Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple
SH 12, Ambalapuzha, Kerala 688561, India
The temple immersed in history and legends, and a prime example of religious and cultural harmony.
Location of Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple
More about Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple
Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple is a Hindu Temple believed to be built around 15th-17th century in the typical Kerala Architectural Style. The idol at the temple is of Parthasarthi with a whip in the right hand and sacred conch on the left. Parthasarthi is a form of Lord Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna during Kurukshetra war mentioned in the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata.
Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple is associated with Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple. During the raids of the Mysore King Tipu Sultan in 1789, the idol of Lord Krishna was taken from Guruvayur Temple to Ambalapuzha Temple for safe keeping. The idol was kept safe at Ambalapuzha Temple for 12 years.
The temple’s construction and the meaning behind the name
The temple was built by the local ruler Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayanan Thampuran of Chembakasserry kingdom. It is said that the king and saint Vilwamangalam Swamiyar were travelling along the backwaters of Alappuzha one day and heard a melodious sound from a flute. The saint had a vision of Lord Krishna playing his trademark flute on a peepul tree. Feeling the presence of Krishna, the king decided to build a temple at the place shown by the saint’s vision.
Ambalapuzha itself means ‘temple river’ in Malayalam owing to the presence of nearby Pampa River near to the temple. Before it was known as Ambalapuzha, the area used to be called Chembakasserry, possibly due to the overwhelming number of chemchembakam (Plumeria) trees found in the area.
Exploring Ambalapuzha Temple
The temple is one of the most popular and most visited one in Kerala - built in traditional Kerala architecture style of red tile roofs with large overhanging eaves. There is a temple pond inside the premises where devotees could take a bath. Some of the special rituals at the temple are performed by an elephant which is housed near the pond.
Paintings of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu are on display at the inner walls of Chuttambalam, the broad corridor that surrounds the inner temple premises. The outer walls have thousands of oil lamps that lights up on special occasions such that of the temple festival.
As one enters the inner chamber, it is filled with the sounds of pounding drums, chanting and ringing bells. There are many ceremonies and rituals conducted inside the chambers and it is fascinating to watch and understand them. The traditional orchestra that always plays during the rituals provides the visitor with a calm and positive energy.
The main offering at the temple - Ambalapuzha Payasam - is a must have for anyone who is visiting the temple. Visitors could either pre-order the offering a day before or collect it in the same day at the temple in the morning.
The story behind Ambalapuzha Payasam, the main offering at the temple
The main offering at the temple is Payasam - a Kerala style sweet pudding made of rice and milk. There is an interesting legend behind the offering.
According to the legend, Lord Krishna once appeared in the form of a sage in the court of Chembakasserry king who ruled the region. The king was a big chess enthusiast and the sage challenged for a game. Accepting the challenge, the king asked the sage to choose his prize if the he wins the game. The sage wanted few grains of rice as the price. The amount of rice shall be determined using the chess board itself- by placing one grain of rice in the first square, two grains in the second, four in the third, eight in the fourth and so on until the entire 64 squares are taken into account for. Every square in the board will have double of its predecessor as per the logic.
Upon hearing the demand, the king was unhappy as the request seemed too small for him. He requested the sage to demand more wealth from the kingdom but the sage declined. The game started and the king lost. As he started to pay the grains to the sage, he quickly realised the true nature of the sage’s demand. By the 20th square, the number reached a million grains of rice and by the 40th it became one million grains of rice.
The royal granary soon ran out of rice and the king noticed that at that rate even grains from his kingdom and his adjacent kingdoms will not be sufficient to fulfill the promise he has made. The number of grains was increasing as a geometric progression and the total number of rice grains required was 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 ((2^64)-1) translating to trillions of tons of rice. Upon seeing the dilemma, the sage appeared in Lord Krishna’s true form and told the king to pay his debt over time. He asked the king to serve Payasam at the temple to the pilgrims everyday until the debt has been paid off. In accordance with this story, it is believed that Lord Krishna reaches here daily at the time of the offering to have Payasam.
Champakulam Moolam Snake Boat Race - the annual festival
The annual boat race festival of the temple is conducted in Pampa River at Champakulam. The race is conducted on the Moolam day (one of the 27 astrological signs of Indian zodiac) of Malayalam month Midhunam every year (June/July). There is a story behind the start of the festival and its connection the the temple.
When the king of Chembakasserry built the temple at Ambalapuzha, they faced a problem as the idol of Lord Krishna that was to be placed there was not auspicious according to the astrologers. As it is not a good omen to delay the placing of the idol, the priests identified another idol of Lord Krishna kept at Karinkulam Temple at Kurichi that could be placed at Ambalapuzha. This idol was believed to have been given to Arjuna (one of the main characters in the epic Mahabharata) by Lord Krishna himself, hence considered very sacred.
After getting the idol, the kings men returned in a boat. While they were on the way, night set in and the men took shelter as per the king’s instructions at a Christian household at Champakulam Village. The household called Mappilassery was the home of Itty Thommen who was a confidant of the king. The Christian family received the men and the idol with great honour. The next day the king along with his entourage turned up at Mappilassery and after conducting rituals to the deity, they along with Itty Thommen and huge mass of people from Champakulam and adjoining areas travelled to Ambalapuzha where the idol was duly consecrated and installed.
The king, pleased with the love and affection shown by his Christian subjects, declared that henceforth a great water carnival would be held at Champakulam every year to commemorate these events. Thus from AD 1545 begun the Champakulam Snake Boat Race which continues to this day.
After 63 years in AD 1613, when the old Mappilassery house was being demolished and rebuilt, the then king of Chembakasserry asked Itty Thommen’s son Kunhi Thommen to separate the area where the idol was kept and use it only as a place of worship as it was considered a sacred place. A special lamp made of rare metals was given to the family to keep it perpetually burning. Special privileges were also given to the family including grant of lands and coconut groves to supply oil for the lamp.
Even today the practices continue. The lamp is kept perpetually burning. Every year priests and delegates from Ambalapuzha Temple arrives the house on Moolam Day of Midhunam month with gifts and offerings for the head of the house. it is believed that Lord Krishna resides at Mappilassery house on that day and not at the temple. The priest enter the prayer room where along with Christian icons like the cross and statues of Jesus and Mary, the lamp known as ‘Vazhakoombu Vilakku' is given a place of prominence. The temple representatives then venerate the lamp and they are treated by the family a feast. The whole ceremony is called ‘Moolakazcha’ and only after these ceremonies the Champakulam Moolam Snake Boat Race commence.
The ten days Aaraattu festival begins with the flag hosting ceremony on Atham Day in Meenam month (March/ April) and the main festival day is on Thiruvonam Day of the same month. The festival involves procession by several caparisoned elephants accompanied by traditional Panchavadyam, an orchestra of five instruments. The procession ends with enchanting fireworks. Performance of ‘Velakali’, a martial art form is also exhibited. During the festival, devotees are offered a feast and the diners are treated with utmost honour. It is believed that Lord Krishna presents in incognito and dines along with the devotees on the feast day.
A devotional temple art form known as ‘Pallipana' performed by sorcerers is held every 12 years. The art form involved human sacrifices in ancient times but it is now replaced by roosters.
Temple’s connections with the Malayalam literacy personas
Kalakkathu Kunchan Nambiar (born 1700 and died in 1770) - a Malayalam poet, performer, and the inventor of local satiric art form ‘Ottan Thullal’, spent his youth at Ambalapuzha Temple. The first Ottan Thullal was performed in the premises of the temple. Mizhavu, a traditional big copper drum used by Kunchan Nambiar is preserved at the temple premises.
Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan who is considered the father of Malayalam language is believed to have penned Adhyathmaramayanam in the temple. Adhyathmaramayanam is the Malayalam version of the epic Ramayana which was written in Sanskrit.
Getting to Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna Temple
The temple is located at Ambalapuzha Town of Alappuzha District in Kerala State of Southern India. Ambalapuzha is situated near the national highway connecting Thiruvananthapuram and Manglore so it is easily accessible by buses from most of the parts of Kerala State. Nearest major railway station is at Alappuzha (15 km). There are direct buses from Alappuzha to Ambalapuzha.