Kerala is the land of Bhagwati and Bhadrakali. Last year I discovered Bhadrakali when I got to attend the rituals like Padayani and Kalamezhuthum. This year when I was in Kochi to attend the Snake Boat Race, I had some time to explore the city. I chose to visit a few temples and on top of my list was ancient Chottanikkara Bhagwati Temple.
The temple is a very popular temple in Kerala that best known for curing the mental illness of people who pray here.
Who Is Chottanikkara Devi?
Chottanikkara in its Sanskritized version would be Jyotikara – the one who enlightens. She is the Adi Parashakti addressed by common names like Bhagwati and Devi. She is the ultimate power, in whom live the three different manifestations of her – Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. No wonder she is worshipped in a white Sari in the morning as Saraswati and at noon as Mahalakshmi in bright red Sari with elaborate Shringar. In the evening she is worshipped as Mahakali or Durga draped in blue. I visited the temple in the morning and got to see the Saraswati Swaroop.
Mookambika Saraswathi of Kollur is believed to be present in the temple in the mornings. Mookambika Temple doors are opened only after the Goddess Saraswathi returns there late morning.
The story goes that Adi Shankaracharya wanted to bring Sharadaamba to Kerala and he meditated on a hill. Goddess obliged him and followed him on the condition that he will not look back. Adi Shankara kept track of the sound of anklets. When he could not hear the anklets, he stopped and looked back. The place was Kollur and Devi decided to stay there. On intense pleading, she agreed to visit the Chottanikkara temple every morning. This is how she is worshipped in a white Sari here every morning.
Recommended Read – Biography of Adi Shankaracharya
Chottanikkara Temple Kochi
Located little outside the city of Kochi, in its Southern suburbs, the temple is built in a typical Kerala architecture using wood primarily. It must have been a wooded area once upon a time but now it is pretty much an urban location.
Temple complex has two Bhagwati temples at two different levels besides some smaller temples.
Main Chottanikkara Devi Temple
This is the fairly large temple with a lot of open ground. Here the presiding deity of the temple is worshipped along with her consort Narayana. This gives the impression that her main Swaroop worshipped here is that of Mahalakshmi.
The main deity is in Laterite stone also called Rudraksha Shila in Sanskrit. It is believed to be self-manifested. What you see is the golden cover that shows the human form of the deity with all her icons.
Next to Bhagwati Murti is the Vigraha of Mahavishnu and together they are called Ammenarayana, Devinarayana, Lakshminarayana, and Bhadrenarayana You would find devotees chanting – Amme Narayana Badre Narayana. Other deities present along with them are Brahma, Siva, Ganesh, Subramanya, and Sastha.
This is an old temple located at a level below the main temple and connected via a flight of stairs. There is a temple pond located between the two.
The presiding deity at this temple is Bhadrakali.
I am told this is a very powerful Puja called Guruthi Pooja is done in the evenings, especially on Friday at this temple. Guruthi means sacrifice, but these days it is food that is offered as part of this puja. It is supposed to have a therapeutic impact on women suffering from mental problems or even schizophrenia. People who feel impacted by evil spirits also visit this temple.
This old temple has very restless energy around it. You can literally sense it. You see many mentally challenged people sitting around the temple. I am not sure if the sight of those people makes you feel helpless or the general energy there, but I sensed very restless energy around this temple. I could not stay there for more than a few minutes, while I usually end up spending a lot of time at the temples.
The trees around the temple are full of thick and long nails. It is believed when the mentally sick people get cured here, usually after praying at the temple for 41 days, they put a nail here. As per the temple website, these nails are hammered by the patients themselves with their foreheads.
Small cradles, just like the ones I saw at Trincomalee Koneswara Temple in Sri Lanka, are also seen on the trees. These are probably put by people wishing for children.
Vedi Vazhipadu or bursting of fire Crackers is a unique ritual at this temple. It is a kind of Puja that people do at this temple. People buy a ticket for this puja and someone bursts crackers on their behalf. A couple of hours that I was at the temple, I could hear crackers continuously. They almost felt like gunshots.
It happens closer to the steps connecting the two temples.
Chottanikkara Temple Festivals
Being a Devi temple, Navaratri is the biggest festival celebrated in the temple. I am told there are a lot of musical concerts, dance performances hosted in the temple along with all the special pujas and celebrations.
Makam Thozhal is the annual bathing ritual of the deity when she visits the temple pond and then goes on a procession with seven elephants. I am sure it would be a great visual to see the procession of decked up elephants.
The authorized temple shop next to the main temple sells the used items of the temple like oil lamps and the Saris worn by the deity. All the things used in the prayers at the temple are precious to the devotees of the Devi. I have never seen a shop like this anywhere else in any temple.
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There are a few shops located between this temple and the Old Kavu temple downstairs where you can buy all kinds of artifacts. The popular items being the pictures of Chottanikkara Amman.
Strictly no photography is allowed in the temple. So, you see only a few images of the temple on the Internet or temple website too.