Anyone who had voyage by rail across or in and out of Kerala will have something in familiar – enticing memories of river ‘Bharathapuzha’ or ‘Nila’, the legendary river that adjoin the railway line to the south side.
Right from Parli (The Railway station next to Palakkad) to Tirunnavaya (the last station on the banks of the river on the route; placed in history by virtue of ‘Maamaankam’ – a festival celebrated in olden times once in twelve years) and any traveler who suffers the monotony of remaining in the ‘iron box’ for day or night gets relieved once he get a glimpse of the river; for it is a relinquishing sight for anybody.
When your ears get bespoke to the rack-tacks of the iron wheels, your eyes will take you to the green landscape extending beyond the shores of the river. Paddy fields, plantain cultivations, coconut palm trees and mango gardens run past your view while the distant hills accompany you for a while, while you enjoy the greenery, and natural coolness of the atmosphere, except if it is a dread summer.
However you are to get disappointed if you expect to see water pervade down the river, for it has turned out to be rivulets in course of time, owing to various changes in ecological patterns as well as regional castings, such that river fill up to the banks only in monsoon when rainwater gush down at its fullest swing. For a Keralite, or a ‘Malayalee’ as they prefer to be expressed, the river is everything. Just like in any other part of the world, this river too play the vital role in the culture and history of the place.
The river divides the state into two – north-south which causes a rift not only in the land but slightly to the cultural background too. Unlike other parts of Kerala, the area have vast stretches of open plain land adorned by the view of the distant horizon which is not possible elsewhere in the region owing to generally dense vegetation and hilly terrain. (The sight in Kuttanad area of Kerala, festooned with paddy fields and backwaters is similar to this, but do not have the imagery of blue mountains in the distant as backdrop). The charm of the region has fascinated many a poets that you can see the lyrics cuddling the river and the shores in their poems in olden days. As of now, most of the Malayalam film directors opt the scene of the river for their finest frames. As for the railway line, while laying the railway track, the British chose to follow the path of the river east-west up to the plain land, as a more or less flat terrain gesticulated them to build up the line while linking it to Malabar Coast of North Kerala for the onward continuation to south Canara(Karnataka).
The river ‘Bharatha-puzha’ got its name from the epics where ‘puzha’ means just river and Bharatha though correlates to the word ‘Hindustan’, here refers to Bharathamba (Godess mother of Bharath – India). The river feeds people like their own mother – (the water is divine – be it for drinking, irrigation or other uses) that should be the allusion behind the name.
The river has its geography spread over the districts of Palakkad and Malappuram in Kerala and has its origin from the Annamalai in western ghats near Pollachi in Tamil Nadu and traverse a distance of about some 100 km through forest area as brooks and streams; and swathes the mainland for 125 km by virtue of its tributaries supplementing it en-route before amalgamating into sea at Ponnani. Ponnani is the oldest port and one of the trade spots of Malabar, which await to be on the rail map on completion of the Guruvayur-Tirur link line project.
The prominent Malampuzha Dam intercepts the river near Palakkad, gateway of Kerala (Palghat as the Britishers have named it and still in Railway nomenclature as the place is bordered on the east by that part of Western Ghats) where Southern Railway has one of its Divisional HQ. All along its path the river never let you down offering a splendid scenery of the flora and fauna as it glides along and try to catch up with your train; and your trail thoughts, of course.
It beget you envisage the nature’s beauty through a drapery of mist when your eyes gaze into the distance. The area remain virgin sans frills of tourist mania, save for the intruders indulged in trading of sand, which is now an inevitable product for builders, being smuggled out day and night despite restrictions. Railway line have an inseparable association with the river, right from its inception to this day, running parallel for most of the distance; a pleasant scene as far as railway tracks all over India are concerned. Erstwhile engineers considered this river-terrace ideal for laying rail-line not only because it holds a flat terrain but also owing to ecological reasons. The river serves scores of drinking water projects and lift irrigation schemes all along and nearby places, such that even Guruvayur Temple township lying in 35 km apart, fetch water from Bharathapuzha. Thus Rly Stations situated along this portion on the route sparingly face water scarcity.
When the train glides down the Walayar ghat and enter Palakkad; to the north you can see the huge rising walls of Malampuzha Dam, which serves a huge area of cultivation, and also attracts lot of tourists every time. All along its path the sight of the river takes you back into archives; if you are a lover of history, or nature even. But the river will turn you down if you expect navigation over its waters, save during rainy season. Numerous dams constructed on its tributaries help to preserve water for irrigation, but make it dry except at the river mouth.
The river or ‘Nadhi’ as it is the word in Malayalam, originates from the Western Ghats as any other river in Kerala and has its name as Amaravathipuzha but so many small rivers add on its course as tributaries. The first one is Kalpathipuzha, the continuation of Malampuzha where the dam is situated and the second one is Gayathripuzha, third is Thoothapuzha , the main tributary and last one is Tirur puzha which often happens to be a branch whenever water is splashed back during high tide owing to proximity to the sea.
Of these, Thoothapuzha which emanate from the unique ‘silent valley’ in Western Ghats, cross the rail track and joins the flow from the north side. Just as river catchment spreads to distance, it’s cultural basins spread across distance and time, as any river being a natural water resource, is the cause of evolution.
This river has a rich cultural heritage of its own as its basin has given birth to so many laureates in the field of fine arts, literature, poetry and also remain a stone plank in history of hordes of warriors too. Thus the area influenced by this river extends from and to about fifty kilometers north south. Kerala Kalamandalam renowned for the classical arts like ‘Kathakali’, ‘Koodiyaattam’, ‘Ottanthullal’ and other dance forms, is just on the banks at Shoranur , the major Rly junction and the nerve centre of Rail traffic on the route. The famous Ayurveda treatment centre of Kottakkal which is also another famous place for entrepreneurs of ‘Kathakali’ lies at a nautical distance at a higher altitude from where you can see the gliding river afar. Tiruvilwamala the abode of Villwadrinathan, Avatar of Lord Vishnu is just stone’s throw away from Lakkiti Station which happens to be also the birthplace of Kunchan Nambiar, founder of “Ottan-Thullal” a unique dance-art form from Kerala.
Historians are of the opinion that a cultural migration across western ghats had taken place during the erstwhile rule of Pallava Dynasty. A part of the populace from Deccan plateau also migrated to this side and they settled for the fertile strip to become their domicile, giving rise to a culture-rich tradition. Thus the land-belt begot the title of birthplace to so many eminent personalities – from art aesthete Kunchan Nambiar to the eminent poet Vallathol; the present day personality of the trait being Jnanapeedhom honoured orator and cine-expert Shri M.T.Vasudevan Nair.
Each Railway station on the route too has an inseparable historical note connected with the river which you can explore if you are ardent enough but ignored here to consolidate the subject. So next time when you travel by rail over the area, look out and view the river with a new perspective lest you may miss the charm.