Sanskrit sources of Kerala history

by Suma Parappattoli | 2010 | 88,327 words

This study deals with the history of Kerala based on ancient Sanskrit sources, such as the Keralamahatmyam. The modern state known as Keralam or Kerala is situated on the Malabar Coast of India. The first chapter of this study discusses the historical details from the inscriptions. The second chapter deals with the historical points from the Mahatm...

This book contains Sanskrit text which you should never take for granted as transcription mistakes are always possible. Always confer with the final source and/or manuscript.

12. Astami-Mahotsava by Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri

Dr. A.A. Macdonel has remarked that “History is the one weak spot in Indian literature. It is infact, nonexistent”. According to Dr. A.B. Keith ‘Sanskrit literature for all its great merits is deficient in simple prose narrative on interesting themes”. Historical campus though they belie the statement of Dr. Macdonell, on the whole substantiate the truth of the observation of Dr. Keith. The hero of any historical campus, as of any Sanskrit kavya, is presented as a superman.

The Prabandhas or short campu kavyas form an important section of Sanskrit literature. These campu kavyas gives us much information on some of the important historical figures of ancient Kerala. Kerala has to her credit a good number of campus having historical importance. The most important among the Campus are Balaramavijaya and Ramavarma vijaya.

The Astami-Mahotsava [Astamimahotsava][1] is a prabandha in Campu style written by Melputtur Narayana Bhattatiri [Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri], the well known author of Narayaniya. He has written several works in the form of prabandhas at the request of his friend Iravicakyar of Kuttenceri for Kuttu performance at festival occasion.

The Astami mahotsava is an original Campu kavya describing the Astami festival in the temple of lord Siva at Vaikkam (Vyakhralaya) in Kerala. This work consists of 41 verses interspersed with 22 prose passages and one Dandaka.

The temple is situated on the eastern bank of the Vembanad Lake between Kottayam and Ernakulam. The grandeur of the annual festival conducted on the eighth lunar day is well brought out by the author. The work brings to light the regular features of temple festival in Kerala.

Author expresses his humility regarding his poetic abilities and also stresses the importance of the Astamimahotsava[2]. The poet introduces a Vidhyadhara called Sangitadesika in order to narrate to the story of the Astami festival.

There is a holy place, Vyaghrapura, in the Kerala region where many brahmin of great virtue reside[3]. There is a flag-staff infront of the temple[4]. It touches the clouds and shines like a ladder for people to reach the feet of Siva. Goddess Bhadrakali presides over the southern part of the temple.

Time of Astami festival

On the dvadasi day, in the after noon, beautiful women employed to clean the temple premises and the whole area sprinkle holy water and purify the place. They purified under the flag-staff and decorated with auspicious material. Afterwards a noble Brahmin emerges from the temple. He performs the pooja under the flag-staff and he hoist the ceremonial flag. All the people salute the flag and pray to the lord to save them from their difficulties.

The next day announces the coming out of the lord of the universe for the great festival of lamps. Afterwards people of all age like courtesans, learned brahmins also congregate there attracted by that sound. The lamps are now kindled in the whole temple area. Soon the Lord of Universe setsforth to see the festival of lights mounted on a huge elephant shining on both sides with chamaras.,

Feather fans and while parasols are seen from above the lord with the accompaniment of resounding beating of bheri instruments[5]. The Lord proceeds the southern region followed by multitudes of devotees. The lord makes three rounds and enters the temple, dismounting from the huge elephant. Later all people go their way. Thus ten beautiful day pass by with great celebration[6].

On the Astami day, the twelth day of the festival the market place is occupied at one part by merchants. The market place became a pageant with precious gems, costly ornaments etc. Another side there are courtesans wandering from one shop to another. People from several regions engaged there for a long time in buying and selling[7]. The people of entire world who are dwelling with in four mountains viz. the Vindhya, Himalaya, Astagiri and Udayagiri also arrive at this place.

Then two handsome young men come out from the temple premises, holding a Vetradanda. The Brahmins and the multitudes of devotees followed singing songs in praise of lord Siva. The God is mounted on the elephant. His eyes are round with devotion and he is the very embodiment of majesty. The procession accompanied by the music of several instruments and the noise of the prayer to Lord Siva, reached the northern side of the temple in Pradaksina.

Lord Subrahmanya Joins

Then suddenly the army of Sadanana reach there with galloping horses and soldiers mingled with the ocean of people and he approached Siva. The procession accompanied by the music of several instruments, coming with fan of pea-cock feather and some mountain on elephant and some walking on foot. Afterwards Lord Trisulin reach the eastern outer courtyard of the temple, with Lord Sikhivahana and adorns the prelincts of the two big banyan trees.

Later Lord Visvanatha remains near the banyan tree being attended by Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, and divine beings. Another group of beautiful ladies standing in rows holding lamps honoured Lord Subrahmanya, who is remaining near by on the back of a huge elephant. After that there arose defending tumult from different types of instruments viz. conches, Dundubhi, Mrdangam etc. along with the joy of all the people. Suddenly the troops of Kinnara women danced in the sky with great pleasure. They showered flowers. Then all the instruments stopped playing.

Under the banyan tree, all the people worshipped the Lord with singing stotras. Their hands were joined in salutation and they pray with Puspanjali. For seeing that festival, very eagerly the Sandhya, the evening twilight approached there shining with payodharas smeared with red hint.

End of the festival

Later lord Siva coming in circumbulation adorns the northern part of the temple, surrounded by many people moving in unison Lords Sanmukha accompanied with his army in geat pomp takes leave of Lord Siva. Then Trisulin occupies the entrance to his own temple surrounded by his devotees.

The lord dismounted from his elephant and disappears into the temple premises like the sun who also disappear behind the Astacala. Then it is night fall and the people who are exhausted by the celebrations also relax. Early in the morning the deep sound of the conch awakeness all of them and in due course the sun also rise from the eastern horizon.

Lord Siva accompanied by several soldiers, elephants and devotees goes to the big lake on the northern side of the temple for a holy bath. Then all the people take bath in the same waters purified by his bath. Quickly he returns to his abrode.

This is the first literary composition exclusively devoted to a description of the celebration of a temple festival in Kerala. In this Narayanabhatta has in addition to extrolling the presiding deity there, gives us a reliable record of Vaikkam and men and matters during his time[8].

Footnotes and references:


Travancore Sanskrit Series No. 249, Prabandha samahara -Part II, Ed. & Pub. by Dr. K. Raghava Pillai Tvm. 1980 Ed. by Chunakkara Unnikrishna Variar, Malayalam tran. by Unnikrishna Variar, Kavana Kaumudi, Kottakkal, 1923 by Camprol Ambadevi Tampuratti with introduction by Vatakkumkur.


kvāmī vayaṃ sarasasūktirasānabhijñāḥ
kvāsau punaḥ puraharasya mahotsavo'pi
nūnaṃ tadatra parihāsyajaneṣu labdhuṃ
mūrdhābhiṣekamathunā paramudyatāḥ sma || Astami Mahotsava


astyuttamaṃ keralabhūmibhāge
kṣetraṃ mahad vyāghrapurābhidhānam |
juṣṭaṃ viśiṣṭairaniśaṃ praśāntaiḥ
saṅghairasaṅkhyairavanīsurāṇām || Astami Mahotsava


abhraṃlihāgraḥ purataḥ purārervirājate yatra sa ketudaṇḍaḥ | Astami Mahotsava-13


Astami Mahotsava -16


Astami Mahotsava -21


nānādigantavāstavyānāṃ nānāveṣabhūṣaṇabhāṣāviśeṣāṇāṃ
janānāṃ suciramajani vividhadraviṇavikrapakrayakolāhalaḥ ||


For more details—
(a) Prabandha manjari -Dr. N.P. Unni -Rastriya samskrita samsthan, 1998 Pp 289 -305
(b) Melpattur Narayanabhatta -Astami Mahotsava by S.K. Sreedevi-pub. in Purnatrayi -Vol. XXV -Nos. 1 & 2, 1998
(c) Astamiprabandha campu -Dr. T.G. Ramachandran Pillai, Kerala samskaram Lakkam II, (Feb) Kerala Sarkar, 1984, Tvm
(d) Kerala Sanskrit Literature -P 145

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