Vaikom Mahadeva Temple

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According to popular legend, Kerala was hewn out of sea by Parasuram, the incarnation Vishnu. He brought about abundance of corn, vegetables, plants and trees to his land. He also consecrated several temples sacred to Shiva and Vishnu for the spiritual well being of his people. One such temple is at Vaikom in the Kottayam District of Kerala, dedicated to Lord Shiva, locally known as Vaikuntappan. Vaikom temple is unique by itself, for thousands of pilgrims and visitors throng the temple through out the year.

It is believed that the original shrine was renovated centuries ago by the earliest rulers of old Travancore, who took interest in this temple. The great sage Vyaghrapadar (tiger-footed Rishi) who was responsible for the Chidambaram temple, attained perfection here and the banyan tree under which he used to meditate, still stands in the courtyard of the temple premises.

It is said that the great Rishi Khara, while bathing in the sea, discovered three Lingams which he installed in Vaikom, meaning“Valathu (Right) Ettumanur Edathu (left), Kadathirithi (Centere)”. These three places are equidistant from one another.

Centuries later, the great Parasurama, the creator of Kerala, discovered these Lingams and constructed the original temples for all of them, but the Vaikom temple attained more significance and prominence than the other two. The story goes that one day Parasurama was being airborne northwards, when his eyes chanced upon a beautiful Shiva Linga below, standing in knee-deep water, radiating glory all round. Overwhelmed with joy, Parasurama descended to the spot, tood the Linga and embraced it. He made a square platform and installed the Linga on it according to Sankarshana rituals. It is on this square, that the present temple stands.

The ‘Sanctum sanctorum', the five enclosures (prakaram), ‘mandapam', tower and other structures were also built by Parasurama strictly in accordance with the requirements of Tantric shastras. He also brought Brahmin priests and established daily worship and other rites. He exhorted the people to obtain the blessings of Mahadeva by regular worship, prayer and offerings to the Shiva Linga.

Lord Shiva is considered to be a lover of bathing (Abhishekapria). It is believed that Parasurama himself spent years at this place performing ‘abhisheka' to the Linga with thousand pots of holy water (sahasra Kalashams) according to the vedic rites. In fact, Sahasra Kalasha Abhishekam is a regular form of offering at this place. Those engaged in the pious practice range from ordinary devotees and pilgrims to the princes of the royal family.

Considered as one of the largest and the oldest of all Kerala temples, the construction here is of a rare style. It was the period which saw the rise of highly embellished ‘Bobical mandapa', elliptical in plan. The Mandapams, the Prakarams, the four huge corridors, the spacious halls have all been constructed with slabs of black stone. Mortar, cement or concrete is not used at all, and wood is used only s beams in certain places which may be taken only as later additions. Most of the pillars and beams and the ceiling itself are of sculptured black stones.

Occupying over eight acres of land and surrounded by high walls and four gigantic towers, the Vaikom temple is major structure of Keala. A devotee can have ‘Darshan' of the deity and offerings made for no payments at all.

Public feeding is considered the favourite pleasure of the presiding deity. Apart from the mass feasts arranged by the Devasom, the Government of Kerala and the Maharaja of Travancore, devotees of Kerala and other places in south India, also arrange frequently for such feeding. The famous Uttupura (dining hall), a 340 metres long double storeyed structure is a recent addition, along with several other buildings. Two large tanks (Pushkarinis) are also situated with the temple compound. These are considered very holy and pilgrims use them for bathing purpose.

The Lord at Vaikom is also known as ‘Annadana Prabhu'-giver of feasts. Feeding the public devotees and visitors in general, and feasting on important days are considered to be offerings to propitiate the God. There used to be feasts almost daily at this place. Even now, despite the shortage and low income from the devotees, feasts continue to be held regularly, though on a smaller scale.

As the feast at this temple is regarded as ‘Prasad' given by the presiding deity, every one from pauper to prince partake the food. In fact any one who does into share the food is considered as a sinner. The food offered at Vaikom temple is said to have curative power for ailments like stomach-ache, ulcer, etc. It is the promise of the Lord Vaikuntappan that anyone who offers or feasters at this temple here, gets his desires granted. Similarly, any one who bathes the Shiva Linga with milk or holy water gets rid of the disease and other sufferings.

The ‘Sanctum Sanctorum' of the temple is large and spacious and the Shiva Lingam itself is about two meter high. The annual festival of the temple is Ashtami in the month of Karthige; Ashtami on the 12 th day, and Arattu, the holy water bath for the deity on the 13th day. The Ashtami day is considered as auspicious that it is observed throughout Kerala with special worship to Vaikuntappan. At the temple, each of the days of the Ashtami festival has a special programme, ‘poojas' and rituals, elegant processions, public feeding, music, dancec etc. Thousands of visitors and pilgrims attend each day's function. These celebrations reach the peak on the ashtami day.

From the early hours of this day, devotees crowd the temple for ‘Darshan' as this is considered auspicious. The main event occurs at night when the happy meeting between Vaikuntanathan and His son, Lord Subramanya, the presiding deity of the nearby Udayanapuram, takes place. It is believed that Udayanapuradappan, as the son is called, had gone to a battle with the Rakshasa and the meeting is an occasion for the father to greet the triumphant son.

The coming of Udayanapuradappan accompanied by the Gods and Goddesses of the neighbouring temples, all mounted on gorgeous caparisoned elephants with ‘Nagaswaram' and hundreds of torches (Theevattees), provide a grand sight. Hundreds of thousands of visitors collect to witness the symbolic meeting of the father and the son and make offerings to the deities. It looks as though the Gods converse with each other, meeting as they do, after a ong interval. After going round the temple, the ‘leave taking ceremony' (aarattu) takes place. For this function also, Udayanapuradappan comes to Vaikom and there is a join worship for father and son. After this ceremony, Vaikuntappan also goes to his son's place and has a bath. There are ‘poojas' for the two Gods.

During the recent times, Vaikom became famous for its ‘Satyagraha' movement for temple entry was initiated here. in the beginning, it was given for the right to use the roads leading to the temple. It started as early as in 1924 and lasted for several months. Many prominent political leaders like C.F Andrews, C.Rajagopalachari, Srinivasa Iyengar, hd visited Vaikom Satyagraha Ashram.

This movement was a success. This roads leading to the temple were thrown open to all sections of Hindus. The struggle for the temple entry continued. It was in 1933 that the then Travancore Governemtn by a proclamation removed all the restrictions and permitted worship at temples controlled by the Government. Vaikom was the vanguard of popular temple entry movement throughout the country.

Kochi is the nearest air port. Vaikom is only 40 kms. by road and is connected with Kottayam also, which is 45 kms. away. A number of state and private busies, vans and taxis operate from many principal cities to Vaikom. Kochi and Kottayam have excellent lodging facilities for tourists and pilgrims. Visitors can make use of the State Government launch service on the Vebanad lake.

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