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NAAGAARAADHANA
(Snake Worship)

1. MANNAARASAALA NAAGARAAJA TEMPLE
Location

The internationally renowned and ancient Mannaarasaala Sree Naagaraaja Kshethram is a refuge for serpent-worshippers. The temple is located about three kilometers northwest of Haripad (Alapuzha district), beyond the ancient, famous and attractive "Baahuleyan" (Subrahmanian) temple. Further south is the entrance gate with a serpent idol (Vigraham) and the remains of the ancient Illam of Eringaadappally, the designated Poojaari of the temple. Beyond it is a thickly wooded area with a pathway lined on both sides with artificial serpents. The path leads to the actual temple for the "Sarpa Yakshi" and then the "Naagaraajaavu", both facing east, and with an old "Ilanji" tree in front for the free movement of serpents. To the south-west are the abodes of "Naaga Chaamundi" and "Naaga Yakshi".

Legend and Beliefs

The Parasuraman legend is well-known. As directed by divine sages, he is said to have created the present "Keralam" when he threw (as directed by Varunan) his axe (Sivanís gift) and gave it to Braahmanans to atone for the sin of annihilating the Kshathriya Vamsam. But the new land was saline and would not support any vegetation; people started moving out. Haran to whom Parasuraman prayed, asked him to spread "Sarpa Visha Jwaala", which required Naagaraajaavu. He searched and found a wooded place (the present Mannaarasaala) where he built a "Theerttha Saala", did "Thapas" and pleased Naagaraajaavu, who cleansed the land of the salinity and made it lush-green and heaven-like.

The pious "Bhaargavaraaman"("Bhrigu Puthran") consecrated Naagaraajaavu at Theerttha Saala, at an auspicious time and according to prescribed rites. This Naagaraajaavu is believed to be both Ananthan (Vishnu Swaroopam) and Vaasuki (Sivaatmakan). Through some quirk, however, Vaasukiís aura was manifested, while Ananthanís was found latent. Hence Saiva Pooja rites were prescribed. Consecrations (Prathishtthas) were also done for Sarpa Yakshi and Naaga Yakshi (both, beloved companions), and Naaga Chaamundi (his sister). Sarpa Yakshi is happy within a "Sreekovil" (sanctum sanctorum) and powerful due to daily Pooja, while Naaga Yakshi is in a "Chithrakootam" with no daily rites; so is Naaga Chaamundi.

A prominent disciple (the present Eringaadappally) was chosen to take charge of the Naaga Raaja temple, and his family was given full rights to perform Sarpa Pooja.

Muthassan

The five-hooded Ananthan came down to earth in the form of a baby Naaga as the divine offspring of the Mannaarasaala Braahmanan couple, and has been staying alone but happily, in the "Nilavara" of the Illam. He is called "Muthassan" or "Appooppan" (grandfather) and is believed to have given a divine message that he is quite content since through the daily Pooja at the temple, he is also automatically worshipped, and that, for the satisfaction and happiness of the family, an annual Pooja would be enough. The adjacent Appooppan Kaavu is supposed to be frequented by the Muthassan and his cohorts, the ferocious rat snakes.

Closely, but isolated in the woods, are also the temples of Dharmasaastha and Bhadrakaali, happy and powerful as a result of daily Poojaas.

Valiya Amma

Just to the southwest of the Naagaraaja is a scientifically constructed room in the "Thevaarappura", in which is seated "Valiya Amma" (big mother), completely engrossed in meditation, lamps and smoke, and worshipping Naagaraaja. It was Muthassanís instruction that only Amma (always heirarchically the eldest Antharjanam) shall perform the Pooja, while observing an ascetic and "Brahmachaarini" life-style. The Pooja schedule is also quite strict, some daily, some on specified days including a "Noorumpaal" in front of the Nilavara on the Aayilyam star of every month and on the day after "Sivaraathri". The previous Valiya Amma had a long 75 year tenure which ended upon her death on Thulam 8, 1169 (ME) (October 24, 1993), and the present Umadevi Antharjanam took over.

Festivals

The Aayilyams (star) of the Malayalam months of Kanni, Thulaam (not in the early period) and Kumbham are celebrated with festivities. But "Sivaraathri" is the most pompous and grand festival of this temple, with "Niramaala", "Sarpabali" and "Ezhunnallathu".

"Sarpam Paattu" is a very important and satisfying ritual as far as the "Sarpa Devathaas" are concerned. During the subsequent year, the Velans perform "Pallippaana", and the year after that the "Gandharvan Paattuu" is performed, in which the "Kurups" prepare the ritualistic murals (Kalam Ezhuthu) on the floor, while the Valiya Amma performs Pooja. On the fourth year "Pula Sarpam Paattu" is performed.

The annual Noorumpaal Pooja in the Nilavara is on the day after Sivaraathri. Five days later, Amma opens the Nilavara after the daily Pooja at the temple, and distributes the Noorumpaal Prasaadam to the family members who consume it with great devotion.

Temple Improvements

No kind of alterations or modernisation of the temple is permitted. However, for the convenience of the devotees and visitors, attractive buildings are coming up in the temple vicinity. The Mannaarasaala family members strictly continue all the traditional Poojaas and other observances, in spite of the soaring inflation.

Kaavu Maattam, etc.

Most ancient families of Kerala have "Sarpa Kaavu" or "Paampin Kaavu" (serpent groves) in their compound. Socio-economic changes have forced most of these to be unattended or abandoned. Often "Sarpa Kopam" creates all kinds of problems to the families. Proper rehabilitation of such Kaavus Ė known as "Kaavu Maattam" is an antidote, and so is "Sarpa Bali" in some instances. These are undertaken by the Mannaarasaala family. Sometimes such Kaavus are re-located to Mannarasaala by first invoking and absorbing (Aavaahikkal) the spirit of the serpent from such groves and re-consecrating them there. The Chithrakootam collection there is mostly made up of such transferred Kaavus.

Antidote for Snake and Rat Poisons

A very dense natural forest exists in and around the temple premises. If anyone accidentally gets bitten by snake here, the Valiya Amma takes complete control and protects them, always with success.

Similarly, those afflicted with rat poison are often brought here, administered herbal medicines, asked to offer prayers to Naagaraaja. They return completely cured. The medicine is prepared from a special leaf (a family secret even to this day) which is ground, rolled and given to the bitten person as a 3-day (minimum) course.

A Footnote

The Mannarasaala Naagaraaja temple occupies a unique place among the great temples of the region as a refuge for the serpent devotees, owing to the strict ancient and traditional observances, and the ever-present Valiya Amma with her fund of knowledge on the Vedams, long experience in the rites and rituals, and her meditative and spiritual powers.


| Article No:20.8.1 | Last update of this article:15th July 2008 |
Source : "Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Kshetra Charitram"
Published by : M V Subramanian Namboothiri, Mannarasala Illam
                        President, Mannarasala Kshetra Trust
                        P O : Mannarasala, Haripad - 690 550, Alleppey Dist.
Phone : 0479-2413788
English Translation: K D Nambudripad

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