
Pallithanam Luca Matthai who had served as member of Moolam Thirunal of Travancore’s Praja Sabha (Popular Assembly) was considered as the pioneer of cooperative agricultural movement in Kuttanadu. His life marked the beginning of the epoch of first generation Kayal Raja’s of Kuttanad.(Kayal Raja is the term generally used to refer to the prominent Kayal cultivators in the Kuttanadu region).In 1931, in order to strengthen the farming community in Kuttanadu he founded Kuttanadu Karshaka Sangham (Kuttanadu Agricultural Association). From the beginning of his farming career in his teens (he was only eighteen years when he reclaimed the Cherukara Kayal), he brought together like minded people and successfully led the reclamation activity from 1898 to 1940.
Due to the steep decline in the price of rice during 1920 to 1940 the reclamation activities become lethargic. But it gained its momentum again in the early 1940s.During this period, in order to increase the agricultural output, Government initiated Grow More Food campaign and started providing incentives to encourage new reclamations. The advent of electric motors made the reclamations relatively easier, cheaper and less risky as compared to the earlier periods. The last tract of the reclamations namely Q, S and T block were made during this period by Thomman Joseph Murickummoottil (Muricken Outhachan). He did cultivation in a very large extent of reclaimed area and achieved such a success that he was crowned as “Krishi Rajan” (farmer king) by the then prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The prominent families in Kuttanadu who were involved in the backwater paddy cultivation are Pallithanam, Vallickadu, Vachaparampil, Pazhayaparmpil, Punnadamvakkal, Chalayil, Kandakudy, Illikalam, Akkara, Ettuparayil, Mangalapallil, Paruthickal, Meledom, Murickummoottil, Puthenpurayil, Pattasseril etc.
As the farming in the area increased farmers felt them constrained by the two cycles a year for rice cultivation. The reason for which is the limited availability of potable water in Kuttanadu. During the monsoon seasons, the water from the mountains flow through the rivers to the sea, bringing potable water to Kuttanadu. But during summer, due to the low level of the region, seawater enters Kuttanadu and makes the salt content of the water high making it unbootable.
This project was designed as a permanent solution to the flood situation in Kuttanad. This programme was envisaged in such a way that flooded waters from Pamba, Manimalayar and Achankovil were diverted to the sea before it reached Vembanad Lake. The construction of the Spillway ended by 1955.
During 1968, government of India proposed a project, in which a bund (Dam) will be made across the river so that seawater will not be allowed to come inside Kuttanad during summer, allowing farmers to cultivate an extra cycle per year. The project was planned in three phases, the south side, the north side and another phase to join the two sections. The project was delayed and by the time the first two phases were complete the entire money allotted for the project ran out and left the final phase in limbo. The farmers who were expecting lots of financial benefits after the completion of the project decided to take matters into their own hands and one night in 1972, a large group of farmers filled the gap between the north and the south side with earth. To this day, the earth embankment between the two sections of the bund remains. With this, it was possible to close the regulator of shutters during December – June when the saline water enters, and then open it during monsoon. Once the Thaneermukkam bund and spillway became operational two crops were possible in Kuttanadu.
Even though the bund has improved the quality of life of the farmers, the bund is alleged to have caused severe environmental problems. The backwaters which were abundant with fish and part of the staple food of the people of the region require a small amount of salt water for its breeding. The bund has caused deterioration of fish varieties in the region and the fishermen opposed to the bund as of 2005. The bund has also disrupted the harmony of the sea with the backwaters and has caused problems not foreseen before the bund like the omnipresence of the water weeds. Earlier the salt water tends to cleanse the backwaters but this does not happen any more leading to the pollution of the backwaters and the entire land near by.
Notable Natives and Residents
Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, Botanist, known as the father of the Green Revolution in India.
Dr. I C Chacko, Physicist and Geologist, State Geologist of Travancore State from 1906 to 1921
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Novelist, Jnanpith Scholar.
Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara,
Dr. K. Ayyappa Panikkar
Kunchacko Boban – Famous film Actor and director.
Late Kunchacko – Udaya Studio -Indian film producer and director.
Prof. Kavalam Narayana Panikkar
John Abraham, Film Director
Vinayan, Film Director
Nedumudi Venu, Film actor
Dr.K C Joseph Ex.MLA, Architect of Modern Kuttanadu
Prof.Oommen Mathew Ex.MLA, Politician
Ramesh Chennithala, Politician
LateVenu Nagavally Film Actor and film director.
Thomas Pallithanam, Social activist
Mar Thomas Kurialacherry – Former Archbishop
Mankompu Sivasankara Pillai, Kathakali artiste of the classical dance-drama’s southern style
Guru Gopinath, Indian classical dancer.