The tantric rituals and religious customs of the Mahadeva Temple in Vaikom, one of the oldest temples in Kerala, are unique. Unlike other temples, the right to perform rituals of the Mahadeva Temple is split between two Brahmin families -- the Kizhakkinedathu Mekkattu family and the Bhadrakali Mattappali Illam. Initially, the right to conduct tantric rituals was with the family members of the Monattu Illam.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple, which then had a thatched roof, caught fire about 500 years ago. In a bid to save the Siva linga from the inferno, the Monattu tantri (priest) covered the idol with a copper vessel and recited the ‘varuna mantra’ after embracing the holy linga. Later, the tantri lost consciousness owing to the smoke and fumes, and the concerted efforts of the devotees helped to save the priest and the temple without much damage.
Though the tantri was happy that that the idol remained unscathed, he feared that his future generation would not be able to protect the temple. The tantri kept the key to the temple in front of the sanctum sanctorum and declared that he was renouncing the right of tantrihood, and later the Mekkattu Illlam got the authority to conduct rituals of the Vaikom Mahadeva Temple in Kottayam district.
Once there was no male member in the Puthussery family, which had the hereditary right to temple service, to perform ‘paanikottu’, the special rhythmic drum beats for ‘beli’ pooja, at the temple. There was only a pregnant woman in the family and she approached her relatives for help. The woman’s relatives said that they would help only if she gave them her family’s hereditary rights to the temple, but the woman was not ready to forgo the long-held rights of her family. The woman was in a quandary that gave her sleepless nights.
The temple’s rituals cannot be conducted if she didn’t forgo her family’s rights and this would invite the deity’s wrath too. The pregnant woman had an apparition of the deity in her sleep after she ardently prayed to ‘Vaikathappan’. The woman got the celestial message that she should play drums at the temple without any fear.
The next day the woman came to the temple to play drum with the blessing of the deity and without any training in playing the percussion instrument. When the tantri began the ‘beli’ pooja, he asked the woman whether she knew how to play the drum and she replied that she would give it a try. The woman asked whether the drum should be played in an ‘open’ way or in a ‘closed’ manner to which the tantric said that it should be played in an ‘open’ way. It is believed that many ‘bhootha ganas’ would receive ‘beli’ if the drum is played in an ‘open’ manner. The woman, who had never played any percussion instrument, started to perform ‘paanikottu’ with great finesse.
With the blessing of Nataraja, the woman created magic with ‘Timila’, which is also known as ‘paani’. The drum beats were so rhythmic that the priest couldn’t properly perform the pooja. Inspired by the beautiful beats, the ‘bhootha ganas’ in their original form came to receive ‘beli’.
Meanwhile, a Nampoothiri of the Bhadrakali Mattappali mana reached near Vaikom temple after meeting the Maharaja. When the Nampoothiri reached the temple he saw the woman playing ‘Timila’ with dexterity, the priest in a fix and the irascible ‘bhooth ganas’ in their original form.
When the tantri asked the Nampoothiri to help him out the latter asked for half of what the former had. The Nampoothiri performed the poojas and that pleased the ‘bhooth ganas’.
The Vaikom temple had two tantris after this incident. Kizhakkinedathu Mekkattu Nampoothiri will hoist the flag on the southern side of the temple mast and Badrakali Mattappali Nampoothiri on the northern side.