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Monday, March 21, 2011

Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple

Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple

Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple is one of the most ancient temples of Kerala. The presiding deity is Lord Krishna. The temple is situated on the banks of River Pamba in Aranmula, Pathanamthitta district. It is here that the famous Aranmula boat race is conducted during the time of the Onam festival. The temple has a historic collection of murals by 18th century artists.The Lord Krishna at Aranmula is depicted as Parthasarathi, the divine charioteer. The temple is reckoned among the 108 shrines referred to in the hymns of Alwars as sacred to vaishnavites. It is more popularly associated with the age old water carnival, widely known as the Aranmula Vallomkali or boat race, the most famous among the water festivals held in kerala during the Onam Season.
Aranmula, a beautiful and picturesque village, is about 9km from Chengannur, The temple is situated on the left bank of the pampa river embosomed in the exuberant foliage of majestic trees. The temple is adorned beautifully, with the outer walls and four main towers facing in the four directions. The eastern tower is accessed through a flight of 18 steps. The Pampa River can be approached by descending 57 steps from the northern tower. It is the place from where the sacred jewels of Lord Ayyappa are taken in procession to Sabarimala every year.

Legend has it that the idol which is worshiped at Aranmula had originally been installed at Nilakkal, a few miles to the south of Sabarimala. The Pandava brothers after crowning Parikshit as emperor of Bharat left on a pilgrimage visiting various holy places. In keralaeach brother installed his own ishta devata on the banks of the pampa and nearby places and offered worship. Among them the one at Nilakkal was that of Vishnu installed and worshipped by Arjuna
Nilakkal in those days was forest inhabited by some thousand souls. In course of time it became uninhabitable due to scarcity of water and frequent attacks by Marava marauders. The inhabitants were thus forced to make an exodus and they carried their idol with them. The merciful Lord himself in the guise of a brahmachari wandered along the banks of the Pampa and showed them the place to live in. That was Aranmula. Since the people carried the idol in a raft made of six bamboo pieces the place acquired the name Aranmula (‘aaru’ being six and ‘mula’ meaning bamboo.
Origin of Aranmula Boat Race
There was a Nambudiri Brahmin or Bhattatiri in a house called Mangattillam in Kattoor (literally a village of forests) some 6km east of Aranmula. He was an ardent devotee of Krishna and every month on Thiruvonam asterism he would feed a Brahmin after washing his feet as per custom. Once in the month of Chingom (August-September) he could not get a single Brahmin for the function. Bhattatiri was upset and did not know what to do. Suddenly a Brahmin appeared from nowhere and the much pleased householder conducted the ceremony happily.
He requested the Brahmin to come again for the ceremony next Chingom. But the latter replied that he could be seen at Aranmula temple. He was none other than Hari who revealed himself to the Brahmin in a dream. The next year, Bhattatiri left for Aranmula with 51 paras of rice and all the other materials for the feast and reached the temple in the early hours of Thiruvonam. He also incurred all the expenses for pujas for the day in the temple. The thoni or the boat carrying all these goods to Aranmula is called Thiruvonachilavu thoni. The tradition condinues to this day.
Once, the legend goes, the chieftain of Ayiroor, a nearby village, planned to intercept the traditional boat carrying the materials to Aranmula because the boat was being escorted by the depends of the chieftain’s sworn enemy, the Ranni chieftain. The news spread like wild fire and men from twenty eight Karas decided to thwart the attempt. Fully armed, they escorted the sacred boat in their own chundans or Snake Boats to the temple, thus frustrating the chieftain’s plan.

The custom of snake boats from all nearby localities accompanying the sacred boat, however, came to stay. It was also decided that this ritual should be held not only on thiruvonam day in the month of Chingom but also on Uthrattathi day on which falls the anniversary of the consecration of the idol. This in brief is the story behind this unique water festival which is witnessed every year by thousands coming from far and near.

Vallasadya or feast
Snake boats from thirty Karas from Chennithala in the west to Ranni in the east participate in the Vallomkali. They assemble at the temple ghat from early morning and sil ahead in pairs, the course is about two hours long. This is however not a competitive race like the boat races held at champakulam, payippad, etc. for a trophy or a prize. It is only a traditional repetition of solemn religious custom.
The chundan vallom or snake boat is about 103 feet in length. Its prow is about 5 feet above water level and the stern about 18 feet. In a boat there will be four helmsmen, 100 rowers and 25 singers singing Vanchipattu or boat songs. After the feat there is an elaborate feast in the temple popularly known as vallasadya which is arranged by devotees as offering to the god.

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