Saturday, November 29, 2014

Legend of Chakkulathu Kavu and Pongala

There will not be many people in India who are not heard about Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. Entry to this hill top temple is restricted to women. Only those who are below nine years old and above fifty are allowed here. Hence the number of female pilgrims is lesser to this temple. At the same time millions of women pilgrims are thronging at a temple in the Alappuzha district of Kerala which enjoys the reputation as the Sabarimala of Women. Chakkulathu Kavu, which is located at Thalavadi in Alappuzha is dedicated to Lord Devi. The soil of this place is considered serene as a bit of it will be taken usually to be a part of construction of any temples in Kerala.
The legend behind this temple goes like this. Once up on a time entire this place was a dense forest which will be in darkness even at noon. In such a thick forest once a hunter came for hunting. On his way he saw a golden color snake. It was common for him to come across with snakes and other wild animals and he did not get afraid, instead tried to kill it with his axe. Although he hit at the snake hard, snake did not get injured, instead it went back. He followed the snake and kept on hitting it. Finally the snake went over an ant-hill and took rest there. The hunter who followed the snake came there and hit at it again. This time, a small wound appeared on the head of the snake and blood started oozing out of it. To his surprise, the ant-hill too got broken and water started flowing out of it.
At that time hunter’s son and wife too reached there and got worried about the incidents. They went back to a nearby village and informed the people about the incident. When the villagers came there, a saint too came there and told them that there is the presence of divine power in the form of Adiparashakthi or Goddess Devi inside the ant-hill. He insisted the hunter to break open the ant-hill completely. He refused as he was scared and requested the saint to do so. Saint agreed and did so and found an idol of Devi inside that. He asked the villagers to start worshipping the goddess there.
It is believed that the saint who came there was saint Narada and those who came in disguise of the hunter, his wife and son were Lord Shiva, Parvathy and Ganesha. Thus the soil is believed to have blessed with the touch of holy feet of Lord Shiva, Parvathy, Ganesha and Saint Narada. That is the reason behind taking a bit of this soil to be a part of any constructions.
There was a pond in that area which was always filled with water. The water was as sweet as jaggery or palm-sugar. The words for jiggery and pond in the local language Malayalam are chakkara and kulam respectively. Thus this place came to known as Chakkarakulam or the Jaggery pond and later corrupted to Chakkulam. The place where the water started flowing out of the ant-hill is known as Neeretupuram. Later this pond has been filled and the present day temple has been constructed by Pattamana Illam, a famous Brahmin family of Kerala.
The Devi worshipped here is believed to be Kali who has finished her task of killing Chanda and Munda Asuras. Hence the divine power is considered to be in the ferocious form of Devi. Nearer to the main temple, there is another temple which is dedicated to “Yakshi Amma”. Yakshis are celestial creatures who used to live drinking human blood. This yakshi was also a cruel one. One day she caught hold of a poor girl who was an adamant devotee of this Devi. Hearing her cries Devi came there and seeing her furious face, Yakshi got scared and requested her to allow her a place to sit near her. She also promised that she will stop to be cruel and instead bless the devotees of Devi. This Yakshi is being worshipped in this temple as “Yakshi Amma”.

There is a legend behind Chakkulathu Pongala too. When the idol was found, it was the hunter and his family who took care of it for over a month. During those times, they used to cook food in mud vessels and used to offer the same to Devi. The rest over food will be taken in by the hunter and his family. Once, the hunter became late and his wife got worried. Her worry was that the Devi may feel hungry if not offered the food on time. When she started weeping out of this thought, A vessel full of cooked rice appeared beneath the nearby tree and she heard the voice of Devi telling her that today she had prepared food for her and her family. Even now it is believed that the Devi will participate in Pongala along with devotees and cook food along with them. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Legend of Thirunelli Punarjjani Guha, The Cave of Re-Births

According to Hinduism, the ultimate salvation is when you will not have to take birth in this earth. In Palakkad district of Kerala there is a cave which will provide salvation if you creep in through it. Located about six kilometers north east of famous Thiruvilwamala Temple, this cave attracts hundreds of devotees. However, it is not possible to creep in through the cave every day. Only on an auspicious day (Ekadashi or Malayalam month Vrischikam) devotees gather here to perform the serene ritual. Although many women devotees will visit this cave, they will not creep in through it. Only men are performing this act.
One will have to walk about a kilometer through the steep hillocks filled with sharp rocks and bushes to reach here. Although there are thick bushes around this cave, it is a matter of surprise that no reptiles are found here.

The rituals starts with the performance of a special pooja at the cave face by the priest of the nearby temple. Then he will take bath in the small spring near the cave which is called as “Papa nashini” or the destroyer of all sins. He will creep into the cave first. Then the devotees follow him after taking bath in the “Papanashini”.
The opening of the cave is quite large enough that a man can enter inside by walking, but as he keeps on moving, the height of the cave will gradually decreases and at first he will have to kneel down and then to crawl. As he reaches the end of the cave he will have to lie down on the floor with on his back and to move slowly. Here the floor is a bit wet and the entire cave will be in total darkness. One will have to catch hold of the legs of the person who is moving in front of him to move in the right direction.
At the end of this struggle, the light will be seen from the opening on the other end of the cave which will bring immense pleasure in the minds of devotees. Once the journey through the cave is completed, it is believed that all your sins are being pardoned. In other words, from then onwards, you will be leading a new life without any sins. In that way also the word “punarjjani” or re-birth which has been given to this cave is meaningful.

The legend behind this cave and this ritual goes back to the period of Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He lost his peace of mind with the guilty feeling of killing many Kshathriyas and his own mother. In order to escape from the clutches of those sins, he underwent a penance in the forest nearby this cave. During that time, it is believed that he had crept in through this cave one hundred and eight times and thus he got relieved from all his sins. This myth about the cave leads hundreds of devotees on a particular day in every year to this cave.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Legend of Aluva Shiva Temple and the rituals for the dead

Have you ever heard about a temple which will be beneath the water for over eight months and still thousands of people rush to worship there in the remaining four months? Yes there is a temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva in Aluva, near Kochi city in Kerala. Actually there are no perfect structures such as Gopuram, Garbhagriham etc in this temple. There is one Shivalinga which is believed to be made with sand. The same thing will remain immersed in the waters of River Periyar for over eight months. With the end of the winter season in Kerala, the water of River Periyar starts thinning and a sand bed will appear in the middle of the river. On the centre of this sand bed there will be this Shivalinga. A temporary temple will be constructed here every year during these four months.

This temple is considered equal to those famous Shiva Temples in Banaras, Sreesailam etc. Hence thousands of people gather here during Shivarathri festival. The sand bed witnesses Pithrutharpana, the rituals for the dead also in the morning after Shivarathri. People gather here to do pithrutharpana during the new moon day of Malayalam month Karkkidakam too. When the legend behind the temple is connected to Vilwamangalam Swamiyar, the holy person who is behind the legends of most of the temples of Kerala, the importance of this sand bed as the place to offer rituals for the dead goes back to Threthayuga.

During Threthayuga, Lord Sri Ram came to this place on his journey to Sri Lanka, in search of Seeta. Here he experienced the divine presence of Lord Shiva and hence performed the last rituals of Jadayu, who got killed amidst the efforts to free Seetha from the clutches of Demon Ravana. It is believed that by performing rituals at this place, the souls of the dead will get eternal peace. Hence every year thousands of devotees gather here to perform such rituals on the designated dates.
As mentioned earlier, the legend behind the temple is associated with the Holy Saint, Vilwamangalam Swamiyar. Once a naughty boy disturbed him while he was having bath and angry with the behavior of the boy he kicked him. Suddenly the boy took the shape of Lord Krishna and told the saint that he will not be with him anymore. Feeling guilty of kicking the Lord, Saint prayed for pardon. Lord asked him to come to the forests of Anantha (Ananthan Kadu).
Swamiyar started his journey to Ananthan Kadu and on the way he reached at the banks of River Periyar. As it was evening, he decided to have a bath in the river. However, he was not able to enter in the river as he saw the entire bank is covered with the hairs of Lord Shiva. After a long time he got an idea. He lied down on the sand and rolled down to the river. He did it because it is not good to touch the hairs of Lord with feet. After taking bath, he decided to know the reason behind the testing of Lord Shiva. He underwent a penance and at the end of it Lord Shiva appeared in front of him.

With the great joy of having got the sight of Lord Shiva, the saint made a Shivalinga with the sand there and started worshipping it. He was not willing to leave the place even after getting the sight of Lord. He remained there worshipping the linga he made of sand. A few days have passed. One day, three prominent people of the village came there and saw the Saint. They recognized him and asked about his intention to be there. Saint narrated the entire incidents and asked them to continue worshipping the idol. He suggested the methods to worship and told them that by doing so the entire village will get benefit.

Later a temple has been constructed there, but swiped away during a flood in the river. Still the Shiva Linga remained unaffected. This fact intensified the devotion of the locals and slowly the news spread across the state. Even now, the Shivalinga which is made of sand will not get damaged even after remaining immersed in the water for eight months.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Legend of Pambumekkaattu Naga Temple and the Story behind Nagarcoil

Snake worship is common in India and it is more in Kerala. We have already told the story of Mannarasala Snake Temple in this blog. Now here is the legend behind another famous and most powerful snake temple in Kerala, Pambumekkattu Naga Temple.
This temple is situated in Thrissur District of Kerala about 10 kilometers away from Iringalakkuda Temple. It is a private temple belongs to a Kerala Brahmin family called Pambumekkattu Mana. This family was earlier known as “Mekkattu Mana” and was very poor. Although Brahmins, who are placed in the upper layer of the hierarchy followed in the society on those days, they were not in a position to have two meal a day. Disturbed with the poverty and other tensions, then head of the family decided to undergo a bhajanam (Spending the entire day in any temple, worshipping the god installed there) of 12 years in the famous Shiva temple at Thiruvanchikkulam.
One day, the namboodiri (head of the family, Mekkattu) went to the temple pond after the temple has been closed for the day. It was so dark that he was not able to see even a foot ahead of him. He reached at the pond and stepped down. There he saw a stranger sitting on the steps leading to the temple pond. Out of curiosity, namboodiri asked him his where about. But the man was adamant to reveal and in turn advised Namboodiri to finish up his work and go. Namboodiri took water in the pot which was carrying with him and started climbing up the steps to go inside the temple premises. Then the stranger asked him to stop and came nearer him.

“Have you ever seen a ‘Manikya Stone’?” Stranger asked Namboodiri. Namboodiri told that he has not. Then the stranger opened his hands and shown him a stone. It was highly luminous and light up the entire area. Astonished with it Namboodiri asked him permission to take the stone to Kodungalloor Palace and to show the same to the Kodungalloor King. He agreed on the condition that the Namboodiri should return the stone after showing the same to the King.
Namboodiri took the stone and showed it to the King. Falling in love with the beauty of the stone, the king was reluctant to return it. He promised all his wealth for that stone. Although poor and trouble with poverty, Namboodiri was not ready to trade the stone. He was firm that he should return the same to its original owner as promised. He took back the stone and gave it back to the stranger and went to sleep. On that night Namboodiri could not sleep. He kept on thinking about the stranger. In between he heard a sound and mistake it as that of a cock. He thought that the dawn has arrived. He went directly to the pond to have bath.
There he saw the stranger again and asked him about his whereabout. His reply was the same as that of last night. Then Namboodiri fell on his feet and requested him to reveal his identity in the name of Lord Shiva. Here the stranger could not reject Namboodiri’s plea. He told Namboodiri that he is none other than ‘Vasuki’, the snake that adorning the neck of Lord Shiva. Then Namboodiri asked him to show his real figure. Vasuki cautioned that the Namboodiri will become unconscious by seeing the original figure, still he repeated his pleas.
Then Vasuki shown his real figure and the Namboodiri got fainted. After a brief interval he woke up. Vasuki was sitting there in the disguise of the stranger. Vasuki asked Namboodiri to ask for a boon. Namboodiri asked him that the presence of Vasuki should be there in his home and he should be able to overcome the poverty. As a reply Vasuki asked him to complete his Bhajanam and go to his house. He promised that by that he will come there after obtaining permission from Lord Shiva.

Later Namboodiri completed the Bhajanam and went back to his home. After reaching home, when he placed his umbrella on the floor, a small snake came out of that and changed to the form of stranger whom Namboodiri saw in the temple pond. It was Vasuki. He told Namboodiri that he has come there as Lord Shiva, impressed with Namboodiri’s devotion asked him to go and be here. He informed Namboodiri that a Nagayakshi (Wife of nagaraja is called as nagayakshi) also will join him soon.
When they were talking, Namboodiri’s wife came there from outside. When she placed her umbrella there, another small snake came out of it and turned to the form of Nagayakshi. Then Vasuki instructed Namboodiri to install their idols on the same place and start worshiping as per rituals. He promised that many snakes will come there soon and instructed that they should light fire anywhere in the compound instead the kitchen and temple. He also promised that the snakes will not bite any family members and even if bitten they will not get affected by the poison. Instead the snake will get affected with the poison and they should treat the snake soon.

Further Vasuki asked to keep two traditional lamps in front of the idols of Nagaraja and Nagayakshi. These lamps should be lighted round the clock. The oil used in these lamps or the carbon precipitate forms around the lamb will have the power to treat any skin related diseases. Then he gave the Manikya Stone to the Namboodiri and asked him to keep inside the house. From that day onwards the ‘Mekkattu’ family came to be known as ‘Pambumekkattu’. Pambu is the word for snake in the local language Malayalam.
From that time onward, the family never experienced poverty. There are many legends about the greatness of this temple, but only one is being mentioned here.
Once, the king of Pandinadu, present day Tamil Nadu suffered from a sort of skin diseases. He has been treated by many doctors but could not cure the same. Finally he sent messengers to ‘Pambumekkattu’ requesting help. The then head of the family went to the palace and cured the king. On his way back, he was taking rest inside a forest, where he heard a loud cry. He sent his assistants to find out the reason. They saw a lady belonging to a lower cast as per the hierarchy followed on those days crying loudly. They asked her for the reason and she pointed to a stone and told them that when she rubbed her sickle on that stone to sharpen it, blood started oozing out from it. When the assistants looked at the stone they too saw the blood over there. They went back and informed Pambumekkattu Namboodiri about it.
Nagaraja Temple at Nagarcoil

He came there soon and told the gathering that this is not an ordinary stone. Some saint has worshipped it as Nagaraja and the power is still there. Then he installed the stone as per the rituals and asked the locals to worship it regularly. Hearing the news many people have come there and worshiped the newly found idol of Nagaraja. They all donated generously and thus a small temple or Kovil as in the local language has been constructed there. Thus the place got the name Nagaru Kovil (Temple of Nagaraja) which later on turned to Nagarcoil.

Even now, Pambumekkattu Namboodiri has the tantric rights in that temple. Later when the revenue increased, then head of Pambumekkattu Mana decided to build a huge temple there and constructed one. However on the eve of the installation at the new temple, Vasuki approached him and told that he is not interested to be installed in the new temple, but prefer to be there where he is now. Thus an idol of Lord Vishnu and another idol of Shiva has been installed in the new temple.