Chakkulathu Kavu Durga temple, Kerala and its interesting festivals

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 Across India, there are numerous temples dedicated to Goddess Durga who also goes by the name of Bhavani, Sakthi, Parasakthi Bhadrakali and simply Devi. Often depicted  in the  Hindu pantheon as a goddess riding a lion or tiger, with many arms each carrying a weapon, fighting  Mahishasura ( a demon with a  buffalo head), she is Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva.  In Shaktism tradition of Hinduism,  Durga or Devi is the main deity and she is often equated with  the concept of ultimate reality called Brahman.  According to the Hindu mythology she is the warrior goddess, often annihilating demonic and evil forces to save people and to restore  peace, prosperity and dharma of the good. She, who fiercely fights unjust and violent people like a  protective mother goddess, is compassionate and generous with the good and virtuous who repose full trust in her. West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar are some of the states where worship of Durga is quite famous especially during the festival of  Navaratri.  The day of Durga's victory is celebrated as Vijayadashami (Bijoya in Bengali) in many states including Tamil Nadu,  Dashain (Nepali) or Dussehra (in Hindi) – these words literally mean "the victory on the Tenth (day). This festival is an old tradition and records are not clear as to which year the festival first began. However, it has been around since 14th century.  This festival falls in the month of September or October in the Hindu calendar of Aswin. 

Chakkulathu Kavu  Hindu temple, dedicated to goddess Durga is one of the most popular places of worship in  Kerala.  Located in Neerattupuram, Thalavady panchayat, Alappuzha District, lots of devotees from many parts of South India visit this place and worship the Devi. It is on the  banks of the holy Pampa River on one side and River Manimala on the other.  Of late, it has become an important pilgrim center, thanks to the popularity of the deity and the fine  promotional strategy being followed by the temple management.  

The story of Durga is well portrayed in the
classic Hindu text called Devi Mahatmya  which is believed to have been composed  between 400 and 600 CE. Opinion differs among the scholars as to the correct years of creation. The legend has it two despicable demon rulers Sumbha and Nishumbha, after bestowed with super-human and mystical powers by way of prolonged mediation / penance  on Lord Brahma,  gave all kinds of unbearable problems to the Devas and others. According to the boon given by Brahma, their death could be only at the hand of a powerful woman and none could cause their death. The demons atrocities  against clestial and demi-gods went far beyond the limit of toleration. Having no solution on hand to stop the demons, Devas and others intensely prayed to Goddess Parvati, consort of Shiva by chanting special mantras. Understanding the painful plight of the devas, sages and others, Devi resolved to put an end to their misery and oppression to battle against the two Assuras -  the embodiment of evil forces

As the Assras could be killed only by a powerful woman, Parvati took yet another divine form of  of Goddess, fierce-looking carrying weapons in her arms. This was the incarnation of Goddess Durga,  a divine form to rescue the Devas and the world from the evil forces. Sumba and Nishumbha,  being demons as they are, using their mystic powers and invincibility (ability to change shape and space ) tried to evade the Goddess. This further infuriated the Goddess and at  last she annihilated them  from the face of the earth. - the embodiment of evil forces.  Thus she achieved the solemn goal saving the world from the evil forces. Hence the name  Durga  literally means "impassable", "inaccessible", "invincible, unassailable".  Sage Narada appears in front of Devas and  extols the invincibility  and compassionate nature of of goddess Durga. She was "the cause as well as witness for the creation, maintenance and destruction the universe",

The following are some of the important festivals being observed here:

Chakkulathukavu Devi templekerala Pongala festival The Hindu Twitter
Chakkulathukavu Devi templekerala Pongala festival Discovering India.Net

The major temple festival here is Pongala  that is held  during the month of Vrischikam (November/December). Being an auspicious time to pray to the deity, lakhs of women devotees gather around the temple premises  even  a few days before the function and camp near the temple. Believe it or not,  hearths are put up in a 30-km radius of the temple, depending on the arrival of devotees for the Karthka Pongala.  Devotees from many parts of Kerala and also from neighboring Tamil Nadu  prepare Pongal as offering for the goddess and they make the preparation on both sides of the main streets. It is quite amazing the line will extend up to several kilo meters.  Rice, coconut and jaggery are brought by 
Pongala Festival' at Chakkulathukavu Devi templekerala-delightfulartsand
 women devotees along with round earthen pots for cooking. The Pongala ritual begins with  Ashtadravya Mahaganapati Homam done by the temple priest  in the morning. After this  around 9 am the Chief Priest lights the main hearth from the divine fire taken from inside the Srikovil - sanctum. He prepares the Pongala as naivedhyam for the deity. Soon  this holy fire is passed on  from one woman to another. Mantras invoking Bhadrakali reverberates in an atmosphere charged with fervent devotion and commitments. Considering the large crowd, twenty-one teams of priests sprinkle holy water (theertham) and flowers on the Pongala prepared by the devotees, symbolizing its acceptance by the deity.   The strong belief has been that the Devi will take care of their day-to-day problems, grievances, family welfare, etc. It is the foremost temple ritual that is done with utter devotion and trust.  

Panthrandu Noyampu: It is another festival celebrated at the temple which involves  fasting and prayer which qualifies the devotee for eternal blessings of Chakkulathamma. This fasting starts every year from the first of Dhanu to the twelfth of Malayalam month.  Panthrandu Noyampu is another festival celebrated at the temple.

Naari Puja: This puja glorifies Indian womanhood and her role in the society. When she is revered and glorified, it pleases the Gods and  Goddess  and they  bless the family with everything that is good. If dishonored and humiliated, just like Agni - fire it destroys everything good.   The auspicious Naari puja, a part of the annual festival at Chakkulathukavu Bhagavathy Temple here is commonly held with dedication and Bhakti. It is held in December every year. A prominent woman will be the chief guest.  Temple administrator Manikkuttan Namboodiri explains that what is Sabarimala to men, this temple is to the women.  Women devotees in large number visit the temple on an annual pilgrimage during the Panthrandu-noyambu festival in the Malayalam month of Dhanu. Naari puja is offered to lots of women on Friday and this festival begins at 6 am with Mahaganapathi homam, followed by Deepaaradhana.

First Friday prayer: The first Friday of every Malayalam month is spiritually significant and a prayer at the temple will alleviate the devotees' long standing problems. Spirituality and divinity come together on the first Friday and our prayers will be answered by the almighty.  The small idol of the deity (Urchavar) in the sanctum sanctorum beside the main idol (Moolavar) is  taken  in a procession and brought to the specially arranged place for prayer and dharsan. Pujas and prayers are done to the deity led by the temple priests.  A significant aspect of this first Friday prayer is what is called 'taking a pledge'. For example people in order to turn a new leaf in their lives will take a pledge before the deity to give up their bad habits for good - drinking alcohol, drug addiction, uncontrollable anger, taking loan, etc., are some of the things  that affect a small section of the population.  Having failed to get rid of their acquired bad habit and to avoid further ruin, they seek refuge in the Goddess  for spiritual  remedy.  Devotees take the pledge by touching  the divine sword of the Goddess while the chief priest recites the oath of abstention (from liquors, etc) and hey repeat the prayers. As part of First Friday prayer, special  medicinal water called  “Oushadha Vellam”is offered to the devotees. As this  unique medicinal water is prepared by using  a number of ayurvedic herbs and roots, consequently it is proven to have  excellent healing power by way of  softening the human body and removing the bad stuff.   Since the pledge is taken in a sanctified place of divinity, right before the deity, lots of people get cured from their addictions or bad habit. It clearly shows the power of prayer in a place of divinity and the firm determination of the devotees and their trust in goddess and her power.
Chakkulathu Kavu  temple  Karthika pillar

 Thrikkarthika: This festival  falls in the Malayalam month of Vrischika  and is a popular one here. Erection of  Thrikkarthika pillar  (sthambam) is a great event. A tall arecanut tree is erected for this purpose and plantain, straw and similar items are tied to the pillar. This pillar is  supposedly symbolic of all that is evil. At dawn, after the invocation of the Goddess (seated east in front of the temple), the pillar is set on fire. Tongues of flames leap into the air and later subside, symbolizing  destruction all bad and negative  elements around us and from  it emerge  positive elements and goodness. 

A visit to this amazing temple will make the devotees happy because he did his prayers in the place of worship where positive energy permeates. That means they will succeed in their endeavors and enjoy good welfare and prosperity.  This 3000 year old temple, in 'Neerattupuram', on the border of Patthanamthitta  and Alappuzha Districts of Kerala, can be reached from Thiruvalla and Chengannur, nearby major Railway Stations. Frequent bus services  are available from Chengannur and Thiruvalla to Neerattupuram and Chakkulathukavu.