Architecture, worship and music combine gloriously at the Kadavallur Sri Rama temple.
Kadavallur is a small village in Thrissur district of Kerala, where an age old Sri Rama temple shines as a perfect example of all traditions of Kerala. The existence of this temple the 10th-11th century is attested by a Vattezhuthu record inscribed on a stone on the base of the enclosure. Like all temples of Kerala the main tower is of the sloping roof variety with two enclosures and an impressive entrance tower.
The base of the main shrine is made of granite while the wall of the superstructure is latarite plastered and embellished with designs. The super structure is covered with wooden frame work while the roof itself is made of metal simulating the tiled slopes. Beautiful wooden sculptures of different manifestations of gods and associate images are introduced as bracket figures. They stand out as good examples of early wooden sculptures in the true Kerala style. An example is that of the ten-headed Ravana on his chariot which is shown almost like a boat. The poses and the flexions of the body portrayed show the remarkable achievement of Kerala dancers in body poses as may be seen in a sculpture said to be Parasurama aiming an arrow.
The main deity made of stone inside the sanctum is a four-armed Vishnu who is worshipped as Sri Rama as in many other Kerala temples, where various avatars are worshipped as main deity in the form of Vishnu. Encircling the main shrine is a tiled enclosure with an entrance having two wings, one on the South is important as it is called Koothambalam, the one on the other side is where spectators sit. At the rear-end of the Koothambalam is placed a huge pot-drum (Kuda-mizha) on a wooden pedestal. It resembles many such drums portrayed in all the famous murals of the region, figured in the scenes of Dancing Siva, the player being Nandikesvara, who learnt dance from Siva.
According to dance and agama treatises, the Kudamuzha Pot drum, symbolises Nandikesvara.
There is another rare representation that of Hanuman placed on it. Hanuman as Dwarapala is seen carved in some Siva cave temples of Kerala as at Kottukkal in this region.
According to the Ramayana, Hanuman was the manifestation of Nandikesvara, guardian of the entrance to Kailasa.
The Koothambalam of this temple is used in the month of Sivaratri when the temple dancers, Chakkiyars, dance, sing and expound the connected story.
The temple was also the repository of a rare tradition of Vedic learning. Vedic experts belonging to two schools called Yogams (Thirunavay yogam and Thrissur yogam) meet for ten days annually in the temple, and examine each other by challenging them to recite from any part of the entire Veda which they chose. It is not mere reciting the hymns from memory but splitting the words of the texts in order, without mistake for nearly one hour. After one party finishes the other party challenges them by giving another part. It is a remarkable test called “Anyonyam.” A challenge to the command over the whole Vedas and precision with which they learnt them, it is nearly a 4,000-year old tradition that has survived only here in the whole of India. Unfortunately this unique system now faces extinction. It has not attracted the attention of UNESCO which has taken measures to preserve Buddhist oral chanting. Out of the two surviving schools one has been closed down and the other at Thrissur is managing to survive.
Rig Veda occupies eight days of examination in this festival while Yajurveda is allotted one day with Sama Veda dealt with on the last day. Now the festival has been enlarged by inviting scholars to explain to the people what it all means and at the same time discuss all aspects including “science and technology in the Vedas.” And at nights traditional drama works in Sanskrit and other arts are arranged which attract a large gathering.
The Temple remains serene as the worship starts very early morning at 4 a.m. where men, women, and children throng to the temple after early bath in local temple tank to witness the morning puja. In the morning ritual called “Sri Bali” the decorated temple elephant leads the procession to the music of the Panchavadya.
The Panchavadya also includes “melam” at times and is an absolute treat. Kerala artists are masters of this music, especially those of this region. Starting from slow rhythm, the players gradually build up the tempo to reach the crescendo after nearly an hour of playing; all the while the beautifully decorated elephant stands majestically carrying the deity –“Bali bhera” watching at the same time with its sharp eyes the movements of all devotees. Kerala is the place to visit for experiencing this atmosphere of temple worship combining in itself, literature, arts, architecture, music and dance that provides certainly an exhilarating living.