Cherthala Karthyayani Temple

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By P.R.Ramachander


Cherthala is a town near the present-day Alapuzha in Kerala. The Karthyayani temple is located here. There is a story about this temple. It seems that Vilwamangalam Sawmiyar was returning to Guruvayur after consecrating the Ananthapadmanabha temple in Thiruvananthapuram . He reached the present Cherthala and was taking rest below a Thambaka tree. He noticed several swans swimming in the several ponds in that place. Suddenly he saw a divine lady swinging in a swing, tied to the Thambaka tree. He recognized her as goddess Karthyayani and approached her whereupon she jumped into a nearby pond. Though Vilwamangalathu swamiyar searched for her in the pond, he could not locate her. The next day also he saw her in the same place and this time she jumped into a second pond. This continued for six days. On the seventh day, the swamiyar managed to catch hold of the hair of the Goddess and pulled her up before she could submerge. He could only pull up her head (thala) exposing her neck. Also, several hairs which he was holding got uprooted. The seventh tank was full of slushy mud called 'Cher' in Malayalam. Because of this incident the place was called Cherthala. (This being a great centre for coir manufacture was also called Shertala by the British).The present idol has only the head visible. You can see these holes from which hairs have been pulled out. So after Abhisheka, this part of the idol forming the head is mopped by using a cloth. Also while doing flower offerings to the Goddess, these parts are covered with a cloth. It seems the swamiyar got angry with her because he was not able to catch her. So, commemorating the event, in the month of Edavam (May-June), the people playfully abuse the goddess during a pooram festival.

The Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum is consecrated below the floor level. Outside the temple, there are separate temples for Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. The devotees hand over cocks as an offering to the goddess Karthyayani.So you can find several cocks at this temple. Near the sanctum sanctorum of the goddess, there are separate temples for Ganapathy and Lord Dharma Sastha also. Just outside the temple is the place where Vilwamangalam Swamiyar is said to have found her in a swing.

It seems once a gandharva was giving a lot of trouble to the people around this temple. So the goddess requested Shastha to teach the gandharva a lesson. Lord Sastha went out side and killed the Gandharva. When he was returning to the temple, the Goddess asked him to stay outside itself so that he can protect the people. A separate temple was built there. The Sastha in this temple is called Kavu udayon(he who has the job of security or He who has a Kavu). He holds a mace in his hand. People who are in fear or are attacked by evil spirits make a mace of wood, colour it and give it as an offering to Kavu udayon.

The arattu (bathing in a tank) festival is celebrated in the month of Edavam (May-June) for eight days. Each day Goddess is dipped in a different pond and on the eighth day she is brought back to the temple along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.

There are two very special and peculiar prasadam offerings at this temple. They are called Iratti and Thadi. Iratti is nothing but the Ghee Payasam with double the quantity of jaggery used in its preparation.Thadi is made by the following method:

Rice flour, Jaggery, and coconut are mixed along with powdered dry ginger and other spices. This is then made in to a paste form and placed in a sheath of areca nut frond and tied at both ends. Then sand in an oven is heated by burning fuels like sticks etc. A small depression is made in the sand and the above bundle is inserted inside and covered with hot sand using fuels such as coconut shells which are burnt over it. This type of baking is peculiar to this temple. This offering is made only if devotees desire for same.