Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple
"So now we are going to find out the missing link of the destroyed Arathali Siva Temple (One of the 108 Siva Temples). And for that we should visit the Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple" - said Ram as we started out from our home.
Just about 3 km from the famous Kodungallur Bhagavathi Temple, 8 km from Azhikode, 10 min walk from Thrikulasekharapuram, 5 min walk from Cheraman Juma Masjid is one of the earliest and ancient temples in Kerala which is of great historic importance - Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple. By the way, for us, Thiruvanchikulam is just 5 minute ride (on our bicycles) from our home.
Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple is believed to be more than 2000 years old and is considered as the capital of the Chera Kingdom. The revival of the ancient art form Koodiyattam by the Chera King Kulasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal should have taken place in these premises. However, as happened to several historic temples around, the frequent invasions by several foreign powers resulted in its devastation and destruction of its true history. Its glory now stands decimated leaving behind just the scars of the past.
Imagine - A very vast picturesque paddy field along the banks of river Periyar with a Bilva (Aegle marmelos) tree and self-originated (swayambhoo) Siva temple in its middle. The farmers and chieftains (Villuvar Chera Tribe?) living around worshipped the Lord there. This is how it might be centuries ago. The Siva idol is just about four inches above the ground level and is in the form of half-circle. The pratishta is considered to be of Uma Maheswara as revealed to Sage Parasurama. The godly serpent (Vasuki) and holy Nagas (serpents) were also worshipped here. There was water all around and during monsoon, the rain water floods the entire temple along with the surrounding paddy fields.
This is corroborated by Sivanandachettan, a septuagenarian who is living close to this temple since his childhood.
"I remember till about 30 years back, during monsoon, the rain waters used to flood the entire inner temple complex. The wharf will reach till the East Gopuram and the priests will do the daily rituals of the Lord in above knee high water on the submerged idol. Now there is no such rain or may be the dams are stopping the floods."
The legends say that the head Namboothiri (Malayali Brahmin) of Mekkat Mana came here and prayed the Lord to eradicate his severe poverty. With Lords grace, Vasuki and Nagayakshi went with him and stayed at his Mana (Namboothiri House). This is now famous as Paambu Mekkad Mana which is located just about 12 km from here.
"This legend is beautifully explained in the must read book - Ithihyamala of Kottarathil Sankunni" - says Abhi
One key aspect we observed in this temple is its distinct Tamil link with the presence of the bronze idol of Nataraja and the Tamil inscriptions around. Legends advocated by Tamil devotees tell us the story of Chera King Rajasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal (Later Chera Dynasty - 820-844 AD) and Sundaramurthi. They both were staunch devotees of Lord Siva and figure in the list of the 63 Nayanars (Shivite Devotional Poets, PeriyaPuranam). Those two great saints attained eternal bliss on Swati day in the Malayalam month of Karkidakam (August-September) and it is believed that the "Kollam" era (Malayalam calendar) started from that day. Every year several devotees from Tamil Nadu arrive here on this day for special rituals and poojas.
"Both the Nayanar Saints - Chera King Rajasekhara Varman Cheraman Perumal and Sundaramurthi - are believed to have ascended to Kailas from this place. Much of the history of this temple is described in Tamil epics. May be due to that reason, we do not truly realize the significance of this temple. It virtually has the Samadhi of those two great saints. “- tells Sri.Rajeev M.G who has done a lot of study about this temple.
The temple has special significance to the Cochin Royal Family (Perumpadappu Swaroopam, 12th Cent.) The Lord of Thiruvanchikulam is their Para Devatha. There were many special offerings made by the Maharaja of Cochin. The Cochin Raja becomes fullfledged Maharaja only on ceremoniously worshipping the Royal family deity, Thiruvanchikulathappan. These ceremonies are known as Mooppu kitti Ezhunnallathu and Vazhcha Iruthal. Now the temple is managed by Cochin Devaswom Board. This temple was richest in regard to landed properties but is now most uncared for.
‘Sheeveli’ at the Temple
The main temple is rectangular with a mukha-mandapam and garbhagraham. In front of the entrance are two Dwarapalakas which are excellent pieces of art, and more than six feet high. There is only one Gopuram which is on the East side and is believed to be renovated in 1831 A.D by the then Paliath Achan (Chief Minister of Maharaja of Cochin). The temple itself is believed to be renovated in 1801 A.D by the King Rama Varma. Sadly, the mural paintings inside the temple are almost in faded form even though the temple is under the Archaeological Survey of India. The legends say how during the renovation of the temple, the Raja of Cochin attempted to re-install the idol from its present location. But as they started digging around the idol they found it is just getting wider. On realizing the idol is Swayamboo, this attempt was abandoned.
"From the perspective of a three feet kid this entire temple complex is like an amazing maze – with several tricky passages, curious stones of yester era, those mysterious wells, ponds - it is virtually like being in a different world altogether. And then, when it rains in the evening, the mystery deepens. Beetles and frogs play the symphony to the beats of rain drops. The glow worms twinkle around with their light effects! Yes. For me, this is the temple with which so much of my childhood is packed with. In fact it provided a perfect backdrop to nurture our little curious minds" - says Divs on his impressions during 1980s about this Temple.
Temple pond outside East Gopuram
Of late, several people come to this temple mainly for the offering known as Dampathi Pooja.
“In my childhood (maybe I was 10 years old then), during Meena Bharani festival, my Uncle used to take me to the temple. Apart from the devotees, there were several mendicants as well who crowded at the West side of the temple. I saw there those with one leg, with skeleton structure, hunch back, anaemic kids and several others with various handicaps. They were sitting in a seemingly endless row, under hot sun and dusty sand, waiting patiently for the ten or twenty paise coins thrown to them. Now, come every full moon the entire stretch of the same compound can be seen packed with vehicles of devotees. Poverty has vanished. There was crowd then. There is crowd now. Only thing is that the reason to come down to this temple has changed. Among all, one thing which probably has not changed at all is the Lord who sees this all!” – concludes Divs.
Out of 274 Shaivite Thiruppathies in India, only one is in Kerala and it is Thiruvanchikulam.
1. Article by Kasturi Gangadhara Menon B.Sc., B.L., Vanchulesa! Thou Art My Refuge
2. Keezheedatthu Vasudevan Nair, Thiruvanchulesa Mahakshetram (Malayalam)