Five Pandava Temples in Kerala, Part 6


BY: SUN STAFF - 1.8 2018

Thrikkodithanam Mahavishnu Kshetram 


The final stop on our journey to the five Pandava Temples of Kerala is the temple built by the youngest Pandava brother, Sahadeva -- Thrikkodithanam Maha Vishnu Temple. The Mahavishnu Kshetram at Thrikodithanam is the last of this cluster of 108 celestial abodes of Lord Vishnu, the Divya Desams. Like all the other Pandava Temples here, the earliest references appear in the songs of Nammalvar, c. 800 AD, and the temple inscriptions date back to 800-1102 A.D.

The history, art and temple architecture of Thrikodithanam appear to be better documented than any of the other four tirthas, thanks to the diligence of the sevites at Thirikodithanam, who have made the following information available on the temple complex:

Ashtadikpalakar: Guardian deities at base of the main gold-plated temple mast


The temple sanctum, or sreekovil, is a well proportioned, double-storied structure built on a circular plan. (This design is also seen at Thiruvanvandoor Temple, built by Nakula Pandava.) The base, or aadhisthaana is made of rounded granite stones which rise to a height of about three feet. A granite pranaala protrudes out of the northern side of the aadhisthana. The oldest stone inscriptions in Thrikodithanam Temple are inscribed on these base-stones. In all, there are 13 inscriptions and almost all are in the Vaatezutthu Tamil script.

Lord Kalki temple mural

A circular wall on the aadhisthaana is made of laterite blocks covered with lime plaster. Beautiful mural paintings once adorned this circular wall, but sadly they were badly damaged by vandals. A few beautiful murals remain, including Lord Kalki on His horse.

The temple's conical roof rises in two tiers, and wooden figures of the Dasavatara are carved into connecting struts. The sloping roof is covered with copper tile-plates. The sreekovil was renovated around 1100 A.D., and the extant murals on the walls are only about 400 years old.

Thrikkodithanam Temple Complex

The presiding Deities residing in the Sreekovil are Adbhuta Narayanan (Mahavishnu), Lord Narasimha, and Dakshina-moorthy of Shiva and Ganapathy. Outside the sanctum is the Lord's consort, Nirmalya (Mahalaksmi). In the ancient Tamil scriptures, the Sreekovil at Thrikodithanam is described as punyakodi-vimaanam, exceptional because of the unusual number of Divinities that reside in a single enclosure, each of whom receives his individual share of worship.

In the outer confines of the temple are numerous murtis, shrines and images, or Shasta (Ayyappa), the Nagadevas, Kshetrapala, Tirumanthakaavu Devi, a temple for Subramanya, and also some Rakshas who live behind the Shasta shrine.

Lord Vishnu in His form as Adbhuta Narayanan is standing, four arms holding conch, chakra, gada and lotus. It is carved of black stone, aanjana-kallu. Devotees entering the outer sanctum can only see the Lord if they bow down.

Holding a primary focus point is a second Laksmi-Narayana deity (also called Bhama-Narayana) that is always prominently placed, although not the presiding Deity. This deity form is not fixed, but is moved around the temple, from spot to spot, journey around the temple environs on particular festival dates.

It is said that while the four oldest Pandava brothers were wandering around Kerala, finding Deities to install and worship in their own temples, Sahadeva, the youngest, could not find a suitable image of the Lord to worship. In despair, he decided to immolate himself. Just as he was about to leap into a huge flaming pyre, a idol of Vishnu appeared miraculously, thus the Deity is named Adbhuta Narayanan. When the Deity was installed, consecration rites at Thrikodithanam were performed by Lord Agni, who is specially honored here during festivals.

Kizakke Kodi-maram: Base of the western temple mast

The Lord Narasimhadeva deity here was installed just 300 years ago, apparently for the purpose of warding off negative effects from Tipu Sultan's invasion. The Lord is given a daily offering of sweet naivedya made of milk, rice, sugar and jaggery, known as sharkara-paal-paayasam. Lord Narasimha has His own festival alongside Mahavishnu each year, marking His great importance in this holy abode.

Entering the sanctum, a small platform above the steps forms the mukha-mandapam, a small niche used by the priests to distribute prasadam to the devotees. In front of the sanctum is a rectangular granite platform (namaskara mandapam, used for bhajan and dance. It has a carved wooden ceiling with Ashtadik-palakas (guardians of 8 directions), with Lord Brahma in the center.

Temple theertham

There are numerous carvings around the temple's interior and exterior, and numerous shrines (beli-kalls), being small stone platforms for the subsidiary deities. Outside is a beautiful gold-plated brass dwajasthamba (flag pole), which has an inscription dated 1024 A.D.

The temple complex has an expansive tank, known as Pancha-teertham, and there are a great many sacred trees on the grounds. The sacred tank is said to have been formed by the amalgamation of five sacred water sources, each possessing a distinct hue. Apparently two of the sources on the northern side are no longer visible, or have simply ceased to be.

Around the temple complex is a beautiful temple wall, known as Puram-mathil. Standing 15 feet high, it is designed to curve up and outward like an elephant's forehead. The boundary wall is built of laterite blocks that were expertly smoothed and arranged, holding together without lime or cement -- a feat that amazes architects and builders. The wall is believed to have been built in 700 A.D. and predates most of the other structures within the complex. No one is quite sure who the original builders were. Legend has it that it was built by Bhoota-ganangal -- beings of the nether world, who constructed it in just one night. The laterite blocks were excavated from the area now occupied by the temple tank.

Legendary temple statue

Outside the eastern entrance is another mysterious figure -- a granite sculpture of an individual lying on his back, arms to his side. Known as Kazhivetti-kallu, the figure holds a shankhu (conch shell) in his left hand and wears the holy thread. At one time, he also wore a crown. The most widely accepted story about the sculpture is this:

"The ruler of Chembakaserry kingdom was a renowned Nambuthiri Brahmin who took pride in the prosperity of his own kingdom and Sri Krishna temple. Since temples were then considered keystones to a kingdom's spiritual and temporal well-being, the King decided to embarrass the rulers of Nanrulainattu (capital at Thrikodithanam) by making a deliberate, untimely visit to the famous Vishnu Temple.

The Pranala

He arrived in Thrikodithanam after the seiveli puja (the last ceremony of the day) and after the temple had closed. It is considered very inauspicious to open a temple after the Deities are put to rest, but still, the King forced an entry by bribing a caretaker. When the rulers of Nanrulainattu discovered this indiscretion, they were furious. The caretaker was beheaded and, soon, the Chambakaserry king also fell ill and died. This stone figure was installed near the temple entrance to deter any future offenders and to remind everybody of the consequences of disturbing the gods.

Temple flagpole