Panniyur Varahamoorthy Temple is located close to Kudallur in Palakkad district where Madathu Thekkeppattu house, the birthplace of legendary Malayalam writer M T Vasudevan Nair, is located. Many scenes of M T's novel 'Kaalam' are based in the temple.
Moreover, the legend of the temple is so ancient that it begins from the age of Sage Parasurama. This area was among the oldest settlements of Brahmins in Kerala and the master architect Perunthachan had visited the place. It is also believed that Perunthachan abandoned his work tools forever at this temple.
A huge banyan tree dominates the scene near the temple and the compound wall has collapsed at many places. The walkway around the temple has retained its antiquity. Adjacent to the pond is a perennial pond that is a water source for the local people too. It is also known as 'Matya Theertham.'
The shrine faces the East and Varahamoorthy is the main deity. There are only two such shrines in Kerala. The other is at Thiruvananthapuram. There, Lakshmi Varaham is the deity. At Panniyur, Varahamoorthy has Bhoomi Devi on his left lap. Devotees believe Parasurama had consecrated the deity 4,000 years ago in the form of Adi Varahamoorthy. It had the colour of eye black and the tusks were pointed upwards, carrying Bhoomi Devi (Earth). On each of the four hands, conch, wheel, mace and lotus were held.
The present idol was installed in 1758. The 'tantri' (chief priest) was Puzhakkara Chennamagalathu Narayanan Namboodiri. The idol has the face of 'Varaha' on a human body and stands on the hood of Adi Sesha, the snake. On the left lap sits Bhoomi Devi. The idol holds a bow and arrow as well.
The conch with right curl and 'Hiranya garbha salagramam' for making the idol were offered by Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma.
A large number of devotees reach the temple to conduct 'Bhoomi puja.' They bring earth from around the temple which is then subjected to some rituals. It is believed that disputes related to land could be settled favourably by conducting this ritual. After the ceremony, the earth has to be returned to the same spot from where it was taken.
The Perunthachan connection
There are two myths connecting Perunthachan to the temple. The first says that it was he who built the shrine. But every time he worked on the structure the temple authorities suggested a modification. Fed up, the master architect soon abandoned all his tools at the temple and left, uttering the curse that the work on the temple would never be completed.
At one section of the wall, a portion of a chisel is seen. The spot is marked as Perunthachan's tool.
In the second tale, Perunthachan reached here while wandering from place to place remorseful over the death of his son at his hands. At that time, the work on the roof was going on at the temple. None of the workers identified the elderly Perunthachan. He was not even offered lunch. Offended, Perunthachan decided to teach the workers a lesson. He climbed to the top of the tower and made some changes when the workers were away for lunch.
When the workers returned, they found that they could not fix the roof. Somebody then remembered the old man and said that he resembled Perunthachan. But by that time the master craftsman had left. The workers searched for him and begged forgiveness.
Perunthachan returned and corrected the fault, but he vowed not to touch his tools again and abandoned them at the temple.
Two years ago, some craftsmen from Kottayam reached the temple saying that they were the descendants of Perunthachan and wanted to conduct some rituals following some setbacks in the family.
They also completed some work launched with the funds allotted by actor Suresh Gopi.
Ganapathy, Kundil Varaham and Lakshmi Narayanan are the other deities in the temple. Shrines to Shiva, Ayyappa, Durga Devi, Subrahmanya and Chitrathil Varaham are also present. Yakshi and Chitragupta are yet more deities. Most of them are present among the ruins of the ‘Koothambalam’, little of which is left now.
A huge banyan stands near the Shiva shrine where a she-demon (yakshi) lived. She posed a threat to the local people but was chained using rituals and tied to a pillar of the Koothambalam, following which the structure collapsed.
Panniyur temple is related to the Kerala formation myth. Parasurama, who massacred the Kshathriyas, donated Kerala to Brahmins, to atone for his sin. He divided the land into 64 villages and decided the administrative functions.
At this time, the earth began to rise. Parasurama panicked, but took Sage Narada’s advice and sought refuge in Maha Vishnu.
Maha Vishnu asked Parasurama to install an idol of Varaha Avatar that the Lord had taken earlier. "The presence of Trimurtis will be felt there," said Maha Vishnu.
Following which, Parasurama built Panniyur temple and consecrated Varahamoorthy. He also stipulated the rituals. The pond Matya Theertham was also dug nearby.
Panniyur temple and its surroundings are a reminder of a glorious past. The Brahmins who lived here were among the first settlers belonging to the community in Kerala. Writes noted historian M G Sasibhooshan: "The heart of Panniyur was the grand temple. William Logan has said in Malabar Manual that Varaha was the mascot of Chalukyas and the Brahmins from there had established the Panniyur village. Moreover, Brahmins from Rashtrakuda kingdom had set up Chowwara village. It later came to be known as Sukapuram."
"There existed a rivalry between Panniyur and Sukapuram, says ‘Veeraraghava Pattayam’ proclamation. While the Zamorin backed Panniyur, the ruler of Valluvanad supported Chowwara. This competition changed the course of history," he adds.
A scholarly body named Panniyur Ayiram’ existed in Panniyur. It comprised 1000 scholars each in the Rig, Yajur and Sama vedas. The chief scholar was Kalpakanchery Thambrakkal who had a similar status as Azhvanchery Thambrakkal. A veda school also functioned in Panniyur.
All these have now vanished, even the Kalpakanchery Illam (traditional house). This was after Chowwara Brahmins who supported the Rashtrakudas became prominent in Kerala. Chowwara – Sukapuram - Brahmins were Shivaites and worshipped Dakshinamoorthy. Azhvanchery Thambrakkal was their chief.
M T's memories
M T Vasudevan Nair has written about his fond childhood memories of the temple. M G Sasibhooshan says: "M T spoke about this while I adapted his novel 'Vilapayatra' as a radio play. The scene of many incidents in M T's another novel 'Kaalam' is set in Panniyur temple. Sethu, a character in 'Kaalam,' wishes to write a poem about a 'God who dreams of regular rituals and offerings which he once enjoyed.' It is evident that he refers to Varahamoorthy of Panniyur."
Incidentally, the Panniyur temple witnessed a rebuilding process and reinstallation ceremony some years after ‘Kaalam’ was published.
Panniyur temple is now managed by Malabar Devaswom Board. Its titular head is the Zamorin of Kozhikode. A temple rebuilding committee formed by local people is heading the renovation work.
The temple is part of Panthirukulam heritage circuit and National pilgrimage circuit.
How to reach
From Thrissur side, travel to Kundalam and Edappal or get down at Kuttippuram railway station if coming by train. From the railway station, regular buses are available for Kumbidi.
Travellers from Kozhikode side can also get down at Kuttippuram.
Meanwhile, devotees from Palakkad can take the Ottapalam–Kuttanad-Thrithala road to Kumbidi.
From Thiruvananthapuram, taking the train to Kuttippuram would be convenient. Devotees heading to the temple in their own vehicle can deviate from Edappal and take the Kuttanad-Thrithala road to the temple.