The Kandanat Family owes its name and growth to Narayana Menon who served the Maharaja of Travancore as Dewan Peshkar. He was born in the family ‘Tharavadu’ in Kurumassery, which was quite inaccessible till about 1955 or so as there was no bridge across the river Chalakudy which cut if off from the busier outskirts of Aluva. His father was Chennat Velayudhan Nair and mother Parukkutty Amma also known as Pappy. One of his uncles was a Sanskrit teacher and a renowned astrologer who was close to the prominent Thottakkattu family in Ernakulam. Because of his contacts, he could bring the young Narayana Menon to Ernakulam and accord him high school education which was very rare and difficult to afford in the 19th century in that part of Kerala. He subsequently went to Thiruvananthapuram for graduation and later on took a Bachelor of Law (BL) degree.
He started practice in Thiruvananthapuram and was later appointed as Judge in Kollam. He dealt sternly with the guilty in a riot case and the Raja who was among the progressive and benevolent monarchs in India promoted him as Peshkar on a prestigious administrative post in his palace. In one of his noted and controversial judgments, he ruled that certain landlords were bound to give maintenance to their wives. At that time it was a matriarchal society and it was not the responsibility of the father to look after the wife or children. Menon also served for some time as Police Commissioner before being appointed Dewan Peshkar. When he retired, he was given a pension of Rs 500 and allowances to keep an assistant. It is part of family folklore that Menon was fortunate to have such a long life that the total pension amount he drew exceeded all the salary during his service.
Swami Vivekananda visited Thiruvananthapuram at about this time. Menon was among the dignitaries who organised a reception for the Swami. He also got ‘Deeksha’ or spiritual advice from Swami Vivekananda.
Menon stood out because of his love for the family. Though he had left the remote village of Kurumassery to earn power and pelf, he never forgot his less fortunate family members. As he became wealthy, he built traditional Ettukettu (house with two nalukettu, an open area with rooms around) villas for all his sisters. Some of the villas had two and three storeys too which made them stand out in the area. Each villa was at the center of about four or five acres of land and could accommodate several families at a time without one stepping on the other’s toes. Many of these houses, unfortunately, were pulled down or sold as modernity crept in and people moved out, but one, Kandanat Lekshmi Mandir still remains intact. (Photo given ). Bhaskara Menon, a teacher, and farmer who was also Chairman of the Family Trust now lives in the house, after the death of his mother-in-law Kandanat Saradakutty Amma in 2003, then the oldest member of the family. She was the youngest daughter of Kunjulekshmi, the youngest sister of Narayana Menon. Perhaps this house survived because of the proximity to the family temple which is just ten feet away from the property where it stands.
The Peshkar had three brothers and four sisters. The men were Parameswara Menon of Eravathur, Ayyappa Menon (alias Kuttan Pillai) of Kurumassery and Kesava Menon who settled in Chakkarakadavu. The sisters were Kutty Amma, Kochukunji Amma, Madhavi Amma and Kunjulekshmi Amma who was mentioned above. It is the progeny of these people that constitute the family now. (See Family Tree)
The Peshkar was also a philanthropist. He donated land and buildings to the government to start a lower primary school which is still running well. He also gave away 12 acres of land to Nair Service Society (NSS) at nearby Choondanthuruthy for setting up a high school which was the only seat of higher learning in the area for several decades. The NSS leader Mannathu Padmanabhan came there personally to take possession of the property and thus began a long and still continuing association with NSS which is an educational and cultural society with considerable influence in the state.
Menon also gave land and building to start the first government post office and set up an athani (shelter) for headloaders to rest their materials. The family has continued the association with the community and one of the Peshkar’s nephews late K C Damodara Menon donated more than an acre to the government to establish a Development Block which later played a stellar role to promote agriculture and small business in the area. A niece Ammu Amma also offered land for the only Veterinary Clinic in Kurumassery. Ammu Amma’s son-in-law C S Neelakantan Nair was a socialist who became Trivandrum Mayor.
The Peshkar also donated land and helped construct a Nair Union Hostel for the benefit of students from the community coming to the Kerala capital for higher education.
One of Menon’s close friends was C V Raman Pillai, who wrote Marthanda Varma, the first historical novel in Malayalam. It is often said that Menon had the privilege of reading the manuscripts of CV before anyone else. The well known Rosscote bungalow, CV’s home was just a stone’s throw away from Meenakshi Mandiram where Menon used to live. CV was one of the legends of Malayalam literature and both valued the friendship of each other.