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Temples of Kerala

The word Sarpa Kaavu - meaning 'Abode of the snake' is a common phrase in Kerala. Many ancient homes have a small corner of their yard set aside as an abode for serpents. Evidence of earlier forms of nature worship that existed in this part of this world is seen in the form of these sarpa kaavus.

Mannaarsaala, near Haripad, near Trivandrum is one such center of snake worship.

The Mannaarsaala temple dedicated to Naga Devatas is located in the middle of a large grove dedicated to serpents. There are several hundred granite images of snakes covering this area. The central temple contains images of Nagaraja the king of serpents and his consort Sarpayakshi. Some of the many images are said to have been brought and left here by families who were unable to maintain the snake groves within their homes.

Worship services are performed by a female priest who resides within the confines of the grove.The priestess adheres to austere lifestyle. From the moment of assuming priesthood, the priestess is considered to be a bride of the snake king Nagaraja. Her very residence is considered to be a temple, and it is believed that a guardian serpent dwells in the cellar of the home.

Legend has it that when Parasurama reclaimed Kerala, the new inhabitants of the land waged a war with the then inhabitants Nagas. Parasuraama intervened and decreed that a small corner of each yard be dedicated to the original Naga inhabitants of the land and hence the concept of a Sarpa Kaavu.

Interestingly, it is believed that the priests at Mannarsaala are descendants of a family that escaped the ravaging fire at the Khandava forest set by the Pandava princes. It is also believed that all of the serpents that escaped the fire settled down in the grove at Mannaarsaala. (The fire at the Khandava forest is enacted at the Aranmula temple).

Festivals: The annual festival here is celebrated in the month of Libra on the Ayilyam asterism. This festival witnesses a procession of images of serpent Gods to the residence of the priest.

Beliefs: It is believed that childless couples are blessed with progeny upon the completion of a form of worship where a small bell metal vessel offered to the temple.