Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Uthralikkavu – A Durga Devi temple in Central Kerala
Uthralikkavu, or Rudra Maha Kali Kavu, situated in the halcyon pastures of Akamala Desham (aka 'inside'; mala ‘woods’, in other words, a valley), in Thalappilli Taluk, Enkakkad Village, Wadakancheri Panchayat, Trichur District, Kerala, is famous for its annual pooram/vela festival. Uthralikavu Pooram is one of the spectacular temple festivals to be witnessed in Central Kerala during Summer (Feb-March). It is a festival filled with thrills and excitements with the procession and marching past of a number of elephants with colourful decoration to the accompaniment of the resounding Panchavadyam and the Pandimelam - two types of drum orchestration quite loved by the locals and tourists alike - and the fireworks that follow after the panchavadyam and chendamelam is one, it can be said, with no parallels to be found anywhere, even in Trichur Pooram that is wellknown all over the world.
Regarding the history of Uthralikavu, there is a story told by the elders about this temple in Enkakad. They say, the name Enkakad is derived from the word Thinkalkadu meaning The hair of Shiva(thirujada) in which moon resides. Lord Siva begged rice from the hill nearby called Uriyarikunnu (Uriyari—About 150 ml of rice) and with the rice so received, he prepared his dinner at a nearby place. This place was called Vechanad in Malayalam, which later became Machad. Lord Siva found this place so beautiful that he gave seats here to the two goddesses (Bhagavathies), one at the north east i.e., Akamala for Rudrakali (Rudhiramahakali or Uthrali as known now) and the other at south i.e., near Vazhani for Thiruvaani (Vaani means voice, speech, music etc.). It is also believed by the local people that Thiruvaanikavu Bhagavathy is elder sister of Uthralikkavilamma. Accordingly, Thiruvanikkavu Vela / Pooram (better known as Machad Mamankam or Kuthiravela) takes place one week prior to Uthralikavu Vela / Pooram.
There is also another belief that Uthrali Bhagavathi who is another form of Mookambika Devi, is the sister of Mahakurumba Bhagavathi, who is one of the deities installed in the Shiva temple in Karumarakkad, Wadakancheri, 3 Kms. away to the south from Uthralikavu. So, on the day of Pooram, Karumarakkad Bhagavathi comes to Uthralikvau on elephant back to see her sister. Poorams at both these locations, Karumarakkad and Uthralikavu, with caparisoned elephants, start simultaneously and then from Wadkancheri the decorated elephants in procession come to Uthralikavu with the ‘akambadi’ (protection) of a team of policemen and a large number of devotees. They converge in Uthralikavu where both the Bhagavathies meet and stand in line and a *Kootti Ezhunnallathu takes place.
However, there are variations in the story. As legend goes, Kelathachan was a local chieften in Talappilli Taluk of Trichur District, like the Paliathachan of Trichur. Kelathachan had his mansion in the bosom of Akamala, an evergreen forest famous for its flora and fauna. The green stretches of paddy fields owned by him on the western valley of these forests were rich in yields.
During his tours Kelathachan used to keep a palm-leafed umbrella (Olakuda). It was believed that Goddess Mookambika, when once Achan visited Kollur, came alongwith him sitting on top of his umbrella. When he kept his umbrella on the ridges of the paddy field owned by him near his Farm House in Mullakkal, Akamala, on the east side of the railway line, bhagavathy got out of the umbrella and sat on the ridges. This place is known as the Mullakkal Sreemoolasthanam of Uthrali. An ‘Aal’ tree was planted behind this place, to protect Devi from sun and rain.
After a long time, once a harijan lady had a strange experience a little away from this location on the other side (west) of the railway line. While sharpening her sickle on a stone, under a ‘Poovam’ tree, she saw blood dripping from the stone and was frightened and therefore screamed aloud. Male workers who heard the sound, came to the scene to witness the strange incident. They reported the matter to Kelathachan. As was the practice, he consulted the Astrologer. According to the astrologer, bhagavathy liked to have a permanent abode there under the tree to bless her devotees. In the ‘Prasnam’ i.e. indications appearing to the astrologer, this goddess was found to be ‘Vana Durga’, who liked to be under the tree, and so an open roofed temple protecting the Poovam tree was built there and Bhagavathy was consecrated in it and worshipped with all relevant rituals. Even now the sanctum sanctorum of this temple is under a Poovam tree, which is replanted after the earlier tree perished over time.
It was also seen in the Prasnam that this Devi liked a poojari belonging to tamil Brahmin community only rather than the usual Namboodri community who used to be ruling in most of the temples in Kerala. A Tamil Brahmin was, therefore, located in a nearby village called Padinjattimuri village (near Wadakancheri) and he was appointed there as the Chief Priest. He belonged to Chakkingal Madam and to this date for generations from Tippu Sultan’s time, the priest here is from Chakkingal Madam only.
In fact, this tamil Brahmin family originated from a Brahmin lady who had run away from Palghat (previously of Madras State) hearing that Tippu Sultan was going to conquer Palghat very soon. She wanted to escape from the Muslim Ruler and came over to central Kerala. She came to a place called Vlaha near Triprayar Srirama temple and took abhayam/asylum in a Namboodri’s Illam. She had her small child and an ‘Uruli’ (a vessel of a particular alloy which is used for making Payasam especially in temples) with her when came over to Vlaha. The boy was, later on, known as Vlahayil Annayan Pattar and the Uruli his mother (the Paatti who came to Vlaha) had carried along with him was available, fully worn out, even till recently with the descendents of the family as a piece of evidence of their ancestral history traced from the time of Tippu Sulatan’s padayottam.
Annayan Pattar was a very good cook (cooking was his profession – As TN Sheshan very aptly told, only three categories were there among tamil Brahmins settled in Kerala and they were, cooks, crooks and civil servants! The three Cees. - His progenies, Chakkingalmadam descendents, became very famous people such as Judges, Lawyers, CEOs, Collectors, Musicians, Doctors, Priests, Landlords, and whatnot. They all owe their progress to the devotion and dedication with which they worshipped Uthrali Bhagavathi.
Chakkingalmadam Krishna Iyer, - CK Krishna Iyer – a descendent of this family, fondly called by everyone as Ambi Swamy, and father of the existing chief priest of Uthralikavu, Sri CK Rama Iyer alias Ramu Swamy was the Chief Priest here for more than six decades, from 1918 to 1981, and during his time the temple developed from stage to stage from frame to fame. He used to devote his entire time for Devi upasana and dedicated his life for the service of the devotees coming to this temple. He was a vedic scholar by profession who had his ‘Adhyayanam’ (Gurukula learning) at the Sanskrit Veda Patashala at Thiruvidaimarathur for over seven years.
Figure 1 A 1970 file photo of the Chief Priest, Sri Ambi Swami and wife
The temple administration and other routine maintenance, etc. was previously in the hands of the people belonging to the three villages – Enkakkad village (in which the temple is situated), Kumaranellur and Wadakancheri villages, the two neighbouring villages adjoining. They conducted the annual temple festival (Vela) in a small scale by collecting subscriptions from the villagers then and now they conduct it in a grand scale by collecting money from devotees all over the world. However, the administration was eventually passed on to the Cochin Devaswam Board and this temple is under this Devaswam who takes all the income from this temple and also make monthly payments to the employees of this temple such as melsanthi, keezhsanthi, variar, marar, masappadi, velichappad, etc. who eke out a living by serving the temple.
Uthralikavu pooram - In olden days it was Uthralikavu Vela. Now it is called pooram. The change from vela to pooram – bigger form - was gradual. Seven days in advance of the Pooram day, the flag hoisting ceremony (kodiyettam) takes place. Bhagavathy comes out of the kavu (temple) and goes around the nearby villages to bless her devotees at their residence and to accept their offerings, in the form of Nirapara (Para is an old measurement of grains in Kerala). The materials offered should have minimum one Para of paddy, supported by flowers, raw rice, fried paddy, jaggery, turmeric, fruits etc. The Komaram/Velichapad who visits the homes (Velichapadu being the representative of Bhagavathy) gives oracles, in a faith-evoking atmosphere created by Chenda (trumpet), Ilathalam (cymbals) and Kombu (musical horn). The first Para in this weeklong tour of Bhagavathy is expected to be given by a member of the family of Kelathachan at his Mullakkal Tharavadu. Both the temple (Uthralikavu as it is called by the public) and the Sreemoolasthanam (Akamala Mullakkal Alinchuvadu) are situated in Enkakad Village. Therefore, the villagers of Enkakad have the privilege of beginning the pooram, on the pooram day. This will be followed by Kumaranellur while the pooram procession from Wadakancheri will reach the temple premises when the pooram by Kumaranellur is half way through. Later all the three parties will join together and line up the decorated elephants at the main pooram venue in front of the temple after the fireworks are over. This is called *Kootti Ezhunnallethu in Malayalam (means joint procession) which will be a wonderful scene to enjoy with all the elephants with glittering and colourful decorations alongwith Pandi Melam (orchestrated drum beating).
Uthralikavu Pooram / Vela is also a festival of Villagers, after the harvesting season presenting various rural art forms like pootham, thira, nayadi, kummatti, kalakali etc.
Uthralikavu pooram is conducted with the active participation of the three villagers in Wadakanchery Panchayat, viz. Enkakad, Kumaranellur, Wadakanchery, who mobilize resources from all over, and make the Pooram more and more grand year after year. They vie with each other in presenting leading elephants, percussionists and pyrotechniques.
Figure 2 A scene from Uthralikavu Pooram
How to reach the temple and where to stay
10 degrees, 40 minutes, 21 seconds North, and 76 degrees, 15 minutes, 47 seconds East
Uthralikavu temple is well connected by State Highway (Trichur-Shornur State High Way-22); it is at the very brinks of the Highway in a valley which is full of greenery and food-crops. In fact, Uthrali Bhagavathi is Annapoorneswari Herself as is evident from the richness of the area and ambience of the temple where She resides. The Trivandrum-Shoranur-Chennai railline is running next to the boundary of the temple and a rail traveler in this route can see this temple from the train and enjoy the scenery.
One can reach the temple by any mode of road transport running between Trichur and Shoranur or between Trichur and Chelakara. The nearest town is Wadakancheri which has got a Railway Station (barely 4 Kms. from the temple) where most of the trains do halt. However, Trichur is the major railhead south of Uthralikavu where all the long-distance and other high speed trains, like Rajadhani Express, will stop. Trichur is only around 20 Kms. from the temple. Similarly Shoranur Junction is another major railhead north of Uthralikavu where people from North Kerala, such as Pattambi, Calicut, Kannur, Kasargod, and also from Mangalore can disembark and come to the temple travelling a small distance of 10 Kms by road which is well connected by buses and taxies.
The nearest airport is Nedumbansseri, near Cochin and the distance is about 50 Kms. from there to the temple which can be travelled by rail upto Wadakancheri and from there by road 4 Kms, or the entire distance by road / by bus or taxi. Calicut and Coimbatore are the other two airports nearest to this location from where plenty of surface transport (rail and road) is available to reach the temple. The approximate time to reach the temple from these two airports either entirely by road/taxi/bus, or rail and road will be around 4-5 hours only including the time taken to travel from the airport to the departure railhead and from the arrival railhead to the temple by road.
One can stay put in Wadakancheri town with a moderate budget in small hotels, but if one is particular about staying in high class accommodation/some star hotels, one has to seek such accommodation in Trichur town only which is the nearest major town in the mainline at a distance of 20 Kms. from the temple. Besides, Trichur does have three famous temples viz., Vadakkumnathan Shiva temple, Parmelkavu Bhagavathi temple and Thiruvambadi Krishna temple. Apart from these, the famous Guruvayoor temple is only at 40 minutes’ travel by train from Trichur.
The temple can also be located/viewed by Google search at geographical coordinates: 10 degrees, 40 minutes, 21 seconds North, and 76 degrees, 15 minutes, 47 seconds East. [ 10°40'21"N 76°15'47"E ]
Other festivals in the temple
Uthralikavu temple was re-constructed a few years ago with more beautification plans and the picture given on top of this description is the current view of the temple from the State Highway. As a result of the re-construction ‘Kalasam’ was done (it is a ceremony performed for the purification of the temple and its premises) and the day on which the Kalasam was performed is called ‘Prathista Dinam’ and it is celebrated every year with pomp and pageant. Although this concept of celebrating an ‘installation day’ or Prathista Dinam as is known in Malayalam, is contrary to what was stated above in the history of the origin of this temple, (i.e., that the Bhagavathi here is not an ‘installed’ deity, that it originated itself as Swayamboo) under a Poovam tree, for the sake of commemorating the reconstruction of the temple, this annual festival is conducted. During the re-construction, however, care was taken to preserve the Poovam tree as it is and the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) was done up only without disturbing the tree and the open sky nature of the same.
On the day of Prathista Dinam which is conducted on the Avittam Nakshatram/star during the Malayalam month of Medam (April-May), there will be Sheeveli (Elephant ride) of Bhagavathi with three elephants for about two hours in the morning from 10 AM and also two hours in the evening from 4 PM. A smallscale fireworks will also follow this. In other words one can witness a Mini Pooram here on this day. There will be Annadanam for all the devotees visiting this temple on that day.
Another notable event in the temple calendar is Mandalam which is a period of 41 days during which special puja is performed beginning from the Malayalam Month Vrischikam upto 10th of Dhanu (November-December). The temple premises will be decorated during these days and special pujas will be offered. It is said that during these days, the goddess will come out of Sreekovil and remain in the special Mantapam decorated for this purpose. It is during this season generally Ayyappa devotees start penance and visit Ayyappa temple at Sabari Mala. So one can see many Ayyappas visiting this temple during this time, taking bath in the temple pond and calling Saranam.
Temple timings and main vazhivads/offerings
The temple is thrown open early in the morning by 4-30 and it is closed by 10-30 every day except on Fridays, Tuesdays and Sundays when the closing will be done only at 11 AM. Similarly, in the evenings, the temple opens at 5 PM and remains for darshan till 8 PM on all days. On the Pooram day, however, the temple will be open throughout day and night. The main vazhivads/offerings in the temple are:
Niramala, Chuttuvilakku, Nei Payasam, Kadana Vedi, Nei Vilakku, Pushpanjali/Archana, Mala and Bhagavathi Seva. Apart from these, there are offerings such as Chatussatayam, Thrikala Puja i.e., Udayasthamana puja, and such other normal vazhivadus found elsewhere.
To perform special pujas such as Chuttuvilaku, Niramala, Udayasthamana puja, etc., one has to book in advance and for all offerings, one has to take receipt from the Devaswam Board employees posted in the temple. The items of offerings and their rates are displayed in a board kept near the cash counter in the temple.
Uthrali Bhagavathi Sahayam