Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur

The beautiful city of Thrissur (originally called as Trichur), is one of the oldest in Kerala State and is mainly famous for its ancient shiva temple dedicated to Vadakkunathan, which is situated on an elevated hillock right in the centre of the city. The temple attracts thousands of devotees adn visitors from all over teh land. Like many South Indian Temples, it has a solemn atmosphere, associated with age and centureis of devotion, which we do not find in many of the temples of North India .

Once the capital of old Cochin State , Thrissur changed hands from the Zamorin of Cochin to Tippu Sultan of Mysore in the 18th century. In the ancient days the place was known as “Tiru Shiva Perur' or the town with the name of Lord Shiva.

Many years ago, the vast open region around the temple was a beautiful plantation forest of teak treees called ‘Tekkinkadu'. Today, the forest is totally cleared but the tranquil atmosphere of the temple prevails all round. With it is associated the famous Parasurama, the incarnation of Maha Vishnu, who is said to be the founder of this Shiva temple. The name of Parasurama is always with Kerala, as is the naem fo sage Agastya with the Pandyans in Tamilnadu. According to local tradition, it is believed that the great Kerala teacher Adi Shankaracharya was also connected with this temple. Aryamba, the mother of Shankara Worshipped Shiva at this temple to beget a son. It is said that she used to walk to Thrissur from Kalady.

The first feeling one gets on entering through the gates of the temple is the incredible space and light. The elegant architectural style that is unique to Kerala becomes evident. As a major departure from all other South Indian temples with their towering ‘gopurams', the temples of Kerala are not imposing in appearance.

One of the largest temples, it contains several shrines surrounded by a large enclosure wall with four gateways, crowned by pyramidal ‘gopurams' with multiple roofs. While the basement of the gateways is made of moulded granite stone, as in Tamilnadu, the ‘Gopurams' are in the typical style, having elaborately ornamented gables. The shrine is circular in forms and the tower has only one tier. The pillars are arranged in an interesting manner. The comparatively low, tiled roofs and teh liberal use fo wood harmonise with teh natural environment.

Immediately to the left of the entrance is the theatre hall called ‘Kuttambalam'. It si a remarkably beautiful structure with elegant sloping roof of copper plates. Within this is staged the ancient dramatic art form of ‘Chakyar Kuttu'.

The three principal shrines in the tempel are dedicated to Shiva, the main deity called Vadakkunathan, Vishnu adn Harihara. The architectural plan of these shrines is peculiar, with the ‘Vritta' plan and conical brass plated superstructure over it. The conical roof is distinct architectural idium neccessitated bythe heavy reinfall in the west coast. Shrines with square basements as in Tamilnadu are also here. A separate shrine has been built in the enclosure for the Devi.

The ‘Sanctum' of the main shrine has a huge ‘Linga' of Shiva. This however, cannot be seen as it is covered by the traditional ‘Abhishekams' with ghee by devotees over the centuries. Over the Linga, generations of devotees have poured ghee by way of offering, which is never removed, has solidified into a pyramid. With continuous ‘Abhishekam' with ghee over the years, it hs the appearance of a mound of ghee almost three metres around th core of the Linga. It is strange that the ghee does nto melt even inthe hot tropical climate of summer or with the heat of the hundreds of bright oil lamps burning nearby. The ghee mound does not get spoilt even though it is a collection of several hundred years. Small scrappings of this solidified ghee are given to devotees as ‘Prasada', which is believed to have medicinal and curative properties of herbal medicines.

The Harihara shrine, popularly called here as Shankaranarayana temple, is next to the main Shiva temple. This is also circulr in plan and the tower has two tiers. On the other side is the shrine for Vishnu, is also similar to that of Harihara shrine. In addition, there are subsidiary shrines for Ganapathi, Dharma Shasta and also for Parasurama, of the very few of its kind in Kerala.

Thrissur has several other shrines including Paramekkavu Kshetram at the bottom of the hillock on which the Shiva temple stands. Behind is the Bhagavathi temple. Thiruvembadi temple is a little further away in the heart of the town dedicated to Krishna .

The tall and spacious Kootambulam is an impressive structure, containing exquisite vignettes of wood carving and interesting bracket figures. While the artists of Tamilnadu showed their skill in stone by carving magnificent and ornamental sculptrues, their counterparts in Kerala had wood as their medium adn produced intricate workmanship. The Koothambulamis the hall where the kootu or expositon fo a religious story by Chakkiyar is performed through dramatic gestures. From about the 9th century, the Kootu developed into an important art associated with the temples of Kerala.

The outer walls of the shrines are studded with fine mural paintings, the origin of which might date back to 16th century, though retouchings have been done much later. Scenes from the Mahabharata epic and the Tandava poses of Shiva are depicted in typical Kathakali style. The paintings are noted for charm and vigour.

The only festival celebrated with great pomp and religious fervour is Maha Shivarathri. According to the custom in certian temples in South Indian in general and Kerala in particular, pilgrims and devotees have to take off all tailored clothing and wear only dhoti should be of white color only.

The temple of Vadakkunathan is noted for its grand annual Pooram festival in Medam (April-May) which attracts a large number of visitors and tourists from far and wide. A procession fo richly caparisoned elephants and magnificent display of fireworks mark the occasion. The organisers vie among themselves in securing thebest elephants in the localtiy, and the most ornamental parasols to decorate the elephants. Commencing early in the morning, the celebrations go on throughout the night and end the next morning.

As per the normal rituals, the Shiva temple is not directly connected with teh Pooram festival. Infact, it is a festival of two Goddesses, Paramekkavi Devi and another Goddess residing in Tiruvambadi. It is said that a rular of Kochi , Saktan Tampiran who reigned from 1790 to 1805 A.D., founded this ritual and organised it into the present form of festival. At a later date, the Raja of Kochi sponsored the ritual. During the recent times, it is organised by the public out of donations collected from business houses and devotees.

However, the present basis of ‘Pooram' as the assemblage of many divine processions ahs been adopted elsewhere also; for instance in Tiruvaiyaru in Tamilnadu. What makes the Thrissur ‘Pooram' festival distinctive seems to be its elephants, and some perhaps will add, the competitive fireworks. While it is largely made by the elephants, the festival is nothing without Vadakkunathan temple. At present, eight deities assemble for the ceremony; six from the Devi temples including Paramekkavu and Tiruvambadi Devis and two from Sasta temples.

About fifty elephants participate in the grand procession. These are magnificently caparisoned with the ‘Nettupattam' which covers the forehead. This is a thick cloth int which are sewn about six thousand gold plated glittering metal pieces. Each elephant carries three men; one holds the coloured silken parasol; the other two stand on the back. The ‘Panchavadyam' players precede the procession. As all the deities assemble near the Vadakkunathan temple, there will be a musical feast for two hours. A little later, the umbrellas on the elephant are changed to different colour, known as ‘Kudiakazeh'. As the parasols are unfurled, there is an entrancing spectacle of rich array of mixed bright colours. Generally, there will be ten sets with each party. After the functions, the elephants return to their respective temples.

Thrissur is connected by rail with many cities in the country. Kochi which is 78 kms. away. is the nearest airport. Good road transport system connects Thrissur with important cities around. Taxis can be hired to see local places as well as for excursions around. Thrissur has excellent lodging places, guest houses, Y.M.C.A Hostel adn P.W.D Rest house .