Sree Kurumba Bhagavathi temple at Kodungallur is an ancient shrine which is dedicated to the Goddess in her Bhadrakali form. The deity is known as Sree Kurumba and fondly called Kodungallur Amma or the mother of Kodungallur by her devotees.
The deity here represents the fierce form of the goddess who has eight arms with various attributes in each hand. In one hand, she holds the head of a demon Daruka, another a bell, another a sword, next an anklet, among others.
Nobody is sure as to when exactly the temple was built; some say before it became a Devi temple it was a Buddhist gompa. According to sources, the shrine of Lord Shiva is said to be older than the shrine of the goddess, which again adds on to the speculation about the origin of the temple.
As per legends, the shrine was built many centuries ago to serve a special purpose. According to one legend, Parashurama, after the creation of Kerala was harassed by an asura named Daruka. To find an end to the troubles caused by the asura, Parashurama is said to have meditated on Lord Shiva, who requested him to worship Shakti, who took the form of Bhadrakali and killed the demon and in honour, Parashurama constructed the shrine.
Another popular legend is the story of Kannaki, who was the heroine of Ilango Adigal's story Sillappatikaram. Kannaki was a chaste woman who was married to Kovalan who was the son of a rich trader. Kannaki's life took a turn, when Kovalan deserted her and decided to stay along with a dancer Madhavi, to whom he was attracted.
Madhavi, utilized Kovalan to the maximum and later threw him out of her house. Ashamed, he returned to Kannaki, who asked him to sell her anklet and start a new living in Madurai, with the funds procured by the sale of the anklet.
Around the same time, the goldsmith of the town had stolen a pearl anklet of the queen; in coincidence Kovalan approaches the same goldsmith to sell Kannaki's anklet which resembled that of the Queen's. The goldsmith hatches a plot and accuses Kovalan of stealing the queen's anklet and in turn he is taken to the court along with the anklet and the King ordered Kovalan to be beheaded.
Hearing the happening, Kannaki rushes to the aid of her husband, but gets late to prove her husband's innocence. She shows the king her another pair of anklet and breaks it and she torches the entire kingdom into flames. After which she is believed to have come to the shrine, offered her prayers to the goddess and is also believed to have been absorbed into the idol of the Goddess, which is worshiped till date.
The Minor Shrines
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Towards the left of the temple is a unique shrine dedicated to Vysoorimala. The shrine is a medieval one, with an open roof; the deity here is said to cure smallpox, chickenpox, mumps and other skin-related diseases. On closer observation, one can find that the idol of the goddess is a corrupted one, with no proper features visible. Devotees can be seen offering turmeric and black pepper to the goddess in order to protect oneself from skin diseases.
Another small shrine on the right side of the temple is dedicated to Kshetrapalakan, who is believed to be guarding the deity of the shrine and the devotees of the goddess. At a short distance one can find a smaller shrine dedicated to Thavindumuthi or the Husk Grandmother; the idol is wrapped in husk powder, which is offered by the devotees.
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It is believed that Thavindumuthi prevents one from getting respiratory diseases such as asthma, TB, etc. Devotees offer husk powder and consume a pinch of the husk taken from the idol, which is said to prevent one from the above-mentioned diseases.
Next to the sanctum sanctorum of the main deity one can find a chamber facing the northern direction, same as the main deity, which houses the idols of Sapthamathrukas or the Seven Mothers.
The Bharani festival at the temple is one of the major temple festivals in Kerala. The festival begins from the Bharani star in the Malayalam month of Kumbham to 7 days after the Bharani star in the month of Meenam. Hence, it is popularly known as Meena Bharani, which normally falls between the months of March and April.
The festival begins with a ritual called Kozhikkallu moodal which involves the sacrifice of cocks and shedding of their blood, although this practice is now done only symbolically. An interesting fact is that none of the local residents take part in the festivities or rather are hesitant to come to the temple although the shrine remains closed for seven days until the festival is done.
Kavu Theendal is another major part of the festival. The goddess is the patron deity of the Cranganore royal family and the King plays an important role in the festivities. He stands atop a platform built around a banyan tree and opens out a silk umbrella, as a gesture that anybody can enter the precincts of the temple irrespective of their caste, creed, etc.
After which devotees run around the temple thrice with sticks in their hands before entering the shrine. This ritual commemorates the killing of the demon Daruka; the sticks are said to be substitutes of the swords which were used earlier.
During this ritual, oracles of the goddess or Vellichapads, come to the temple dressed as the goddess in shades of red and are said to be possessed by her and run around the temple in a trance, waving their swords in the air, some hitting the swords on their heads and shedding blood. The oracles yell lewd, abusive cries at the goddess which is said to please her.