Thursday, June 15, 2006


Tell someone you've been to Ch*ottanikara, they'll ask so you saw the possessed! Truthfully the place is more than that. There is something very divine about the place, something very humane and peaceful amidst the occasional drama that takes place there.

the view on the wayHosted on Zooomr

The first time I'd gone there few years back, I'd arrived during the afternoon seeveli and as you hear the sounds of the percussion (the use a few different ones including the panchavadyam) you here cries as the possessed make their way behind the procession led by the temple elephant. For the first time viewer it looks a bit bizarre and for the untrained ears you don't hear the chants. You're perplexed by the sight in front of you, wondering which era you are in. It takes familiarity to brush this image away. What you do realise walking in the first time is some strong vibration strikes you and the tingling of your skin.

Ch*ottanikkara enshrines Bhagawati and is located near the city of Ernakulam.

The suyambu deity is normally covered with a gold kavacam. This deity is worshipped in three different forms - as Saraswati in the morning - draped in white, as Bhadrakali at noon draped in crimson, and as Durga in the evening decked in blue.

There's another shrine below the temple where you'll also find a tank.

We were told its good to fast at least a day and spend the whole time at the temple so we did.You might wonder wasn't I bored, let me tell you the amount of walking you have to do up and down the temple and poojas you have to see, plus the interesting things that go on, you don't really get bored.

The rules were you had to see all the changes of the deity, the poojas, seevelis (procession around temple usually with an elephant - read for more info) and the last ur*uthi pooja at the k*eezhkaavu.

So in the middle of the morning (3am ish) we woke up a bunch of blur and ever sully staff (more on that later) and checked out of our hotel. The first pooja was at about 4 am where you get to see the devi without the kavasam, then later with the kavasam and as Saraswati then in poo alangaram then as Bhadrakali and finally in the evening as Durga. There's a 3 round seeveli in the afternoon and a 9 round one in the night.

After seeing the devi shrine and the shiva shrine at the top temple, you head down to the temple at the bottom. Now in the day the place looks really beautiful. There's a midway 4 pillar structure where people sometimes get married at if they don't hold the ceremony at the small hall in front of the temple.

Before you reach the temple you'll find the tank right in the middle of the steps. Pretty interesting location. There's a legend behind the tank about a demon plus a lot more history regarding how the temple came to be. The idol is quite ancient and was forgotten for a few hundred years before it was rediscovered as it had been predicted.

Now if you go around the temple below you'll find a tree covered with little dolls and iron nails from all the de-possesing that goes on here. Actually you don't see anything being done. But i was told their recovery varies from 1 week to 40 weeks to sometimes years depending on how much they want to recover. On your way back you'll find a sashta temple.

Since I was the youngest of the group, I don't know how many times I was made to run up and down the steps to get things from this bookstore midway down the steps. That's when my best friend in kerala turns up to surprise me! Who else MR Vedi of course! Bah the guy at the counter had a good laugh watching me jump hearing the sound and it happened 2!!!

Anyway at the times you're not running up and down or at a pooja you're to sit somewhere quietly and chant. I took it as an opportunity to update my journal and read the books about the temples I'd been to. Also you end up watching the people around you. There are very interesting characters.


Right in the middle of the hall in front of the temple, there's this huge scale. People of all age come and sit on it and pay in bananas or br*ownsugar (vehlam is a famous offering here as it is used to make a tasty payasam) in their weight. Once the weight is reached, the person gets lifted to a balanced height and from there they will be able to see the devi inside the temple and the temple below. Its very interesting to watch. The bananas are recycled, probably to stop wastage. My theory is the amount of weight needed normally depended on the persons character. Everyone would come and quietly sit there and very small amount is needed to reach the height. One small lady comes with her husband and starts demanding around. "Place only this huge green bananas for me and the yellow one for my husband."

Though the husband needed only a normal amount, it took every green banana in the pile to lift the small thin women. Wonders cease to exist. I wasn't the only curious one watching the scale dance up and down. Kids would come and swing it with a curious look like this kid trying to make sense of this weird contraption.

IMG_3294chotaniHosted on Zooomr

The possessed people, mostly women but some men and children. You can see that some of them are genuinely possessed but some I think have long been cured but seems to enjoy this life where all they do is laze around. Why am I saying that? Well there was one gal who was there with her mom, she's very aware of her surroundings, pointing out things to people. Her mom was complaining (to no one specifically) when are you going to get well, we have to go back. I guess the thought of going back to a low income job does not appeal to her, as basically life at the temple is a breeze. You pray, pay a min amount get the afternoon rice (just plain rice which you're supposed to eat and nothing else besides fruits), life probably couldn't be easier. People don't just leave their family members here as each possessed person must be accompanied by a family member. There was also this lady and her husband. She too was one of those people you could see was acting. Pity the husband though, having to put up with all these.

But there are the sad stories. This small boy and his father. I think the kid was mentally disturbed and you'd find the father coaxing the kid to chant and he would after a few tries. Poor kid was being bullied by the first gal I had written about, she was quite a weird one. I was sipping water when she comes to me and tells me to hand it over. I actually did, and she had the habit of doing this to a few ppl around.

There was also a very old lady there, the only one who was alone. Hers was a case of obsessive devotion. She could always be seen talking to god loudly. Ama I'm here, your devotee is here and she'd start chanting again. There was a family who had come with their father who was the victim and suddenly he went missing. Poor gal started crying, having lost her father, thankfully later they found him.

Come the afternoon seeveli and the evening one, the once calm ladies and men will start screaming and dancing to the sound of the panchamelam. Right after the music stops they become normal.

What's interesting about the temple is devotion didn't come with a heavy price. There was no special entrance, there was no different prayer prices and no one scratched their heads wanting money. Given we have some invisible foreign tag on us (people in india can really stare both women and men), we're often bugged with such things, but though they knew we weren't local, we weren't.

When I was there we got to see 2 weddings, families would gather around and bless the couple as the short ceremony was done to the sounds of the melam before the next couple took their place. Blushing brides in their finery and joyous grooms surrounded by family. Another popular ceremony was the chooruthal, where the baby would be fed its first rice. So many kids came for this. Small babies wrapped in tiny veshtis and pavadais are a sight to behold.

I must tell you about the temple elephant, he is such a cute thing. Most interesting is he is so attuned to rhythm and music. You'll find him swaying exactly to the beat of the chant or music with a smile on his face while swinging his trunk again in beat to the music. Amazing elephant.

I tried taking so many shots of the seeveli procession, this was the best shot. Somehow it never fell into picture. Right after this the head priest locks up the main temple and everyone heads down to watch the uru*thi pooja. Its where kunkumam is diluted in water and offered which is later given as prasadam. Its done in an enclosed area so that the victims would not be able to enter as this is time there are the most active, running around screaming and trying to escape, what's interesting is none of them are able to leave the area.

What is most bewitching is the sound of the panchamelam. Truly for a percussion lover, this music is heaven. The sound is so captivating, resonating through your mind, changing in tempo, suddenly escalating in speed just as fast as your heartbeat rises and then they stop, exhausted yet energized by the sound.


krk said...

i love the concept of reflections in photography..nice picture...

Me said... i sleepy or did i see a diff pic few minutes ago...

My days(Gops) said...

unga post'la vara (1st) pictures ellamey classic'a irruku....
chance'ey illa visith..

@huge scale:- u mean "thula baaram"? i hav seen too in "Srirangam temple" in my place...

@Mr.Vedi:- paatheengala....thiumbi'um jump panni irrukeengaley?
btw, elephant kitta "aasirvaadham" vaangunelaa?

@football:- hey u, u predicted quite well @2-1 score (supposed to be, but trinidad's goal is half side..and england scored their first goal with beckam's kick..
did u watchd the match?

Gladtomeetin said...

Yes, Very True...I have jus been there only once, but as u said, the feeling and vibration is gr8....

Sivasankari, Are u hearing me...Memories ?!?

Nabeel said...

lovely capture .. the colors are so vibrant .. and ofcourse the reflection :)

Balaji said...

what a wonderful picture! kerala enikku valara ishtamaanna :)

Keshi said...

theres something so divine abt every place in India! So beautiful and magical...


Shiv said...

Not just one or two....Loads of them....Me back to r old photos in my album..Miss chotanikkarai..

Nice write up Visit..Too gud

sophie said...

wow...awesome writeup

Anonymous said...

Lovely as usual, your pictures and commentary. I agree with you on the effects of hearing the panchamelam. Even though I haven't heard this sound in ages I can still hear it in my mind. Reading your blog creates a feeling of accompanying your family on this trip.
Hope your weekend is wonderful.:- )

Jeevan said...

Nice to read, Some used to tell, if we chick the flash form your camera on the elephant, to take photo, it will get matham. first photo was beautiful:)

Usha said...

aha. so that is the significance of chotanikara! I didn't know that - i had heard of a narasimha temple in Tamilnadu also which is supposed to have similar powers.
And now I understand why the hotel owner was worried about you missing - you left at 3 a.m and didnt return!!
Loves the elephant's photo. nice decoration.

SamY said...

wow actually u should make a buk out of all this ... god u have patience :D

n br*ownsugar's got a better name ... its jaggery :D

visithra said...

Krk : welcome here ;)

me too ;) thanks

Me : lol i vote sleepy ;p heheh what were u doing? Humm

Mydays : choose pahni paste pahnrehnleh athan ;) thanks ;)

i think so - im not sure whats it called - ure from srirangam? Like thennavan?

Yep enna pahne - ipdhi vedi pothu keralaleh bully pahnrange - bah!

No no me no like elephant asirvadham - ;)

ahem my predictions are normally very good - i can predict who will win normally ;p but just few hours before the game not before that

cheh offside goal pohtu enna
ehmathithangeh trinidad - of course i watched - did u watch the argentina game n ydays brazil one? Wow argentina was superb 6 goals!! N brazil second half was good n there were moments ;)

visithra said...

Glad : aha u gals are same college is it? Oohhh tell tell me wants to read ;)

Nabeel : welcome here ;)

thanks - keralas like that ;)

Balaji : thanks ;) india enikku valara ishtamaanna :)

Keshi : exactly - cant get enough of it - i keep getting pulled there all the time ;)

Shiv : ahh story story i want to hear ;)

so do i get to hear/ read? Thanks shiv

Sophie : thanks ma how r u ;)

Aravind : thanks - good to see you coming back often ;)

ah i agree the sound probably will never leave u - ah thats what i was going for - glad ure enjoying the trip ;) my weekend was good - hope u have a goof one too ;)

visithra said...

Jeevan : thanks - they do? Ooh didnt know - thanks ;)

usha : yep - humm nver heard of that temple would like to know more

hehehe oh no - we got the place in the afternoon - left in the evening returned back at night and left early morning - he didnt see us at any of those times since his shop was closed - thanks well ull see more of those soon ;)

samy : well maybe lets see ;) hehehe would seem so - sometimes but not always ;)

jaggery?? Ooh didnt know - isnt that a sweet? Or is that jangery ;p

My days(Gops) said...

"Srirangam" Trichy'la thaan irruku... enga veetla irrundhu jst 6km thaaan..

@futbal:- nxt game'la unga prediction paarpom'la..
argentina 6goals sema comedy'a irrundhichi...
adhuvum 2nd half'la 4goals.....

brazil match nalla irrundhuchi..first goal=> superb tackling.."Ronalhdo palaya form poiye pochi"....

but ystdy's best match is "France vs South Korea"..
aiyo, right from the begining orey "tough fight" thaan...
France indha thadavaium "govinda govinda thaan"....

Keropok said...

Wow! Nice blog, cool pics.
I wandered in here. Stop by mine if you have time, we talk balls most of the time (always, in fact!)


visithra said...

Mydays : ooh nengeh apdhi pohringehla - so ure the other side of the river? Oohh nalla view iruhkumeh! - - thennavans blog

@futbal:- pahkalam pahkalam ;p adhutha match germany ecuador

cheh anthe argentina match kathe oreh soga kadhe - aprohm post pahnren nimmadhiya goal pohduradhu pahka vithangehla!
Antha 2nd half goals vandha enna comedy teriuma - was just telling my friend ihnoru goal pohta ill be the happiest person - 1 minute later there was a goal - the 5th one!

Yeah frist goal was classic -2nd was funny ;p - ah but i love how the play as if dancing - ronaldinho pinaleh irundhu sideku ball kick pahnade damn classic -

france ehpohvumeh govinda dhan etho one time win pahnathuku world great sohna othuka mudiyuhma?

Next spain tunisia ger ecu pahkanum - eng sweden prob will miss ;p

Keropok said...

Loving the Tamil too. Best use of Engligh and Tamil I remember from my grandmother "Road le car drive pennampoothe disturb panna kudhaadhu..."

Intha blog-le adi-kadi vanthal enooda Tamil romba improve aaghum...

My days(Gops) said...

exactly, the other side of the river..

yeah...ronaldhino andha corner'la side pass pannunadhu thaaney?
"playmaker"na summa'va?..everybody were talking abt tht pass only ystdy...angaiumaa? gud gud...

paarungalen..second round'la england vs germany vara of the biggest "exit" a paarkalam..

visithra said...

keropok : welcome here ;)

thanks ;) ah good wandering - wandering blogs is supposed to cure a few things but heighten football fever - sigh no cure for that but no ones looking are they ;p

hehee yeah u do nice blog by the way - had fun ;)

hehehe thanglish has its wonders - heheh grandmas cool ;)

hehehe improve agumna seri - kohlapahnithennu adhikadhi sohlrangehle ;p

but ingeh oru england fan rombeh positivah iruhkar avar team pinnaleh ;p

My days : oohh damn that would look so good for photos ;p hehe

athe ;p actually there was another one also - thats y we stay a brazil fan - coz they samba on the field ;) just taking the their group too easily me thinks

hehehe apdhinu nengeh sohlringeh - nangehlum exit than sohlrohm anna germany alla... Alla... Alla..... Will guess score then ;) sorry pa ;p

My days(Gops) said...

ya ya...enga aptment motta maadila irrundhu paartha... Srirangam Tower, Cauvery river, Tiruvanakoil Tower, Rockfort ellamey therium...

after brazil's first goal , samba dance step onnu potaanga paarunga..innum en mind'la leg cure aandhaku appuram will practice tht...
(vera edhuku? england next match'la goal score pannuna aaduradhuku thaaan....)

aiyo neengalumaa? ketaachi ketaachi..idhu madhiri pala per solli ketaachi...
dont waste ur sorry pa...
if i want, i'll ask u.. then u gimme...ok va....

he he he

visithra said...

Mydays : sorry late reply - intha comment marandhuthen then was sick

wow - avlohvum teriumma ? Nice nice

hehehe thats the baby cradle dance ;) athe nengeh than scoring ah ;p

nethu match superah irundadhu

hehehe seri against ecuador ehpadi vilaiyadurange phkalam