History of Thrikodithanam
1. THE BHAKTI MOVEMENT: NAMMALVAR & OTHER TAMIL ALVAR SAINTS
According to Tamil Grantha literature, during 700 - 800 AD, there existed a sect of traveling mendicants / saints called the ALVARS. Divya Prabandham - a collection of 4000 verses and Karthabhyam are works associated with the Alvars. They are said to have patronised 13 temples in Kerala, one of which was Thrikodithanam Temple.
Nammalvar, the 5th and perhaps best known of these Alvar saints is said to have had a vision of the Lord at Thrikodithanam. In his famous composition Thiruvaaya-mozhi, the 6th poem - Aruvaaya-mozhi refers specifically to this temple and its deity. The poem extols the glory of the temple and the prosperity of areas around it. The deity at Thrikodithanam is called Adbhuta Narayanan - the miraculous Vishnu.
Maran and Kshatagopan are other names attributed to Nammalvar. Perhaps it was he who also composed the Maranalankar. More recently, Pillai Perumal Iyengar, the famous poet who composed 108 Thiruppadi Ananthaathi, also refers to the diety in his anthology as Adbhuta Narayanan.
There are references to Thrikodithanam temple in Mukundapaada composed by Kulashekara Alvar. Kulashekara Verma, a king of the second Chera dynasty was the contemporary of Shankara Bhagawal Pada and another Alvar saint, Kulashekara Alvar (c.1100 AD). These eminent personalities lived at a time when Thrikodithanam temple was at its peak as a pilgrimage center.
Apart from being a religious center, Thrikodithanam was also once a center for culture, arts, erudition & learning. Students used to be taught religious texts - Shastras - in sections or Khadikas. Since discussions, debates, tests and examinations took place with these sections as the base, the institutions came to be called Khadika-sthanam. These flourishing institutions imparted knowledge and skills not only in language and religious texts but also, in some cases, in warfare and state-craft.
These higher-grade institutions of learning were open to youth of the Chola-Pandya-Chera kingdoms. Research on Sanskrit texts and philosophy, and Vedic studies were the primary functions of a Khadika or Khadika-sthanam. The syllabus included study of the Shastras and Upanishads, and study of Tantra and Mantra. These institutions were as renowned as the famous universities of today. It is believed that, at any time, between 1000 to 7000 students studied at these institutions.
The most famous of these Khadika-sthanams existed at Kanchipuram even before 345 AD. Nalgonda inscriptions and inscriptions at VELLORE-PALA, GUDIANAM & KASAGUDI refer to the Khadika-sthanams. The presence of the famous Maha-Vishnu temple lent the prefix of respect Thiru to the Khadika-sthanam here making it Thiru-Khadika-Sthanam.
In the works of Nammalvar too there are references to existence of such an institution. Over the centuries, Thiru-Khadika-Sthanam became Thirukkadisthanam and finally Thrikodithanam.
3. STONE INSCRIPTIONS: SECOND CHERA EMPIRE (800 - 1102 A.D)
The stone inscriptions at Thrikodithanam temple are a rich source of information on the life and times during the Second Chera Empire. The earliest of these were recorded during the 14-year reign of the Chera king BHASKARA RAVI VERMA. From these inscriptions we get the following insights and information:
ABOUT THE KINGS OF THRIKODITHANAM...
ABOUT LANGUAGE & CULTURE...
ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE TEMPLE...
The name of the Kingdom - Nanrulainattu (Land of farmers) indicates that in this area, agriculture was an important activity.
The names of places around Thrikodithanam also point to the presence of forts and military garrisons near the temple. The present area Kotta-murikkal and Pada-nilam to the west of the temple could have been fort halls and garrison grounds respectively. Nalu kodi represents the spot where the four flags used to be hoisted.
One assumes that the different communities in Thrikodithanam lived in separate colonies. Most of these were located towards the west of the temple around IRUPPA. Living areas were demarcated along caste/profession lines as is evident from the names of places - Kallan parambu (Stonesmiths), Nattar-parambu, Kaniyan-Parambu (Goldsmiths), Mannaru-kunnil, Valan-parambu, Kollan-parambu etc., There must have been strong guilds for each trade.
THE HUGE MUD FORTRESS
Remnants of ancient fortifications more than a mile long existed on the eastern side of the temple. A huge mud wall, with a deep moat running alongside, extended from the boundary of Thrikodithanam at CHATANKODE to KOTTA-MURI, KUNNUM-PURAM, running beyond the western entrance of the temple, IRUPPAI, NAALU-KACHERI to the palace of the Thekkumkur Raja (Neerayi-kottaram) at PUZHAVAADU, till KIDANGARA (Kidangu-varal).
These could either have been ancient fortifications or they could have been a part of the Nedumcotta (The Great Wall) built by the King of Travancore, Marthanda Verma (1729-1758) to prevent the Mysorean invasion by Tipu Sultan. Dutch General D'Lannoy supervised the construction of the Great Wall.
5. THE CHOLA INVASION, DEFEAT & RE-EMERGENCE OF CHERAS (Travancore State)
During the reign of the Chera King Rama Varma Kulashekara (1090-1102 AD), Kerala was overrun by the mighty Cholas led by KOLUTHUNGA-I. The Cholas burnt down Mahodayapuram (1012 AD), the capital of the Cheras and destroyed Kollam (Quilon), the capital of Venad. Defeated in conventional warfare, the famous warrior class of Kerala, the Nairs, formed Suicide Squads - Chavar - against the invaders. Numerous Kalaris (gymnasia giving training in attack and self-defence) were established, turning Kerala into one large insurgent military camp.
Over a period of time, Rama Varma and his Chavar army forced the Cholas to withdraw from Kerala to Kottar. Though the Cholas could not make enduring conquests, they did manage to smash the Chera empire and turn it into numerous, small independent principalities - one of which was Nanrulainattu.
This invasion had far reaching effects on the political and social landscape of Kerala. The Cheras shifted their capital from Mahodayapuram southwards to Kollam (Venad) and then again to Thiruvananthapuram. The Nairs, having lost huge numbers of men in battles and then again in Suicide Squads, turned from a Matrilineal society to a Matriarchal society. Large Nair households, the Tharavaads, now headed by women, aligned themselves with a new political power center - the patriarchal Aryan Namboothiri Brahmin Illoms.
Without royal patronage, the powers of the temples too declined. The temples then began to be owned and managed by the Namboothiri Brahmins. But infighting and break-up of joint families led to the weakening of Brahmin communities and the Tharavaads. From late 1300 AD to early 1700 AD could be called the Dark Ages for Kerala - the Hindu society had created for itself the most oppressive caste system under the Namboothiris.
Meanwhile the Cheras re-emerged as a power under Ravi Varma Kulashekara (1299 - 1314), and later under Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) and Kartika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja: 1758-1798). Nanrulainattu, Odanaadu and Thekkumkur united and organised in to the Venad state, which later merged with the kingdom of Travancore. After Marthanda Varma the Conqueror dedicated (Thripppatidanam) his kingdom to Sri Padmanabha (Vishnu), all ill-managed temples were taken over by the Kingdom and later on, control was given to the Devaswom Board. This changed the nature and form of community ownership of the temples.
In Unnuneeli Sandesham, a poem composed by Amruthanilakshi in 1362 AD (Malayalam Era 537), there is a description of the Thrikodithanam Temple. But after this period decline set in and it was a long, long time before the temple caught the attention of the powers that be.
In 1884, in response to a petition and appeal sent by the citizens of Thrikodithanam, the government setup a Higher Grade Vernacular (HGV) School at Kunnumpuram, north-east of the temple.
Under the leadership of PALLIPURAM V. NARAYANA PILLAI, a society for popularizing science - Vigyaanodaya Samajam and the Laxmibai Library was established at Thrikodithanam in 1880. Thanks to generous contributions from eminent people like Keralaverma Valiya Koillathu Thampuran, Kerala Panini, Kottarathil Shankunni, and K.C. Mammen Mapilla, the library developed a fine collection of books.
These three establishments - the school, the library and the science society added a new vigor to intellectual life in Thrikodithanam. However, inadequate community support led to a decline in the science society and the library. There is no trace of these two institutions today but the hill-top school continues to be very popular.