By Swami Harshananda
The theistic systems of philosophy and the cults based on them use the general term ‘Bhagavān’ to denote God. This word has been used since He possesses ‘bhaga’ or the six blessed qualities of jñāna (knowledge), aiśvarya (lordship), dharma (righteousness), yaśas (celebrity), srī (wealth and splendor) and vairāgya (detachment), in abundance. His power, conceived as His consort, is called ‘Bhagavati (also known as Śakti or Devī).
Though this word can apply to any goddess or female deity, it is almost invariably used to denote Pārvatī and her several aspects. In the town of Chengannur in the Alleppy district of Kerala, a temple of a goddess known as Bhagavati is situated. According to local folklore, Śiva and Pārvatī presented themselves before the sage Agastya at the time of their marriage and settled down there. While residing there, the Devi had her menses. This forced the couple to stay back for the purification bath that was required due to her period.
Even today, the devotees believe that the goddess Bhagavati, whose image is cast in pañcaloha (or an alloy of five metals) has her periods. The cella is kept closed for three days during such periods. On the fourth day there is a bathing ritual, conducted in the nearby river Pampā.
The temple is spread across over a six-acre plot. It is a massive structure. The image of the deity faces west. After the original icon was damaged by fire, it was replaced by a pañcaloha idol. It is a beautiful image, about 60 cm in height and has two hands in the varada (boon-giving) and abhaya (granting protection) poses.
There is also a shrine for Śiva and the liṅga is of the svayambhu (self-manifested) type. Subsidiary shrines dedicated to Gaṇeśa and Caṇdeśa are also located inside the complex. Temples of Śāstā and Kṛṣṇa are situated a little farther. A giant peepal tree on the western side is said to be endowed with the miraculous power of curing those possessed by evil spirits.
The original temple might have been built by the Cerman dynasty (9th to 12th century A.D.). It was renovated later, though this renovation has not been completed.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore