Attukal Bhagavathi

Attukal Bhagavathi

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kodungalloor Bhagavathi

Kodungalloor Bhagavathi

Daylight dawns over the banyan trees of Kodungalloor. The place which is considered as the pinnacle of Kali worship in Kerala is all set for another Bharani festival. Within the temple grounds, the atmosphere is electric. The blades of a hundred sabres carve the air, etching frenzied syllables of adulation to Kali. This is the hour of the velichappadu(also called as ' The revealer of light ' who acts as a mediator between deity and the devotee and dresses himself in red), the resplendent oracle, embodying the mystic tradition of centuries, smiting his forehead with the sword of his faith, bleeding profusely and proclaiming his communion with the goddess in a weird act of self-flagellation.

Blood and belief blend in symbiosis during the festival at the Kodungallur which falls in the Malayalam month of Meenam each year. From the symbolism of the cock-stone ceremony with which the festival opens that soon give way to the tremors and shivers of the Komarams and in the end, blood is an extended metaphor that encapsulates a whole range of moods, from the spirit of battle and bloodlust of the conqueror, to the joy of liberation and the ecstasy of a sacrament. A background chorus to this ritual tapestry, strident as a discordant note in a symphony, is the coarse convention of 'Therippattu', the singing of scurrilous songs addressed to the temple deity.

Each year, bus loads of pilgrims throng the temple to attend the seven-day festivities . Once in the temple premises, the pilgrims break up into small clusters and sing; some in low tones, some with gusto.

The custom of singing profane songs is the practice of Kavu Theendal, or 'polluting' the temple, the climax of the festival, after which the shrine is closed for a week. Kavu Theendal, the pollution ceremony, is overseen by the Kodungallur king. Hordes of Komarams who have arrived from other parts of the state assemble at various spots in the temple compound.

A red ceremonial umbrella is unfurled over the king's head. This is the signal. The vellichappads charge around the temple in a daunting human stampede, waving their sabres in the air, while members of their retinue strike the temple rafters with sticks and hurl objects over the roof and on to the inner quadrangle. They circle the temple three times in a frenzy and then fall before the king for his benediction. The temple is then closed to the public for a week. Its doors reopen after 'purificatory' rituals are conducted to cleanse the shrine of the 'stain' of Kavu Theendal.

A widely accepted notion connects the Kodungallur shrine with Ilamkovadigal's Tamil classic, Silapathikaram, whose date of composition is uncertain but is placed roughly between the second and ninth centuries AD. The temple is believed to be a memorial to Kannaki, the protagonist of the Tamil classic, whose husband was falsely condemned in a theft of royal ornament(Queen's chilambu) and then killed by the King's decree. Kannaki plucked her left breast in anguish and rage, and reduced the city of Madurai to ashes with her curse. At the end of her wanderings she is resurrected in heaven. The Chera king erected a memorial to Kannaki in the capital Vanji, which is now believed to be present-day Kodungallur.

The idol in the temple itself is shocking which is having eight hands and in them carries a severed head, a multi-headed serpant,a blood dripping sword,a trident,a bell,a cup and a shield.

Scholars speculate that Ilamkovadigal has based his characterisation on a contemporary heroine in whose honour a memorial was later established. An intriguing architectural feature of the Kodungallur temple is the existence of a sealed underground vault and it could be a megalith or a burial chamber, possibly containing the mortal remains of Kannaki.

The riddle may never really be solved. Temple authorities do not permit any exploration of the crypt or the breaking of its sealed walls for purposes of research. The popular imagination is infested with taboos. The local community fears that those who attempt to peer into the vault invite the most harrowing consequences.

The Kodungallur deity has some esoteric rituals that deviate from laid down procedures. For instance, in the run-up to the temple desecration ceremony, non-brahmins perform a three-hour puja which is said to be a departure from the norm. The ingredients used are said to be substitute items for meat, fish and alcohol. The Kodungallur temple has an age-old image as a great social leveller. Its doors were open to those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy long before the temple entry legislation came into force. Where other temples barred their entry round the year, the Kodungallur temple allowed them access for 27 days.

The wellsprings of faith lie deep in the psyche of the devotees. They are farmers who flock to Kodungallur in the aftermath of the harvest season. The festival acquires for them the significance of a fertility rite. The obscene songs perhaps have a cathartic dimension in the lives of these simple rustic folk.

To the poor pilgrim, the Kodungallur festival represents more than just an occasion for irreverent songs or a perverse infatuation with obscurantist rites. It is a quest for solace, a plea for redemption, a time for unburdening. And it is a time for renewal under the scathing stare of Kali, the mother goddess.

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