Tirur in Malappuram is wrapped in folklore, legends and mythology. Adding credence to its hoary heritage is the 1,800-year-old Garudan Kavu, the only temple in India dedicated to Garuda - the mythical bird found in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies, in Vellamassery.
It is believed that if one has the blessing of Garuda, the sworn enemy of the nagas or serpents, s/he will forever be saved from sarpa doshas (wrath of serpent gods). Nor will the fear of snakes ever stalk them.
How to reach: Garudan Kavu is on the road from Tirur to Chamravattom. As you cross the gopura (the gate tower) and enter the temple, there is a shrine of lord Mahavishnu in Koormavatara (manifestation as tortoise). Nearby is the shrine for Garuda, his conveyance.
Nearest Airport: Calicut International Airport (Under 50km)
Railway station: Tirur (under 10km)
Bus terminal: Tirur (under 10km)
To get a feel of the rich lore behind Garudan Kavu, one needs to taste a bit of mythology. The story of Garuda is one of the most profound and interesting narratives of the Mahabharata. If Garuda is deified, it’s because he deserves it for his courage, verve, daring and his deep devotion to his mother for whom he would have fought a thousand battles. He was the son who sought to free his mother from the bondage of slavery by going in search of amrith, the nectar of immortality.
Garuda’s birth itself was phenomenal. Among the many wives of the revered sage Kashyapa were two sisters Kadru and Vinata. Both the sisters longed for sons who would be valiant and manly. Kashyapa was so pleased with his wives that he granted them a boon each. While Kadru asked that thousand nagas for sons, Vinata asked for just two sons. But she wanted her sons to be braver and smarter than her sister’s thousand. Time went by and Kadru laid a thousand eggs which hatched into nagas.
But Vinata’s eggs showed no signs of hatching. Tired of waiting for so long a time, she tried to break open one of the eggs. To her sorrow, out came a son, Aruna, half developed. Enraged by his mother’s impatience, Aruna cursed her to be her sister Kadru’s slave for life.
Realizing her mistake and deeply sorry for her haste Vinata begged her son to forgive her and save her from his curse. Aruna told his mother that another son, who would be born to her after a gap of 500 years, would free her from the shackles of bondage. It so happened that Aruna uttered his curse when the ocean was being churned by the devas and asuras for generating nectar (amrith).
Kadru, the wily of the two sisters, decided to trap Vinata into bondage with a bet. Both the sisters chanced upon the divine horse Uchchaihshravas gliding across the horizon at dawn. Kadru asked for the color of the horse’s tail. The simple Vinata promptly said it was white. Kadru vehemently contradicted her and said it was black. An argument ensued and Kadru came up with the suggestion that they make a bet and whoever lost the wager would be the other’s slave forever.
The cunning Kadru who had no intention of losing the bet resorted to a mean trick. She asked her naga sons to coil around the horse’s tail and make it look black. And sure enough, Vinata lost her bet and was declared slave to her own sister Kadru.
Vinata thus lived a slave’s life nursing the hope that her second son would liberate her. Soon enough, Garuda was born. He was a huge bird, a powerful and courageous. He soon learnt all about the circumstances which led his mother to her present plight. So he went to the nagas in the hope of finding a way to free his mother.
“Get us amrith from Devaloka and then we’ll free her,” the nagas told Garuda. Garuda then sought the blessings of Kashyapa and Vinata and flew out to get the elixir.
Garuda succeeded in vanquishing the gods and getting the elixir from them. Pleased by the young son’s deep love for his mother and his courage, Mahavishu decided to grant him a boon. Garuda asked the lord that he be made his mount (vahana) and be granted immortality even without partaking of amrith. In the meantime, Devendra attacked Garuda in a bid to retrieve the pot bearing amrith and when he failed in his bid, he pleaded with Garuda to return the divine drink. Garuda told Devendra that if he would be granted the power to eat the serpents he would return the pot, a boon which the god of gods agreed to grant.
Garuda then devised a plan to fulfill his promise to the nagas and also return the pot to Devendra as per the deal. After all, this effort and the dangers he was putting himself through were for his mother. Garuda told Devendra that he has to keep his promise to free his mother and while the serpents would be away to purify themselves for having the elixir, Devendra should retrieve the pot.
As devised, Garuda left the pot on a patch of grass and while the serpents were away for their ablutions, Devendra took back the celestial drink to the abode of the gods.
Garuda thus became a symbol of devotion a son could bear his mother.
Garuda is also Mahavishnu’s insignia as well, fluttering on his flag. In Vishnu temples, the image of Garuda holding a serpent in his talons can be seen before the sanctum sanctorum and on the sacred banner as well.
Special day to visit
Sundays are important to Garudan Kavu, especially during the Mandala period (November 16 to December 28). Devotees throng the place to offer special prayers which will ward off the evil effects of poison. Other ailments for which remedies sought here are skin diseases, mouth ulcers, scabies, breathing problems, pediatric illnesses and skin discolorations.
Garuda is also worshiped as the god who brings ecological balance. Special prayers and offerings are made to this king of birds to ward off the harm caused by birds. Farmers pray that their crops be protected from pests and bird attacks.
An unusual offering
Snake offerings are famous here. Devotees troubled by naga dosha come with live snakes in earthen pots with the mouth of the pots sealed. When the temple is opened, these pots are thrown in from the gopura. The chief priest then sprinkles the Garuda Panchakshari manthra theertha on the aggressive snakes. The popular belief is that these snakes slither southward and become Garuda’s meal.
Though Garudan Kavu receives hundreds of snakes as offering, not a single snake can be spotted near the temple.
Garudan Kavu is also special for the rare prasadam given to devotees. The yellow nivedyam is not given in any of the other temples in Kerala. The chief ingredient, turmeric has great healing properties. It’s given to devotees for the wellbeing of the whole family.
Garuda Panchakshari oil is another prasadam. The oil is anointed all over to rid devotees of skin ailments. When consumed continuously for 12 days, the body becomes free of internal poisons and toxins.