Some unpublished field notes from Pallakad Diaries, an ongoing work
27th June 2009
The local historian Mr Lakshmi Narayan has promised to take me inside the Kalpathy Viswanath Swamy temple, since as a Syrian Christian I cannot access it’s interiors without permission. He says that I can circle the interior of the temple, like tourists do, but not present myself before the sanctum, since that is not permitted. While we are waiting for him to get ready, we go inside the temple precincts which has a shopping area. This, as we have been told is open to anyone. There are some residences on either side of the temple, a tailor’s shop and another which sells holy pictures, oil and beads.
Rajan Narayanan, a priest doing rituals for the dead talks to us. He says that Lakshmi Ammal, a widow had returned from Benares, given coins to the temple and left the stone there, The stone is a lingam, it is about six feet tall. It had inscriptions but now these are gone. (We have photographs of the inscriptions, a temple spokesman says comfortingly. Since Kerala has a wood tradition, it is possible that the medieval script was not seen as significant by the asari who polished the stone.)
Kalpathy is the place where Lakshmi Ammal established the lingam from Banaras, and so it is called the Banaras of the South, for those who cannot take ashes to Banaras, may visit Kalpathy Vishwanath Swamy temple for the mortuary ceremonies of their kinfolk. The connection with Banaras continues, and Lakshmi Narayan tells us that in Vishwanath Swamy temple in Benaras, every evening rituals and songs support the Tamil pilgrims under the umbrella of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi.
We walk around the renovated Temple. Mr Lakshmi Narayan is very proud of the changes, and old ladies congratulate him on the continuous work of modernization. Every twelve years it is renovated (or should be) according to him. Only one rafter of the old temple has been incorporated into the new structure. The rest have been built back into the wooden portals of a building, like a shed, with an aluminium roof, at the rear courtyard..they are pretty wood carvings with simple motifs of flowers. Surrounding this facing the river, is a small sacred garden which is kept scrupulously clean by the old attendant. The snake stones are venerated here.
Mr Lakshmi Narayan tells me that Kalpathy is a convenient ritual site for many families in Kerala, to carry out their funerary rituals. The priests are called Shivacharyas and are trained in the agamams. Originally they were from Mayavaram, but now some come from Coimbatore. They must be trained in the scriptures, they must be recognised or accepted by the serving priests. The Smartha Iyers, who live in Kalpathy are not equipped to deal with mortuary rituals being householders. However they are very learned in scripture, and there are some very well known Deekshitar families.