Kalimala: Tales and temples shrouded in mist and mythology

Kalimala: Tales and temples shrouded in mist and mythology

As far as eyes can see, there is a cloud of cool mist, deliriously and rhythmically wandering about like someone in love; it wraps you up in its hazy happiness. There are huge trees standing tall, extending their roots from one hilltop to another; some of them are from a bygone era, sending silent prayers to the blue sky above. A unique aura of antiquity surrounds you in this arresting locale of Kalimala, located in Vellarada, near Thiruvananthapuram.

Kalimala offers you the perfect time-off from the business of city life; it is much farther from life as we know it- both literally and metaphorically. In Kalimala, you can shut out the honking of vehicles and perk up your ears to the friendly sounds of the forest dwellers. Here, you can forget the unsustainable air-conditioners and soak yourself in the naturally cool environs of the hills. And those that want to go trekking 3000 miles above sea level and feel the energy surging into their bodies- Kalimala is just the place for that, too. There isn’t just one reason to come to this gorgeous place, and there are even chances of you discovering your reason once you are here.

Where is Kalimala

Kalimala is situated in the Varambathi mountain, part of the Sahyadri mountain ranges or the Western Ghats. It is located in Vellarada, close to Thiruvananthapuram, on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. It will take around 40 km from the Thiruvananthapuram city to get here.

The deity atop the mountain

An ancient temple has been standing the test of time atop the hill, amid the serene surroundings. No one knows exactly when it was built and how old it is. The temple has the architectural structure that complements a typical Dravidian style, and the deity of worship here is Bhadrakali, the fiery female goddess. Apart from this temple, there is an Ayyappa (Shastha) temple here as well. Smaller shrines for deities like Shiva, Ganesha, Nagayakshi surround the temple area.

The temple where women make pongala offering

The Bhadrakali temple is also known for women around the area making offerings in the form of pongala- a kind of rice porridge. On special days, devotees observe a fast and climb up the hill to the temple, like in Sabarimala. The day of Chitrapournami, once every year, is considered the most auspicious day here at the temple for pongala offering. Visitors come in crowds to the temple on this day. Also, there are poojas conducted at the temple on the mornings of Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Where history and belief lie intertwined

There are many interesting legends associated with Kalimala. One of them is the story of Sage Agastya. It is said that once upon a time, Sage Agastya was at Varambathy hills to do his penance. Lord Ayyappa was happy with Sage Agastya’s austerity and appeared before him. Owing to the power of his penance, a water source formed on the hill, from which, water that had medicinal properties started flowing out. This water source is said to not dry up even in the toughest of summer months, and it still exists on Kalimala. Devotees call the water from it ‘Kali theertham’ meaning, the holy water of Kali. People consider it as sacred as the water from River Ganga. They collect water from this source and safekeep it at their homes, using it for curative purposes. On the day of Chitrapornami, the famed pongala offering is made out of the holy water of Kali. There is also a belief that on the spot where Sage Agastya sat and did his penance, there is a snake that turned to stone.

Another story which is linked to the origin of this water source has set its base in history. It is said that King Marthanda Varma of Travancore was fleeing from his foes, the ‘Ettuveettil Pillamar’—a prosperous and power-wielding family in Kerala that he had earlier defeated. He was on the run and took shelter in the hills. Lord Ayyappa, disguised as a little boy, is said to have saved the King’s life. Legend goes that the temple was built as a return to this favour by the King on 600 acres of land with an exemption on tax.

Free entry

From the base of the hill, one has to cover 6 km to get to the temple on top of the hill, out of which 2 km distance comprise forest pathway. Apart from the southern side of the temple, all three sides are deep chasms with slippery rocks surrounding the area.

This place is best suited for a one-day trek. No passes or tickets are necessary to climb the hill. The trek is a gorgeous one with mesmerising sights on the way. Once at the top, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Chittar Lake. The hills embraced by the fog, glistening greenery all around and the air as pure as fresh rain water transports you to a whole new world and the experience is sure to leave you overwhelmed.  

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