Holy Pilgrimage - Temples dedicated to Jagannath -5

Holy Pilgrimage  - "Temples dedicated to Jagannath"

Sreevallabha Temple, Kerala

Sreevallabha Temple (Malayalam - ശ്രീവല്ലഭ മഹാക്ഷേത്രം), a highly orthodox  Hindu Temple dedicated to Purusha as Lord Sreevallabhan,  is one among the oldest and biggest Temples of Kerala and a major destination for devotees all over India for centuries. Located in Thiruvalla town of Pathanamthitta district, this ocean of orthodoxy is well known for its architectural grandeur and unique customs  that can be found in no other temples. The stone-wooden carvings and fine mural paintings inside the temple are worth seeing. Being one among 108 Divya Desams,  Sreevallabha temple has been glorified by Alvars and many other ancient works. It is considered to be the vallabha kshethram mentioned in Garuda Purana and Matsya Purana.  Kathakali is played daily in the temple as an offering, pushing it to the top in India in terms of places where Kathakali is staged in largest number of days per year.  Lord Vishnu appeared here as Sreevallabhan for sage Durvasa  and Khandakarnan. leased by prayers of an old Brahmin lady Sreevallabhan incarnated as a brahmachari and killed the demon Thokalaasuran. Later the idol of Sreevallabhan worshipped by Lakshmi and Krishna has been installed in the temple in BC 59.  From then till date, the temple follows its own worship protocol that is known to be followed nowhere else yet. Sage Durvasa and Saptarishi  are said to reach the temple every midnight for worshipping the Lord. The temple had governed one of the biggest educational institutions in ancient time and heavily contributed to the cultural and educational developments of Kerala.
Great poets Nammalvar and Mankai Alwar who lived in the 6th and 9th A.D. respectively had vividly described the greatness and importance of Sree Vallabha Temple, the abode of the great Almighty the Lord Maha Vishnu.
This famous Temple is situated at Thiruvalla Sub district. The exact location of this temple is ½km south of Ramapuram vegetable market on the Thiruvalla - Kayamkulam Main Road.
The present Thiruvalla was known as Sree Vallabhapuram in the past and was an important place of Pilgrimage in South India.
Sree Vallabha Temple is one of the 108 famous Vaishnava Temples in India. The grandeur, beauty and serenity of this temple are manifested in the famous poem "Unnuneeli Sandeesam". Because of its serenity and grandeur people from far and wide used to visit this temple and offered their prayers. As has been explained, Thiruvalla Sreevallabha Temple a unique one situated on the Bank of Manimala River is one worth seeing. It is a great loss for those who have not seen this temple so far.
It is believed that this temple was built about 4000 years ago. The very architecture is unique and portray the antiquity so vividly that it is capable of arresting the attention of everybody. Those who see this temple once can never forget the absorbing beauty and sanctity of this temple.
The area of land (8 acres and 30 cents) in which the temple remains is enclosed on all four sides with walls whose height is 12 feet and its length in each side is 566 feet on the east and west exactly in the middle of the wall the gate towers (Gopuram) of equal dimensions can be seen on the other hand in the north and south gate towers (Gopuram) of different dimensions can be seen. The North gate Tower (Gopuram) is kept closed and is opened only in "Uthra Sree bali" a unique festival which is celebrated once in every year. This unique festival is a speciality which is celebrated only in this temple of Lord Vishnu. In no other Vishnu temple such a festival is celebrated.
In front of the eastern gate tower (Gopuram) there is a big pandal for which is widely used for enacting "Kathakali" and also for performing marriage ceremony. As far as the area of the temple premises is concerned this temple ranks first among all the temples of the erst while Travancore State.
As soon as we enter the eastern gate tower (Gopuram), we reach another Pandal in which we see the beautiful carving of the great Lord Mahavishnu in a single piece of wood in lying posteure (Anantha sayanam). Similar pandals are there in all the other three sides. Just behind this pandal there remains the unique ensign which is not seen anywhere in the world. This tall ensign (garudamadathara) in cylindrical shape, on the top of which one could see the bird vehicle of Lord Vishnu (garudavahana) with folded hands worshipping Lord Mahavishnu.
From 'garudamadathara' if one turns round to the south he could see a big pandal with 16 pillars in which during festivals 'Nagaswara seva", a kind of musical pipe is being played. The big Dining hall is seen on the southern side of this pandal. Generally Dining hall is being seen on the northern side of the temple everywhere but here it is in the southern side. One could also see the temple of Ganapathy and Dharma Sastha on the south west in the same premises. In between the Dining Hall and Ganapathy temple remains the Administrative office. On the west a well protected Pepal and Mango trees could be seen. It is also believed that the renowned Maharshi 'Durvasavu' used to meditate the great Lord Mahavishnu by sitting under these trees.
If one turns round to the north one could see a small temple without roof in which the idol of Lord 'Kurayappa Swamy' is placed. The peculiarity of this temple is that there is no 'pooja' but ablution is being done everyday by someone either from Punnassery illom or from Kaduvalli illom. Those who are suffering from cough and various skin diseases used to worship this God and many have got great relief. Therefore people from far and near used to come and worship Lord Kurayappa for the permanent cure of skin diseases and cough.
Very near to the Kurayappa Swamy temple there remains the "Jalavanthy Theertham" a pond automatically formed, is well preserved. On the bank of this pond a beautiful three storied building is built in which the poojaris used to take rest. This pond is earmarked for the Brahmin Poojaris alone for taking bath. None other than the Brahmin poojaris are allowed to go to the pond.
In front of the temple one could see the tall ensign built in pure gold which is a delight to the eyes. In front of this beautiful ensign, there remains the big sacrifical stone or alter on which one could see the beautiful carving of three lions on each side of the alter.
In front of the alter a very big wooden Coridoor which is fully covered with copper plates could be seen. This coridoor and the carvings are so beautiful that, they as to arrest the attention of everybody. Its architectural excellance here is capable of demonstrating the architectural skill of our forefathers who built this most beautiful temple. Under the roof of this beautiful corridoor one could see rare and delightful carvings of many things that are found in the universe.
As soon as one crosses the corridor they will come to the prostration building which is in between the corridor and the altar. This prostration building is 24 feet rectangle with roof erected in four stone pillars and 12 woodden pillars. Beautiful carvings made in the wooden beam could be seen in the roof. The roof is made of copper plates with top dome. The whole structure is worth seeing. Brahmins alone were permitted to occupy this place for the purpose of meditation and chanting prayers.
The buildings surounding the sanctum sanctorium have very wide enclosed varandah. The southern varandah had the temple kitchen and the navakappura. This building has granite roof. The varandah has 54 pillars in which the carving of beautiful ladies with lamps could be seen. On the western side of 'Navakappura' there is a number of underground cellars.
The cellars are still a mystery. No body knows why such underground cellars were built. Where these cellars lead to and what was the purpose for which these cellars were built. Many people want to go into the cellar but nobody is brave enough to do so as they believe that these cellars are being guarded by venamous snakes and ghosts. After these cellars in the western side, there remains the temple wherein the idol of Vadakkumdevar, the idol on which Sankaramangalathamma had been worshipping. On the north east there remains another temple in which the idol of Lord Vishwasena could be seen. The food offered to this deity is the remanants of the food offered to the great Lord Sreevallabha. In front of Lord Vishwasena temple there is a well having pure water which is used for all purposes in the temple.
The main temple (sreekovil) is conical in shape and has a perimeter of about 160 feet. It is built in pure granite stone. Beautiful Mural Paintings were made on the wall. These Mural Paintings included the pictures of Malsyam (fish), 'Kaliyamardanam', Kurmam, Dakshinamurthy, Varaham, Venugopalan, Mahaganapathy, Narasimham, Vamana, Sudarshana Murthy, Parasuraman, Sree Raman, Purushasuktham, Balaraman, Sree Krishna, Lekshmi, Kalki and Garuda. The conical roof is covered with copper plates. On the top of the roof there remains a dome made of pure gold. The inner chamber of the sanctum sanctorium where the idol of Lord Mahavishnu is erected facing the east side. Facing westward Sudarsanamurthy's idol is erected. The devotees of Sudarsanamurthy are always been protected from enemies, diseases and fear. The remanats of the offering to diety is ashes of dried cowdung (bhasma )which should only be used by the devotees outside the temple premises. No devotee is permitted to enter the temple with ashes of dried cowdung in the forhead or any part of the body. Even the priests are not allowed to have ashes on their body when they are inside the temple. If they put ashes in their body they deemed to have lost their purity and are prevented from offering puja or offering to Lord Mahavishnu. This custom is peculiar and is observed only in Sreevallabha Temple and is not seen in any of the temples in India. Another notable peculiarity is that both Mahavishnu and Sudarsanamoorthy are erected in the inner chamber of the sanctum sanctorium under the same roof, Mahavishnu facing east and Sudarshanamurthy facing west respectively. Such a thing is not seen anywhere else in India. Upto 1968 women were not allowed to enter the main temple except on the day of "thiruvathira" in the malayalam month of Dhanu and on the day of "Vishu" in Medam. However since 1968 women have been permitted to enter the main temple.
Thiruvalla Sreevallabha Temple was for a long time the greatest centre of learning in South India. Thousands of students from far and near were learning the Vedas, Astronomy, Astrology, Poems, Philosophy etc. The art of warfare (Kalaripayattu) was also taught.


How to reach

Situated 750 meters south to Ramapuram vegetable market and 500 metres south to Kavumbhagom   junction on Thiruvalla-Ambalappuzha state highway (SH-12), Sreevallabha temple is just 2.5 km away from Thiruvalla railway station and 2 km from KSRTC bus stand.  Both KSRTC and private bus services are available frequently. Auto-taxi services are also available.

Customs of worship

Vishnu at Sreevallabha Temple is being worshipped his cosmic, original and transcendental form Purusha which can be understood from (1) using different moola manthra/fundamental hymen for different aspects of Purusha contrary to the strict usage of only a single fundamental hymen in all temples,  (2) sanctum-sanctorum is built in such a way that the top and bottom of the deity can’t be seen as Viratpurusha has no origin and end,  (3) Peetha pooja which is mandatory in all vaidika temples is not done here as Purusha is devoid of origin and end,  (4) dressing up the deity only with white or saffron clothes contrary to popular yellow clothing used for Vishnu temples of vaidika sampradaya which suggests the eternity of Purusha and (5) the rituals and customs followed in the temple includes all Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakteya worshipping that are now in practise in vaidika sampradaya because Purusha being the ultimate and others being only aspects of Purusha.   Generally all kerala temples follow Vaidika School of worship based on the book Tantrasamuchayam. But Sreevallabha Temple doesn’t follow Tantrasamuchayam and follows its own School called Pancharaathra Vidhaanam. No other temples are known to follow it but Thripunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple follows a school of worship somewhat similar to that of Sreevallabha Temple.  It is to be noted that the temple has never changed its worship protocols since 59 BC   and it is doubtful that any other temple follows such an ancient system.

The Pancharaathra Vidhaanam

This should not be confused with Pancharatra Agama of Vaishnavites which is completely an Āgama Sampradaya established by 11 AD whereas Pancharaathra Vidhanam is completely Vaidika Sampradaya of 4 BC origin.[1][12] But base for both these is the same- five spontaneous aspects of Purusha – Param, Vyooham, Vibhavam, Antharyaami and Archa, but these have got entirely different explanations in Vedic tradition and Āgama tradition. Durvasa Samhitha based on Pancharaathra Vidhaanam by Sage Durvasa explains the rituals to be performed. The book Yajanavali, the nutshell of Durvasa Samhitha is being followed for worshipping lord Sreevallabhan   and Ahirbudhnya Samhitha for Sudarshanamoorthy.  Considering Srishti, Sthithi and Laya as the tejas of five aspects of Purusha, five pooja are performed here and the deity is adorned like Brahmachari, Grihastha and Sanyasi in different forms during these pooja.  These customs are highly orthodox and can’t be found anywhere else. The base of every temple is the energy driven through Moola mantra/fundamental hymen (of the respective God), which should never be changed/misused and strictly used during every pooja. If not, it changes the chaitanya or energy of the temple and is believed to produce disastrous effects to both temple and the place where it is situated, which need to be rectified by hilarious, expensive and complicated penitential procedures. So no temples have multiple moola manthram where as Sreevallabha temple uses different moola manthram for different occasions.  This is just an example to show how unique are the customs followed here and from basics, whole things are entirely different.

Poojas performed

Daily five main pooja are being performed with thee naivedyam and three sreebali.  It starts with palliyunarthal or awakening the Lord followed by abhishekam or bathing with 12 pots of water sanctified with vedic chantings. This is followed by malar naivedyam. Afterwards Usha Pooja which is Purusha sukta pradhana starts. At this time, the idol will be dressed up like a brahmachari in 18 feet long white mundu with uthareeyam and two flower garlands.  Then main nivedyam is done followed by usha deepaaradhana. First sreebali(sacrificing food to all crew of the deity) follows this. Pantheeradi pooja starts after a short interval in which the Lord is dressed up in Saffron-yellow mundu, angavastram, tulasi garland only. No ornaments are used during this as the Lord is assumed as a Yogeeshwara.  This is also called as Purushanarayana pooja. Then follows Madhyahna/ ucha pooja or noon pooja in which Lord is assumed to be thriloka chakravarthi i.e. emperor of three worlds, grihastha bhava, adorned with all ornaments and garlands especially kesaadipaadam garlands. Ucha pooja is completed in three parts one inside sanctum-sanctorum, another one at navaka pooja and third being the paala namaskaaram. At this time ucha nivedyam and paala namaskaaram are done followed by sreebali and temple closes. Evening temple opens and deeparaadhana or lamp worship is done after sometime. Then follows the fourth pooja in which the Lord is assumed to be sreemad naarayanan and these two pooja are in Sthithi sankalpa. Soon athazha pooja/5th pooja is done in which Sreevallabhan is assumed to be Parabrahma, Yathi bhava, in Laya sankalpa. Now the Lord will be dressed up in a single saffron colour mundu and a tulasi garland only. After third sreebali, Lakshminarayana pooja is done as a part of the Sleeping ceremony and sanctum-sanctorum is closed keeping necessary articles for a pooja inside for Sage Durvasa   along with Saptarishi[  who come at midnight daily for ardhayaama pooja. Sage Durvasa is believed to perform always naivedya also and hence prasanna pooja is open and naivedyam is done closed contrary to other kerala temple tradition. There were five Namboothiri Brahmin families and ten Tulu Brahmin families appointed as melsanthi or chief priests along with 180 keezhsanthi or sub-ordinate priests. Another 108 brahmacharins were also needed for daily paala namaskaaram. Thanthram (power of conducting temple rituals) is for three families viz. Thukalasseri Tharayil Kuzhikkattu, Thekkedathu Kuzhikkattu  and Memena Kuzhikkattu families.  Now only two melsanthi are there instead of 15. Any kind of pooja performed here should be done after doing a token worship or starting it at Sankaramangalath Illam as it is considered to be the moola sthaana (place of origin) of Sreevallabha temple.

Customs followed in the temple

Sreevallabha Temple is well known for its highly orthodox natured rare customs. In 1997, famous poet and former head-priest Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri was removed from the post as he had crossed the sea in order to address the Millennium Conference on Integration on Science and Consciousness, in Britain which resulted in religious sacrilege evoking the wrath of his own community since it was against temple customs.  And only after a series of penance, he was allowed to continue in his post.  The priests strictly should take bath in Jalavanthy before entering the temple and they shall never use sacred ash or vibhoothi, only sandal paste is to be used. The chief priest should be of 50 years old, married and should never be the one whose family has got hereditary rights for worshipping any Shiva temple.  In every three years, priests can be changed. Also the priests entering Sreevallabhan’s shrine are restricted from entering even other shrines in the temple. There will be separate priests for that. Devotees also should never use sacred ash inside the temple wall.[13] even though it is the prasada given. They shall use it outside only. Male devotees are not allowed to wear shirt, t-shirts etc. A detailed description of such customs can be found in the book Sreevallabha Mahakshethra Charithram by eminent historian P.Unnikrishnan Nair.

Method of taking Darsanam

Four circumambulations or pradakshina are advised in the temple out of which one should be done outside and three inside the naalambalam. Enter through eastern gate, turn left and worship Ganapathy, Shiva and Ayyappan on the southern side. After circumambulating the jointly growing sacred fig and mango trees, proceed to Sankaramangalath Illam just outside the western gate.  Return to temple and walk through the northern circumambulation path. Salute Kali at the northern gate and Kurayappa swamy too. Visit Jalavanthy and Salute Vedavyasa and Durvasa on its eastern bank. Turn right to Garuda dhwajam and worship Garuda before entering naalambalam. In naalambalam, worship Vadakkumthevar and Vishwak sena outside the sanctum and inside the sanctum Sreevallabhan, Lakshmi, Bhudevi, Varaha and Dakshinamurthy through eastern door and Sudarshana Chakra through western door.

Festivals and important days

There are two main festivals  thiru uthsavam and Uthra Sreebali. In Sreevallabha Temple Uthsavam is conducted giving importance to aaraattu(holy bath)and is for ten days ending with Pushya nakshatra of kumbham (February-march) of Malayalam calendar.  Its customs and procedures are much complicated and start with kodiyett or raising the festival flag on the flagstaff. Two days before kodiyett, temple sanctifying procedures are performed. Then on the kodiyettu day, the holy flag is raised. Special poojas are done every day along with sreebhoothabali (sacrificing food to all crew of the deity) in the noon. On the seventh day night, pallivetta(custom done on the belief that the Lord hunts away all evil spirits) and tenth day the holy bath or aarattu. It is done at the river near Thukalassery and the deities of Sreevallabhan and Sudarshana moorthy are taken back to the temple after deepa aaradhana at Thukalassery Mahadeva Temple, accompanied by large and colourful procession and the temple is closed.  Uthra Sreebali, the biggest festival of the temple, is conducted in the Malayalam month of Meenam(March–April).  This is the festival of three Goddesses who had been asked by Sreevallabhan to protect Thiruvalla and it is conducted when they come to the Sreevallabha Temple to meet both the Lords. These goddesses are from the temples Aalumthuruthy, Padappattu and Karunaattu kaavu where temple festival starts on the same day in the month of Meenam.  Before their holy bath on the eighth day the three Goddesses proceed to Sreevallabha Temple where its northern gate is opened only at that time for them. The Goddesses enter the temple through the northern gate and are welcomed by playing 18 groups of instruments and are directed towards the balikkalpura where the two Lords will be waiting to receive them. Then Ashtapadi is played and sreebali is done. This is followed by jeevatha dancing of the Goddesses in the middle of many lamps. Then the Goddesses proceed for their holy bath and the Goddess of Aalumthuruthy temple returns Sreevallabha Temple by next day noon Sreebali when lord Sreevallabhan gives her vishu kaineettam.  As the sreebali ends, the programme gets over and the deities are taken back to respective temples. Taking part in the whole Uthra Sreebali is said to wash away sins of all births as all vedic and puranic deities are taking part in it. Other major fastivals as per Malayalam Calendar are on Thiruvonam of Chingam month, Thirunaal (chitra nakshatra) in Thulam month, Thirunaal chirappu (chitra nakshatra) in Vrischika month, Ardra of Dhanu month, Srebali during Makara Sankrama, Vishu in the month of Medam and Nira Puthari during Karkidakam.

Temple timings

Temple functions from morning 4 a.m. to noon 12 p.m. and evening 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Timings of major events are as follows. Morning 04.00 a.m.= Palli unarthal /awakening the deity. 04.30 a.m.= Nirmalya Darsanam/viewing the deity in the before day’s gesture. 05.00 a.m.= Abhishekam/holy bath. 06.00 a.m= Malar nivedyam  06.30 a.m.= First pooja or Usha pooja followed by Nivedyam. 08.00 a.m.= First Sreebali (procession outside).  09.00 a.m.= Pantheeradi pooja or fourth pooja.  10.45 a.m. = Ucha pooja or third pooja with Nivedyam. 11.30 a.m.= Ucha Sreebali. 12.00 p.m.= Temple closes 05.00 p.m. = Temple opens  06.30 p.m. = Deepa Araadhana 07.00 p.m. = Fourth pooja 07.30 p.m. = Athazha pooja or fifth pooja with Nivedyam 08.00 p.m. = Third Sreebali and temple closes


The main four offerings are Paala Namaskaaram, Kathakali, Pantheerayiram and Kesadipaadam Garland. Paala Namaskaaram  is actually a part of the third pooja around 10.45 a.m. and is serving food with specific dishes to the Lord and Brahmins in areca nut palm leaves as Sreedevi Antharjanam served the same to the Lord. Before doing 108 Paala Namaskaaram daily was a ritual in the Temple and now due to scarcity of Brahmins it is reduced to only one,  that too done by devotees as an offering. It needs to book for it at least a couple of years in advance to get the date. As told, Kathakali is daily played in the night as an offering  and main stories played are Duryodhana Vadham(annihilation of Duryodhana), Santhana Gopalam(story of Arjuna), Kuchela Vrutham(story of Kuchela) Sreevallabha Vijayam(glory of Sreevallabhan) and Thokalaasura Vadham(annihilation of Thokalaasura). Santhana Gopalam is famous for getting children for those who don’t have children, DuryodhanaVadham against enemies, Kuchela Vrutham to remove poverty and the two others to fulfil all wishes.  Pantheerayiram is offering 12001 bananas through a special ritual  to the Lord as banana was the first offering to the deity soon after installation. It is a heavily expensive one and usually done at Pantheeradi Pooja. Kesaadipaadam garland is a flower garland measuring approximately 15 feet and the deity will be adorned with it during third and fourth pooja.  And there are numerous other offerings which should be done during specific poojas only

Om Tat Sat

(My humble  salutations to the great devotees ,  wikisources  and Pilgrimage tourist guide for the collection )


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