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Bharananganam

Bharananganam is a panchayat in Kottayam district of Kerala, covering an area of 27.04 square km.The population is around 17,000. This place has become a major pilgrimage tourist destination ever since the canonization of Sr. Alphonsa of this place, by the Pope at Vatican. The womens college at Palai is named after St. Alphonsa. This college is famous for its achievements in sports apart from academic excellence. It has produced a few Olympians too. The other pilgrimage places around Bharananganam are the churches at the native place of St. Alphonsa at Kudamaloor and Muttuchira which are visited by thousands of pilgrims.

Different faiths

The Bharananganam church which is 1000 years old is also known as Anakkallu church. This place also talks of stories which relate to the legendary Pandavas. It is believed that Bharananganam Sree Krishna temple was blessed by the Pandavas themselves. There is also a Sastha Temple at Edamattom nearby.The older name of this place was Parananganam. St. Thomas, the apostle of India, social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, Mother Teresa, blessed Chavara Elias and others have visited this place. It is believed that a portion of the cross which was used to crucify Jesus Christ is kept here. Archeologists have unearthed 162 coins which belong to Buddha era (B.C 563-483), from the pilgrimage destination of Bharananganam. This place was considered to be a settlement of Buddhists.

St.Francis Assisi feast(December 8th), St. Sebastians feast (January 20, 21) and St. Alphonsa day (July 28) are the main festivals of Bharananganam pilgrimage place. People belonging to various communities live here in harmony, and the festivals of the church and temple are celebrated by all. The ornamental lamp held during the church procession was donated by the temple. This church was made a forane in 1890 itself. The first pastoral home in Kerala was built here. The ornamental gold cross which is an artistic marvel was first owned by this church at Bharananganam.

Sabarimala

Sabarimala,in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, as a place of pilgrimage, is a nation-wide acclaimed destination.Sri Dharmasastha Temple is the most famous among all the Sastha Temples of India. It is believed that Sage Parasurama who uplifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe, installed the idol of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala for worship The pilgrimage begins in the month of November and ends in January. The temple attracts pilgrims not only from the southern states of India, but also from other parts of the country and abroad.

The unique feature of the Temple is that it is open to people of all castes and faiths and innumerable non-hindus conduct pilgrimages to Sabarimala. The secular aspect of the temple is best exemplified by the existence of the "Vavar Nada" in honour of a Muslim saint at the close proximity to the main temple at Sabarimala. The pilgrims enter the gateway of “Pathinettampadi” only after worship at this place. The pilgrims on their sojourn to Sabarimala also worship at Erumeli Sree Dharma Sastha Temple and conduct "Petta Thullal". They also worship in the mosque at Erumeli as a part of their pilgrimage.

Secularism highlighted

Ayyappa cult gives much importance to secularism and communal harmony and the pilgrimageSabarimala has turned out to be a model place of worship for the whole world. Another significant aspect of the pilgrimage is that all the pilgrims whether rich or poor, learned or illiterate, holding high position or not, master or servant ,are all equal before the Lord and all address one other as Ayyappa, highlighting the ego less aspect of humanity. destination of Besides the temple, there are a number of other sightseeing places one can visit around Sabarimala.Aranmula is a little temple town in Pathanamthitta District, which is famous for its scenic ranges and handicrafts especially the “ Aranmula mirror”. It also features the annual boat race during Onam festival.One can visit the hill town of Konni, which is famous for timber trade and the wild elephant training centre.

Malayattoor

Situated about 47 km from Kochi, the pilgrimage destination of Malayattoor is famous for the Catholic Church, located on top of the Malayattoor hill, at a height of 609 mts. Dedicated to St. Thomas the apostle of Jesus Christ, thousands of pilgrims gather at the pilgrimage place for the annual festival of Malayatoor Perunnal,held during the months of March /April.

Sailing in an Arab merchant vessel, St. Thomas is believed to have landed at Kodungalloor port in Kerala, in AD 52 and that he took the initiative of establishing a Christian community at Malayattoor. In his journey through the length and breadth of the land, he is said to have founded the churches in Kodungalloor, Quilon, Niranam, Nilakkal, Kokkamangalam, Kottakavu and Paalayoor.

Blessed by natural bounties Malayattoor, as a place of pilgrimage, offers ideal environs for those seeking spiritual happiness. Nowadays, the hill shrine at Malayattoor has emerged as the largest pilgrim centre in the name of St. Thomas in India. Here, the big and auspicious occasion is the feast of St. Thomas, which is observed on the first Sunday after Easter, when thousands throng the shrine for his blessings.

Ancient architecture
Those interested in the architecture of the church at the pilgrimage centre of Malayattoor would find it highly interesting. It has a combination of Greco-Roman architecture with the altar designed in traditional Greek style, and the front portion of the church following the traditional Roman Catholic Church architecture. Behind the central altar, one can find the carvings, designs and paintings, which include the five joyful mysteries of Jesus Christ. The church has separate facilities for confession and adoration. The ancient baptismal pond and the traditional pulpit are of historical relevance at the pilgrimage site of Malayattoor.

Myth and legend
Kurisumudi (where they found the cross) as is popularly known, is 1269 feet above the sea level. Set in serene conditions, one cannot miss the traces of the divine. Mountain peaks gently caressing the clouds, the shimmering sheen of the Periyar below, the steep cliffs and the winding roads, all provide an ambience that is truly heavenly. Right from the time the golden cross was found, the locals began a practice of lighting an oil lamp and whenever the lamp gave in to the wind, a herd of goats came down wailing and people used to climb the mountain and light the lamp again. Pilgrims who climb the mountain, even today carry with them seasamum seeds to feed the goats, even though the goats are a rare sight.

Guruvayoor

Guruvayur, the abode of Lord Sree Guruvayurappan, is located 29 kms north west to the cultural capital of Gods own country, Kerala. This narrow coastline strip of land on the south western edge of Indian subcontinent is believed to be one of the 10 pilgrimage paradises in the world. The geographical and bio diversity of Kerala with the coastline beaches and stretches of backwaters lined with the swaying coconut palms on one side and evergreen forests of the western ghats with very rich wildlife on the other side makes this pilgrim destination a real paradise to the alien traveler.

Temple origin

Guruvayur is one of the most sacred and important pilgrim centres of Kerala, attracting thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the country. Its chief attraction is the temple dedicated to Lord Krishna known as Guruvayurappan. The town is a popular place for young couples to get married and marriage halls abound in the town. This historic temple is shrouded in mystery. According to belief, the temple is the creation of Guru, the preceptor of the Devas, and Vayu the Lord of the Wind. The eastern nada is the main entrance to the shrine. In the chuttambalam (outer enclosure) is the tall 33.5 mt. high gold plated Dwajasthambam (kodi maram or flag post). There is also a 7 mt. high Deepasthambham (pillar of lamps), whose 13 circular receptacles provide a truly gorgeous spectacle when lit. The square Sreekovil is the sacred sanctum sanctorum of the temple which houses the main deity. Within the temple there are also images of Ganapathy, Ayyappan and Edathedathu Kavil Bhagavathy.

According to legend, the idol worshipped at Guruvayur pilgrim centre is more than 5000 years old. But there are no historical records to establish it. In the 14th century Tamil literature Kokasandesam, reference to a place called Kuruvayur is made. As early as 16th century, many references are seen about Kuruvayur. In ancient Dravidic, Kuruvai means sea, hence the village on the coast may be called Kuruvayur.

Early history

Documents written by eminent historians state that the Brahmins had begun to come and settle at Kodungalloor during the period of Chandra Gupta Maurya ( 321-297 BC). Trikkunavay in the Guruvayur documents is the same as Thrikkanamathilakam or Mathilakam mentioned in the Dutch and British records. And this place was in between Guruvayur and Kodungalloor. Guruvayur was Trikkunavays subordinate shrine since they were destroyed by the Dutch in 1755. That way Guruvayur must have come into existence before 52 AD. The story of a Pandyan King building a shrine here may be a reference to the Azhavars , but they are all silent in their writing about this pilgrim destination.

It was poet Melpathurs epic Narayaneeyam which gave the temple the required publicity. The concept of Unnikrishna popularised by great devotees like Poonthanam , Kururamma and Villwamangalam brought more and more devotees to the pilgrim place of Guruvayur.

Guruvayur, the pilgrimage destination, is well connected with the other parts of the country by road and rail. The National highway passes through Kunnamkulam which is just 8 kms away from the pilgrimage place of Guruvayur. The private bus stand is towards the east of the temple, near Manjulal (the famous banyan tree). It is half an hour drive by car from Thrissur and buses ply every 5 minutes from the cultural capital, Thrissur to the pilgrimage centre of Guruvayur.

Vagamon

The Vagamon Hills is located at a height of 1,100 meters above the sea level. It lies in the district Idukki, about 151 km south-east of Kochi, 60 kilometers from Kottayam and 100 kms from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. With its inexplicable beauty Vagamon offers various activities right from pilgrimage to natural treks as well as luxurious resorts for a memorable holiday.

The Vagamon hill slopes are not very steep and facilitate exploratory sports such as rock climbing, trekking, paragliding and many other thrilling activities. Visitors can watch bizarre looking birds and numerous insects, huge elephants and untamed buffaloes.

The pilgrimage destination of Vagamon is surrounded by a string of hills named Kurisumala, Thangal and Murugan hills. These hills are special as they are dedicated to all faiths - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.Vagamon as a pilgrimage centre, offers activities allied to spiritualism.Meditating peacefully amidst the blissful serenity and nature casts a heavenly spell on the tourists.You can chant the name of God while climbing the Kurisumala Hill to visit the Kurisumala Ashram. Thus Vagamon is a site of great religious and spiritual activities.

Pleasurable and serene

The panorama of the mist-clad summits, the green vegetation, the rocky terrain and the multi-colored blossoms spread across Vagamon are breath taking. The fresh air associated with the aromatic spices gives you a refreshing feeling. The pilgrimage place of Vagamon hills are speckled with charmingly attractive meadows, waterfalls, valleys and tropical forests.

The extensive spread out of tea plantations is a common feature on the Vagamon hills. The serene atmosphere and its elegant peaks amidst the lush vegetation at Vagamon pilgrimage destination is of striking beauty.The rock formations on the Vagamon hills sited at Thangal Para are worth visiting. These picturesque rock formations allure the visitors and the Kurisumala Ashram situated on the Vagamon hills is also a recommended place of visit. The Vagamon hills of Kerala bestow its enthusiasts as well as nature lovers with infinite opportunities to engage in fun and pleasurable tours.It is also an ideal pilgrimage centre.

Varkala

Varkala is an alluring pilgrimage tourist destination with its clean and quiet sandy beaches, red laterite cliffs, soothing mineral springs and its various places of worship.Located 40 km from Trivandrum, Kerala, Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala is the final resting place of the great social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru. The Papanasham beach here is the place where Narada is believed to have thrown his valkalam. The 2000 year old Sree Janardhana Swamy temple here is famous for the Arattu, the annual festival celebrated in March-April.

Varkala also has a seaside resort and spa. However it is primarily known as an important Hindu centre of pilgrimage.The final resting place of the great social reformer, Sree Narayana Guru, is near Varkala, atop a hill called Sivagiri.High cliffs with mineral springs rise majestically from the coastline.The beach at this place is long, sandy, serene and secluded.

Hindu pilgrimage shrine

According to legend, sage Narada was approached by a group of mendicants who confessed to having sinned.Narada threw his valkkalam (cloth made of the bark of a tree) into the air, and the place where it landed was subsequently named Varkala.The mendicants were directed by Narada to offer their prayers in the newly created place by the seashore. The place where they prayed for redemption, came to be known as the Papanasham Beach ( Papanasham means redemption from sins).The 2000 year old Sree Janardhana Swamy Temple and the Nature Care Centre are the two main attractions here. Varkala is considered a major pilgrimage centre for the Hindus.

The tourist atrractions at Varkala pilgrimage destination include the Papanasam beach, the Janardhana Temple, Sivagiri Mutt, Anjengo Fort, Yoga, Ayurveda, & Massage centres. For visitors yearning for a budget holiday, Varkala is the place to be in. During the off season, the area is mellow and relaxed and hotel rates drop to a couple of hundred rupees. In November, the tourist season picks up and prices soar. The season continues till March-April.

Kalady

The birthplace of Adi Shankara, the great, at Kalady in modern Kerala is a major place of pilgrimage in south India.Even today, there are many shrines in this small township to his sacred memory, maintained for one thousand two hundred years by his descendants. The very name Kalady, means “feet” in Malayalam and legend links the origin of the name to Adi Shankara. The village was previously called Sasalam. Sri Sankaracharya was born here in 788 A.D, as the only son of Sivaguru and Aryamba, a Keralite Namboodri Brahmin couple. His early life was marked by several miraculous exploits that singled him out for a divine role. Legend holds that one day, the widowed mother of little Sankara, fainted after walking three kilometres to the Periyar River for her daily bath. Feeling helpless, little Sankara prayed to Lord Krishna - his family deity. The tears of the child moved the Lord Krishna, who blessed him thus: “From now, the river will flow where your little feet marks the ground.”Immediately the Periyar River is believed to have taken course to the place marked by the little boy’s feet. Thus the place came to be known as Kalady.

Historical evidence

The house where Adi Sankara lived, about one thousand two hundred years ago, is now a temple devoted to Goddess Sharada - and is known as Adi Sankara Janmabhoomi temple. The Sringeri Matha administers it. According to history, the thirty-third pontiff of Sringeri Sri Sachidananda Shiva Abinava Narasimha Bharati located this place with the help of scholars one hundred years ago. The then Maharajah of Travancore offered the land and rupees ten thousand (worth ten millions today in purchasing power) to the Matha to set up the temple at the birthplace of Adi Sankara. The temple was built, and consecration performed on February 21st, 1910. There are two major shrines in the temple; one dedicated to Sri Sankaracharya and the other to Goddess Saradamba, the main deity of Sringeri.

Another important Shankara memorial is the Sri Adi Sankara Keerthi Sthamba Mandapam, an eight-story memorial built by Kanchi Kamakoti Math. The entrance to the memorial, guarded by two elephant statues, leads to the Paduka Mandapam. Two silver knobs represent the padukas, or wooden sandals of the teacher. The walls of the memorial feature framed relief paintings that tell the story of the great sage. Adi Sankara’s shrines in Kalady are open to all pilgrims, irrespective of religion and caste.A number of other memorable sites attributed to Adi Sankara with documented evidence are in and around the pilgrimage centre of Kalady.

 
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