He stomped into the arena howling and followed it with a wicked laughter which awakened the half asleep crowd who had come to take his blessings much before the break of dawn. With head gears, body paintings and decked up attire, the Theyyam performer danced, circumambulated the shrine, metamorphosed into the deity and blabbered as the audience watched his act with bated breath. I was in Kannur, widely referred as the cradle of Theyyam, the ritualistic art form where Gods possess the body of the Theyyam artists and bless the people.
Not as popular as its neighbours, Wayanad and Kozhikode, Kannur has remained fairly unexplored except for the discerning travellers who love the cultural folklore such as Theyyam. Apart from Theyyam, Communism is the other shade of red that spans across the district. Kannur is the hub of Communism in Kerala and is home to many prominent leaders. Beyond the reds of Theyyam and Communism, tourism in Kannur is slowly waking up to the golden and blue hues of its unending beaches which adorn its coastal line.
Kannur was once a part of Kolathunadu which comprised of Kasargod and surrounding regions a few centuries ago. Kolathiris, the rulers of Kolathunadu were also known as Chirakkal royal family, as they had their home at Chirakkal in Kannur. The Chirakkal palace is now been converted into Kerala Folklore Akademi and museum. This museum is a treasure trove for folklore lovers. It houses a wide range of displays and paraphernalia related to various art, ballads and dance forms of Kerala. The life size models and photographs is an excellent insight into the folklore history of Kerala. It also offers detailed learning and research on various art forms. The sprawling lotus pond in front of the old home of Chirakkal family is a gorgeous sight. Kalarivathukkal Bhagavathy temple, located nearby is the family temple of the royal family.
|A display of facial paintings for various theyyams
Kannur was also home to Arakkal rulers, the only muslim ruling family in Kerala who even controlled Minicoy, an island in Lakshadweep. They had a matrilineal dynasty and were always headed by the senior most member irrespective of the gender. The male rulers were known as Ali Raja and female rulers were known as Arakkal Beebi. The Arakkal rulers were in good terms with the Portuguese and the Dutch when they arrived in the 15th century. Fort Angelo was built by the Portuguese after being granted permission from Arakkal dynasty. However, with the intrusion of British, Arakkal family lost its stronghold over the area and also had to surrender Angelo fort.
The old office and durbar hall of the Arakkal family which was a part of Arakkal Kettu complex has now been converted into Arakkal museum. Managed by the Arakkal family and archaeological department, the museum has a wide display of artifacts, historical records, photographs of the Arakkal dynasty.
Near to Arakkal museum lies the gorgeous Moideen Palli at Ayikkara. The colourful roof tiles are an example of beautiful craftsmanship.
Built in 1507 CE by the Portuguese, St. Angelo fort is located on a cliff overlooking the Arabian sea along the Mapila bay. Built of laterite stone, the fort changed many hands from Portuguese to Dutch to Chirakkal family and finally the British over the years. The architectural influence and additions are quite evident across the fort. With a moat on one side and sea on other three sides, the fort with tall walls has canons, bastions, horse stables, offices, chapels and ammunition rooms. The view of numerous boats moored along the Mapila bay apart from many water birds is a beautiful sight. Cashew trees (introduced in Kerala by the Portuguese) adorn the insides of the fort. It is an ideal place to enjoy the sunset as the sea thrashes itself on to the ramparts of the fort walls.
|Entrance to the fort
|Inside the fort walls
|A visitor walks through the horse stable
|Ramparts of the fort next to the sea
|Light house museum
|Sea view park and walkway as seen from the light house
Payyambalam beach is probably the most popular beach in Kannur and lies near to the cantonment area. It has a children’s park at its entrance and offers camel and horse rides on the golden sands. Though it gets crowded sometimes, the evenings here are absolutely mesemerising as the sun spreads a gorgeous orange hue over the Arabian sea.
It is a nice short ride from Kannur to Madayi, known for its massive flat headed laterite hillock called Madayipara. The road goes past the vast Kuppam River and Pazhayangadi town to go up Madayipara. The expansive open land is known for its rich bio diversity apart from the popular Madayikaav temple, Madayipalli (mosque) and remnants of an old fort used by the Kolathiri rulers. Post the monsoon, Madayipara turns into a lovely carpet of green with a few rare species of plants and flowers blooming.
|Road cutting through the open lands of Madayipara
Down the hill, Juma masjid at Muttom is a beautiful structure just before the bridge over Perumba River enroute Ettikulam beach. Located near Ezhimala and the Naval base, Ettikulam is a secluded beach with slanting coconut trees. Entry to this lovely beach is through a small coconut grove. From the road uphill that leads further to Ezhimala, a narrow road goes down through more coconut trees to the serene and unexplored Palakode beach. Do not be surprised if you find a few birds as the only other visitors here.
Ezhimala has a nice winding road that leads up the hill which apart from the breathtaking vistas doesn’t offer much. However, the view of the Perumba River disgorging itself into the Arabian sea next to the Choottad beach is a gorgeous frame. Choottad, located in Pazhayangadi is a long stretch of sandy beach fringed with casuarinas and Ezhimala hill in the background. Located near the estuary of Perumba river, Choottad beach also has a children’s park and offers boating facilities on the backwaters of Perumba. The beach stretches for long and extends into the Puthiyangadi beach.
|Estuary of River Perumba as seen from Ezhimala
|Choottad beach with Ezhimala in the background
A few kilometers before the bridge over the magnificent Valapattanam river, the road from Chirakkal leads east to Azhikode and Azhikkal. While Azhikkal is known for its old light house, Chaal beach is the big attraction in Azhikode. Chaal beach is a beautiful one lined with casuarinas and has been beautified recently with a park and other facilities. South of Chaal beach lies the popular Meenkunnu beach, the access to which goes through coconut groves and a narrow road which ends at a cliff. The vistas from the cliff are breathtaking as the waves thrash on to the rocks. At one end of the cliff lies the Meenkunnu beach which has an access through a narrow trail that goes down. The view of the isolated and endless Meenkunnu beach from the cliff is an absolute stunner. Though a long one, Meenkunnu also has an access from the main road that goes all the way back through the coconut groves.
|Red flags of communism fluttering over Valapattanam river
|View from the cliff near Meenkunnu beach
|Valapattanam river at Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple
|Durga shrine at Trichambaram temple
|The stepped tank at Perlassery Subramanya temple
|A Theyyam performer
|A Theyyam performance at Thavakkara Shri Valiyavalappukavu temple
|Biriyani and Sulaimani at MVK
|A tea stall at Choottad beach
|Sadhya at Odhen's
Thalassery and Mahe, which lies to the south of the town are other attractions in Kannur.
- Check the Theyyam calendar to know the dates and timings of the performances at various temples. The website is www.theyyamcalendar.com
- While you can enter Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple wearing trousers, most of the other temples require men to wear mundu (dhoti) to enter the inner sanctum.
- Photography isn’t allowed inside most temples. Please check before you click.
Kannur to Kozhikode- 94 Kms
Kannur to Thalassery- 22 Kms
There are numerous buses connecting Kannur to other major towns across north Kerala. Nearest rail head is in Kannur and the closest airport is at Kozhikode (116 Kms).
Food and Accommodation:
Most of the small tea stalls offer snacks which are which are unique to Kannur. There are many restaurants near the railway station and on SM Road. Kannur has numerous budget and mid range hotels and a few beach resorts. I stayed at SS Residency (2 Kms from Payyambalam beach), which is a budget hotel with all the facilities and a very helpful staff. Definitely recommended for budget travellers.