Awe inspiring environment of a scared grove, absolute devotion in the minds of the thousands who throng Mannarasala Nagaraja Temple, that is the first impression you get about this holy destination. Thousands flock this temple during the Ayilyam festival, which is held in the Malayalam month Thulam (October-November), which falls on the 24th of October this year.
Legends and myths
Mannarasala Nagaraja temple traces its roots to the lore of how Parasurama cleaved out the land which was to be known as Kerala later on. The land, those days was not fertile, and it is said was infested with snakes. Parasurama, it is said invoked the Nagaraja (lord of snakes) and He obliged. Then Parasurama, it is said searched for a place suitable for the Serpent King and found place where Mandaram trees were growing luxuriantly, and hence the name Mandara Sala. There he installed a beautiful idol of Nagraja appropriately, with Sarpayakshi on his left. Then he entrusted a scholarly Brahmin from Irinjalakkuda Gramam for daily poojas. According to the advice of Parasurama, this pious brahmin devoted his life to the poojas of Lord Nagaraja.
Unlike all the other temples the head priest of this famous temple in Alappuzha district is a Brahmin woman. And there is a story about this too. Once, the blazing fire reached upto the forest and hundreds of snakes perished in the flames and many others were scorched with excessive heat. They all crawled into the many pits near the place that is now the temple premises. The childless wife of the young Brahmin treated the snakes with motherly affection, she anointed them with turmeric powder, milk, honey and tender coconut water. Pleased by the altruistic behavior of the Brahmin lady, Nagaraja appeared in her dream and said he will be born as her son. Soon the dream came true.
The Brahmin lady gave birth to a five- hooded serpent child and a male child. When the two brothers grew up, the five hooded elder brother disappeared into the underground cellar of the Illom (nilavara) for meditation, assigning the family responsibilities to his brother. He also requested his mother to do certain rituals without fail. He also said that the poojas have to be performed by the female members of his mother's family. A custom that is followed to this day. Ever since, Mannarasala Amma has been venerated as the mother of Lord Nagaraja and devotees from all over the world come to attain her blessings.
The important festivals of the temples are the Ayilyam days of the Malayalam months of Kanni, Thulam, and Kumbham and the day of Maha Shivarathri.
The main event on Ayilyam days are the Ayilyam Ezhunnallathu (the ritual of taking out the idol to the Illom in a ceremonial procession for Ayilayam poojas). The Ayilyam star of the Malayalam month of Thulam is celebrated with much fervor and various cultural programmes are organized to mark the occasion.
The prominent offerings in this temple are Noorumpalum, Nilavara payasam other Nivedyams, Archanas, and placing of small snake idols with eggs in a serpent mound made of any one of the auspicious metals (gold, silver, copper, iron and lead) before the deities. Uruli kamazhthu is a unique and popular offering made at this temple. It is believed that childless couples will be blessed with progeny once this is done and they have to return to the temple to offer prayers to the Nagaraja.