Thirunelli is a small serene village in the foothill of Brahmagiri Hills, which is located at a distance of around 30 km from Mananthavady. This hamlet is extremely popular for its religious importance as it is home to an ancient temple that is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and a stream called Papanashini that flows nearby. Because of its proximity of thick forest, Thirunelli is also popular amid ornithologists, and trekkers.
Devoted to Lord Chatrabhuja, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Thirunelli temple is placed in Brahmagiri forest area. The importance of the temple can be seen from the fact that it is known as the ‘Kashi of the South’. Ganpathy and Nagam are the other deities who are worshipped here. It is also compared to Gaya, a popular religious site in Bihar where rituals are done to liberate the deceased souls.
Folklore behind Thirunelli temple and Papanashini stream
It is believed that Thirunelli temple is over 1000 years old, however, there is no documented history. There are a few interesting stories about the temple.
As per one legend Lord Brahma had constructed this temple himself. They say that one day he was flying around the globe riding on a swan, his vehicle. While flying across this region, he was charmed by the serenity of the Brahmagiri Hills, he down at that spot and spotted an idol of Lord Vishnu that was kept under an Amla tree. He reinstalled that idol and erected a temple, name, Sahyamalaka temple. He then made a request to Lord Vishnu who blessed the waters of the area, giving them magical power to wash away sings of people who would take a dip in it. And, this is how Papnashini River was formed
Another story states that after the event of Amrit Manthan, the kind of birds, Garuda was flying above carrying Amrit Kumbh (the pot of the nectar of life) at the exact time when Lord Brahma was installing the idol of Lord Vishnu. A few drops of the nectar fell into the neaeby stream, forming Papanashini River. The local people believe that in the wee hours of the morning, every day, Lord Bharham comes to the temple for worshiping Perumal. Due to this, every night before the temple is closed, the head priest of the temple keeps worshiping material required in pooja.
The Sahyamalaka temple finds its mention in a number of Hindu texts including Puranas. It is also believed that Parshurama, another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, had also visited this temple to complete the last rights of sage Jamadagni, his father. He later, took a dip in the sacred stream to atone for the sins of killing the Kshathriyas.
Papanasini mountain stream and significant sights
The village of Thirunelli is located amidst lush mountains and thick woods, and boasts of owning some wonderful scenic location. The temple front faces east, thereby offering memorable sunrise views. The presence of Karimala ranges in the west, Brahmagiri ranges in the north, and Narinirangimala in the south, makes the place even more lush and mesmerizing.
Papanashini is a mountain stream that originated from Brahmagiri and flows around a km away from the temple. In the temple complex, there also is Panchatheertham temple pond, with a huge stone in the center, called Vishnupada (the footprint of Lord Vishnu).
The temple is an architectural marvel and is made up of 30 granite pieces. The temple’s floor was made from a huge granite block, square in shape. The structure fof the temple is a typical Kerala temple structure with a granite lamppost on the entry, a tile roof in the inner sanctorum and, an open courtyard around the main sanctorum. The source of water for the temple is the stream Papanashini which is brought into the room of the priest via channels. A slim corridor, Vilakkummadam has been built of granite pillar in the eastern area but is still incomplete.
From the temple when one walks towards Papanashini stream, one has to cross a small bridge to arrive at another temple, Gundika temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is known to be as old as the Thirunelli temple. The temple boasts some wonderful sculptures.
It can therefore be said that Thirunelli is the rare place where the presence of the Trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva), can be seen.
Similarly, there are stories about the unfinished Vilakkumaadam corridor and the water channels.
Popular festivals at Thirunelli temple
Thirunelli temple welcome a huge number of devotees during a number of festivals such as Puthari, Chuttuvilakku, Shivarathri, Sreekrishnajayanthi, and Navarathri,
Ceremonies at the temple
It is largely believed that by paying homage at the temple, we can make it easy for our departed loved one to travel peacefully to the next world. Completed in slots, the ceremonial rituals start by praying at the temple’s front. After this, the priest and the relatives of the deceased visit the Papanashini stream along with the things they wish to immerse in the waters. After reaching the river, acting upon the instructions of the priest, the relative stands in the river and pours the remaining content in the holy river water, praying for the peace of the dead soul. He then takes a dip in the water and is back to the temple for the final prayers.