Temples and Traditions of Kerala



Karimpuzha Sri Ramaswami Temple, Palakkad (Source: TemplePurohit

Kerala is renowned for its distinct temple culture that traces back to centuries. The elegant architecture, intricate artwork and the unique, as well as diverse ritual traditions, lend a distinctive character to the temples of Kerala.

A typical day of an average Malayali Hindu starts with lavation and a visit to the nearest temple for darśana. The deities and temples are still intricately interwoven with the fabric of life of ordinary Malayalis despite the influence of Marxism which has had a preponderance in the polity. It is tremendously enriching to get acquainted with the wisdom behind the temples and rituals.

 

Temples, big or small, are the symbol of īśwara (divinity) inside and outside each being. They are built and established as the abode of devatās (divine beings) with the intention of infusing positivity in the immediate environs, a sanctified premises for the connected community to reenergise and align with their spiritual element. From the early deification of local heroes and spirits to the construction of spectacular architectural edifices that act as the physical identifiers of Indic civilisation, the vast network of Hindu temples vary in form as well as conceptualisation. Temples also served as hubs of art and culture that provided a favourable ground for evolution of art, architecture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and various other fields of knowledge.

Hindu temples are not just a space to interact with a devatā who is projected outside oneself. The deity of any temple represents the animate as well as the inanimate on the Earth. The architecture of the mahā kśetras (pilgrimage centres of great significance) of Kerala do not permit collective worship. Excluding family thara (ritual worship area of family deity), and family kalari, the ancient structure of the temples in Kerala consists of garbhagrham (sanctum sanctorum), mukhamandapam (community hall), nalambalam (courtyard surrounding the sanctum), fortification, gateway, etc. One might not see any ancient temples from Kanyakumari to Gokarna (the stretch of land reclaimed by Sage Parasurama) that permits space for more than four or five people to stand before the deity at a time. The Space between the śree kovil and the mukhamandapam is not meant for the devotees to stay longer than just making a darśana.

Typical Kerala Temple Layout (Source: Wikipedia)

 

‘Parayeduppu’ (Source: Wiki)

Driśyate anena iti darśanam – the opportunity to see the murţi is most important here. Till the 1930s, only those who were affiliated or approved by the ruler and state were allowed to enter the temple. Consequently, the devotees do not have much role in the rituals and practices inside the sanctum. But once in a year, devatās came out of their sanctum to the people of utsavam (festival), parayeduppu (procession of temple oracle), pallivetta (enactment of puranic parable), etc. The community celebrated the joy as festivals. Also, each family/jāti had their kula devatā (family deity) whom they worshipped daily. So, till Colonel Munro attached the temples to the land revenue department, nobody wanted to enter the sanctum of ancient temples where Brahmin archakas (priests) had the ritual rights.

 

Anantapura Lake Temple (Source: Wiki)

The temple worship system has undergone a lot of changes in the past century.  Our ancestors considered a temple as deśa devatā (deity of a kingdom/country) or grāma devatā (local/community deity). They did not treat the deity as a figure made of stone or wood, but the Lord of the village, region, or country. The deity of a temple was regarded legally a perpetual minor. There was no concept of private property before the British in India. Even the kings used to run the administration as servants of the devatā. Since the devatā is perpetual minor, it is hard to take away the rights of the deity even in the modern secular democracy.