As you travel south from Allapuzha, along the serene West Coast, you are reminded of scenes from the famous Malayalam movie ‘Chemmeen’. Then you hit Haripad and turn inland. Green undulating paddy fields and scenic beauty. Soon you are at a place called Chengannur. Just south of Thiruvalla on the MC road. The town is built around a Mahadeva temple. This Mahadeva Temple by the western bank of the holy river Pamba is famous all over the world.
The presiding deity is Mahadeva, in the form of a Lingam facing East, while the image of His consort, Parvathy is located exactly behind, facing West. The temple is approached through a temple tower, built in Kerala style, and a golden flagstaff. There are shrines of other deities around the temple for Sastha and Ganapathy. The image of Bhagavathy is made of panchaloha.
The temple has a two storeyed gopuram with the upper storey having wooden trails covering the Kottupura (a hall of drum beating during festivals). The roof of the temple and some of the pillars have lavish wood and carvings depicting various stories of ancient epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
What makes this temple unusual, and unlike other temples, is that it attributes a human trait to the Divine – Parvathi menstruates here; and the duty of the head priest is to watch out for blood stains on her clothing every morning, when he removes the previous day adornments, and prepares for the fresh day pujas.
As always, there is a story behind this also. When all the Devas gathered together in the Himalayas for Lord Shiva and Parvathi’s wedding, Lord Brahma feared that the world would lose its balance. He sent Saint Agasthya to the South to balance the weight.
After the wedding, the newlyweds came to the southern bank of the Pamba river, where Agasthya was living, to pay their respects to him. Goddess Parvathi got her first period during this visit.
The temple was constructed, supposedly, on the spot in which the Saint resided. Shiva and Parvathi’s visit were special and so they became the deities in the Temple. But since a girl
attaining puberty is a moment to celebrate, that became the most important ritual of the temple.
Once a ‘blood stain’ is seen, the eldest woman of a Brahmin family, Thazman Matt, where the priests of the temple belong, is called upon to confirm if the Devi is indeed menstruating. If yes, then Parvathi’s idol is shifted into a small room off the sanctum sanctorum and the temple remains closed for four days.
Two women are deployed throughout the day as thozhi (helpers) and they will stay in front of the room of Devi during the four-day festival. On the fourth day, Parvathi’s idol is taken to the Pamba river for an ‘arrattu’ or bath. With pomp and splendor, the Devi is brought back to the temple where Lord Shiva’s idol awaits her at the entrance. The festival is called ‘Thriputharattu’. Parvathi ‘menstruates’ once in two or three months, but devotees say that until a few years ago, it used to be a monthly affair. I have not heard of this phenomenon for many years now, though, in my student days, this was quite normal occurrences.
Can an idol menstruate? The legend goes that a European officer, Colonel Munro poked fun at the ritual and stopped it. Soon his wife had intense pain and heavy bleeding. He was forced to restart the ritual.
In a place, like Kerala, where menstruating women are banished from temples for seven days; such a ritual, certainly, has an added significance.
As you travel along the Main Central Road from Angamaly to Thiruvananthapuram, do take a break at Chengannur and visit this famous temple.