Sunday, September 7, 2008

Palli Vilakku

This fiesta of lights is part of the Pallivilakku ritual, held as part of the annual Uthram festival of Neervilakom Ayyappa temple. Thousands of lamps will be lighted on the intricate wooden chariot-like lamp post, which can be moved with the help of thousands of devotees. The shells of Marotti (Hydnocarpus pentandra) fruit will be filled with natural oil to light lamps on these huge lamp post. They will be lighted and the huge lamp post is then carried by hundreds of devotees from the 'Kizhakke Aalthara' to the 'temple entrance' along with the 'Jeevitha'. Touching the 'Paalli Vilakku' during the procession is considered to be divine and is believed to neutralise the misconducts.To add to the splendor of the ritual, the post will be rotated fast, with the lamps still shining on them. The festival is one of those rare events in which such a large number of lamps are featured.


Anpoly is an important offering to Ayyappa at the time of festival. Ayyappa is brought towards a specially erected pandal (Anpoly pandal) to offer five "paras"(old conventional device to measure paddy) filled with paddy, rice, avil, malar, and plantain fruit. Pandal is decorated with flowers. Flowers in large quantity are spread and fifteen nilavilakku are placed in a specially arranged manner. Ayyappa placed in Jeevatha on shoulders of priests dance the tune of orchestra like Chenda, Thavil, Nadaswaram etc is brought in procession. People in large numbers assemble to witness this procession between 10 pm and 3 am. Firing crackers are part of this vazhipadu.

Thirumunpil Vela

The ritual Velakali is performed in the temple courtyard. It is begun with the deity taken out in a procession on a Jeevitha. This is called Thirumumbil Vela which literally means that the performance is in front of the deity. If this ritual is performed near the temple pond, it is called Kulathilvela. The dancers numbering fifteen or more are dressed up like traditional soldiers with colourful shields and shining swords. Sometimes the swords are replaced with long canes. They go through war like steps in a line to the accompaniment of martial music with vigour and force. They display fighting techniques by coming forward from the line. The musical instruments like Thavil, Suddha Maddalam, Elathaalam, Horns and Trumpets are used for this art. Thirumunpil Vela starts from Parakkoodu (Beautiful paddy field near temple) around 2 pm in the after noon and after kulathil vela it ends in the courtyard of temple around 7 pm just before Thirumunpil seva.


The devotees of Bhagavathy perform a ritual dance known as Ammankudam. It's also known as karagatto or karakam thullal. They place pots on their heads and do a fine balancing act as they dance. The name Ammankudam comes from the words "Amman" as in "Mother" or “Goddess" and "Kudam" meaning pots. These pots are generally filled in with sacred substances used for the worship such as water, turmeric, sandal, flowers and neem leaves. Ammankudam is the main attraction of Uthram festival at Neervilakom Ayyappa temple. It conducts along with kavediyattam and thirumunpil vela.


The climax of the festival is Kavadiyattom. Kavadiyattam conducts commonly in Subramanian temples. Neervilakom temple is belongs to lord Ayyappa, even though this temple conducts kavadiyattam. The group of devotees wearing Kavi or Black costumes with ash smeared all over the body, dance in a frenzy carrying Kavadis on their shoulders. Kavadis are colourful bow shaped wooden structures raising six to ten feet high. The ambalakavadi is structured and decorated like a temple. The Pookavadi has clusters of colourful paper, cloth or paper flowers arranged on them. The resounding beats of percussion instruments like chenda melam and pampamelam are the main attraction of kavadi procession. The Kavadi-bearer is required to observe various rules between the time he takes up the Kavadi and the day of the offering. He has to take Kavaedi vritham (See the page about the kavedi vritham) of at least 21 days. He has to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the Kavadi and at the time of ffering it to the Lord. The Kavadi-bearer's bare chest is covered with several 'Rudraksha Malas' (rosaries). The Kavadi-bearer observes celibacy. He takes only pure, Satwic food; he abstains from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs, He continuously thinks of God. It gives him great power of endurance. The Kavadi-bearer is in a high state of religious fervour. He dances in ecstasy. His very appearance is awe-inspiring; there is divine radiance on his face. Devotees often experience the state of feeling complete union with the Lord.There are various types of kavadies. Nay (ghee) kavadi, Bhasma (ash) kavadi, Enna (oil) kavadi, Pal (milk) kavadi, Pananeer (rose water) kavadi etc are the major kavadies in Neervilakom Temple. The two small pots hanging at either end of the Kavadi contain Ghee, Milk, Oil or other articles that the devotee has vowed to offer to the Lord and the devotee must collect these articles or money equal to the selected article, by begging. They travel on foot from house to house, and beg from door to door.

Jeevida Ezhunnellathu

Jeevida ezhunnallathu as part of the 11-day annual festival at the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Neervilakom, held with religious fervour in the day of Uthram. Jeevatha is a familiar feature of Neervilakom Temple Festival. The jeevatha is decorated with red velvet cloth and copper plates that are embossed with symbols of the moon and an image of the deity. Creating the jeevatha is the most sacred of crafts and also the most difficult. Hundreds of devotees thronged the temple precincts on uthram to witness this event. Devotees believe witnessing Jeevida procession will bring them luck. Jeevida ezhunnallathu is conducting along with kavadiyattam, thirumunpil vela, pallivetta and aarattu.


Kodiyettam is a ritual performed in the temples, which mark the beginning of a festival in Temple. The term kodiyettam means flag hoisting. There is flag post (Kodimaram) in between Temple and Anakkottil to perform this ceremonious flag hoisting. The Trikodi (flag hoisted to mark the start of a festival) is made of velvet in red, green, yellow, blue and white designs. There are specific measurements for making the Trikodi that specifies that it should only have a quarter of the length of the flag post on which it is hoisted. Neervilakom Uthram Festival will begin with hoisting the ceremonial flag in the auspicious muhurthom by Tantri Kandararu Maheswararu of Thazhamon Madam and Melsanthi Madhusudhanan Namboodiri will assist the tantri. The flag reflects the temple's spiritual energy.