This post is part of a series on the Kokila Sandeśa of Uddaṇḍa Ṥāstri, to read the introduction click here. An edition of the poem with an English translation will be released shortly by Rasāla, a kāvya imprint I have just set up. Please click here for more details or get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixty five kilometres down the coast, the koel reaches the land of Prakāśa, literally the ‘bright’ land, from which Kālī herself has been tamed by the continuous Vedic recitation. This is the stretch in between the towns of Tirur and Ponnani, through which the huge Nīlā or Bharatapuzha river flows out into the Arabian ocean.
There are three temples that the hero bids his messenger visit as he flies through. The first is the temple of Ṥiva which the poet calls Ṥvetāraṇya and is today known as Thripangode temple. Ṥiva is worshipped as Mṛtyuñjaya, ‘conqueror of death’, because it was here that he dispatched Yama, god of death, in a towering rage, as the local priest explains:
The sage Mṛkaṇḍa, who lived next to the nearby Tirunavaya temple, was a great devotee of Ṥiva’s and in response to his prayer for a son, he was offered the classic choice – a boy glorious but short-lived or ordinary but long-lived. Like others, he chose the former and was blessed with a perfect son, Mārkaṇḍeya, who was destined to live until the age of 16. On his 16th birthday, Yama came to take Mārkaṇḍeya. The boy first ran to Viṣṇu in the Tirunavaya temple but Viṣṇu urged him to turn to Ṥiva for protection. He ran the three kilometres to the Ṥiva temple – right through the centre of a huge al tree that stood in front of the temple and which split in half to let him through – and embraced the Ṥivaliṅga. Yama, in hot pursuit, hurled his deadly noose which settled around the liṅga Mārkaṇḍeya was hugging. Incensed at this attack on his devotee and his very form, Ṥiva rose in terrible anger out of the liṅga to slay Yama with his triśula or trident. Mārkaṇḍeya was saved – and lives on eternally as a 16 year old youth – and four new Ṥivaliṅgas sprung up to mark the three (large judging by the distance between each) steps the god had taken after killing Yama and the place where he then settled, which thereafter became the main temple.
To the right, just outside the temple gate, is a moss-covered pond in which Ṥiva washed his bloody triśūla.
The poem describes his blood-stained feet:
येनाक्रान्ते सति गिरिपतौ लोष्टमानास्यचक्र-
श्चक्रन्दाधःकृतभुजवनो रक्षसां चक्रवर्ती॥1.71
Worship Ṥambhu’s lotus feet, stained red from trampling on Yama’s chest, which Parvatī massages with her hands. It was these feet which made the rakṣasa king cry out, squashed as he was beneath the mountain lord, his many heads heaped up in a circle and his clustering arms crushed to the ground.
The Mṛtyuñjaya-homa remains one of the two most important rituals at the temple. It is perhaps to this rite that the poet refers when he talks of how a glimpse at the god’s face here secures a devotee freedom from death.
The last shrine devotees visit as they do their circuit of the temple is dedicated to Navamukunda, the Viṣṇu of the neighbouring Tirunavaya temple. Here they give thanks to Viṣṇu for directing Mārkaṇḍeya to Ṥiva.
The Tirunavaya Navamukunda temple – which Uddaṇḍa calls Nāvākṣetra – is next on the koel’s route. This spot is called Trimūrtisaṅgamasthāna – the spot where all three forms of God come together – because in addition to the Viṣṇu temple there is a (rare) Brahma temple and a Ṥiva temple on the opposite bank of the river, both of which are clearly visible from Tirunavaya. It is also an important spot for pitṛ-karman rites (as was Thirunelly) which are held on certain days of the year and attract lakhs of pilgrims, but the temple’s main claim to fame is the Mamankam festival that used to be held here. The temple stands right on the northern bank of the Nīlā river, just a few kilometres from the river’s mouth, and was thus perhaps a logical place to hold a festival whose mythical origins and divine significance pale in comparison to its influence on trade and politics.
The festival traces its roots back to a 28-day concord of the gods, convened by Bṛhaspati once every 12 years. It was at originally called Mahāmāgha, the great (festival) of the month of Māgha, which in the vernacular became Mamankam. An article written by the current Zamorin of Calicut (see Calicut post) in 2006 notes that it is difficult to ascertain the date of the first festival. At any rate by the 9th century AD, when the famous Ceraman Perumal divided up his kingdom and ran away to Mecca, the festival seems to have become a sort of royal election in which the surrounding kings would meet, discuss the performance of the last ruler’s 12 year term, and pick a new leader. The Valluvanad kings inherited the temple overlordship, and thus control of the festival. According to the current Zamorin’s account, his forbears, despite their great power and wealth, were unable to beat the Valluvanad king and sought to discover the source of his great strength. On learning that it was the royal family god at Angadipuram who rendered him invincible, the Zamorin prayed to this same god and was soon victorious in what are now referred to as the Tirunavaya wars in the fourteenth century. Thus the Zamorins won control of this temple and the politically and commercially important festival.
Instead of coming to pay his respects to the Zamorin as overlord as other local leaders did, the defiant Valluvanad raja sent four leading men to kill the Zamorin. They were duly killed by the Zamorin’s guards but it became a tradition for the men of these families to attempt this assassination at every festival, both to avenge their fathers’ and grandfathers’ deaths as well as to reclaim overlordship from the Zamorin. British accounts of these attempts – which never succeeded – describe the tragic suicide missions. The festival continued until the 18th century when Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan attacked Kerala and sacked the Tirunavaya temple. The temple was rebuilt by one of the Zamorins – both the Tirunavaya and Tripangode temples still fall under the Zamorins, along with 30 other temples in this region.
For the hero, though, the Mamankam festival of his patron (which he suggests will be in full swing when the koel visits; although Māgha is in śiśira, the season that precedes vasanta, so even if it happened to be the right year the timing is slightly off) is of mainly of interest because it will have brought his wife here, along with many other Keralan ladies.
साकं कान्तैर्मिलति ललितं केरलीनां कदम्बे
मत्प्रेयस्याः प्रियसख महामाघसेवागतायाः।
पायं पायं मुखपरिमलं मोहनं यत्र मत्ताः
प्रायोऽद्यापि भ्रमरकलभा नैव जिघ्रन्ति पद्मान्॥ 1.73
As a gaggle of Kerala ladies tremblingly meet their lovers, I know that right now the boisterous bees, driven wild as they drink again and again of the intoxicating scent of my wife’s mouth – for she too will have come for the Mahāmāgha festival – won’t even notice the lotus’ fragrance.
The original Ṥivaliṅga at Triprangode is said to have been constructed in the 9th century and is decorated with beautiful but crumbling murals – restoration would cost 4 lakhs so they are being left to deteriorate.