Of dialect, food and celebration
A: Are you a malayali?
B: No, I am not one.
A: But, you had mentioned earlier that you are from Kerala (puzzled) ?
B: Yes, I was born in Kerala, hence I am a Keralite, not a malayali though!
As simple as that.
A: So what’s your mother tongue?
B: (Now that’s quite a puzzle to crack) I do not know which one to pick, Tamil/Malayalam? I am not sure if I could coin the lingua talayalam here(conjugation of Tamil+Malayalam). Hence I give them the easy way out, have you watched the run-away hit in Tamil, Kamal Hassan starrer Michael Madhana Kama Rajan of the 1990’s? You know, Kamal Hassan who plays the role of Kameswaran in the movie speaks a certain dialect of Tamil(+Malayalam), we speak that language at home.
A: Oh yes, now I get it!
Ever been through one of these conversations before? Does this ring a bell in your minds as well? Welcome to the world of Palakkad Iyers!
The Palakkad Iyer Bashaai is a classic blend of tamil, malayalam and sanskrit. Movies like Michael Madhana Kama Rajan and Nala Damayanthi have done their bit in popularising this dialect. Personally, having had a mix of both regions, Madras and Kerala, I can converse both in Tamil and Malayalam, fairly ok, with Tamil having the upper hand as I have spent more number of years in Madras. If you are still a full-time resident of Kerala and have no connection with Tamil Nadu except for a few distant relatives who may be around, then the Tamil(+Malayalam) you are likely to hear would have a world of difference. It may be beyond comprehension for the native speakers of Tamil and Malayalam. Eg, When a Tamilian listens to this (new)dialect, he/she would think it’s malayalam, and vice versa. One cannot possibly determine the percentage of Tamil and Malayalam present in this Palakkad Iyer Bashai as it depends on where you have been living; am sure language, accent, and dialect is formed and developed, based on this premise.
Palakkad Iyers have gained popularity over the years through various mediums, hence it is easy to quote this name when someone asks what language you speak or where you are from. In reality, I may have no close connection to Palakkad, perhaps my ancestors did, this is the case with invariably every such family. Every family may be able to trace some remote route back to Palakkad, while their native places may be else where. I could take my case for instance, born in Kottayam(south-central district in Kerala), brought up in Madras for 14 years, and then went back to Kerala(Ernakulam district) for 6 years, currently in Madras since 2004. So where’s the Palakkad connection here? Well, there is one, but I don’t know the reason behind it, quite honestly. Our family is connected to a temple aka kaavu (in Palakkad Iyer Bashai) in Palakkad. Every family is associated with an adimai kaavu (better translated as family temple) which they worship.
The lingua franca followed is just as interesting! There are numerous terms used that only a fellow community member may be able to relate with. Most of the words are spoken with an extra “ssh” or “cha” sound in stead of the “sa” sound. Eg., the words sollu(speak), sappadu(food) , samayal(cooking), saadham(rice) in tamil become chollu, chappadu,chamayal and chaadham in the Palakkad Iyer Bashai to mention a few, and not to forget the famous“Ae Naan Palkkad Iyer aakum (Hey I am a Palkkad Iyer) !” I could go on with a lengthy list, longer than Kameswaran’s provisions list in Micheal Madhana Kama Rajan!
Food is unique too as is the case with various lingusitic communties in India. Signature dishes include, molagootal (made of dhaal, coconut, dry red chillies, cumin seeds and vegetables), molagooshiyam (made of vegetables and pepper as spice), porichakozhambu( made of tamarind, vegetables, coconut and dry red chillies), verumarishi adai (a pan dosa made of exclusive rice and coconut), et al. However , variants of exclusive Tamilian and Malayali cuisine are equally relished; so you would also find a sambar or an aviyal being part of the Palakkad Iyer kitchen.
When it comes to festivals, we have the likes of both the Tamil and Malayali festivals celebrated with equal fervour; right from Pongal, Vishu, Krishna Jayanthi, Ganesh Chathurthi, Onam, Navarathri, Deepavali to Karthigai Deepam, we have a list of celebrations, year round!
A lot of reason and uniqueness to feel proud of, the Palakkad Iyer community is thus a cultural and lingusitc mix of the two states- Tamil Nadu & Kerala.