I had been hearing about the Mamaankam festival and the rich history behind it all my life, but visiting some of the newly renovated sites like Changamballi Kalari, Nilapaadu Thara, Manikkinar, Pazhukka Mandapam, and Marunnara, which were closely associated with Mamankam festival was something else. Thanks to some recent restoration work by the archeology department and a lot of background work done by responsible tourism players like The Blue Yonder, one gets to know these places exist. But what was really enriching for me was to hear stories from Gopinath Parayil, the soul behind The Blue Yonder, about what makes these places truly special and be the inspiration for us to live our lives today knowing that so many amazing incidents and experiences happened in the past that we could learn from. Some that stay fresh in my memory even after many weeks of making that trip.
The Changamballi Kalari, the only one with an entrance from the right side, keeping with the Muslim traditions even though Kalari was essentially a Hindu dominated martial art form stands testimony to how communities could hold traditions together despite religious diversity. The 'Changamballi family', who manages this Kalari has an interesting history as well. Tulu Brahmins from Mangalore who settled in this part of the world were forced to convert into Islam during the invasion of Tipu Sultan in the Malabar region. They agreed to the conversion with a few conditions that the Sultan agreed. They continue to be unique in the sense that they are perhaps the only “vegetarian” Muslim community in Kerala with customs and traditions from their Tulu lineage followed while they practice Islam. What a beautiful story of amalgamation in society. Perhaps the closest is the one on how the Parsi community blended with the Gujarati Hindus upon their arrival on the Indian shores. Funnily enough, the local school kids who were following us curiously had no idea on why these sites were preserved or their historical significance, even though their school was next door! Perhaps the archaeology department needs to invest some effort in sharing why they have taken the pains to restore and revive something with the local population. And the local schools and teachers definitely have the onus on them to ensure the new generation understands the mantle they need to be proud of and preserve