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Glimpses of Temples of Kerala

by Sushama Arur
First Online: December 11, 2004
Page Last Updated: October 31, 2016

The state Kerala, a narrow strip of land ensconced between the Arabian sea and the Western ghats is famous for her backwaters and temples. Known as "God's Own Country" and the "Land of Parasurama", Kerala is one of the tiny states of India. According to legend Parasurama threw his battle-axe to create a new land across the waters. The waters subsided and what was left over was called the land of Parasurama that is today's Kerala.

We, a group of thirty-five people from Bangalore decided to go on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, a pilgrim spot in the Western ghats, 3000 feet above sea level. This temple is peculiar to Kerala and its tradition. Sabarimala temple is open to all, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, social status or nationality. The pilgrims observe severe austerities, wearing rudraksha or tulasi beads strings in the neck and trek up the forest dressed in black to reach the temple. The road to the temple is very steep. The pilgrims undergo forty-one days of fast to cleanse the body and soul. He carries on his head, the holy ghee for the Lord's Abisheka filled in a coconut, rice and two more coconuts in an "Irumudi" (two compartment cloth bag). The temple is open only to males and females before 8 and above 50 years of age. This is because the Lord is a brahmachari {an unmarried ascetic} in Sabarimala.

On our way to Sabarimala we visited Guruvayur the famous Krishna temple. We had the darshan of the cowherd god Krishna with flute in his hand. He is so youthful and charming! According to legend Guru - the preceptor of Gods (Brihaspati) and Vayu the wind God established this temple at Dwarka. At the time of destruction of Dwarka, Krishna instructed Uddhava to seek Vayu's and Guru's help to find a safe haven for the image. Accordingly Guru and Vayu installed this image at Guruvayur, on the other side of which was a shrine to Shiva and Parvati. It is believed that Aadi Sankaracharya set up the worship protocol here. This temple is always crowded with devotees, but still we got good darshan as well as prasad bhojan (temple meal) which was amazing. On our way back to the rooms some of us were attracted to the shops displaying sweetmeats, papads and women of course to Kerala sarees. Triprayar Temple, located south of Thrissur is one of the important temples dedicated to Lord Rama. The exquisite woodcarvings, sculptures and Mural Paintings are an interesting sight. We took the darshan of Bhagawati the mother goddess at Kodangalur,on our way. This was once a great port of the Chera rulers of Tamilnadu. Cheran Senguttuvan is said to have built the temple to Kannagi - a manifestation of Kali or Durga.

We reached Chottanikkara late in the evening. Chottanikkara enshrines Bhagawati - the mother Goddess, one of the most popular deities in Kerala. The town of Chotanikkara is located near the city of Ernakulam. The image of Bhagawati is red in color, untouched by the human sculptor; this image is of irregular shape. This deity is worshipped in three different forms - as Goddess Saraswati in the morning - draped in white, as Bhadrakali at noon draped in crimson, and as Durga in the evening decked in blue. She is a much milder form. There is a flight of steps leading to the Keezhkaavu (temple which is down), a shrine to Bhadrakali. In the keezhkaavu shrine is a tree with hundreds of nails driven into its trunk, as a mark of devotees having been exorcised here. Worship here is believed to rid devotees of evil influences, psychological ailments, evil spirits etc. All of us got done the shatrudosha nivaarana puja and felt relieved for having eliminated our shatrus (enemies)!! After 11 o'clock there was an hour's tantric puja with drumbeats and the devotees who were having evil influences became violent and watching it was an experience by itself. We stayed overnight in rooms very near to the temple.

Early morning we started for Udayanapura. Here we had the darshan of  Lord Subramanya (son of Siva and Parvati and elder brother of Ganesh). Then dashed to see the Vaikom Mahadeva temple one of the most celebrated Shiva temples in South India. Vaikom is located at a distance of 33km south of Ernakulam. Legend has it that Kharan demon of Ramayana worshipped Shiva at Chidambaram and obtained from him three Shivalingams and journeyed holding one Shivalingam on each hand and one in his mouth. He came to Vaikom, and set the Shivalingam on the ground and to his dismay realized that it was rooted to the ground. Kharan therefore installed the other two Shivalingams at Ettumanur and Kaduthuruthy. Next temple we visited was Ettumanur and had the darshan of Shiva. Later we visited the Parur Saraswati temple. She is also called as Dakshina Mookambika. The temple is in the midst of a lake full of lotus flowers. A beautiful sight it was. The Parthasarathi temple at Aalamnur was decorated in sandalwood paste, a face so youthful, with big bright eyes charmed everyone. All these temples were on way to Pampa.

We reached Pampa at four in the evening. Dipped in the Pampa river, changed into new black robes. With Irumudi on our head, a sling bag on the shoulder we started to climb the hilly path to go to Sabarimala. Some took the doli (a chair carried by two persons) for health reasons. The upward journey was quite laborious for the first timers but was enjoyable in the group. Though the group was not homogeneous, but in a couple of day's time we had known one another so well.

At last we reached Sabarimala and from top it looked so sprawling.. Now was the time to climb the eighteen steps. The steps were broad and shining gold in the illuminated light. With our irumudis on our head we started climbing and there were volunteers to help us climb. In the season there is a crowd of hundreds of thousands and and it is said one remembers stepping on the first step and later straight away taken to the eighteen step. We had the darshan of Ayyappa Swami. He looked so child like and we loved Him at the first instance. The entire day was spent in having the darshan of Ayyappa Swami.

Evening was set for the Padipuja i.e. puja of the steps. The steps were decorated with huge flower garlands. On each side of the step big silver lamps were lit. The main Tantri (the priest) and his assistants came to do the rituals. He did the puja of eighteen silver pots decorated with flowers. Then each pot was kept on each step and puja was done. Meanwhile one of the priest started chanting the names of the Lord and lo! The entire crowd repeated and it reverberated in the surrounding hills and valley giving a hypnotic touch to the entire crowd. Words, cannot describe this event, one has to experience it. I wonder if there was any devotee whose eyes were not moist with this divine sight. Camphor was lit on each side of the step and it looked so bright and magnificent as if God showed His Vishwaroopa Darshana to all His devotees. Then those who had performed the puja had the opportunity of climbing the eighteen steps once again.

Next morning we climbed down the hill in about an hour and reached Pampa. After breakfast proceeded to Chengannur Mahadeva Temple. The temple closes by  noon. We had to really run to get the darshan of Shiva and Parvati. This temple is regarded as the Shakti peetham related to the legend of Daksha's sacrifice and Sati's self-immolation. Legend has it that the reproductive organ from Sati's body fell here. The Kamakhya temple in Assam holds the same legend and is also regarded as a Shakti Peetham. The western side of the sanctum enshrines Shiva - Chengannur Mahadevar while the eastern side enshrines Bhagawati - Parvati. The Shivalingam, is covered with a gold plate bearing an image of Ardhanareeswara- or the Shiva-Shakti manifestation of Shiva. It was a beautiful sight. On the other side is the Parvati, celebrated as a symbol of fertility. The deity is said to bleeds periodically. During this period, the Bhagawati shrine is closed and worship is offered to a processional image elsewhere in the temple. At the end of a three-day period, the processional image of the deity is taken to the nearby Pampa river on a female elephant; the returning procession is received ceremoniously at the temple, after which worship commences as usual at the Bhagawati shrine.

After lunch we started on our return journey with divine memories of our pilgrimage. In those five days all of us had come so close, we felt as if belonging to one family, the Lord's Family -- Vasudeva Kutumbakam.

See Also:

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