|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)|
Perumthachan (പെരുന്തച്ചന്), also spelled as "Perunthchan" (പെരു - Peru/big, തച്ചന് - thachan/craftsman), meaning the master carpenter or the master craftsman, is an honorific title that is used to refer to an ancient legendary carpenter (ആശാരി Asari), architect, woodcarver and sculptor (stone/wood) from Kerala, India. However Perumthachan is an important figure in the folklore of Kerala and many a wondrous structure and architecture that still stand are attributed to him.
History and legend
Many legends of Perumthachan are seen in Aithihyamala, the compilation of legends and folklore of Kerala written by Kottarathil Sankunni. According to the legend, Raman Perumthachan was born to a Brahmin father Vararuchi and mother from a Paraiyar (reed weaver) caste, hailing from the village of Thrithala. After their marriage, they set out on a long journey. During the course of their travels, the woman became pregnant several times, and every time she delivered a baby, she was asked by her husband if it had a mouth. Every time that she replied in the affirmative, Vararuchi asked her to let go of the baby, averring that the God which carved its mouth, will fill it as well. Each of these babies, twelve of them in total, was raised by people belonging to different castes, making the legendary Parayi petta panthirukulam or literally, the twelve castes borne out of the pariah woman. Each of them grew famous in their lives and many tales and lores were attributed, with them as the main cast. The eldest was Agnihothri, a Brahmin, whose place is Mezhathur in Thrithala. The others are Pakkanar (basket weaver), Perumthachan (Master carpenter), Naranath Bhranthan (an eccentric philosopher who was perceived as a madman), Vayillakunnilappan (a child with no mouth, whom the mother wanted to keep with her) and so on.
Since Raman (രാമന്) was raised by parents who belonged to the Asari caste, he mastered the art and science of carpentry, architecture, and sculpture to become a Perumthachan. He read the sacred texts and imbibed the ancient intellectual tradition. He was commissioned for many a great architectural project to build temples and palaces. In course of time he came to be regarded as the reincarnation of the chief architect of the gods.
Raman Perumthachan had a son named Kannan (കണ്ണന്), who like him, mastered and excelled in carpentry and architecture and in time, duly surpassed his own perfection. The repute of Perumthachan's son spread far and wide, which allegedly spurred animus between father and son. According to the Aithihyamala, Perumthachan, blinded by his professional jealousy he dropped his chisel on his own son in the guise of an accident, killing him on the spot. Thus the legend ends in tragedy, telling us that even great men can have their frailties.
According to another legendary about Perumthachacn, his son Kannan was certainly a greater perfectionist in all craftsmanship and he outdid and outshined his own father. But, Perunthachan never envied him, he was only proud of his son. Nevertheless, the father had a different thing to worry about and that was that Kannan was in deep love with a princess who was in fact Perumthachan’s own daughter born to a queen. His fatherhood was known to none other than himself and the queen. Though this was the subject of a secret gossip among just the close circle of Perumthachan’s assistants and the queen’s maids.
An impotent middle-aged Brahman king had a young and very beautiful queen who was a Brahman, too, and lived in the palace under cultural confinements. She was a devotee of Goddess Durga. The king thought of getting a temple constructed within the palace for the queen to worship. Perumthachan was called for, and was entrusted with the job. During construction carving the sculpture of the goddess was the most important item and further more important was its face. Perumthachan tried to carve the face numerous times on other stones to practice so that he would not spoil the main piece, but was dissatisfied. This was happening for the first time with him. The fact was that the queen used to peep through one of her windows at him and he himself was aware of this. Hence, whenever he started to work on the face his mind would imagine a blank face because he could not see the queen’s beautiful face. One day the queen, without the knowledge of the king, came to supervise the work and was surprised that the face was blank. Perumthachan told the queen the fact and then the queen agreed to sit with him to model her face for the idol but the condition was that the king should not know and she would call him late night to her private room at the appropriate time. Once during the king’s official visit to far off places in his regime the queen signaled Perumthachan as agreed and next few nights were their private nights. The princess was the outcome of this secret relation which was known to one of his assistants and one of the queen’s maids. When the king returned and came to check if the idol’s face was carved, he was surprised to see that face was still covered (though it was fully carved). But, to cover-up, Perumthachan took official permission from the king to get the sight of the queen’s face just once so that he could finish the face. The king permitted him to see the queen’s face one time, just one time in his presence.
It was this princess that his son was in love with and they decided to get married. Perumthachan and the queen were upset that they were brother and sister and the king on the other hand was upset that his only daughter whom he loved a lot, wanted to marry a carpenter. The king one day called up Perumthachan and warned him about the relation his son had with the princess. Perumthachan assured the king that the marriage would not be solemnized and requested that the king send a formal message calling him for the maintenance of the temple. During maintenance the roof was brought down and the son was working below it while Perumthachan himself was working on top of the building. While working he reached right above where his son sat and worked. He dropped his broad chisel down and his son’s head was chopped off as he was working right beneath.
Whether he had aimed and dropped it deliberately or if it an accident is still a matter of debate among different communities.
The esteemed architect and engineer of the famous Chola temple, the Brihadeeswarar Temple was Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perunthachan as stated in inscriptions found at the temple. It has been said that this is same as Kunjaramallan Rama Perumthachan. His architectural style is evident in the temple sculptures.
Legend of Temple Pond
Perumthachan was once assigned to construct a temple pond. But it so happened that a dispute arose among three Karakkars (local residents) of the place as to the shape of the pond to be constructed. One group wanted a rectangular pond, another a square pond and the third, a circular shape. Perumthachan agreed to construct a pond which would satisfy all the three conflicting demands. When the pond was constructed, the Karakkars from each of the sides were immensely pleased to see their desired shape for the pond. It was so because the original shape of the pond was none of these three but a highly irregular shape, which could create an illusion and fool the onlooker from each side.
Influence on art and culture
The story of Perumthachan has been a source of artistic expression for various people. It has been the basis for a great Malayalam dramatic monologue poem of the same name by G. Sankara Kurup. The legend of Perumthachan was also depicted in a Malayalam cinema Perumthachan(Film) masterfully performed by the famous actor Thilakan. The movie script was written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by Ajayan (1990) and has won many prestigious accolades for its brilliant cinematography and direction.