A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha

My three and a half-year-old daughter was very eager to go for an outing and I had made a promise to show her tortoise and peacock if she accompanied me on a pilgrimage to Mannarasala and Haripad. Since then she clung to my offer of the rare sights and kept on asking me, “when do we go out to see the peacock and the tortoise?”

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha

The incessant rain, fortunately, took a break by the time we started off from Kottayam. On the way, we came across an unscheduled sight  – the pretty view of a large flock of ducks and pretty swans beside the Changanacherry–Alappuzha Road. After a photo-session there, we took the road to Edathua by mistake. However, it was a blessing in disguise as we could further enjoy the beauty of the picturesque paddy fields of Kuttanad and on to our first halt. 

Nagaraja Temple, Mannarasala

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha
The main entrance to Mannarasala temple. Photo: Onmanorama

As it was a Sunday, the temple was fairly crowded.  Gigantic trees and flowers of different colors covered the courtyard. The legend says that it was Parasuraman who installed the Nagaraja idol in Mannarasala. There is another story that says that during the Dwapara Yuga, Arjun lighted a fire in the neighborhood of the temple. Unable to withstand the heat, the serpents began to flee from the place. A woman from a family of priests took care of the snakes and soothed their burns. The snake god, pleased with her was assigned the rites to conduct worship here. Even now, it is the eldest female member of the family who conducts the puja. 

At present,  Uma Devi Antharjanam presides over the rites in the temple.   The major offering is ‘Uruli Kamazhthal’ for women seeking fertility. The ‘uruli’ (a ball metal vessel) brought by the couple is submitted ceremoniously at the temple-door after due prayer. The ‘amma’ (priestess) then takes and places it upside down in the ‘nilavara’ (cellar) of the temple. During the sixth month from the birth of a child, the woman returns to the temple to set the vessel upright and to hold thanksgiving ceremonies as well. Other offerings made to the serpent deity include ‘nurum palum‘ (rice flour, milk, etc.) and salt with turmeric. One of the important ceremonies in the temple is the ‘Ezhunnallath’ (procession) held with great pomp on the day of ‘Aayilyam’ asterism in the Malayalam month of ‘Thulam’ (September - October). 

Soon after worship, my daughter repeated her constant query. We walked through the premises and reached the pond at the far end of the compound where there are a lot of tortoises. And then, she wanted to see the peacock. And we drove on to Haripad. 

Sree Subrahmanya Swamy temple, Haripad 

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha

There were a number of lads waiting for the arrival of devotees at the entrance of the Temple. They volunteered to perform the ‘Urul Nercha” (vow to roll) on behalf of the devotees. Such performance of the vow by someone other than the devotee himself/herself seemed meaningless to me. 

The installed deity here is the Subrahmanya idol with four arms. The legend holds that the idol consecrated by Parasuraman was recovered from Kayamkulam Lake and brought from Paippad to the Temple in a procession with pomp and glamour. The Paippad Boat Race is celebrated every year to commemorate the installation of the idol.

After offering prayers, we looked in the direction where the peacocks are usually housed and fortunately found a peacock there. The temple had peacocks from the olden times. Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thampuran who was imprisoned by the Maharaja of Travancore caught sight of a peacock in the temple. This made him write the famous poem, ‘Mayura Sandesam’. It was a letter in the form of a poem addressed to his wife staying away at Thiruvananthapuram. 

Sree Krishna temple, Ambalappuzha 

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha

The temple is famous for its unique ‘prasadam’ (offering) called ‘Ambalappuzha Palpayasam’ (a milk-based sweet porridge). My efforts to book in advance for 1 liter of the scrumptious prasadam through somebody had gone in vain. Upon coming to know that it will be served even to those without advance booking, I too queued up along with others. Meanwhile, Kannan (a child form of Lord Krishna) came marching out as if to provide a vision of him to me. Unfortunately, the prasadam got exhausted before I could reach the counter. 

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha
The palpayasam is a delectable treat. Photo: Onmanorama

Preparations for the rich, creamy palpayasam begin at 6 O’clock in the morning. The process starts with adding of fresh well-water to milk, which is then boiled for long hours. Palpayasam is made ready by way of a rather lengthy process. It is first offered to the deity at the mid-day pooja and served later to the devotees. The devotees believe that Guruvayurappan reaches Ambalappuzha daily to partake in the prasadam. 

Coupons are issued two days in advance at Rs. 160/- each for 1-litre of palpayasam to a maximum of 90 devotees for a day. And half-a-litre of the prasadam is served daily to 70 devotees without advance booking. On Thursdays and Sundays, 1-litre of the offering is served to 110 devotees with advance booking and half-a-litre to 90 devotees without advance booking.

A tortoise, a peacock and a trip to three historic temples in Alappuzha
The Mizhavu is kept in this building. Photo: Onmanorama

The Koothambalam at the temple is historically important. Kunchan Nambiar fell asleep while playing the ‘mizhavu’ for a Chakyar Koothu performance and then developed ‘Ottam Thullal’ as a form of art at the courtyard of this temple. The mizhavu used by Nambiar is kept in the temple till now. The Chambakulam Boat Race is celebrated every year on the Moolam asterism in the month of Mithunam (April - May)

Finally, I decided to reach early next time to find a better place in the queue for the palpayasam. It was raining heavily when we left, it was as if the universe was making fun of me for having missed the palpayasam. 

Read more : Travel Your one-stop guide to traveling in Kerala during Onam