At a time when even farmers’ sons and daughters are moving to the cities to embrace technology, city-based manufacturer of bio-products Siddharth Kalingarayar, 37, one of the descendants of the Kalingarayar lineage whose ancestors are famous for having constructed the Kalingarayan canal in Erode, has been toiling hard to protect and preserve a heritage that dates back several centuries. It is his life’s mission to preserve a family heritage which can be traced back to 37 generations.
Mr Kalingarayar is actually preserving artefacts and monuments that speak volumes of the rich history and lifestyle of people in this part of the country that has, for all practical purposes, gone with the wind.
Located a few dozen kilometres from Coimbatore on way to Pollachi is the Uthukuli zamin.
Here, Mr Kalingarayar’s home needs no address: it is called aranmanai (palace), and his father Arun Kumar Kalingarayar, who currently lives there, is still addressed as ‘raja’. Set in a sprawling estate of three acres, the constructed area alone could be two-thirds of it and, according to the inmates, a significant portion of this palace could be around 800 years old.
“When we were children, I was unaware of the importance and wealth of all that was around me. From spears and swords that date back at least 500 years to copper coins that could be much older, to animals killed and stuffed by my forefathers, our home has been a treasure trove that was left uncared-for for generations. I am just restoring them,” says the young Kalingarayar.
While his ancestors, who moved from Erode to Uthukuli several generations ago, owned thousands of acres and even commanded huge armies, according to historians, the palace was abandoned as modernisation swept over the zamin during the middle years of the last century.
“For at least 30 years, this palace was unoccupied. We just visited here for family functions and get-togethers as my father, his brothers and cousins moved elsewhere seeking a better fortune. Sometime in the ‘70s, my parents moved back and my mother inculcated in me the importance of my heritage,” he says.
Now, when palaces and rajas are merely ‘stuff’ read in historical fiction and seen in films, the youngster and his two cousins Hariraj Kalingarayar and Vishnu Kalingarayar, the present heirs to the palace, try to balance the burden of a rich lineage with the madness of the present times.
“When we were children, the palace was a lot of fun. It remains a fascinating place to me and anyone who visits it,” says Mr Hariraj Kalingarayar, actor and wildlife photographer based in Chennai. As Pongal dawns, Mr Siddarth Kalingarayar is back in zamin Uthukuli, celebrating the festival with the villagers.
While much of history is getting lost to modernisation, at least this bit is in safe hands.