Friday, November 20, 2009

Deluge: The floods of ’99

A few decades back if you asked an uneducated person in Kerala his age, the answer might have been that he was born two years after the flood, or something like that. Events were linked to the flood of ’99. For two generations, that was a reference point in time.

Now, the ’99 refers to 1099 ME (Malayalam Era or Kollavarsham; see Mallus, Happy New Year). That calendar is 825 years behind Christian Era. This year is 1185 ME. There is an overlap between the two calendars.

What perhaps was the worst floods in the recent history of Kerala happened in July, 1924. It is said that heavy floods in the Periyar River or some geophysical phenomena in the Arabian Sea, silted or closed the flourishing Kodungalloor (Muziris) port and opened up Cochin in 1341. That appears to have been a localized occurrence.

But the floods of ‘99 covered the erstwhile Travancore and Cochin States and parts of Malabar. (The present Kerala consists the two former princely states mentioned and Malabar area which was under direct British rule. Most of the land was submerged in the three weeks (one account says nine days) of heavy, incessant rain.

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (1912 – 1999), the famous Malayalam novelist (Chemmeen, Coir etc.) has written a beautiful short story titled ‘In the floods’ which describes the havoc. The author was 12 years old at the time of the disaster. The details would have been etched in his memory. The story starts with the words explaining that the highest point in the village was the temple and even the deity was submerged up to the neck.

The catastrophe resulted in heavy loss of life and property. I have not been able to locate the details. The references are to hundreds of people and thousands of animals perishing. Surprisingly, even the High Ranges were flooded. Munnar, the tea country, which is about 6000 feet above sea level, was one of the worst affected areas.

There was a short light railway from Munnar to Top Station that was set up in 1908. The floods caused severe damage to the tracks and the line was subsequently abandoned. The High Range Club lost its newly built library and the golf course and tennis courts were damaged.

But the Club did gain in one way. After the railway became defunct, the First Class compartment was shifted to the Gymkhana grounds as a bar!

Here is a family anecdote: Just before the floods, Appan (my father) went to Palai for pennukanal (ceremony in which a potential bride is visited) in an improvised houseboat.

Our house is on the highest ground in the area. The boat landing is about half a kilometer away. When Appan returned, the boat had to be tied to the pillars of the gatehouse. The land up to the gatehouse had been submerged. The family shifted up to occupy the first floor of the house and all the local people were accommodated in the ground floor.

Appan. and Ammachi. were married an year after the Floods..


Meera's World said...

I've also heard stories about the flood from my appachan.:)

Naveen Prabhu said...

sir ...informative post ..... your previous post on bharatanatyam/rukmini devi arundale was very interesting too ...thanx

Unknown said...

Thank you Meera's World. There are very few people today who know about the flood.

Unknown said...

Naveen, I am glad that you liked the posts.

nature roots said...

Nice to get some information on this! am from munnar and I have heard about the great flood in 1924, which washed away the whole munnar and the Aluva Munnar road... also the rail lines and munnar club.

Nice to read ur posts.. very interesting!!

Unknown said...

nature roots, thank you. I am glad that you like the post.

Anonymous said...

There is a memorial of the great flood of 1099 ME (1924 AD) preserved at Puthiyakavu Temple, Vadakkekara P.O., Near North Paravur, Ernakulam Dist..Kerala
Here the walls of the Temple Dining Hall (ootu-pura) are painted with white colour on upper half and yellow colour on the lower half and a thick red line passes through the center. This red line was the actual flood level of the great flood of 1099 ME (1924 AD). On the north-side outer wall of ootu-pura, the original mud marks of the great flood of 1099 ME is preserved in 2 meters long line. In English it is written there, "FLOOD LEVEL 1099 ME". In 1924, it was preserved at the fancy of Memana Raman Pillai, the then Adhikari of the Temple. Now only a small portion of it remains among the letters. Whenever the temple is painted, the painters are strictly advised not to cover up the mud line. Due to ignorance, recently much on the old mud-line was covered with yellow colour. The mud line is at such a height from the ground, remembering the fact that the floor of the building is 4 steps above the ground.

This is supposed to be the only known memorial of the great flood, preserved anywhere in Kerala.

AJ said...

I was searching for my Grandmother's birthday, she was born 3 days before the flood of '99. Thanks to you and also the correspondence log from, I was able to pinpoint the start of the flood as 28th July 1924.

Thanks for your post.

AJ said...

My granny was born 3 days before the flood of '99. With this blog I realised it was in 1924. Further digging on the net led me to the correspondences in 1924 There is an entry on 28.07.1924 mentioning the flood.