It is festival season at Kalpathi. The annual chariot festival (ratholsavam) at the Sree Viswanatha Swamy Temple attracts tens of thousands of devotees and tourists to this small town near Palakkad district. This traditional Tamil Brahmin settlement really comes alive during these ten days with the chanting of Vedic mantras and Classical music concerts. Those who left their native place in search of jobs or due to other reasons return to Kalpathi on this occasion to pull the chariot of Vishwanatha.
Where is Kalpathi?
Kalpathi is an early Tamil Brahmin settlement in Kerala. This small village has several traditional Tamil Brahmin homes called Agraharam. The Visalakshi Sametha Sri Viswanatha Swami Temple (Viswanathan with his consort Visalakshi) dates back to AD 1425. Lord Viswanatha is another name of Lord Shiva and Vishalakshi is another name of Parvati.
When is the festival celebrated?
The Kalpathi Chariot festival is usually celebrated over a period of ten days starting November 7 to 15. The festival flag is hoisted on November 7. The last three days (November 13, 14 and 15) are the most important days of the festival. To celebrate the occasion, a Carnatic music festival (Kalpathi Sangeetholsavam) is organized. Concerts will be held on all days starting November 7 to November 13 in a specially arranged venue at Chattappuram. The programs are organized by Palakkad Tourism Promotion Council and Sangeeta Nataka Academy.
In addition to the Viswanatha Temple, three smaller temples participate in this festival. These are the Lakshmi Narayana Perumal temple at Old Kalpathi, Maha Ganapathi Temple of Chattappuram and Manthakkara Maha Ganapathi Temple.
What makes Kalpathi Chariot Festival so unique?
Kerala is the land of colorful and vibrant temple festivals. Interestingly, the Kalpathi Chariot Festival is different from other temple festivals celebrated in the state. While festooned elephants steal the show at other festivals, here the main attractions are the beautifully decorated huge chariots.
Various cultural programs including Carnatic music concerts and concerts using traditional Kerala musical instruments are also staged on this occasion. The chanting of Vedic mantras reverberates through the air and lends a celestial charm to Kalpathi.
The last three days of the festival are especially important. Thousands gather to pull the decorated chariots across the streets. Kalpathi gets fully decked up for the festival. Brilliantly decorated huge chariots are taken out through the streets of Kalpathi on the final day of the festival. One chariot each from the other three temples also participate in this event. On the first of the last three days, one chariot is pulled. On the second of the last three days, two chariots are pulled and on the final day three chariots are pulled. Chariots are accompanied by festooned elephants and percussion orchestra. Devotees believe that pulling the chariot will free them from sins.
As many as 6 chariots participate in the event. The three chariots from Vishwanatha Swami Temple carry the idols of Lord Shiva (main chariot) and his sons Ganapathi and Murugan (also known as Karthikeyan and Subrahmanian). They circumvent the streets of the village. The chariots from other three temples also join them on the final day of the festival. This auspicious event is called devarathasamgamam (the coming together of the chariots of Devas).
History of Kalpathy Viswanatha Swami Temple
The oldest Shiva temple in Malabar, the Viswanatha Swami Temple was built in AD 1425 by Kombi Achan, the then ruler of Palakkad. According to popular legends, Lakshiammal, a Brahmin widow and a devotee of Shiva, went to Kashi and brought with her a Shiva Lingam. She installed the Lingam on the Southern bank of the river at the site where the present temple stands. The location of the temple on the banks of the river and the many steps (ghats) that lead to the river remind one of the Vishwanatha Temple at Kashi and because of this reason devotees believe that Kalpathi is half Kashi (Kashiyil pakuthi Kalpathi). Devotees who are not able to go all the way to Kashi can pray here and obtain the blessings of Kashi Vishwanatha (Lord Shiva).
Kalpathi is about three kilometers from Palakkad town. The nearest airport (about 55 km) is the Coimbatore International Airport.