This post is part of a series on the Kokila Sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri, to read the introduction click here. An edition of the poem with an English translation will be released shortly by Rasāla, a kāvya imprint I have just set up. Please click here for more details or get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
मग्रे पश्याञ्जनखलपुरीमाश्रितां शङ्करेण।
यत्राश्लिष्टो वरयुवतिभिश्चुम्बति स्विन्नगण्डं
चूर्णीवातः प्रिय इव रतिश्रान्तिमास्यारविन्दम्॥1.88
Up ahead you’ll see the charming city of Añjanakhala where the mansions’ fluttering flags act as fans for the sun’s horses and which is home to Ṥaṅkara. The breeze from the Cūrṇī river returns the embraces of the city’s beauties, kissing their sweat-streaked cheeks as a lover the lotus face of his beloved, creased with exhaustion after their love-making.
The koel is to fly slightly inland after crossing the Nīlā or Bharatapuzha river. His first stop is the home of Uddaṇḍa’s scholarly friends, the Payyūr Bhaṭṭas, to whom he should offer a poetic composition as a gift – possibly this very poem itself. (This echoes the offering Lakṣmīkdāsa’s messenger in the Ṥuka Sandeśa makes to Kālī at the Kodungallur temple; the Ṥuka Sandeśa, which was written a little before this poem, covers the southern half of Kerala before ending just north of Kodungallur and there is thus considerable cross-over in the two poems’ description of this area.) After the Payyūr Bhaṭṭas’ house, which is in a village today known as Porkulam, the koel visits in rapid succession Vṛṣapura, Valāyālaya and Saṃgamagrāma – Thrissur, Urakam and Irinjalakuda respectively.
The koel’s penultimate stop is Mahodayapura, the ancient capital of Kerala under the Kulaśekhara kings, the second Chera empire. Mahodayapuram must have been a grand city – the Ṥuka Sandeśa describes its mighty army and overlordship of other Kerala kings – but it is surprisingly hard to establish where exactly it stood.
The two sandeśa kāvyas both describe a Kālī temple, Mahodayapuram and the Cūrṇī or Periyar river on whose banks the city stands. From the order in which the two messengers – who are flying in opposite directions, the parrot of the Ṥuka Sandeśa is travelling from southern Kerala up the coast – cross these three, it is clear that the temple is north of the city, which is itself north of the river.
In the Kālī temple just before the city Uddaṇḍa describes how Ṥiva’s attendants the bhūtas are prevented from sacrificing a bull by Vijayā. This is the Bhadrakālī temple at the centre of Kodungallur. Animal sacrifice used to be a large part of the worship here but was latterly banned, although tethered goats still bleat just outside the main entrance.
Although in the Kokila Sandeśa the temple is clearly outside the city, the Ṥuka Sandeśa is more ambiguous and some locate Mahodayapuram in Kodangallur itself, a largeish town 30 odd kilometres above Kochin. Others say that the lost port city of Muziris was Mahodayapuram. Muziris, which has attracted so much attention of late that there is now a Muziris Heritage Project run by the Kerala government, was a huge trading port frequented by the Romans, Greeks, Arabs and Chinese. Recent archaeological evidence though places it about 10 kilometres south of Kodungallur in a village called Pattanam – perhaps shortened from Muziripattanam. Recent finds from a site there include a plethora of amphora fragments, and a Tamil-Brahmi inscription that seems to indicate early Jain influence. The port’s importance though seems to have suddenly diminished, perhaps due to an earthquake or as a result of the flooding in 1341 of the Periyar which changed the river’s course. It is exciting stuff and has already been spun into a Michael Wood BBC documentary. Most probably, though, Muziris was distinct from Mahodayapuram, acting as the empire’s major port city rather than its capital just as it had for the earlier Cheras. At any rate, following the Chola king’s attack on Mahodayapuram in the 12th century, the entire Kulaśekhara empire fizzled out. So by the time of Uddaṇḍa and Lakṣmīdāsa, both Mahodayapuram and Muziris must have been shadows of their former selves.
Unni identifies Mahodayapuram as Tiruvanchikulam, which seems to fit with the description in both the poems. The Tiruvanchikulam temple is about two kilometres south of Kodungallur. It is a quiet Ṥiva temple – thus “home to Ṥaṅkara” (verse 1.88 above) – said to have been built in the 11th or 12th centuries and thus accorded protected-monument status by the government archaeological department. The Cūrṇī river is about a kilometre south of the temple. It is hard to imagine this little hamlet – which has almost become a suburb of Kodungallur – as the Kulaśekhara kingdom’s capital but as Herodotus notes the fortune of cities is in perpetual flux.
The Cūrṇī, which features prominently in both the sandeśa poems, is a massive river crossed by means of two long bridges; there is an island in the middle. Chinese fishing nets stand alongside the river’s banks, at the edge of the dense palm trees that flank all water bodies in this part of India.
सा च प्रेक्ष्या सरिदनुपदं यत्र कल्माषितायां
रक्ताः पद्माः कुवलयवनीसाम्यमापद्यमाना
विज्ञायन्ते स्फुटमहिमधामोदये जृम्भमाणे ॥ 1.89
And that river is worth seeing. In her waters, slowly mingling with the musk washed off the necks of Mahodayapura’s girls as they bathe, red lotuses are transformed into clusters of blue water lilies. It is only when the sun starts to spread its warm light that they can be seen for what they are.
The koel’s final stop lies across this mighty river at Jayantamaṅgalam known today as Chennamangalam.
तीरं तस्याः प्रति गतवतो दक्षिणं तत्क्षणं ते
देशः सर्वातिशयविभवो दृक्पथेतः प्रथेत।
तां जानीया दिशि दिशि जयन्ताख्यया ख्यायमानां
The moment you cross towards the river’s southern bank, the richest of all lands will stand revealed. That is your destination, the city which eclipses the city of the gods in her splendour, known the world over as Jayanta.
The Viṣṇu temple in Chendamangalam (mentioned several times in the poem) – reproduced with kind permission from Paliath Narendran.
Thus ends the koel’s journey and this series of posts. Thank you to all those who helped, including Dr Shankar, Professor Unithiri, Professor Rajendran, Harunga Isaacson, Isaac Murchie, Mr Lakshman and all those who helped me at the temples.