History and Legends of Konganpada

According to the legend of Konganpada, while returning from the battle, the Goddess sat on a rock to rest and some lower caste devotees offered her meat and wine. Pleased by their devotion, she accepted them. Consumption of meat and wine are forbidden according to orthodox Hinduism. Since the Goddess accepted such offerings after the battle, upon her return, she was enshrined in a newly built temple.

The shrine of Chittur Bhagavathi, Chittur Kavu, is quite a contrast to the majestic Hindu temples of Kerala. It is a rather small and unassuming shrine that houses a large and impressive idol of the mother Goddess with eight hands, seated on a pedestal. In each of her six hands she holds trident, sword, conch, discus, huge club and a decapitated male head. Two other hands show the signs of ‘fear not’ with an open palm with fingers pointing up, and ‘I grant you blessing’ with an open palm and fingers pointing down. A huge banyan tree, growing on a large raised platform, occupies the foreground of the shrine. At the base of the tree rests a granite idol of Hindu God Ganapathi (destroyer of all obstacles). Towards the rim of the platform reside several little stone serpents with raised hoods, covered with turmeric power offered by devotees. Until the government prohibition in late 1940’s animal sacrifices were prevalent at this shrine. The priest of this shrine is never a Brahmin and some prayer offerings are different from those of typical Hindu temples. Except during the holy period of Mandalam this temple opens only on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Only just a few feet away, in sharp contrast to this simple shrine, stands a Hindu temple of Pazayannoor Bhagavathi with its tall gopuram(entrance) with huge ornate wooden doors, copper roofed inner shrine, a Chuttambalam(outer enclosure), and a tall gold-plated Dwajastambham (flagpost). It has a Brahmin priest who makes traditional Hindu prayer offerings to the Goddess. Although both these temples are different in many respects, the events of Konganpada takes place at both. The hoisting of the flag is at the gold covered flag post at Pazayannoor temple, and the declaration of war is read aloud in front of this temple. For the people of this village there is a seamless continuity between the two, both are abodes of the mother Goddess.

A remarkable fact about these temples, as well as this festival, is that they are both intriguing examples of how ancient Dravidian (original inhabitants of south India) rituals and legends continue to thrive in Kerala, despite the absorption of Aryan culture over several centuries. Pre-Aryan culture and religious beliefs of South India did not include a caste system or strict adherence to vegetarianism. Religion was based on worship of the nature, animals and the mother Goddess. Affairs of the village were the responsibility of its citizens and each family held its own particular rights. Some of these age-old customs associated with Konganpada still continue to prevail. All families in the village, irrespective of their caste, who are in any way connected to the temple, hold hereditary rights to perform certain functions and duties during this festival. The oracle of the Goddess comes from only two families in the village. Representatives from four prominent Nayar families have to be present at all festival related events and they hold the right to give the sacred sword to the oracle. The local carpenters have the right to build the make shift temple for Kanniyar; and men from certain families, chosen by the villagers hundreds of years ago, still hold the rights to dress up as various participants in the festival.

As one reads through the written legend of Konganpada, one can see that the older Dravidian culture and legends make incursions, and then melds into the Aryan fold; where Amma, the mother Goddess becomes Devi, and the invading chieftain becomes a buffalo mounted Asura (devil). The older names still persist and the shrine is called a Kavu, whereas the one next door becomes a Bhagavathi Kshetram(Hindu temple).

At the beginning of last century, in 1901 A.D., F. Fawcett wrote about Kerala Nayars in his book Nayars of Malabar “We see in Malabar the most undiluted form of the highest, most abstract religion of Southern India, side by side with the most entirely primitive". It remains true, even in the twenty first century, at these two temples in central Kerala.

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN