Friday, November 17, 2017

Shivalaya Ottam, Kanyakumari

Shivalaya Ottam, Kanyakumari
Shivalaya Ottam is a ritual marathon undertook by the devotees to the 12 Siva shrines in the district of Kanyakumari on the day of Shivarathri. From this year onwards the day was announced as a local holiday for the district. Shivalaya Ottam means running from one Siva temple to another. On Shivarathri day, the pilgrims at Kanyakumari district worship at 12 Shiva temples covering a distance of 82 km within 24 hours by foot. Pilgrims who cover the distance by foot observe ‘Vriddha’ for a week. During the fasting period they eat tender coconut, tender palmyra (Nungu) during the day and Tulsi and water in the night. Those who cannot run this distance, visit the temples in vehicles. Package tours are available at Trivandrum on Shivarathri day.

Story of Purushamrigam:
For a yajna the Pandavas were going to perform, Yudhistra required the milk of the Purushamrigam. The mighty human-beast was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva. And held a deep dislike towards Lord Vishnu, and all Vishnu devotees. Bhima took upon himself to bring the milk for the yajna, Lord Krishna wished to show that Shiva and Vishnu are One, and also restrain the overconfidence of Bhima. Krishna therefore gave Bhima 12 Shivalinga images, and told him he should drop one whenever he needed help.

Bhima traveled to the jungle where the Purushamrigam was in deep meditation, he uttered the words “Govinda, Gopala”, (names of Lord Krishna often chanted by his devotees as a form of worship), while he tried to get milk from the Purushamrigam. Hearing the names of Vishnu disturbed its mediation on Shiva, and it saw Vishnu appearing in the Shiva Linga it was worshipping. The Purushamrigam was enraged, and grabbed Bhima. To escape from its claws, Bhima dropped one Shivalinga, which turned into a Shiva shrine.

The Purushamrigam let go of Bhima in order to worship Shiva. A little later Bhima once again tried to obtain the milk, and again called “Govinda, Gopala”. Again, the human-beast chased Bhima and caught him. Once again, he dropped one of the Shivalingas Krishna had given him, and another Shiva shrine appeared. In this way, the 12 stones created the 12 temples that are known as the Shivalayas.

In the end Bhima was again caught by the Purushamrigam, when he still had one foot in the territory of the sphinx-Purushamrigam. Because of this Bhima disputed that he was rightfully free. But Yudhistra judged that the half of Bhima’s body that was still within the territory of the Purushamrigam belonged to it. Much impressed with Yudhishthira’s great justice, the Purushamrigam gave the milk for the completing of the yajna. And Bhima’s pride was thus subdued.

Story of Vyakrapada:
Vyakrapada, son of Doumaya Maharshi, was a staunch believer of Siva. Lord Krishna engaged Bhima to invite Vyakrapada for an Aswamedayagam. Lord Krishna handed over 12 Siva Lingams to Bhima and directed him to chant the names of Vishnu while he meets Vyakrapada. Hearing the names ‘Govinda, Gopala’, irritated Vyakrapada chased Bhima. Bhima dropped the Lingams one by one on his way, and it is believed that they later became the above-mentioned temples. The idol of the Thirunattalam, the temple where the Ottam concluded, is Sankara Narayana-suggesting that Hari and Haran are one and the same.

Shivalaya Ottam
Shivalaya Ottam is a ritual marathon undertook by the devotees to the 12 Siva shrines in the district of Kanyakumari on the day of Shivarathri. Ideally, the Shivalaya Ottam is undertaken on foot (after all, Ottam means run in Malayalam). However, nowadays, only the most ardent of devotees, literally, run the distance. The pilgrimage involves a circuitous journey, starting from Thirumalai Mahadevar temple at Munchirai, near Marthandam to Sankaranarayana temple, at Thirunattalam. Pilgrims have to cover a distance of about 80 to 110 Kms in around 24 hours. You have to be really fit to complete the journey on foot.

Usually, the pilgrimage starts at around 4 p.m. on the previous day when Thirumalai temple opens for evening darshan. Only then can the pilgrims on foot make it in time for the evening Deeparadhana (pooja with lighted lamps) at Nattalam. Journey to all these temples in single day was a tiresome job. Perhaps that’s why many devotees these days prefer to travel the route on vehicles. Local tour operators even arrange special coaches and cars for Shivalaya Ottam. Even if you are travelling by car, bus or two-wheeler, you have to leave the city well before dawn to cover the distance on time.

On the day, there will be huge traffic snarls on the route, particularly from Balaramapuram to Marthandam. There will be so many people and cars on the road that you can only inch forward. The average distance between each of the 12 temples is about six to eight km. Also, at each temple there would be serpentine queues to get into the sanctum sanctorum.
Another highlight of the pilgrimage is the sense of camaraderie as local residents come out en masse to host the pilgrims. There is no question of getting lost because there are lots of people to guide you. At each temple arrangements would have been made to feed the pilgrims and even take showers if needs be.

The Ottam begins at Munchirai, the first Sivalayams and goes all through the next 10 temples before ending at Thirunattalam. Special pujas will be conducted at temple at Thirumalai. The ritual begins after the devotees taking a holy-dip in the Thamirabarani river at Munchirai, the first Sivalayams. The participants wear saffron robes, hold a palm-leaf fan on their hand and chant the mantra "Govinda... Gopaala..." all through the whole day of running. The pilgrims receive the holy ashes, "Thiruneer" from all the eleven temples. The purpose for the pilgrimage is believed to be fulfilled only by receiving the Sandal-paste from the final Sankaranarayanar Temple at Thirunattalam.

The objective of the pilgrimage is to uphold that Siva and Vishnu are both the manifestations of one supreme being. Before, the devotees observe a one-week fast. coconut and Tender palmyra in the day time and Tulsi-water at night are the only food items taken by the devotees during the fasting days. Devotees usually start in the evening on Shivaratri and they finish in time for the first Deeparadhana (pujas with lamps) that happens around at 4 a.m. the next day. Ideally, devotees are supposed to circulate each of the 12-sanctum sanctorum 108 times, reciting 108 mantras. However, due to paucity of time most of us circulate once and leave the 108 rounds till the very last.

Many devotees also take time out to write the sloka ‘Ohm Nama Shivaya’ 108 times on pieces of paper provided by temple authorities, which they then drop into a hundi. Many devotees in the city, particularly those who can’t make it for the Shivalaya Ottam, observe the occasion with a pilgrimage to any 12 of the major and/or minor Shiva temples in the city or district. Some of these temples on the shorter circuit are Sreekanteswaram temple, Thaliyil Mahadeva temple, Karamana, Mahadeva Temple, Pipinmoodu, Gowreeshapattam temple, Kussakode Mahadeva temple, Thirumalai, Chengalloor Sree Mahadeva Temple, Poojapura, Pazhaya Sreekanteswaram temple, Overbridge, Sri Mahadeva temple, Manikanteswara.

The twelve temples in order are:
Shivalaya Ottam Route:

Shivalaya Ottam – Route Table
S. No
Kunnathoor, Kappucaud, Vettuvanni, Marthandam, Gnaramvilai
Chitharal, Ambalakkadai, Arumanai, Kaliyal
Chithirancode, Kumarapuram, Muttacaud
Saral Vilai, Marunthukkottai, Padmanabhapuram
Kumaracoil Bus stop, Villukuri
Villukuri, Thuckalay, Keralapuram
Nadukkadai, Kodiyoor, Perambi, Palliyadi