Saturday, 18 October 2008

Caranakera Menoen's Palanquin

Caranakera Menoen's Palanquin in 2004

On our way back from Thalaserry to Kochi our ever helpful hosts had arranged that I should meet Professor M.G.S. Narayanan, a renowned local Kozhikode historian. Professor Narayanan had formerly been Head of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department at Calicut University.

Prema Jayakumar, a direct descendant of Menon,[2] had previously told me that her ancestor's palanquin was preserved at the university History Department, and that it was in a store room.

Because of the difficult cramped nature of the storeroom, the carrying arms had already been cut off, and the palanquin was deteriorating fast. It had not been at all easy for Prema to get good photos in the restricted light, but the ones she had sent me clearly showed that it had been an official gift from the East India Company to Menoen.

An inscription giving details of the award of the palanquin.

On one of the doors, the coat of arms of the East India Company could clearly be seen.

East India Company Coat of Arms

At the university we were met by Professor K.N. Ganesh the current Head of the History Department, a most courteous and interesting man to talk to. I could have quite easily have spent the whole day discussing the period with him.

When the time eventually came for us to visit the palanquin, I quickly sensed that all was not well. Eventually I was taken to the head of the stairs in a second floor corridor, and there in the corridor stood the shattered palanquin.

It was explained to me that high spirited students had jumped on top of, or had otherwise smashed the palanquin during the previous months. The university was trying to find a way of fixing the palanquin, but that they lacked the necessary funds.

The Palanquin in December 2006.

It was quite clear that the palaquin although badly broken, was not beyond repair, as it had largely come apart along the joints.

I took the following series of photos in order to try to record its construction.

One of the sawn off carrying poles can be seen on the floor

The following photo, shows the interior of one of the two end bulkheads, with a metral reinforcement that carried the weight from the bottom of the box into the carrying pole.

Interior of carrying compartment

Roof of compartment, tilted upwards
The roof of the compartment, is the left hand or "upright" panel.

One of four steel reinforced feet or legs to keep the palanquin off the ground,
when put down by the bearers

Longtitudinal view of palanquin.

At the time, it was hard to know what to feel about the sad end of this palanquin, as I felt powerless to be able to do anything about its restoration. In the following days I had discussions with a number of people to see if we could come up with a rescue package.

Part of this would require researching the history of the palanquin, which is what I did on my return to Britain.

There is a strong tradition in Kerala that the palanquin was awarded to Menoen for his part in the killing of the Pazhassi or Pyche Rajah. In fact records of the correspondance clearly shows that the palanquin was awarded to him for his part in putting down the 1812 revolt in the Wayanad.

The details of the award were given in a letter dated 5th March 1813.

Extract Judicial Letter from Fort St George Dated 5th March 1813.

Para 33. In paragraph 273 of our letter from the Military Department under the date the 17th of December 181 we informed your Honourable Court that a disturbance in Wynaad which derived importance rather from the recollection of former rebellions in that district than from the number and consequence of the persons engaged in it had been immediately and completely suppressed by the exertions of the Magistrate Mr Baber and the Troops employed on the occasion.
Para 34. On reference to the proceedings noted in the margin your honourable Court will observe a report from the Magistrate which affords proof of the exertions used by him and the Natives on that occasion, and we had great satisfaction in bestowing a Palankeen with the usual allowance upon Kulpilly Kareencona Menon the Native Registrar of the Zillah Court.
We shall communicate the result of the trials of the persons apprehended and committed on account of their being concerned in that disturbance.

At the time I was hoping to return to Malabar in late 2007 or 2008, and to try to see if it would be possible to get the palanquin repaired, and perhaps moved to somewhere like the Pazhassi Rajah Museum at East Hill, which already has a very fine Indian palanquin.

Other events have since intervened to delay my return.

Image my distress when today, I have received a note from my friend Manmadhan Ullattil drawing my attention to a blog published in April 2008. This blog by Chekkutty N Pudussery says that:

"Ironically, even as the people of the region were celebrating the memories of their folk hero, the authorities at Calicut University, the premier centre for higher education in the region, were busy inquiring into the mysterious circumstances in which a historic artefact, intimately connected with the history of Pazhassi Raja, has been missing from its museum. A beautifully carved palanquin, donated by the East India Company to one of its officers who helped hunt the Pazhassi Raja, kept in the museum of the University's history department, was later recovered from a nearby bush."

The full article can be read at

I wonder if the university authorities were so embarrassed that the palanquin had been allowed to become so badly damaged, that they threw it away. Or if the broken timbers were simply thrown away in a spring cleaning exercise, by staff with little or no interest in the history behind this 195 year old artifact.

If Mr. Pudussery is correct and the palanquin has been stolen, I would urge whoever has it to return it to the university.

[1] British Library, OIOC IOR /F/4/406 (10136) folio 3.
[2] See


Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Nick,
What a piece of writing on our callous attitudes!

It is a shame on us that we do not respect our heritage and history from which generations that follow have to learn their lessons. Whatever may be the judgement of the present generation about "Caranakera Menoen" (Karunakara Menon is the correct Malayalam) based on his role in Pazhassi's capture, the palanquin gifted to him and used by him did not deserve the neglect. It was an object based on which history could be interpreted .

I wish this article goes as an eye opener to people in various places who will be sensitive to preserving our tradition.

Aisibi said...

Wow!!!! I'm preparing myself to jump ddown from some cliff for missing your blog for so long.. I'm myself a huge Malabar history fan and miss no word written on it :) Your blog was like a cool rain!!!
I remember this article being covered by the local dailies, when the palaquin was found in the bushes, i hopped onto the next bus and went to "investigate" even hoping maybe I could carry away parts :), But they wouldnt let me go anywhere near :(.