Find a spiritually inclined Malayali and talk to him about ‘Palpayasam”; and invariably the discussion will veer to Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple.
Located just 20 kms south of Alleppey, this Sree Krishna temple is believed to be one of the seven great shrines in the erstwhile Travancore State. These were Kanyakumari, Suchindram, Trivandrum, Haripad, Ambalapuzha, Ettumanoor and Vaikom.
Legend has it that, long back in time, Pooratam Thirunal Thampuran, the ruler of the area around Ambalapuzha (then called Champakasseri) was travelling
in a boat, accompanied by a sage, Vilwamangalam Swamiyar, when they heard the strains of the flute. The music emanated from under a peepul tree. The sage realised that it was the music of the Lord; and he and the Tampuran, prostrated themselves before the tree. The Thampuran wanted to build a Temple there, which he, subsequently, did. An idol of Sree Krishna, in black granite was carved out for installation. Unfortunately, just prior to the installation, the idol was found to be damaged on the left side, and hence unfit for installation. The ruler was very disappointed. However, on the advice of the sage again, the idol of Parthasarathy from a neighbouring place, Kurichi, was taken by force and handed over to the Thampuran on Moolam day of Mithunam (June-July). On Thiruvonam day, in the 1613 AD this idol was installed in the Temple.
The idol at Ambalapuzha certainly looks like Parthasarathy, with a whip in the right hand and a shankha on the left. But the deity is worshipped as Unnikrishnan.
Interestingly, during the invasion of Tipu in 1790 AD, the deity from the Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayoor, was taken to Ambalapuzha, for safe keeping. The spot where the deity was temporarily installed is known as Guruvayurambalam. Even today it is believed that Lord Krishna goes daily, at nivedyam time, to Ambalapuzha for ‘Palpayasam’.
The temple is also associated with the origin of the famous performing art form of Kerala – Ottamthullal. It is believed that legendary Malayalam poet Kalakkaththu Kunchan Nambiar created this unique art form in the Ambalappuzha Temple premises.
There is another myth associated with the introduction of paal payasam as a daily offering at the temple. The Thampuran (ruler) once borrowed some rice from a Brahmin. Thampuran could not repay the rice for a long span of time. The Brahmin demanded back the rice. Thampuran asked his minister to repay the debt, who managed to collect the required amount from households and asked the Brahmin to remove the paddy in one go from the place before the afternoon worship at the temple. The Brahmin was not able to remove the paddy. In the meantime, the shrine closed for its afternoon worship. Hence the brahmin donated all the paddy for making paal payasam. So, from this time this sweet porridge is distributed among the devotees. The porridge is golden in colour. The paal payasam is widely acclaimed for the taste. There was a time when the total quantity of milk at Ambalapuzha was procured for making payasam and the entire payasam was distributed free. Nowadays only a limited quantity is prepared and available for sale.
The ten-day festival commences on Atham day in Meenam (March-April) and ends on Thiruvonam day. The ninth day is famed for the Natakasala sadya, a feast for the traditional artists who play the percussion instruments.
The Ambalapuzha temple is linked with the Chundan boat race. This is so, because, it is widely believed that these boats were used to bring the present idol to the Temple. Take the scenic coastal road from Allapuzha and drive to the Ambalapuzha temple. A really serene beautiful temple. Don’t forget to partake of the Palpayasam. Taste heavenly, as they say