Atthukkal Bhagawathy Temple

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By P.R.Ramachander


Background

The story goes that the Goddess Bhagavathy revealed herself to a fervent devotee of a noble family, viz. the Mulluveettil family. It is said that one evening, a young girl appeared before the head of the family while he was performing his oblations in the Killi river and requested him to help her cross the river. Impressed by her charismatic demeanor, the old man bowed before her with awe and reverence and not only helped her cross the river but took her to his house nearby. Strangely enough, while the household members were amidst preparations for according a warm welcome to the young girl, she vanished. That very night, the Goddess Bhagavathy appeared as an icon before the old man in his dream and demanded that he should establish her abode in the nearby sacred grounds called 'Kavu'. She also indicated that the consecrated spot be marked by three lines. The next morning, the old man went to the spot revealed to him in the dream and to his great surprise, he found three marks indented on the ground. Immediately, he started work on erecting a temple on this consecrated spot to house the Goddess. Many years later, when the building was being renovated by the local devotees, they installed a beautiful and majestic icon of the Deity with four arms, bearing weapons of destruction in each, like spear, sword, skull, shield etc. The consecration ceremony of this exalted being was performed by such eminent figures as the high priest of the Badarinath Temple.

The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, one among the ancient temples of South India, is popularly described as Sabarimala of Women, as women form the major portion of devotees. The Goddess in the temple of Attukal is worshipped as the Supreme Mother, creator of all living beings and the mighty preserver as well as destroyer of them all. The pilgrims from all over the country, who visit Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple and worship the Lord, do not consider their visits complete without the visit to the shrine of the supreme Mother Attukalamma. Vishnumaya took the incarnation of Bhagavathy to annihilate the evil and protect the good in the world in the present era called Kaliyuga.

According to mythology, Attukal Bhagavathy is supposed to be the divine form of Kannagi, the famous heroine of Chilapathikaram, written by Elangovadikal, the Tamil Poet. According to the story, after the destruction of the ancient city of Madurai, Kannagi left the city and reached Kerala via Kanyakumari and, on the way to Kodungalloor, took a sojourn at Attukal. Kannagi is supposed to be the incarnation of Parvathy, the consort of Paramasiva. The all-powerful and benign Attukal Bhagavathy reigns eternally supreme at Attukal and nurses devotees as a mother nurses her children. Thousands of devotees from far and near flock to the temple to prostrate themselves before the goddess with awe and reverence and to redress their afflictions and agony.

Festivals Celebrated at the Atthukkal Bhagawathy Temple

The Pongala Mahotsavam is the most important festival of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. The offering of Pongala is a special temple practice prevalent in the southern part of Kerala and some parts of Tamil Nadu. It is a ten day program, commencing on the Karthika star of the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (February-March) and closing with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthitharpanam at night. On the ninth day of the festival, the world famous Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam takes place. The entire area in a five kilometre radius around temple, with premises of houses of people of all castes, creeds and religions, open fields, roads, commercial institutions and government offices, emerges as a consecrated ground for observing Pongala rituals for hunderds of thousands of women devotees that assemble from different parts of Kerala and outside. The ceremony is exclusively confined to women folk. The enormous crowd, which gathers in Thiruvananthapuram on this auspicious day, is reminiscent of the Kumbha Mela festival of North India.

The other festivals in this temple are:

  1. Mandala Vratham - a festival in connection with the annual Utsavam of Sabarimala
  2. Vinayaka Chathurthi - pooja to the Lord Ganapathy
  3. Pooja Vaypu - identical to the Dussera festival (Saraswathy Pooja and Vidyarambham)
  4. Sivarathri - Siva Pooja
  5. Karthika - Karthika Deepa
  6. Ayilya Pooja - milk, flowers etc. offered to serpent God and special rites
  7. Aiswarya Pooia - performed on all full moon (Pournami) days
  8. Nirayum Puthariyum (Ramayana Parayanam) - performed during the month of Karkadakam
  9. Akhandanama Japam - performed on the fourth Sunday of every month

Story of Kannaki

Attukal Bhagavathy has been referred to as the divine form of "Kannagi", the famous heroine of Chilappatikaram in the Sangham work of Tamil literature written by Ilango-adikal. After the destruction of the ancient city of Madurai, Kannagi left that city and reached Kerala via present day Kanyakumari and on her way to Kodungalloor, took a sojourn at Attukal. The hymns of the "Thottampattu, sung during the annual temple festival, are based on the story of Kannaki. Moreover, architectural depictions of Goddess Kannaki seen on the Gopuram temple substantiate this mythology. Because of its historical significance, Sri. Vidyadhiraja Chattambi Swamy, the well known saint of Kerala, found this temple premises ideal for his meditations. Besides this, many other stories about the the greatness of the goddess attract thousands of devotees to the temple each year.

Aesthetics of Architecture

The temple structure is a harmonious conglomeration of both Kerala and Tamil styles of architecture. The beautifully carved figures of Mahishasuramardhini, Goddess Kali, Rajarajeswari, Sree Parvathy with Lord Paramasiva and various other depictions of the goddess in and around the temple are undoubtedly the work of gifted artists. Equally well presented around the corridors surrounding the temple are the depiction of various other gods and the epic stories of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu viz., the "Dasavathara". On either side of the elegant front gopura are the icons based on the story of Goddess Kannagi. On the southern Gopura, the puranic story of "Dakshayaga" is depicted through sculptures. The decorated gate at the entrance to the temple is by itself an excellent example of architectural beauty.

There are two idols of the Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum. The original idol is preserved in all its pristine beauty, covered in ornamental gold and embedded with precious stones. The second idol of the goddess is installed besides the original one. Within the temple corridors are also installed carvings and sculptures of Lord Ganesa, the serpent God and Lord Shiva. At the centre of the Sanctum within the Sreekovil, at a consecrated spot is installed the idol of the Goddess Attukal Bhagavathy emanating light and luster to all.