Iringole Kavu: where trees are the deities
Fifty acres of forest, myth, belief and mystery, canopies of trees so old that the land has slept in their shade for ages and a beaming Durga temple in the midst of it- this is 'Iringole Kavu', a sacred grove. The temple is easily accessible by an auto (Rs. 40) from the Perumbavoor bus stop and an easy detour was a quick decision.
The trees here are Gods and the undergrowth here houses no dangerous animals but abundant flora and fauna. Inside, there are three main pathways and several smaller ones leading to the temple. We walked in lead by Babu, a former temple executive and Ajith who had done extensive studies about the biodiversity of the grove.
From them I learned the history and myth of the grove and the story behind its name. One of the stories says that the Goddess who was the eighth born of the Vasudeva- Devaki couple imprisoned by the cruel king Kamsa is the power behind this place. It is believed that the little baby who rose up from his hands as he attempted to kill, her beaming bright in the sky above. The place where the beam fell was called 'Irunnol' which later became Iringol as it is known today. The fallen and old trees and even the undergrowth in the grove are never removed as it is believed that the Gods who descended on the earth to pay obeisance to the Goddess became trees and plants in the grove.
Another story is that Sage Trinabindu meditated in these forests. Once Hanuman watched him without his knowledge. Soon he was driven away by the sage who did not recognise him. Hanuman soon returned with an elephant and a lion for guard only to enrage the sage who saw it all in his sixth sense. The Sage felt humiliated and cursed Hanuman, who was sitting atop a tree watching him, that he would be unaware of his strength.
Hanuman's father is known to have scourged the forest for his son learning about the curse. He kept shaking every single tree and except for one all of them trembled under the immense power of the wind God. Hanuman was sitting on the tree that did not shake and this tree is believed to be the one revered here as the 'Valiya Ilavu'.
It is believed that the God of wind bowed in front of the sage asking for penance but the sage was stubborn. He apparently reminded the God that Iringol was a sacred land. Even the wind must be soft on the land. No one will cut the old large trees, there will be no dangerous animals and the venomous animals will not harm anyone.
He further said that Hanuman will be reminded of his powers by Jambavan during the age of Lord Rama and thereafter will live as 'Sakthahanuman'. He also blessed Hanuman that so long as Ramanama stays in the universe, the Monkey God will stay a 'Chiranjeevi'.
Myth or reality, the nearly 50 acres of forest is home to birds, animals and flora of the Western Ghats that are on the endangered list. The stretch has rare woods like the 'Kambakam' or Iron wood of Malabar, white pine, wild jack (Anjili), teak etc. and medicines like wild pepper, long pepper and 'pathari'. There are 44 species of birds in this forest including parrots, cuckoos and eagles.
Forty-nine species of trees, 19 types of spiders, four species of amphibians and seven species of reptiles are residents of Iringole. With most of the residents being the ones under extinction threats, Iringole also has 42 species of insects and 5 species of mammals.
The grove is kept green by the many marshes and ponds in the area meshed on the bottom by the braids of roots thousands of years old. The 'theerthakulam' or temple pond here is also lush throughout the year, even in the peak summers. The temple doors are open to believers of any religion who are ready to follow the rules of ritualistic hygiene.
The Goddess changes from Saraswati in the morning to Vanadurga in the afternoon and later in the evening becomes Bhadrakali. The chief offerings are Sarkara nivedyam, neypayasam and Kadumpayasam. Chathussatham, Karthika oottu, thulabharam and koottupayasam are also major offerings. The major pooram happens from the second to the tenth of the malayalam month of Meenam. Unlike other temples, here only female elephants participate in the festival. Punaprathishta day and thrikarthika are also very important celebrations.
There is also a famous 'vitthidal' ritual in this temple led by the heirs to a 'pulaya' woman who is once believed to have witnessed the Goddesses grace in a stone herself. On the thirtieth day of Makaram month, the party reach the east gates of the temple after the afternoon pooja with their traditional Thudikottipaattu and Kudathullal. They then circumambulate the temple with a handful of seeded straw and a 'para' of rice.
Currently, the temple is under the Travancore Devaswom Board. During the olden days 32 'manas' were in charge of the temple, the Naganchery mana which is very close by being one of them. Today this mana is a museum run by the Tourism department and has a children’s park. There is also a star-forest nearby. The tickets for an adult is priced at Rs. 20 and for children it is Rs. 10.
After the walk and exploration, Babu and Ajith invited over for a cup of tea. Once at Perumbavoor, the world changes in a flash. There is a bustling Sunday market with pan parag, jeans, shirts and mobiles. Perumbavoor is the headquarters of the migrant labourers flocking into the state from Bengal. No wonder, the nearby Lucky Theatre is running a Bengali movie.
(Translated by Jyothisha V J)