Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple

14 Feb

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The first thing I thought about on the morning of 7 Feb 2017 was that time is running out. There was something I had been planning to do in Kottayam for a long time and putting off each time I visited due to other pressures.

Sometimes you just have to confront your inertia and take charge. I had to visit two temples in Kottayam. One near Kurichy on the Kottayam Changanacherry Road and the other in Kiliroor near Illickal Bridge, Thazhathangady, an old riverside market.

I asked for a taxi to come at 0830 hrs and was ready with my camera and pocket diary.

The driver was Naushad, a bit overfriendly and smelling of “All the perfumes of Araby”…

When I explained to him where I wanted to go, he smiled and nodded, Malayalee style, indicating he understood.

Malayalees think…perhaps a bit too much… and always seek the reason for behaviour…so Naushad asked unabashedly why I am going to these old temples. I had a readymade story. I am a teacher. I am studying “Purathana Boudhika Viharangal”… (Ancient Buddhist Viharas)…

Naushad was satisfied. He nodded and raced his car down the “back road” via Pallom, past the Buchanan Institute and got onto the MC Road. A short way down we reached Mandiram junction near Kurichy and turned in to the Chethipuzha road.

Naushad parked the taxi in the maidanam outside the temple and I got out. People in the nearby SNDP Office came out onto their verandahs to take a look at me. An elderly woman with an empty basket dangling from her right hand stopped on the road to get a good look at me.

At the gate was a handsome barebodied man in a “kaavi” (saffron) kaili (coloured mundu – not Veshti, not Dhoti). I introduced myself, announced my mission and he nodded his understanding. His name turned out to be “Omanakuttan” which roughly translates to “Darling Little Boy”… the kind of pet name you would expect a six year old to have. It turned out that Omanakuttan was exactly my age, although he may have been a few weeks older. What a splendid name to have!

“Remove your shoes”… Omanakuttan ordered… I slipped my shoes off and walked in behind him.

This temple is almost 2000 years old (250-300 AD) and was built as a Buddhist Vihara. Wooo… thats a long time ago… The Gupta Era began in 320 AD. The Chinese traveller Fa Hien hadn’t started his 15 year tour of the subcontinent (circa 405-411 AD). He had actually attended a Padayani festival right here and recorded it in his memoirs.

Although it started as a Buddhist Monastery, it was now a Bhaghavahy Temple, and the principal deity is Goddess Vanadurga.

Unfortunately the various shrines of Ganapathi, Siva {this area is called “Neelamperoor”, named after Lord Siva of the blue throat. (Neelam = blue, per = name, oor = village)}, Dharmasasta, Vishnu and Rakshasas were not open and I couldn’t find out which was which.

Dharmasasta (Sasta) is a popular God in Kerala. He is the product of the union of Siva and Mohini (a female transformation of Vishnu). This myth is seen as the resolution of the conflict between the followers of the two cults.)

Lord Ayyappa, the hugely popular deity of Sabarimala in Kerala is considered to be a manifestation of Dharmasasta. Ayappa, a prince of the Royal Family of Pandalam, now in Pathanamthitta district is also revered as a Buddhist saint. Pilgrims going to Sabarimala chant, “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo” which is a modification of “Buddham Saranam Gacchami” (I go to the Buddha for Refuge).

Omanakuttan explained to me that Sasta is associated with Shani Gruha (Planet Saturn) and people pray to him to reduce the ill effects of “Shani Dosham”.

The temple has two important festivals:

a) Ten day festival in the Malayalam month Meenam (March-April) and

b) The Pooram Padayani a unique festival blending Buddhist and Hindu culture and roughly coinciding with the ten days of Onam in the Malayalam month Chingam (August-September)

A very important symbol of the Pooram Padayani is the Swan (Hamsam) and a huge effigy is built with local materials like coconut fronds, banana stems and flowers. The swan is a symbol of the argument between the young Buddha and his cousin Devadutta who shot and wounded a swan with his bow and arrow.

I got a guided tour of the temple grounds although I wish I had come better prepared to understand the significance of each of the shrines.

A shrine dedicated to Lord Siva had his 108 names on a board outside. I didnt know that “Aashutosh” (One who fulfills wishes instantly) is one of Siva’s names… or Kamalakshana (Lotus eyed Lord) or Mahabuddhi (extremely intelligent), or Vachaspati (Lord of Speech).

Before long it was time to say goodbye to Omanakuttan who shook hands with me Western style and invited me to visit again during the festival.

I waved to the staff of the SNDP Yogam with my new found reverence for Sree Narayana Guru. They invited me for a cup of tea… but I had to go to Kiliroor, see the Kiliroor Kunnil Bhagavathy temple there and release the taxi… so I bade goodbye, which translates as “Yatra parayuga” in Malayalam which literally means, “Talk of the journey”.

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