Kerala has more than twenty thousand temples dotting its landscape. From afar, the only sign that marks a typical Kerala temple will be a tall ceremonial flag-mast. This humble scale, an ensemble of simplicity has much to do with the fact that temples here are merged with nature. Being less prone to historic attacks, Kerala’s consecrated sites have a truly distinct feel. As a guide and storyteller to these fascinating places of worship, this article tries to bring out the glory of it all.
From a temple where the presiding deity is crowned emperor with royals functioning as regents to a temple where the goddess is worshipped in three different forms every day, we have fascinating stories to narrate about the temples of Kerala.
While most temples in this region are built in honour of Shiva and Vishnu, the Serpant Gods and Dharmashasta (Ayyappa) also have great importance when it comes to Kerala. This article on the temples of Kerala will discuss ten famous Kerala temples, legendary temple festivals, a couple ancient spiritual circuits and share some practical tips along the way. Before we start, let us give you some context on the regional temple architecture.
Kerala’s temples are primarily wooden structures that stress horizontal lines rather than tall towers and pillars you would discover in other parts of India. Mostly built during the 15th and 16th centuries, the mural art depicting episodes from Hindu mythology are generally seen on the outer walls of the inner sanctum. The sloping roofs and circular design are elegant solutions to suit Kerala's climatic conditions.
While the artists of Tamilnadu showed their skill on stone by carving magnificent and ornamental sculptures, their counterparts in Kerala had wood as their medium and produced intricate workmanship on simple structures closely integrated with the environment
Kerala’s temples have a distinct space as a social welfare centre, cultural preserver and a site which deeply touch the spiritual facet of local people’s life. Interestingly, the temples have been able to preserve its role making it a truly rewarding travel experience to feel at close quarters. Let us discover insider stories of some of the most famous temples in Kerala starting at Rajarajeshwaram.
Amongst the most prominent shrines in South India, the installation of the Jyothirlinga here is associated with the celebrated sage Agasthya. The traditions in this temple are unique as the lord is worshiped in transcendental form. Unlike other Shiva temples, thulasi leaf is used instead of bilwa leaf, no Dhaara or rudrabhishekam is conducted and even shivarathri has no special significance here. Instead, the sanctum gleams surrounded by an array of deepams (lamps) hanging all around with a golden Kalash (pot) placed at the dome. Ghee pots called Neyyamrithu is the offering here. It is used in daily rituals and to light the ever burning lamp in the sanctum. One can experience the vibrant spiritual power of Lord Rajarajeshwara, the Emperor of emperors.
The jyothirlingam in this unique shrine is worshipped with presence of Lord Shiva as the supreme transcendental power and Goddess Lakshmi together. It is a symbolic amalgamation of both spiritual and material fortunes for the mortal seeker.
The shrine is located in Taliparamba, Kannur.
This ancient shrine under the patronage of a Brahmin family is dedicated to the serpant god- Nagaraja and beloved consorts Sarpa Yakshi and Naga Yakshi. While there is no historical account, the mythology states that the temple was founded by Parashurama. At Mannarasala, barren women are believed to be blessed with children and a special turmeric paste available at the shrine is credited with curative powers.
Nestled in a forest glade, this ancient shrine is probably the most famous and largest amongst Serpant God or Nagaraja temples in Kerala
The temple is located at Haripad in Alapuzha District. Mannarasala Aayilyam in October/November is the most celebrated time to visit the temple.
This iconic landmark after which the city of Thiruvananthapuram is named dates back to the 8th century. Its religious relevance can be gauged from its mention in puranic texts and also as one of the 108 sacred Vishnu temples in India. The temple uniquely incorporates architectural styles from Tamilnadu and Kerala with pillared corridors, its golden mandap and large collection of mural paintings. Lord Vishnu is seen here in ‘Ananthasayanam’, a rare reclining posture on a hooded serpant. The main idol is 18 feet long and can be viewed through three different doors.
Padmanabhaswamy temple is the richest Hindu shrine in the world in terms of assets and is by far the wealthiest place of worship of any kind in the recorded history of the world.
The temple is located in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala.
The worship of Shastha forms part of the unique aspects of South Indian belief system. Sabarimala Lord Ayyappan/Dharmashastha is a brahmachari in a state of eternal bliss holding the ‘chinmudra’. The myth goes that in the 12th century, a prince of Pandalam dynasty (considered an avatar of Ayyappan) meditated at the temple and became one with the divine. The worship system here is very different from other temples in Kerala. The temple is open only for a few specified days a year. Pilgrims have to follow a fast for 41 days to cleanse their minds before taking the arduous forest path to the temple. Currently, entry is not allowed to women between 10 and 50 years of age.
Situated in the serene mountain ranges, the Dhasmasastha shrine at Sabarimala is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world with an estimated over 100 million visiting devotees
The famous hill shrine located 72 km from Pathanamthitta town, 191 km from Thiruvananthapuram and 210 km from Kochi in the state of Kerala. The sannidhanam (temple) is open to devotees only during mandalapooja (November to January), makaravilakku , vishu and the beginning of every month in the malayalam calendar.
Talking of Tamil influence, they are the most innovative temple builders in this part of the world. Does a tour covering the temples of Kerala & Tamilnadu interest you?
Vaikom Mahadeva temple is unique in many respects, one among which being that it was historically held in reverence by both Shaivaite and the Vaishnavaite cult. The story of Ramayana is sculptured on the inner roof of this Shiva temple. The presiding Shivling here is believed to have been established in the ‘Treta Yuga’ with mentions in various ancient Sanskrit texts. The road outside the temple was the venue of the ‘Vaikom Satyagraha’ which made way for entry of all castes to the hindu temples.
This Shiva temple is considered one of the oldest shrines in Kerala where Pooja has not been broken since inception. Needless to mention that it is amongst the most revered temples of the region
Vaikom Mahadeva Temple is located around 31 km from Kottayam in Kerala. The temple is popular for its elephant pageants and traditional art performances during its annual 12 day Vaikkath Ashtami fest (November/December)
Guruvayoor, known as “Bhuloka Vaikunda”, the abode of Lord Vishnu on Earth is a famed Shri Krishna Temple in South India. The temple is of very traditional nature with strict dress codes and entry only to Hindus. Another attraction of the temple is the mural paintings on the walls which have a story to tell. Elephants are an integral part of the temple with the annual festival here beginning with an elephant race. Along with visiting the temple, it is considered customary to visit the adjoining Mammiyoor Shiva temple.
Guruvayoor is one of the most important places of worship for Hindus of Kerala and is often referred to as "Bhuloka Vaikunta" which translates to the "Holy Abode of Vishnu on Earth".
Located in Thrissur (Kerala), it is hardly a couple of hours from Kochi. Janmashtami (August), Vishu (April) and the 10 day annual festival (Feb-March) are the most important days of worship at Guruvayoor
Already thinking of a trip to Kerala's Temples? Check out our customisable tour package designed on this spiritual circuit.
With myths and stories associated with every inch of the temple, Chottanikkara Bhagawathy Temple is an embodiment of divine healing and spiritual prowess. A classic example of the wooden sculpture tradition of Kerala, this is one of the most revered places in Kerala. The complex comprises of two temples, Melekkavu and Keezkkavu. While the former temple is of Rajarajeshwari (Chotaanikkara Amma), the latter, a few steps downwards, is the site of Bhadrakali. Devotees throng the temple to get themselves rid of the evil influences of spirits and demons. The Melekkavu temple deity changes form through the day which is also visible in the deity embellishments.
Besides being a classic example of wooden sculpture, this temple dedicated to Goddess Bhagavati has this fascinating tradition of worshiping the deity in three different forms
The Chotanikkara shrine is located about 22 km from Kochi. Thiruvonam, Navarathri Aghosham, Vrishchika Mandala Mahotsavam, Makom Thozhal and Ramayana Masam are the main festivals celebrated in the temple.
This ancient Shiva temple that is believed to be constructed in the 7th century is fortified in a stone wall enclosing nearly 9 acres. With traditional gopurams in the four cardinal directions, this complex has three principal shines dedicated to Shiva or Vadakkumnathan, Sankaranarayana and Rama. Mural paintings depicting various episodes from Mahabharata can be seen inside the temple. A striking feature of the temple is the Kuttambalam which display vignettes carved in wood and is a theatre hall for staging dramatic art form Kuttu. The temple, along with the mural paintings, has been declared as a National Monument by India
Arguably the grandest amongst the ‘Kerala-style’ architectural temples, this vast fortified complex also plays host to the world famous Thrissur Pooram and the spectacular fireworks which the event prides itself in
The temple opens as early as 3:00 am and is located in the heart of Thrissur town (90 km north of Kochi). The Thrissur Pooram which happens in April is the biggest temple festival on the social calendar of Kerala.
Constructed in characteristic Kerala architectural style, the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple is an ancient Hindu temple that was constructed between 15th and 17th century. This temple has a connection with Guruvayur Krishna Temple as it served as a haven for the idol of Krishna from Guruvayoor Temple during Tipu Sultan’s raids of 1789. The idol has Parthasarthi with a whip in the right hand and a Shankhu (conch) in the left hand. The inner walls of Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple have paintings of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu the Dasavatharam
Built in the typical Kerala architectural style, the Ambalappuzha Sree Krishna Temple is famous all over India for Palpayasam, a daily offering of deliciously sweet milk porridge.
The temple is located at 14 km away from Alapuzha in the heart of Ambalapuzha town. The boat race is during June-July.
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This centre of worship and faith follows many unique practices and rituals, and the temple architecture itself stands testimony to this aspect. The Parassinikadavu Muthappan Temple on the banks of the Valapatnam River promotes the essence of "Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (The whole world is one family) and attracts people from all sections of the society; irrespective of religion or caste. In Parassinikadavu we can see two idols together; the first wears fish shaped crown representing lord Vishnu and the later wears a green crown with a crescent moon representing lord Shiva. The origin of the temple is connected with the appearance of a child and a string of miraculous incidents that took place in the region.
This is one of the most unorthodox of Hindu shrines which does not follow Satvic Brahmanical form of worship. Here, you not only pray but also interact with a ‘Live’ God through a ritual enactment called Muthappan Theyyam which is performed daily.
The temple is located 20 km from Kannur, northern Kerala. The Muthappan Thiruvoppana Mahothsavam (Feb/March) and Puthari Thiruvappana festival (Dec/Jan) are special times to visit.
While the above section broadly covers some famous temples, no article on the temples will be complete without a mention of some unique ancient centres of worship and some remarkable temple festivals which mark the calendar year. Read On!
The centrality of temple tourism to the Kerala traveller goes way beyond these ten famous Kerala temples. We couldn’t possibly do justice to all the temples of the region. However, there are some ancient heritage temples that we would like to briefly cover in this context and also some of the famous temple related festivals.
Thriprayar Rama Temple
Ananthapura Lake Temple
When it comes to temples, it is about heritage, art forms, belief systems, architecture and lifestyle all wound together in a multi-dimensional experience. Each time we go or hear about experiences of travellers we feel it just get more layered.
Unlike sightseeing destinations, the temples are living museums and that is why even the experiences end up having dimensions beyond what can ever be planned for.
We hope you found this article useful for your travel planning. Do share your thoughts with us by commenting below. Words can only do so much; the rest is for you to experience. Your moment is waiting!
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