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01 Oct

Chottanikkara Temple – God’s Abode in God’s Own Country

Chottanikkara Temple – A Brief History

A temple is, in common parlance, the dwelling place of the divine. Primitive man’s urge to make concrete his relationship with the forces of nature by means of substantial architectural edifices commanding attention and inspiring awe resulted in the birth of temples. Gradually, with the passage of time, man’s relation with his Creator became complex and diverse. The intense urge within man’s self to communicate, to get closer to the Omnipotent, took the shape of rituals and complex ceremonies. These ceremonies of worship came to be orchestrated around the temples. Subsequently, the attendant priests became very powerful in the society wielding control not only over man’s interior, but also the exterior – the physical world perceived through the senses.

The history of a temple invariably bears the indelible imprints of the history of its geographical locale. There was a time when local administration was handled by the temple. The small kingdoms were then controlled by the temple. And hence the experience of the multitude has got indistinguishably blended with the evolution and development of temples. The Chottanikkara temple, situated eight kilometers to the East of the Tripunithara town, bears testimony to this fact.

The Chottanikkara temple is, from the point of view of an art aficionado, an architectural marvel. The temple is adorned by symbolic carvings. It evokes misty images of intricate rituals and customs associated with propitiating the presiding deity. Incidentally, the presiding deity of Chottanikkara Temple is Chottanikkara Bhagavati who manifests herself as the Trinity – Saraswathy Durga and Mahalakshmi. The Chottanikkara temple, with its pronounced architectural character, stands out clearly from its surroundings. A study into the origin and evolution of the temple would indeed prove fruitful.

While the Vedic culture dominated the civilizations to the north of the country, down south a group of primitive mountain dwellers spotted their deity in the Chottanikkara Valley. They wholeheartedly believed that this deity was far supreme to the forces of nature. This imagined deity was amorphous, formless. Gradually the stone that they found in the thick forest assumed godhead. And the deity provided solace to the desolate multitude. Through the sacrifice and offering of live blood, they infused life into the blood-dripping stone. They danced around their deity, propitiating her with wine and flesh. And, involuntary chants in praise of the deity – the saranamantras – filled the place. And over time it evolved into the present Chottanikkara temple.

One of the legends explaining the evolution of the Chottanikkara temple goes like this – The premises of the temple were once dense forest. Kannappa, a widower, lived there with his daughter. His favorite deity was Goddess Shakti. He propitiated this fierce Mahakali with animal sacrifices. The advent of Aryans made their life in the forest an impossibility and so they left the place. However, Kannappa ensured that he continued his regular animal sacrifice by stealing cows. He would do anything to please the deity even if it amounted to theft and slaughter. But his daughter wasn’t happy with her father’s ways. She rescued one of the cows and began to take care of it. One day, when Kannappa could not get a cow to make the sacrifice, he turned to his daughter’s cow. But his daughter offered to be the sacrificial lamb herself. This opened his eyes; he repented. He fell down near the sacrificial altar, beside the cow. In the morning, to his surprise, he found a stone in place of the cow. The place where the cow stood is Pavizhamallithara. Traditionally, followers believe that the cow was originally Mahalakshmi. The sacrificial altar used by Kannappa is the shrine of the deity at Keezhkavu. The deity is present in both the temples. The ritual of ‘Guruthitharpana’ that takes place today in the Keezhkavu shrine reminds us of Kannappa’s animal sacrifice.

Gradually the temple at Chottanikkara assumed the role of a regional temple within the boundaries of the Thrippunithara temple. The temple gained in popularity and became a grand edifice. Wealth began to flow in as the Namboothiris became landlords. Having won the presence of Goddess Mookambika thanks to its connection with Shankaracharya, the Chottanikkara temple today attracts followers from all parts of the country. ‘Makamthozhal’, one of the greatest attractions for believers takes from place from 2 to 5 pm in the ‘makam’ of ‘Kumbhamaasa’. It is traditionally believed that the observation of this ritual strengthens marital relationship and also removes the obstacles in the way of the marriage of girls. Another belief holds that propitiating the deity of Keezhkavu can save one from the influence of evil spirits.

The story of Gupta offers illuminating insights into the origin of ‘Yakshikulam’. Gupta, a Namboothiri, was seduced by a ‘Yakshi’ disguised as one of his acquaintances, while he was on his way to Thripunithara Kovilakam to watch Kathakali. However, the timely intervention of the presiding deity saved him from the jaws of death. The Goddess killed the Yakshi, sliced her into pieces and threw the pieces into the pond, south of the temple. Thus the pond got its name ‘Yakshikulam’ or ‘Rakthakulam’.

To the south-west of the surrounding wall, we find the temple of Lord Siva. Within its proximity are situated the ‘Prathishta’ of Naga and Ganapati. Thus the Chottanikkara temple stands aloft as a crowning glory to the place relieving the praying multitude off their pains and sorrows and bestowing upon them the choicest blessings of the presiding deity.

Copyright © Manu Mangattu, Assistant Professor, Department of English, St Goege's College Aruvithura

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