Hindu festival Kalpathy Ratholsavam in Palakkad, Kerala
Green paddy fields, palm trees and smaller rivers cluster this town of Palakkad that lies in Palghat Gap, a pass through the Western Ghats range. Palakkad town is famous for its abundance in villages, temples and festivals. One such festival is Kalpathy Ratholsavam or temple car festival held in Kalpathy village near ‘Nila’ river during November annually. Thousands of devotees draw floral decorated chariots containing deities through the streets chanting Vedas during this occasion. The central temple associated with Ratholsavam is Sri Visalakshi Sametha Sri Viswanatha Swamy temple, one of the oldest ‘Siva’ temples of Kerala. The temple is said to be 600 years old with Sri Siva and his consort Parvathy as the presiding deities.
Legend behind Kalpathy Viswanatha Swamy temple
A Brahmin widow named Lakshmi Ammal from Sekharipuram village had the fortune to visit Banaras (Kashi) once. She brought a Lingam from there and installed it in Kalpathy on the Southern banks of ‘Nila’ river. Then she gave the King of Palakkad, Itikombi Achan, 1320 gold coins to build a temple around the lingam and entrusted it to him for its management. This trustee system still prevails in the temple. The temple and the steps built to reach near the river resemble the Banaras temple ghats on the bank of river Ganges. The saying “Kasiyil Pakuthi Kalpathy” (Half of Kasi is Kalpathy) gave this place the name “Kalpathy”.
The primacy of Sri Viswanatha Swamy temple is again approved during the festival “Mamankam”, when all the deities of temples located in Palakkad town are taken here. Situated in the meeting point of Old and New Kalpathy, there are more than hundreds of houses present in the Brahmin ‘agraharam’ (a Brahmin settlement of houses) around this temple. Recently, this place has been declared as a “Heritage” site because such row houses built in a typical architecture sharing a common wall for separation are part of an old civilization.
Kalpathy Ratholsavam rituals and celebrations
The rituals of this festival are based on Tamil Brahmin Vedic culture. Commencing with “Dwajarohanam” or flag hoisting in the Kalpathy temple, Ratholsavam begins with great fervor to celebrate for about 10 days. Vedas are chanted daily inside the temple by eminent Vedic scholars. Cultural programs such as Carnatic Vocal concerts, instrumental concerts and other festivities are held with real devotion and gay.
Decoration of the chariots is done in traditional Kerala style involving all Hindus. Various stalls of sweets, chips, ‘pori’ or puffed rice and other foodstuffs lace the streets to give luster to this festival. Devotees of surrounding villages visit the Kalpathy temple to attend the rituals and celebrations during this occasion. Relatives from far and wide reach each home in these Brahmin quarters to participate in this grand function and to attain the blessings of gods. For some people, it is a sound opportunity to meet their near and dear ones annually.
The last three days of the festival are meant for rolling of decorated chariots through the streets. On the first day, three cars of Kalpathy temple each decorated with flowers and flags containing deities Lord Siva and Parvathy, Lord Vighneshwara and Lord Subrahmanya are drawn through the streets day-long. Devotees from all streets of Palakkad get involved themselves in drawing the chariots to get blessings of Gods. On the final day, deities of Chathapuram temple and Old Kalpathy temple are also placed in their respective decorated cars and taken out on the procession escorted by the traditional festival music of Kerala ‘Panchavadyam’. The five cars circumvent the villages gloriously pouring the blessings of gods everywhere during their ‘gramapradakshinam’. The rendezvous of all these cars at their meeting point is called ‘rathasangamam’ that makes the devotees spellbound for some time. This spectacular sight of five cars coming together with the deities placed inside amidst Vedic chants and festival music is a soul stirring extravaganza.
Kalpathy Ratholsavam is next to Puri Jagannath Ratha Yatra in all demeanors according to the spectators.
By sun set, all the chariots return back to their respective temples. The deities are then taken out of the chariots and Abhishekam (a religious ritual) is being performed. They are decorated again and taken out in florally decorated palanquins on a procession by midnight. The palanquins then return back to their temples at dawn on the first day of the Tamil month of Karthigai.
Even if this marks the end of Kalpathi Ratholsavam, temples of other adjoining streets celebrate their Ratholsavam for a few days afterwards. Witnessing this stately festival endowed with the incessant blessings of gods is exciting, elating and enlightening.
Would you like to visit Kalpathy Ratholsavam?
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© 2013 Radhika Sreekanth