Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chettikulangara Bhagawathi Temple

Chettikulangara Bhagawathy
By
P.R.Ramachander
(I have used the write up on this temple in the Wikipedia in many places verbatim. My
acknowledgements are due to that great work.)
Chettikulangara, Bhagawathy temple is one of the very renowned temples of Kerala. It is
about 5 km from Mavelikkara and 6 km from Kayangulam. In this temple the Goddess
appears like Goddess Saraswathy in the morning, Goddess Lakshmi in the noon and
Goddess Durga at night. The temple is believed to be 1200 years old and is in the middle
of 13 Karas (Residential areas of Nairs). It is one of the temples with very high income
running to several crores in Kerala. Nairs and Ezhavas play a major role in the worship
and conduct of festivals in this temple.
The idol of the temple is made using Jack wood. It seems once the idol got slightly
dilapidated and the people decided to have a new idol. They after arduous search located
a suitable Jack wood tree in a private compound in Aranmula. But the owner of the tree
refused to give the tree for making of the idol. That day it seems the owner of the tree
dreamt that he was being beaten by The Bhadrakali. When he woke up next day all over
his body were the mark of the beating. Immediately he offered the tree and the present
idol was made from that tree.
There are several stories about the origin of this temple. It seems the people of this
area used to attend the festival in the Koypallikarazhma Bhagavathi temple before this
temple was built. That chieftain of that village humiliated the people of this area.
Because of this they prayed Goddess Bhagawathi to come to their country. In the dream
of one of them, the Goddess appeared and told that she will come to their country. After a
few days an old woman was seen walking towards the temple. She needed to cross a river
to reach this place. A Christian boat man helped her to cross the river and also started
helping her to reach her destination. On the way that old lady became very tired and sat
down below a tree. The boatman went to a nearby house, where some work was going on
and brought some Kanji (rice gruel) and chutney made using horse gram. The old lady
took them and went to a near by tank to wash her hands. There was a Brahmin lady in
steps of the tank. She saw the old lady getting in to the tank and vanishing there. She also
saw a very bright light there. The people of the village called the astrologers who found
out that that lady was Bhagawathy herself. So they built a temple for her there. The
family of the Christian boatman were entrusted the job of the Fire cracker worship in the
temple. They also offer daily to the Goddess the rice gruel and Horse Gram Chutney.
Below the tree where the goddess took rest, they also built a temple for her called
Puducherry temple.
According to another version, this temple was consecrated by Padmapadacharyar (a
leading disciple of Adi Shankara) on the Uthrittathi day of Makara month in A.D. 823.
There is a firm argument that the goddess here was a family deity, and later emerged as
the village and regional deity. Local historians oppose the argument that the temple is not
as ancient as the nearby Kandiyoor Mahadeva temple or Mavelikara Krishna Swamy
temple as it had not been mentioned in Unnuneeli Sandesam written in the 14th century.
According to late Kandiyoor Mahadeva Shasthri, Samudra Bandhan–a leading courtier
of Ravi Varman, an ancient King of Venad had visited this temple and wrote poems on
Bhagavathi.Similarly Aadithya Kulasekharan, the King of Venad (1374 A.D. to 1389
A.D.) also had visited the Chettkulangara temple, argues them. However, it is to be said
that the present Sreekovil of the temple is only 450-480 years old, and the Chuttambalam
is not more than two centuries old. Local historians say that the temple infrastructure and
the surroundings were developed by various local chieftains from time to time. The
present Sreekoil was revamped during A.D.1540. Because of a small fire at this temple,
the Chuttambalam was slightly modified during the Malayalam year 1002.
It is also believed that Chettikulangara Amma (the main deity) is the daughter of
Kodungallur Amma, brought to that place for the well being of all people at
Onattukara(Mavelikara).
In front of the temple there is a huge lamp in which you can put thousand wicks. One
of the major offering at the temple is lighting the lamp. Since the statue of the Goddess is
made of Jack tree wood, it is coated with red paste of Kumkum(called Chandadal often.
Besides the main deity there are also temples for Yakshi, mukoorthi, Rakthakshi,
Thevara Murthy, Kannampalli Bhagawathy, Ganapathy , Naga raja, Naga Yakshi,
Brahma Rakshas, Valia Achan and Balakan in this temple.
Festivals of the temple
The Temple has a number of festivals. The important ones are
Parayeduppu
In the numerous temples of Onattukara, the "Parayeduppu" period is the festival season.
It all begins when the deity ("Devi") of Chettikulangara temple is taken out in procession
for Parayeduppu on the Makayriam star of the Malayalam month Makaram(January-
February). The festivals continue to the end of Medam(April-May). The main part of
Parayeduppu is the Jeevatha constructed in the model of the temple structure itself. This
box-like carriage for the deity rests on two teakwood poles about two meters long, and is
in the form of a palanquin . The front resembles "Thidambu" behind which is a kind of
pettakam (small chest ) built as per Thachusaasthra calculations. Up front is a woollen
cloth embroidered with shining, colourful pictures and gold trinkets. Behind that is kept
the deity's holy dress, starched and pleated, and decorated with small mirror pieces. More
than 100 families form the entourage of Parayeduppu Bhagavathy’s - five month long
visit to the homes of people who lives in her Karas
The rhythms used during Jeevatha Ezunnallathu (procession) are quite noteworthy.
Starting with very slow beats, it builds up a crescendo and ends in fast beats. The
ensemble consists of Veekkan chenda, Uruttu chenda (both drums), Elathaalam
(cymbals), Kombu and Kuzhal (both, wind instruments).
Although Jeevatha Ezunnallathu and Parayeduppu are centuries old customs, the
"Chuvadu Vechu Kali" (a peculiar dance with unique steps) is relatively recent.
Kumbha Bharani
The major festival at Chettikulangara is Kumbha Bharani Festival. This is in the month
of march or April. The date is determined according to the Malayalam Calendar
KollaVarsham. In that this day comes in the month of Kumbha and the day which has the
star Bharani and hence the name Kumbha Bharani. The highlight of the festival is
[Kuthiyottam] and [Kettukazha].
The preparation for Kumbha Bharani starts 7 days before the actual day and incidentally
that day will be the Shivarathi. People who had pledged for Kuthiyottam will start
training their children for the offering on that day. All these 7 days these people will host
public get-togethers and arrange food for them. The children will be taught a special
dance steps called Kuthiyoota chuvadukal etc.Meanwhile the people from 13 karas of
chettikulangara will arrange for the construction of [Kettukazhcha] to the temple.
The Kuthiyottam processions starts early morning on that day and will last until
afternoon. Those who had offered Kuthiyottam to Devi will bring their children to the
temple as a procession and will offer the children before Devi as sacrifice. The boys will
be playing the Kuthiyootam dance before the Devi. During the evening hours it will be
turn of the Kettukazhcha. People from each area will pull the Kettukazhcha from the
construction sites (usually in their respective karas itself) to the temple to preset them
before the Devi and after having darshan the parties take up their respective position in
the paddy fields lying east of the temple
During the night, the image of Devi will be carried in procession to the Kettukazhcha
stationed in the paddy fields. On the next day these structures will be taken back. A big
bazaar is also held at Chetikulangara as part of this festival.
Ethirelpu Ulasvam
This is the annual temple festival. On the tenth day following the Kumbha Bharani the
annual festival is celebrated in the temple for 13 days. Each day of the festival is
organized by residents of each Kara numbering 13. special rituals are held in the temple
premises. Every afternoon, cultural processions start form each Kara to the temple
premises, with the accompaniment of drums, ornamented umbrellas, kuthiyottam songs,
display of events from the Mahabharatha and the Ramayana, classical art forms, folk art
form, different type of music, decorated structures and caparisoned elephants.
During the rituals at the temple Thottampattu is sung. Thottampattu is a devotional song
sung by a certain section of the community residing in the far off Trivandrum. This song
is sung in the temple only during the Etheralpu festival.
Performance of classical arts and other temple arts are conducted in the evening in the
temple premises
Aswathy Ulasvam
The unique rituals during the Aswathy festival clearly convey the firm bondage and
human pathos at the time of separation between the people and their beloved Bhagavathy.
Held in the Aswathy day in the month of Meenom (March-April), this festival is
attracting a large number of visitors. This festival is imagined as a send off to the deity on
her journey to visit her mother at Kodungallur. In the evening, 100 odd decorated
[Kettukazhcha] and different effigies are brought to the temple mainly made by the
children. Though the size of these Kettukazhcha are comparatively smaller than the ones
made for Bharani festival, the number of Kettukazhcha provide a visual impact even
challenging the aesthetic effect of Bharani. During the day, Bhagavathy visits the four
karas surrounding the temple for Parayeduppu and official Anpolis are given by Kara
leaders at Kuthirachevudu, the place where Kuthiras are made. After that she visits and
blesses the offerings displayed at the temple premises.
By dawn, she decides to leave, and seeks their permission to leave for Kodungallur. The
people of the first four karas make Polavilakku ( a large structure drawn on wheels
decorated with tender banana stem and lighted with numerous traditional lamps) during
her farewell procession. They offer her a grand farewell procession with Aappindi [a
unique slow paced dance carrying a pyramid shape box on head). Aappindi will be
embellished with crackers, pookkula ( cluster of coconut flowers - inflorescence ), and
will be covered with tender banana stems and Thalapppoli (traditional sacred lamps
carried by ladies).
People from Kaitha North and Kaitha South participate in the function with
Thiruvantham. It is said that Thiruvantham, a palanquin type structure with fireballs and
carried by four people, is the light of Darika , which incenses the Bhagavathy. She scares
them away. After the procession, she again visits the Upaprathishtas and asks the people
and other gods to let her visit her mother at Kodungallur.
By dawn, she proceeds with lightning sped towards west. Normally, within the 100
meters, the Poojaris carrying the Jeevatha will fall down unconsciously, and the Jeevatha
will be taken back to the temple.
The temple will remain closed for the day, and will be opened only the day after. The
Aswathy festival concludes the five month long festivities at this temple.
Kettukazhcha
Kettukazhcha is an offering of the people of Chettikulangara to their beloved deity
known for her spontaneous blessings on true devotees as a mark of gratitude, devotion,
unflinching faith, and for showering prosperity and protection to their lives. Kettukazhcha
displays deftly sculpted and decorated forms of six temple cars known as ‘Kuthiras’, five
Therus’ (Chariots ) and icons of Bhima and Hanuman . All the temple cars, chariots and
the icons are all incredibly gigantic in size and are many times larger than any other
similar Kuthiras and Therus built during the festivities at other temples in the Central
Travancore region. On the move, these out of the world sky scrapping colourful
decorations are electrifying, and will create an unforgettable artistic impression in union,
especially during the night in the back drop of illuminated lights. Chettikulangara
Kettukazhcha heralds the architectural and aesthetic acumen of the ancient people of
Chettikulangara, who could convert an improbable out of the world concept to an
enormous artistic reality, achieved by collective hardships and will power.
Lineage according to historians
Historians attribute the concept of ‘Kettukazhchas’ - similar to the architecture of the
‘Buddha tradition in square, rectangular and pyramid shapes, to the remnants of the
Buddha culture which was widely prevalent in the Central Travancore region a few
centuries ago.
Many historians cite that the famous Chettikulangara Kettukazhcha in the present form is
not more than 180 to 200 years old, and was started during the early part of the 19th
century.
According to a popular legend, a group of village chieftains and their workers went for
civil works to construct the Kollam–Chavara Thodu (canal), about 50 km away from
Chettikulangara, in accordance to the decision from the then ruler of the region. But they
could not return to their native place due to the unforeseen inordinate delay in completion
of the canal. They pleaded with the authorities, but their request was turned down. During
the period, they got an opportunity to visit the temple festivities at Kollam
Mulankagakam temple, and were attracted by the Kettukazhcha there. They vowed to
their local deity Chettikulangara Bhagavathy, that they would construct Kettukazhchas
for her every year, if they were allowed to leave for Chettkulangara immediately. To their
surprise, they were allowed to return to Chettikulangara the very next day, and as
promised, they made huge Kettukazhchas and took them to their Bhagavathy’s premises.
Kuthiras
Kuthiras have a height of about 70 to 75 feets, and are a union of four parts– Adikkoottu,
Kathirakal, Edakkodaram, Prabhada and Melkkoodaram, one above the other
respectively.
Adikkottu the basic structure also known as Vandikkoottu, form the basic foundation
which consists of four big wooden wheels interconnected with four other beams above it.
Kuthiras have Thandu, two long huge wooden poles helpful to control the direction while
on the move. Thandu and the basic structure are interconnected and have reinforced
wooden bearings similar to the modern shock absorbers.
Kathirukal with about 35 feet height, consists of four long poles interconnected with
Arecanut poles known as ‘Alaku’ and reinforced with coir and Panavalli knots. These are
again strengthened with ‘Kuthukathrika’ or criss cross formation of Alakus. Kathirakal is
again bifurcated to two parts–the lower portion consisting of four to five extended layers
of Thattu and Charippu (slanting pyramid shaped boxes, made of interconnected Alakus
and coir formation, then decorated with white cloth known as Vella, colourful glittering
clothes and embellishments called ‘Thookku’.
Prabhada consists of exquisite wooden carved sculptors narrating stories from the
Puranas, elephant caparisons called Nettipattoms, Thalekkettu and Aalavattom displayed
in the backdrop of colourful clothes and sculptors. Many of the Prabhadas have stories
like Gajendramoksham, Vasthrapaharanam,Krishnavatharm.
Edakkoodaram almost half the size of Kathirakal with four to five Charippu made as in
the lower portion, comes above the Kathirakal. It also has glittering different clothes and
Vella, interlaced with colourful Thookku embellishments.
Melkkoodaramthe top structure is exactly having a pyramid shape, and pivotal to it is an
extended long sculpted wooden pole in white colour known as ‘Nambu’. All the separate
units are pulled up and placed one above the other with the help of wooden pulleys, giant
coir ropes called Vadams with a length of over 100 fts.and with huge iron structures,
drawn by hundreds of people.
Theru
Theru does not have the Prabhadas and Edakkoodarams. Their illithattu and charippu
are larger than that of the Kuthiras and diminishes in size upwards. Therus are also
relatively smaller in comparison to the Kuthiras height
Bhima and Hanuman The wooden icons of Bhima made by Mattom North and
Hanuman brought by Mattom south are probably the largest of its kind in the world, and
are sure to be the largest in Kerala. Bhima’s icon is postured as the Pandava en route to
kill Baka on Pothu Vandi (vehicle drawn by buffalos) with food for the Rakshasa King.
Mattom south kara also brings the icon of Panjali along with Hanuman
Preparations for constructing the Kettukazhchas start from Shivarathri, about six to ten
days prior to Kumbhabharani. On the evening of Kumbhabharani, the Kettukazhchas are
dragged to the temple by hundreds of people, and are paraded at the paddy field in front
of the temple. After Bhagavathi’s Ezhunnellippu to bless the Kettukazhchas and people,
the Kettukazhchas are taken back to the respective Karas by next morning. The
dismantled parts of Kettukazhchas are kept at the ‘Kuthirappura’ of each Karas.
Kuthiyottam
Kuthiyottam is performed as an important offering to the deity. Some people believe that
this is the modified form of Nara Bali in which men were killed and their blood was
allowed to fall on the Goddess. This is a ritual dance practiced and perfected through
several centuries. It used to be done only in houses in the 13 Karas of the Chettikulangara
Temple but after a recent Deva Prashnam it was allowed to conduct Kuthiyottam in the
houses outside of the 13 Karas . The houses are decorated, and the portrait of the deity is
installed in temporary structures. Kuthiyottam starts a week before Bharani day. It is a
type of folk dance performed by youths with the accompaniment of folk music and other
musical instruments. Young boys between 8 to 14 years are taught this ritual dance in the
house amidst a big social gathering before the portrait of the deity. Feasts are also
provided for all the people.
Early in the morning on Bharani, after the feast and other rituals, the boys whose bodies
are coiled with silver wires, one end of which is tied around his neck and an arecanut
fixed on the tip of a knife held high over his head are taken in procession to the temple
with the accompaniment of beating of drums, music, ornamental umbrellas, and other
classical folk art forms, and richly caparisoned elephants.
All through the way to the temple tender coconut water will be continually poured on his
body. After the circumambulation the boys stands at a position facing the Sreekovil
(Sanctum Sanctorum) and begins to dance. This ceremony ends with dragging the coil
pierced to the skin whereby a few drop of blood comes out.

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