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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Pilgrim Centres in Kerala : Hindu : Christian : Muslim

Padmanabhaswamy Temple : The temple is located inside the East Fort. The temple is a blend of the Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture. It is known for its mural paintings and stone carvings. This temple a sprawling complex with a magnificent seventeen storied tower houses the idol of Lord Vishnu in the form of Ananthapadmanabha (the lord who upheld creation on a lotus that sprang forth from His navel). The 6 m image of Vishnu reclining on Anantha the Serpent, partly covered with gold and embellished with precious stones is viewed in three sections through three doors. One among the 108 sacred Vishnu temples in India . Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple. Historical records show that in 1750, The Maharaja of Travancore on being victorious in a battle, laid down his sword and offered himself to this temple's deity. Since then, all his successors have ruled the land as Padmanabhadasas (servants of Padmanabha). Arattu is an important festival here.

Guruvayoor : It is one of the most sacred and imported pilgrim centers of Kerala. Its main attraction is the Sree Krishna temple known as 'Guruvayoor Ambalam'. This historic temple is shrouded in mystery. According to belief, the temple is the creation of Guru, the preceptor of the Devas, and Vayu the Lord of Winds. The eastern nada is the main entrance to the shrine. In the chuttambalam (outer enclosure) is the tall 33.5 mt. high gold plated Dwajasthambam (flag post). There is also a 7 mt. high Deepasthambham (pillar of lamps), whose 13 circular receptacles provide a truly gorgeous spectacle when lit. The square Sreekovil is the sacred sanctum sanctorum of the temple which houses the main deity. Within the temple there are also images of Ganapathy, Sree Ayyappa and Edathedathu Kavil Bhagavathy.

Vaikom : This town, located on the bank of the Vembanadu lake, is famous for its Siva temple, which is one of the oldest Siva Temple in the world. During the Sabarimala season pilgrims alight here to worship the 'Annadanaprabhu (Load Siva)'. Vaikom gained prominence during the Indian freedom struggle, as it was the venue of the famous Satyagraha staged in 1925 for the admission of Harijans into this temple. Vaikom is situated about 40kms from Kottayam town. Two Ashtami festivals are held annually, one in Kumbam (Feb -Mar) and the other in Vrichikom (Nov-Dec) of which the latter is more famous. The celebrations last for 12 days and end with an 'Aarattu' at the Subrahmanya Swami Temple at Udayanapuram, on the day after Ashtami. Prathal (feast) is the main Vazhipadu here. There is a school teaching temple arts, known as Kshethrakalapeedhom, attached to the temple.

Attukal Bhagavathi Temple :Attukal Bhagavathy temple (Mudippura), knows as the Sabarimala of women, is in Thiruvananthapuram. Attukal Ponkala, the annual festival commences on Bharani day in Kumbhom (February - March) and continues for nine days. Ponkala is an offering usually made in Bhagavathy temples, prepared in the form of payasam ( a liquid food in Kerala), ingredients are rice, jaggery, coconut kernel and plantain fruits. The festival begins with thottampattu (a song about Bhagavathy) which is being chanted for nine days continuously. On the ninth day, women throng the temple with ponkala pots and ingredients for cooking. Ponkala preparation starts morning and by noon would be over, then the melsanthi (chief priest) carrying Devi's sword goes around the temple sprinkling holy water and showering flowers over the preparation. After this, the idol of the Devi is being taken in procession to the Manacaud Sastha Temple with the accompaniment of thalapoli, kuthiyottom, annam, vahanam and, caparisoned elephants. Percussion in the procession include chenda, nagaswaram, band and neyyandi melam. There will also be Kumbhakudam (pageantry) during the procession. En route, the procession is received with nirapara (a pot filled with paddy and decorated with flowers usually arranged in front of traditional Kerala houses). The procession returns next morning.

Sri Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala : This is a well known pilgrim centre in the rugged terrains of the Western Ghats. The holy shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa attracts crores of pilgrims from all over India, especially from other parts of South India.Sabarimala is surrounded by hazardous hills like Karimala and Neelimala. The devotees known as 'Ayyappas' negotiate the hills to reach the Shrine after undergoing 41 days of ' Vrutham' (self imposed devotional penance). The pilgrimage season, involving Mandala Pooja and Makaravilakku comes between the latter half of November and the former half of January, every year.Ablution in River Pamba is considered as holy as ' Ganga Snanam' . The
confluence of Hindu and Muslim deities in the form of Lord Ayyappa, and his lieutenant Vavar makes this esteemed pilgrim centre a model of communal harmony and castelessness. Vehicular traffic cannot go beyond Pamba and the last 5 kms. to the Shrine can be reached only by trekking.

Varkala : Located 40 km from Trivandrum in Varkala, Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala is the final resting place of the great social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru. The Papanasham (redemption from sins) beach here is the place where Narada is believed to have thrown his valkalam. The 2000 year ols Sree Janardhana Swamy temple here is famous for the Arattu, the annual festival celebrated in March-April.

Siva Temple, Ernakulam : This temple is situated in the centre of the town close to the Cochin Cultural Centre, very near the Durbar Hall Ground. The presiding deity is Lord Siva and the annual festival in the temple is conducted for 8 days during the month of January. 

Kalady : Kalady is the birth place of Adi Sankaracharaya the great Indian Philosopher who lived in the 8th century is 45 Kms from Cochin. It is situated on the banks of river Periyar and there are two shrines in memory of Sree Sankaracharaya. One dedicated to him as Dakshina Moorthi and the other to the Goddess Sharada. Adi Sankara's Shrined in Kalady are open to all pilgrims irrespective of Religion and caste. The spot were Adi Shankara's Mother was cremated is called Vrindavan. Nearby is an old Krishna Temple, the family temple of Sankaracharaya. Another Temple known as Sri Ramakrishna International Temple was built in 1976 with the hope that it would ultimately become a temple for all religions and an abode of peace.

St. Sebastian's Aruthunkal : One of the most important pilgrim centres of the Christians in Kerala, popularly known as St. Sebastian Church, 22 kms. north of Alleppey.This church was established by Portuguese missionaries, which is near Sherthallai. The feast of St. Sebastian is held here every January. A well-known Christian pilgrim centre in Alappuzha coast . The 11-day festival of St.Sebastian is celebrated in the second week of January. To decongest the festival days, a low profile festival, Ettamperunal, is being celebrated on the 8th day after the main festival. A peculiar votive of the church is Urulu nercha( an offering of a devotee by crawling on the ground). devotees crawl from the church premise to the local beach. Material offerings of the festival include gold and silver replicas of human limbs, bows and arrows. The festival has also chipped in for communal amity. On January 18, two days left for the main festival, thousands of Sabarimala pilgrims, while returning home, bathe from the church tank and pay homage to St. Sebastian.

Blessed Alphonsa,Bharananganam : The church is one of the important pilgrim centres of the Christians in Kerala. The mortal remains of Sr. Alphonsa, who was pronounced as blessed is kept in this church.The death of blessed Sr. Alphonsa which falls on the 20th of July is an important day.

Manjinikkara Church : Manjinikkara church derives its importance from the holy tomb of late Ignatius Elias III, the Holy Patriarch of Antioch. Members of the Jacobite Syrian Church believe that the Holy Father was a Saint. The Church has now become one of the foremost places of pilgrimage. A large number of pilgrims visit the church to receive spiritual and physical healing and blessings.

St. Mary's Church (Cheriya Pally) : There are paintings of Biblical and non Biblical themes. This church is situated near the Valiapally.

St. Mary's Church (Valiapally) : 5kms. north-west of the railway station, this church was built in 1515. It is famous for its Persian cross and Phalvi inscriptions.

St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi : The first European church in India, which later became the model for building churches in elsewhere the country. Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi during his second visit to Kerala, was buried in the church in 1524. later his mortal remains were taken back to his native land, Portugal.

St. George Church, Edappally, Kochi : St. George Church, Edappally, Kochi has a past that touches 593 AD. This is one of the major pilgrim centres in Kerala where even non-Christians crowd for veneration. Even during the week- days devotees throng the church to genuflect before the statue of St. George to express their gratitude for favours received through the saint. The festival begins on the 23rd of April with solemn High Mass and Litany. With each passing day divine aura is added to the festival along with colour and festivity. The parishioners join the pilgrims to take the festival gusto into its crescendo. Mellifluent music and ear shattering fire works keep the tempo of the festival. On May Day, the St. George statue is taken out of its usual podium and pedestaled on specially decked chariot for procession which has all the features of a solemn catholic religious function. Curtain comes down on the festival with the High Mass on 4 May which will be embedded with a soul stirring sermon.

St. Mary's Church,Vallarpadam,Kochi : Vallarpadam, an enticing tiny islet is encircled by picturesque Kochi backwaters. The church on the eastern end of the island is a jewel on the island physique. The church was established in 1676 and the famous picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary was erected by Portuguese who brought it from their native land. The picture is believed to have miraculous powers. Being an islet, Vallarapadam had access only by water. "'Vallarapadath Amma", as the St Mary of Vallarpadam is called, is believed to have miraculously saved may lives from shipwreck and violent storms. The feast of Vallarapadath Amma is held on Sept. 24. The week-long celebration is accompanied by a big fair quite different. The products traded are country boats, cars, pots and straw mats.

Christ The King Church, Thiruvananthapuram : Festival of the Christ the King is on the last Sunday of October. High Mass, Vespers, a two-hour long Holy Eucharistic procession and benediction are the highlights of the festival. Nativity feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also celebrated with religious spirit.

Niranam St.Mary's Church : One of the oldest churches in India, believed to be established by St. Thomas during his missionary days in the state in AD 53. The Apostle of Jesus is believed to have erected a crucifix and built a church there. Many local Hindus gradually embraced Christianity leading to the spread of the religion and later into the establishment of regional church. In all walks of life be they social, cultural, literary and political this tiny hamlet has preserved its traditions. The main religious festival honouring Holy Mary is on August 15. The birthday of St. Mary is celebrated on 8th September. St. Thomas Day( July3) is also celebrated with great zeal.

St. Thomas Cathedral, Pala : St. Thomas Church at Pala in Kottayam district is known for Rakkuli festival commemorating the Epiphany feast celebrated on January 6. The festival has become an occasion for trade related exhibitions. The festival symbolizes the Biblical account of the three Wiseman from East who left for Bethlehem to adore infant Jesus.

St. Dominic Church - Aluva : The feast of St. Dominic's Church at Aluva falls on the third Sunday after the Easter. The statue of the saint is taken out in procession on the day. The feast of "Our Lady of the Holy Rosary" also consists of the spectacular procession on the Sunday after 8th of December. The procession route will be canopied with festoons, paper flowers, baskets and balloons.

Manarcad Church, Kottayam : St. Mary's Church, Manarcaud is one of the outstanding churches of the Syrian Jacobite Church of Kerala. The most important festival here is the eight-day fast in honour of St. Mary, starting on September 1. Holy Mass is offered on the feast days. On the concluding days, colourful processions are held.

Cheraman Juma Masjid, Kodungallore : The first mosque in India. Situated in Methala, Kodungalloor, hardly 20 kilometer from the Irinjalakuda railway station.Legend says King Cheraman Perumal of Kodungallor left for Mecca, embraced Islam, accepted the name Thajudee, married the sister of the then King of Jeddah. Before his death Thajuddeen handed over to the King of Jeddah several letters addressed to Kerala Kings seeking their help to propagate Islam. The Jiddah king came to Kerala and met the then king of Kodungalloor who helped the former convert Arathali temple into a Juma Masjid. This mosque was designed and constructed based on Hindu art and architecture.he first mosque in India. It was built in 629 A.D. and resembles a temple in appearance. It is situated in Kodungaloor.

Ottapalam Juma Masjid : Mortal remains of Uthman Auliya, a revered man in Muslim Community here, is entombed here. Prayers are held in this mosque on Fridays. Annual festival is held in January-February. During the festival a grand processions bringing ceremoniously various articles such as rice, coconut, etc to the mosque as offerings is held. Next day, a grand feast is held for the poor.

The Jama-At Mosque,Malappuram : The Jama-at mosque is important for Kerala's Muslims. The annual Nercha festival of the mosque is celebrated for four days in April. Adjoining the mosque is a mausoleum of the Malappuram Shaheeds whose brave exploits have been immortalised in Mappilla Ballads.

Pazhayangadi Mosque,Kondotti : On the way to Malappuram, 18 km east of Manjeri, is Kondotti a prominent pilgrim centre for Muslims. The Valia Nercha festival at the 500 year old Pazhayangadi Mosque, celebrated for three days in February-march, draw large number of devotees.