Chothanikkara enshrines Bagavathi — the mother Goddess
Chothanikkara enshrines Bagavathi — the mother Goddess, one of the most popular deities in Kerala. The town of Chothanikkara is located near the city of Ernakulam. Enroute is the Poornathraseeya (deity Santhana Gopalakrishnan — manifestation of Lord Krishna) temple at Tripunithura, a neighbouring town. Rajarajeshwari (Bagavathi) is the presiding deity here and this place became famous because of the Devi temple and it is a highly regarded religious pilgrimage center of Kerala state.
I felt the importance of writing about Chothanikkara Devi and Her grace for the benefit of those readers who have not heard of the divine mother and Her glory. Furthermore, our Swami is none else but the embodiment of this Devi. We have already seen how Devi merged in Swami in the earlier chapter on Swami's life history. He actually saw the divine form of Devi on a lady named Sivakamasundari (an ardent devotee of Devi and a very close associate whom he knew her from his childhood) when he fell down and went into a trance at the footsteps of Chothanikkara temple. In the initial years, after completing his ekantha pooja at 5.25 am, Swami used to go to Sivakamasundari's house in Mayavaram to pay his obeisance to Devi every morning since in her, Swami felt Devi's presence. Swami had requested Sivakamasundari to receive him very early in the morning. She had agreed and would wait for him outside everyday at the specified time. Since she was pretty old, her children and relatives started feeling that she was put into unnecessary inconvenience for Swami's sake and started preventing her from getting up early and waiting for him. Initially she was a little reluctant but over a period of time she also started feeling as to why she should wait for him. From then on, she would make him to wait for long time to accept his salutation to her. Swami was hurt. At this stage he began to feel the face he was seeing in the lit lamp during his pooja. He could actually touch the face on the lamp and feel the flesh. Moreover, the lamp flame would not burn his skin. Thus he knew Devi was in him and hence stopped going to see Sivakamasundari.
For about three years, he did not meet her though he was going to their neighbour's house. Thus when he started feeling Ambal (Goddess) in him and talking to her in his house, he started seeing Sivakamasundari as an ordinary mortal. Later after three years when she happened to meet Swami at a function, she asked him the reason for his avoiding her. He told her that he could see and feel Devi in him through his divine vision and he did not like the idea of making Devi wait at the doorsteps of her house. Further, he told her that since he started seeing Devi in him, he felt no need to visit her house. The fact remained that she behaved like an ordinary mortal when he was considering her as Devi.
The greatness of this temple and the historical legend behind the Devi are described in this section of the book, for the benefit of readers who are not aware of this temple. The idol of Devi is untouched by any human sculptor; it is of irregular shape and covered by a golden kavacham. The idol has four arms. The upper right holds the discus, the left a conch. This deity is worshipped in three different forms as Saraswathi (Goddess of learning and knowledge) in the morning, draped in white; as Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) at noon draped in crimson and as Durga (goddess of power and strength) in the night decked in blue. Adjacent to this idol in the sannadhi is an idol of Vishnu in granite. Vishnu and Bagavathi together are referred to as Lakshmi Narayana. Devotees address the deity as Amme Narayana, Devi Narayana, Lakshmi Narayana, Badre Narayana. Interestingly, the idol here is not fixed to the ground but mounted on loose sand. Water offered during abhishekam percolates underground.
There is also a shrine to Sastha (Lord Ayyappa) depicting him with his consorts, Purna and Pushkala. In front of the shrine is the flagstaff and the balipeetam, to the south, is a platform known as a pavazha mallithara where the deity is believed to have appeared first. To the southwest is a shrine to Lord Siva. To the northeast there is a flight of steps leading to the keezhkavu, a shrine to Durga (Bhadra Kali). Adjacent to the temple office in the front, there is a sannadhi known as kakasseri mandapam where a little lamp continuously burns. This kakasseri siddhar sage (Narayana Prandaiyar) was very dear to the Devi. The illustrations and the significance of this sannadhi and Sri Kakasseri have been described separately in a chapter.
In the keezhkavu shrine is a palaa tree. It has hundreds of nails driven into its trunk as a mark of all the devotees that have been exorcised here. Worship here is believed to rid devotees of evil influences, psychological ailments and evil spirits. Most of the structure in this temple is a result of renovation carried out by the Government of Cochin in the late 19th century.
The legend and legacy of this Devi narrated below are based on Swami's discourse to a gathering during one of the Dassera festivals.
According to Swami, at the end of each yuga (in Hindu mythology), the whole world, its entire creations, the demigods, personal gods and all the different manifestations of God come to an end and cease to exist. The only one that remains is the Divine Mother (Aadi Parashakthi) who has no beginning and no end, who is beyond space, time and causation. The manifestations of Devi, Chamundeswari (temple in Mysore, Karnataka state) and Mukambikai (temple at Kollur, Karnataka) are responsible for the creation and upkeep of the new world. Let us now see the legend behind Chothanikkara Devi.
Long ago there lived a ferocious dacoit by name Kannappan who held sway over the area of Chothannikkara. He used to slaughter one cow per day as a sacrificial offering to his personal god (Devi). Once when he went for hunting, he came across a lonely baby girl in the forest, and he brought her up, showering lots of love and affection on her. The baby grew up as a little girl and had a pet calf, which she used to feed, play with and spend most of her time. The calf became her companion. One day, when Kannappan could not get any other cow for the sacrifice to Devi, he decided to take this calf instead. The little girl became very upset and pleaded with him to sacrifice her instead of her pet calf. The hunter was so devoted to Devi that he felt his inability to fulfill the sacrifice would incur sin and curse. He was in deep mental anguish and not knowing what to do he threw the knife into the girl's neck. At that instant a miracle occurred. The girl suddenly turned into the same divine Devi form that the hunter was worshipping all along. The divine voice said that she was very satisfied with the hunter's ardent devotion but asked him to refrain from killing cows as a sacrifice thereafter. Littering these words, Devi disappeared. The hunter was overwhelmed and frightened. Soon he fell asleep. He saw a sage with a calf in the dream. The minute he opened his eyes, he went towards the girl to know the significance of his dream.
But alas, the girl had turned into a stone statue of Devi near the calf. He got terrified and let out a scream. At that time he could hear the divine voice of Devi saying that she would follow him and be with him in his next birth also.