When Chariots Start Rolling Through Kalpathi | Everything You Need to Know about Kalpathi Ratholsavam

The chariots of deities (devarathams) of the four temples of Kalpathi will start rolling through the narrow streets of this holy town on November 13 as part of the annual Kalpathi Ratholsavam. You can read more about Kalpathi Chariot festival here. 

The streets have already been kept crystal clean for the ceremony and thousands of people – both devotees and tourists – have arrived in Kalpathi to savor the spectacle. People belonging to all castes and religions help draw the chariots.

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When the chariots of Gods meet – A scene from the final day of Kalpathi Ratholsavam

The Kalpathi Chariot festival is the first in a series of chariot festivals organized in the 96 Agraharams in the Palakkad district of Kerala. An Agraharam is a Tamil Brahmin settlement. When Brahmins migrated to Kerala in the 14th century, they set up Agraharams in various parts of Palakkad district. Of the 96 Agraharams, 18 are in Palakkad town. The others are also in the Palakkad district and during the next six months each temple in these Agraharams will celebrate their chariot festivals. Of course, these festivals are organized on a smaller scale and do not get as much attention as the Kalpathi Chariot festival.

Chariot festivals are not very common in Kerala, a state famous for its temple festivals involving elephants, percussion orchestra and ear-splitting fireworks. They are a tradition brought to the state by Tamil Brahmins.

Kalpathi Ratholsavam (Chariot / Car festival) is organized with the objective of preserving Vedic traditions. Prior to the festival, the temples and the homes in these Agraharams receive a face-lift. It is that time of the year when natives of this village settled in different parts of the country or the world return to Kalpathi to see their family and seek the blessings of their favorite deity – Viswanatha Swami. Three smaller temples in New Kalpathi, Old Kalpathi and Chathapuram also participate in this festival. The festival is already under way. It started on November 7 and will conclude on November 15.

Kalpathi is a small Brahmin settlement situated on the banks of Kalpathi river which is a tributary of Nila. The festival reached Kerala from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu and has completed 500 years. In 1986, Kalpathi Ratholsavam made it to the festival calendar of Kerala Tourism. Since then it has become one of the most popular temple festivals in Kerala.

A little bit of history

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Vishalakshisameta Viswanatha Swami Temple at Kalpathi

The Visalakshisameta Viswanatha Swami Temple at Kalpathi was under the rule of the royal family of Akathethara. Kerala Brahmin (Namboothiris) priests of this temple had a tiff with the royal family and the king invited Brahmins from the Thanjavoor district of Tamil Nadu to perform the daily puja at this temple. This is how Thanjavoor Brahmins migrated to Kerala. They arrived in large numbers and to provide them with accommodation the king built Agraharams similar to the ones found in Thanjavoor at Kalpathi as well. Within a few years of time Thanjavoor’s famed Ratholsavam also reached Kalpathi. The chariots aren’t the only attraction of this festival. A music festival is also organized prior to the chariot festival. Fans of Carnatic music make a beeline to Kalpathi during this time to immerse themselves in the joy of pure music.

The royal family of Travancore also loved the Thanjavoor style of Carnatic music and promoted it actively. Rajaram Swamikal, a disciple of Tyajaraja Swamikal, came to Kalpathi in 1853 and founded the Ramadhyana Madham. This place eventually became the lifeline of Carnatic music in Kerala. Over the years Kalpathi has produced many exponents of classical and instrumental music. The festival and the music – both run in the vein of a typical Kalpathi resident.

In the early years of the festival, people belonging to lower castes were not allowed to participate. This has changed and now the festival draws huge crowds of people from across the country and the world. Each huge chariot has intricate carvings. The thick ropes attached to the chariots are drawn by men, women and children chanting ‘Govinda … Gopala’.

The chariot festival is organized over three days (November 13, 14 and 15). During these days, the chariots from the Vishalakshisameta Viswanatha Temple, Manthakkara Maha Ganapathi Temple, Chattapuram Prasanna Mahaganapathi Temple and the Lakshi Narayama Swami Temple of Old Kalpathi roll through the streets of Kalpathi. Kalpathi Chariot festival is different from the festivals organized at other temples in Kerala. This uniqueness is exactly what makes this festival so popular.

On the final day of the festival, five chariots from the four temples meet in front of the Viswanatha Swami Temple. This is called the Devarathasangamam.

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