Nalambalam pilgrimage is gaining more and more popularity today. Nalambala Darsanam is an annual pilgrimage to four well-known temples in central Kerala during the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam (July 17 to August 16). Nalambala Darsanam involves offering prayers at the Triprayar Sree Rama Temple, Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam Temple, Moozhikkulam Lakshmana Temple, and Payammal Shathrughna Temple, which are dedicated to Lord Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shathrughna respectively, on a single day. Karkkidakam is the last month of Malayalam Era. Salient feature of Karkkidakam is that it is period of famine and illness. To overcome sufferings people resort to medical treatment and spiritual enrichment. A special way of living and worship of Rama is the general trend of the period. Chanting of Ramamantra and recitation of Adyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu written by Thunchathu Ezhuthachan echoes in each and every house. To get rid of the difficulties of this month, people of Thrissur region started the Nalambalm pilgrimage centuries ago. It’s origin was at a time when vehicles were not available and pilgrimage to these four temples – as a ritual it had to be completed within one day between daybreak and noon - was an ardent task, yet devotees did it right out of their deep devotion. Great pains earned them great gains. Now these four temples are well connected with roads. It has become very easy now to visit these temples in a single day. Tens of thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the State will visit these temples every year during Karkkidakam. These temples also attract devotees from neighbouring States.
It is believed that the idols of Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shathrughna were the pooja idols of Lord Krishna. He worshipped these 4 idols in Dwaraka. At the end of Dwapara Yuga, Dwaraka was swallowed by the sea. These four idols floated over the sea water all together and at last reached the Cheetuva region of Kerala shore. Vakkayil Kaimal, a minister with the Ayirur Kovilakam of Ponnani had a dream one night in which some mysterious person appeared before him and told him about the floating idols. The Kaimal being an ardent devotee hastened to the sea shore. There the fishermen who got the idols handed over them to him. They were duly installed in four temples - Rama at Thriprayar, Bharata at Irinjalakuda, Lakshmana at Moozhikulam and Shathrughna at Payammal - as directed in the dream.
There is special rule to follow during the Nalambalam Yatra. The first temple to be attended is the Triprayar Sree Rama Temple. After the Nirmalyam at 3am there, proceed to Irinjalakkuda to attend the Usha pooja at the Koodalmanikya Swami Temple. From Irinjalakkuda then proceed to Moozhikkulam Lakshmana Perumal Temple to attend Utcha pooja. Devottees must reach the Payammal Shathrughna Temple in the evening to attend Deeparadhana and Athazha puooja there. Devotees must also vist the Hanuman Temple near Chandanakkavu in this yatra.
2.Irinjalakkuda Koodalmanikya Swami Temple
Triprayar Sree Rama Swami Temple
Triprayar Temple, located in Thrissur district is one of the important temples dedicated to Lord Rama. Triprayar temple is located 22 kms south west of Thrissur in between Kodungalloor and Guruvayoor in the mid landmass of Chettuva. The temple is situated on the bank of river Theevra. Theevra river is also called Purayar. Hence this place got the name Thirupurayar (sacred river) and later became Triprayar. There is an interesting legend about the origin of this river. Lord Mahavishnu during his Vamana incarnation visited this place while going to Thrikkakkara and he found no water to wash his legs as the whole place was dry and desolate. Vamana took the water from his kamandalu (a small round vessel used by hindu sages to carry water) and poured the water to wash his legs, that source of water never went dry but kept on flowing as the Thiru Purayar or the Thriprayar (river of divine source) as it is called now. Purayar is also called Nandiyar.
Out of the four idols discovered by fisher men, the Sree Rama idol was the most important. Vakkayil Kaimal decided to install it in Triprayar. It is said that when the image of Rama was discovered and was about to be consecrated, it was divinely ordained that a peacock would appear and mark the exact time for installation. Kaimal and his men waited for a long time for the peacock but it didn't appeared. Apparently the Tanthri (chief priest) installed the idol when a devotee bearing peacock feathers appeared. Soon after the installation the peacock appeared in front of the Sreekovil. It is said that the priests and Kaimal regretted their decision later and to make up for this deficiency the sacrificial stone or the valiya balikkallu was installed at the spot marked by the peacock. Hence the balikkal is said to have the same importance as the deity itself. But this sacrificial stone showed a tendency to spin on its axis. It was Naranathu Bhranthan who fixed it at the spot by hammering a nail through it amidst the chanting of mantras. A mark of a nail can still be seen gives credence to this belief.
In order to prevent any decline in the power of the idol on account of the change in its location Naranathu Bhranthan also arranged to install two goddesses on either side of the deity-Sree Devi on the right and Bhumi Devi on the left. Another legend says that it was Vilwamangalm Swamiyar who is associated with several temples of Kerala, installed the Sree Devi and Bhumi Devi images and shut the Western doors of the temple. One day Swamiyar reached this temple and offered prayers to Lord Rama. During his pooja he noticed that Sree Devi and Bhumi Devi were entering the temple from the western gateway to offer prayers to the Lord. In order to set right the fault in location of the idol he requested them to stay inside the sreekovil. The Goddesses agreed and later Swamiyar installed Sree Devi and Bhumi Devi idols on either side of Rama. He then closed the western doors and left the temple. The western doors of the temple remain shut even today.
The image of Rama (Triprayar Thevar) resembles the Chaturbhuja Vishnu form with four arms, bearing a conch(Panchajanya), a disc (Sudarsana), a bow (Kodanda) and a garland respectively. It is believed that the deity worshipped here possesses some of the aspects of Shiva too. It was after killing the asura, Khara that Sri Rama got both the Shaiva and Vaishnava aspects. Thus Triprayar Thevar is also called Khara Samhara Moorthy. It is also believed that the portrayal of Rama with a garland held in the image's hand is also suggestive of aspects of Bhrahma and hence the deity is said to be a manifestation of the Trimoorthis. The image is adorned with necklaces and other fine jewelry. Images of Sreedevi and Bhudevi are on either side. There is an image of Dakshinamoorthy, in the sanctum facing the south. Dakshinamoorthy is commonly found in Shiva temples. There is also a lamp behind the image which is kept burning all the time. Because of these and also because of the fact that people got relief when troubled by evil spirits chathan-the deity is believed to have a Shiva aspect also.
Ganapathy prathishta is located at the south west corner of the sreekovil. Though there is no separate idol for Rama's best devotee Hanuman, it is believed that his presence is always there at the Namaskara mandapam of the temple. Devotees generally bow before the mandapa imagining the presence of Hanuman there before worshipping Sree Rama. The offering of flattened rice (avil) made from dried paddy is meant for Hanuman. Near the main temple towards the north there is a small shrine of Gosala Krishna. Outside the temple in the southern side of the courtyard there is an Ayyappa (Shastha) shrine. It is believed that the Shastha shrine was located originally at the site corresponding to the temple's sreekovil. With the arrival of Sree Rama, Ayyappa moved to the south in the present location. Now Thriprayar Thevar is the presiding deity of the Arattupuzha Pooram, one of the important festivals of central Kerala. Lord Ayyappa of this temple also participated in this pooram before the installation of Lord Rama. Except Triprayar Thevar, all other participants in this pooram are Sasthas and Bhagavathys of different temples. This also points to the conversion of Shastha shrine to Rama shrine.
The temple opens at 3am in the morning and remains open till 12pm. The temple reopens at 4pm and remains open till 8.30pm. There are five poojas conducted here as in all great temples- usha pooja, ethirtha pooja, panthiradi pooja, ucha pooja and athazha poojaa. There are three sheevelis (a processional image of the deity is carried around the temple). For Ucha sheeveli elephents are not used for procession. In Mandalakkalam (November-December) there will be a Kazcha Sheeveli instead of Ucha sheeveli. Nirmalya darshan (early morning when the sanctum opens for the day) and athazha pooja are considered very sacred. For athazha pooja especially devas and rishis are supposed to be present to have darshan of the Lord. The original idol of Rama was subject to evere wear with the passage of time. Astrological investigations however revealed that the Lord did not desire to have change of the vigraha. Therefore a raiment was made in Panchaloha and the same now covers the original stone image. Ekadasi in Vrischikam (November- December) and pooram in Meenam (March-April) are the two annual festivals conducted in the temple.
The Ekadasi festival in the month of Vrischikam(November - December) is the main festival. Ekadasi celebrations start on Dasami day(day before Ekadasi) itself when Ayyappa is taken in procession. This shows the importance of Ayyappa whose temple it was before the installation of Sri Rama. On Ekadasi day, Sree Rama is taken in procession with as many as 21 elephants participating. Thousands of people from far and near will gather here to witness the celebrations.
The best way to escape from the clutches of the frolicsome spirit is to worship Thriprayarappan and please him with the offerings. The name itself of the strong of the temple is known as Chathan Bhandaram. It is a common sight that people afflicted with spirits perform various kinds of offerings at the temple to get them eradicated from their bodies.
Firing of kathinas or Vedi vazhipadu is an important offering here. It is to commemorate the return of Hanuman after the search of Sita, with the words, 'Drishta Sita'-seen Sita. There is a belief among Hindus that if anyone sets apart some money as an offering to the deity for firing crackers, the delivery of a pregnant woman in his family will be easy and comfortable. Besides Palpayasam, Chandanam Charthu(smearing of the idol with sandal paste), different archanas and meenoottu(feeding fishs in theevra river) are other important offerings to the deity.
The performing art Chakyar Koothu is very much associated with this temple and is an important offering here. It is said that the once king Samoothiri visited this temple and watched this art and he expressed his wish to see the Hanuman’s mischieves in Lanka in detail. Thus the Koothu was extended to a twelve day performance. The Koothu performance starts on the first of Vrichika month(November). To stage Koothu there should be at least one Brahmin present in the audience. Once there was no Brahmin at all available and the Chakiyar, the performer of Koothu, did not know how to proceed. He stood perplexed, not knowing what to do. Suddenly a voice came from the sanctum saying that 'Koothu is not for Brahmins but for me. Therefore perform Koothu in my presence.' Since then Koothu, which was, being staged in the specially erected Koothambalam on the south-east corner of the temple started being staged in the mandapa itself inside the temple. And only angya Koothu(pantomime) is performed and the sanctum remains open throughout the performance. From Vrischikam 1 (mid-November) kuttu is presented for 12 days by the temple management itself. The subject enacted is Anguliyangam in the Ramayana, that is, Hanuman taking the ring from Site after finding her in Lanka and taking it back to Sri Rama. The major Part of the performance is devoted to a conversation between Hanuman and Sita.
Triprayar temple is rich in wood carvings. The sreekovil is circular in shape with a copper covered conical roof and is surmounted by a golden Thazhikakkudam. The circular sanctum has several sculptural representations of scenes from the Ramayana with a dynamic and lively vitality of design and form a lavish decoration and an integral part of the architectural edifice of the temple. Its walls are decorated with beautiful mural paintings. The namaskara mandapa, which is copper-plated, is profusely sculptured -having 24 panels of woodcarvings representing navagrahas.
The Triprayar temple was originally under the domain of the Zamorin rulers of Kerala. It later came under the posession of the Dutch, the Mysore sultans and the rulers of Cochin. Triprayar temple is situated in what is called Chettuva Island, which was formerly under the Zamorins. In 1719 it was annexed by the Dutch. Then Tipu Sultan defeated the Dutch and annexed the territory. Tipu Sultan did not spare Triprayar Thevar also. To test the divinity of the idol he struck at one of the hands. Blood started oozing. He repented his action and developed faith and devotion to the god. To make amends he donated to the temple some of the landed property he had annexed. Later the territory became part of Cochi and the Cochi King gave the ownership of this temple to local Nampoothiri community. Thereafter this temple was owned by three important Nampoothiri families - Jyanappally, Chelur, and Punnappilli - and the administration was carried out by Blahayil Nair. But unfortunately due to continuous conflict between the owners and Blahayil Nair, the government took over the charge of the temple. Now it is under the administrative control of the Cochin Devaswom Board.
Payammal Shathrughna Swami Temple
Sathrughna Swami The Payammal temple, 6 km from Vellankallur along the Irinjalakuda-Kodungallur route, is one of the few Shathrughna shrines in the State. The Payammal temple is about seven kilometers from Iringalakuda Koodalmanikya temple in the Iringalakuda Mathilakam route. Shathrukhna is considered to be the reincarnation of the Sudarsana Chakra(disc) in the hands of Mahavishnu. This is the smallest temple among Nalambalams. Of the four idols retrieved from the sea by the fishermen this idol is the smallest. All the other three temples have circular sreekovils but here sreekovil is in rectangular shape.
The idol of Lord Shatrughna is housed in a squarish granite sanctum sanctorum in the Shathrughna temple. The original Panchaloha (Five Metals - Brass, Bronze, Copper, Gold and Silver) has been untracable though efforts have been made to retrieve it from the temple pond situated in the back yard of the temple complex. The existing idol made of granite exudes a rare
Ramapuram Sree Rama Swami Temple
This temple is situated at Ramapuram near Palai, located about 40 km from Kottayam and is well connected by bus. Devottees can reach here from Koothattukulam in M.C road. Main deity is Rama.This temple is managed by a Temple Trust of 3 Nampoothiri families on rotation, viz. Amanakara, Kunnoor and Karanattu Mana.
Thirumarayoor Sree Rama Swami Temple
Thirumarayoor is a small village situated around 5 km from Piravom in Ernakulam district. The name "Thirumarayoor" originated from an event linked with the epic of "Ramayana". Seetha was attracted by a golden deer, which was originally the Mareecha who disguised as a deer, as part of the plot of Ravana to keep Rama away and steal Seetha. While Rama was chasing the deer, it disappeared at this place. The word in Malayalam for "disappear" is "marayuka". "Thiru" is indicating something related to God and "ooru" is the place. Thus the name Thiru-mara-ooru (Thirumarayoor) was originated. Thirumarayoor Sree Rama Swami temple is a beautifully sculptured ancient temples and is situated in a tiny land surrounded by paddy field.
Mulakkulam Lakshmana Swami Temple
Mulakkulam Lakshmana Swami Temple is situated at Mulakkulam in Kottayam district. This temple is closely associated with Thirumarayoor Sree Rama Swami temple. This temple have a copper dwaja prathishta and Manayathattu Nampoothiri is the Tantri.
Bharathappilly Bharatha Swami Temple
Bharathappilly Bharatha Swami Temple is situated at Memmury around 7km from Piravam in Ernakulam district.