Lord Sree Vishnumaya Temple and Avanangattil Kalari Panicker
Kerala, the southern most tip of the Indian sub-continent, is land full of Aryan and Dravidian deities. The Dravidian Gods appeal to the Malayalee masses as colorful, passionate and powerful.  Myths woven around many shrines lend a magical aura to the religious and cultural life of the people.  The 'Vishnu Maya' temple in the Peringottukara, Kizhakkummuri Village of Thrissur District is legendary for its amazingly mighty lord with devotees all over Kerala and outside.  Lord 'Vishnu Maya' of Avanangattu is believed to be most powerful deity whose magnanimity towards the innocent devotees knows no bounds. The god guarded by numerous spirits (Bhootas) is ever committed to the well being of the noble souls and the annihilation of the wicked.  Thousands of worshippers visit the shrine day by day for god's blessing.  To those who have failed to make a living in this world, God 'Vishnu Maya' is an eternal relief. Hundreds of thousands of dejected/deprived souls claimed to have received a re-birth by the blessings of the Lord. The other half of the Lord’s face is blazed with an acute anger towards all vices.  These two complimentary moods of the deity are watched by devotees with awe and respect.  What lies behind the incarnation of 'Vishnu Maya' what constitutes his source of strength? The incarnation of the God is interpreted differently by different people. Legends are many on the origin and objective of Lord 'Vishnu Maya'.
The Kalari of Avanangattil
The well-known 'Kalari' (Classroom where martial art is practiced) of Avanangattil Panicker is in the Kizhakkummuri Village of Thrissur District, Kerala.  When the family of Panicker originally settled the area including the temple compound was a forest replete with the plants named 'Avanakku'.  The original Panicker family cleared the forest area and built a Kalari for training in the traditional technique of warfare (Martial Arts).  In course of time the family was left with only one male member.  It had no issues.  The couple left very sad.  They were growing old.  Their deep prayer to the God however did not go unanswered.  Soon two kids were born.  The couple named them Unnithaman and Kelunni.  Before the twins reached boyhood, their father left them forever.  The boys received training in Martial Arts later under their mother.  They also could learn under the tutelage of their uncle. The twin-brothers, on completion of training, started own Kalari.  Aspirants from far and near flowed to the Kalari for learning Martial arts.  Naturally the Panicker-brothers incurred the jealousy and wrath of their colleagues. Overtly and covertly the 'enemies' began attacking them.  Sorcery and occultism were performed against the two brothers. The Panicker-brothers finally took a decision to win the favour of a God for self-protection and for the proper conduct of their profession. They first of all worshipped God Ganapathy (Lord of Obstacle) and received his blessings for fame and prosperity.  They became prosperous and well known.  But their enemies grew in number and power posing a heavy threat.  The Panickers approached their venerable uncle and Guru for a way out.  He advised his nephews seek the assistance of the distinguished sorcerer Punjanalloor Bhattatiri.  Bhattatiri was by then a great presence through his magical-acts resulting from his devotion to 'Vishnu Maya' and his aspects, the Chathans (Bhootas).

The Panicker-brothers travelled a long distance and reached 'Punchanalloor'.  Bhattatiri was completely under the spell of Lord 'Vishnu Maya' who virtually rules over Chathans (Bhootas) belonging to 396 genres.  But situation in the family (Illam) of Bhattatiri was not so sound during the visit of Panicker-brothers.  Many of the holy-rituals (Karmas) and conventional rites had not been completed.  Since his demise, God 'Vishnu Maya' and the numerous Bhootas were disenchanted by this indifference. Their anger began reflecting upon the family of the present Bhattatiri.  Non-performance of duties traditionally allotted to each member of the family prompted 'Chathans' to action. Torture from them became intolerable to Bhattatiri. The only alternative left on his part was to hand over Lord Sree ' Vishnu Maya' and the Bhootas to someone.  The Panicker-brothers met him on right occasion.  All of them felt happy and relieved.

It was no easy task for the twin brothers to win Lord 'Vishnu Maya'. They had to do penance for a long time.  The Panickers received the original 'mantra'(magical-chanting) from the surviving Bhattatiri and started penance.  Lord 'Vishnu Maya' appeared before them in different forms to test the tenacity of their penance.  The Lord finally relented.  He appeared before his 'die-hard devotees' in true form and gave the boons. The Lord then assured the Panickers that he would stand by them for safeguarding truth, justice and ethics.  From Bhattatiri, the Lord 'Vishnu Maya' thus moved the delightfully to the Panicker-brothers.
Vishnumaya Temple
The Panicker-brothers thereafter returned to their home-village together with 'Vishnu Maya'.  Back home they waged battles with the enemies.  Since defeating an enemy chieftain, the twin-brothers chopped his head and presented it to the provincial king along with the sword. The king was pleased by their valour and awarded them land and other precious gifts.  Convinced of the divine-prowess that led to the victory of the Panickers, the king decided to construct a temple for Lord 'Vishnu Maya'.  Such a temple, he felt, would ensure protection and wellbeing of his subjects. In consultation with the authorities (Uraimakkar) of the Sreerama Temple at Triprayar, the king implemented his decision.  Close to the Avanangattil Kalari, the temple was built.  Lord 'Vishnu Maya' and all his aides were installed there.  From then onwards there has been strict observance of rituals including day- to -day poojas and other offerings.  No wonder the 'Shrine' has been the last resort of hundreds of devotees who come there everyday.  They forget before the deity all their trails and tribulations.

The elder brother Unnithaman remained a chronic bachelor, a Brahmachari, through out his life.  He turned himself into a saint and had the boon from Lord 'Vishnu Maya' that he would take after the community forever.  He was lay to rest in a stony well adjacent to the temple. Till his union with the lord Almighty he had chanted the verses in praise of Lord 'Vishnu Maya'.  His holy-adobe (Samadhi) situated in between the Kalari and the temple is known as 'Valliachan Kottil'.  A beautiful mango tree shelters his sacred shrine.  It is where the 'Bhootas'(Spirits) reside.  They receive offerings from the devotees.  The Panickers of the day are the descendents of the younger brother,  Kelunni Paniker. They are privileged to be the priests and servants of the temple.
Meaning of Vishnu Maya
The word 'Vishnu Maya' carries two different meanings, the Maya (play of illusion) of Lord Vishnu or Lord Vishnu encircled by 'Maya'.  But both definitions are incomplete.  ‘Vishnu Maya' is more precisely an amalgam of 'Saiva', a wild prowess enunciated by Goddess Devi, and 'Vaishnava',  a state of self-restraint and divine calmness.  'Maya' represents that omnipotent spirit of Goddess Parvathi, the consort of Lord Siva.  In fine 'Vishnu Maya' epitomizes the destructive force of Lord Siva and the noble-calmness of Lord Vishnu.  In the language of Hindu scriptures, 'Vishnu Maya' combines 'Sakthi and 'Sthithi' or more concretely 'Maya' and 'Vishnu'.
God Sastha / Chathan
'Vishnu Maya Swami' is a divine spirit considered being another incarnation of Lord Dharmasastha.  A traditional Dravidian deity attached to the Hindu–families, it is mostly addressed as 'Chathan'. 'Chathan' is in fact the primordial name for 'Sastha'.  'Sastha' is one who is competent to dictate and warn those involved in vices.  'Chathans' correct the wrongdoers and show them the right path.  The fold-lore and the old palm-leaf manuscripts refer 'Chathans' as the aides of Lord 'Vishnu Maya'.
The family deities
The traditional Hindu families in Kerala have mainly three deities for worship. (1) Sastha(Chathan) (2) Devi(Bhadrakali) and (3) Serpent(Snake-God).  Of these , serpent- worship is embedded to Earth.  It is said the serpents are the true owners of the Earth.  The Serpent King, Vasuki , is believed to be lying around the earth.  The serpent Gods bring to a family wealth and offspring.

Devi-cult is quite common to the Dravidian culture. The Devi in her fierce-form known as Bhadrakali is ever empathetic towards her devotees.  Her generosity is devoid of reasoning.  'Agamas', the ancient religious text speaks of the 108 Durga temples and 18 Sastha shrines buit by 'Sage Parasuraman' following the birth of Kerala.  Of the 108 Durga (Devi) temples, shrines for the protection of Kerala and its inmates.  Sastha temples are all situated in the valleys of Vindhya Mountain.

'Chathan' is not a single deity. There are 390 genres of 'Chathans' who form the aides of Lord 'Vishnu Maya’.  They are ‘Sivabhootas’.  The activity of each genre is different from the other.  Some among them get into humorous actions. There are noble and fierce characters in these genres. Like thunder and lightning split of a second is enough for some to do wonders.  Kind-hearted Chathans extend helps to the deprived.  There are also detached beings among them.  In times of crisis some of them would come to our rescue.  There are many temples where Lord 'Vishnu Maya' is worshipped as 'Chathan' and offerings made.  But the concept of 'Vishnu Maya' as 'Dharmasastha' is unique to Avanangattil. The deity here is powerful and always ready to fulfil the desires of his devotees.  There is a wrong notion that the 'deity' inflicts tortures on others without sufficient reason. This is not true. He does no harm to anybody.  To the downtrodden, the Lord is lasting shelter.  He takes arms only against acts of dishonesty and injustice.
Recollection of Devotees
An ancient family in North Malabar began growing in number.  The patriarch of the family was not a spendthrift.  He was looking after the family affairs with whatever wealth available to the family.  He remained unmarried for the sake of the family.  His nephews but did not appreciate their uncle's efforts.  One day they took him to the distant paddy-house.  He was locked inside.  Then the nephews set fire to the house.  Their uncle realized that he was cheated.  An ardent worshipper of Lord 'Vishnu Maya', he cried for help.  Immediately an axe appeared in front of him.  He broke open the door of the house and came out.  After showering curses on the family, this grand–old-man left for 'Kashi', the holy centre for Hindu pilgrimage.  The family soon started experiencing all evil-effects like insanity.  The nephews sought the help of an astrologer.  It was found the Lord 'Vishnu Maya' alone could offset the evil-effects.  The rituals and offerings were done.  The family was freed from the curse.  The nephews became the devotees of Lord 'Vishnu Maya'.

With the blessings of 'Vishnu Maya', nothing is impossible.  The incredible yet true experiences of devotees are a tribute to the divinity of 'Avanangattil Temple'.   Logic and rationality pale into insignificance before the worship of and belief in the deity.  For the countless devotees it is a distinct culture and a way of life.  With the passage of time, the temple has reinforced its identity and relevance.  We are proud indeed.
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