Thiruvananthapuram: The Gods came out of their respective shrines in Tamil Nadu and embarked on a grand journey on Sunday to reach Kerala.
The COVID protocols forced them to shun their usual ceremonial vehicles but their procession is expected to reach here this evening as scheduled, covering several kilometres by road and accepting ritualistic welcome by devotees and the guard- of-honour from the armed police at the borders.
The arrival of these three sacred idols from Tamil Nadu has been marking the beginning of the annual Navratri festivities in Kerala capital for nearly two centuries.
For the last over 180 years, the idols of ”Saraswathy”, the Goddess of knowledge and art, ”Kurmaraswami”, the warrior deity and ”Munnootti Nanga” who symbolises the power worship, have been travelling the distance to mark the festival here as part of a practice that existed in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore (present south Kerala).
The idols atop the decked up vehicles would cover a distance of 100 kms between Kanyakumari and the Kerala capital, to and fro.
This year”s nine-day Navratri festivities will get underway here on October 6.
Adithya Varma, a member of the Travancore royal family, said it was the visionary king Swathi Thirunal who had introduced the practice of bringing the idols here in 1839.
“The arrival of the sacred idols heralds the beginning of the Navratri festival in Ananthapuri (Thiruvananthapuram). It was a practice that began during the royal era but is still continuing with all its glory,” he told PTI.
All the three idols were brought from Kanyakumari district of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which had been part of Travancore during the pre-independence royal era.
When Kerala was formed on November 1, 1956 after the reorganisation of the states, it had lost four southern taluks-Thovala, Agastheeswaram, Kalkulam and Vilavancode- which had been amalgamated to form Kanyakumari district and made part of Tamil Nadu.
But, the ceremonial procession of idols have been continuing under the aegis of the democratic governments of the two states till date.
The idol of Goddess Saraswathy is brought from the Thevarakettu temple located inside the historic Padmanabhapuram palace while that of Kumaraswami from Kumarakoil Shri Murugan Temple.
Goddess Munnootti Nanga joins the procession from the ancient Suchindram temple, which is also located in Kanyakumari district.
For the people of the southern states, it is an occasion to reminisce about the tradition, legacy and bond shared by them during their bygone past.
Though the three idols were traditionally brought atop a caparisoned elephant, silver horse and a decorated palanquin respectively with the accompaniment of hundreds of people including devotees, it was avoided this time due to the pandemic protocol.
This year, the idols were being brought to Kerala in vehicles decorated with flowers.
Ahead of the procession, Kerala State Minister for Devaswom, K Radhakrishna, on Sunday, accepted the traditional sword of Travancore royals kept at “upparika malika” of the Padmanabhapuram palace, from the representatives of the Tamil Nadu government.
It was later handed over to the devaswom officials, accompanying the idols during the procession.
Besides Union Minister V Muraleedharan and Kerala Education Minister V Sivankutty, Tamil Nadu IT minister Mano Thangaraj and a host of government dignitaries and temple officials from both states were present during the occasion.
The idols used to arrive to a rousing reception here as hundreds of devotees would gather on either side of the road to have a glimpse of them and offer prayers.
After the traditional welcome, the idol of Goddess Saraswathy along with the sword would be installed at the Navaratri Mandapam in the Karuvelappura Malika, a mansion located near the eastern entrance of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple here, to be worshiped with rituals, concerts and art forms through the festival days.
While the idol of Kumaraswami would be taken to the nearby Aryasala Devi Temple, Monnootti Nanga, colloquially known as Kundani Manga, would be installed at the Chenithitta Bhagavathi Temple until their return after the festival.
Sacred ‘granthas’ (books) and weapons including the legendary sword would be placed at the mandapam, as part of the ‘pooja vaipu’ ritual during the navratri festival.
The classical concerts and the ‘sabhas’ of Sanskrit scholars would revive the navaratri festival traditions of Travancore.
Sharing the vivid memories of the festivities, Varma said the royal family members used to attend the concerts and offer prayers during the time of ”deeparadhana” (arati).
“Like the arattu ritual at the Padmanabha Swamy Temple, the procession of the navratri idols also continues reviving the glorious past of Travancore. Both the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments are very co-operative in carrying forward this traditional practice,” he said.
Venkateswaran, residing in the West Fort area near Padmanaha Swamy temple, said it was a generations-old practice for his family to wait for the arrival of the idols.
“Like me, my father and grandfather also used to wait for these idols to have a glimpse of it. A festive mood will grip our street, located adjacent to the temple, with their arrival. The rest of the days will be that of music and beautiful rituals,” he told PTI.
But, the concerns of the pandemic and the health protocols, sounded by the authorities, took the sheen out of it for the last two years, the 60-year-old man added.
After the nine-day festivities, the idols would be taken back to their abodes in the neighbouring state in a similar procession and the devotees would wait for the next navratri season for their arrival.
According to legends, Kambar, a medieval Tamil poet, had gifted the idol of Goddess Saraswathy to a king of Venad with the request of preserving it forever following all rituals.
The king had installed the idol at the Padmanabhapuram palace (formerly Kalkulam palace) and offered worship and his successors had continued the practice.