Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple

There are a few temples dedicated to Serpent Gods in Kerala and the most important among them is Mannarasala Temple.It is situated 3km away from Harippad KSRTC
Bus Station and Subramanya Swamy temple of Harippad.Mannarasala  is the largest temple in this category where more than 30,000 Idols of Serpent Gods can be seen kept in rows near the pavements and other places.They are all brought here from several families from different places of Kerala where they were revered in the 'Kavu'(groves) owned by them.
It was a custom and tradition of Kerala Hindus to spare a portion of their living plot of land to modify as a grove and in that miniature jungle serpents,small animals like squirrels,birds and other reptiles lived peacefully.Very big trees were allowed to grow there in plenty and thus the ecological balance of nature was also maintained.One or two Idols of Serpent Gods would be placed in the groves for which Pooja rituals done by the elders of the family once in a year or once in every month .This was the common practice in Kerala till 1950s and 60s and the result was that the climate was better,much more greenery prevailed  and the air was pure and sweet smelling by the flower bearing trees.There was abundant drinking water in wells during all seasons alike.With the upcoming of modern situations and the need for new buildings aroused cutting down  trees  and removing the groves was spread throughout the state.The revered idols of serpent Gods were shifted to Mannarasala temple,Vettikottu Nagaraja Temple etc.
In the 'Puranas' Kerala is mentioned as 'Ahi Bhoomi' which means 'Land of Serpents'.(Ahi is Serpent in Sanskrit).The Western Ghats which is also known as 'Sahyadri' means 'The mountain where good snakes live'(Sa=Good,Ahi=snake,Adri=Mountain).
There are several beliefs about the serpent worship of Kerala.It is believed that Mannarasala temple dates back to 6000years.According to one belief Mannarasala area was part of 'Khandava  Forest' which was destroyed by fire with the help of Arjuna of Pandavas.The forest part of Mannarasala was saved by the people by pouring water and rescued so many snakes.The serpent God(Naga Raja) was pleased and blessed the people.The place name was thus derived as 'Mannarasala'.(The  area where the soil was cooled-"Mannu  aariya Sala' became 'Mannarasala')
According to another belief  Lord Parasurama created Kerala and brought Brahmins to live in here.Since there were serpents in large numbers the Brahmins could not live in peace and all of them left the place.When known about this Parasurama performed penance to propitiate Nagaraja and requested his help.Nagaraja agreed and made a proposal to make a grove in each plot of land for the snakes so that they would not do any harm.This was made practical and people could live in harmony here.In the grove people kept idols of Serpent Gods for which they offered 'Noorum Palum'(Mainly a mixture of rice flour and milk or a mixture of rice flour,tender coconut water,milk,'kadali' plantain fruit,turmeric powder) once in a year or on 'Ayilyam' days every month.In some parts of Kerala Serpent temples were also constructed.
Another belief is that When Parasurama reclaimed Kerala from the sea the land was found not habitable because of salinity.Even herbs and grass were not growing.Parasurama performed penance to please Lord Siva and got advice from him to spread snake poison on the land for the required result.Parasurama performed penance to please Nagaraja, the serpent God.Nagaraja appeared before Parasurama and granted his request.Ferocious serpents arrived and spread the flaming poison and the land of Kerala was desalinated to become habitable and  the land became fertile too.
In the Mannarasala temple there are deities of Nagaraja,Sarpa Yakshi,Naga Yakshi,Naga Chamundi etc.There is a Brahmin family related to this temple and the eldest woman of the family will be the main priest in the temple and lovingly called as 'Mannarasala Amma'.Other members of that 'Illam' can assist her in Pooja rituals.In the cellar of that Illam a sacred Serpent is living for centuries which was born  to an 'Antharjanam by name Sridevi'(Nampoothiri Brahmin lady) along with a human boy.The serpent could speak and lived in the family and several years later told his mother that he would live in the cellar of the house performing meditation.He instructed the pooja rituals to be performed  in the temple and his cellar and promised that he would be there to give prosperity to all members of that family as well as all devotees.He instructed to employ the eldest lady of the family to perform the pooja rituals in the temple and 'Nilavara'(The cellar where the sacred serpent lives).The sacred serpent is lovingly  termed as 'Appooppan' and 'Muthassan'(Grand Father).
The 'Ayilyam day ' in the month of Kanni,Thulam, Kumbham and Sivarathri are celebrated here.The 'Ayilyam Star' day in the month of Thulam is celebrated in a grand manner in this temple.
On that day all the Serpent Idols in the grove and temple are taken in a procession to the 'Illam' (Family connected with the temple) where the offerings such as 'Noorum Palum' are offered to them.Kuruthy( a red liquid made of turmeric and lime) and cooked rice are also made.The eldest female member(Amma) carries the Idol of Nagaraja and the procession  and  other rituals are a variegated,significant,exquisite and differential  ceremony conducted every year with full dedication, enthusiasm and in a colorful manner.Devotees believe that participating in this auspicious function will bring in prosperity and good health because of the blessings from Serpent Gods.

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