Kuttanad

Kuttanadu is a region in the Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam Districts, in the state of Kerala. Kuttanad is well known for its picturesque vast paddy fields and its geographical peculiarities. It's the region with the lowest altitude in India, and one of the few places in the world where farming is carried out below sea level.

The major occupation in Kuttanad is farming. Rice is the important agricultural product, giving Kuttanad the moniker of "The Rice Bowl of Kerala". Three crops are grown every year now instead of the traditional two per year. Large farming areas near Vembanad Lake were actually reclaimed from the lake.

The history of the paddy cultivation in Kuttanad can be traced back to centuries. In the earlier times, the reclamation was done mainly from the shallow part of the Vembanad Lake or from the periphery of river Pamba. These reclamations constituted small areas of paddy fields called “Padsekharams”.The bailing out of water from those fields were done manually using water wheels named “Chakram”.

Life in Kuttanad revolves around agriculture. Quite early in the morning itself one can sight the women folk heading towards the paddy fields carrying their lunch box and sickle, and on the other hand men could be seen already on the fields till the land, sowing the seeds, getting rid of weeds, diverting water channels etc.

During the harvest season the vast expanse of paddy fields, at some places dotted with islets of coconut trees, will be busy with farmers engrossed in different farming activities; done in the traditional manner.

Kuttanad is surrounded by the extensive backwater network arising out of several rivers meeting the Vembanad Lake, one of the largest lakes in India. Four major rivers in Kerala viz. Pampa, Meenachil, Achankovil and Manimala flow into the region, and fishing is also a significant activity in the area.

Kuttanad's backwaters are home to isolated communities who have perfected the art of living in a watery environment. The markets come to them on boats, selling vegetables, grocery and fish to households on the banks of these canals.

Numerous canals crisscross Kuttanad, which are lined by tall coconut trees swaying in the breeze. During most part of the day, these canal stretches would be abuzz with different activities. Here a boat collects weeds which sometimes clogs channels. He uses a long bamboo shaft to push his way out of the mass of vegetation.

Kuttanad is dotted with many historical churches. The St. Marys Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church is an ancient church in Champakulam village and considered the mother church of almost all Catholic Syrian churches in Alleppey District. Believed to be established in AD 427 it has been rebuilt many times. The church is a good example of how churches in Kerala incorporated vernacular architectural styles with European Baroque facades.

Main altar inside the Champakulam church showing Mary with infant jesus and St.Sebastien. The gilded altars are similar to those in Goan churches which also displays a profusion of intricate woodwork.

A man offers prayer at the Champakulam church. Note the kneeling posture, a clear influence from how people pray in temples and mosques.

Duck farming is another small industry in Kuttanad. They are more suited to the semi-quatic environment than chickens. One occasionally comes across innumerable ducks quacking together and moving across the backwaters in large numbers; shepherded by men on small boats.

A couple takes a ride through Kuttanad's backwaters on a kettuvallam. In the Malayalam language "kettu" means "to tie" and “vallam” means boat – the two together make the local name "kettuvallam”. Each houseboat is constructed using the ancient principles of boat building by the local carpenters using 'Anjili' wood. Coir ropes are used for fastening the wooden planks together.

Post office at Kainakary village. Note the level of the backwaters outside the building. Kuttanad is one of the few places in India which is below sea level and during times of heavy monsoons many villages along the backwaters get flooded.

Much of life centers around water in the villages of Kuttanad. One can see women taking their morning baths or bathing their children, washing clothes, washing utensils, or performing religious ceremonies, all on the banks of the backwaters. Pollution arising from a rising number of houseboats in the region has raised concerns amongst the locals who use the backwaters for their daily existence.

Kuttanad's relative isolation has largely contributed to its rural beauty and traditional lifestyle. Kuttanad is connected to the district capital Allapuzha by boat and by road. Ferry services travel between Allapuzha and Kuttanad thrice daily and is a great way to experience the region.

A government ferry carries passengers to Kuttanad from Alleppey town. A great way to visit Kuttanad is to take deviations from either side of the Alappuzha-Chanaganasserry road to reach villages, predominantly consisting of farmers and fishermen.

A man tries some angling in the backwaters.

Much of the internal transportation in Kuttanad is heavily dependent on local boats which ferries people to opposite sides of the many canals. Motorized boats like these operate over larger bodies of water and canoes with an oarsman operate over narrower canals.

A family untangles a net from the days catch. Note the circular boat called coracle. They are originally from Karnataka, and has been imported to the backwaters which are ideally suited for small water vehicles.

Description

Kuttanadu is a region in the Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam Districts, in the state of Kerala, well known for its picturesque vast paddy fields and has the epithet ‘rice bowl of Kerala’. The region is also the lowest in India, and one of the few places in the world where farming is carried out below sea level. There is reference to Kuttanad in the epic Mahabharata. During their exile, the five Pandava princes are said to have traveled through this land. In those days, Kuttanad was part of a dense forest, later destroyed by a forest fire which is also mentioned in the epic. Thus came the place name Chuttanad or the burnt place. In course of time Chuttanad became Kuttanad.