Fascinating temple festival at Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple, Kerala

Aaraattu” ritual, Kerala adotrip.com
Rich in culture and tradition,  Often referred to as the God's own country because of its breath-taking geography and picturesque scenery,   Kerala state has lots of Hindu temples where the temple festivals  are unique, colorful and quite fascinating.  They are held on specified days for a particular reason and the age old tradition is being observed even today. Many of them held for a long time to propitiate the Gods that have bestowed them with the best land with lots of greenery and water bodies. Among the Hindu temple festivals of Kerala,  Vrishchikolsavam of Tripunithura sree poornathrayeesa temple and the Thrissur Pooram, Vaddakunathan temple are most people, drawing a sea of people. Equally famous are the Utchavams of Padmanabha swami temple at Trivandrum Guruvayoor Anayottam (Elephant race; Spreme Court of India banned it in the recent past), Chottanikkara Makam and Sivarathri festival in Aluva temple, Padanilam temple at Mavelikkara, Maradu Thalappoli at Maradu, and Kalpathy Ratholsavam Palakkad, etc. 
Among them, the most common features of Kerala festivals are the ''flag-hoisting'' ceremony (each Hindu temple across India has a flag-pole called ''dwjasthambam'' and a specific flag to be used on festive occasions). The flag is hoisted on the first day of the festival and is brought down on the final day toward the end of the festival. Yet another important ritual is “Aaraattu”, giving a ritual 
bath to the procession idol (Utchavar) in the river or any other water body before taking the idol back to the sanctum.
In most of the temple festivals in Kerala   you can see the participation of well-decorated, caparisoned elephants specifically trained for this purpose. Decorated male elephant  normally carries the idol on its  back along with three priests escorted by two elephants before and the small procession goes around the temple court yard (prathkshana path), a common ritual in the evening as part of evening puja. 
Decorated elephants, male carrying the idol of god. Kerala thebetterindia.com

In this post  we are mainly focused on the  festivals of Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple, near Alappuzha, the annual temple Utchavam is quite interesting. In this temple God Sri Krishna himself  had installed the idol in the Srikovil (sanctum)

The annual festival at  Evoor Major Srikrishna Swamy temple is so  popular it  draws  thousands of Hindus to this temple set in the midst of a wooded area of Kerala close to the world famous Serpent temple Haripad. The most inspiring aspect of this kind of festival is participation of various Hindu communities who themselves follow their own tradition of worship and puja rituals.

 According to Vedic scholars the idol in the sanctum which is in a ferocious form has a unique divinity  '' in-resistible aura'' with high intensity. Normally, in all Hindu temples following Vedic tradition  Jeeva Chaithanyam (living aura) radiating  in and around the deity in the sanctum (garbagriha or Srikovil)  plays a crucial role. This is because of chanting of certain relevant mantra  during the consecration ceremony and during daily regular puja  protocol  invoking the deity's blessing.  The deity is energized now and this helps the devotees standing close to the sanctum get positive vibration from the main idol, displacing negative aspects in our mind and body. This is the reason many true devotees come out of the temple calm and composed with better confidence level than before.

Consecration of idols amidst chanting of certain mantras plays  no less role in Vedic temples where the prime deity is instilled with aura/divinity.  When great Yogis like Bogar, Agasthiyar and  Rishis installed idols of god, they took special care to create mystical power in them and  it was done to benefit the humanity.  At Evoor, it was God Sri Krishna had himself  energized the deity. Naturally the God's aura - a bundle of positive energy permeates in all places around the temple.  Tantric  meditation, chanting of Vedas, ‘Pushpaanjali’ and ‘Abhishekam’ with Vedic mantra, besides  the priest's  discipline  all add up to the sanctity of this place.Besides,  special festivals “Utsavams ” (annual festivals), annadhanam  (distribution of free food), etc further increase the power of the  moolavar in the sanctum.  “Utsavam” or temple festival is held with a view to rejuvenating the divine  power “Chaithanyam” of Deity, by  way of conducting  specified  purification, anointing of the deity.  
At Evoor Sri Krishna temple it  is a 10-day long  “Utsavam” and during that period the entire place comes alive filled with lots of devotees  who actively take part in it with religious fervor. It begins on  the first day of the Malayalam month of ‘Makaram’ (January) and  ends  on the 10 day with a ritual bath in the nearby water tank commonly referred to as  “Aaaraattu” (Holy Bath). During the festivities, this place is nicely decorated with colorful arches and thoranas, etc. As for houses, etc., cut  plantain trees,  bunches of coconut and arecanuts and light illumination invite the visitors. As in many Hindu temples of Kerala, the temple tower and  the lamp (Villakku) madam/deepa sthambam  are illuminated. Oil lamps are used in the Villakku madam, etc.  

Th utchavam  covers the  whole gamete of  rituals and among them "Prasaada Sudhhi" (purification of Murthy), " various homams  associated with
"Abhishekams"  "Kotiyettu" (Flag hoisting), "Pallivetta" (Holy Hunting), "Aaraattu" (Holy bath), "Kotiyirakku", "Pallikkuruppu are worthy of mention. The festival comes to a close on the 10th day with  Aaraattu" (Holy bath)  and "Pallikkuruppu"-  reverentially carrying the idol to the holy bed room (in Tamil Palliarai) for slumber with his consort.      

tiyettam is a symbolic beginning of a temple festival with  hoisting of  a specified flag of that temple. It involves invocation of the deity  by tantric rituals such as ‘ Kalasam ’ and other poojas ; and then infusing divinity  to the flag bearing ‘Garuda’ emblem in this case”.  It has been a tradition that the Travancore Devaswom board and specific groups of devotees sponsor  first five days  of events. With respect to 7, 8 and 9th day events, three  villages (called‘Karas’)  such as  Evoor South, Evoor North and Evoor North-West  conduct them respectively. Each ‘village competes with the other to make the best out of the “ Utsavam”.

When the normal rituals  and pujas are over , it is time for cultural programs such as “Ottanthullal” etc, In the evening thousands of oil lamps on the temple premises are lit and after  Deeparadhana”, two hour long ‘Seva” starting  at 7.15 PM draws lots of people. It is the depiction of 
direct manifestation (Thidambu) of the deity and the temple priest  atop the male elephant sits with the utchavar idol.  After the last puja protocol is over. colorful cultural programs take place such as   ‘Kathakali', velakali etc., traditional dances of Kerala.

The 9th day event is marked by the inclusion of  “Kala-kali ” (decorated effigies of Bulls); people carry the small ones and big ones are mounted on wheels for easy mobility.  It is a sort of thanks giving offering to the deity for the welfare of the society and successful agricultural season. 
Kala-kettu  goes around the temple or prathakshana patha thee times.
Upon regular seva and  “Deeparadhana” ,
Pallivetta ” (Holy Hunting) is held at  midnight before a huge gathering. This cultural program is symbolic of god hunting the evil forces in the bygone era close to a Banyan tree  near-by. The lord atop the the gold caparisoned elephant, to the accompaniment of servants and devotees, go on a hunting trip -Pallivetta.  Trdition ("Jeevatha Ezunnallathus'') has it upon his successful hunting  trip back to home, the god is accorded a ceremonial welcome by his sisters  from the nearby  Bhagavathy temples - Kannamballil and Kalloorath. Dancers hailing from priestly section of the Brahmin community, wearing the traditional  dress and  holding the heavy "Jeevatha "on shoulders, perform the divine dance. The rhythmic dance goes through many phases expressing various emotions in unison with the beats by the drummers. God's sisters Bhagavathys also dance with ecstasy before God Krishna.  Upon reaching the temple, the sisters quickly complete ‘pradakshina’ around the temple, bow down again before the sanctum  and run outside. Bhagavan Sri Krishna bids goodbye to his sisters with sad countenance and gets back  to Srikovil (sanctum).

The 10th day event is an interesting one and the long-drawn festival utchavam comes to an end  with a grand “Aaraattu” procession.  The utchava murthy is taken atop the elephant to  “ Aaraattu palace tank at “ Muttam'' 3 Km away - purported to be the place where  sage Kanva-Maharshi used to worship the lord before. “Aaraattu” is a ritual bath in the water, a sort of sacramental ablution of the utchava murthi in the sacred tank.

 Afternoon,  marks the “Kettukazhcha” procession conducted by communities from three villages -“ Karas “ around the temple and  Decorated effigies of bulls,  etc go around the temple three times.

In the night  after this event, thousands of oil lamps are lit all around the temple. Now an important event takes place that is transfer of divinity / aura  from principal deity to the “Utsava deity” to be mounted  on the “Thidambu “ that is carried by the chief priest
Melsanti and other three priests. Atop the decorated elephant covered with ornamental  silk umbrella  escorted by 
two other elephants (Poojaris carrying “Muthukkutas” atop them), the Aaarattu procession  consisting of people in thousand will move on. There will be display of thunderous fireworks on the way at some points.
 At the sacred tank, the final destination, after conducting poojas by 1 am, the Tantri and Melsanti bring the “Utsava murthy” to the tank platform and perform  more  poojas. Next, they carry the deity  in their hands,  take three dips in the water and complete the ritualistic “Aaraattu”. Afterwards, the “Utsava Deity” is seated at the palace for Darshan.“Kotiyirakkam” (Lowering of Flag) is yet another event before the end of the festival. The Aaaraattu “ the procession returns to Evoor temple and by 5 am “Kotiyirakkam” starts around 5.00 AM. After the transfer of divinity in the flag by the priest, the flag is lowered to complete  “Kotiyirakkam”ritual.
Soon the “Utsava murthy ” is shifted to the “Ardha mandap” before the sanctum inside temple for “Pallikkuruppu” (sleep) where the deity sleeps after a busy day.
Tradition has it a  small calf (young cow) is tied to the pillar and the main temple is closed.  The lord  would wake up only after hearing the cry of the calf. Till such a time the temple priests and others wait in anxiety. When the calf cries, the main priest melsanti gets into  the temple and will be busy transferring the divinity. aura  from the “Utsava murthi ” to the principal “ deity”. Then the temple door is opened, to allow ‘darshan’ to the devotees.
Sri Villiputhur rath yatra, Tamil Nadu.  srivilliputtur.co.in

The same tradition is followed in many temples of Kerala and as for other Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, etc, the rituals are more or less similar except the “Aaraattu” ritual. In Tamil Nadu, normally processional deities are not carried on the elephant's back, but are mounted on a nicely decorated  huge  wooden ratha (chariot) and go around the four Mada streets (close to the temple
) for ''Pothu Darshan''  and it is of immense help to senior citizens and physically-handicapped devotees.