Think Kerala and images of lush greenery, fresh from soaking in a drizzle of rain come to the mind. Think ‘temple’ and ‘Kerala’ and your thoughts wander to women in crisp white saris, hands clasping a basket of offerings to the Lord, temple drums and bells, smell of incense, the temple elephant. One could go on. However, experiencing a lake temple that is packed with stories that take you back in time, like the ones you heard from your granny as she took you around your village temple is something that a visit to the Ananthpura Lake Temple, in Kerala’s northernmost district, Kasargod is sure to do.
The journey begins even before reaching the temple. The scenic drive to the temple from Kasargod or Kumbla stations or the Mangalore airport is sure to instill feelings of calm and peace.
Located at the center of a rectangular lake that is spread across 2 acres of land, the Sreekovil, sanctum sanctorum of the Ananthpura Lake Temple is surrounded by coconut trees beyond which are a range of hillocks. The panoramic view only adds to the serene aura of the place. As devotees walk bare footed to the Sreekovil, nothing except the hushed chants of prayers break the silence. The deity of the temple is Maha Vishnu or Ananthapadmanabha Swami. Ananthpura temple is the main seat or the moolasthanam of Lord Padmanabhaswamy of Thiruvananthpuram. Here, the Lord is seated on the multiple hooded divine serpent, Lord Anantha; on his either sides are Bhoodevi, the Goddess of Earth and Sridevi, the Goddess of Prosperity; figurines of the Lord’s attendants Jaya and Vijaya are carved on the doors of the sanctum.
On the other end of Sreekovil is the Gopuram, a small complex that displays paintings from the Puranic era. The Sreekovil and the Gopuram are connected by a wooden bridge across the lake. At the right corner of the lake is a cave which is believed to be a direct route to Thiruvananthapuram. According to local legend, Lord Anantha Padmanabha travelled through this cave to Thiruvananthapuram. The temple is also an architectural marvel. There are beautifully done wall carvings on the ceiling that depict stories from the ten avatars of Maha Vishnu. The deity is one of the most unique deities of the country as it is not made of wood, stone, metal etc., it is designed with medicinal material known as the kadu-sharkara-yogam. It was replaced with panchaloha metal in 1972, but efforts to resurrect the deity with the kadu-sharkara-yogam are being made in recent times.
There is an aura of undying tranquility, pure devotion and calm around the vast complex and its sanctity is obtained from the legends related to this temple. It is believed that the much revered Tulu Brahmin sage Divakara Muni Vilwamangalam was a great devotee of the Lord and the pujari of the temple. One day, a child approached him in the temple. The sage questioned him and realised that the child had no one. The ethereal radiance on the child’s face forced the sage to take him into his care. The child however, placed a condition saying that he would leave the place at once if he ever felt humiliated. In the due course of time, the child’s mischief grew intolerable and the sage was harsh to him. Just as the child had told the sage, he disappeared from the complex, but only after revealing that he could be found in the Ananthankat, the forest of serpent Lord Anantha.
Soon, Vilwamangalam realized that the child was none other than the almighty Maha Vishnu. He travelled through the cave where he saw the child disappear and reached the sea in his quest for the Ananthankat forest. Travelling further south he saw the woods and the child, who soon faded into a Mahua tree. The tree fell to reveal Lord Maha Vishnu resting on a thousand hooded divine serpent. This is believed to be the spot where the Thiruvanathapuram temple is built.
Another legend of the same time suggests that the mysterious pathway that Maha Vishnu took to disappear is guarded by a rather unique attendant. A crocodile named Babiya who has been present in the lake since 150 years! It is believed that Babiya could never leave the temple premises. Almost 70 years ago, a British soldier killed her while on his visit to Kerala. Surprisingly, the soldier died of snakebite later; locals believe that the crocodile guardian’s wrath befell upon him. Before long, another crocodile appeared in Babiya’s place and that every time one dies, another takes her place.
Another very-difficult-to-believe fact about Babiya is that this crocodile is a vegetarian crocodile, who feeds only on the prasad from the temple. For those who you will only see it to believe it, ensure that you are present during the Babiya Naivedya time, 8 am and 12 noon every day. Watching the pujari put the prasad into Babiya’s mouth would be a thrilling sight for kids and adults. In fact, devotees are allowed to feed her the temple prasad with their hands without any fear.
Such are the legend of Kerala’s Ananthpura Lake Temple. We belong to a land that enthralls in tales and legends from ancient times. But episodes and incidents as such never fail to surprise the most knowledgeable of us.