Kurumba Bhagavathy Temple, Kodungallur

Situated on the sea coast, very near Ernakulam, Kodungallore (Cranganore as it was called), was flourishing sea-port over two thousand years ago. Though today, it is a modern town, the ancient Kurumba Bhagavathi temple at this place makes it a famous centre of pilgrimage. Lakhs of Hindu devotees visit the temple every year. It is one of the most scared Hindu Shrines in Kerala.

The origin of the temple is shrouded in antiquity. It is believed to have been built in the Sangam age to commemorate the martyrdom of Kannakis. During the reign of Perumals, Cranganore was the capital of Kerala and one of the most important parts of the region. With its attractive natural environs, the town is surrounded by sea on all sides.

It is said that the temple has the distinguished association with Sage Parasurama. Tradition says that this temple was built by Parasurama for the prosperity of the people. According to the old chronicles, this was the Bhagavathi temple created in the heart of the towe many centuries ago to serve a special purpose.

According to a legend, sometime after the creation of Kerala by Parasurama, it was harassed by a demon called Daruka. In order to destroy this evil demon, Parasurama prayed to Lord Shiva for help. As advised by Lord Shiva, Parasurama constructed the original shrine and installed the Shakti Devi as Bhagavathi.

The deity here, it is believed, is Parashakthi Herself. According to them, it was Bhadrakali who killed the demon Daruka. Legend has it that this temple is the olden days, was a Buddhist monastery. Even according to historians, Kodunganallore, Trikkanamthikam and the neighboring places were buddhist and Jain centres during the chera regime. A ruler, Palliband Perumal, it is stated, embraced Buddhism and as a result of which, he had to abandon the Perumalship owing to severe opposition from the Hindu community.

According to another story, this temple was built by Cheran Chenguttavan. Elango Adigal, younger brother of Chenguttavan, wrote his monumental work ‘ Shilappathiakaram' residing at Kodunganallore. He later embraced Buddhism and spent the rest of his life in the Buddhist monastery at Trikkanamthikam.

From time immemorial, persons wishing to earn merit have been offering animal sacrifice. Countless fowls and goats were also sacrificed to the deity as vowed gifts for the protection and fulfillment of desires. At the intervention of many social reformers, the Government has now banned animal sacrifice in any form at this place. At present, only red-dyed dhoties are offered to the deity. Many devotees offer rich presents and gold ornaments. It is said that the town in the days of glory was mostly inhabited by Namboodiri sect.

Bare footed devotees run to the temple front and roll over the intensely hot ground. Faith induces them to perserve irrespective of the discomfort they suffer. If some parts of the body are bleeding, they apply the turmeric powder ‘prasada'of the Goddess.

The idol installed in this temple has mostly the characteristics of Bhadrakali. The popular belief is that she represents in herself the combined forms of Lakshmi, parvathi and Saraswathi. On the north-eastern side of the temple is the palace of Kshetrapala and it is believed that Sri.Ganapathi has a place in the south Western corner of the ‘Sanctum'. The Goddess also is popularly known as Kodunganalloramma.

The idol of the Goddess is unique. It has eight hands with various attributes. One is holding the head of the Asura, another a sword, next a ‘Chelambu' and yet another a bell and so on. To the left of the shrine is the walled enclosure which has a peculiar ‘Samadhi of Vysoori', perhaps a medieval shrine deity for small pox, Chicken pox, Mumps and such contagious diseases. Devotees offer auspicious turmeric powder which gives credence tot he influence of the Goddess and the legend. Its wide spread fame is evident through its clean and well kept sanctuaries.

About fifty metres away to the left is a sacred pond (Pushkarini), where devotees bathe before entering the main shrine. It is also believed that this pond was created by the Goodness by striking the ground with Her sword.

From the beginning, this temple was being managed by the Raja of Cranganore, the ‘Onnu Kure Ayiram Yogam' (An association of caste Hindus) and by certain Nair families. At present, it is vested in the Cochin Devaswom Board. The Bhagavathi temple is one of the richest temples in Kerala.

Routine worship at the temple every day begins early in the morning at 3.a.m, and ends late in the night at 9.p.m the Thalappoli festival in the month of Makaram (January - February) and Bharani in Meenam ( March-April) are the two important events in this temple. The four day Thalappoli commences from the evening of Makara Sankranthi with religious rituals. On all the days from the afternoon to twilight and midnight to dawn. Big procession headed by richly caparisoned elephants are taken out to the accompaniment of Pancha Vadyam, Paancari, Paandi, etc.

The people of Kodungallore believe that this temple was, in the olden days, a Shiva Shrine and it was Parasurama who installed Sri Kurumba Bhagavathi in close proximity to the idol of Shiva. Although this is a small town and has several temples, most of them are Shiva Shrines. The Poojas are conducted under direct instructions from Sri Bhagavathi Herself. Five 'Sri Chakras' installed by Sri.Adi Shankaracharya, are believed to be the main source of the powers of this deity. The priests are Namboodiris and Adikas (Madhu Brahmins) who have a right to perform ‘Pushpanjalis' to the Goddess.

Among the expensive offerings to the Goddess is Guruthi (a mixture of lime, turmeric and water). Offering of turmeric powder is considered important. The huge idol of Bhagavathi made of wood is really an awe-inspiring one. Since the idol is made out of wood, no ‘Abhishekam' is performed.

The Bhagavathi temple at Kodunganallore presents a great scene during the annual Bharani festival. Some consider that as the anniversary in commemoration of destruction of demon Daruka. Some others connect the day to an episode concerning Parasurama. According tot he legend, Parasurama in the guise of a Brahmin went round the town begging for food. As there was no response from any house. In acute distress, he took refuge in the precincts of the temple. The Goddess in the garb of the wife of a ministrant fed him.

The Bharani festival takes place during March-April every year. A month before the main festival day, the temple flag will be hoisted with rituals. That day is supposed to be day on which the Goddess started the fight with the demon. A day prior to the festival, the gold ornaments of the deity are removed. Foru priests officiate and conduct the service. The Raja of Cranganore arrives with his guards in a richly decorated palanquin. Twenty four guards take their positions with the Raja in the centre. After special ‘pooja' inside the shrine, which lasts for about three hours, the door of the ‘sanctum' is opened for public.

Bhagavathi being the patron of the Royal family of Cranganore, the Raja plays an active part in the celebrations of the festival. Standing upon a rostrum built around a banyan tree, the Raja spreads out a silken umbrella soon after the door of the Devi shrine is opened. The peculiarity of the event is that it denotes the giving permission for all castes to enter the precincts of the temple for worship. This is known as ‘Kavu Theendal'. Devotees run round the temple thrice with sticks in hand before they enter the shrine. The legend goes to prove that the killing of the Demon has taken place and the sticks are substitutes for the arms and swords used in olden days.

With a view to mark the victory over evil, another flag is hoisted on a wooden pillar. For the next six days the temple will be closed and will be opened for worshipping on the seventh day when the ‘Darshan' of the Goddess is considered as most auspicious and rewarding. The Cranganore temple is also well known on account of its having Brahmin priests as the ministrants. Brahmins in the service of such village Goddess is a very rare practice in this area.

Kodungallur is only 32 kms. from Trissur on a straight road. Ernakulam is also 32 kms. from the town. A number of State and private buses operate to Kodungallur at regular intervals. Taxis can be hired from Trissur and Ernakulam. Visitors and pilgrims can stay comfortably either at Trissur or Ernakulam where excellent lodges and rest houses are available.