Kerala’s largest snake temple can have only woman as chief priest

Written by Seema K Jayaraman

Issueless couples visit temple and perform uruli kamazhthu 

Mannarasala temple in Haripad, Alapuzha district in Kerala, is the largest snake temple in the state which I was fortunate to have visited last December. It is believed that the ancient Nagaraja temple was consecrated by Sage Parashuram to propitiate the five-headed Nagaraja Vasuki and Ananthanaga and all Nagas with whose help and poison the land which Parashuram had recovered from the sea with the help of his axe was desalinated and made habitable.

Parushram is said to have stipulated the Puja vidhis which is followed till date. There are two main deities housed in two garbhagruhas adjacent to each other: Nagaraja Vasuki and Naga Yakshi. The temple actually has an extended family quarters and has to be maintained strictly as per scriptures dictated by Vasuki himself. There are over 30,000 Naga devta idols all over the place. There are several interesting stories associated with this temple. The chief priestess is a lady a nonagenarian whom we had the good fortune to have darshan (another story associated to it about a relative. There is a beautiful pond or karoli kulam near the entrance of the temple and there is a large groove full of old trees mostly Mandaar trees surrounding the temple.

My sister-in-law had visited the temple some 12 years ago when they used to take various pilgrimages praying for a child (they were blessed with a child after 17 years of marriage).

The temple is especially famous for blessing couples having problems in conceiving children and have their own special rituals mostly Saivite for fulfilling the seekers’ wishes. The unique thing is the main priest is a very elderly lady of the family who is also considered as the mother of Nagaraja and once she takes on the position of chief priestess becomes a bramacharin and lives a life of devotion and piety.  Aailiyam Nakshatra is very important day when special Pujas are conducted especially Thulaa Maas Aailiyam which passed a few days ago.

Our trip happened unexpectedly which is always the case with me. A sister-in-law in Kannur with whom I am close called and asked me if I wanted to accompany her and her family to Haripad. I was in Kannur at that time and it was the night of my book release function. After the function we rushed home grabbed our clothes and were at the station to meet her and her family. We booked local tickets took the late overnight train and were in Haripad the next morning.

Again it was such an awesome experience we covered so many temples in that one day. Despite being December there was no heavy rush of Sabarimala devotees who are always given priority during this season. A week ago my sister-in-law had found an old receipt from the Haripad temple which she had visited some 12 years ago when they used to take various pilgrimages praying for a child (they were blessed with a child after 17 years of marriage). She told us she had been planning to visit Haripad and had booked her tickets five or six times in the past seven years but it was always cancelled at the last minute.

My presence and our combined destiny that I accompany her along with my mother and children was the needed key. I proved to be the catalyst for materializing the trip (these are her tear choked words).

Now, when she saw this old receipt in her cupboard she called the telephone number printed on it. It was the number of the temple office. When she described the receipt they asked her to bring her child to the temple as soon as possible to take Naga Yakshi Amma’s and Naga Raja’s blessings. As per custom, the couple is supposed to go the first year itself with the new baby for darshan and blessings. As per the rituals couples having problems in conceiving go there to offer their prayers after which they keep a small copper urn turned upside down after receiving Amma’s blessing with a promise to return when a baby is born and to turn over the urn (a symbolic gesture of acknowledgment that the wish is fulfilled). However, my sister-in-law and her husband had forgotten the second leg of it after their child was born a year later in June 2010.

We managed to find a couple of rooms to keep our bags, took our showers and proceeded to the temple. It was again an indescribable feeling, the place was ‘littered’ with Naga Devta idols of various forms carved in stone. Every perch, walkways, beneath tree trunks, even the roots were so old, gnarled and twisted they resembled entwined Serpents. The air had a certain quality filled with ‘presences’ and it gave me the goosebumps because she was going so late after so many years — her son was nearly nine years, the temple priests gave her special treatment, she of course had to cut receipts for all the years she had missed. We accompanied her through the elaborate rituals of thanks giving. She was taken with her son to meet Naga Amma and thanks to her we too had a good darshan. We spent the first half of the day there and had lunch as prasadam.

I also had a special spiritual experience. During the morning Aarthi, I swear, I saw a silver ash colored outline of a five-hooded Naga hypnotically swaying to the beats of the traditional chenda and cymbals which were being played by the musicians and I thought I saw a glimpse of Sri Krishna a silver outline, playing his flute beneath the hoods of the Naga devtaa while standing in his traditional cross legged posture.

Now-a-days rehabilitation of Nagas and serpent energy is done at such large temples instead of local kavus (grooves) like the one set up by my ancestor Vayath Swamy, especially if there are any issues/diseases being cause because of their anger or distress.

Then we proceeded to Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Temple about 25 km away where I was privileged to be able to sit right near the step/feet of Sri Krishna, we were given the famous palpayasam (kheer) as prasad.

From there we proceeded to Chakulatha Kavu Bhagawathy Temple at my insistence again. A very special Shakti Sthana especially for ladies. Here again, like Attukal temple in Thiruvananthapuram, only women are permitted to perform pongala.

We reached there around 7.45 pm and we’re blessed to witness the 8.30 pm deeparadhana (maha aarati). The priests there gave us such large quantities of kumkum and flower garlands. A divine ecstasy overwhelmed us.

After all this road travel around the countryside, we managed to catch the return train at 10 pm.

About the author

Seema K Jayaraman

Author is Poetry Editor of www.indusscrolls.com

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