Sunday, 18 October 2009
The Temples inside the Fort at Nellialam
Photo 1. Temple Inside The Fort at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy
Back in March of this year, when attempting to trace the route taken by Thomas Hervey Baber up the Ghats in 1823, I came across a reference to his having been on top of the Ghats during 1806 in the aftermath of the Pazhassi Raja struggle, while he was trying to pacify the region, and to capture any remaining supports of the Pazhassi Raja. 
"I left Ottakail Karumba at 10 A.M. on the 11th, and arrived at Koodaloor about 1 P.M. about half-a-mile from the karumba, I reached the road I constructed in 1806, from Nelliala in Parakámeatil, to Nambolacota, and continued along it until with three miles of Koodaloor, where is yet to be traced the course of the high road formerly constructed by Tippoo, by the Carâcole Pass to South Malabar;"
This led to my trying to identify the route of this road, and a fort that the East India Company had occupied at Nelliala.
The long abandoned fort appeared to be located on top of a bald hill at Nellialam.
Photo 2. The Bald Hill at Nellialam. Please click onto the image for a larger image.
A friend of mine, Manmadhan Ullattil found some passages in old books describing the fort. The problem was that nether Manmadhan or myself were able to visit the site. Manmadhan however suggested that I contact Afasja Jajy, who was known to come from the area, and who was a keen local historian.
So acting on Manmadhan's suggestion I emailed Afasja, who turned out like so many Kerala people to be working in Saudi Arabia. Despite his not knowing me in the slightest, and having only limited leave, Afasja was kind enough to spend time during his precious holiday this August visiting the site of what I believe might have been the fort at Nellialam, where he took the the pictures of the two small temples that remain on the slopes of the hill.
It is not entirely clear to me if these photos show just one of the two temples, or both temples. It appears however from the amount of trees in the background of photo number 1, that it is the northern of the two temples ringed in red on photo 2.
Photo 3. The Interior of One of the Temples. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy
"Last week I visited the fort location, which is in "Kottakunnu" (meaning "fort hill" in Malayalam) at Nelliyalam ( a very small village 6 kms from Pandalur). The temple portion of the fort was only left and the design is very similar to the architecture of buildings/palaces in Mysore and an effigy of Devi , Shiva linga and Nandi are there in the temple structure."
The interesting thing about these temples is that they appear ether to have once been much larger, or they were once surrounded by other buildings, which have subsequently been thrown down or have collapsed with age.
Photo 4. Interior of Temple at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy
Photo 5. Second Temple at Nellialam. Photo courtesy of Afasja Jajy
This last photo shows a brick lined shaft, or pit in the foreground besides the temple. Is this a Tank for ritual bathing? It seems very small?
Or perhaps it is part of another building that has since been abandoned, like a cistern.
Brick buildings seen quite rare in this area until very recently. Most earlier buildings were ether local stone or even more commonly they were built in wood.
Does the use of brick suggest that these buildings were built quite recently, and probably since 1820?
In my native England it is quite possible to use the architectural style of a building like a church to apply a date to its likely period during which it was constructed.
Is there somebody I could talk to who could work out from these buildings roughly when they were built?
To me they appear quite small for use as temples. I obviously have very limited knowledge about temples. Is it a temple, or perhaps just a shrine for travellers?
I would love to hear from somebody who can explain these temples possible functions in more detail.
Afasja thinks that there may have been a second fort nearby at Pandalur.
"Regarding fort you mentioned in the Malabar blog, I think the fort [the] EIC built may be somewhere near to this location and I am in search to find some clue on this.., in Pandalur there was a ruins of a fort which was completely destroyed(now there is no sign in that location)and the area is encroached by locals and converted to tea plantation but in my childhood I saw this area and that time there was some walls of the fort."
Afasja has produced an excellent website on Nelliyalam local history.
It has a very good article on Gold mining in the area, which was witnessed by Thomas Baber in his account of his journey in 1823, and the area experienced a mini gold rush in the later 19th century when many Australian's came into the area to try to make their fortune.
The story of the Plantations is also told...
The fort was probably the site of the home of Queen Bohramma, the last the Nelliyalam Rani. This Rani and her earlier ancestors had ruled this remote mountain top region for the previous couple of centuries before Tipu over ran the area.
Her story is told here...
It would be fascinating to climb to the top of this hill and to field walk it in a deliberate way. I would love to look more closely at the horseshoe shaped feature on its summit. Given the hills dominant position, how far out towards the Wayanad could the soldiers have seen?
It is known that the East India Company Army was using semaphore and possibly mirrors to flash signals. Was this one of those sites?
I still trying to discover the meaning behind the place name Chatur Kottai Dinnai, I would love to hear from you.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Afasja Jajy without whom this blog could not have been written and also Manmadhan Ullattil who encouraged me to seek him out in the first place.
 See http://malabardays.blogspot.com/2009/02/journal-of-route-to-neelghurries-from_7045.html