The Vennimala Temple

The place name, ‘Vennimala’, which is the Malayalam form of the Sanskrit word ‘Vijayadrl’ means ‘Victory Hill’. There stands atop the hill of Vennimala, the Sri Rama—Lakshmana Temple overlooking the west and adding a spiritual dimension to the spectacular natural beauty of the place.The Vennimala Temple, which had remained under the ancient Perumals of Kerala and the erstwhile rajas of Theckunkoor,  has enjoyed an outstandingly glorious past, 

when it was known all over the country. Kottarathil Sankunny has written about it in his Ithihasamala and it finds mention also in the 800 year old Malayalam poem Onnuneelisandesam. Legend has it that once upon a time Vennimala was the abode of Rishis—holy men who led an ascetic life—and that they were forced to leave the place consequent upon an invasion by the assuras. Hearing that Sri Rama would be passing by that place after having restored Sabari to human form again, the aggrieved ‘sanyasins’ went to see Sri Rama and apprized him of their grievance.

Sri Rama, who would never turn down the prayers of the supplicants, sent with them his brother Lakshmana at the head of his monkey regiment to combat the assuras. The assuras were defeated and the land and hermitages were restored to the Rishis (holy men). As a token of their gratitude the Rishis renamed the place as Vijayadri, which became Vennimala in Malayalam. They further wanted to erect a temple there in memory of Lakshmana and as a preliminary step got an idol of Lakshmana ready for the purpose. But for various reasons their dream of building a temple there did not materialize. Centuries slid by and there was another attack by the assuras.

The concerned ascetics deposited the Lakshmana idol in the pond on the eastern side of the Temple and fled from there for there to sace their lives. Centuries passed by again. And there were the inevitable social and political changes. Vennila and the surrounding regions came under the rule of the Perumals, who set up their head quarters at Thruvanchikulam.

According to a strong tradition, one day Cheraman Perrumal (Kulashelhara Perumal) set out to visit the southern regions of his kingdom. The boat carrying the king was sailing south along the Vembanadu lake. As it grew dark, the king happened to look at the eastern sky. The story goes that he saw the Pleiads (the constellation of seven stars) moving around a small region below. The king’s surprise knew no bounds. He asked the boatmen to row the boat in the direction of that place and travelling up the Kodoor river they reached Paloorppada rear Puthuppalli beond which place the river was not navigable.

The king had the headman of the village, Palloor Panicker, summoned to him. The king spoke to him about the strange sight he had witnessed. Panicker knew that the place above which the Pleiads had hovered was Venninala. Panicker submitted to the king that the shrine there was a neglected one and that they vested the shrine only on new moon day in connection with the sradha worship. He narrated an incident to the king to suggest that there was something special about the place. He Said a man belonging to the veda caste was digging there for the roots of the medicinal plants. The wooden bar the man was digging with struck something under the soil . The man noticed that blood was issuing from the spot where the bar had struck the ground. This story convinced the king of the importance of the place and he ordered a temple to be constructed at that spot. Thus in the due course a temple came up there.

The position of the head priest of the new temple was given to a member of the Thazhamon family and that of the ‘samuhya’ was given to the Mepattor family.

Two days before the day appointed for the consecration of the new temple, a strikingly impressive holy man came to see the king. They talked about the arrangements for the consecration of the new temple. After inspecting the Vishnu idol which was kept ready for the ceremony, the holy man told the king: “The installation of this idol does not augur well for you. It might bring on misfortunes.” So saying, in a bid to convince the king, the holy man struck a heavy blow at the belly of the idol. That very moment there flowed out dirty water and wriggling worms from inside the idol. The king sat there dumbfounded. Realizing that the king was in a dilemma, the sage told the king about a Lakshmana idol lying at the bottom of the pond at the eastern side fo the temple. He asked the king to take steps to recover the idol and to install it along with a devi idol which was to be recovered from another pond nearby. Both idols were to be installed at the same time, said the holy man. He told the king that it was not against the Vedas to install a Lakshmana idol inasmuch as Lakshmana was the incarnation of Ananda.

He added that Sri Rama is the self- incarnation of Vishnu. Vishnu means he who is spread out filling the infinity, that is, he who is omnipresent. He who is omnipresent cannot be conceived of as being confined to an idol. The Vedanthas affirm that such a Being is beyond the reach of all sensory perception. Therefore consecration may be carried out in the case of the idol of Lakshmana in conformity with the non-dualistic idea of the body and the soul being one. Sri Rama also may be installed but without using any idol in keeping with the dualistic idea that the two body and souls are not one but separate entities. Having said so much, the sage went away from there. Vennimala is the only temple in India where the idol has been installed in accordance with the dualistic idea that is to say, without a moorthy or idol.

The instructions given by the sage were carried out by the king. He leased out to the temple thousands of acres of land to meet the daily expenses relating to administration. There was a time when the temple used to offer thirty five kilograms worth of food every day to the deity along with jiggery payasam and sweetmeat. There were besides five poojas and as many sreebalis every day. There was provision to conduct the temple art form of chakiar kooth every day in the temple. Besides there used to be daily boothabalis after the last bali, so as to propitiate the boothas or demons.

Another feature of the temple is the ‘pithrumandapam,’ an enclosed area meant for the souls of the ancestors. It is intended to keep the souls of the ancestors from feeling ignored or uncared for or from turning harmful to the living. In the south eastern corner of the sanctuary there are the idols of Ganapathy,Saraswathy, Siva and Bhagavathi as also the idols of the subsidiary deities. Outside at the north western corner there is the idol of Lord Krishna. At the eastern side there are Nagayakshi, Elangikudiyan (Sastav ), Nagaraja and some minor deities. The temple pond is brimful of water all the year round. Devotees flock to this place for the monthly balis , for the annual poojas and for the sradha on the new moon day. The sradha which falls on new moon day in the month of Karkidaka (July—August) draws thousands of devotees to Vennimala. The following verse in Stalapurana highlights the popular belief about performing ancestral poojas at the temple pond of Venn[mala temple.

He who performs the ritual bath At the temple pond of Vennimala; The ancestors to sooth; He will surely get the desired result.

In this temple Sri Rama is conceived of as the supreme soul. Sajooyja or spiritual fulfilment is the process of the individual soul dissolving itself in the Over-soul. Vennimala temple being a Sri Rama temple, ancestral worship conducted here is bound to be greatly efficacious. There is a strong tradition here that ‘Pithrutharpana’ (Rituals meant for the repose of the angstroms’ souls) was carried out here for hundreds of years under the supervisions of the Rishis or holy men. Till recently Vennimala was the only temple in central Kerala which specialized in ‘Pithruthatpama’ rituals.