From birds and deer to the sanctuary of rebels

The place is also an area that was once full of ‘Kili’ (birds) and ‘Maan’ (deer), and many believe that’s where the name — Kilimanoor — came from.
Kilimanoor Palace
Kilimanoor PalacePhoto | Express

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kilimanoor is a place full of history and charm. Here, you will find the famous Kilimanoor Palace, which has stood tall for over 300 years. It’s where the famous Indian painter, Raja Ravi Varma, was born. It’s also the ancestral home of the linguist Goda Varma Raja. The place was also once a sanctuary for figures such as Velu Thampi Dalawa, who sought refuge from British pursuit. As a reminder of this chapter, Thampi’s sword was preserved as a memorial within the Kilimanoor palace walls. It was eventually entrusted to the government.

The place is also an area that was once full of ‘Kili’ (birds) and ‘Maan’ (deer), and many believe that’s where the name — Kilimanoor — came from. However, in his book Keralathile Sthalacharithrangal: Thiruvananthapuram Jilla, V V K Valath expressed doubts about this interpretation.

“Scholars who have analysed the name ‘Kilimanoor’ by breaking it into its components Kili, Maan, and Oor (place) have offered this straightforward explanation. Yet, one must question this logic by looking at other place names in Kerala, such as Athiyamanur in Nemom village and Thiruvananthapuram taluk. Here, Athiyan refers to a person, not a deer. Similarly, places like Ettumanoor (Kottayam district), Perumanur (Kochi Corporation), and Puttumanur in Chemmad village (Kunnathunadu taluk) follow this pattern. But the true origin of the name Kilimanoor remains a mystery,” he writes.

Many historians share a similar opinion. Historian M G Sasibhooshan says, “The true meaning of Kilimanoor denotes a plain surface at a considerable height. The base form of ‘kili’ is ‘Kilirnna’ (tall), and ‘Maan’ is ‘Paranna’ (plain).”

Historians say the word ‘Man’ derives from ‘Mannam,’ which refers to a plain surface where a village court was set up in earlier times, considered the main junction or area. Over time, ‘Mannam’ evolved into ‘Mannoor’ and eventually became ‘Manoor.’

Sasibooshan adds, “Venad was divided into several autonomous collateral branches such as Trippappoor, Kunnummel Elayadam, Desinganad, and Perakam. Kilimanoor served as the headquarters of Kunnummel. When the Portuguese arrived in Kerala, they popularised the pepper trade, and Kilimanoor became renowned for its pepper market, bringing prosperity to the area. Subsequently, the headquarters shifted to Kottarakkara, and the name Kunnummel was dropped.”

The region then became known as Elayadathu Swaroopam. Kilimanoor continued to thrive as a trade hub, with routes extending to Kollam and numerous water routes facilitating commerce. The area also produced many scholars, such as Kottarakkara Thampuran, who wrote Ramanattam. “This rich history underscores Kilimanoor’s significant role in the region’s economic and cultural development,” he says.

In his book, Valath mentions a story, about the connection of Kilimanoor with the Travancore royal family.

Elayadathu Swaroopam, a branch of Venad, resided at ‘Kunnummal’ in Kilimanoor. Gradually, the headquarters was shifted to Kottarakkara. Kilimanoor, as part of Venad, was not an independent kingdom. In 1728, when enemies plotted to assassinate Attingal Rani and her son, her husband Koikkal Thampuran confronted and repelled them. As a reward, the authority over Kilimanoor was granted to the Koikkal Thampurans.

Later, in 1905, Kilimanoor Koithampuran indicated in a letter to the Diwan of Travancore, ‘The original family of the Kilimanoor royal family is from Beypore in British Malabar. We were a branch of the Beypore royal lineage. At the invitation of the then-reigning King of Travancore, our ancestors migrated and settled here. As excellent warriors, our assistance was required by Travancore. The right to present husbands to the princesses of the Travancore royal family was vested in us.’ Subsequently, many of the Travancore kings were descendants of Kilimanoor.

What’s in a name

Weekly column on the history of place names. Got any suggestions? Write to xpresstpuram@gmail.com

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