Vadakkunnathan Kshetram, Thrissur.
Located in the heart of Thrissur town on a 65 acre gently rolling hillock (Thekkinkadu maidanam) overlooking the town center. It is a gramakshetra of Kerala. The temple owes its munificence and grandeur to the Maharajas of Cochin (1500-1805 A.D.) who established their capital in Thrissur town, with their palace quite close to the hilltop temple.
The town is well connected by road and rail network. The nearest airport is at Cochin which is about 80 kms. away. From the state capital Trivandrum the town is about 300 kms.
The temple occupies an area of 3.6 hectares (9 acres). The matilakom or the bounding enclosure is vast and has four imposing dvarasalas (gateways) in the four cardinal directions, punctuating the temple walls. Built up of laterite, wood and tiles the vathilmadoms rise up to three talas (storeys), but subservient to the main shrine. The west nata (entrance) has prominence as the main entry point to the temple.
Temple Layout - Structure & Architecture.
Entering the temple premises through the west nata one witnesses the large Koothambalam on the left. A granite footpath leads one straight to the shrine of Vadakkunnathan. To the west of Koothambalam is located the Goshala Krishnan shrine. Passing Vrshneeswaran one proceeds along the northern outer perambulatory pathway to reach the Rshabha shrine. This shrine has a small separate chuttambalam abutting the Nalambalam of the main temple on the northern side. From there too one can enter the nalambalam which houses the main deities.
Inside the nalambalam, the Vettekkaran shrine is located in the northern side facing south. Of the major shrines inside the nalambalam the one dedicated to Shiva (Vadakkunnathan) is the largest. This is a circular eka tala structure with copper sheet roofing. The rear portion of the main shrikovil is utilized as the place for enshrining Parvathy. In front of the main shrikovil is a large square namaskara mandapa with a pyramidal roof. It has two concentric rows of stone columns; the inner row having four stout columns, heavily ornamented and the outer twelve. The ceiling has exquisite carvings.
The circular vimana in the middle accommodates Shankara-Narayana. It is a dvi tala shrikovil, copper roofed but smaller than the northern main shrikovil. There is a small namaskara mandapa with 8 pillars but with no ornamental carvings.
The square dvi tala shrikovil with a mukha mandapa accommodates Sri Rama idol and is located at the southern end. The Sri Rama shrine has a spacious namaskara mandapa with 16 pillars decorated with carvings and ornamental woodwork.
All these structures have their basements (adhishtana) built of granite while the superstructure (bhithi) is of laterite, decorated with toranas and panjaras at intervals. All are copper sheet roofed. The exterior walls are painted with murals of fine craftsmanship.The temple has no dhwajastambha.
In between Vadakkunnathan and Shankara-Narayana shrine is located Ganapathi, facing east.
In the outer praakara (perambulatory) enclosed by the puramathil (the boundary wall) are located a number of minor deities. There is a vilakkumaatom encircling the nalambalam on the outer periphery. Besides Goshala Krishnan, Vrshneeswaran and Rshabha shrines there exists the Parasurama shrine in a niche in the north-eastern corner. Simhodaran (Parshadan) has his place to the rear of the nalambalam and the Shasta temple in Gaja prishta (apsidal) shape in the south west corner facing east. In front of the Sri Rama temple (in the outer praakara) is located the Samadhi of Adi Shankara Bhagavadpada.
Traditions have built strong ties with this temple and Mount Kailas which is considered the abode of Shiva. Sage Parasurama invited the Lord to Kerala, the new land strip he won over from the oceans. A literary work ascribed to the 16th century, "Thenkailanathodayam" authored by Neelakanthakavi, narrates the legend in detail. The Sree Moolasthanam near the western gopuram is considered the sacred place where the Lord of Kailasa manifested to the sage. The idol of Vadakkunnathan is perpetually covered in a mound of ghee, which is the main offering to the deity. The analogy of Mount Kailas is extended further by comparing the mound of ghee to the snow clad peaks of the Himalayas. The legend is indicative of the entry of Shaivism in the land. The pratishtas of Sri Rama and Shankaranarayana signify the advent of Vaishnavism, later in time, and the compromises between the two factions.
Preceding the shaiva entry, the temple was a worship center of the Jainas, as pointed out by some scholars. The Rshabha shrine might be a carryover from the Jaina period. Rshabha Deva is one of the Jain Thirthankaras. The custom of worshipping this deity is also unique in that devotees throw threads torn from their dress at the shrine and clap their hands.
The temple is also connected with the life of Adi Shankara. The legends proclaim that he was born to his parents after they beseeched Vadakkunnathan. Adi Shankara, after his earthly mission of propagating Advaita philosophy, is said to have shed his mortal body in Thrissur. Each of the four ashrams established by Adi Shankara (Badri, Puri, Dwaraka and Sringeri) has a representative ashram here in the town; the Vadakke madam, Natuvil madam, Idayil madam and Thekke madam. Of these the Idayil madam merged with the Thekke madam. Vadakke madam became the Brahmswom madam. The other two remain as such - the swamiyar madams.
Right from the entry point to the temple, there is a customary order to be observed for worshipping the deities of this temple. (The temple at Peruvanam which has many similarities with this temple also observes such a practice). Besides the deities of this temple, obeisance is paid to some of the temples in and around Thrissur.
The order of darsanam inside the nalambalam is Vadakkunnathan, Parvathy, Ganapathi, Shankaranarayana and Sri Rama in a straight line and repeating the same twice. Only for the third round is there the circular perambulation for the latter two shrines of Shankaranarayana and Sri Rama.
There are no annual utsavams or other celebrations in this temple except for Shivarathri. Even during Shivarathri celebrations, the deity is not taken out in procession.
The temple opens at three in the morning and closes at about 11.30 a.m. after the morning rites. For the evening worship it opens at five and closes at 8.30 p.m. Daily five poojas are the order of the day here but no Shribali or Sri Bhoothabali is observed. The Thantri of the temple is from Puliyannoor Mana.
The antiquity of the temple dates back to the eleventh century as can be affirmed from the probable date of the inscription on the vrtta-kumuda (moulding of the basement). Engraved in characters of 11th century, it refers to the gift of stones (in adhishtana) by one Sattan Suvaran Mullaippalli (Annual Report of Indian Epigraphy 1970-'71, No. 73).
The temple can even claim greater antiquity, in view of its association with the group of discarded Sapta-matrkkal images ascribable to at least the 9th century.
Another inscription assigned to the 12th century, mention the Kottuvayiraveli Kacham (TAS -Vol VI -p-194) which testifies to the ascendancy of the Namboodiri Brahmins who framed regulations in regard to Vadakkunnathan Temple. This is the only Kachcham which contains provisions for controlling the rights of the tenants in Kerala. These Brahmins called Yogiyathiris, controlled the 'Sanketam' or well-defined territory of the temple with sovereign powers. Even administration of criminal justice was handled by these Yogiyathiris and death sentence on criminals was being implemented in the name of Lord Shankaranarayana. The condemned criminals were taken out of the temple premises through the southern gopura (this gopura is seldom opened, except during the pooram festival). The practice of such form of temple administration was put to an end by the King of Cochin, Sakthan Thampuran. The Peruvanam Gramakshetra situated nearby also had a similar form of administration. Now the temple is administered by the Cochin Devaswom Board.
The temple has been a witness to power struggles between the Cochin Raja and the Zamorin of Calicut in the late mediaeval era. Still later Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan of Mysore occupied the temple for brief periods during their invasion and the now famous Ghee offering (vazhipadu) to Vadakkunnathan had its traditional moorings during this troubled period.
Thrissur Pooram celebrated annually in Medom (April-May) is the grandest show of all temple festivals in Kerala. Of pomp and pageantry, of numerous caparisoned elephants adorning deities, of colorful parasols, of hundreds of drums (chenda), valantala, kombu, kuzhal and Ilathalam making up a grand orchestral ensemble lasting for hours and last but not the least, the unsurpassed elegance of pyrotechnics.
In the by-gone days this pooram was a part of the historical Arattupuzha (Peruvanam) pooram. Some of the participating temples got detached from this and Sakthan Thampuran of Cochin later started the Thrissur pooram. Although this grand festival goes by the name Thrissur pooram and is celebrated in the Vadakkunnathan Temple premises, the Lord is but a mere spectator granting the premises and convenience for the festival. In fact it is the concluding celebration of utsavams of eight days duration of nine temples in the neighboring locality, which array in two groups.
The day pooram commences in the forenoon with the group led by Thiruvambadi (Bhagavathi) after paying obeisance at the Shree Moolasthana, enters the Matilakom, circumambulates the Vadakkunnathan and exit through the southern gopuram. At noon the Paramekkavu (Bhagavathi) group enters through the eastern gopuram and takes position near the Koothambalam inside the temple court-yard, where Elenjithara Melam takes place. (On 7th of June 2001 this tree fell down). Even though Chembukkavu Bhagavathi forms part of this group, she gets out through the western gate towards Moolasthanam when alone Chendamelam will be played.
At the close of the day pooram both the groups coming out of the southern gopura array themselves face-to-face, in what is called as the 'March to the South' (Thekkottirakkam). The culmination of this is the 'changing of the parasols' (Kutamattom) atop the fifteen strong elephant herd on each group to the accompaniment of electrifying orchestra. This parade culminates around 2 a.m. at night after which gala pyrotechnics light up the sky.
The temple walls are a repository of mural paintings. The Shankaranarayana shrine has some exquisite panels from the Mahabharatha theme, executed in the 17th century. The Nandi mandapa in front of the main shrine has the figures of Shiva reclining on Vasuki, Shiva Thandava (Nrttanaatha), Mohini Yakshi etc. The corridor in front of Vadakkunnatha (leading one from Western gopura into Nalambalam) has on its northern side a large Nandi.
The Koothambalam of this temple is the largest among such structures in Kerala having a length of 23.5 metres and width of 17.5 metres The rangapeetam is 6.3 metre square. Ammannur Chakyar has the right to perform Kuthu and Kootiyattom here.
True to its enviable location on top of a sprawling hill, the typical plan displaying almost all aspects of the Hindu temple of the Western Coast and the diversity of the various Shrikovil structures, the temple has been declared a National monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites and Remains Act.
Western Side Entrance
View from North-West
Panoramic view from the northern side
View from North-East
Simhodaran shrine as seen from North-East corner
Koothambalam and Balikkals of the three shrines viewed from South
Sopanam of Vadakkunnathan shrine
Kudamkoothu sculpture, Vadakkunnathan shrine
Pillar detail - namaskaramandapam
Murals on the wall of Sri Rama temple:
Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman, in search of Sita
Coronation of Sri Rama
Last Revised (contents): 22 july, 2001
Last Revised (design) : 5 october, 2004