The Thrikodithanam Temple Complex
THE SANCTUM - Sreekovil
The Sreekovil is a well proportioned, double-storied structure built on a circular plan. The base Aadhisthaana is made of rounded granite stones which rise to a height of about three feet. A granite Pranaala protrudes out of the Northern side of the Aadhisthana. The oldest stone inscriptions in Thrikodithanam temple are found on these base-stones. In all, there are 13 inscriptions and almost all are in the Vaatezutthu Tamil script. A circular wall on the Aadhisthaana is made of laterite blocks covered with lime plaster. Beautiful mural paintings which once adorned this circular wall have been badly damaged by vandals.
A conical roof rises in two tiers and wooden Dashavataara (10 incarnations of Vishnu) figures appear to connect the two floors. The sloping roof is covered neatly with copper tile-plates.
The Sreekovil was renovated in circa 1100 AD. Mural paintings on the walls are only about 400 years old.
The deities residing in the Sreekovil and the inscriptions and mural paintings on the Sreekovil are described in the next section.
THE ENTRANCE TO THE SANCTUM - Sopana
Four steps of polished black granite lead to the entrance of the Sreekovil. On either side of the curving side walls to these steps are carved dance forms in Kudam Koothu (pot dance) and Kudai Koothu (umbrella dance). These elements of Nrithya (dance) element of Bharata Natyam shows that dance had attained a high degree of excellence even by about 1100 AD.
A small platform above the steps forms the Mukha-mandapam. This small niche is used by the priests to distribute Prasaadam to the devotees. Musical instruments like the Edakka and Chenda are also hung in this niche, when they are not in use.
THE SPACE AROUND THE SANCTUM - Naalambalam
In front of the Sreekovil is a rectangular platform - the Namaskara Mandapam. This granite platform is used for special Bhajana sessions, prostrations and for temple arts. This Mandapam has a wooden ceiling carved with Ashtadik-palakas (guardians of 8 directions) with Brahma in the middle. Side stones of the platform are plain, except for elephants and lions carved along the ridges. On the northern side is an inscription in Malayalam giving details of its construction.
Towards the south, a small figure prostrates at full length on the granite floor. This is the usual Prayashchita-roopa (penance-form) carved in relief. Similar reliefs in the shape of a snake and a swastika can be seen on the south-western and western side respectively. A small well occupies the North-eastern side of the Naalambalam.
Many Beli-kalls (small stone platforms for offerings to various gods) mark the open space around the Sreekovil. The main entrance into the Naalambalam is on the eastern side. Small doors mark exit points in the other three cardinal directions.
THE SACRIFICIAL CHAMBER - Belipura
A raised doorway leads out of the Naalambalam on the eastern side. A large, granite sacrificial platform - Beli-kall is the focal point in this chamber. On the wooden ceiling are carved delicate figures riding elephants. The central portion is dominated by a Devi flanked by two big lotuses. An "eternal oil lamp" of recent origin hangs at the center of this chamber.
THE CEREMONIAL FLAG MAST - Dwaja Sthamba
A tall, gold-plated flag-mast rests on a square granite base. An engraving on the base-stone indicates that the first mast was the offering of a devotee named KANNAKUKERALAN KRISHNAN in the year 1024 AD (ME 199). The previous teak flag-mast (replaced 8 years ago) was the contribution of KONDUR KOCCHUKRISHNAN PILLAI (a famous scholar & Kathakali dancer) in the year 1849 (ME 1024).
A ceremonial pathway surrounds the Naalambalam buildings. Its about three feet wide, made of rough cut granite slabs and laid out in straight lines to form a rectangle around the Naalambalam. On the North-Eastern side this pathway curves outwards to accommodate a large well. A few meters on either side of the pathway are kept free of weeds and filled out with river-gravel.
Deities that are placed outside this pathway are described in the next section.
A number of trees and shrubs dot the vacant areas of the compound. Arayaal or Peepul (Ficus religiosa), Peeral or Banyan Tree (Ficus bengalensis), Coconut (Cocos nucifera), Champa or Temple Tree (Plumeria rubra) and Sacred Basil (Thulasi) are the more prominent ones. A very old Jackfruit tree (affectionately called Ammachi-Plavu - Grandmother Tree) near the eastern entrance is of special significance. During the festival season, temple priests offer prayers under its ancient, knotted trunk before beginning the ceremonies.
There are two entrances/exits to the east and west of the temple complex. The eastern gate is the main entrance. Both the gateways are large enough to allow caparisoned elephants to pass through. The upper floor of the gateway has a small loft space for the guards, musicians etc.
The temple office is located near the eastern entrance. A "modern" concrete elephant shed has also been constructed here recently.
THE BOUNDARY WALL - Puram Mathil
The temple wall is in itself an artistic masterpiece. About 15 feet high and 335 x 347 feet long, the wall gently curves outwards like an elephant`s forehead. Built of laterite blocks smoothened, arranged and stuck together expertly without lime or cement, this wall continues to amaze architects and builders.
The wall is believed to have been built in 700 AD and predates most of the structures within the complex. But no one is quite sure who the original builders were. According to folklore, Bhoota-ganangal (beings of the nether world) built this wall in just one night. Laterite blocks for the wall are said to have been excavated from the area occupied by the temple pond.
THE TEMPLE POND - Ambala Kulam
The temple pond is located near the Eastern entrance. It occupies an area of about 50X50 meters. A fleet of steps lead to the pond and a cement partition separates bathing areas for women and men.
Elders believed that the pond is called Pancha-Teertham because it was formed by the amalgamation of five sacred water sources, each possessing a distinct hue. Apparently, two of the sources on the northern side have now ceased to be.
The temple pond is also a pilgrimage spot in itself. Devotees from Thamizakam (the term for South India during the Sangam age) used to take back sacred water from the Pancha-teertham.
THE STRANGE STATUE OUTSIDE - Kazhivetti-kallu
Between the pond and the eastern entrance, near a public platform for arts and discourses, is a strange granite statue. It is a man flat on his back, held up stiff and straight on a stone pillar about six feet high. Only his waist rests on the pillar, rest of the body is unsupported. He holds a Shankhu (conch shell) in his left hand and wears the holy thread indicative of the higher castes. At one time the statue wore a crown as well.
Who is this figure? A crowned King? A priest wearing the sacred thread? or is it a Maran (temple musician/caretaker) holding a conch-shell? Everything about this figure is conflicting and abnormal - its form, attributes and placement.
Common folklore has a story of jealousy, indiscretion and swift retribution...
The ruler of Chembakaserry kingdom was a renowned Nambuthiri Brahmin who took pride in the prosperity of his own kingdom and Sri Krishna temple. Since temples were then considered keystones to a kingdom's spiritual and temporal well-being, the King decided to embarrass the rulers of Nanrulainattu (capital-Thrikodithanam) by making a deliberate, untimely visit to the famous Vishnu Temple.
He arrived in Thrikodithanam after the Seiveli puja (the last ceremony of the day) and after the temple had closed. It is considered very inauspicious to open a temple after the gods are put to rest, but still, the King forced an entry by bribing a caretaker.
When the rulers of Nanrulainattu discovered this indiscretion, they were furious. The caretaker was beheaded and, soon, the Chambakaserry king too fell ill and died. So this stone figure was installed near the temple entrance to deter any future offenders and to remind everybody of the consequences of disturbing the gods.
Another version of the story lays the blame on the king of Ambalapuzha for this surreptitious Darshan .