Fascinating Mannarasala Serpent temple, Haripad of Kerala

Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja temple, Kerala. myindiaencounters.wordpress.com

Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja temple, krishnamuralika.blogspot.com

Among the Hindus, snake worship is popular and this practice has been there since time immemorial. There is no Hindu temple, particularly in Tamil Nadu and other states, where it does not have a separate shrine containing stone images of snakes. On auspicious days one can see a large number of women offering worship before the snake shrines. In Kerala  many houses have small shrines dedicated to serpents called  Sarpakavu. Snake worship is reported from many cultures across the globe.
The temple at Manansala, located about 40 km from Alappuzha Town, Kerala  and near to the town of Haripad, is an ancient temple  exclusively dedicated to snakes /serpents.  This unique place of  veneration where the snakes are the objects of worship is an internationally known center of pilgrimage for the devotees of serpent god - Nagaraja. Built in the middle of a wooded area in the Western Ghat area surrounded by numerous trees. The Nagaraja temple  has over 30,000 small stone images of snakes  set by the blessed couples all along the  paths crisscrossing the serene forest area.  It is said that snake bites seldom occur here and the serpents guard the property of the temple. 

 Mannarasala Nagaraja Temple, Kerala. krishnanz.blogspot.com

This temple is  believed to have been built by Sage Parasurama roughly 6000 years ago! This small piece of land was once part of  the 'Khandeeva' forest mentioned in Mahabharata, which, fortunately was not affected by the devastating wild forest fire, as the people living there took precaution that saved innumerable snakes from death. The mud in the soil became cool, hence the name - Mannarasalai (Mann aariya Salai) and later this became Mannarasala.

When Sage Parasurama brought  the  Brahmins to look after the temple, they  refused to stay here because of numerous snakes and salty nature of  water.  On the advice of Lord Shiva, Parasurama propitiated  the king of snakes Vasuki. The lord of the snakes  assured him that the snakes would stay here and won't hurt people in the village. Subsequently the water became potable.
The Namboodiri Brahmins returned, built their houses here and began their religious duties happily. Sage Parasurama  built a temple for Naga Raja and Naga Yakshi in that place. He instructed one family called Irinada palli to build their home within  the temple compound. The first residents of this house were Vasudevan Namboodiri and his wife Sridevi Andarjanam.

Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja temple, Kerala. panoramio.com

Their family and later their descendants  continued to look after the temple for a long span of time. Several generations later, following a strange incident, only the eldest female member inherited the right to do the major puja rituals in the temple, a rare tradition never followed in other  Hindu temples. She is called Mannarsala Amma (mother) who has the authority to open once a day the dark room where a snake is purported to have been  living.  No other person  is allowed to do her duty at any cost. She normally keeps a cup of milk and then closes the door. Next day, the cup is found empty. The snake in the dark store room  is called “Grand father” by all people and all of them revere that snake.  

Uruli Kamizhthal is a unique worship performed by childless couples at this temple. Childless women  seeking fertility come to this temple in large numbers for intense worship and prayer, and upon the birth of their child, the couple come back here to thank the deity profusely. Further, they perform thanksgiving ceremonies with the help of pundits. The most important aspect is they dedicate a new small stone image of the snake in the vicinity of the temple as a token of their gratitude to the temple deity. Thousands of stone images here were all set by the couples who were blessed with a child after their first visit to this temple. A special turmeric paste  that  is available at the temple is credited with curative powers.

The main offering in the temple is “noorum palaum”. This is the mixture of rice powder, turmeric powder and milk and they will be kept outside the temple at night. Following  morning, the contents of the vessel are poured in the mud. The Noorum palum is also given to the snake in the store house. Next day when the store is opened, one will be surprised to see an empty vessel.  The major festival is celebrated in the month of October-November - the Aslesha (Ayilyam) star of the Thula month. Monthly Shivaratri is also celebrated here.

Childless couples and those who have   Naga Dosham  based on their individual horoscope  come to this temple with the strong belief  that their problems and desires will be taken care of  by the presiding deity - the lord of the snakes Nagaraja.