Sree Manappully Bhagavathy temple, Kerala and 'Vela', an interesting temple festival

Sree Manappully Bhagavathy temple,Palakkad.
Palakkad ,
Sree Manappully Bhagavathy temple located on the Palghat–Chittur road close to the Palghat city is an ancient Hindu place of worship. Presently being managed by Malabar Devaswom Board (MDB), in the past, it was privately controlled by  ‘Kenath Family’. It is said that the temple originally belonged to Sri Mattappilly Bhadrakali Mana, a famous Kerala Brahmin family of Kerala. This area was called Yaga-kara’(later changed to Yakkara) and the holy river Sokanasini (Bharathapuzha) played a vital role in the lives of numerous Brahmin families who  used to perform ‘Yagas’ on the river bed. The famous temple is in East Yakkara, however, the Moolasthanam of Bhagavathy  that was on the west side had been later shifted to the present location.  An interesting fact is the Brahmin  priests used to chant mantras in the Madapalli area (Tamil and Malayalam it means temple kitchen premises) and, in course of time, the area came to be known as "Manappulli". The temple,  situated in a calm and serene place, has a beautiful pond on the south side. There are other shrines dedicated to Kaala Bhairava, Lord Vinayaka and lord Ayyappa on the temple premises.

Legend has it that the Goddess  Bhadrakali was created from the  sacred matted "Jada" (locks of hair) of Lord Shiva during Dakshayaga. She is black in colour, with three eyes and four hands, each one carrying  Soolam, Kapalam, Gadkam and Khedam. She was created to kill the Asura by the name of Neelan who terrorized people and sages. Lord Parasurama advised the people to pray to Lord Shiva for a solution to Asura's menace. Here Manappulli Sree Bhadrakali Amman is a powerful Goddess. When  approached with deep trust and devotion  she  never fails to get rid of their problems and mental agony and bless them with prosperity and tranquility. Yet another vital fact is she protects the devotees from evil forces. The Prathishta is in ‘Shanta Bhava’ (in compassionate form) . During ‘Chandattam’ ceremony, she turns to ‘Rudra Bhava’(fierce-looking) and becomes ‘Shanta Swaroopini (quiet and composed) ‘after accepting the ‘Kadummadura Payasa Nivedyam’. She never lets her  devotees leave the temple without their desires, hopes and aspirations fulfilled.

For numerous families, Manappalli Bhagawathy Amman  is a family deity and so  when they conduct family functions such as wedding, Grahapravesam (entering the newly built home), etc;  they visit the temple first and invoke Bhagavathy Amman's blessings. So are the newly wedded couples who visit the temple after their wedding  to be blessed with a baby, peace of mind and family welfare.

In this part of Kerala the staple food is rice and Palghat district is a major paddy producing  area and many social and cultural traditions have a close link with paddy cultivation. As in Tamil Nadu, people strongly believe that the Goddess of Kavu (temple) guards them and  their ‘Thattakam’(place surrounding the temple). It is quite obvious that they make agricultural produces from their lands as offerings to the Goddess. 

Manappully Bhagavathy temple,Vela festival,
The farmers  celebrate ‘Kathir’ in the third Friday of the Malayalam month of ‘Vrichikam’. The procession  carrying ‘Sarodam’ with fine decoration is a great event in the evening starting from temple  of Lord Muniyappan located  on  the south side of the Bhagavathy temple and  ending at the Manappully Bhagavathy temple at dusk. An interesting part of the procession is the carrying of colorful and decorative  umbrellas made of palm leaves tied to freshly cut bamboo poles  to the accompaniment of   ‘drum beating’. Included in the procession is what is called ‘Kathir Koodu’. They are small balls made of tender palm leaves containing freshly harvested ‘Nel kathir’ (paddy bunches). Tradition has been that they are  given  to  all the houses in the area  to be hung  in the front yard  till the next ‘Kathir season. After this ritual, the next one is Kodiyettam (flag-hoisting), a part of Vela festival that falls in the last week of February and first week of March based on the Malayalam Calendar year ‘Kanyar’ is conducted on the first  Friday of the Malayalam month ‘Kumbam’ and the Vela is  held on the 14th day after ‘Kanyar’ (Kodiyettam).  A flag-post made of freshly cut bamboo pole  is put up and a  typical flag - Koora is hoisted in front of the temple . This marks the beginning of the festival.
Vela festival, Plakkad. Sree Manappully Bhagavathy temple,
 Sree Manapullikavu Vela is a famous festival and there will be at least 17 caparisoned tuskers taking part in the function. There will be colorful fireworks as Kali was born with lightning  and thunder,  Panchavadhyam performances, Kathakali, Ottam Thullal, etc. Normally such temple festivals give due importance to  tradition-oriented cultural arts forms native to Kerala  and keep them alive. Here, the cultural events will last for 14 days, each day dominated by certain groups of folk and dance artists. Such events attract huge gatherings.

Yet another fascinating aspect of Vela festival is it is strongly believed that the sword  with which Goddess Kali killed the Asura is in the temple tank. During the Vela festival, an event  depicting Goddess Bhagavathi taking out the sword from the Tank called Velichapadu is celebrated.  A devotee, who is believed to be under the influence of Kali will  dive into the tank, bring the sword and place it in the shrine of Mother for pujas.
On the Vela day after morning puja Bhagavathi Amman will come out of Srikovil (sanctum) in a procession to get mixed with locals (Desakkar) in response to their Upacharam (invitation). On this particular day, there will be no ‘Deeparadhana’ or the ‘Athazhapuja’. Following day there will be clenching ceremony with santhana Abhisekam (anointing with sandal water). There will be Annadhanam - free feeding of food to the devotees. After several rituals, in the evening the deity will be taken  to Moolasthanam behind the temple and will reach the main temple in the early morning.  An interesting event is Raavela’ that starts in the early morning.  The main feature of ‘Raavela’ is lighting of ‘Kambam’ (pole). ‘Kambam’ represents  ‘Lord Shiva's’Jada and lighting it with ‘Karimarunnu’ makes symbolic representation of Bhadrakalis’ ulpathi. After this, Bhagavathy enters the Temple. Kanyar pole is plucked by the elephant, marking the end of the festival.