Mystery of the missing Nandi
Amid the narrow labyrinthine streets of Valiasala, in the southern part of the city, unknown to many and sheltered by a high wall, lies a vast `island' of tranquillity - the Kanthalloor Mahadevar Temple. Spread over four and a half acres of land and dotted with three large shrines and eight sub-shrines, the temple supposedly owes it's origin to a bloody, cataclysmic battle fought with the Chola king on one side and the Chera and Pandya kings on the other, in which all three perished.
Following this, their disconsolate widows set themselves ablaze in sati. Out of the funereal embers emerged a Shiva linga jwala mahadevar (Shiva, risen from flames). In order to mollify it's ferocity and raging heat, the idols of Brahma and Vishnu were installed in the vicinity, giving the temple the distinction of being one of the few temples in Kerala, dedicated to the `Trimurthis'.
Though this legend does not have any historical backing, 17th-century royal orders pertaining to the temple refer to the temple as
However, there are historical documents that put the origin of the temple deeper into antiquity. According to Mathilakam records (official records of the Padmanabhaswamy temple), Kanthalloor dates back to the 7th century AD. Chola inscriptions from the time of Rajaraja Chola (985-1016 AD) also refer to Kanthalloor. An inscription belonging to Rajendra Chola, discovered on the rear wall of the sanctum sanctorum, says that the temple came into existence before 1045 AD.
As one enters the inner courtyard, the three main shrines crowned by sloping conical roofs in copper, emerge into full view. Brahma's shrine, the smallest, is in the centre, flanked on either side by the more majestic shrines of Shiva and Vishnu, the latter with a two-storied roof. Each sanctuary has the traditional `mukhamandapa' or frontal pavilion.
The pavilion in front of Shiva's shrine lies forlorn and empty, devoid of the quintessential Nandi, that robust, reclining bull, gazing contemplatively at his master, integral to every Shiva temple. However, the pavilion facing the shrine of Brahma (in the form of a Shivalinga) has one. This raises a question, warranting a probe. A peek into the temple lore reveals that it has been thus, ever since that day, in the distant past, when Nandi, taking umbrage at the shoddy manner in which the rituals were conducted in the temple, left the temple in protest.
Shiva's search for the recalcitrant bull led him to the nearby village of Thaliyal, on the banks of the river Karamana. In a conciliatory gesture, Shiva appeared before Nandi, with his consort and gave him permission to take up permanent residence there and in recognition of his courageous and independent stand, offered him food. In memory of this incident, to this day, during the annual Kanthalloor festival, Shiva, accompanied by Vishnu and Brahma, stops by at the Thaliyal Shiva temple to offer food to Nandi and thereafter proceeds for `aarattu' (the ceremonial bath) in the Thaliyal temple pond.
However, the version of temple priests is different, portraying the missing bull in a less positive light. Here was a Nandi, which played truant, leaving the temple premises surreptitiously in the dead of night, in search of greener pastures and making his way back stealthily, before it turned light. One day, it turned out that daylight caught him unawares. Too embarrassed to return to Kanthalloor, he squeezed into the available space at the Thaliyal temple.
Lending credence to the story is the fact that the Nandi in the Thaliyal temple, is found in front of the Ganesha shrine and not in front of the Shiva temple. An assistant priest mischievously adds that Nandi still has not rectified his errant nature and still goes out on nocturnal rampages in the surrounding fields. But what happened to Thaliyal's own Nandi? Perhaps that will make for another tale, another time.
Photo: A. J. Joji
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