Sree Vaikom Mahadeva Temple of Kerala - strange case of Puja rituals being conducted by two different Tantri families!!

Sree Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, Kerala

I have overwhelming fascination for the Hindu temples of Kerala not because of their  vernacular architecture that is quite congruent with the geomorphology of that region. Nor is it for the richly carved well planned  wooden structures and special  provision of space for staging art forms - koothambalam in many temples as part of dedication to the presiding deity. What make  them stand apart is they are all simplicity personified; there is no embellishment and no display of an array of deities of various shapes and sizes. Yet another interesting fact is their location in a serene ambiance where is there is ample scope for meditating on god.   Apart, they follow different worship protocols and  admission regulations. No VIP lines as one would find in Andhra or Tamil Nadu. 

Sree Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, Kerala

Among the temples  dedicated to God Shiva Sree Vaikom Mahadeva Temple on the banks of the Vembanad Lake in  Vaikom town of  Kottayam district,  is an important place of pilgrimage. It is also  known as Dakshinakasi (Thekkan Kashi) - Kasi of the south, Kasi temple (in Varanasi) being the holiest in India . The belief has been that devotees who visit this temple, Ettumanoor Shiva Temple and Kaduthuruthy Shiva Temple before the Ucha kaka puja, will be blessed and their wishes fulfilled. They will get salvation - free from the pangs of pain from the birth cycles. The temple is believed to have been built toward the end of the 16th century CE.  Vaikom is just 32 km from Ernakulam and 32 km from Kottayam via kumarakom.

Vaikom backwaters, Kerala. /

Believed to be one of the oldest temples of Kerala, the lingam in the Sri Kovil  is from Treta Yuga, the third age of Hinduism. Famous for  Vaikom Ashtami festival, daily puja and other rituals have never been stopped ever since the consecration of the deity centuries ago which was done by great Parasurama.  

 Unlike  temples of Tamil Nadu or elsewhere where temple worship is based on Vedha Agama,   here at the Vaikom temple the Tantric rituals and religious customs are being followed and the priests are from the Nambudiri Brahmin families. Initially, the family members of the Monattu Illam were entrusted with the rights to conduct daily  pujas.  

Unfortunately, about 500 years ago when the  thatched roof of the sri kovil  caught fire  at once the Tantri - the main priest safeguarded the lingam with a copper vessel.  Soon through concerted efforts both the temple and the priest were saved by the local people from the fire mishap. . For personal reasons  the temple priest renounced his rights to conduct puja at the Vaikom temple. 

Presently, the Puja protocols are taken care of by two Nambudiri  families -   The Kizhakkinedathu Mekkattu family members  and the Bhadrakali Mattappali Illam at Vaikom Mahadeva temple. Normally, in all Kerala temples, a particular family members will be responsible for the daily temple rituals and the hereditary rights continue without any break as of today.

Once the Puthussery family, which had enjoyed the hereditary rights to temple service, to perform ‘paanikottu’, a unique and special 

rhythmic drum beats for ‘beli’ pooja, at the temple was in a predicament. the reason being  there  was no male member in the family to conduct puja and the only pregnant woman of the family had to hand over the family held rights to other family to continue the puja rituals. While in a confused state,  one night the woman had  a sort of apparition of the deity;  the divine message was sound and clear: She could herself play  the drum at the temple when the beli puja was on and ;there was nothing to be afraid of. The subtle suggestion was it was the  edict of God that woman was part of the ritul. 

Following day at the temple the Nambudiri woman played on the percussion instrument in an open way without any prior experience when bali puja was in progress. This puja is performed in many temples to please the booth ganas (strange creatures supposedly  the attendants of Lord Siva.).  That with no training whatsoever  or no prior  exposure  the woman played ‘paanikottu’in a way on par with professionals had  surprised the crowd gathered there. 

Namboodiri of the Bhadrakali Mattappali mana who was taken aback was quite satisfied and completed the puja along with the tantri.   Since this incident the Vaikom  Mahadeva  temple has had  two tantris taking care of the rituals.  Kizhakkinedathu Mekkattu Nampoothiri will hoist the flag on the Dwajasthabha  on the southern side of the temple  and Badrakali Mattappali Nampoothiri on the north side.