The 'Bharani' day of Malayalam month Kumbham (February-March) is considered very auspicious for almost all temples dedicated to the mother goddess in Kerala. But at Chettikulangara temple near Mavelikara, it is a celebration for an entire town. And it transcends all religious barriers.
It is the 'Kettukazhchas' (tall structures designed to look like towers and decorated with cloth, flower garlands, dolls and fancy ornaments) that makes the celebrations special for the 13 'karas' or regions, that make up the town of Mavelikkara. Each of these regions have their own chariots, horses and effigies, which are brought to the temple on the Kumbhabarani day, which is on 3rd March this year.
Thousands work day and night to make these 'Kettukazhchas.' There are three categories - the 'Theru' (chariot), Kuthira (horse, even though it does not resemble one) and three effigies of Bheeman, Hanuman and Panchali. The Kuthira and Theru are about 90 to 100 ft tall and costs about Rs 7 lakhs to make. UNESCO is considering to include the festival on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Another important feature of this festival is the 'Kuthiyottam', which is an offering made to the goddess as well as a local dance-form. A family has to make advance reservation if they want to do it. Temporary shelters are built, pandals are set up and two boys are picked up to represent the family. The boys are considered sacred for the next seven days, starting Sivarathri. Every night, the boys, along with some senior artistes perform the 'Kuthiyottam'. A family conducting 'Kuthiyottam' is supposed to feed anyone who walks in. This makes it a very communal festival too. On the festival day, these boys are taken to the temple in a procession, that will feature other local art-forms too.
It is ideal to reach Mavelikkara town before the festivities begin by noon. The 'Kettukazhchas' are normally taken to the temple through the city roads, which at times can create traffic jams.
Chettikulangara is about 7kms from Mavelikkara railway station. Most of the major trains stops here. A bus to Kayamkulam, which is approximately 10kms away will put you on the National Highway connecting Alappuzha to Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram International Airport is about 120kms away.