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Parassinikkadavu Temple… it’s something special

Kannur, in north Kerala, is a land of many unsung wonders… a district with its own share of assets amongst the numerous attractions in the god’s own country. One that stands out of many-a unique assets of Kannur is Parassinikkadavu Muthappan Temple – a temple of immense specialties!

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Situated on the serene banks of river Valapattanam, about 20 km far from Kannur town, the Muthappan temple at Parassinikkadavu is perhaps the only one of its kind in the country in terms of religious practices. In the Hindu temples that follow the ‘sattvic’ way of worship (a term attributed in respect to the high caste Brahmanic worship system) – which demands strict purity and vegetarianism – and the temple offerings are natural ones like flowers and fruits, can anyone imagine that here there is no idol to worship and offerings to offerings to the deity are meat & toddy! That’s the Temple at Parassinikkadavu.

Here, instead of the Hinduism’s customary idol worship, the deity ‘Muthappan’ is worshipped by means of the folk art ‘Theyyam’ (north Kerala’s indigenous dance form where the performer applies mask on his face and puts on brightly coloured costumes).

In fact Muthappan Temple is the only one where devotees witness the fascinating Theyyam dance daily; as it is regarded that god uses human as a medium to communicate to his devotees and put an end to their traumas. The Theyyam performed at this temple are two types: Vellattom and Thiruvappan, personification of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively.

If one learns about the interesting legends of the god ‘Muthappan’, Parassinikkadavu Temple’s strange rituals can be given full justice. Muthappan, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva, was found as an infant by a childless Brahmin couple. They raised him as their own son. But as he grew up, Muthappan picked up wayward habits, becoming a wandering hunter extremely fond of meat and toddy. One day Muthappan vanished all of a sudden, but not before revealing his divine self to the local folks. Later a temple was consecrated at Parassinikkadavu in his honour.

A deity known for his instant wish granting prowess much like Lord Shiva, Parassinikkadavu Muthappan is the most popular deity in northern region of Kerala. Everyday, lots of people come to this temple to witness the worship rituals, which are indeed a treat to watch.

The daily routine begins with the Theyyam artists, in their colourful attire, performs frenzied dancing rhythmically with the resonant beat of the percussion instrument ‘chenda’. Symbolically representing the ‘hunter god’, the Theyyam dances with swaying the sword. The movements, brisk and light randomly, are true eye feast and the whole atmosphere throbs with holistic air. As the performance reaches its peak, Theyyam – on behalf of the deity – answers to the devotees’ various woes.

The worship concludes with the distribution of the temple’s special ‘prasadam’, i.e. ritual offerings, ‘Payyankutti’ (A dish made with flattened rice, boiled groundnut with shredded coconuts, black pepper, pappad and dried fish; together with toddy) to everyone … but not before offering the same to Muthappan’s most trusted companion ‘the dog’ ! According to legends, the hunter god was always shadowed by dogs and it’s their privilege to be fed first-of-all with the temple ‘prasadam’ – An act symbolizing the oneness of the supreme soul irrespective of gender, caste or creed… which the enlightened ones stated that ultimately the soul only lasts, not the body.

In Kannur, people also conduct Theyyam, mainly ‘Vellattom’, at their homes as an offering to fulfill their wishes. After the proceedings are over, much same like that in the temple, the inmates keep the ‘thirumudi’ of Vellattom  (which represents the matted locks of Lord Shiva) on the house rooftop as it is believed that it will bring wellness & prosperity to the household throughout the year. Vellattom offering is held in high esteem by all locals alike.

Parassinikkadavu Temple is not limited to a particular religion; on the contrary it is open to all, with people from different faiths being the staunch devotees of Muthappan. A shrine that is a thriving testimony of secular harmony. The practices here seems to intensify the ever debatable fact that ” isn’t these caste & creed  are creations of one’s own mindset or ….? “

… Here people live with no doors & locks !

In the modern times where, together with the technology advances, crimes too become more sophisticated and the concerns for more and more security measures gains priority, is it possible to imagine a place where people live in harmony in no-door-no-locks-houses ? It may seem unbelievable but as a matter of fact, true! There is indeed a tiny hamlet where houses and other buildings like shops have no doors, and that place is in the country of countless legends and myths – India.

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That peculiar place is ‘Shani Shingnapur’, a village located in Maharashtra state about 350 kilometers away from the state capital Mumbai and 60 kilometers from the popular pilgrim place Shirdi.

In this tiny village consisting of some 400+ families, people’s life literally revolves around the celebrated village temple – Temple of Lord Shani, one of the most sacred abode of Shani (Hindu God of planet Saturn) in the whole country. Before throwing light to this strange village life, it is essential to get some awareness about Lord Shani or Saturn.

According to Hindu mythology, the influence period of planet Saturn (‘Shani-Dasa’ in local) is overall a troublesome part in one’s life, generally giving a torrid time. This can vary in length – from 2 years to 20 years – with further variant periods like ‘Kandaka Shani’ (two and half years), ‘Ezhara-Shani’ (seven and half years), etc. To survive this ordeal, appeasing Lord Shani is a must. For that, visiting sacred Shani temples and offering prayers is a common practice. Among the herds of people who seek Lord Shani’s abode, Temple at Shani Shingnapur village holds high significance.

This is not like a traditional architectural-marvel Indian shrine; but simple to the core – with no roof and doors! An open shrine where a five feet high black stone (which represents Lord Shani) is placed on an uncovered platform. Here very peculiar system of worship is followed… Devotees should take bath first and wear saffron colored cloths. Only men are allowed to go near the idol, women can pray only from a distance. The worship is offered by pouring oil (gingerly oil is supposed to be the favorite offering) over the idol.

Unlike the typical temples, here there is no time limit for worship – it can be done round-the-clock! Village legends state, Lord Shani doesn’t like to be covered and no need for doors either. So a normal temple is not built.

Adhering to the strong belief over the prowess of Shani God, devotes who come to this temple from faraway places go for worship without locking their cars / vehicles. Their belongings are kept unguarded.

In Shani Shingnapur village, people live in houses with no doors for generations! Here one can find only curtains (that is also rare) in the place of doors. The only temporary guard is barriers – that too to keep off stray animals. Here villagers get to their daily routines without bothering about their house’s security or fear of thieves. For them, everything is dedicated to the Lord Shani. The belief is, whoever steals anything from this place will incur the wrath of Shani God and will have to pay for his/her sins very dearly. When Shani Shingnapur natives go outside their village, they don’t ask their neighbors to keep vigil on their house & belongings. There is no Police station in this village too. They have no role here!

Furnitures like cupboards were strange to the village folk for quite a long time. Nowadays few cupboards started appearing in some houses, but they too are without locks! Recently a Bank started functioning in Shani Shingnapur. Staying true to this village custom, this Bank too has no doors or locks. However the bank authorities don’t keep the cash here at night (that is taken to their nearby branch after working hours).

This fairy-tale-like village has its own share of controversies as well. Few months back a theft has been reported, which the majority folk swore as the very first one in the village’s history. But villagers faith remained unshaken – no official complaint was made and police investigation was not sought. All folks, in unison, believe the thief will be bought to book by the sheer power of Lord Shani – sooner or later. On the contrary, some critics question this, stating that several thefts were made during the last one year but the blind faith of villagers hushed up those issues. And, moreover this sort of staunch belief is not genuine but sort of a brand building for the village, as the peoples lives are largely dependent from the fortunes of the Temple. Though the situation goes like this, the number of devotees to Shani Shingnapur temple is always on the rise.

Whether this is a blind belief or a brand building process, or, will Lord Shani’s punishment will ultimately befall on the thieves who committed the so-called first crime … only time can tell. So far interesting legends thrive on !