Of legends, lore & history

KODUNGALLUR

Of legends, lore & history

Every year when the mercury soars to dizzying heights, hordes of pilgrims and oracles trudge from all over the state of Kerala to attend the annual Bharani Festival in the sprawling complex of Kurumba Bhagavathy Temple in Kodungallur.

We were there to cover this folk festival which is marked by lewd songs, weird rituals, ecstatic chants, and riotous dancing of oracles and pilgrims. Attired in red, brandishing swords in the air, they run and jump, rhythmically to the chants of ‘Devi Sharanam’, beat themselves on the head in ecstatic fervour, often drawing blood, and go into a devotional trance.

During the kavutheendal event, the oracles charge around the temple, inflicting themselves with injuries by swords amid the delirious chants three times at breakneck speed. Following them, thousands of pilgrims run around the temple precincts striking the temple rafters with sticks. The temple is then closed to the public for a week for ritual purification and cleansing.

We discovered that there is much more to unravel in this unpretentious temple town than the Bharani Festival. Legends and lores intermingle with history in Kodungallur (erstwhile Cranganore). History surprises you at every turn down the narrow, meandering roads in Kodungallur. Located at the confluence of the Periyar river and the Arabian Sea, this ancient port town was a busy entrepot for the spice trade, enticing enterprising voyagers, seafarers, and traders from the world. We could not believe that gems, silks, teak, ivory, sandalwood, peacock’s feathers and cinnamon used in Solomon’s court were exported from the shores of Cranganore. Even gold was used as an exchange currency in Kodungallur!

In the records
The Jews, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and the Arabs all made Cranganore their port of call. It has also lured intrepid travellers and ancient historians like Pliny who has eulogised Yavana (Roman) ships coming to Muziris, laden with gold and waiting for pepper, the black gold of the Romans. The ancient port was known as Muziris to Pliny, who describes it as the ‘Primium Emporium Indiae’ (India’s first emporium). Early Tamil poets in Sangham literature allude to Cranganore as ‘Muchiri’, and the Greeks and Romans, knew it as ‘Musuris’ from the ancient temple whose goddess was called Masuri Devatha on account of her power to ward off small pox — a belief held even today.

Kodungallur abounds in historic temples, mosques and churches, which is evocative of the religious harmony practised here centuries ago. Currently, it forms an integral part of Kerala Tourism’s much-hyped Muziris project. Standing on a sprawling ground at the centre of Kodungallur, the temple complex shelters the main idol of Kali who killed the demon Daaruka. With her eight hands carrying deadly weapons, the majestic six-foot-high wooden image of Kali is carved out of a jack fruit tree and its face covered by a mask. The reigning deity of Kodungallur is Kannagi of Silappathikaram fame. She is worshipped as Kodungalluramma.

On the outskirts of the town is the Tiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. My eyes linger on the majestic gateway with a sloping roof and carvings of elephants, protective deities, gods and goddesses and a wooden latticework grill to hold oil lamps offered by devotees. As we strolled around, we found a calm pervading the temple precincts. A large multi-tiered metal lamp and a porch adorned with carvings dedicated to the heroes of the Ramayana, struck our attention.

From the temple, we headed to the Marthoma Thoma Pontifical Shrine built to commemorate the landing of St. Thomas the Apostle at Cranganore Port in 52 AD. Located at a vantage point on the edge of the backwaters at Azhikode Jetty, the church is set in a semicircle with the small church in the centre flanked by statues of the saints. Looking around, we found a painting depicting Thomas’s arrival, the holy relic of the right arm of St. Thomas enshrined in a glass case, a map indicating the journeys of St. Thomas and the routes of the apostolic times, tucked away on an inside wall of the shrine.

It’s different
Close by is the Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid, which is said to have been  founded by Cheraman Perumal, the legendary Keralite king who embraced Islam, abdicated and emigrated to Mecca. What is unique about this mosque is that it faces east and not Mecca.

The Kerala architectural style is discernible though marble minarets have been added to its facade. A huge bronze lamp, found normally in the temples of Kerala, is kept lighted inside the mosque. In an anteroom, there is a small mausoleum where Muslim priests light incense sticks, a reflection of yet another Hindu practice.

Besides the places of worship and the picturesque countryside, history buffs may find this place fascinating. It is surprising that the Europeans have not left behind any vestiges of their culture. There is a fishing centre at Azhikode. We culminated our spiritual sojourn with a backwater trip from Azhikode Jetty. It was a memorable experience with the Chinese fishing nets, a ubiquitous sight all along the scenic backwaters of Kodungallur.

How to get there
Air: Nearest airport - Nedumbassery, Kochi – 38 km.
Rail: Nearest railway station is Irinjalakuda - 15 km.
Road: Thrissur - 35 km.
Kodungallur can be covered from either Thrissur or Kochi.

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