Thirunelli Temple (also Tirunelli) is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu on the side of Brahmagiri hill in Kerala. The temple is at an altitude of about 900m in north Wayanad in a valley surrounded by mountains and beautiful forests. It is 32 km away from Manathavady.
Thirunelli Temple is the only temple in the world where the devotees can perform all the rituals related to one’s life, starting from birth to death and life after death.
It is one of the most ancient temples in Kerala. It is believed that here the prathishta of Lord Vishnu was performed by Lord Brahma. It is also known as ''Sahyamala Kshetram'' and ''Kashi of the South''.
Thirunelli Temple draws pilgrims from allover, primarily for ancestral rites. The rituals are performed on the banks of the stream Papanasini which flows down from Mount Brahmagiri. It is believed that this stream has divine power to dissolve sins of all the mortals. Another major attraction of the temple is the holy rock where people pray for their forefathers.
On the western side of the temple is the cave temple Gunnika, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Thus Thirunelli becomes blessed by the unique presence of all the members of the trinity.
The beautiful Brahmagiri hills and the surrounding lush green forests have made the temple premises a valley of tranquility. So everybody feels completely relaxed after sitting in the sanctum of the temple. The temple is an embodiment of ancient temple architecture. The aquaduct that brings water to the temple is also a witness to hundreds of years of history.
The name Thirunelli derives from the word nelli, the Malayalam/Tamil equivalent for Indian gooseberry (Amla) tree. Once when Lord Brahma while traversing the world, saw an idol of Lord Vishnu resting on an amla tree in the valley and thus the place came to be named Thirunelli. In Padma Purana (written by Veda Vyasa) there is mention of a beautiful Vishnu temple located in the picturesque Sahya valley deep in the middle of the forest. Thirunelli temple is also referred to as Amalaka temple and Sidha temple.
History depicts Chera king Kulasekharan as the founder of this temple. He lived between A.D 767 and A.D 834. After a brief reign, he relinquished the throne and started missionary work to propagate Vaishnava order. It was he who wrote the Sanskrit work Mukundamaala in which he earnestly prays to Lord Vishnu to instill in him devotion.
On stylistic ground this looks as a typical Kerala temple. The inner sanctorum is surrounded by a tile roofed structure. And there’s an open courtyard around the sanctorum. At the east, in front of the entrance is a granite lamp-post. Curiously enough the flag post is absent, though one can spot a hole on the floor where it ought to be.
Along the outer wall of the temple is a cloister made of granite pillars cut in cubical style. This part of the temple architecture is slightly unusual for a Kerala temple. And it seems the cloister work was never completed. The story goes that once the King of Coorg, tried to renovate this temple. When he was half way through, the Vellattiri King who owned the temple objected to the same. Thus renovation was discontinued. Even today we can see proof of the half finished renovation work.
Location : Thirunelli Temple, Mananthavady, Wayanad, Kerala, India.
Gods : Lord Vishnu
Landmark : There are many options that are available to reach the place and the Wayanad District is well connected to most of the other parts of the state. Nearest Airport is located at Kozhikode which is around 80 km from the place. The only way to reach the place from the airport is through taxis and these can be hired from outside the airport. Taxis cost approximately Rs 1,000 for the trip. This is the best option for those who are arriving by air. Nearest Railway Station is also located in Kozhikode and one can hire taxis from just outside the railway station. The best option is to book a cab through the hotels as they are a much safer option. Travelling by train is the most comfortable option and there are train services from various parts of the country to Kozhikode. There are frequent buses that are available from places such as Mysore and Kozhikode to Wayanad District. Ticket rates depend on the distance.
Puthari, Chuttuvilakku, Navarathri, Shivarathri and Sreekrishnajayanthi are the festivals conducted in this temple.
The flow of the pilgrims to Thirunelli Temple is not only to offer prayers but also to perform the ancestral rites called Bali. Those who do the rites have to observe penance. In Kerala it is in Thirunelli Temple, the largest number of ‘bali tharpana’ is being performed everyday.
It is desirable that those who come for ancestral rites may reach the temple on the eve itself, so that they can conveniently pay the fee at the Devaswam Counter and get the receipt. The fee is to be paid in the name of the performer and not in the name of the deceased.
When one person alone is performing the rites, it is called “oraalpindam”. But one who has remitted the fee for “oraalpindam” can do the obsequies for all the dead ancestors of the ‘tharavaad’ whom he knows and not knows. The fee for “oraalpindam” is Rs 43. This include Rs.35, the share to Thirunelli Temple and Rs.8, the share to Thrissilery Temple (for vilakkumaala). There is facility for the related family members also to sit together and do the rites along with the main performer. This is called “koottupindam”. For this the main performer (the Kaaranavar of the tharavaad) has to remit Rs.43 and each member Rs.30 each.
After getting the receipt, the performers have to stand at the temple step, taking bath. Immediately after “deepaaraadhana’ the “Vaadhayaar” (the Priest) will dictate the prayer for all those who have assembled on the step. The performers have to recite this prayer. After the prayer, they have to do “dandanamaskaara”(to prostrate, by falling down at full length) before Thirunelli Perumaal and pay the “kaanikka” (offering). With the above, the rituals to be done on the eve of ancestral rites, come to a close.
Next day without taking bath, between 6 am and 11 am, the performers have to reach the temple and collect the “bali materials” and “dharbha grass” from the special counter arranged on the northern side of the temple, showing the receipt.
After this, they head to the pond, in the sacred stream called Papanashini, located about half a kilometer away, in the forest. There, it will be waist deep water. Now take the first dip in the water, before the actual ritual starts.
On the bank of the pond stands the “Vaadhyaar” (the priest) who administers the ritual. Pilgrims line in the stream with almost ankle-deep flowing water. The ritual material collected from the temple is placed on the boulder in front, and the priest directs and administers the rituals in sequence.
Then they have to return to main temple after praying to Lord Shiva in the “Gunnika Temple”. The rituals come to a close with the reverential circumlocution around the main Temple, worship of the “Perumaal” there and receipt of the “thirmadhura Nivedyam” “theertham” and “Prasaadam”. Those who have the statues with them have to return the same in the counter. Even if one fails to reach the temple on the eve, can perform the rites, the same day, provided they arrive the temple before 11 am.