DEPICTION: Notwithstanding, Bhagavati is depicted in both her mild and fierce forms, usually reflecting Kali’s features. Her visage is also frightening - with sharp fangs, gaunt features, sword in one hand, a severed head in another. This scary image is believed to frighten away malevolent forces of the universe.
TEMPLES: Bhagavati is believed to be the Kula Deivam of Kochi Kings. Generally Bhagavati temples have a reputation for being places for redemption from evil spirits, mangalya bhagya to unmarried women and for their annual festivals. Kavadi festival in Tundil Bhagavati temple is exciting. Bhagavati Temples of note are Attukal Bhagavati Temple, Chottanikkara Bhagavati Temple, Kodungallore Bhagavati Temple, Kavaserry Bhagavati Temple, Mangottu Bhagavati Temple. The Rajarajeswari deity in Chottanikkara is said to be untouched by human sculptor. It is laterite and irregular in shape.
Attukal Temple is also known as ‘Sabarimala of Women’ denoting 'Attukalamma' who is Parvathi, Bhagavati and Kannagi. After she annihilates the Madurai City. Kannaki left that city and reached Kerala via Kanyakumari. She took rest at Attukal on her way to Kodungallor. Thottampattu song sung during the annual festival is based on her story. In Goa, several Bhagavati temples provide for Durga worship in the form of Mahishasur Mardini.
In Tamil Nadu, the Mondaicaud Bhagavati Temple is situated in the western Kanyakumari coast. Here Bhagavati is worshipped as Parvathi. It is a pilgrim spot for Tamil Nadu and Kerala; the majority from Kollam district due to past imperial Chera, Chola, Pandya connections. This temple has several peculiarities.
Vegetarian food is not a conservative issue here. The deity here is also linked to ‘Akilathirattu Ammanai’ which is central to ‘Ayyavazhi’ together with Arul Nool. ‘Akilam’ means world and ‘thirattu’ means collection. Ayyavazhi means ‘Path of the Father, a monistic dharmic belief. Ayyavali shares Hindu mythology and practice but carves it own concepts of dharma.
MYTHOLOGY: Mythology reflects the cult of the terrifying protectress. The demon Daruka created havoc in villages, destroying crops, polluting wells and killing livestock. Villagers prayed to Bhagavati, who rose with all her fury, trident in hand. Her laughter thundered through the dark night and shook the skies. She challenged Daruka to a battle and after a fierce fight plunged her trident to his heart. She drank his blood and quenched her thirst. The sight of Bhagavati’s blood shot eyes frightened her consort and he sought refuge in the Northern Hills. Bhagavati remained in the villages as Guardian while they adored her furious persona.
BHAGAVATIPAATTU: Means the song of Bhagavati. Mutippurapaattu is the adoration of the crown of Bhagavati. It is sung during Bhagavati temple or home rituals . The rituals involve the ritualistic drawing of the Mother Goddess in glowing colours of herbs and stones. Legend has it that the marriage of a Brahmin girl was delayed as she had not attained puberty. This led to all her children being excommunicated, giving birth to a flower tending community known as Pushpaka. They were assigned to making garlands to Goddess Kali and enjoyed the rights to conduct songs and dance festivals in Kaavus and upper-caste homes.
RITUALS: This commences in the morning and lasts till noon. The Bhagavtipattu is conducted under a canopy of red and white cloth, leaves from the banyan and areca palms. The shape of the temple is drawn on the floor with rice paste. Ganapathi and Sawaswathi are invoked by chanting which is accompanied by bronze plate, elattaalam, maddalam, drums, cymbols, horns and pipe music. A pushpaka woman with painted eyebrows and braided clothes covered with a shawl places herself before the chorus. She holds a plate of rice and sways to the music and her slow dance till Mother Goddess possesses her to reveal through her mouth.
A Kurup priest, garbed in red cloth, belt with tiny bells around the waist, joins in. He wields a sword and shield. Two women put themselves in the front platform pound rice and turmeric in a cloth covered mortar. To this is added various juices such as mango and banyan leaves, coconut and blood coloured liquid. The pounding increases with greater zeal with exciting music. Finally the mortar is toppled eastward. The rituals end with the symbolic destruction of Daruka and the singing of hymns to Mother Kali. The spreading water from the mortar is considered to be Bhagavati’s prasada. In some places goats and hens are sacrificed for their blood.
Rituals to placate and appease Goddess Kali are found in most parts of the South with slight variations in theme, song and dance but ultimately all lead to the same direction – Mother Goddess worship. Hari Om
By Yogi Ananda Saraswati