Think of the history of Travancore and what comes to mind? An image of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its surrounding Fort with its many palaces? Or portraits of kings, queens and regents of old? Or perhaps half-forgotten lectures about the Travancore-Dutch battle in the 18th century, often cited by history teachers as an early example of an Asian power triumphing over a European one in war?
Well history is not always about grand, sweeping battles or events, majestic monuments and larger-than-life leaders, though this is often what our school textbooks lead us to believe. It is also about the changes in landscape, cultural linkages, trade routes and unremarkable events that mark daily life.
And this precisely is what a group of city-zens are out to prove. A forum started, titled ‘Heritage Walk Trivandrum’ and led by archaeologist Bina Thomas, history journalist Malayankil Gopalakrishnan and Achuthsankar S Nair, director, Centre for Bioinformatics, University of Kerala, seeks to familiarise city-zens with the history of their city by visiting different landmarks in different areas.
“Everyone knows the larger picture when it comes to history,” said Bina. “It is the microhistory – history of a particular event, place etc – that is difficult to understand.”
The group inaugurated its venture the other day and had its first Walk at Pettah, an apt choice because Pettah, as Malayankil Gopalakrishnan explained to the group, was a major entry point into the city through canals, before alighting at Vallakkadavu, near Chackai.
The walk began around 7 am at the Pettah railway station, one of the oldest (though Veli and Thampanoor are still older) and which still retains its old world charm. One of the observations made was that the the station and the platform are not in level with each other. The platform, constructed later, in fact is a few steps higher than the station, which was earlier level with the old metre guage.
They proceeded then to the St Anne’s Forane’ Church, which dates back at least 200 years, said the group leaders, and believe to be built by the Portuguese settlers.
“There are also accounts of Mathoo Tharakan, a prominent businessman, appealing to the Dharma Raja (Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma who ruled from 1758-98) for land for the church,” said Gopalakrishnan.
Among the other structures visited by the group is an old mansion behind the church believed to have belonged to Samuel Sawyer, a royal physician.
In a note circulated by the group, they had listed other landmarks in Pettah that time forgot – the Pettah school, perhaps a century old, the ‘Malayalam Pallikoodam’ of Raman Pillai Asan whose textbooks were used till 1908, Asan’s press ‘Bhasha Bhoosanam’, to name a few.
Heritage Walk, which intends to periodically visit such landmarks in other regions of the city, is open to the public. Those interested in participating may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.