A crow cawed on the western side of Pazhoor Padippura. Astrologer Surendran pressed his palm over the dice. Then he placed his left arm close to his chest and shut his eyes. He offered a silent prayer. The couple stood with folded arms before him. Their eyes welled up in anticipation. For Pazhoor has over centuries been the last resort for everyone who wants to know their future in advance.
For people who believe in astrology, Pazhoor is the ultimate word. But you can take a trip to the Padipura even if you are not a believer. The architecture of the old residence will enthrall you.
Astrologer Surendran got up from the western Padippura. 'It has been nine centuries since people started coming to this Padippura. This might seem unbelievable but it is true. Myths and reality lie intertwined here. But it feels like the two are indistinguishable from each other.' He began to tell the story of Pazhoor Padippura, where destiny plays its inviolable hand, where the planets Mercury and Venus stand guard.
The night of erred calculations
Pazhoor Padippura comprises of three Padippuras (the entrance to an ancestral home). Mercury and Venus are the deities in the Eastern Padippura. The Samadhi of Thalakkulathoor Govindan Bhattathiri (we are getting on to his story soon) is on the west. Yagam and other rituals are held at the Padippura in the center.
Thalakkulathoor Govindan Bhattathiri who hailed from Malabar region was an erudite scholar of astrology. Foreseeing an outcaste status for himself in his horoscope he set out on a journey. After covering the prominent pilgrimage spots, he reached the gates of Pazhoor Perumthrikkovilappan temple near Piravam. He was reaching the 'bad' time that he had calculated. He had decided on having an entire day by himself in Pazhoor River. He entered the river with a canoe for that purpose. However, fate had other plans. Torrential rain came, his canoe capsized and Bhattathiri somehow managed to reach ashore.
Thoroughly exhausted, he saw a house in the lightning flash. Sensing all the signs of a Brahmin house there, he firmly believed that he would not face banishment there. He spread a mattress on the floor and slept there that night. Late at night, a woman came out of the Padippura. Mistaking the sleeping man as her husband she slept with Bhattathiripad. What was destined to happen happened without fail and Bhattathiri was banished.
However he foretold that that woman would bear him a son. She was the wife of an astrologer who lived in Mullassery illam. Bhattathiri who again started on his journey gave word to the woman that he will return in twelve years. A boy was born to the astrologer's wife as predicted by Bhattathiri. The child excelled in Mathematics, Sanskrit and Astrology. Bhattathiri returned after twelve years and taught him Astrology and Mathematics. The child grew up to become the first astrologer of Pazhoor Padippura.
Thalakkulathoor Bhattathiri also lived with his son at Mullassery illam. In his old age he told his son to build him a Samadhi (resting place) made out of the wood of jackwood. He further said that astrological fortune told sitting at the head of the Samadhi room will turn out to be precise. A tradition that is followed even today. Not just orally recounted myths have currency here. There are strong evidences corroborating every myth. Lamp is lit in front of the cremation ashes of nineteen generations.
It is belived that Mercury and Venus dwell in the eastern Padippura. Mercury the planet of strength and Venus the planet of good fortune are believed to reside side by side Bhattathiri's samadhi in the Padippura. There is another legend associated with it. Mercury and Venus who came to learn about the astrological fame of the Padippura disgused as brahmins. And as per the tradition, these brahmins wanted their fortunes told. The astrologer made his calculations and told the same, he added that as Mercury and Venus changed seating positions the calculation needed to be rechecked. This time the astrologer felt the change of positions in his calculation. After repeating this experiment thrice the astrologer was able to easily make out who the visiting Brahmins really were.
The astrologer made them promise to remain at the padippura till he returned after refering some books. The astrologer who went inside committed suicide. Unable to break their vow, Mercury and Venus could not leave the premises. Their blessing is believed to influence the astrological verdicts here. Anyway even today Mercury and Venus are the deities in the eastern Padippura.
Before the time of Astrologer Surendran those in the Padippura lived in Mullassery illam. The illam where Thalakkulathoor Bhattathiri is said to have lived is on the west of the Padippura. This is a very ancient nalukettu. It is terraced but believed to have been thatched once. Mullassery illam differs from a normal nalukettu in size and construction
The deity and puja here are in Ganapathipura. The idols of the deities are also stored in a chest in this pura (room). Other deities like Srichakram, Mahameru, Santhanagopala statue, Vennakkannan and Hanuman idols are kept in the chest before the deity of Ganapathi. Every day the idols are taken out and special puja conducted on them. This is followed by drawing water from the well on the riverbank and ritual bathing. This holy water is sprinkled on the Samadhi of Thalakkulath Bhattathiri, Mercury-Venus spots and pedestals where dice is laid. Puja is conducted and lamp is lit before practicing astrology. This has been the custom for twenty centuries.
A riverbank for witness
The changing of course of Pazhoor River is a miracle that is directly witnessed here. The river that should be flowing south, suddenly turns east, circles the Pazhoor Padippura and reverts to its southward flow. This change of direction of the river is considered as one of the ten good fortunes of Pazhoor. One had to cross the river to reach Pazhoor once. It was forest all around. Now there are roads. Before the advent of Idukki Dam, vast sand stretches marked either shore of the river. Now the river floods over the shore.
Festivals used to be staged on the riverbank before the sand stretches vanished. Summers were the festival seasons. Flags were hoisted, lanterns lit and processions undertaken from the Padippura to Perumthrikkovil. The nature of festivals changed when water rose in the river. There is a suspension bridge nowadays. But time has not changed the Padippura's customs one bit.
'The astrologer does not see more than ten people a day. Appointment is taken three months in advance. Here astrology is not a business but a duty. We are not for anything that compromises customs and traditions' Astrologer Surendran said.
Not many know that Pazhoor Padippura became the subject of study at Oxford University. The study was led by anthropologist Dr. Hog. He came to Pazhoor Padippura several years ago, stayed there for months and carried out the study.
'An astrologer seeks his verdict in the same way as a doctor does his diagnosis. He cannot foretell what will be told while examining the horoscope. A verdict will surface from the horoscope and it will be told. Suppose the horoscope of a childless couple is being examined. If at that moment a child's laughter is heard from somewhere, they are certain to have a child. If it is a cry instead of laughter the chances are halved. If it is a child's wail, the childless status quo is likely to be. In other words the verdict is a product of omen, position and horoscope together' the astrologer clarified his revelation.
Pazhoor Padippura's age had been determined. Govindan Bhattathiri's Samadhi was calculated to be in Malayalam Era year 412. In other words it has been 779 years now. A close examination of previous histories will show that the present Padippura has at least 900 years vintage.
There is no practice of offering consulting outside the Padippura. Only in emergencies does the astrologer stay away for a day or two. 'Astrology is not something to scare people with and exploit money. If gulikan (a sub-planet) stands in ashtaman (eighth place) that could even be life threatening. Still, we will say, “beware, it is a perilous time for you.”' The listener will get the message. Instead, telling someone “you are going to die. Do a puja costing this much money” is not the way to go about it' Astrologer Surendran said.
By birth and by deed
The Pazhoor Padippura astrologers, though astrologers by birth, have risen to Brahmin status by deed. The astrologers practice their science after receiving sacred thread and a new name at the culmination of a ceremony conducted by twelve nambuthiris lasting several days. The present astrologer Surendran's upanayana (thread ceremony) name is Raman Surendran.
As the grandfather Astrologer Sankaran did not have male progeny he adopted his daughter's son Surendran. Astrologer Surendran is married to Indira and they have two daughters Asha Sujith and Anjana Sreenath. He said that they have been bearing a Nambuthiri curse for five generations that the astrologers will not have male offspring.
The visit was an experience like doing a round of the river of antiquity. The astrologer once again headed to the Samadhi spot. He gathered dice in his hand. Yet again a crow might caw or it might not. In any case one more verdict will soon come to light.
Pazhoor Padippura stands on the riverbank like a lamppost bearing the shining light of legends. As I stepped out of the Padippura I was accosted by a man coming in my direction who asked, 'How is the verdict? Is there hope? Pazhoor astrologers will not miss their mark, it is a given'.
It is assurances like these that motivate us to carry on with our lives.
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Address: Pazhoor Padipura, Pazhoor PO, Piravom.