Legend has it that Lord Brahma was travelling the universe on his “hamsa” when he was captivated by the beauty of a place, now popularly known as the “Brahmagiri hill”. Upon descend, he noticed an idol set against an Amla tree which the great Lord Brahma identified as that of Lord Vishnu. With the help of Devas, Brahma installed the idol and called it Sahyamalak Kshetra. So in this installment of our travelogue, we take you this beautiful place that caught the attention of Lord Brahma himself – The Tirunelli Temple.
Tirunelli occupies a very important place in the history of Hindu places of religious importance. Though the actual time of establishment of the temple is open to debate, there exists proof that the temple was present even as early as during the reigns of Tamil Chera King Bhaskara Ravi Varma 1. The then hard to access holy temple nestled deep in the mountain ranges is now a readily accessible by road and car destination in Wayanad district of Kerala.
The Holy Dip in Papanashini
We chose to drive to Thirunelli one fine afternoon from our home in Mananthavady, Wayanad. The drive is about 30 minutes and takes you through the scenic roads of wayanad and Tholpetty forest range.
It is not uncommon to spot elephant herds, wild bisons and lots of deer while driving through these roads. So exercise caution in speed to avoid any unfortunate incidents and do not park or exit from the car while in the forest area.
After getting off the car, we readily proceeded to the short walk leading to the holy stream of “Papanashini”. Folklore has it that taking a dip in the holy waters of this stream can absolve one of their sins and return purity to one’s soul.
The stream originates deep in the forest surrounding the temple and flows through rocks, pebbles and medicinal herbs to reach the place where devotees can access it for either the holy dip or for the immersion of cremation ashes as a part of last rites for the departed souls.
While it is okay to walk around a little bit here, exiting the established routes and wandering off may not be a great idea owing to the fact that the temple itself sits in an area that has a close proximity to forest ranges.
The walk to the Papanashini is short and has a small section with boulders. This should not be a concern except in the rainy season where one needs to ensure not to slip on the algae on the rocks.
Exploring the temple surroundings
The temple and its surroundings preserve the ancient stone relics surrounding the sanctum sanctorum. It is mandatory to take off the slippers before proceeding to walk around the temple. Because we had reached around evening, it was time for the inner sanctum to be opened for devotees. It is mandatory for men to take off their shirt and wearing simple clothes for entry. Women should be dressed in decent Indian wear like salwars, kurthis or sarees to be allowed inside.
Rendezvous with the Divine
At 5:30 the temple doors opened and we stepped into what happened to be a few magical moments to be remembered for a long long time. The glowing lamps, the deity in the inner core of the temple and the magical chants that started playing through the speakers transported us immediately to a different place. It reminded us of everything divine, pristine and out of this world. For those few moments, we forgot everything else about the world. I for instance, am not aligned to religions or the beliefs that come with it. But this wasn’t about religion or the legends. It was simply feeling the presence of the divine, of something more powerful and beautiful.
As much as I did not want to leave this part of the temple, after circling the inner sanctum we exited the main temple building and got moving. It was already getting dark and the chirping of crickets was beginning to fill the night. We bid adieu to this beautiful place for the day to ensure we could cover the forest area before it got too late and returned to our home.
Photography is not allowed in the inner temple. Anywhere else you can photograph after paying a nominal fee of Rs.50/-. Again, try to visit the temple on a week day if you wish to avoid the crowds and enjoy the peace and quiet. The temple is about to undergo a few renovations for the upkeep. Hopefully, it keeps up the charm of this place and fixes the ruins that are slowly beginning to show in and around the temple.
Places to Stay in Thirunelli, Wayanad
If you are visiting this place, the KTDC Tamarind is probably a good place to stay. There are a few good resorts near the Tholpetty area that can be found on Tripadvisor. The nearest town is Kaatikulam and they have a few hotels here as well. The drive to Tirunelli is through the forest range and requires caution and speed control while driving through. Stopping or picnicking anywhere in the forest area is an offence and can attract a stiff fine and warning by the regularly patrolling forest officials.
Enjoy the journey, create memories and leave nothing behind but your footprints and tire marks.