Kiliroor Kunnil Devi Temple

15 Feb

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After visiting the Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple, my taxi driver took off with great confidence for Kiliroor Kunnil Devi Temple. He said his home was in Kummanom and he knows the area well.

Kottayam was a small town in my childhood and had its centre at the Thirunnakkara Maidanam.
From the Central Junction, we took the road to Kumarakom, past Chalukunnu to the Meenachil River Bank Road. A little after the Illickal Municipal Ground, we turned right and crossed the river over Illickal Bridge.

At Illickal Junction Bus Stop, we turned left onto Thiruvarppu Road. Another turn left on to Kanjiram Jetty Road, then right onto Kiliroor Devi Temple Road.

The Kunnil Bhagavathy Temple is reckoned to be 2000 years old and is situated on a hilltop which “stands out” in this flat riverine area.
In Buddhist times, this was a Monastery for Monks and Buddhist Nuns. It was a Centre of learning in Ayurveda medicine.

Today it has several Hindu shrines, two of which are surprisingly still dedicated to Buddha or “Buddhan” in Malayalam.There are two statues of Buddha where he is shown in the form of Lord Srikrishna. One of the statues is made of bronze and the other of limestone.

The other deities are of Lord Siva, Lord Ganapathy, Lord Sastha and Yakshi.

Daily there are three poojas – Usha Pooja (at dawn), Ucha (at noon) Pooja and Athazha (at dusk) Pooja.

The Annual festival lasts 8 days in Meenom (March-April).

Thanks to the ¼” metal spread on the grounds, walking around barefoot can be quite painful unless you are on one of the paved pathways.

With the self-confidence of the ignorant and irreverent, I took many photographs although I learnt later that photography is allowed only with permission.

I passed a few middle aged men, bare-bodied and wearing only mundus… As I walked past them, I heard one of them passing a comment, “Naale nammade ambalaththinte padam London newspaperugalil varum” (Tomorrow, photos of our temple will appear in London newspapers).

Passing Comments or “Commentadi” is a fine art in Southern Kerala (old Travancore) where groups of men hang around at road junctions and pass comments about passers-by.

Usually women are the target and even though some of the comments are humorous, they can be rude and mean sometimes.

I decided I would turn the comments into an opportunity for a friendly chat and turned around with a broad smile. I said I am from Bangalore so it’s more likely the photos will appear in the Deccan Herald.

“You speak Malayalam?” The ice was broken and the tension was dissolved in smiles and chuckles all around. I walked up to them and told them of my interest in the Buddhist history of this temple. I told them I had been to Neelamperoor only a few hours ago.

The temple is now closed. You can see the Buddha statues in bronze and limestone there… he said pointing to one of the shrines…

“Can I take photographs?” I asked.

“Oh no… you will require permission from our Sub Division Officer.

“You see, Neelamperoor is a Private temple. This temple comes under the Devaswom Board. We are Board staff.” He scratched his belly thoughtfully and belched noisily.

“You can go around and see the shrines” he added.

I wasnt happy, but there was nothing I could do. I have added a photo which I got from the internet showing the statue of Sree Krishna.

I walked past the shrine of Sastha, who is identified with Lord Ayyappa and youthful memories prompted me to mutter, “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo”… I had worked in Pathanamthitta District (not yet carved out of Quilon District in 1970), on Lahai Rubber Estate, which was about 30 km downhill from Sabarimala and during the season, the chants of “Ayyappo, Swamiye, Saranam en Ayyappo” got seared into my youthful memory.

I was just 22 years old at the time and understood very well the urgency of Ayyappans coming downhill after 40 days of “Vrutham” or abstinence.
Enterprising estate labourers set up stalls on both sides of the Rajampara Perumon Road selling homemade liquor. Young women who wanted to make a quick buck would dress up, paint their faces, and wait for customers.

The word “Saranam” meaning refuge is not usually used in the adoration of any other Hindu deity. It is a very important clue about our Buddhist past.
No. of words: 740

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