The historical background of Kallekulangara Emoor Bhagavathy temple is woven in a tapestry of folklore and poetry. Also known as the 'kaipathi' (palm of the hand) temple, the much-revered temple in Palakkad is steeped in legends and lore.
The Hemambika Bhagavathy temple has a political touch to its history. Our former prime minister, late Indira Gandhi made a historic trip to the temple and bequeathed to it the colours of politics which have been religiously followed down the years.
The Hemambika Bhagavathy is the presiding and guardian deity of the Palakkad royalty. It’s believed that the devi made her appearance here in the form of a palm and thus the 'kaipathi' happens to be what’s worshipped here as the deity. Legend says that the devi once agreed to appear before an ardent devotee and made him promise that he would not disclose this to anyone.
However, the devotee, who could not contain his ecstasy, went around blabbering. When the goddess appeared before him, she realized a crowd had gathered there. Distracted by the sight, the devi vanished and all that the folks could see was an upraised hand.
Thus, the idol happens to be the speciality of the temple and the holy place is surrounded by water on three sides. The goddess also happens to be the guardian deity of the Palakkad dynasty. A look into the sanctum sanctorum reveals a pair of hands folded in piety and blessings.
Legend again says that it was Parasurama who entrusted the devi with the care of Kerala. He consecrated the divine deity in the inaccessibly dense hills of Karimala in Palakkad. She was later taken away from the dense woods and brought to Muthiramkunnu near Malampuzha.
It’s said that the Kurur and Kaimukku Nampoothiris of Palakkad used to regularly offer worship at the Hemambika temple atop its treacherous perch. It so happened that one day, as they were descending the winding mountainous path, the duo became tired and sought to rest under the shade of a tree. Out of nowhere there appeared an old woman who offered the men fresh fruits. Refreshed by the fruits, they continued their climb down.
The next day, as they approached the tree, they saw a majestic elephant standing under the shade and beside it stood the devi in all her splendour. From then on, the two Nampoothiris started offering worship by the tree. This continued for years till they could no longer continue their climb up due to the infirmities of old age, a fact that saddened the devout men. One night, the devi appeared to Kurur Nampoothiri in his dream and revealed to him that she would appear to him in the pond by the side of his mana.
In total reverence, the Nampoothiri rushed to the pond early in the morning to behold two folded hands emerging out of the water. Driven by piety and ecstasy, the Nampoothiri who was beside himself with excitement rushed into the water and grabbed the hands upon which they turned to stone, immobile, and became stationary. Kallekulangara, where the temple is situated derived its name from this incident. The matter was soon conveyed to the Palakkattussery king who rushed to the spot and gave orders for a temple to be built there. The deity today sits in the 'theerthakulam' in the middle of the wide water body.
The sanctum sanctorum also is on level with the water in the pond. The main deity is carved in stone and a scared cloth with an imprint of the hand covers the stone image and pujas are offered to the deity thus covered.
The devi is worshipped in three avatars here. By morning she is worshipped as Saraswathy, Mahalakshmi by noon and Durga by evening. It’s said that this order of worship was determined by Shankaracharya and there lies a story behind this decision. This is how historian V.V.K.Valath accounts for this: When Shankaracahrya came to Emoor on a visit, he saw the holy folded hands and on inquiring about them from the pujari Nampoothiris there, was told that the hands were not man-made, but in fact had sprung to life on their own. Hence, they could be worshipped in all awe and reverence.
Shankaracharya then started offering prayers asking the devi to reveal herself in her true form, upon which the goddess appeared to him in three forms … that of Saraswathy, Mahalakshmi and Durga, prompting the great sage to decide on the order of worship. The main and exquisite feature if the temple are the water bodies surrounding it. William Logan who was the collector of Malabar has made a record of the temple in his Malabar Manual calling the deity 'Jaladurga,' or water goddess.
The Palakkad dynasty considers the Emoor goddess as its patron protector. A stupa erected in front of the temple linking it to the deity in Kalpathy temple has an inscription which provides sufficient proof of this connection. The inscription goes thus:
"Sometime between 1425-26, a woman by name Lakshmi Ammal from the agraharam, brought a 'banalinga,' from her pilgrimage to Kasi. She then apprised Sekharivarman, the king of Palakkad of her desire to consecrate the linga there. The extremely pious, devout and virtuous king gave his wholehearted support to it. He then entrusted the work to his most trusted lieutenant , the most revered elder Ittikombiyachan of Akathethara Valyakonikkalidathil. A temple was to be built and the statue was to be consecrated in a hallowed spot. The karanavar built the temple and installed the linga also.
"Extremely happy over the happenings, the king made Ittikombiyachan the temple trustee. Not satisfied with this gesture alone, the generous king donated vast stretches of land by the side of the river Nila to the temple and this he did with the blessings of Chokkanadhapuram Sundareshwara Perumal and the Kallelulangara Emoor Bhagavathy."
However, the Kallekulangara temple shot into the limelight when the late Indira Gandhi, sought to visit the temple for a darshan of the devi. This happened after the infamous Emergency was lifted and the Janatha govt lost power. Indira was back in her seat and her second innings had begun. The Indian National Congress no more had the cow and calf election symbol and the palm had been installed in its place. It was Soundara Kailasam, wife of Supreme Court judge Justice P.S.Kailasam who told Indira about the Kallekulangara temple and the palm deity.
Soundara who also happened to be a poet in her own right in Chennai, was former minister P.Chidambaram’s mother-in-law. She was very close to the Nehru family, especially to Indira Gandhi. Soundara who had already been to the Emoor temple egged on the late leader to go there and seek the devi’s blessings. The temple soon caught the fancy of Indira Gandhi who decided on a visit. But she could make it to Emoor only years later.
Further details about the temple can be had from the memoirs of former MP V.S.Vijayaraghavan. After he was elected MP, he went to the Kallekulangara temple. The temple authorities gifted him a locket with the image of the palm deity inscribed inside. When he was in Delhi once, he showed the locket to Indira Gandhi and invited her across for a darshan of the devi. She told him that she had already heard of the temple and was planning to go there on her next visit to Kerala. The MP then apprised the late K.Karunakaran, who was then the chief minister of Kerala about Indira's decision.
As per this plan, it was decided that Indira Gandhi would inaugurate the potable water and irrigation scheme of the three panchayats in Palakkad in Malampuzha. It was also decided that a temple visit would be made after the opening of the water scheme.
Those days, the terrain was totally inhospitable. Not even a jeep could make it to over the rough roads to the temple. In view of the prime minister's visit, the chief minister gave orders for road repair and the contract was given to a person called Yohannan. He was given orders to complete the road work in one night. But then the contractor raised objections and they were carried to K.Karunakaran. The chief minister would have no excuses. He said what he wanted was a road, not obstacles to making one. The long and short of it was that a road was thus readied in just one night.
Water scheme inauguration and public meeting done, the late prime minister proceeded to the temple accompanied by Chief Minister K Karunakaran, ministers M P Gangadharan and P Sundaram and M P Vijayaragnavan, to a rousing reception at Emoor temple. It was from there that Indira Gandhi proceeded to Kochi to preside over the merger meeting of the A and I factions.
It was a stupendous welcome that awaited Indira at the temple. The entire Palakkad royalty had turned up for the occasion. Indira spent quite some time there and left after presenting the temple a bronze bell. She signed the visitors’ diary and left carrying a locket with the deity's inscription inside, a gift from the Palakkad royals.
Over the years several ministers and bigwigs have come to pay obeisance to the deity, the recent being Mullappally Ramachandran after he took over as KPCC president.
The Hemambika temple from where it's believed that the Kallekulangara devi came to her present seat, still stands beside the dam in Malampuzha. The temple happens to be the most sought-after haunt of movie-makers who offer worship here just before venturing into their projects.
Several shots of the temple appear in the Prem Nazir starrer Dhwani.