I was on a trip to Ernakulam/ Fort Kochi, last month and was happy to be there in time for the Kochi Muziris Biennale. However, no trip is complete, if I don’t seek out places of worship around the area. Having grown up on the tenets of Sri Vaishnavism, the husband and I made time to visit the two Vishnu shrines that are part of the 108 Divya Desam temples. The Divya Desams are the 108 Vishnu temples, where the Tamizh Vaishnava Saints or Azhwars have sung the Lord’s praises in compositions known as the Nalayira Divya Prabandham. The Divya Desams in the Ernakulum district are the ThiruKatkarai Divya Desam, also known as the Vamana Kshetram, which I will describe in this post and Thirumoozhikulam Sree Lakshmanaperumal Temple in the next.
ThiruKatkarai Divya Desam: ThiruKatkarai or Thrikkakara is one of the few temples in India dedicated to Lord Vamana – the fifth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It is situated in Thrikkakara, located 10 kilometres north-east of Ernakulam. The name Thrikkakkara is derived from the word Thiru-kal-kari or the holy place where the Lord placed his foot and is associated with the story of the Asura King Mahabali.
The legend and history of the temple is associated with the festival of Onam that is synonymous with Kerala. The temple is believed to have been established by Lord Parashurama and the sanctum sanctorum has the idol of the Vamana Avatara of Lord Vishnu preparing to place his foot on King Mahabali’s head. The Lord in his sanctum is also lovingly called Katkarrai Appan and His consort is Perunselva Naayaki.
The current structure is recent and was restored by the State Archaeology Department and is under the administration of the Travancore Devaswom Board. The 10-day Onam festivities are elaborate with dance and music. On each day, the idol is decorated as one of the ten Avatars of Vishnu, including the Matsya (fish), Kurma (Tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (half-man half-lion), Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna, Kalki and Trivikrama (another form of Vamana). This is called Chaarthu and sandalwood paste, appropriate ornaments and clothes are used for it. The great saint Nammalvar composed ten paasurams (hymns) in praise of the Lord.
The surroundings are picturesque with a Pushkarni or pond called Kapilatheertham in the vicinity. The temple architecture is typical of what you find in most temples in Kerala with sloping roofs and the use of wood. A unique aspect is the presence of hundreds of niches in the outer complex for lamps to be placed. It is called Chuttivilakku and is lit on special days. We were lucky to see this beautiful spectacle in the evening. There are shrines for Goddess Bhagavati, Lord Ayappa, and Lord Krishna. There is also a Shiva temple just beside the Vamanamoorthy temple.
The Legend: The incarnation of the Lord as Vamana is mentioned in the Eighth Canto or Skanda of Srimad Bhagavatam. This Canto describes the episode of ‘Samudra Manthan’ or the churning of the Ocean of Milk by the Devas and Asuras to obtain ‘amrita’ or the nectar of immortality, using the Mount Mandara and Vasuki, the serpent. When the Lord emerged from the ocean in the form of Dhanvantari carrying a pot containing amrita, the Asuras snatched the pot. The Lord then intervened by appearing in the form of the beautiful damsel, Mohini. Using her charm, she manages to retrieve the pot and distributes all the amrita to the Devas helping them retain their immortality. The Asuras who were deprived of the nectar began to fight against the Devas
In the fight Bali, the king of Asuras, was killed by Indra, the king of the Devas. Bali, the son of Virochana and the grandson of the great Asura king and Vishnu devotee Prahalada, was however, brought back to life by Sukracharya, the Guru of the Asuras, using the Sanjeevani Mantra. Under the guidance of Sukracharya, Bali performed the Viswajit yagna or sacrifice and obtained extraordinary powers. Mahabali was devout like his grandfather Prahlada, steadfast like his father Virochana, but his failing was that he was egoistic like his great-grandfather Hiranyakashipu. He then attacked the abode of the Devas. Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas, advised Indra (known as Purandara) that since Bali was invincible at that time, it would be futile for the Devas to resist his attack. The Devas were advised to go into hiding and bide their time for an opportune time. Mahabali hence occupied the heavens too as the ruler of all the three worlds. This created an imbalance in the Universe- one that needed to be corrected quickly.
Upset at the plight of her sons, Aditi, the mother of the Devas, urged her husband, the great sage Kasyapa, to suggest a way by which the Devas could get back their abode and their glory. Upon the sage’s advice, Aditi observed the penance called ‘payovrata’, which consisted of worship and strictures for a period of twelve days during the bright fortnight of the month of Phalguna or spring.
The Supreme Lord soon appeared before Aditi and gave her the boon that He would soon be born as her son. The Lord was born with divine symbols but soon transformed into a dwarf-like child or Vamana. Brihaspati conducted the sacred thread ceremony and all the gods and goddesses conferred gifts to Him. Upon hearing that King Bali was conducting a sacrifice, Vamana embarked to attend the yagna. Bali welcomed Him warmly and offered him anything He wanted. Lord Vamana, as the story goes, asked him for a strip of land which was three paces in length as measured by his own feet. Bali was amused at this request but against the advice of his guru Shukracharya, readily acceded to it. It was then that the charming form of Vamana grew to become the gigantic form of Lord Trivikrama. The Lord covered the earth, heavens and all the worlds in two strides and then unable to find a space to place the third step, asked Bali how he would fulfill his promise! Without a demur, Bali offered his head as the third step. The Lord did so and sent Bali to one of the nether regions named Sutala as its ruler. However, the Lord further blessed Bali that he could come to visit his subjects on Earth every year and also conferred on him the title of Indra in the next Manvantara.