Sreevallabha Temple, Thiruvalla – Worship Customs
Customs of Worship:
Vishnu at Sreevallabha Temple is being worshipped his cosmic, original and transcendental form Purusha which can be understood from using different moola manthra / fundamental hymn for different aspects of Purusha contrary to the strict usage of only a single fundamental hymn in all temples, sanctum-sanctorum is built in such a way that the top and bottom of the deity can’t be seen as Viratpurusha has no origin and end, Peetha pooja which is mandatory in all Vaidika temples is not done here as Purusha is devoid of origin and end, dressing up the deity only with white or saffron clothes contrary to popular yellow clothing used for Vishnu temples of Vaidika sampradaya which suggests the eternity of Purusha and the rituals and customs followed in the temple includes all Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakteya worshipping that are now in practice in Vaidika sampradaya because Purusha being the ultimate and others being only aspects of Purusha.
Generally, all Kerala temples follow Vaidika School of worship based on the book Tantrasamuchayam. But Sreevallabha Temple doesn’t follow Tantrasamuchayam and follows its own School called Pancharathra Vidhaanam. No other temples are known to follow it but Thripunithura Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple follows a school of worship somewhat similar to that of Sreevallabha Temple. It is to be noted that the temple has never changed its worship protocols since 59 BC and it is doubtful that any other temple follows such an ancient system.
The Pancharathra Vidhaanam:
This should not be confused with Pancharathra Agama of Vaishnavites which is completely an Agama Sampradaya established by 11 AD whereas Pancharathra Vidhaanam is completely Vaidika Sampradaya of 4 BC origin. But base for both these is the same- five spontaneous aspects of Purusha – Param, Vyooham, Vibhavam, Antharyaami and Archa, but these have got entirely different explanations in Vedic tradition and Agama tradition. Durvasa Samhitha based on Pancharathra Vidhaanam by Sage Durvasa explains the rituals to be performed. The book Yajanavali, the nutshell of Durvasa Samhitha is being followed for worshipping lord Sreevallabha and Ahirbudhnya Samhitha for Sudarshanamoorthy. Considering Srishti, Sthithi and Laya as the tejas of five aspects of Purusha, five pooja are performed here and the deity is adorned like Brahmmachari, Grihastha and Sanyasi in different forms during these pooja.
These customs are highly orthodox and can’t be found anywhere else. The base of every temple is the energy driven through Moola mantra / fundamental hymns (of the respective God), which should never be changed / misused and strictly used during every pooja. If not, it changes the Chaitanya or energy of the temple and is believed to produce disastrous effects to both temple and the place where it is situated, which need to be rectified by expensive and complicated penitential procedures. So no temples have multiple moola manthra where as Sreevallabha temple uses different moola manthra for different occasions. This is just an example to show how unique are the customs followed here and from basics, whole things are entirely different.
Daily five main pooja are being performed with three neivedhyam and three Sreebali. It starts with Palliyunarthal or awakening the Lord followed by Abhishekam or bathing with 12 pots of water sanctified with Vedic chantings. This is followed by malar neivedhyam. Afterwards Usha Pooja which is Purusha Sukta pradhana starts. At this time, the idol will be dressed up like a Brahmmachari in 18 feet long white mundu with uthareeyam and two flower garlands. Then main neivedhyam is done followed by Usha Deeparadhana. First Sreebali (sacrificing food to all crew of the deity) follows this. Pantheeradi pooja starts after a short interval in which the Lord is dressed up in Saffron-yellow mundu, angavastram, tulasi garland only. No ornaments are used during this as the Lord is assumed as a Yogeeshwara. This is also called as Purushanarayana pooja.
Then follows Madhyahna / ucha pooja or noon pooja in which Lord is assumed to be thriloka chakravarthi i.e. emperor of three worlds, grihasthabhava, adorned with all ornaments and garlands especially kesaadipaadam garlands. Ucha pooja is completed in three parts one inside sanctum-sanctorum, another one at navaka pooja and third being the paala namaskaram. At this time ucha neivedhyam and paala namaskaram are done followed by Sreebali and temple closes. Evening temple opens and Deeparadhana or lamp worship is done after some time. Then follows the fourth pooja in which the Lord is assumed to be Srimad Narayanan’ and these two pooja are in Sthithi sankalpa. Soon athazha pooja/5th pooja is done in which Sreevallabha is assumed to be Parabrahmam, Yathi bhava, in Laya sankalpa. Now the Lord will be dressed up in a single saffron colour mundu and a tulasi garland only.
After third Sreebali, Lakshminarayana pooja is done as a part of the Sleeping ceremony and sanctum-sanctorum is closed keeping necessary articles for a pooja inside for Sage Durvasa along with Saptarishi who come at midnight daily for ardhayaama pooja. Sage Durvasa is believed to perform always Naivedya also and hence Prasanna pooja is open and neivedhyam is done closed contrary to other Kerala temple tradition. There were five Namboothiri Brahmin families and ten Tulu Brahmin families appointed as Melshanthi or chief priests along with 180 Keezh Santhi or sub-ordinate priests. Another 108 brahmacharis were also needed for daily paala namaskaram. Thanthram (power of conducting temple rituals) is for three families viz. Thukalasseri Tharayil Kuzhikkattu, Thekkedathu Kuzhikkattu and Memena Kuzhikkattu families. Now only two Melshanthi are there instead of 15. Any kind of pooja performed here should be done after doing a token worship or starting it at Sankaramangalath Illam as it is considered to be the moola Sthana (place of origin) of Sreevallabha temple.
Customs followed in the temple:
Sreevallabha Temple is well known for its highly orthodox natured rare customs. In 1997, famous poet and former head-priest Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri was removed from the post as he had crossed the sea in order to address the Millennium Conference on Integration on Science and Consciousness, in Britain which resulted in religious sacrilege evoking the wrath of his own community since it was against temple customs. And only after a series of penance, he was allowed to continue in his post. The priests strictly should take bath in Jalavanthy before entering the temple and they shall never use sacred ash or Vibhoothi, only sandal paste is to be used.
The chief priest should be of 50 years old, married and should never be the one whose family has got hereditary rights for worshipping any Shiva temple. In every three years, priests can be changed. Also the priests entering Sreevallabhan’s shrine are restricted from entering even other shrines in the temple. There will be separate priests for that. Devotees also should never use sacred ash inside the temple wall. even though it is the prasadam given. They shall use it outside only. Male devotees are not allowed to wear shirt, T-shirts etc. A detailed description of such customs can be found in the book Sreevallabha Mahakshethra Charithram by historian P. Unnikrishnan Nair.
Method of taking Darshanam:
Four circumambulations or Pradakshina are advised in the temple out of which one should be done outside and three inside the Naalambalam. Enter through eastern gate, turn left and worship Ganapathy, Shiva and Ayyappan on the southern side. After circumambulating the jointly growing sacred fig and mango trees, proceed to Sankaramangalath Illam just outside the western gate. Return to temple and walk through the northern circumambulation path. Salute Kali at the northern gate and Kurayappa Swamy too. Visit Jalavanthy and Salute Vedavyasa and Durvasa on its eastern bank. Turn right to Garuda Dhwaja and worship Garuda before entering Naalambalam. In Naalambalam, worship Vadakkumthevar and Vishwakasena outside the sanctum and inside the sanctum Sreevallabha, Lakshmi, Bhudevi, Varaha and Dakshinamurthy through eastern door and Sudarshana Chakra through western door.