Trials before courts may take years to be completed, delaying justice delivery. There are several people who suffer as a result of this situation. For them, the shrine of 'Judge Ammavan' (Judge Uncle) offers succour.
It may sound strange that people have such beliefs in this age, but the shrine sees a steady stream of visitors. Judge Ammavan is a minor deity at Cheruvally Devi Temple that lies on Kottayam-Pathanamthitta border, andis 8 km from Ponkunnam on the Chirakkandam – Manimala route. The uncle was, in fact, a real judge who lived during the 18th century.
Among the celebrities who have sought the Judge's blessings in recent times are cricket player Sreesanth, actress Lissy and actor Dileep. Former Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president Prayar Gopalakrishnan spent a week along with some others here to conduct a special ritual during the Sabarimala women’s entry controversy. Several leading film stars and members of the judiciary who do not wish to disclose their identity have also prayed at the shrine. Majority of them have received a favourable verdict and the number of devotees at the temple, which is under the TDB, is witnessing a steady increase.
The temple legend
The origins of the shrine can be traced to an interesting episode in the history of Travancore. At that time, Travancore was ruled by Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma, who was also known as Dharma Raja (The just king). He followed the ancient justice and legal systems of ‘Dharma Sasthra’ and ‘Neethisaram’ to conduct the affairs of the state. The king was ably assisted by a judge at the royal court named Govinda Pillai, who belonged to Thalavady in Thiruvalla. Govinda Pillai never deviated from law and justice. Also a Sanskrit scholar, Govinda Pillai was the apt person to head the ‘Sadar kodathy’, as the royal court was referred to.
Once, Padmanabha Pillai, Govinda Pillai’s nephew, was the accused in a case. The trial took place in Govinda Pillai’s court. The eminent judge weighed all the evidence presented before him, heard the arguments and counter arguments and ruled that his nephew was guilty. Considering the gravity of the crime, Padmanabha Pillai was sentenced to death by his Judge Uncle.
However, some other facts emerged later and Govinda Pillai realized that his nephew was in reality innocent and that his judgment was flawed.
The judge was overcome with remorse but his reputation was damaged beyond repair. Govinda Pillai then requested the king to punish him. Even though Dharma Raja initially declined, he ultimately gave in to Govinda Pillai’s persistent demand. However, the king entrusted the task of sentencing to Govinda Pillai himself.
The punishment that Govinda Pillai gave himself was also severe – chopping off both his feet and publicly hanging him. The judge also ruled that his body should remain hanging at the same spot for three days. With no other option, Dharma Raja was forced to carry out the punishment.
But some time later, several disasters struck the area. When an astrologer was consulted, it was found that the souls of the judge and his nephew were roaming around without restlessly. The judge’s soul was soon entombed at his family house at Payyambally. Meanwhile, the nephew’s soul found a place at Panayoor temple in Thiruvalla.
The Cheruvally temple is located on land that was granted tax-free to Vanchipuzha Thampuran of Chengannur by Maharaja Marthanda Varma. With the permission of the Thampuran, an idol of the Judge Ammavan was installed at the temple. Later, in 1978, the descendants of the judge built a sanctum sanctorum for the idol.
The Judge Uncle has equal importance as the main deity Devi at the temple. Rituals for the judge start around 8 pm after the main shrine is closed. ‘Ada’ is the main offering while another comprises tender coconut, betel leaves and areca nut. On some days, up to 1,000 ‘ada’ offerings are made, say the temple authorities. The shrine remains open only for about 45 minutes each day.
Though people involved in all kinds of litigation pray at the shrine, temple chief priest Raju Thirumeni and committee office-bearer Dileep said that it should not be considered that the deity would condone any crime. “For a person who has truth and the law on his or her side, this shrine and the offerings here offer spiritual support. They can feel assured of the blessings of a man who stood for truth and justice,” they say.
Belief is one’s choice, but a trip to the Cheruvally temple offers much peace of mind as it is located in a very picturesque spot. It does not matter whether the visitors win a court case or not.