Ever heard of a museum where fond memories of a great saint and a great robber coexist harmoniously?
Welcome to Varanappallil, the ancestral house in Kayamkulam that showcases its special bond with social reformer Sree Narayana Guru as well as legendary highwayman Kayamkulam Kochunni!
Located about 5 kms away from Kayamkulam town, Varanappallil has a temple consecrated by the Guru as well as a house with a central door where it is marked: “Kochunni used his tricks here’’. While the Guru preached the gospel of “one caste, one religion, one god for mankind’’ in a society torn apart by untouchability, Kochunni, a Muslim highway man, looted the rich and helped the poor. The legend goes that women often ended up as primary beneficiaries of his great heart. Being a family which traditionally stood against caste discrimination and untouchability, the Varanapallil house provided a temporary sanctuary for the young Guru in his path to sainthood. This also meant that a thief as cunning as Kochunni was not considered an untouchable and instead became close to the elders of the family.
“The incident is believed to have happened in early 1800. Legend has it that Kochunni was a regular visitor here. He used to sit in the verandah and talk to the family members often fixing up a pan for the elders,’’ says Mr Lalmohan, secretary of the Varanappallil Kudumbayoga Kshema sabha which looks after the property. It was during one of these sessions that the then elder of the family (karanavar) challenged Kochunni to show his worth by stealing something from the house.
“The story goes that Kochunni accepted the challenge gleefully. He pasted the leftover lime paste of the pan he was fixing on the door very casually. Little did the karanavar realise that the marking was near the point where the lock inside was located,’’ says Lalmohan.
Kochunni entered the house that night by drilling through the marked point on the door and lifting the lock. He made off with the karanavar’s betel leaf case and some costly articles only to return them to the stunned karanavar the next day. Though Kochunni died in jail in 1859, his legendary Robin Hood tales have figured as books, films and television serials.
There is even a shrine dedicated to Kayamkulam Kochunni near Kozhencherry in Kottayam. Local people have strong faith in “Kochunni Nada’’ at the temple where they offer candles, incense sticks, ganja, country-made liquor, betel leaves, pan, arecanut, and tobacco to propitiate the deity.
The Varanappallil house built on the model of a traditional naalukettu tharavaadu sits on a sprawling 20-acre property along with the temple and a Mandiram erected in memory of the Guru. Lalmohan said there were about 3,000 members who were descendants of the illustrious family.