Kerala is known as God’s Own Country, thanks to the blessed nature and abundant resources showered across this small land beside the Arabian Sea. The place does not stop surprising the tourists who are enthralled by the adventurous forests, mountains and rivers. Kerala equally offers a tranquil experience to the romantic honeymoon couples with its beaches, hill stations and backwaters. There’s ample scope for shopping, adventure, education, advanced medical treatments and pilgrimage too in Kerala. The state has a rare mix of modernity and tradition that’s evident in the people’s everyday life. The temples of Kerala offer a unique serenity and divinity that is rare to find anywhere else in the world. Modernization has only accentuated the facilities and never touched the centuries old rituals and traditions followed in the temples of Kerala.
Photo by ArunaR
Though it looks like a long bitter gourd crushed between the sea and the majestic mountains on the Western Ghats, the sweetness of spices, coconuts and nature make it the tourists’ paradise. The other group of people who travel to the state to exclusively visit the temples of Kerala will find them completely different from those in the rest of India. Here are some interesting points to note about the unique architecture of the temples of Kerala:
Unlike the temples in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where stones were primarily used to build temples, Kerala’s temples used more of wood and metals in addition to stones. Most part of the scriptures and craftsmanship can be seen in the intricate woodwork that stays intact over centuries. Brass, bronze, iron, silver and gold are also lavishly used for various purposes to build the temple.
Every temple in Kerala, built in the traditional Kerala architecture will comprise of the following sections:
Prathishta or the Idol and the Sreekovil
The idol or the Prathishta is kept in the central innermost sanctum of the temple known as Sreekovil. The Sreekovil is usually circular, square or rectangular in shape. The idol could be made of stone or metal (Panchaloha or 5 metals). It is here that the idol is worshiped, the mantras are chanted and the sacred fire is shown to the God. Only the priests have entry into this sanctum. It could be a single to three-storied structure.
Photo by amitrakar
The steps that lead to the inside of the Sreekovil are known as Sopanam. It is considered equally divine and sacred. Usually the sopanam is guarded by the Dwarapalakas on either side of the steps. It could be made of stone and covered with gold or bronze.
The devotees go around the Sreekovil chanting prayers. This ritual is called Pradakshinam. On the pradakshinavattom, you can see Balikkallu or stones carved out in specific shapes denoting the Ashtadikpalakas, Saptha Mathrukkal and other gods including Ganapathi. These are covered with silver or bronze.
Photo by ArunaR
The devotees pay respect to the Gods and Goddesses by performing Namaskara at the Namaskara Mandapam. It will be facing the Idol and the Sreekovil. Some temples have a Nandi or Garuda figurine at the Namaskara mandapam. Some have the Kodimaram and some others place a huge lamp there.
The chuttambalam is the outer part of the temple within the premises.
This is the temple’s Kitchen where the Prasad or Nivedyam is cooked. Only the priests and the Tantri can enter the Thidappalli.
All the temples in Kerala will have a well either near the Sreekovil or within the premises in the Chuttambalam. The water for bathing the idol and for cooking the nivedyam is taken from this sacred well.
Every temple will have a vilakkumadam where the lamps are lit in the early morning and evening time. You will see huge 3 to 7 layered brass lamps in front of the Dwaja or Kodimaram at the Temples of Kerala. That’s the Vilakkumadam.
Photo by pravin.premkumar
Every temple in Kerala will have a Kodimaram which is the flag post. It is usually a tall single-piece of wood aged in oil and covered with gold, silver or bronze which bears the flag containing the vehicle or signature image of the temple’s deity. The flag is hoisted during the festival days.
Apart from these, the major temples in Kerala will also have the following elements:
Anakkottil – Where the elephants stand during the festivals
Sheevelippura – This is where the Kazchasreebali is performed during the festivities
Oottupura – This is the dining hall exclusively for the temple. This is where the annadanam and other feasts are done during the festivities.
Photo by Arayil
Koothambalam – This is the theatre hall in temples. Not all temples have a Koothambalam. It must be noted that even during the ancient days, Kerala’s temples had the perfect Koothambalams where live dance and music performances used to enthrall the devotees.
Gopuram – The major temples will have a Gopuram on each side of the temple – East, West, North and South. The Gopuram could be single or multistoried.
Mathil or Walls – Major temples will have huge outer walls that protect the temple surroundings.
Theerthakkulam – This is the temple pond where devotees can wash their hands and feet or take bath before entering the temple.
Featured Photo by Fif’