The Pancha Bhoota, or the five great elements, welcome and guide the devotee to the 41 steps to Sree Kallely Oorali Appooppan Kavu amidst greenery on the banks of the River Achankovil in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district.
The temple, the abode of the supreme power of nature, strictly adheres to centuries' old tradition of the indigenous Dravida-Naga tribes. The forest temple, open 24 hours, is located on the Achankovil-Konni-Sabarimala forest path.
Oorali Appooppan is the lord of mountain gods, the protector of 999 mountains. It is believed that Appooppan was a gallant warrior, who ruled over Pandi Nadu (Tamil Nadu) and Kerala.
People from far and near visit the temple daily, seeking the blessings of Kalloly Appooppan. The 'Pathamudayam' festival, celebrated in the Malayalam month of Vishu, is the major event here. Pathamudayam is the 10th sunrise after Vishu.
The monsoon season also attracts devotees to the temple. Devotees visit the temple on Karkkadaka Vavu, to pay obeisance to the departed souls. The major ritual is to offer 'adukku', comprising toddy, betel leaf and tender coconut. Karikku Padeni (or padayani from the Malayalam term for military formations – a ritual art), using tender coconuts – from three to 999 – is performed daily.
The prayers accompanying the pujas here are loud and rhythmic, to wake up, feed and praise the mountains. Besides Oorali Appooppan, the presiding deity, Oorali Ammoomma, considered to be Appooppan's mother, could be seen. Opposite to these two main deities is Vadackancherry Valiyachan, believed to be the one who have seen Appooppan.
Kaula (kari) Ganapati, a tantric aspect of Ganesha, demigod Kuttichathan, Harinarayana Thampuram, the embodiment of Lord Vishnu, are other sub-deities besides Valiyachan in the temple.
'Pongala', a sweet rice and jaggery-based offering, and 'annadaanam' (providing food) are part of daily rituals. The 'annadaanam' continued unhindered even during the peak COVID-19 days, said the temple's administrative committee president Adv C V Shanthakumar, spiritual advisor Seethathode Ramachandran and secretary C V Salimkumar.
The rituals of the Kavu (sacred grove) reflect the impenetrable oneness of man with Nature. The 'vanarayoottu' (feeding of monkeys) and 'meenoottu' (feeding of fish) rituals highlight the oneness.
Wild tuber produces such as 'noorakan', 'maanthal', 'madikkizhangu' (decalepis root), 'chikaru', and 'kaavu' are roasted daily over fire along with tapioca, elephant yam, colocasia and purple yam (ube).
The roasted and powdered 'prasadam', or sacred food, prepared from rice with bran, bamboo rice and other grains has medicinal properties. The ancient 'Kumbha paattu' is another peculiarity of this temple, and is part of the rituals. The Kallely Appooppan Kavu is the only sacred grove where 'Kumbha pattu' is performed.
The music accompanying the 'Kumbha paattu' is produced by beating bamboo sticks on quartz, beating areca leaves with sticks procured from the forests and banging iron tools together. Other ritualistic art forms such as 'Bharatakali,' 'Padenikali' and 'Mudiyattam' are performed on special days.