Chettikulangara Sree Bhagavathi temple is one of the most renowned Hindu temples in Kerala. Main deity Sree Bhadrakali, The temple is located at Chettikulangara in Mavelikkara taluk of Alappuzha district in the south Indian state of Kerala. Bhadrakali, is an incarnation of supreme mother Shakthi Devi, born from the third eye of Lord Shiva, to kill the demon king Daruka. ‘Bhadra’ means good and ‘Kali’ means goddess of time. So Bhadrakali is worshipped for prosperity and salvation. Devi is considered as the creator, protector, destructor, nature, power and Kundalini shakti.
Chettikulangara Devi is the supreme mother goddess, Shakthi Devi in Hinduism.
The temple has 13 “Karas”, or territories. The temple is at the centre of the oldest four Karas (Erezha South, Erezha North, Kaitha South and Kaitha North) and the rest of the Karas (Kannamangalam South, Kannamangalam North, Pela, Kadavoor, Anjilipra, Mattam North, Mattam South, Menampally and Nadakkavu) surround the temple, which is believed to be 1,200 years old.
The Tantric rights of the temple belong to Plackudy Illom, With its Tharavadu (Base) in Ambalapuzha. Plackudy is one among the ancient Thantric families of Kerala.
Recently UNESCO collected details about the temple and its customs (Kuthiyottam, Kumbhabharani) in order to examine whether the temple is eligible for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Kettukazhcha is an offering of the people of Chettikulangara to their beloved deity known for her spontaneous blessings on true devotees as a mark of gratitude, devotion, unflinching faith, and for showering prosperity and protection to their lives. Kettukazhcha displays deftly sculpted and decorated forms of six temple cars known as ‘Kuthira’ (Horses), five Theru’ (Chariots ) and icons of Bhima and Hanuman. All the temple cars, chariots, and the icons are all incredibly gigantic in size and are many times larger than any other similar Kuthiras and Therus built during the festivities at other temples in the Central Travancore region. On the move, these out of the world sky scrapping colorful decorations are electrifying and will create an unforgettable artistic impression in the union, especially during the night in the backdrop of illuminated lights. Chettikulangara Kettukazhcha heralds the architectural and aesthetic acumen of the ancient people of Chettikulangara, who could convert an improbable out of the world concept to an enormous artistic reality, achieved by collective hardships and willpower.
Lineage according to historians
Historians attribute the concept of ‘Kettukazhchas’ – similar to the architecture of the Buddha tradition in square, rectangular and pyramid shapes, to the remnants of the Buddha culture which was widely prevalent in the Central Travancore region a few centuries ago.
Many historians cite that the famous Chettikulangara Kettukazhcha in the present form is not more than 180 to 200 years old, and was started during the early part of the 19th century.
According to a popular legend, a group of village chieftains and their workers went for civil works to construct the Kollam–Chavara Thodu (canal), about 50 km away from Chettikulangara, in accordance with the decision from the then ruler of the region. But they could not return to their native place due to the unforeseen inordinate delay in completion of the canal. They pleaded with the authorities, but their request was turned down. During the period, they got an opportunity to visit the temple festivities at Kollam Mulankagakam temple and were attracted by the Kettukazhcha there. They vowed to their local deity Chettikulangara Bhagavathy, that they would construct Kettukazhchas for her every year if they were allowed to leave for Chettkulangara immediately. To their surprise, they were allowed to return to Chettikulangara the very next day, and as promised, they made huge Kettukazhchas and took them to their Bhagavathy’s premises.
Kuthiras have a height of about 70 to 75 feet and are a union of four parts– Adikkoottu, Kathirakal, Edakkodaram, Prabhada and Melkkoodaram, one above the other respectively.
Adikkottu the basic structure also known as Vandikkoottu, form the basic foundation which consists of four big wooden wheels interconnected with four other beams above it. Kuthiras have Thandu, two long huge wooden poles helpful to control the direction while on the move. Thandu and the basic structure are interconnected and have reinforced wooden bearings similar to the modern shock absorbers.
Kathirukal with about 35 feet height, consists of four long poles interconnected with Arecanut poles known as ‘Alaku’ and reinforced with coir and Panavalli knots. These are again strengthened with ‘Kuthukathrika’ or criss-cross formation of Alakus. Kathirakal is again bifurcated to two parts–the lower portion consisting of four to five extended layers of Thattu and Charippu (slanting pyramid-shaped boxes, made of interconnected Alakus and coir formation, then decorated with white cloth known as Vella, colorful glittering clothes and embellishments called ‘Thookku’.
Prabhada consists of exquisite wooden carved sculptors narrating stories from the Puranas, elephant caparisons called Nettipattoms, Thalekkettu and Aalavattom displayed in the backdrop of colourful clothes and sculptors. Many of the Prabhadas have stories like Gajendramoksham, Vasthrapaharanam, Krishnavatharm.
Edakkoodaram almost half the size of Kathirakal with four to five Charippu made as in the lower portion, comes above the Kathirakal. It also has glittering different clothes and Vella, interlaced with colourful Thookku embellishments.
Melkkoodaramthe top structure is exactly having a pyramid shape, and pivotal to it is an extended long sculpted wooden pole in a white colour known as ‘Nambu’. All the separate units are pulled up and placed one above the other with the help of wooden pulleys, giant coir ropes called Vadams with a length of over 100 ft.and with huge iron structures, drawn by hundreds of people.
Theru does not have the Prabhadas and Edakkoodarams. Their illithattu and charippu are larger than that of the Kuthiras and diminishes in size upwards. Therus are also smaller than the Kuthiras height.
Bhima and Hanuman The wooden icons of Bhima made by Mattom North and Hanuman brought by Mattom south are probably the largest of its kind in the world and are sure to be the largest in Kerala. Bhima’s icon is postured as the Pandava en route to kill Baka on Pothu Vandi (vehicle drawn by buffalos) with food for the Rakshasa King. Mattom south kara also brings the icon of Panjali along with Hanuman
Preparations for constructing the Kettukazhchas start from Shivarathri, about six to ten days prior to Kumbhabharani. On the evening of Kumbhabharani, the Kettukazhchas are dragged to the temple by hundreds of people and are paraded at the paddy field in front of the temple. After Bhagavathi’s Ezhunnellippu to bless the Kettukazhchas and people, the Kettukazhchas are taken back to the respective Karas by next morning. The dismantled parts of Kettukazhchas are kept at the ‘Kuthirappura’ of each Karas.