Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Kodungallur Devi

Kodungallur Sree Kurumba Bhagavati Temple plays an important role in the history of Kerala. Kodungallur is important not only in the history of Kerala but also of India. It is mentioned in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The poets Pathanjali and Karthiyayan have referred to it in their poems; it also finds reference in the Chilappathikaram. Kodungallur is mentioned in the stone writings of Asoka as well and mention is found in the travelogues of both Pliny and Ptolemy under different names.

The Kodungallur temple is one of the four Devi temples which Bhargava Raman is said to have installed at the four boundaries of Kerala. The popular belief is that in order to save the devotees from the epidemic of chicken pox the Lokambika was installed in the Kodungallur temple by Bhargava Raman. The responsibilities and rituals in the temple are classified and distributed among different categories of people, and the rights, duties and titles are distributed according to their work, skill and taste. That Brahmins have no rights in this temple is a thing to be noted. This is one of those rare temples where the Brahmins are not performing the pooja. The officiating priests in the temple are known as Adikal, who are outcaste Brahmins.

Situated in the middle of about 10 acres of land, the temple's surroundings are extremely scenic and was once surrounded by banyan and peepal trees. There are a lot of secret paths, and chambers in the temple, that make the place all the more sacred and deep.

It is quite interesting to learn that this temple of Kali was dedicated to Lord Siva in the beginning, and later a majestic six foot high wooden image of Kali facing the north was installed. Now both are adored in separate shrines. According to belief this imposing idol was made out of the trunk of a single jack fruit tree. It has eight arms and is holding different kinds of potent weapons. The dazzling diamond decked necklaces and chains, sparkling by the rays of oil lamps hung up around, enhance her beauty and wring veneration at first sight. The unique peculiarity of this temple is the Secret Chamber. It is believed that Sankara installed Mahameru Sree Chakra inside the Secret Chamber. The deity Sivalinga is facing east. There is an independent entry to the Siva temple from eastern side. In this Siva temple there is no Nandi. This is also a peculiar phenomenon.

The Deities Venerated in the Temple :
Though the goddess Devi Prathishta is facing the north, importance is given to the thekke nada (southern gate). The eastern gate is also important because the Holy of Holies (Rehasiya Arra, literal meaning, the secret room) is facing east. The chakras installed by both Bhargava Raman and Adi Sankarachariar are in the secret room. The Ganapathi Prathishta is in the southeast corner facing west. The Seven Mother Deities (Saptha Mathrukkal Prethishta) are facing north. The pallival and chilanka (sword and ornament) of the goddess are venerated in the Pallimada Shetram in the northern side. Thavittu Muthi, facing west, and Vasurimala Shetram, facing north, are situated outside the chuttambalam (encircling wall). One "chicken stone" (koshikkallu) in the eastern gate and two "chicken stones" at the northern gate are installed.

Siva is the main deity venerated in the sreekovil (main temple) today. The other subordinate deities mentioned above are installed according to the rites and prescriptions of a Siva temple. Some of the essential deities, Dhwara Palakar and Nandi, as well as the kodimaram (flag post) that go with the Siva pantheon are missing in the Kodungallur temple, an omission which is believed to be due to successive attacks and destruction of the temple.

Kodungallur Thalla/Amma :
Chamundi, one of the Seven Mothers, is venerated and worshipped in the temple, and the rites and rituals are patterned after appeasing the goddess Chamundi. A serene and composed Devi with eight hands after killing Dharuka is venerated in different incarnations. This is said to be the uniqueness as well as the glory of the Kodungallur Mother Goddess (Amma). Devi is worshipped as Sarawathi during Navarathri festivities, Mahalakshmi during Thalappoli festivities and Durga during Meenabharani celebrations. The Tamil devotees venerate Devi as Kannaki. For the people of Kodungallur, Devi is Kodungallur Amma. Over and above all else, Devi takes different forms according to the different times of the day. Accordingly, Devi is considered to be Saraswathi in the early morning, Durga in the late morning, Bhadra Kali in the afternoon and Parvathi in the evening. Some devotees think that the same deity of Lokanar Kavu near Vadakara in northern Kerala is venerated as Kodungallur Amma and that is the reason why the people of Vadakara are given special importance in the Kodungallur Bhagavati Shetram. The peculiarity here is that, though people venerate the deity under different forms, there is no difference in the rituals.

Kodungallur Meena Bharani :
The festival Bharani comes in the Malayalam month Meenam which corresponds to March-April. Bharani is the second asterism of the lunar month and that is the most important day of the festival. The festival observed in goddess Bhadrakali's honour is mostly celebrated by the low-caste Avarnas, to celebrate the goddess's victory over the demon Daarika. A large congregation of Velichappad (oracles), both men and women come to participate in this peculiar festival.
The Godess as Kali and her dependants are supposed to revel in their greed for blood. The shedding of blood by the sacrifice of a large number of cocks form a distinguishing feature of this festival.

The festival officially opens with the ritual 'Kozhikkallu moodal' on the Thiruvonam day of the month of Meenam. The ritual involves sacrificing a cock on a red silk cloth placed near two stones that stand covered with sand outside the line of circumambulation, in the northern precincts of the temple. The members of the Kodungallore Bhagavathy family has the right for performing the ritual. The first cock is offered by the Thacholi clan, the ancestors of the popular hero Thacholi Othenan from Vadakara in North Kerala. The ceremony symbolizes the beginning of the fight between the goddess and the demon.
After the cock stone ceremony, Venad flags are hoisted on a peepal tree in the north eastern corner of the temple by Edamukku Moopan's symbolizing the relation.

Among the high feast celebrations (Maholsawams), the most important and the most famous is the Bharani festivity. Though the celebration is simple without elephants and other accompanying extravaganzas, thousands come from all over the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The celebration reaches its peak on the three days of Revathi, Aswathi and Bharani. On Revathi, the important ritual is seeing the Revathi Lamp; and on Aswathi, it is the ritual of Thrichambaracharthu. On the day of Bharani is the famous ritual of Kavu Theendal. A red ceremonial umbrella is unfolded over the king's head. This is the signal to begin the ritual. The vellichappads in their red attire charge around the temple in a mad rush, waving their sabres in the air, while members of their retinue strike the temple roof beam with sticks and hurl objects including cocks over the roof on to the inner quadrangle. Their cry of nada- nada-a is varied by terms of unmeasured abuse leveled at the goddess of the shrine. This abusive language is supposed to be acceptable to her.
The offerings by devotees include turmeric powder, kumkum, pepper etc and the cocks. A particular spot inside the temple is set apart for the distribution of Manjal Prasadam (turmeric powder on which divine blessings have been invoked). Some of the devotees anoint themselves with turmeric, some others dance and sing abusive songs while some of the oracles hit themselves with the sabre and start bleeding. The velichappads and their followers circle the temple three times in a frenzy and then fall before the king for his blessing.
The temple is then closed to the public for a week. Its doors reopen after the 'purificatory' rituals are conducted to cleanse the shrine of the 'stain' of Kavu Theendal. The purificatory ceremony is conducted on Kartika day, the next day after the Bharani. The premises of the temple and its vicinity are swept clean and the wells purified. In the evening, the eastern door is opened and the inner precincts are swept clear. The Nampootiri priests go in and perform the 'punnyaham' or purificatory ceremony and give away Pasu Dhanam or gift of cows as an adjunct of the purificatory ceremony. The usual daily poojas are resumed from the next day onwards.
A large number of devotees attend this pooja as it is esteemed a great merit to worship when the shrine is opened after the festival. The pilgrims take home the 'prasada' consisting of sandal paste mixed with turmeric and a black paint of burnt rice known as 'chantu'.After this ritual, the nada (entrance) is closed, and it will be opened only on the day of Pooyam after seven days. With this, the celebration comes to an end.

Devotees come for the Bharani in groups wearing red clothes with a sword and wearing aramani (small bells tied to the waist) and chilanka (a leg ornament that makes a sound while walking) in a devotional trance rhythmically running and jumping and melodiously yelling and shouting, "Devi Sharanam. '' They march as if they were going to a battlefield. The continuous flow of such large and small groups to the temple from far-off places is a rare sight in temple celebrations.

The devotees believe that Devi will protect them from their misfortunes that arise out of enmity, evil spirits, the effect of black magic and from all dangers in life. The emotions of fear, devotion, hatred, jubilation - in short, all rasas (emotions) - are displayed by the devotees as they march towards the temple entrance. In fact, it is a celebration of total emotions, and the devotees uninhibitingly indulge in it in the presence of Kodungallur Amma.

The participants in the celebrations are known as Bharanikkar (people who come for Bharani). Those who come from the south are known as Thekker (people from the south), and those who come from the north are identified as Vadakker (people from the north). Within the temple, the devotees address themselves as mooppan (elder). It is commonly believed that the most important day of the festivity is the day of Aswathi; but from the point of view of the people's participation and emotional involvement and display, the day of Revathi (i. e., the day before Aswathi) is more important. This is the day that the lower-caste people from all over Kerala and Tamil Nadu come to worship the goddess Thalla.

Keezhkkavu :

The Pulaya family attached to the temple has its own rights, which are maintaining a parallel small temple known as the Keezhkkavu (low-caste temple). The Pulaya also have clear and important rights in the temple celebration.

The Keezhkkavu is traditionally managed by a Pulaya family known under the special title Vallon, which has rights and special privileges in the Kodungallur temple. In the Melkkavu (upper-caste temple) celebration, the Keezhkkavu has a significant role in the performance of rites and rituals.

The present myth circulated about the Keezhkkavu by high-caste people is that the couple, Vallon and his wife Chakki, belonging to the Pulaya caste, immigrated to the present place out of fear of Asura called Daruka. This place is known as Pulayappadam as only Pulayas inhabited the area. The chieftain of the Pulayas was given the honorary title Vallon for looking after Pulayappadam.

After beheading Daruka, Bhatra Kali came to the Pulaya hut with Daruka's head to dispel the fear of the Pulaya couple, and she lived with them for 14 days. While living with the Pulaya couple, Devi ate fried husk, toddy and chicken. A happy and contented Devi blessed them and disappeared, saying that her presence will always be there and that the food that was s e r ved to her can be used as an offering to her by the devotees.

The king who came to know about this story built a small temple and erected a statue that is worshiped even today.

Devi also promised Vallon that she would come to Pulayappadam seven days in a year so that he need not take the trouble to go to the Melkkavu. From that day onward, no male member of the Vallon family went to the Melkkavu to worship; women did not strictly follow it, however. Though the men from the Vallon family do not go inside the temple, they do pay respect (darsan) to Devi from outside the temple and take a holy bath from the temple pond. They follow these practices even today.

The Rituals at the Keezhkkavu:

On Kumbabharani every year, the annual festival of the Melkkavu starts with a flag-hoisting ceremony. That day, before beginning the flag-hoisting ceremony, along with offering a cock, other rituals are performed in the Keezhkkavu. The same is true also for the Kozhikallu Moodal (Covering the Chicken Stone) ceremony that takes place as a preparation for the annual Meenabharani celebration during which the singing of sexually abusive songs and pollution of the Kavu takes place. A temporary pavilion is built at the Keezhkkavu that is known as Thallakke Pandal Virikkal (making a tent for mother; thalla is the most pure Malayalam word for mother, which is out of use today). After this ceremony, it is believed that the presence of Devi increases in Pulayappadam. The picture with four hands of Devi is drawn using different coloured powders in the pavilion. The people from Kadathanade, a place in northern Kerala, have the right to do this. Pooja and other rituals will be performed, and the offering is always husk, toddy and chicken - the food that was offered to Devi when she first came to Pulayappadam.

On Aswathi, the second day of the three-day main celebration - Revathi, Aswathi and Bharani - the Vallon and his helpers pay a ritual visit to the thamburan (ruler) and receive pattu (a piece of silk cloth), valu (a sword), vala (a bangle), mala (a chain) and vadi (a stick). He then goes to the temple for darsan in a procession to the accompaniment of a drum. Three times he goes around the temple and comes back to the Keezhkkavu and climbs the tattu, a temporarily built tower. This ritual is known as Vallon Tattu Kayari (Vallon Claimed the Tower). The Vallon remains on the tower, receiving offerings and the blessing of devotees until the Kanu Theendal ceremony is over in the Melkkavu. After climbing down from the tower, offerings, sacrificing cocks and other rituals take place.

The Chavalakar (people from Chavala) and Oodikkar (people from Oodi) go to the Melkkavu only after visiting the Keezhkkavu first. Similarly, most of the devotees who come from the north and south pay a visit to the Keezhkkavu and break coconuts before they return.

On the day of Bharani after the morning pooja, after erasing the kalam (the picture of Devi with four hands), the spot is covered with red silk cloth. The olakkuda (coconut-leaf umbrella) is placed in the
kalam on the eastern side, and the lamp is lit. This lamp remains until the pooja begins in the Melkkavu after seven days. On all seven days, a cock will be sacrificed every evening.

On the day when the Melkkavu is opened after seven days of "mourning," there is the ceremony of sacrificing the cock (Guruthi). The valliathampuran (ruler) used to participate in this ceremony with the santhikaran (officiating priest). It was the custom, after the Guruthi at the Keezhkkavu, that they immediately go to the Melkkavu to open the nada (temple gate) for the public to worship. This was considered as escorting Devi from the Keezhkkavu to the Melkkavu, but this custom has been discontinued for the last several years. Likewise, for the last several years, there is not Desaguruthi in the Keezhkkavu. The absence of a
Velichappad is said to have been the reason for it.

The last Velichappad died about a century ago. No suitable person has been identified thus far. The presence of a Velichappad is inevitable for the Desaguruthi. When Devi is taken from the Melkkavu to the Keezhkkavu and back, the Vallon should be accompanying Devi with his official dress and status symbol, a cane stick. During the ceremony, the Vallon should stand on the northern side of the Guruthi pavilion. While this ceremony is taking place, the Melkkavu is open, and the valliathampuran was to stand as a sentry at the Melkkavu until Devi returns after the ceremony in the Keezhkkavu. Similarly, the Vallon returns only after accompanying Devi back to the Melkkavu.


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