Every year, the Shiva Temple at Kottiyoor sees an influx of pilgrims in June. The Kottiyoor Vysakha Mahotsavam, the annual festival of the temple, is held on the banks of River Baveli. The lush forests surrounding the area create the perfect backdrop for a temple that is reminiscent of the hermitages of rishis. A pilgrimage to Kottiyoor certainly takes one back in time.
The Kottiyoor Shiva Temple is in the district of Kannur in Northern Kerala. The festival is held over 28 days and is organized by two temples Akkare Kottiyoor (the temporary shrine on the east bank of the river Baveli) and Ikkara Kottiyoor (the permanent shrine on the west bank).
The Akkare Kottiyoor Temple is only opened during the days of the festival. It is the venue of the celebrations. This temple has no formal structure and the deity here is a swayambhoo (self-created) Shiva lingam. Manithara where the lingam is placed is a raised platform made of river stones.
Several huts with thatched roofs are erected specifically for the festival. The rituals and ceremonies are performed inside the huts. The month long festival held in June/July begins with Neyyattam on Choti nakshatra in the Malayalam month of Edavam (May-June). This ritual involves the pouring of ghee over the deity. Thousands of devotes flock to the temple to watch this ceremony. The celebrations commence when a sword is brought from Muthirerikavu in the neighboring district of Wayanad.
While it is called a festival, the Kottiyoor Vysakha Mahotsavam does not actually involve celebrations of any kind. Only Vedic hymns are chanted during the festival. According to popular legends, Akkare Kottiyoor was the venue of the Yaga performed by Daksha at the end of which Daksha’s daughter and Shiva’s consort Sati immolated herself.
A permanent shrine was later built on the western bank (Ikkare Kottiyoor) after a swambhoo linga was found on the eastern bank. Pilgrims cross the river to the east bank only during the days of the festival. Kottiyoor is also one of the few temples in India where Sati is worshipped. The Goddess is worshipped as Shakti on a raised platform called Ammarakkalu Thara close to the Shiva Linga. Her shrine does not have a roof. Kottiyoor is believed to be the first of the Shakti Peethas (sacred shrines of Shakti) in India.
The month long festival in some aspects is a commemoration of the events that could have happened during Daksha Yaga. During Rohini Aaradhana which is one of the important rituals performed during the festival, the priest hugs the swayambhoo linga. Apparently, the priest who performs this ritual is considered the embodiment of Lord Vishnu. After Sati’s immolation, Vishnu had hugged Shiva to console him and to pacify him.
Another important ritual is Elaneer Vayppu. The tender coconuts brought by devotees are offered to the Shiva lingam. Elaneerattam, the ritual with which the festival concludes, involves the pouring of tender coconut water on the lingam.
Nearest railway station: Thalassery, about 65 km
Nearest airport: Karipur International Airport, about 160 km