Nalambalam pilgrimage (yatra) in Kerala and its significance

 Above image:  above-left: Thiruparayur; right: IIrinjalakkuda Koodalmanikya Swami Temple

 Below- left: Mozhikulam Lakshmana temple. Right: Shathrughana temple at Payammal. All Nalambala temples are in Thrissur District, close to Thrissur City, Kerala.

Naalambalam Yatra (trip.

 The confusing aspect of Hinduism  to the Westerners is its diversity of beliefs. Added to the confusion are  the various gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, a variety of big and small temples, strange prayer protocols, various legends about gods, beliefs about them, universe, the paths to salvation, etc. In the western religions  of Christianity and Judaism, the followers   are accustomed to creeds, confessions, and carefully-worded belief statements. 

If a person follows the basic tenets and belief within the broad spectrum of Hinduism, he  is still considered a Hindu. The law of Karma that determines one's destiny in this life (based on his past sins ) and the next rebirth and reincarnation are part of Hinduism. Basically Hindus are followers of Shiva, Vishnu  and Shakthi or a combination of them and this is where Hinduism differs from monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism and  Islam. Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is not institutionalized. However, the core of Hinduism is, the God is formless, omnipresent and has no end and no beginning (no antham, no aathi) - fundamental universal reality.   In the case of God Shiva in the form of Linga  it is a formless reality. It is  a  symbolic representation of  formless Universe.  The oval-shaped stone symbolizes the Universe, and the bottom  the Supreme Power that holds the entire Universe in it.

Ramayana dance, Bali Island, Indonesia

In the state of Kerala, there is a  unique tradition native to the state  among the Hindus to go on a trip to the temples of Lord Rama (Vishnu-incarnate) and his three brothers called Nalambalam.
Nalambalam (in Malayalam 'naalu' means four, 'ambalam' means temple)  refers to four temples dedicated to  the sons of King Dasaradha - Lord Rama, Lord Bharata, Lord Lakshmana and Lord Shatrughana (of the great epic Ramayana). 

Nalambala Yatra (pilgrimage ) of the four temples of  sons of King Dasharatha on the same day itself is popular and it is normally undertaken  during Ramayana Masam  ( Karkkidakam) - July to August . Lately, one could see an increase in the number of people undertaking   Nalambalam Yatra and all the four temples fall within the radius of 35 to 40 km from Thrissur city. The general consensus has been that the yatra will be a completed one only after final  return  to Triprayar Sree Rama Swamy Temple (20 Kms from Payammal) from where the journey began.

According to the legend  a local chieftain had a dream that four idols of Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Sathrughana, that were once  worshiped at Dwaraka, Gujarat had been lying on the shore. The following day, the fishermen living in that area handed over the idols to the chieftain. In view of the divine apparition experienced by him, he had the idols  installed at selected places as per Agama Sastras.

lord Rama and his consort Sita Image Source:

The tradition has been that the yatra to these temples is undertaken in a particular order - as a round trip, starting from Lord Rama, Lord Bharatha - Lord Lakshmana, Lord Sathrukhna and finally back to Lord Rama respectively.  It starts with Sri Rama temple at Triprayar and ends up  at Shatrughna Temple in Payyammal  through Irinjalakuda and Moozhikulam Thriprayar Sreerama Temple. Each temple is considered  a Vaishnava shrine. If such a pilgrimage is undertaken with devotion and faith, it is strongly believed, it  will improve the welfare and prosperity of the family. 

There are four sets of Nalambalams in Kerala. The pilgrims choose any one of the sets given below:

The first group consists of Sri Rama temple, Thriprayar (Thrissur Dist), Koodal Manikya temple (Bharatha Temple) at Irinjalakuda (Thrissur Dist), Lakshmana temple at Moozhikulam (Ernakulam Dist.) and Shatrughna temple at Payammal (Thrissur Dist.).

Ramapuram Sree Rama temple

The second group consists of Ramapuram Sri Rama Temple, Amanakara Bharatha Temple, Koodappulam Lakshmana Temple and Methiri Shathrughna Temple. All these temples are  in Kottayam District.

  The third group of temples has Thirumarayoor Sri Rama Temple, Bharathappilly Bharatha Temple, Lakshmana Temple and Shathrughna Temple located in the border of Ernakulam and Kottayam districts.

  Fourth set of Nalambalams are located in Puzhakkattiri Panchayat of Malappuram districts. They are Mammalasseri Sri Rama Swami Temple, Memmuri Bharatha Temple, Mulakkulam Lakshmana Temple and Nedungat Shathrughna Temple. The four temples are at Piravom.

Places like  Ramamangalam, Mamalassery and Memmuri are linked to the exile of Rama and it is believed that Rama used to stay in the forest here.

Significance of Nalambala Yatra:

Lord Rama, his consor Sita and brothers

01. The  Nalambala Yatra has religious as well as spiritual significance.  Visiting and praying at the four temples of Rama and his brothers is equal to listening to the story of the Ramayana.
We learn fundamental aspects of life that are essential for a man to succeed in his tempestuous life.

02. In the Ramayana, the prince Rama is god-incarnate, but he goes through a cycle of ups and downs in his life as humans after marrying Seetha. Spending 14 years of vanavasa - living in exile in the forest, death of his father Dasaratha, abduction of his wife Seetha by demon king Ravana, etc show a god-incarnate is not free from the edit of divine power and an ordinary  man can not escape from the reality of life and whatever is in store for him he has to take life as it comes.

03. Rama, when undergoing hardship during his long exile, never loses his hope and confidence and surmounts the barriers with perseverance.  For a man, perseverance and staying cool in troubled time will be an asset.

04. When his wife is held hostage in Lanka by Ravana, prince Rama,  has his attention focused on his goal - to recover Seetha from the demon king Ravana at any cost. So, a man must be steadfast in his pursuit of  a chosen-goal and should not give it up midway.

05. While in exile Rama  comes across various characters with whom he has perfect relationship. Maintaining cordial relationship  with others  around you is very important to make your life happy and successful. Boatman Gugan and ape-king Sugreevan and Hanuman are good examples.

06. As for his brother, Baratha who is made a heir to the throne, being an honest man, following the path of righteousness, he rules the county on behalf of his brother Rama. As a token of his respect for his brother, he keeps Rama's Paaduka (sandals) on the throne. It shows that Baratha has not given room to the trappings that come from such a royal life, as they are transitory in nature. So, materialistic life does not give you happiness and if your goal is to chase money.

07. Unlike Rama, Lakshmana is high strung and takes decision in a hurry. When Baratha comes to Panchavadi in the forest to see Rama, Lakshmana thinks he has come there to battle with Rama. So, in life, discretion is as essential, so is evading quick decision. one has to weigh the pros and cons, before making a decision.

08.  As far as Seetha is concerned, she fails to follow Laksmana's advice and crosses the mystic barrier set by him to offer biksha (offerings) to a sadhu (saint) who is actually demon Ravana. Here, Seetha blinded by reason, falters by crossing the barrier; next moment she is abducted by Ravana.

09. The character of Ravana is unique; though, he is a well-read demon king and a devotee of  God Shiva he has fallen prey to lust, pride and presumption. All these negative  elements have caused his downfall and destruction of  the entire country.

10.  After slaying Ravana, Rama and his entourage come to Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. Here, he asks Seetha to install the Shivalinga to pay his respect to Ravana who is a scholar and happens to be a Pundit (Brahmin).  Because of overwhelming negative elements in him, he is considered a demon here. It shows the humility of Rama and his respect for his arch enemy. Thousands of devotees from  many parts of India visit Rameswaram  to pay respect to their forefathers - pithroos.

11. If a pilgrim goes through this Nalambala yatra, he may recall the essence of the great epic Ramayana and will follow  the fundamentals of life that may  keep him and his family happy. Contentment is fundamental to happiness.

12. From management point of view, this yatra teaches us the leadership qualities, changing of strategies as situations warrant, communication power, team work and coordination fundamental to success in business  devotion  to work and and loyalty. Never escape from risk and take on the challenges face to face_be receptive to others' ideas and concepts _ never fail to appreciate the people for their contribution and give them rewards  never get drunk by success and look down upon your associates as inferior - stick to your path and never give up_ try to learn good lessons even from your enemies, if need be, and do not set them aside.