Alappuzha is a Land Mark between the broad Arabian sea and a net work of rivers flowing into it. In the early first decade of the 20th Century the then Viceroy of the Indian Empire, Lord Curzon made a visit in the State to Alleppey, now Alappuzha. Fascinated by the Scenic beauty of the place, in joy and amazement, he said, Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. In his exhilaration, it is said, he exclaimed, Alleppey, the Venice of the East. Thus the sobriquet found its place in the world Tourism Map. The presence of a port and a pier, criss -cross roads and numerous bridges across them, a long and unbroken sea coast might have motivated him to make this comparison.
Alleppey has a wonderful past. Though the present town owes its existence to the sagacious Diwan Rajakesavadas in the second half of 18th century, district of Alappuzha figures in classified Literature. Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala with the unending stretch of paddy fields, small streams and canals with lush green coconut palms , was well known even from the early periods of the Sangam age. History says Alappuzha had trade relations with ancient Greece and Rome in B.C and in the Middle Ages.
Carved out of erstwhile Kottayam and Kollam (Quilon) districts, Alleppey district was formed on 17th of August 1957.The name of the district Alleppey, the anglicized form was changed as ‘Alappuzha’ as per GO(P) No.133/90/RD dated 7.2.90. It is assumed that the name of Alappuzha was derived by the geographical position and physical features of the place which means ”the land between the sea and the network of rivers flowing into it”. As per GO (MS) No.1026/82/(RD) dated 29.10.1982, Pathanamthitta district was newly constituted taking portions from the then Alappuzha, Kollam and Idukki districts. The area transferred from the erstwhile Alappuzha district to Pathanamthitta district is Thiruvalla taluk as a whole and part of Chengannur and Mavelikkara Taluks. Thus the present Alappuzha district comprises of six taluks namely Cherthala, Ambalapuzha, Kuttanad, Karthikappllly, Chengannur and Mavelikkara.
The history of the district in the palaeolithic age is obscure. It is presumed that the coastal taluks of Cherthala. Ambalapuzha and Karthikappally might have been under water and these areas were formed by the accumulation of silt and sand later than the other parts of the district. Kuttanad was well known even from the early periods of the Sangam age. The early Cheras had their home in Kuttanad and they were called ‘Kuttuvans’ named after this place. Some archeological antiques like stone inscriptions, historical monuments etc. found in the temples, churches, rock-out caves etc., and literacy works like “Unninili Sandesam” give some insight into the ancient period of this district. The famous travelers Pliny and Ptolemy of the first and second centuries had mentioned about places like Purakkad(Barace) in their classical works. Christianity had a strong foot-hold in this district even from the Ist century A.D. The church located at Kokkomangalam or Kokkothamangalam was one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. It is generally believed that he landed at Maliankara in Muziris Port, presently known as Cranganore or Kodungallur in 52 A.D and preached Christianity in South India. During 9th to 12th century AD the district flourished in the field of religion and culture under the second Chera Empire. The famous literary work of this period was ‘Ascharya Choodamani’ a Sanskrit drama written by Sakthibhadra who was a scholar of Chengannur gramam.
During 16th century small principalities like Kayamkulam (presently Karthikappally and Mavelikkara taluks), Purakkad which was often called Ambalappuzha or Chempakasseri(present Ambalappuzha and Kuttanad taluk) and Karappuram comprising of two principalities called Moothedath and Iledath (present Cherthala Taluk) emerged into power. In the same period the Portugese came into prominence in the political scene of the district. Christianity became popular in all parts of the district and they built several churches of which Churches located at Purakkad and Arthungal are well known. The kingdom of Chempakasseri was at its zenith during the reign of Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayana, a great scholar and a poet who was the author of ‘Vedantha Retnamala’, a commentary on the first verse of Bhagavat Geetha. It is said that Sreekrishna Swami temple at Ambalappuzha was constructed and the idol of Lord Krishna installed during that time. It is believed that Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, Sri Neelakanta Deekshithar and Sri Kumaran Namboothiri were eminent scholars who patronized his court.
In the 17th century the Portugese power declined and the Dutch had a predominant position in the principalities of this district. As a result of several treaties signed between the Dutch and the Rajas of Purakkad, Kayamkulam and Karappuram, the Dutch built factories and warehouses in various places of the district for storing pepper,ginger etc. In course of time they inferred in the political and cultural affairs of the district. It was at that time Maharaja Marthandavarma, the ‘Maker of modern Travancore’ interfered in the political affairs of those principalities. The annexation of the Kingdoms of Kayamkulam, Ambalappuzha, Thekkumkur, Vadakkumkur and Karappuram to travancore gave the Dutch a setback from the political scene of the district. Marthandavarma Maharaja had a remarkable role in the internal progress of the district. He gave special attention to the development of Mavelikkara as an administrative as well as a commercial centre. The Krishnapuram plalace, which is now a protected monument of the State Archaeology department, was constructed during that period. It was at that time that the great and talented poet Kunjan Nambiar was installed in the court at Trivandrum.
During the reign of Dharmaraja the district was improved by all means. Raja Kesava Das, the then Diwan of Travancore who was known as the ‘Maker of modern Alleppey’ made Alappuzha a premier port town of Travancore. He constructed several roads and canals to improve communications and built warehouses. He gave all facilities to merchants and traders from far and near. During the reign of Balaramavarma Maharaja, Velu Thampi Dalava took keen interest in the development of the town and port. He brought the whole area of the island Pathiramanal under coconut cultivation and large tracts under paddy cultivation. The role of Velu Thampi Dalava in the development of Alappuzha is worth mentioning. In the 19th century the district attained progress in all spheres. One of the five subordinate courts opened in the state in connection with the reorganization of the judicial system by Colonel Munro was located at Mavelikkara. The credit of having the first post office and first telegraph office in the erstwhile Travancore state goes to this district. The first modern factory for the manufacture of coir mats and mattings was also established in 1859 at Alappuzha. The town Improvement Committee was set up in 1894.
This district had a prominent role in the freedom struggle of the country. The campaign for the eradication of untouchability was organized much earlier in this district by T.K. Madhavan, a fearless journalist and in 1925 the approach roads to the temples, especially to Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Swami temple were thrown open to the Hindus of all castes. The district also witnessed the ‘Nivarthana’ movement which was started as a protest against the constitutional repression of 1932. the first political strike in Kerala was held at Alappuzha in 1938.
The historic struggles of Punnapra and Vayalar in 1946 stiffened the attitude of the people against Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, Diwan of Travancore, which ultimately led to his exit from the political scene of Travancore. After India became independent, a popular Ministry was formed in Travancore on 24th March, 1948 and on Ist July 1949 Travancore and Cochin states were integrated and the position continue till the formation of Kerala State on Ist November 1956 as per the States Reorganization Act 1956. The district came into existence as a separate administrative unit on Ist August 1957 .
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ALAPPUZHA The Venice of the East
Washed by the silvery waves of the Arabian sea Alappuzha occupies a significant place in the tourist map of Kerala. Interlocked with a large number of canals and bridges this waterlocked district has immense untapped potential for backwater tourism.
Alappuzha has several canals and lakes fit for boat cruise. Three prominent rivers in the southern grid of Kerala viz. Achankovil, Pamba and Manimala empty into the lakes. A boat journey through the lakes will be a memorable experience. The watercourses are flanked by an unending row of coconut trees which heave and sway to the tune of the gush.
The district is the major centre of coir and allied products. There are about 4000 production units including a few big factories with mechanized looms. Alappuzha retains monopoly in coir production and exports.
Alappuzha is a great centre of fisheries. ‘Chakara’ a rare marine phenomenon in which a large number of fish throng together in the early days of May to August is a peculiarity of Purakkad, one of the main fishing centres on the coast of the Arabian Sea. This is in fact a fishermen’s fiesta.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race, the annual water carnival at Punnamada Lake, is considered the biggest snake boat race in the world. The colourful boat peagentry which precedes the boat race is a marvellous treat to the eyes. The snakeboats with a length of 30 to 60 metres and with 100 to 150 oarsmen plough the waters with the rhythm and symbols to the tune of the legendary songs. The Nehru Trophy was instituted by the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was enthralled by the charm and gaiety of the water carnival. The boat race attracts a large number of tourists, domestic and foreign.
In addition to this the boat races at Payippad, Thiruvanvandoor, Neerettupuram, Karuvatta and Thykkoottam are quite famous.
Mannarassala near Harippad 32 Kms. south of Alappuzha is an important centre of pilgrimage in the district. The famous Mannarassala temple devoted to the serpent deity is a rare phenomenon of worship. The Ayilyam festival held in November every year is very famous.
Amabalappuzha Sreekrishna Temple on the Kollam-Alappuzha Highway is called the Dwaraka of the South. It is frequented by thousands of devotees especially during the annual festival which falls in April every year.
‘Ambalappuzha palpayasam’ the devotional delicacy of the temple, is renowned for its unique taste.
Ambalappuzha is also famous for the traditional visual martial art of Kerala, Velakali.
Arthumkal Church is famous for the St. Sebastian’s church which is situated south west of Cherthala town 22 Kms north of Alappuzha. The famous Arthumkal Perunal is held in January every year. Catholics from all parts of the state participate in the feast of St. Sebastian.
Karumadi, three Kms. east of Ambalappuzha, has a statue of Budha called Karumadikuttan, a perennial source of interest for the tourists.