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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Forgotten Temples Of Malappuram – Part III (Temples of Tavanur)

In the third part of this series, we shall look at temples of Tavanur –a Krishna temple which was reclaimed & rebuilt within 2 decades of independence by a stalwart Gandhian of Kerala, Shri Kelappan; one of the rare temples dedicated to Brahma and a Shiva temple where pujas were reinstated in 19th century itself.

Vasudevapuram Shri Krishna temple:

Shri Kelappanji has rebuilt more than one Hindu temple – though his reclamation of Angadipuram Thali Shiva temple is the most popular act. In our case, where we are concentrating on the less popular temples, we shall look at the reclamation of an equally old temple – once again related to Vilwamangala Swamiyar (Shri Bilvamangala Thakura) as was the Kalad Vamana Temple.

Legends say that the Vilwamangala Swamiyar, who wrote Krishna Karnamruta, was born in the Namboodiri Brahmin family of Vella Mana in Tavanur (near Kuttipuram in Malappuram district). His ancestral house, Vella Illam, was on the southern banks of Bharatapuzha river – remains of the house’s foundations can be seen there even today – within the campus of Kelappaji College of Agricultural Engineering and Technology (KCAET), Tavanur.

The Swamiyar’s mother was greatly devoted to the Krishna of Guruvayur, just like her son. Her son built a temple of Sri Krishna for his mother, near their ancestral home, when she had become too old to travel to Guruvayur every month. Annual shraddha (rites for deceased) for the Swamiyar is also done in the place as a reminder of his presence in that place. The temple was built in the 13th century. The place came to be known as Vasudevapuram, after the Lord Vasudeva Krishna who was worshipped in that temple with much fanfare.

As with most other temples in the Malappuram locality, this temple was also razed to the ground by Tipu Sultan during his invasion of Malabar. Only the balipitha and a few other remnants of the temple were remaining in the place where a grand temple stood once. The ancestral home of the Swamiyar, Vella Illam, was also destroyed. For about 170 years, no renovation of the temple was attempted – as Hindus became a miniscule minority in the village post Tipu’s depredations.

Post-independence, Shri Kelappanji, who was a Gandhian and also one of the prominent leaders of Congress in Kerala, identified the remains of the temple in the land where an agricultural engineering college was proposed to be set up by the Central government. By 1960s, he had the temple rebuilt by collecting funds from Malayali Hindus in Malabar region.

Today, a beautiful temple stands in the place where the old temple had stood – surrounded by 40 cents of wooded land – giving it a serene setting. Annual festivals, especially the birth of Krishna, are celebrated in a grand manner. The temple houses murtis of Krishna, Ganesha and a Shivalingam.

Entrance of Vasudevapuram Krishna Temple

Tavanur Brahma Temple:

Tavanur has three mahakshetras (major temples) – one each to Krishna, Brahma and Shiva. The Brahma and Shiva temples are more than 1300 years old. All these three temples are built on the southern bank of Bharatapuzha river. There is a huge temple dedicated to Vishnu (contemporaneous to latter two temples) on the northern bank of the river – opposite to the Shiva temple. Across the river from Tavanur is Thirunavaya – considered as Kashi of Kerala – where Hindus come to do Pinda pradaana for their deceased ancestors. While Thirunavaya Vishnu temple (called Nava Mukunda temple) is quite popular, the other temples on the opposite banks are less known and have much lesser visitors.

The Brahma temple of Tavanur houses a beautiful murti of Brahma holding sruk, sruva, vedas and kamandala. Sruk and Sruva are ladles used to do yajna. Prajapati brahma is closely associated with yajna. This is perhaps the only individual temple dedicated to Lord Brahma in entire state of Kerala. There are no other murtis in this temple. After desecration by Tipu, the temple remained in a dilapidated state till last decade. Locals claim that they suffered from sudden outbursts of diseases every few years – which was attributed to the anger of Brahma whose temple was left in a dilapidated state.

About a decade ago, locals started rebuilding the temple and a pujari has been appointed to do nitya puja to Brahma. They claim that there has been no such outbreak of diseases since then. The temple is in final stages of reconstruction. Hindu students of the locality have also taken to worshipping Brahma sincerely – as he is the husband of Sarasvati and thus, seen as Lord of knowledge.

Rear view of the Main Shrine of Brahma Temple, Tavanur
Rear Entrance of Brahma Temple, Tavanur

Tavanur Shiva temple:

This is the main temple of Tavanur. The village is named after the Lord here. It is believed that Lord Shiva is ding tapasya here. Tapasya is known as ‘tavam’ in Malayalam. Thus, the place where Lord Shiva does tapasya has come to be known as Tavanur (place of tapasya). Unlike the other two temples, this temple has always been under worship even after Tipu’s desecration. The vandalised temple was rebuilt and worship was restarted by the end of 18th century itself. This temple of Shiva houses a small Shivalingam and sits in a serene neighbourhood right on the banks of the river – a devotee can access the river from the temple. No wonder that the Lord of destruction has chosen this place as His place for peaceful meditation. The serenity of its location is enhanced by presence of a vedapathashala nearby.

Entrance of Shiva Temple, Tavanur
Balikkal and Deepastambha of Shiva Temple, Tavanur
Sthala Vriksha of Shiva Temple, Tavanur
View of Bharatappuzha river from Shiva Temple, Tavanur

The Thirunavaya Vedapathashala, famous for teaching Rg Veda, is near this temple. This pathashala is also well known for preserving some of the rarest oral traditions of Rg Veda samhita, otherwise not so popular elsewhere. The pathashala is centuries old – since before Tipu’s invasions. Every year, at Sree Ramaswamy temple in Kadavallur of Thrissur district, a competition – called Kadavallur Anyonyam – is held between two vedapathashala (Thirunavaya pathashala and Brahmaswom Madhom of Thrissur) for 8 days. The more esoteric recitation styles are tested at this competition. Thirunavaya-Tavanur was the heart of Hindu culture of Malabar before the region fell to Tipu’s forces. It is indeed fitting that even in the current state with very few Hindus, the locality continues to retain its status as a premier centre of study in at least of the traditional subjects (though the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics with its headquarters at Thirunavaya was completely destroyed by invaders).

Tavanur temples stand as testimony to the resilience of Hindus in adhering to their dharma against great odds. Just as the Lord of Tavanur is doing tapasya, the local Hindus are doing a tapasya of their own – in reviving the temples of their locality, cherishing the past grandeur and propagating dharma to the next generation. Such examples give us heart that not all is lost till we have people who are committed. If Tavanur-Thirunavaya can protect one of the rarest Rg Vedic traditions, Hindus from other parts of India can definitely achieve much more – if only they have the heart for that.

(Note: This article has been contributed by G Ravilochanan, who tweets at @ravilochanan86.)

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