The Mamankam was an important cultural event of medieval Kerala. During the times of second Chera kingdom, which succeeded the early Sangam age Chera kingdom from 8th century, it was a festival of great importance. Mamankam was hosted every 12 years at a place called Tirunavaya, near the river Bharatapuzha in modern Malappuram district of Kerala. According to traditional texts of Kerala like Keralolpatti and Kerala Mahatmyam, the Chera Perumals of kings were elected from local chieftains during Mamankam festival . These kings would rule the Chera kingdom for 12 years and after the 12 years, a new king will be elected by nobles during the next Mamankam event.
However historically speaking, this sort of democratic method of electing kings is not attested. From the inscriptions of second Chera period, it is clear that Chera Perumals ruled over their kingdom for more than 12 years. The Mamankam festival however was hosted every 12 years until 18th century. So possibly, Mamankam was an important cultural event during second Chera period, and the democratic method of electing kings was added to the the traditional accounts during later period.
After the fall of second Chera kingdom during 11-12th centuries which happened due to the invasion of Cholas, Kerala was divided into many small kingdoms called ‘Nadu’ or ‘Natturajyangal’. Among these kingdoms, Kolathunadu in north Malabar, Kozhikode or Calicut in Malabar proper, Cochin and Venad or Travancore were the strongest. The right to conduct Mamankam festival was handed over to another local chief of Malabar region named Valluvanadu (though some say it was originally handed over to the kings of Cochin who claimed origins from the Chera kings, and they later transferred the right to rule Valluvakonatiris or the rulers of Valluvanadu). However with the expansion of the kingdom of Calicut, the Tirunavaya region was captured by the Samutiris or Zamorin kings of Calicut. Zamorins then declared themselves as the supreme rulers of Kerala and all other local chieftains had to send flags to Mamankam which was hosted in every 12 years as symbol of submission to the Zamorins. However the Valluvakonatiris never acknowledged the supremacy of the Zamorins. Instead of sending flags, they sent suicide fighters known as Chavers instead. Thus the Thirunavaya region which once witnessed cultural festival of Mamankam became a battlefield which saw patriotic warriors falling by showcasing their martial prowess in an attempt to restore the lost glory of their kingdom.
The Zamorins seated themselves at the venue of Mamankam called Nilapadu Thara under heavy protection of guards. The Chavers tried to break the protection and defeat the Zamorin. Every 12 years, this attempt continued. The Chavers were chosen from prominent Nair warrior families of Valluvanadu. From childhood, these Chavers were trained in Kalari martial art schools and prepared themselves to take on the forces of Zamorins when they grow up to restore the lost glory of their kingdom and to take back the honor of their beloved king. Before departing for the battle, these Chavers took their last meal from home and worshipped their Kuladevi at Tirumandamkunnu Bhagavati temple. However, their efforts to kill Zamorins were mostly futile because the Zamorins were heavily guarded and the Chavers mostly fell fighting these guards. In one instance a sixteen-year-old Chaver named Putumanna Kandaru Menon fought through the forces of the Zamorin and reached Nilappadu Thara to swing his sword at Zamorin, before he was killed by the forces of the Zamorin.
There exist folks songs praising heroic deeds of Chavers like Chengazhi Nambiar paattu, Kandar Menon paattu etc. Chengazhi Nambiar paattu is about a Chaver from Cochin and his Nair squad who went to fight for Mamankam. This would mean that the rulers of Cochin too helped the Valluvakonatiris against the Zamorins. Also historically, the Cochin kings were also arch rivals of Zamorins just like Valluvakonatiris. The Kandar Menon paattu is about a Chaver from Valluvanadu who along with his teenage son Ittappu and friends went to Mamankam and died there after a heroic battle.
The last Mamankam was held during the mid 18th century, before the invasion of Islamic rulers Hyder Ali and his son Tipu. During the Islamic invasion, then reigning Zamorin was captured and tortured to accept Islam. Dejected by this, then reigning Zamorin committed suicide by burning his palace, without submitting to Islam. This led to the end of the centuries-old Mamankam tradition. Mamankam today is only remembered as a heroic event of the past, the remains of the monuments which were part of the Mamankam event can still be seen at Tirunavaya.
(Feature Image Courtesy: Kochionline)
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