Tucked away in quaint but culturally critical village Vellinezhi, amidst green trees with a river flowing close by is the Chenganikkottukavu temple in Palakkad.
Artists, especially percussionists, have a special link to this temple. Percussion artists make a beeline to pay obeisance to the presiding deity at this temple, which is one of the 108 Durgalayas. Several prominent artists, including Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, had held their Arangettam at this temple.
Children are also taken to the temple for Vidyarambham, formal initiation into education.
There are several legends linked to the age-old temple that have been passed down the generations.
The temple shrine
The temple is situated near Olappamanna Mana at Vellinezhi Kala village in Kerala's Palakkad district.
This ancient temple is situated amidst green paddy fields, and trees. There is also a temple pond. The temple offers a unique spiritual experience for the travellers.
Walk along the muddy village path flanked by huge trees that provide a green canopy, offering a cool shade even under the blistering afternoon sun. The stone steps would lead you to the western entrance of the temple.
The goddess can be seen in two forms at the temple – Karthyayani and Saraswathi.
Darshan of the Saraswathi Devi can be made from the Western entrance. Regular poojas are held here. Students and artists seek the blessings of the goddess of knowledge.
Darshan of the goddess Karthyayani is from the eastern entrance. This sanctum sanctorum is opened only for some time on Vishu that falls in the Malayalam month of Medam. Darshan of the goddess during this time is considered to be auspicious.
As the darshan can be made through both western and eastern entrances, 18 poojas are held during the Udayastamana pooja.
Even Adi Shankaracharya had visited the temple after coming to know of its importance. Believed to be a hearsay for long, the incident was confirmed recently after the Shankaracharya from Puri visited the temple recently.
The visit was part of the journey undertaken after checking the records of the temple visits made by Acharya Swamikal.
Vilwamangalam Swamiyar, too, had paid obeisance at the temple. The Shiva temple at the eastern entrance was consecrated by him. Naduvil Thekkemadom Moopil Swamiyar too had visited the temple.
Vilwamangalam Swamiyar installed the Shiva temple to pacify the ferocious anger of the Durga devi. As he was reluctant to walk over a path that shone with divinity, he walked on all fours and installed the idol.
The Navarathri festival held during the Malayalam month of Kanni is famous.
Footprints can be seen on the surface of the rock found on the northern end of the temple. It is believed that these footprints belonged to Lord Sriram as he went this way in search of Sita.
The temple is linked to the tale of Naranth Bhranthan too. By standing on top of the cluster of rocks at the temple premises, one could earlier catch a glimpse of the Naranath Mangalathu Mana at Chethallur, which is situated close by. As per the legends, the family at Mana found a child along the banks of Kunthipuzha. He performed several wonderful tricks even as a child, who grew up to became Naranath Bhranthan.
The huge rock that Naranth Bhranthan used to roll up the hill is believed to be on the premises of the Mana. It became famous as Bhranthan Kunnu. Though the rock is not at the Chenganikkottukavu, several elders still pray while facing the Narayana Mangalathu Mana. This tale has been passed down the generations. It is also believed that after the goddess appeared before Naranth Bhranthan, she never left the hill and was enshrined here.
Take the path leading down the western entrance. A deserted path filled with the chirping of bush crickets. Towering trees would cast long shadows over you even in the afternoon sun. The path would be littered with the remains of the fruits. The path would lead you to the banks Kunthipuzha. Here is where the priest would take the idol for Aaraattu, the ritualistic bath of the deity.
The arrival of Pattikamthodi
The nearby river, Kunthipuzha, has witnessed the growth of several prominent personalities over the years. A boy, Raman, from the Chethallur village too crossed the river and came to the Chenganikkottukavu. That little boy later became a renowned figure in Kathakali, Pattikkamthodi Ramunni Menon. He learnt the nuances of Kerala's traditional art at the Olappamanna Mana from his guru Kuyilthodi Ittiraricha Menon. Ramunni Menon was able to improvise on the Kalluvazhi style Kathakali that was formed under the aegis of Ittiraricha Menon and give its present form.
When he walked down this holy path near the temple, that kid would not have imagined that he was walking his way into the history. A rare memorial, dedicated to Ramunni Menon, was installed at this path by his disciple and Kathakali acharayan, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair.
The structure meant for travellers to keep their heavy baggage still bears the name of Keezhpadam's guru.
Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval's house is also situated adjacent to the Chenganikkottukavu temple. From Kathakali music to playing chenda, Poduval had left his mark on various art forms. His arangettam was held at Chenganikkottukavu. His son Mohanakrishnan is also a known Kathakali musician.