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Ancient Spice Route, City Of Muziris, Temple Of Egyptian/Hindu Goddess And Shiva Temple Of Kerala

Fishing net on Kerala’s shore, pic credit : Pinterest
Mural painting, a traditional art of Kerala, pic credit: Pinterest

Kodungallur, a small sleepy town at the tip of Indian subcontinent in the state of Kerala, used to be a bustling ancient port city from where the fragrant spices used to travel to different parts of the world. This was an epoch when Pepper, Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, turmeric were considered exotic spices. Kodungallur, the ancient city of Muziris, was famous not just for it’s port but also for the two ancient temples located in the town– Thiruvanchikullam Shiva temple and Sree Kurumba Bhagvathy temple. Myths and legends were woven around the spice trade and these temples but with time everything was forgotten.

Ancient city of Muziris and the spice route

Pic credit: Alchetron.com

Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs and traders from across the world came to the port city of Muziris. It is believed that the city was originally called Murachipattanam or as Machiripattanam. As Murachipattanam, the city finds mention in ancient Hindu text Ramayana, where Sugreeva sends his monkey spies to search for abducted Sita. While Machiri is associated with a month when Egyptians would travel to India, facilitated by the monsoon winds for navigation.

Pic Credit: Nabatea.net

Ostensibly, traders would spread fables of how difficult it was to procure these spices to protect their profit and trade. The city had residents of Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Jews living here. So it is no surprise that the first mosque in India was built in this city, and that Vasco De Gama stepped into the Indian subcontinent through Kerala. The city of Cochin, close to Kodungalllur, still has a tiny population of Jews living here.

Jew street, pic credit: Alamy

While mummies in Egypt would be stuffed with fragrant spices from India, Romans would use them in cosmetics, perfume and medicines. Nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves were the most commonly traded spices but it was pepper which was treasured the most.

The city of Muziris disappeared frm maps after a cyclone hit it in 14th century, way before Vasco De Gama reached Kerala.

Pepper corns, one of the spices exported from Kerala, Pic credit: Pinterest
Turmeric spice Pic credit: Pinterest
Chinese and dutch coins, tiles, decorated porcelain found at Kottapuram (town close to Kodungallur), Pic credit: Muzirisheritage.org

Thiruvanchikullam Temple

This is a 2000 years old temple of Shiva in the Kodungallur city, which has been consistently been visited by couples from across the world since time immemorial. It is believed that Parshurama, the great saint, created Kerala by axing a piece of land from the sea. But to make the place inhabitable, he decided to invite Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati to come and stay here. Thiruvanchikullam is believed to be one of the places where the divine couple is assumed to have stayed.

Traditional lamps of Kerala ,Pic credit: PradiKshanam

The temple is revered for it’s unique rituals one of them being Palliyara Pooja. Palliayara means the bedroom. The idols of deities, Shiva & Paravati, are brought out of sanctum-sanctorum during the Palliayara Pooja in the evening, and are taken to their Palliyara (bedroom), every day after dawn. Reconciliation, kids, lasting marriage are wishes that get manifested when one visits Thiruvachikulam temple. The temple has many exotic mural paintings. Unlike other temples the idols of this temple are very small.

During Tipu Sultan’s invasion of Kerala, his soldiers are believed to have stayed here.

Inside Thiruvanchikullam temple, pic credit: Pinterest
Thiruvanchikullam temple, pic credit: Pinterest

Sree Kurumba Bhagvathy temple

Sree Kurumba Devi is considered an incarnation of Goddess Kaali who is called Amme, mother, by her devotees.  This temple is within a few kilometres of Thiruvanchikullam temple. But unlike the tiny idols of Thrivanchikullam, here the goddess’s idol is huge– it is a life size idol, the face of which exudes a lot of positive energy.  Goddess Kaali is after all the most powerful form of Shakti (feminine energy), a destroyer of evil forces. Sree Kuruma Devi temple is ostensibly one of the most powerful Shakti peeth in Kerala. Interestingly, though the main idol in the temple is Bhadra Kali, the kshtera nathan (Lord of the temple) is Shiva and this is why the temple is counted among the 108 Shiva temples which were established by Parashurama.

Theyyam, traditional dance form being performed during annual Bharani festival at Sree Kurumba Temple, pic credit: Ashit Desai, flickr

It is believed the idol of this temple was installed by Lord Parshurama himself. Legends say when Parashurama came under the attack of a demon called Daruka, it was Goddess Kali, who came to his rescue. This is why Sree Kurumba Devi is visualized as the goddess holding the head of Daruka in one of her eight hands. While many believe, that one of the Chera kings built this temple for Kannaki, a lady who burnt down a city with her fury when her husband was erroneously implicated for theft of royal jewels and later killed. She came to the temple and attained moksha. This is why the Goddess is also called Kannaki, and plethora of devotees who visit this temple are from Tamil Nadu, neighbouring state of Kerala. This temple also finds a mention in Simahala history (Sri Lanka), apparently their great Kings would visit this temple on special festivals. The custom continues to this day— when Sri Lankan Prime ministers or Presidents visit India they do visit few chosen temple in Kerala. SriLankans call the goddess as Pattini.

Sree Kurumba Devi temple is among the many Devi temples where Adi Shankaracharya installed Sri Chakras. It is said Devi in her raw manifestation is very fierce and that Sri chakra, also called Sri Yantra, helps the worshiper to manifest his wishes through the Sri Chakra. Worship is done to the goddess in the Sri Chakra as it is the form-pattern of the goddess, the spot in which all the rays of the great radiance focus, this facilitates to build an intimate relationship between worshiper and the Sri Chakra.

3D view, Representational pic of Sri Chakra, pic credit: Pinterest
Top view, Representational pic of Sri Chakra, pic credit: Pinterest

The temple stands out for many firsts— like from time immemorial devotees of every cast could visit here, whilst priests in the temple are also from different backgrounds. Usually in a temple, the idol installed faces east, while Goddess Kali, being stubborn, chose to sit facing north. Many might find it hard to believe that during one of the annual festivals at the temple, Bharani festival,  which also happens to be the largest congregation of Oracles (priests) in the world, the devotees chant bhajans (devotional songs) which are actually charged with erotic stories and choicest abuses. It is called Bharani Paatu. The stories in the song are related to Kannaki, her love story, her pain and rage.

Bharani festival attended by oracles, Pic credit: Indianpanorama.in

Bharani festival is held before the monsoons hit southern coast of India. Yes ofcourse, this festival is not attended by the usual devotees, but those who can sing and dance in a frenzy, hop and bounce till they feel the Devi’s energy erupt in them. The fury of Devi can be appeased only by the Bharani Paatu, or so it is believed. Another famous festival of the temple is called Thalappolli festival, a 4 day long festival, which commences from Makar Sankranti (which marks end of winter solstice in India). During this festival there’s a massive gathering at the temple during the rituals and people who attend it are attired in traditional dress of Kerala.

An old lady dressed in settu-mundu (traditional attire), sitting next to a pond, at a temple in Kerala, pic credit: Pic credit: Bhagis photography

The temple has many smaller temples in the 10 acres of the temple ground, one part of which has a tiny idol of a Devi who can cure chickenpox and is offered turmeric. This spice has long been an ingredient in cosmetics, and modern science has proved that turmeric can indeed improve one’s skin texture when applied over a period of time.

Mystery that shrouds Sree Kurumba Devi temple

Several eminent scholars have claimed with proof that Goddess Pattini (as Sree Kurrumba devi of Kodungallur is called by Sri Lankans) is same as the Goddess Isis mentioned in Egyptian ancient texts and the one who can be found on ancient Roman coins. It’s not a surprise as Egypt, Rome, Greek and India have had close trade and cultural relations since eons now.

Greek Roman Goddess Isis, pic credit: Pinterest

Egyptian goddess Isis, Pic credit: Sans2lavie

There are many similarities between Goddess Pattini/Kannaki and Goddess Isis, one of them being– in the folklores related to both Isis and Pattini/ Kannaki, the Goddess goes on a trek to find her husband. Another similarity is the fact that annual Bharani festival at temple in Kodungallur coincides with the time of the year when offerings are made to Goddess Isis in Egypt to open sea trade. To remind the audience reading this article, the city of Kodungallur was called Muziris/Murichipattanam, where Murichi was derived from the Egyptian season when traders would start for their trades to India, as winds blowing in this season helped them navigate to the sub-continent with ease.

Sree Kurumba Devi Temple in India, google map
Location of Sree Kurumba Devi temple towards the mouth of ancient port of Muziris

There are many mysteries ensconced in this ancient temple— one of them being a secret chamber under Sree Kurumba temple of Kodungallur. Apparently there’s a tunnel that connects the secret chamber to a closed room inside the temple on the ground level. This was revealed by one of the priests V.T.Induchudan, who had served at the temple. The secret chamber is behind the Sri Yantras installed by Adi Shankaracharya, and it is made up of granite. It is speculated that the chamber was used for storing valuables and articles gifted by Kings during ancient times. But to a Devotee who visits Goddess Kannaki’s temple in Kodungallur, it’s only and only about pure devotion to the mother, the one who protects.

Goddess Kaali in her Kannaki/Pattini manifestation at Kodungallur temple, Ker

An article by Levina

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