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
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
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|
The cantonment area in Burnassery is known for its beautiful
old houses, baby beach and the Kannur lighthouse. Adjoining the lighthouse is a museum which
has a wide range of displays related to lighthouses and ships. The video on
lighthouses across Kerala is quite an insightful one. The
present light house was built in 1976 and is an active one. Apart from the
beautiful sunsets over the Arabian sea, the light house tower also offers nice
views of the swaying coconut trees and an aerial view of the sea view park.
|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|
To the south of Kannur town are the beautiful beach
stretches of Ezhara, Kizhunna and Thottada. These beaches see fewer foot prints and it is highly likely that it would be just you on these secluded
sands apart from hustling crabs, a few birds and probably a lone fisherman. The
swaying coconut trees and the endless curves of golden sands here are an
absolute delight for landscape photographers.
The toddy drinking and fish eating Muthappan (a form of
Shiva) is definitely the most revered deity across Kannur. Believed to be a
unified incarnation of Vishnu and Shiva as per the legend, Muthappan was the
child of a Brahmin couple who swayed away from the norms, lived in the jungle
and loved hunting, fishing and toddy tapping. Muthappan is the principal deity
at Parassinikadavu temple, located by the serene Valapattanam River and the
shrine is called madapura. Muthappan theyyam is performed here every day early
in the morning as an offering to the deity. This theyyam which is held
throughout the year has Thiruvappana (form of Vishnu) and Muthappan (also
called Vellattom, is a form of Shiva) performing together, and offerings
include toddy, fried fish, boiled grams etc. Enacted by the Vannan community,
the performance begins before sunrise and goes on for three hours. The
impressive snake park nearby has a huge variety of reptiles.
Sri Rajarajeshwari temple at Thaliparamba is one of the
sacred 108 Shiva temples in the country. This is an ancient temple and was built by
the Kolathiri kings in the 11th century. Despite being dilapidated,
the entrance portal is quite an attraction with wonderful carvings and
sculptures. As per customs, women are allowed inside the inner sanctum only
after 8 PM. Trichambaram Sree Krishna temple at Taliparamaba is another important
temple in Kannur. Dedicated to Krishna, the temple has wonderdul mural art in
its inner sanctum. The Durga shrine in a small pond is another attraction here.
Enroute Koothuparamba is the popular Subramanya temple at Peralassery. Here
Subramanya is worshipped in the form of a snake. The temple pond is a beautiful
one with numerous steps. Kottiyoor Shiva temple and Thodeekalam temple are the
other two popular temples in Kannur. The two tiered Thodeekalam temple has
exquisite mural paintings and sculptures on its exterior.
|Valapattanam river at Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple|
|Durga shrine at Trichambaram temple|
Theyyam, a corrupted translation of Daivam (God in
Malayalam), is a ritualistic form of worship performed across northern Malabar
region, especially in Kannur. Thira is another ritual art form which is quite
similar to Theyyam. From December to April every year, the sacred groves (known
as kaavs) turn into playgrounds for Theyyam and Thira performers as they deck up with
facial paintings and attires to dance to the music while transforming into a
god. It is believed that the artists metamorphose into a
specific deity to ward off the evil and blesses the devotees. Mostly held from
evening to next day early morning, these ancient rituals are performed only by
certain communities such as Peruvannans, Malayans, Pulayans etc. There are more
than 400 types of Theyyams and Thiras. The deity and the attire are different
for each one of them. Some of the popular ones are Kathivanoor Veeran Theyyam,
Muchilottu Bhagavathi Theyyam, Gulikan Theyyam, Bali Theyyam, Theechamundi
Theyyam, Muthappan Theyyam, Kuttichanthan Thira etc. Theyyam is probably the
most colourful and vigourous form of ritual in Kerala.
|The stepped tank at Perlassery Subramanya temple|
|A Theyyam performer|
Malabar has always been known for its delicious meat
delicacies like biriyani and a variety of sea food. Kannur is definitely an ideal place to
relish a variety of local dishes such as Kinnathappam, erachipathiri,
unnakkaya etc., which are easily available at most small tea stalls
and bakeries. Sheen bakery opposite to the railway station is a renowned one
and has been there for many years. SM Road nearby has numerous restaurants such
as Cool land, Kaipunyam and MVK, all them serve delicious biriyani and
sulaimani. However, if you are keen on having a Kerala sadhya on a plantain leaf, head to Odhen’s, which is also known for its sea food.
|A Theyyam performance at Thavakkara Shri Valiyavalappukavu temple|
|Biriyani and Sulaimani at MVK|
|A tea stall at Choottad beach|
There is more to Kannur than just the Theyyam performances.
Its beaches are breathtakingly beautiful, temples have nice art works and its
delicacies are mouthwatering. Kannur is definitely a must visit for the
discerning travellers who would like to explore beyond the 'beaten to death' destinations of Kerala. There are many more
unexplored beaches than the ones I have mentioned. Isn’t that a reason to bring
out the traveler in you?
|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.