Kettuvallams line up in the Kuttanad region
|Nickname(s): Lowest Region of India, Lowest Region of the Indian Subcontinent|
|Elevation||-2.2 m (−7.2 ft)|
|• Official||Malayalam, English|
|Time zone||IST (UTC+5:30)|
|Telephone code||0477 ,0479|
|Vehicle registration||KL 66|
Kuttanadu is a region covering the Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam Districts, in the state of Kerala, India, well known for its vast paddy fields and geographical peculiarities. The region has the lowest altitude in India, and is one of the few places in the world where farming is carried around 4 to 10 feet (1.2 to 3.0 m) below sea level. Kuttanadu is historically important in the ancient history of South India and is the major rice producer in the state.
There is no recorded history on the origin of this land. But the oral history among local people, transferred from generation to generation is a blend of myths and legends. According to one legend, Kuttanad was believed to be forest with dense tree growth. This forest was destroyed subsequently by a wild fire. Chuttanad (the place of the brunt forest), was eventually called Kuttanad. It is a well known fact that burned black wooden logs were mined from paddy fields called as ‘Karinilam’(Black paddy fields)until the recent past. This fact throws some light on this theory of Chuttanad evolving to Kuttanad. In Kuttanad most of the place names end in kari. Some familiar place names are Ramankary, Puthukkary, Amichakary, Oorukkary, Mithrakary, Mampuzhakary, Kainakary, Chathurthiakary and Chennamkary.
The Kuttanad region is categorised into:
Upper Kuttanad comprises Veeyapuram village in Karthikapally taluk, Edathua, Thalavady, Kidangara and Muttar in Kuttanad taluk; Chennithala village in Mavelikkara, Mannar, Kuruttissery, Budhanur, Ennakkad villages in Chengannur taluk of Alappuzha district; and Parumala, Kadapra, Niranam, Pulikeezhu, Peringara, Chathenkeri, Nedumpuram, villages of Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district.
A few of the major villages which form Kuttanad are: Kainakary, Ramankary, Puthukkary, Chennamkary, Nedumudi, Niramom, Kaipuzha, Kumarakom, Edathua, Mampuzhakkary, Neelamperoor, Kainady, Kavalam, Pulincunnoo, Kannady, Veliyanadu, Veeyapuram, Vezhapra, Kunnamkary, Kumaramkary, Valady, Kidangara, Mithrakary, Muttar, Neerattupuram, Thalavadi, Changankary, Champakulam, Nedumudi, Moonnatummukham, Melpadom, Payippad, Karichal, Ayaparambu, Anary, Vellamkulangara, Pilappuzha, Pandi, Edathua, Pacha, Chekkidikad, Thakazhy, Cheruthana, Karuvatta, Chennithala, Narakathara, Venattukad, Kayalppuram, Mankompu, Chathurthiakary, Manalady, Koduppunna, Oorukkary, Thayankary, Thiruvarpu, Pullangadi and payattupakka among others.
Backwater paddy cultivation (kayal cultivation)
The major occupation in Kuttanadu is farming, with rice the most important agricultural product. This activity gives the area its moniker of "The Rice Bowl of Kerala". Three crops are grown every year now instead of the traditional practice of two crops per year. Large farming areas near Vembanad Lake were reclaimed from the lake. The history of paddy cultivation in Kuttanad can be traced back centuries. The evolution of paddy cultivation correlated with technological advancement and changes in the regulatory framework that existed during the 19th and 20th centuries. In earlier times, reclamation was carried out mainly from the shallow part of the Vembanad Lake or from the periphery of the Pamba River. These reclamations constituted small areas of paddy fields called padsekharams. Bailing out of water from the fields were done manually using water wheels called chakram. Gradually the manual method used for bailing out of water gave way to steam engines.
There were robberies in Kuttanad in earlier days, which were prohibited by the Travancore Maharajah Moolam Thirunal.
Three distinct stages can be identified in the reclamation of kayal lands from the lake. The first stage was carried out by private entrepreneurs without any financial support from the government. The Pattom Proclamation made by the Travencore Kingdom in 1865, gave a great fillip to reclamation activities between 1865 to 1888. During this period de-watering of the polders was done manually using chakram, which restricted large-scale reclamation. Only about 250 hectares of land were reclaimed during this period. Venadu kayal and Madathil Kayal were reclaimed during this period and are considered the first "Kayal Nilams" to be reclaimed from the Vembanad Lake. These pioneering reclamation activities in kayal cultivation were made by the two brothers Mathai Luka Pallithanam and Ouseph Luka Pallithanam from Kainady village in Kuttanadu.
The second phase started during 1888. One of the reclamation during this period was undertaken by Chalayil Eravi Kesava Panicker. He chose to reclaim Vembanad kayal from the mouth of the Chennamkari river as it joins with the back waters. The reclaimed kayal was known as ‘ Attumuttu Kayal’. Other major reclamation on the same year was Seminary Kayal which was undertaken by Kottayam Orthodox Seminary.
The introduction of kerosene engines for dewatering resulted in the reclamation of wider areas of the lake for cultivation. This made farmers consider venturing into the deeper parts of the lake. During the period between 1898 to 1903, reclamation activity was led by Pallithanam Luka Mathai (alias Pallithanathu Mathaichen) who reclaimed the Cherukara Kayal and Pallithanam Moovayiram Kayal. But the second phase (1890 to 1903) of reclamation activities came to a halt because of the ban on kayal reclamation imposed by the Madras Government in 1903. Cherukali Kayal, Rajapuram Kayal, Aarupanku Kayal, Pantharndu Panku kayal and Mathi Kayal were the other major reclamations during this period.
In 1912, the Madras Government approved a proposal from the Travancore Government for further reclamations in three stages. Under this scheme kayal land was notified for reclamation in blocks each named with a letter of the English alphabet. Out of the total area of 19,500 acres of kayal land, 12,000 acres were reclaimed between 1913 and 1920. After the removal of the ban in 1913, Pallithanam Luca Matthai along with some other prominent families in Kuttanadu, reclaimed E-Block Kayal measuring a total area 2,400 acres. This is the biggest kayal nilam in Kuttanadu. C.J. Kurian, Ex MLC and Mr. John Illikalam were his main partners in this venture. The reclamations between 1914 and 1920, known as the new reclamations, were carried out in three periods. In the first period Blocks A to G measuring an 6300 Acres were reclaimed. C Block, D Block(Attumukham Aarayiram (Attumuttu Kayal), Thekke Aarayiram and Vadakke Aarayiram) and E Block (Erupathinalayiram Kayal) F Block (Judge's Aarayiram Kayal) and G Block (Kochu Kayal) are the major Kayal nilams reclaimed during this period.
During the second period of new reclamation, blocks H to N covering an area of 3600 acres were reclaimed under the leadership of Pallithanam Luca Matthai, Cunnumpurathu Kurien, Vachaparampil Mathen, Pazhayaparmpil Chacko, Kunnathusseril Peious and Ettuparayil Xavier. During the third period of new reclamation, R Block Kayal covering 1,400 acres was reclaimed by the joint efforts of eight families led by then member of Sree Moolam Popular Assembly, Pallithanam Luca Matthai. His partners in the reclamation included Vachaparampil Mathen, Pazhayaparmpil Chacko, Ettuparayil Xavier, Meledom, Paruthickal, Pattasseril and Kandakudy.
From 1920 to 1940 reclamation activity came to a halt because of a steep drop in the price of rice.
Pallithanam Luca Matthai, who had served as member of Maharajah Moolam Thirunal's Praja Sabha (Popular Assembly) was considered as the pioneer of cooperative agricultural movement in Kuttanadu. His life marked the beginning of the epoch of first generation Kayal Raja's of Kuttanad (Kayal Raja is the term generally used to refer to the prominent kayal cultivators in the Kuttanadu region). In 1931, in order to strengthen the farming community in Kuttanadu, he founded Kuttandu Karshaka Sangham (Kuttanadu Agricultural Association). From the beginning of his farming career in his teens (he was eighteen when he reclaimed the cherukara kayal), he brought together like minded people and successfully led the reclamation activity from 1898 to 1940.
Due to the steep decline in the price of rice between 1920 and 1940 reclamation activities slowed down, but they gained momentum again in the early 1940s. During this period, in order to increase agricultural output, a government initiated "Grow More Food" campaiagn and the provision of incentives encouraged new reclamations. The advent of electric motors made reclamation relatively easier, cheaper and less risky as compared to in earlier periods. The last tract of the reclamations namely Q, S and T block were made during this period by Thomman Joseph Murickummoottil (Muricken Outhachan).
The prominent families in Kuttanadu who were involved in the backwater paddy cultivation are Pallithanam, Pallivathukal, Vallickadu, Nilavumthara, Pattassery, Thattassery, Moolecherry, Vachaparambil, Pazhayaparmbil, Thottukadavil, Chalayil, Chirayil, Vettathu, Cunnumpurathu, Illikalam, Akkara, Ettuparayil, Mangalapallil, Paruthickal, Meledom, Murukkummootil, Kunnathusseril, Ottaveetil, Kottarathil etc.
As farming in the area increased, farmers felt themselves constrained by the two cycles a year for rice cultivation. The reason for which is the limited availability of potable water in Kuttanadu. During the monsoon seasons, the water from the mountains flow through the rivers to the sea, bringing potable water to Kuttanadu. But during summer, due to the low level of the region seawater enters Kuttanadu, significantly increasing the salinity of the water and making it unpotable.
This project was designed as a permanent solution to the flood situation in Kuttanad. This programme was envisaged in such a way that flooded waters from Pamba, Manimalayar and Achankovil were diverted to the sea before it reached Vembanad lake. The construction of the Spillway ended by 1959.
In 1968, the government of India proposed that a bund (Dam) be made across the river so that seawater would not be allowed to come inside Kuttanad during summer, allowing farmers to cultivate an extra crop per year. The project was planned in three phases, the south side, the north side and another phase to join the two sections. The project was delayed and by the time the first two phases were complete the entire money allotted for the project ran out and left the final phase in limbo. The farmers who were expecting lots of financial benefits after the completion of the project decided to take matters into their own hands and one night in 1972, a large group of farmers filled the gap between the north and the south side with earth. To this day, the earth embankment between the two sections of the bund remains. With this, it was possible to close the regulator of shutters during December–June when the saline water enters, and then open it during monsoon. Once the Thanneermukkam bund and spillway became operational two crops were possible in Kuttanad.that are chambavu and karutha charu.
Even though the bund has improved the quality of life of the farmers, the bund is alleged to have caused severe environmental problems. The backwaters which were abundant with fish and part of the staple food of the people of the region require a small amount of salt water for its breeding. The bund has caused deterioration of fish varieties in the region and the fishermen opposed to the bund as of 2005. The bund has also disrupted the harmony of the sea with the backwaters and has caused problems not foreseen before the bund like the omniprescence of the water weeds. Earlier the salt water tends to cleanse the backwaters but this does not happen any more leading to the pollution of the backwaters and the entire land near by.
Notable natives and residents
- Pallithanam Luca Matthai - Former member of Sree Moolam Popular Assembly and pioneer of kayal cultivation in Kuttanad.
- John Abraham - Film director
- Kunchacko Boban - Film actor and director
- Dr. I C Chacko - Physicist and geologist, State Geologist of Travancore State from 1906 to 1921
- Thomas Chandy - MLA, politician
- Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara
- Ramesh Chennithala - Politician
- Guru Gopinath - Indian classical danceer
- Dr.K C Joseph - Ex MLA,
- Kunchacko - Film producer and director
- Mar Thomas Kurialacherry - Former archbishop
- Prof.Oommen Mathew - Ex MLA, politician
- Venu Nagavally - Film actor and director
- Mankompu Sivasankara Pillai - Kathakali artist of the classical dance-drama's southern style
- Dr. K. Ayyappa Panikkar
- Prof. Kavalam Narayana Panikkar
- Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai - Novelist, Jnanpith scholar
- Nedumudi Venu - Film actor
- Vinayan - Film director.
- Joseph Pallithanam - Botanist
- Thomas Pallithanam - Social activist
- Sardar K. M. Panikkar - (Scholar, Journalist, Historian, Administrator, Diplomat)
- M.S. Swaminathan, FRS (May 2013). "The Kuttanadu Below Sea Level Farming System, India" (PDF). FAO Website. p. 8. Retrieved 8 Oct 2013.
- G S Unnikrishanan Nair (Sep 2013). "Kuttanad; Our Heritage Our wealth" (PDF). KERALA CALLING. pp. 16–20. Retrieved 26 Sep 2013.
- "Assembly Constituencies — Corresponding Districts and Parliamentary Constituencies" (PDF). Kerala. Election Commission of India. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
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