Chamravattam: A Sacred Grove-islet and Sastha Shrine at the Mouth of Perar
// June 3rd, 2012 // Culture and Ecology
Ayyappa temples are found generally in the eastern hills or in the mid-uplands of Kerala. Chamravattam Sastha temple near Tirur and Tirunavaya is close to the sea, near the mouth of Nila or Perar. This ancient Dharma Sastha shrine is located in an ancient island-grove in the Perar isolated from the main bank by the ebb and tide of the Purathur estuary just above the confluence of the Nila, Tirurpuzha and the Arabian Sea . This Ayyappa shrine is on the northern bank of Perar on the opposite side of Ponnani. It can be reached through road from Tirur and Ponnani now.
I visited the temple when I went to see the new barrage at Chamravattam on June 2, 2012. As the other Sastha temples in Kerala it also has a non-Hindu origin. It is said to be self incarnate or Swayambhu now. It means that the original installation and shrine predate Brahmanic takeover. The place name clearly suggests that it was a Vattam of Chamanars. Vattam, Kutti or Kottam denote a Sramana or Jain Pally. Chamanar is a colloquial word representing Sramana sages of Jainism and Buddhism who did missionary work in the south even before the advent of the common era.
There is also a legend that a Jain Sage callled Chamaran spent his last days here in the islet and hence the place is named after this saint (Kottam or Vattam of Chamaran). To counter this Brahmanism has created a legend of Sabara Rishi doing penance here and re-consecrating the Sastha idol in the shrine. Any way the place name including both Vattam and Chamanar (Chamanar Vattam shrinking into Chamravattam) clearly show a Sramana connection. To add to this the Brahman household in charge of this temple is called Kuttissery Mana. The word Kutti in their house name also is a clear marker of Jain culture and architecture.
An ancient sacred grove of wild trees protects the shrine in monsoon floods. It is also believed that it was Perumthachan the legendary master architect of Kerala, who has done the idol installation here. the small stone idol is installed in a pit at the water level (of the time of installation). Now the river bed is much lower awing to centuries of flooding and illegal sand mining.
It can be assumed here that the new installation or re-installation in Hindu Brahmanical style was performed with the help of Perumthachan under the auspices of Sabara Maharshi in the early middle ages somewhere around the 12th or 14th century. The exact life period of the master-carpenter is unknown and only assumptions are possible. Any way it can be imagined that the re-consecration happened after the takeover of Kadampuzha temple by Sankara that happened in early 9th century. The Sabara Maharshi could also be a disciple or follower of Sankara and his conquest as well.
Because of the new Calicut – Kochi route being opened through the Chamravattam barrage this shrine is going to be much popular and it is going to be under huge pressure from Ayyappa pilgrims and visitors. This sacred shrine and the unique surroundings must be protected and conserved for posterity with cultural and historic sensitivity and ecological awareness. The concrete construction around the sacred grove must be checked and minimized and other ecologically suitable alternatives need to be imagined and materialized.