The “God’s own country” Kerala is a green stretch of land placed between the sea
and the Western Ghats – a chain of high hills which begins from south of Thiruvananthapuram (also colloquially referred as Trivandrum) to the small town of Kasargode on the border with Karnataka state. Legend says that Parasurama, an incarnation of MahaVishnu, gifted all the land he conquered from Kshatriya kings, as per instruction of Lord Rama. When he found that he did not have any place to live, he came to a place called Gokarna near the Western Ghats mountains and threw his axe into the sea. The land reclaimed by him from the sea is the present day Kerala, although Gokarna and a large stretch of land, said to have been reclaimed by Parasurama, are now in the state of Karnataka. The transliteration of the name ‘Keralam’ is “Garden of coconuts”.Kerala’s ancient names Is Bharghava Shetra (Gokarnam to Kanyakumari)
According to Texts;-
Creation of Kerala by Parasurama, a warrior sage. an avatar of Mahavishnu, He was the sixth of the ten avatars (incarnation) of Vishnu. The word Parasu means ‘axe’ in Sanskrit and therefore the name Parasurama means ‘Rama with Axe’.
After destroying the Kshatriya kings, Parushurama approached assembly of learned men to find a way of penitence for his sins. He was advised that, to save his soul from damnation, he must hand over the lands he had conquered to the Brahmins. He did as they advised and sat in meditation at Gokarnam. There, Varuna -the God of the Oceans and Bhumidevi – Goddess of Earth blessed him. From Gokarnam he reached Kanyakumari and threw his axe northward across the ocean. The place where the axe landed was Kerala. It was 160 katam (an old measure) of land lying between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari. the land mass known as Kerala rose up. Unfortunately the ground was totally saline and unfit for cultivation. He then did tapasya to Lord Shiva who told him that the land could be made habitable only by spreading the poison of snakes all over it. For this he would have to worship Nagaraja, Vasuki the king of snakes.Undaunted by this, Parashurama chose a fitting spot for his tapasya and proceeded to worship Nagaraja who eventually appeared to him in all his splendour. He spread his deadly venom all over the land until it was completely desalinated and Kerala emerged as an emerald paradise, rich in natural vegetation and pure Water resources. Parashurama now begged Nagaraja to take up his permanent abode in this beautiful spot, to which he agreed.
After this every temples have an abode for Nagaraja called Sarpakavus Most of them were temples under a tree in the forest.
Puranas say that it was Parasuram who planted the 64 Brahmin families in Kerala, whom he brought down from the north in order to expiate his slaughter of the Kshatriyas. According to the puranas, Kerala is also known as Parasurama Kshetram, ie., ‘The Land of Parasurama’, as the land was reclaimed from sea by him
Legends say that when Parasurama started living there he could not find any Brahmins among them. Hence, he seems to have brought in Namboodiri Brahmins, who remain the original Kerala Brahmins, and also consecrated 108 Shiva temples, 108 Bhagawathi (Shaktam) temples and 18 Ayyappa temples. The list of such temples, founded by Parasurama, are available in a few folk songs.
The temple architecture in Kerala is different from that of other regions in India. Largely dictated by the geography of the region that abounds in forests blessed with the bounties of the monsoons, the structure of the temples in Kerala is distinctive. The roofs are steep and pointed, and covered with copper sheets. The Kerala roof resembles those found in the Himalayan regions and those in East Asia.
The shape of the roof is in accordance with the plan of the sanctum below. With a circular plan, one sees a conical roof, while with a square plan the roof is pyramidal. The roof is constructed with wood and is covered with copper plates.The sanctum called the “Sree Kovil” was either square or round.The Sree Kovil was surrounded by a Prakaram (an enclosed space, sometimes with a small corridor). Just outside the Sree Kovil was the Namaskara Mandapam, which was used for reciting slokas and Vedas. In most cases, there was only one outlet from this enclosed space. On the south east corner, a kitchen was normally constructed, and some temples have sub-temples in this first Prakaram itself. Inside the prakaram there are several ‘Bali peedams’, which represent deities like the Nava Grahas. Outside this Prakaram, there normally is a Dwaja Sthambham (flag pole) and a big Bali peetam (stone for sacrifice). Big temples often have several small sub-temples outside the Prakaram. Some temples have a Koothambalam, where religious dramas are enacted.The outside walls of the ‘Prakaram’ are normally fitted with several oil lamps called Vilakku Madam. The structure with the prakaram and the Sree Kovil is called ‘Nalambalam’. Very few temples have any sculptures. Some temples also have murals and small sculptures carved in wood. The roofs were mostly clad with copper sheets or unbaked clay tiles. They were in the shape of a pyramid in the case of square temples and conical in the case of round temples. Some temples have ‘Kalasam’, which is an ornamental piece made of either brass, or in a few cases gold, embroidered near the edge of the roof.
The idols in these temples are normally made either of stone or wood, though in a very few cases they are made of Pancha-loha, an alloy of copper, gold, silver, brass, and iron, with copper as the major constituent (thus making Panchaloha generically a cast brass or bronze). A ‘Thidambu’, or an elaborate artistically created arch-shaped mount with gilded frontage, having the image of the deity, is taken out and mounted on caparisoned elephants. ‘Ratha” or Chariots, or floats etc are rarely seen in Kerala. In most of the Kerala temples, only one God is consecrated inside the sanctum although multi-deity temples are also present in some places. For example, it is either a Krishna Temple, or Parvathi temple or a Shiva temple. Of course, the idol of Ganesa can be seen in most temples, since he is regarded as the common factor for any worship.
Abhishekams (anointment) are performed only to stone or metal idols. In the case of wooden idols, the preferred wood was that of the jack fruit tree. Abhishekam is not performed for such statues but the statue is coated with saffron mixed in oil (Chandattam). This ensures a very long life for the wooden statues.
The temples in kerala has been all the time an amazing factor for its uniqueness in structure, rituals, tradition, offerings, festivals, customs etc. Some of these are even connected with our great epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The national agenda for us, therefore, shall be to preserve and nurture this invaluable tradition that has been bequeathed to us from time immemorial and thereby to uphold the greatness of our culture. For an average Keralite Hindu feels that their day starts with the prayer and offering in the temple with a bath either in the pond nearby or in the house itself with a deity circumstance.
Purpose of visiting temples
For what purpose we are going to a temple? Simple, but difficult to answer. Each one has their own reason for visiting. The most common answer we found is, it’s for religious or spiritual prayer or upasana. Some says its part of their daily routine which they are used to. As we concerned about famous temples in kerala, it represents more than just a pilgrim center. It has number of other roles to play in day to day life. It acts as a social welfare centre, a tourist place, an art and cultural centre and a place where all human being gets mental peace and harmony. But no one really knows that the main intention behind building temples was for protecting our environment and nature. This specialty can be seen throughout in Kerala. Thus, we can say temples in kerala are echo friendly. Moreover, it is supposed to be a ‘Sanathana Dharmacharana Saala’. Ancient times, it was referred as “Kavu” which means “Kaadu” (forest). By building a “kavu” in a village, its environment is protected by default. There were times in olden years that, temples acted as the focus point in a particular village, where villagers are gathered together and find solution for their day to day problems.
As all of us know, all human beings want energy for their day to day working. Energy is required for both our Body and Mind. Is energy for our body enough for us? Then what about the Mind? It is true that we need mental energy to function our mind better. We get energy for our body from the food what we eat. Fine! Then how can we get mental energy for our mind? Here gets the idea about visiting temples. It’s found that we get mental energy by the equal interaction of our body and the soul, usually we say ‘Jeevathma-Paramathma Samyogam’. Some says that its one type of ‘Yoga’. Obviously a question arises here. How does body and mind interact equally? The ancient sages say that, if we close our eyes, free our mind and concentrate only on our prayer, then itself we will get the required energy for our mind. It is prayer, that gives us mental energy for day to day life. Our everyday routine prayer has so much importance in our life. In this sense if we go to temple regularly and pray, the amount of mental energy we receive will increase in a better way. Make Sense? You can well refer with our ancestors who advise us to visit temple everyday. “Chaithanya” or energy will flow from the deity to the person who visits the temple for worship.
If we look at a human body in the sense of “yogasasthra”, then we can see one fact that all the parts of a human body are included in the Sculptured Artwork of temples. The ‘Panjakosa’ which lies horizontally in the human body, can be seen as the ‘Panjaprakarangal’ in our temples. Instead of vertical “Shadchakra” we use “Shadadhara” in temples. “Shadadhara” is placed just lower side of the main idol. “Adhara Sila”, “Nidhikumbham”, “Pathmam”, “Koormam”, “Yoganalam”, and “Napumsaka Sila” are placed already in the beginning stage of temple formation. After fixation, we cant never see that all. This Shadadhara Prathishta can be seen only in Kerala temples.
“Pradhakshinam” means circumambulating the temple, as a part of worshipping. We can see two types of ‘Pradhakshinam’ during worship. First one is, we do inside the temple near the ‘Prathishta’, which is called “Sreekovil” (Sanctum Sanctorum). It should be done outer part of the “Balivattam” which is inside “‘chuttambalam’. Second one is the Pradhkshinam usually we do outside the “Chuttambalam”. There are certain rules for doing a ‘Pradhakshinam’, especially in Siva temples, one should not circumambulate in fully inside the temple. It is because of the “Somarekha” placed in the position. “Pradhakshinam” in a temple should be clock-wise. During Pradhakshinam one is focusing the center point as the deity. “Shayana Pradhakshinam” is different type of circumambulating in lying posture. Devotee’s forehead, shoulders, hands, chest and knees should touch the ground while doing this.
Certain rules may be applicable while doing number of “Pradhakshinam” for a deity in a temple. Following are the number of Pradhakshinam for common deities. One time for Vinayaka, Two times for Surya deva, Three times for Siva, Ayyappa,Subramanyan, Nagas, Vettakkaran. Four numbers for Devi and Vishnu (Krishna), Seven numbers for “Arayal” (Peepul Tree). “Pradhakshinam” for “Arayaal” (Peepul Tree) should only be done in the morning. One should do Pradhakshinam with chanting the sloka/manthra of the deity. Walking should be slow and without moving hands wide. It is better to keep hands folded during Pradhakshinam.
Temples may also be called by other names like Mandir, Mandira, Kovil, Koil, Ambalam, Kshethram, Devalayam depending on the sub continent and local languages. It is believed that each temple is constructed as it represents the body of human. Thus a temple denotes all aspects of a human body. Some times we refer a temple as body of the deity which is installed. It is said that a temple should provide calm, quiet and neat environment where devotees can get peace of mind.
The preferred form of worship in Kerala temples is based on ‘Thanthra’. The priests who do worship are either Namboodiris (Kerala Brahmins) or Embranthiris (Kannada Brahmins) belonging to coastal Karnataka. Some of them are also called Potthis. Since the worship form is centered round Thanthra.
Most of the temples seen in Kerala today, have undergone several phases of renovation, given the perishable nature of the construction materials.
Most of the temples were owned by kings or noble families. With the coming of democracy, most of them are under the management of autonomous organizations called Devaswams, which are part of the government. Most of these temples had huge lands as property, but with the enactment of Land Reforms Act by the communist government, most of them became very poor. Nevertheless, today only a very small percentage of temples are dilapidated or neglected. This is because every temple is visited by the local population in the mornings after a bath as a part of their culture and tradition, as also they consider the temple as their own. This community awareness is so great that wherever they are in India or abroad, they make it a point to attend the festivals of the temple and contribute to its upkeep.
In most of the temples, the custom of Sribali (Seeveli) is carried out, which involves taking the Lord around the temple. In poor temples, this is done on the head of the priest, but in rich temples, this is done on the top of elephants. the deity is taken out of the temple on the top of elephants to the nearest river. There the deity is given the ritual bath (called Arattu in Malayalam). Apart from this, most of the temples have festivals called Poorams and Vela. Both these festivals are held in honour of the deity by the local people. The population is normally divided on the basis of the locality they live in and each locality takes a pooram or Vela to the temple. There is virtually a competition among each locality to excel the others. Most of them have seeveli on the top of elephants accompanied by an instrumental ensemble called Pancha Vadhyam with its own typical instruments.In many temples, as a grand finale, in festivals like Pooram or Vela, a display of a huge quantities of fireworks is done for entertainment. In fact, some temple festivals like the Thrissur Pooram have attracted large numbers of visitors, from both within and outside the country. The fireworks are an offering to please the God inside the temple.
Temples have held an important place in the life of Keralites. Several temples in Kerala trace their origins to antiquity. However, they were renovated frequently and the current structures that are seen are vastly a result of the numerous renovations.
Temples Of Kerala