Inspiring Thrikkakara Vamana Temple, Kerala - a major center of Onam festival

Thrikkakara Vamana Temple. kerala

There are a few temples in India dedicated to Lord ''Vamana'',  a dwarf-monk avatar of Sri Vishnu. Thrikkakara Temple (also called Thirukatkarai in Thrikkakara, Kochi  is  a popular  one in Kerala.  Located  about 10 km north east of  Kochi, it gains the most attention of the entire state  during the  popular Onam festival. It is  one of the 108 Divyadesam shrines sung in praise of the lord by the Tamil Vaishnavite saints Azhvars centuries ago.

The Chuttu-Vilakkuduring Onam at Thrikkakara temple.

The temple complex, which is a big one, is in the midst of a picturesque place offering a quiet ambiance. In the grabagriha or Srikovil the idol of  God Vamana is enshrined  with lord's right foot raised to be placed on the head of demon king Mahabali.  As to the origin of this temple, correct date is not mentioned, however, it is said, it was established by lord Parasurama, yet another avatar of Sri Vishnu. Records mention that the earliest Onam festival took place  here during  861 A.D. 

Other deities included here are  Bhagavati, Sasthavu, Gopalakrishna, Naga, Brahmarakshasa and Yakshi. Located in the outer complex is the shrine dedicated to  Brahmarakshasa along with a Banyan-tree god and the Sarpa Kavu. Surrounding the inner complex walls is a series of thousands of lamps with brackets fixed to the walls called ''Chuttuvilakku'' (surrounding lamps'), a common feature in many Kerala Hindu temples. The complex has two temple tanks (in Tamil Kulam or Pushkarani) - one is  close to the temple on the Northern side of the sanctum  and  the other one is on the Northern side outside the temple walls. The former can be accessed only by temple priests  who bathe in the tank before starting daily puja  rituals and the latter is used regularly during the Aaraattu ritual - ceremonial bath of the idol during Onam celebrations.

Yet another unique feature in this temple complex is the presence of  a Shiva temple besides the main Vamanamoorthy temple, In places like Tamil Nadu it is rare to see both lord Shiva and lord Vishnu temples in the same complex. The Shiva temple has  idols of  Ganesha, Karthikeya and Durga. About the origin of the temple, details are vague;  it underwent renovation about  a hundred years ago. As for Vamana temple, it was renovated in 2014.

 During Kerala's most popular festival Onam, no other temple gets as much attention  as the  Vamana temple at Thrikkakara. Considered as the prime center of Onam celebrations, it is said to be the abode of  King Mahabali, an Asura (demon)  who was subdued by lord Mahavishnu.  The  Onam festival - a ten day event is celebrated here with bhakti and religious fervor  in the Malayalam month of Chingam. The temple houses the main deity Vishnu in the avatar of  Lord Vamana. During the festival   a pyramidal statue, symbolic of Lord Vamana, is installed as a mark  of honour at all other sites of the celebration, and named ''Thrikkakara-appan''. It is believed that the temple stands in the place where king Mahabali is said to have been pushed to the underworld - Patala by Lord Vamana with his foot, thus marking the birth of the Onam festival. The etymology of the name Thrikkakara ('Thiru-kaal-kara' meaning 'place of the holy foot') is also derived this way. Some of the interesting  events associated with   the Onam festival at Thrikkakara are Arts performances, Flag-hoisting and lowering,  Atthachamayam procession and finale:Onam feast:Decoration of idol Processions.
 The Onam festival is the main festival of this temple jointly organized by the 61 Naduvazhis (local rulers) under the leadership of the Maharajah of Travancore. The Onasadya or the Onam feast is held in a grand manner in the temple with people of various faiths and religions turning out in large numbers for the Sadya event. That it is a symbol of religious unity, humanity and equality is the hallmark of this festival.   

The last one - procession of idol of Vamana  is an interesting one; main deity Vamana on a ceremonial caparisoned elephant is taken around the temple, accompanied by a  herd  of about eight caparisoned elephants and  Panchavadyam (drums). The procession  stops for a while  at each of the temple gates (East, West, North and South), and finally proceeds  back to  temple.  The Utchavanurthy will be reverentially kept in the sanctum by the temple priest.  

The temple also observes important festivals in the Hindu calendar such as Vishu, Diwali, Makar Sankranti, Navrathri and Saraswati Puja not on a scale as Onam.  The temple is being managed by  the Travancore Devaswom Board. 

Sage Vamana nd king

Thrikkakara Vamana Temple. kerala

The mythology related to Mahabali is a known one. Any way,  I have given a brief account.  According to the  Bhagavata Purana  Lord Vishnu took the incarnation as a dwarf mendicant to restore the authority of Indra, the King of the heaven, as Mahabali, an asura, took control of it.  Grandson of Prahlada, an ardent devotee of Vishnu, Bali was  known for his charity. When sage Vamana, in the guise of a Brahmin sage, carrying a wooden umbrella, approached the king  to grant him three strides of land, he granted the request,  despite his  guru Sukracharya's warning. Vamana, then revealed his identity and  grew big, stretching heaven and earth. His two strides covered heaven and earth.  Standing tongue-tied, King Mahabali, unable to fulfill his promise, offered his head for his third step. Vamana then placed his foot and gave the king immortality for his humility. In giant form, Vamana is known as ''Trivikrama.''

Some  scholars questioned the popular legend surrounding Onam and came up with the statement  that  ''nowhere in the Hindu scriptures was there a mention of asura king Mahabali being sent to the netherworld by Lord Vishnu’s avatar''.