Mamankam festival or Mamangam festival (Malayalam: മാമാങ്ക മഹോത്സവം) is an age old festival of ancient Kerala, staged every 12 years and lasting 28 days, during the time of Kulasekharas (Chera dynasty) from the 14th century till 18th century. The venue of the festival was Thirunavaya, on the banks of River Bharathapuzha in Malabar, Northern Kerala in South India. The festival is remembered for the great trade fair associated with it as well as the bloody battles occurred during the festival.
The early Kerala was devoid of castes and communities and as such, social exclusiveness and untouchability were absent. The people enjoyed social freedom and equality. On Mamankam, the kings, local rulers and chieftains from all over Kerala assembled on the shores of Bharathapuzha to decide the supreme ruler of Kerala, Cheraman Perumal.
Mamankam stands for 'Maagha – makam' which denotes a period of 28 days from the Makam star that appears in the 'bright' phase of the moon (the fortnight when moon waxes) in the month of Maagha of Saka calendar. It occurs once in every twelve years. During this occasion, various forms of sports events, martial arts, intellectual contests, cultural activities, rituals and folk art performances were performed on every nook and corner of the vast and wide sandy shores of Bharathapuzha. Pilgrims from distant places, trading groups and travellers from foreign countries like Arabia, Greece and China used to visit and participate in this unique festival. The contributions made by these visitors by exchanging vivid agricultural, architectural, as well as cultural innovations of their faraway lands have enriched the glory of this grand event. In the course of time the great 'Maagha makam' gradually became ' Mamankam '.
At the end of the rule of Kulasekharas, the right of Mamankam passed to the kings of Perumpadappu and then to the Hindu Nair rulers of Valluvanad. Later the Samoothiri of Kozhikode defeated the Valluvanad rulers in Thirunavaya Wars (14th century AD), resulting in long drawn rivalry and bloodshed between these two rulers. Though the Sammothiri was also a Hindu Nair, he had the overwhelming support of the Muslim Arab merchants which the ruler of Valluvanad did not have. The Samoothiri declared himself as Maharakshapurusha of the temple in Thiruavaya. From that day forth, the Valluvanadan king began to send Chaver Nairs to fight Samoothiri until death, and to recapture the right from the Samoothiri, who would stand poised at Nilapadu thara in Thriunavaya, surrounded by a large contingent of warriors.
The last such Mamankam festival, is believed to have been held in 1755, when the Samoothiri/Zamorin had a hair-breadth escape from a chaver aged 16 named Putumanna Kandaru Menon. The Mamankam came to an end with the conquest of Kozhikode by Hyder Ali in 1776.
Many local festivals with the name "Mamankam" are conducted in temples across Kerala. To disambiguate them from the Mamankam conducted at Thirunavaya, they are usually denoted by the name of the place along with the title.
Originally derived from the word, 'Maha' meaning 'great' in Sanskrit and Magha', literally, Great Magha, with Magha being a month in the Hindu calendar, which was later apapted into Malayalam, as Mamankam and in Tamil as Mamangam.
After the disintegration of the Kulasekharas, most of their provinces became independent, giving rise to numerous Nair city states along the coast of Malabar. The Perumpadappu kingdom and then Valluvanad owned the right conduct the Mamankam festival as Maharakshapurusha. After acquiring the Polanad state, the Saamoothiri turned his attention to other states around him. Between 1553–1561 AD, the Saamoothiri Raja fought a series of small battles with smaller states called the Thirunavaya Wars. As Thirunavaya was captured, Saamoothiri proclaimed himself as the Rakshāpurusha (protector) and took over sole right of conducting the Mamankam festival. The next Mamankam at Thirunavaya was conducted under the auspices of Saamoothiri with great pomp and splendor.
During the Mamankam festival, all other kings used to send flags as a symbol of regard to the Saamoothiri at Thirunavaya. But Valluvakkonathiri who did not recognise the Saamoothiri as the legitimate Rakshapurusha but considered him only a usurper used to send Chavers instead. If these men could kill the Saamoothiri, who was protected by thousands of soldiers, the right of Rakshapurusha would have devolved on the Walluvanad Raja. These Chaavers were sworn soldiers who preferred death to defeat, and who sacrificed their lives to avenge the death of Valluvanad princes in the Thirunavaya war. The death of the Vellaattiri princes also started a period of intense hatred and war between the two kingdoms which paved the way for the diminishing the power of Valluvanad. Kudippaka or blood feud was prevalent in the society. If a Nair was killed (In his attempt to assassinate the Samoothiri), it was the duty of the relatives or even the subsequent generations of the deceased to avenge the death. So, Most of these Chaver soldiers had lost their relatives or elders in previous wars with the Saamoothiri, and were fuelled by 'kudippaka' (blood feud). They came from various parts of Valluvanad, assembled at Thirumanthamkunnu under Vellaattiri, and were led by commanders from one of the four houses.
Further details were provided by William Logan in Malabar Manual of 1887 and Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in "A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar" of 1807 respectively.
Vellaattiri, after losing Thirunavaya and the right of the Rakshapurusha, began to conduct the Pooram festival in the place of Mamankam, at Angadipuram (Walluvappally), his capital. Here in the temple of his tutelary deity Thirumanthamkunnu Bhagavathi, he stood on a raised granite platform from where in the olden days his predecessors started the procession to Thirunavaya for the Mamankam festival in peace. It was from here that the Chavers were sent to the Mamankam festival afterwards when Saamoothiri occupied it.
The war of Thirunavaya was not the end of Saamoothiri's aggression on Valluvanad. He continued his attacks on Vellaattiri. But he encountered stiff resistance and the fights went on in a protracted and sporadic fashion for a long time. (Kunnathattil Madambil Nair (Nair of Mannarghat) was the desavazhi who looked after the affairs of the eastern boundary and hilly areas of Vellattiri. Chondathil Mannadiar (Puthumanna Panicker) and Nair of Kavada were other chiefs under him. This council of great men was a huge challenge to Saamoothiri even during times when mutual rivalries weakened the Vellaattiri Swaroopam.
Dharmoth Panicker the erstwhile Army Chief of Samoothiri had already shown dissatisfaction on issues of capture of Mamankam. Saamoothiri followed a policy of appeasing the feudatories of Vellaattiri and conferring upon them the areas they originally held under Vellaattiri. One by one, he was able to win over Moopil Nairs, including those of Pulappatta and Kavalappara. Thus Saamoothiri gradually became the master of Malappuram, Nilambur, Vallappanattukara and Manjeri, which were under these feudal lords. Eralpad (Saamoothiri prince) now began to rule these areas as supreme commander over them, with Karimpuzha as his base. But Saamoothiri faced defeat in the next attack on Perumpadappu. The Perumpadappu Rajas appealed to their ally Vellaattiri for assistance. Their combined army resisted Saamoothiri's forces and a bloody war ensued for three days, at the end of which Saamoothiri's army was on the retreat.
After the capture of Thirunavaya by Samoothiri, the festival often turned into battlefields. The Chavers (Suicide squad) to assassinate the Samoothiri participating from the kingdom of Valluvanad hailed from the four of the most important Nair families of Valluvanad. These families were:
- Putumanna Panikkars
- Chandrath Panikkars
- Kokat Panikkars
- Verkot Panikkars
A total of 18 deshavazhis (Governors) of Valluvanadu went to the Mamankam festival, led by the lead Nair from each of the four main families. Apart from the four lead warriors, the other 14 hailed from the following families (Swaroopams):
Two Nairs from unknown Valluvanad families, Two Nambudiris from Valluvanad, Two Moopil Nairs from the Valluvanad Royal House, Achan of Elampulakkad, Variar of Kulathur, Pisharody of Uppamkalathil, Vellodi of Pathiramana, Nair of Parakkatt, Nair of Kakkoott, Nair of Mannarmala & Pisharody of Cherukara. Out of the 18 deshavazhis, 13 were Nairs (Mostly Menon Panicker section of Kiryathil Nair subcaste), 2 were Namboothiri Brahmins and 3 were Ambalavasi Brahmins.
1683 – Mamankam festival
Account of Chaver attack at Mamankam of this year given by Logan – "Amid much din and firing of guns the Morituri, the Chaver Nairs, the elect of four Nair houses in Waluvanad, step forth from the crowd and receive the last blessings and farewells of their friends and relatives. They have just partaken of the last meal they are to eat on earth at the house of the temple representative of their chieftain; they are decked with garlands and smeared with ashes. On this particular occasion it is one of the houses of Putumanna Panikkar who heads the fray. He is joined by seventeen of his friends – for all who so wish may fall in with sword and target in support of the men who have elected to die. Armed with swords and targets alone they rush at the spearmen thronging the palisades; they wind and turn their bodies, as if they had no bones, casting them forward and backward, high and low, even to the astonishment of the beholders, as worthy Master Johnson describes them in a passage already quoted. But notwithstanding the suppleness of their limbs, notwithstanding their delight and skill and dexterity in weapons, the result is inevitable, and is prosaically recorded in the chronicle thus: The number of Chavers who came and died in the early morning the next day after the elephant began to be adorned with gold trappings – being Putumana Kantar Menon and followers – was 18. At various times during the ten last days of the festival the same thing is repeated. Whenever the Zamorin takes his stand on the terrace, assumes the sword and shakes it, men rush forth from the crowd on the west temple gate only to be impaled on the spears of the guardsmen who relieve each other from day to day."
1695 – Mamankam festival
About the next Mamankam from 'New Accounts of the East Indies' by Captain Alexander Hamilton, Chapter XV :- "In Anno 1695, one of these jubilees happened when the tent was pitched near Ponnany, a seaport of his (Samoothiri's) about 15 leagues to the southward of Calicut. There were but three men that would venture on that desperate action, who fell on with sword and target, among the guards, and after they had killed and wounded many, were themselves killed. One of the desperadoes had a nephew of fifteen or sixteen years of age, that kept close by his uncle in the attack on the guard, and when he saw him fall, the youth got through the guard into the tent and made a stroke at His Majesty's head and had certainly despatched him, if a large brass lamp which was burning over his head, had not marred the blow; but before he could make another he was killed by the Mangatchhan's guards, and I believe the same Samoothiri reigns yet. I chanced to come that time along the coast and heard the guns for two or three days and nights successively." The 15-year-old boy mentioned was Chandrath Panicker (Chandrathil Chanthunni Menon).
- Mamangam Festival Appreciation of India Art: Ideals and Images, by C.P. Sinha, U.C. Dwivedi. Published by Sura Books, 2006. ISBN 81-7478-175-7, ISBN 978-81-7478-175-8. Page 16.
- William Logan – Malabar Manual
- Francis Buchanan-Hamilton -"A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar "
- Kerala Council of Historical Research - A source of Historical references on Kerala
- Maha-Magha Encyclopaedia of Indian Culture, by Rajaram Narayan Saletore. Published by Sterling, 1981. ISBN 0-391-02332-2. 9780391023321. Page 869.
- "Medieval Kerala" (PDF). education.kerala.gov.in. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
- Panikkasseri, Velayudhan. സഞ്ചാരികൾ കണ്ട കേരളം (Sancharikal kanda Keralam) (in Malayalam) (2001 ed.). കോട്ടയം: കറൻറ് ബുക്സ്. p. 434. ISBN 81-240-1053-6.