Ancient snake temple - Nagercoil Nagaraja temple, Tamil nadu

Nagercoil Nagaraja temple, Tamil Nadu.
Nagercoil Nagaraja temple, Tamil Nadu.
Nagercoil Nagaraja temple, Tamil
 Nāga is the Sanskrit and Pali word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very great snake—specifically the king cobra, or just cobra (naja naja) found mentioned in Indian religions, mainly Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  'Sarpá is  frequently  used to mean snake in many Indian languages and this word is also from Sanskrit.  The Hindu epics depict  nagas as having a combination of human and serpent-like traits; may have  human traits at one time, or serpent-like traits at another. Nagas  is part of contemporary traditions in the Hindu regions of Asia (India, Nepal, and the island of Bali). Believed to be associated with   streams, wells and rivers, etc.,  and are considered as guardians of treasures  and also as  objects of veneration in innumerable Hindu  temples. One will find numerous stone images of snakes on the temple premises under Neem or Peepul trees which women folks worship on auspicious days for fertility, family welfare and protection. The tradition of snake worship prevails in many cultures across the world. 

Nagercoil Nagaraja temple, an ancient snake temple ( age: 1000 to 2000 years)  is in the heart of  Nagercoil town, Kayakumari district, Tamil Nadu of  Peninsular India. Kanya Kumari is only 22 km from Nagercoil. The near-by Trivandrum Int'l Airport is only 58 km away.

The traditional story about this temple is as follows:  That when the temple was exactly built is a subject of debate and discussion. It is believed, it was established by a senior  member of the Namputheri Brahmin family of Kerala -'Pambumekkatu Mana' of 'Mala, Trissur. The Namputheri consecrated a Nagaraja image in his residence after he had a vision of Vasuki, the head of  she-snakes. Whoever came to his place with skin related problems, presumably caused by sarpadosham - ill - effects of snakes as per horoscope  were cured. Once the Namputhiri  priest visited the palace of a Pandya king on his request and cured  his skin problem which happened to be leprosy, using his mystical power. On his way back to Kerala, in the place where Nagaraja temple stands now, he saw a peasant woman quite upset over an incident in which her sickle had just hit the head of a Nagaraja stone  idol hidden in the ground covered by bushes, etc. Surprisingly, blood was oozing out of the idol!! The place used to be a wooded area then. The learned  Namputhiri pundit realized it was a five headed Nagaraja idol with enormous power that had been there for a long time undetected. Without wasting time, with help from the local community, in the same place he consecrated the Nagaraja idol  with consent from the  local ruler, which later became the famous Nagaraja temple of Nagarcovil. 

Initially the temple was a humble one - a hut with thatched roof. Responding to yet another vision, he had during his sleep, he finally consecrated the Nagaraja idol in the same place where it was found  The idols of Shiva and Vishnu were also consecrated in the new structure which became Sanctum Sanctorum or Srikovil of this famous Hindu temple.

In the shadow of a Peepul tree on the temple premises,  there are several  5 headed snake stone idols and  Ganapathy idol. People are supposed to go around the  snake idols  and pray to get rid of  sarpadosham.

 snake images to ward off Sarpadosham
 Above image: One can see an array of  five-headed snake stone images (Cobra). If people worship them and do prayer as prescribed, they are supposed to be free from the ill-effects of Sarbadosha. At all most all Hindu temples, in particular, Shiva temples have images of snakes for the people to worship. It may sound superstitious. Trust is the main driving force behind the cure. 

Every year in the Malayalam month of 'Karkadakam'  old  thatched roof of the sanctum sanctorum with coconut leaves and bamboo stick  is replaced by new ones. The name of the place  became Nagercoil and the mystical power of this temple also spread far and wide. Now it is a popular temple - a parikara sthalam for those affected by sarpadosham as per their horoscope.

Every year in the Malayalam month of 'Thulam' (Sep-Oct) 12 days special pooja will be done including 'Ayilyam Star day' by the Thantri of Pambimekkattu Illam. Ayilyam star day  in every month  and all Sundays are auspicious. The annual 10 day festival is in the month of 'Makaram'  and 'Arattu' will be on 'Ayilyam star day of Makaram' (Jan-Feb).

Some fascinating facts:

01. The temple rituals and pooja  protocols being followed here are based on Kerala tradition as this part of Tamil Nadu was under the control of Travancore princely ruler prior to 1956. 

02. The main tantri is from Kerala from the Namputhiri family of Pambumekkatu Mana' of 'Mala, Trissur

03. Because of dispute over the puja rights, in this temple, the tantric rights are bestowed for  alternative years only.  One year for the tantri from Thiruvalla Illam and next year  it will be  tantri from Pambumekkattu Illam. This system is  is followed at present. The temple has been  under the management of Tamil Nadu Devasthanam since 1956.

04. The Prasadam  given to the devotees here is he sand from the ground in the sanctum  of  Nagaraja. The  red  color of the soil is said to be due to  the blood shed from the idol when it got struck  by the sickle

05. The soil that is given as  'Prasadam'  has medicinal properties capable of curing  skin ailments of the devotees .

06. A fascinating fact about this temple is there are several cobras moving here and around  the temple prescient and so far there has been no report of any cobra bite what so ever. No report of bite in the adjacent areas as well.

07. Nagercoil  Nagaraja is believed to bless the childless couples. If the couples come to this temple and pray with sincere faith and devotion, soon their request  for a kid will be answered.

08. Several  childless couples are reported to have admitted that they were blessed with children after their visit to this temple.

09. To get rid of  'sarpadosham', besides worshiping the snake stone images in the temple, devotees offer stone images of 5 headed snakes in silver to the temple and participate in a puja ritual called   'Noorum palum'. This will relieve them of the bad effects of Ragu and Ketu.
10. Incidentally the idol here is Suyambumurthy (self manifested)

11. As for Agama pujas, both Vaishnava and Saiva traditions are followed. The priests are only from Kerala and  they have the hereditary  rights to conduct puja rituals here.

Mysterious B vault with a snake image. The News Minute
 Above image: Most of the superstitious beliefs that surround the B-vault come from the engravings on the door of the vault; they resemble a large cobra who is said to represent sepent Adisesha similar to the one along with the temple deity Lord Vishnu. If opened, it is believed, it might invite God's anger..............................

Across India, the Hindus give importance to the worship of Serpents - Cobra. and  try to avoid killing Cobra. If they do kill the serpent, under compulsion,  they have to follow certain rituals to get rid of the sin. At the famous Thiruvanthapuram Padmanabha Swami temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu) in Kerala, the richest temple in the world where the vast temple treasures are stored in underground vault, one vault is not yet open. The reason is there is an image of a Serpent on the vault B's door. The belief is that particular vault is being guarded by a snake, similar to Adisesha.  So, the temple authorities are afraid to open it for inventory purpose. If opened, they suspect, it might cause some untoward incidents!
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