Of Unforgotten Love, in the Serene Sands of Time
Vast expanses of sand forming the banks of the great Periyar River, adds an immaculate beauty to the Aluva Shiva temple. Sans the stereotypical architectural grandiose of Hindu temples or intricate wall carvings and mural art, this majestic construction stands tall on the Aluva manal puram (sand banks) with an envious glory. One of the most famous temples of Kerala, Aluva Shiva temple is an abode of legends, rituals, faith and tradition. While it is natural for every Hindu temple to have several tales and myths associated with it, what distinguishingly sets the mood apart for Aluva Shiva temple is its link with the spirits, the dead.
Every year, thousands throng to the sands of Aluva Shiva temple to propitiate their ancestors by performing ‘bali tharpanam’ or ‘vavu bali’ on the ‘karutha vavu’ (no moon day) during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam. As per the Gregorian calendar, the date usually falls in between July and August. The final rituals performed for paying homage to the dead is referred to as ‘bali.’ While the ‘bali’ karma is performed on the day of the star the person died, when done on the ‘Karkidaka bali’ day it is said, the souls of the ancestors are pacified more. On this day, several rituals codified as per Yajur Veda are performed in the early morning, as per the instructions of acharyas in various holy rivers, temples and seashores of Kerala. Varkala Papa Nasam beach, Thiruvaloom Sree Parasurama Temple and Shangumugham Temple are some of other major spots of Kerala where Karkidaka bali is conducted with great awe. However, the elaborate ceremonies and arrangements organized at Aluva Shiva temple every year for the occasion bags special mention. Hundreds of balitharas (platforms to perform the ‘bali’) are constructed, bathing ghats built and numerous priests from different parts of the state invited to conduct the auspicious gathering.
On the day of Karkidaka vavu, the person who performs the rituals, after taking a holy dip in the river/ bathing ghat offers ‘tharpanam’ to his ancestors. Tharpanam refers to an ‘offering which satisfies’ and this comprises of water, gingelly, darbha (grass), cooked rice, sandalwood paste, tulsi and flowers. The individual who performs the rites should observe fast on the day and is allowed to eat only one meal comprising of rice. In most households, ‘vavu ada’, a special preparation of rice flour dough stuffed with jaggery and scraped coconut is made on this day. The bali karma, also known as pithrukarma is not only performed for the dead forefathers, but also for anyone who has associated with us in this life and in the past, who are responsible for our existence. It is said, our ancestors live on the rear side of the moon which is generally not visible to us. But on the Karkidaka vavu day, sunlight falls on the rear side making it visible to us. Therefore, when we extend an offering to them on this day, they receive it.
Mahashivarathri celebrations also draw huge crowds to the Aluva Shiva temple every year, but only second to the ‘Karkidaka bali’. A grand foot bridge was recently commissioned here to manage the crowds during the celebrations and for the easy transit of devotees from Perumbavoor and Moovatupuzha to the temple. Situated on the sand banks of two panoramic rivers, Periyar and Mangalapuzha, Aluva Shiva temple is located at a distance of 1 km away from the arthanda Varma Bridge in NH 47. Managed by the Travancore Devaswam Board, the temple has many unique features which set it apart from other temples of Kerala.
The main idol of the temple is a ‘swayamboo’ (self- anifested or self-existing) shiva linga which is not enshrined within a sanctum sanctorum or shrikovil. The shiva linga which is interestingly made of sand remains intact even when immersed in water for months during the monsoons. Till a while back, Aluva Shiva temple used to be completely submerged under water for over eight months. During this time, a representative idol or thidambu is placed on the shores, with transferred powers of the deity. After the winter, the water would recede leaving behind the sand bed in the middle of the river. Since it always had the distinguishing identity of being a water-logged temple, even the construction is designed accordingly, with no perfect Gopuram or Garbhalingam structures but just the support of pillars and wooden poles.
Everything about the temple is simple and rustic. The Shiva linga faces eastern direction and a Nandi prathishta is situated right opposite the main building. Only one pooja is conducted in a day, the athazhapooja or nivedyam. Dhara, Rudhrabhishekamm, Mahamrityunjaya homam and Navagraha pooja are some of the main offerings. People from all castes and creed visit the temple, especially during the important festivities and celebrations. During the Shivarathri, thousands stay awake in the night reciting puranas and on the succeeding morning, they take a dip in the river at ‘Bhrahma muhurtham’ for paying homage to the ancestors. Several stories are told about the construction of Aluva Shiva temple. It is believed sage Parashurama himself consecrated the temple which was later destroyed during the floods, but the idol remained unaffected. Another anecdote reveals the temple was constructed by the Bhoothaganas of Shiva. They were asked by the lord to finish the construction by dawn. However, Lord Vishnu obstructed this by disguising himself as a cock and misled the Bhoothaganas by crowing in the middle of the night. Therefore, the construction was left incomplete. While many myths surround the construction of the temple, the act of performing bali on the banks of Aluva Manal puram also has a mythological connotation. During the threthayuga, Sri Rama is believed to have performed the last rites for Jathayu in the sands of Aluva.
Myths may be many, but what has not eroded in time is the faith people lay in the power of ‘Aluva Shivan’ as they refer to the deity. Mankind has always found it hard to let go of the past. As the unending sand terrains of Aluva Manal Puram transforms to a gateway to once again extend our token of love to the dear ones who left us behind, the traditions and myths turn mystically beautiful.