Inspiring Janardhana temple of Varkala - a famous Hindu pilgrimage center in Kerala

Temples of Kerala and the ritual traditions being followed by them  are unique in their own ways. Among the Indian temples only in Kerala we can see  certain temples following Tantric tradition of worship and temple ceremonies. Mostly, it is done by Kerala's Namboothiri Brahmins. As for Palakkad Brahmins  who once migrated to Kerala from Tamil Nadu particularly, from the composite Thanjavur district, normally follow the  Vedic  Agama Sastras for temple worship, etc. In well-known temples, there will be one head Pundit and he will be assisted by other Pundits. 

Janardhana temple of  Varkala, Kerala.

The Janardhana temple of  Varala (Varkala is a corruption of ‘Valkala')  in  Thiruvananthapuram   district, Kerala dedicated to lord Vishnu  has a unique tradition with respect to pujas, etc. The head priest / Pundit should be from other area and not from Varkala or its neighborhood. Another interesting aspect about this temple is here the devotees can do poojas for their pethroos (forefathers) to attain salvation – free from the cycle of birth and death.  A rare  posture of the presiding deity here  not found anywhere in India in Vishnu temple is it  is lord's  right hand that is raised  toward  his mouth as if  he is doing Achamanam (a basic ritual  done initially by Brahmins to begin any ceremony). Learned Pundits postulate  with a sense of foreboding that once the  lord's  right hand gets closer to the mouth it will mark the end of the world  and cataclysmic forces will devour the earth, a sort of deluge - transgression of the sea, etc (Pralayam)

Said to be more than  2000 years old,  the temple is close to  picturesque Papanasam beach, near the Arabian Sea shore and is called Dakshin Khasi. The seashore town Varkala, about 11 km from Kattambalam, is  also called Janardhana Puram, an important pilgrimage center. This place is believed to have medicinal properties and this being due to the presence of numerous medicinal plants nearby. This place  that is connected by backwater canals on either side of which lie tall rock cliffs with thick growth of medicinal plants and  natural springs offers  quiet and serene ambiance for those who want o be free from mundane life.  The temple has an old  bell, which was donated by a Dutch ship captain centuries ago. The bell was taken from  a shipwreck.  Dutch vessel  sank near Varkala beach without causing any casualties.

The idol in the Sreekovil (sanctum), it is said, was recovered from the near-by sea by the Pandya ruler centuries ago. Circula in shape, the  conical dome of the sanctum is copper-plated and enshrined in the sreekovil are the  main deity Janardhana and his consorts, Sridevi and Bhoodevi.  This highly embellished  temple atop a small hill - on the summit of a table land   can be accessed only by a long, tiresome flight of steps to reach the top.

As one would find in many Perumal temples, here at  Janardhana temple, the primary deity – lord Vishnu has four arms, each carrying  Sangu (conch), chakra (mystical, destructive disk), gatha (mace) and kumbham (pot). In Sri Maha Bhagavatham, it is mentioned that Balarama, elder brother of Lord Krishna, when he was on pilgrimage to the Kanyakumari Temple and  other temples in the south, had a chance to visit the temple. The square-shaped Mandapam has beautiful wooden carvings of Navagraha (nine planets) on the ceiling and the quadrangular enclosure – prakaram has copper-plated roof.There are other shrines dedicated to lord Shiva, Ganapathy and other deities. 

Umayamma Rani (1677-1684), Kerala

Above image:  Rani Aswathi Thirunal Umayamma who became the head of Venad region which included Nedumangad, Attingal, Kayamkulam and Kollam from 1677-1684. She ran the administration of the kingdom effectively as the successor Ravi Varma was a minor. The junior Attingal Rani Umayamma happened to be the aunt of prince Ravi Varma and the onus of managing the affairs of the kingdom  had fallen on her till the prince succeeded the throne...........................

 According to the temple inscriptions it was   during the reign of Rani Aswathi Thirunal Umayamma  Rani (1677-1684), ornamental  works in the temple had been introduced. This embellishment and the striking Kerala style temple architecture enhance the beauty of this temple of great antiquity.

One of the legends has it that centuries ago, this temple was in a dilapidated state The Pandya king who was possessed by a spirit, came here for cure. Upon intense prayer the god appeared in his dream and told him to go the sea to recover  an idol of Vishnu without a left hand in a heap of floating flowers.  Pandya on the found the idol near the sea  shore and fixed a golden left hand on it. The idol of Janardhana has Aabhojana in its right hand.and on it. Pandys king  had a temple built there and enshrined the lord in the sanctum. Besides, he gave  grants for the maintenance of temple, puja rituals, etc. The idol in the sreekovil is always covered in  sandal and flowers either in the form of Janardhana, Narasimha, Venugopala or Mohini. The rohini star as well as Ashtami thithi of the month of Chingam (August–September) is celebrated as a festival here.

There are four prayer ceremonies a day held by the head priest. Devotees never fail to visit the huge water tank inside the complex for a dip after the rituals. Among the daily rituals evening Aarti in the temple is an impressive, elaborate one.  Visitors need to wear fully-covered clothes and head scarf in the inner sanctum.

The god in this temple is known to give salvation to those who invoke prayers here for their forefathers. He is hence called  Pithru Mokshakan, meaning  freeing people from the cycles of birth and death.  The 10 day Aarattu festival that falls in  in the month of Meenam – March – April   is famous and colorful  and commences with  Kodiyattam – flag-hoisting ceremony. During the festival days Traditional dances of Kerala – Kathakali, etc  are  performed all through nights  during the festival days before large audience.The festival throw open wide opportunities for  many young, talented boys and girls who make their debut.