Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The temple where Kathakali is staged every night as an offering to God

When you go to a temple, you can see the deity in its entirety  when you enter the sanctum sanctorum. But in this temple you cannot see the top most portion and the lower portion of the deity as it is believed that the Viratapurusha has no origin and no end. This is also the temple where the deity is dressed in white and saffron robes and this is contrary to the general practice prevalent elsewhere where such deities are dressed in yellow.
It is perhaps the only temple where all major forms of worship-Vaishnava, Shiva and Shakti are followed. This is so as the deity here is Purusha or the ultimate God with no form, no beginning, no  end and no form.
This temple here is known to have followed the same set of rules and regulations and form of temple worship from its construction which is first dated to 59 BC. This makes it one of the oldest known places of worship known to mankind and one of the oldest continuing places of worship for more than 2,000 years.
Believed to be more than 4,000 years old, the temple worships the supreme God Vishnu in his original, cosmic and transcendental  form or Purusha.
One of the most unique customs in the Vishnu Temple here is the daily performance of Kathakali every night within the temple premises.
The Kathakali performances are enacted every night as an offering to the God. The main theme of the Kathakali performance are stories relating to Duryodhana Vadham (annihilation of Duryodhana), Santhana Gopalam (story of Arjuna), Kuchela Vrutham (story of Kuchela) Sreevallabha Vijayam (glory of Vishnu) and Thokalaasura Vadham (annihilation of Thokalaasura).
The Kathakali is one of the native dance forms of Kerala and in this temple it is more of a daily ritual. This is the temple of Vishnu or Hari more popularly called Sreevallabha.
This temple is in  Located in Tiruvalla town in Panthanamthitta district in Kerala.
What makes this temple stand pout from the rest of the Vaishnava temples is that the deity here is worshipped in his original or cosmic form. In other Vishnu temples, the deity is clothed in yellow but here it is either white or saffron. These two colours are associated with eternity.
Another peculiarity of the deity is that there is no peeta puje here. Pete puje is mandatory for Vaidika temples in Kerala (these rituals are enshrined in the Tantrasamuchayam and are followed by almost all temples in Kerala) but it is not done here as it is believed that Purusha has no beginning or end.
Though this is one of the 108 Divya Desams of Vishnu, many of the rituals an ceremonies performed here are not done anywhere else.
The daily Kathakali performances makes it the venue to have the maximum number of such performances in India or abroad.
History says that this place was inhabited by humans before 3000 B.C. The Thiruvalla inscriptions point out that a temple for Sudarshana Chakra was built here in 2998 B.C by sridevi Antherjanam. It was rebuilt in 59 BC by Queen Cherumthevi.
The first ever prose work in Malayalam is found in this temple. They were discovered in the Tiruvalla inscription in 1915 and they date back to the early 12th century period.
There is an interesting legend about Sreevallabha. Vishnu appeared here as Sreevallabha before sage Durvasa and Khandakarna. The idol of Sreevallabha was later worshipped by Lakshmi and then Krishna. There is a belief that Durvasa and Saptarishis come here every night and worship Sreevallabha.
It is this idol that has been installed here since 59 BC. Since then, the temple has been strictly adhering to its own set of rules and regulations.
Situated on the banks of Manimala, this temple covers an area of 8.5 acres. It is surrounded by a mammoth compound wall, which in itself is a sight to marvel. The red granite compound is 12 feet in height, 566 feet long and  4.5 feet with a two-storied  gopura on  each side.
This huge compound wall must be the oldest such structure anywhere in the world as it was constructed in 509 BC. Legend has it that the entire wall was completed in a single night by bhoothas (servants) of  Vishnu.
There is a big pond just outside the eastern wall. It covers one and half acres and there is platform for Kathakali performances near the east entrance of the temple.
There is a mango and fig tree here within the compound. It is said that Durvasa meditated here. Near the gopura on the west of the wall is a structure which is believed to be the place where Sridevi Antherjanam lived. The gate below the north gopura is always closed. It is opened only during a festival called Uthra Streebali.
The north east corner has a sacred pond where 64 hidden idols of Vishnu are hidden. Nobody except the priests of the temple are allowed near the pond.
The place where Vedavyasa and Durvasa disappeared can be seen on the eastern side.      
The Garuda Dwaja or Garuda Stamba was also built in 59 BC along with the temple wall. It is made of black granite and rises 53 feet above ground. A Garuda statue is placed atop the stamba.
The priests are expected to follow a strict regimen before and after entering the temple. Neither the priests nor the people visiting the temple are allowed to smear themselves with ash or Vibhuti  though it is handed out as a Prasada in the temple. The ash can be smeared on the body only after you leave the temple. However, you can smear yourself with sandalwood. 
The main temple, called sreekovil in Malayalam, is conical and it has a perimeter of about 160 feet. It is built of granite and the walls are adorned with beautiful murals of the ten avatars of Vishnu.
The conical roof is covered with copper plates. There is a beautiful dome of gold atop the roof.
The inner chamber of the sanctum sanctorum with the idol of  Vishnu faces east.
There are several underground cellars within the temple which is believed to be the haunt of ghosts, snakes and other reptiles. These cellars are located on the western side of  Navakappura.
The mystery of the cellars are yet to be unraveled. Who built them and why were they built? Nobody seems to know.
There are many temples dedicated to other deities within the temple premises. 
The temple is located on the Tiruvalla-Ambalappuzha highway and it is 2 kms from the Tiruvalla railway station. The temple town is well connected by both road and rail network.
The temple is under the management of the Travancore Devaswom Board.

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