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Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple - Things to Know Before Visiting

North Wayanad, Thirunelly Road, Thirunelly, Kerala 670646, India

Lake/ River/ Ponds
Hindu Temples

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About Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

An ancient Vishnu Temple, a melting pot of myths and history.

Thirunelli (Tirunelli) Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Maha Vishnu on the sides of Brahmagiri Hill, a part of Sahyadri Mountain Ranges in Wayanad district of Kerala State in Southern India. The temple is at an altitude of 900 meters in a valley surrounded by mountains covered in beautiful forests. The temple idol is in the form of Chathurbhuja- Lord Vishnu with his four hands.

The temple is an architectural wonder of its time. There are thirty granite pieces supporting the shrine and the floor is also paved in granite blocks. The structure carries some of the characteristics of typical Kerala architecture with its tile roofed structure of the inner sanctorum, the open courtyard around it, and the granite lamppost at the entrance.


Thurunelli temple faces east and the sunrise from here is fascinating. The Brahmagiri ranges with its greenery in the north, the Karimala and Narinirangimala mountains in the west and south respectively adds to its enchanting beauty and the mystic nature of the temple.

Historical references to Thirunelli Temple

Though clouded in numerous legends and myths, the temple has very limited historic and archaeological informations. Records of the exact dates of establishment of the temple are absent, though the ruins of two ancient villages in the surrounding jungles indicates the place has long history to unfold. During 16th century, Thirunelli was believed to be an important town and pilgrimage centre. Some of the early Malayalam works of 11th and 12th century like ‘Unnayachi Champu’ too has reference to this place. 

The ‘Malabar Manuel’, written in 1887 by William Logan, Scottish officer of the Madras Civil Service under the British Government too mentions Thirunelli in his book. Its mentioned that while building roads to this place, people found coins which dated back to 9th and 10th centuries showing its importance during the reign of ‘Kulasekhara’ kings who were in existence between 9th and 12th centuries. Archaeologists have also discovered copper plate inscriptions dating to the period of Kulasekhara kings Bhaskara Ravi Varman I and II. These evidences point to the fact that Thirunelli in-fact was an important town in North Kerala for centuries.

Meaning of the temple's name and the myths surrounding it

The name Thirunelli translates to ‘Holy Amla’(Thiru means holy and Nelli means Amla tree). There is an interesting legend behind the name and how it is connected to the temple.

Veda Vyasa, the writer of Mahabharatha and the scribe of Vedas(knowledge texts originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism) and Puranas(very old Indian literature about a wide range of topics, particularly myths, legends and other traditional lore) mentions a Vishnu Temple as built by Lord Brahma, located in the Sahyan valley deep in the middle of forest and in these texts, the temple is referred to as ‘Sahyamalaka Kshetra’ meaning ‘the temple in the Sahya mountains’. According to the lore, Lord Brahma while traveling round the universe became attracted by the beauty of the area now known as Brahmagiri Hills. Descending on the hill, he noticed an idol set in an Amla tree. Lord Brahma recognised the idol as Lord Vishnu and the hill and the areas itself as Vaikuntha, the celestial abode of Lord Vishnu. 


With help from Devas(divine beings in the Vedic Period), Brahma installed the idol and called the temple Sahyamalaka Kshetra. At the request of Brahma, Lord Vishnu promised that the waters of the area would wash away all sins and thus another legend starts, the legend of the spring and river near the temple called ‘Papanasini’(Washer of all sins). Keeping up with the legends and traditions, even today the head priest leaves a portion of the worship materials in the belief that Lord Brahama himself will come and perform the pooja in the early morning hours.

Papanasini- the holy mountain stream that flows near the temple

Emerging from the heart of Brahmagiri flows the holy mountain stream Papanasini which later joins the river Kalindi. Located 1 KM away from the temple premises, its believed that a dip in the water will wash away all sins committed in a lifetime. It is further believed that Papanasini is the meeting point of river Ganges and Saraswathy.  


In another legend, Garuda the king of birds was flying with Amritakumbha(pot of Amrit, the nectar of life) above Thirunelli when Lord Brahma was installing the idol. Garuda circled over the place and few drops of Amrut fell into the stream nearby, thus making the Papanasini to attain the power of purifying the sins.

Bali Tharpanam- the rituals for the deceased performed at the temple

Its near Papanasini the ancestral rites are performed by pilgrims. Pindappara, the holy rock close to the stream is where the rites of the deceased are performed(known as Bali Tharpanam). Its for this reason, the Thirunelly temple is known as the Kashi of the south. By conducting rituals here, it is said that the liberation of the departed soul is eventual. This is also makes the temple the only one in the world where devotees can perform all the rituals related to ones life, starting from birth to death and the life after.

Bali Tharpanam starts with a prayer in front of the temple after Dheeparadhana, the daily evening worship.The priest will dictate the prayer and the devotees coming to perform the ritual have to recite this prayer. After the prayer they have to do ‘Danadanamaskara’(offering respect to the deity by bowing and touching the head down) before the idol and pay the ‘Kaanikka’(offering).


In the next day morning between 6AM to 11AM, the devotees have to reach the temple and collect the materials for the Bali Tharpana. They can't take any bath, its a part of the ritual. Then they head to Papanasini and stand in the waist deep water placing the ritual materials in the boulder in front. The priest will administer the rituals in sequence, and after praying to Lord Shiva in the Gunika Temple the ritual will come to a close after circling around the main temple and collecting the three offerings - ‘Thrimadhura Nivedyam’, ‘Theertham’, and ‘Prasaadam’. It is believed that Sri Rama and his brother Lakshmana performed the Bali Tharpana of their father, King Dasaratha from Thirunelli temple.

Similar to Rama and Lakshmana, Parasurama, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu is also believed to have visited the temple and performed the last rites of his father, philosopher Jamadagni from the temple. He also believed to take the holy dip in the Papanasini to wipe away the sins committed by killing Kshatriyas.

Nearby small Gunika temple dedicated to Lord Shiva

On the way to the Papanasini is a bridge and on crossing it you can see a small Gunika temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is believed that a pilgrim came here and plucked a fruit from the Amla tree. Leaving the fruit aside, he went to have a bath in the small stream and when he came back he saw that the fruit had turned into a Shivalinga. With this, Thirunelli Temple offers the believers a rare religious significance - the presence of trinities, Lord Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu in the same place.


The aqueduct supplying water to the temple and the story behind it

One of the notable feature for the lack of it is the temple well. The water for temple needs are transported from a mountain stream deep in the valley through stone aqueducts. There is a legend associated with this aqueduct too.

The stone aqueduct is believed to have been constructed as  per the instructions of a princess from North Malabar. It is said that the princes, after the long journey to the temple, felt thirsty and asked for some water. However there was no water available in the temple due to the lack of a well. The princess felt sorry for the situation faced by the priests and ordered the construction of a water supply system. Her servants and courtiers with the help of tribal people constructed a temporary water supply system with bamboos which later reconstructed by masons sent by princess using granite. You can still see the aqueduct there.

Panchatheertham- the temple pond

Panchatheertham is the temple pond in the premises which is considered holy. The pond is accessed through the steps at the back of the temple. It is believed that at one point of time, the pond was the meeting point of five rivers although its dried up in most of the summer months now. There is a boulder with footprints in the middle of the pond and it is called ‘Vishnupada’ (footprint of Lord Vishnu).


The incomplete temple corridor

There is a tale related to the incomplete Vilakkumaadam (narrow corridor) too. It is said that the construction work of the corridor was started by a chieftain from Coorg in Karnataka without the permission from the Kottyam kings who ruled these areas. The chieftain had to leave his work incomplete since the king was enraged by his actions. The remaining unused materials were used by chieftain to renovate the Lava Kusha temple of Kuthirakkode near Thirunelli. 

In addition to all the myths and legends, there are five festivals too associated with the temple. They are Puthari, Chuttuvilakku, Navarathri, Shivarathri, and Sreekrishnajayanthi.?

While visiting the temple, you will be stunned to see the view surrounding its location, but the legends and the rituals of this temple makes it a lot more special. There are so many legends about this temple that wherever you look, there will be a story about it for sure.?

Getting to Thirunelli Temple

The temple is 32 km away from Manathavady Town from where you can get direct buses. Mananthavady is connected to most of the nearby cities by buses. The journey from Mananthavady to Thirunelli is worth the experience as it goes through dense forests, elephant sanctuaries and bamboo forests. For miles there will be no signs of habitation except for the stretches of paddy fields and forests.

Bus timings to Thirunelly from Mananthavady bus stand: 5.50am, 7am, 8.15am, 8.40am, 8.55am, 9.15am, 10am, 11am, 12.10pm, 1pm, 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.35pm, 4.10pm, 5pm, 5.45pm, 6.30pm, 8.30pm

To Mananthavady from Thirunelly: 7am, 7.40am, 8am, 8.40am, 9am, 9.30am, 9.45am, 10.25am, 10.35am, 11.20am, 11.40am, 1.10pm, 1.45pm, 2.45pm, 3.45pm, 5.10pm, 5.45pm, 6.30pm

Attractions Near Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

Pakshipathalam4.76km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

Trek to to the caves that are home to birds and reptiles, where saints meditated years ago.

Iruppu Waterfalls, Brahmagiri
Iruppu Waterfalls, Brahmagiri6.33km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

The waterfall which is located in the Brahmagiri range which was a freshwater cascade. It was also known as the Lakshmana tirtha waterfalls.

Pazhassi Raja Museum
Pazhassi Raja Museum12.3km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

The memorial of Pazhassi Raja, the lion of Kerala.

Valliyoorkavu12.49km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

14 th century temple dedicated to goddess Durga, a favourite among the local tribes

Kuruvadweep14.5km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

Group of islets in the Kabini River covered in evergreen forest with rich flora and fauna.

Nagarhole National Park And Tiger Reserve
Nagarhole National Park And Tiger Reserve19.02km from Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

Also known as Rajiv Gandhi national park which stands on the banks of river Bhima which was declared ass the thirty-seventh project tiger, Tiger reserves of India in 1999.

Where is Thirunelli Maha Vishnu Temple

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Ancient caves and carvings, tea plantations, cool climate.