A festival of togetherness

The writer goes deep into the history and legend behind the two-week festival at Valliyoorkavu

author_img Indu Chinta Published :  25th March 2022 08:52 PM   |   Published :   |  25th March 2022 08:52 PM

Situated on the banks of Kabani river, a few kilometres away from Mananthavady, Vallurkavu or Valliyoorkavu is currently abuzz with activity. Preparations are in full swing for the upcoming temple festival, held annually in March. Dedicated to goddess Durga, this 13th-century shrine is thronged by thousands during the festival from March 14 to 28 (Meenam 1-14 of the Malayalam calendar). 

Eachome Gopi, writer and trustee of Vallurkavu says, “The only time when there was no festival was in 2021, due to Covid. We were the first temple committee to write to the chief minister saying we will not hold a celebration, keeping in mind the health and safety of the tribes.”

As per British records, the temple is referred to as ‘Fish Pagoda’ owing to its architectural style. Vallurkavu was supposed to have been one of the four shrines built to protect the famous Thirunelli temple in the district. However, studies by C Gopalan Nair in the early 1900s refute this theory saying Vallurkavu is of a more recent origin when compared to Thirunelli. Nair goes on to say the reference Vallurkavu possibly being “at one time a temple of the Valluvars” also does not hold much water, as there is no evidence to suggest their presence in Wayanad. Hence, the more widely accepted origin of the shrine is traced to Kodungallur.

“During the reign of the Kottayam rajas, Nalveetil Nambiars (velichapads or oracles) were travelling from Cranganore (Kodungallur) to Thirunelli. Once they reached the thick jungles after Mananthavady, they decided to rest. They placed the sacred sword (of the goddess) on an anthill and fell asleep. When they woke up, they could not find the sword. With the help of local tribesmen, they found it entangled in a creeper. They then appealed to the goddess saying, ‘valliyoor amma’ (or “Mother, disentangle thyself!”). Hence, the name – Valliyoor kavu,” Gopi narrates the story.

Later, the raja of Kottayam consecrated the place and began worshipping the goddess in three forms – as ‘Vana Durga’ where the sword was found, as ‘Jala Durga’ in the stream nearby and ‘Bhadrakali’ between the above two. Bhadrakali is worshipped every day in the shrine. Interestingly, the deity here is very important to the tribes in and around Wayanad. “The Paniyas hoist the flag, symbolic of commencement of the festival, in a ceremony known as ‘kodiyettam’. Vallurkavu is the only temple in Kerala where tribes do so. Then they light the fire used for cooking food, as a part of annadanam, which is provided to devotees throughout the festival,” says Gopi.

“There is a myth that slave trade takes place during the festival. That is not true. Back in the day, there was a trade fair along withthe festival. The tribes folk of the Paniya community would borrow from the landlords (known as jenmis) to shop at this fair and in return, they would take an oath in front of the goddess to serve the latter for one year. This has been misconstrued as slave trade,” adds Gopi.

 During the colonial era, the British appreciated the significance of Vallurkavu to local tribes and did not interfere with the rituals. They went a step further and began the tradition of sponsoring the annadanam. In a purely cultural context, the Thirunelli temple is older and widely known across the country. But from a socio-economic standpoint at the local district level, Vallurkavu has a much bigger impact in terms of bringing together and binding communities.