A Weekend Ride with Friends & Family

It was my friend Sankar who suggested that we visit 3 temples in Kollam district of Kerala with our families. I had not even heard of these temples, but Sankar told me that all these 3 temples were near Thenmala, a tourist destination in Kollam District. Next step, I discussed this idea with my wife and she was in. So we fixed a particular weekend for the temple tour and we also asked my in laws to join us.

But wait, what were the names of the temples? Oh, no! My memory failed me and I had to call up Sankar again to ask for the names once again. Let me list them out here before I forget again:
  • Kulathupuzha Bala Sastha Temple
  • Aryankavu temple
  • Achankovil temple
A Brief Fact Guide on the Temples

All three temples are prominent Ayyappa temples belonging to the Pancha Sastha Temples( translated as Five Ayyappas temple), the other two being Sabarimala and Ponnambalamedu.

All five temples, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, are in the Western Ghats in Kerala, including the famous Sabarimala Shrine. It is believed that Lord Parashurama founded these temples. Lord Ayyappa is represented in different stages of his life in these temples. Legend has it that Lord Ayyappa passed through Kulathupuzha, Aryankavu and Achankovil on his return to Madurai with the milk of tigress for his sick mother.

At Kulathupuzha near Thenmala, the deity represents Lord Ayyappa as a Balaka or a child and is known as ‘Manikantan’.

At Aryankavu in Kollam District, Lord Ayyappa appears as a young man - Brahmachari.

At Achankovil Sastha Temple, the Lord appears as a Grihastha with his two consorts Poorna and Pushkala. The idol of Ayyappa here is in Rudraksha Shila.

At Sabarimala,the Lord is depicted in the Vanaprastha form. And this is the most popular shrine.

At Ponnambalamedu or Kantamala, the Lord appears as yogi and the ‘Makaravilakku’ emanate from here.

Kicking off the Trip

As temple visits are auspicious to us, we decided to start our journey at the break of dawn. However, since it was difficult to have breakfast so early, we decided to pack our breakfast. After taking bath in ice chill water we were all ready and waited for Sankar and his family to turn up.

Route map:

Varkala -> Ayoor -> Anchal -> Kulathupuzha -> Thenmala -> Aryankavu -> Shenkottai -> Achankovil

Sankar started from Varkala towards Anchal and we started our journey from Laya’s home by around 6:30 am. Kulathupuzha Bala Sastha Temple is around 20 kms from Anchal and we had estimated that we would take around 30 minutes. And true to our estimate, we reached our first destination by around 7 am.

Our First Destination - Kulathupuzha

We prayed to Bala Sastha inside the main temple complex. Outside the main temple complex, there were figures of Boothanathan, Karuppusami, Yakshi, Vishnu and Naagar. Apart from the usual offerings, Meenoottu (fish feeding) is a unique offering here.. As the temple is situated on the banks of Kulathupuzha River, a tributary of Kallada river, one can find a lot of fish in the proximity of the temple. Devotees can buy the fish feeds (which is a packet of peanuts and rice puffs), and offer it to the fish. The fish are fondly known as Thirumakkal of Lord Ayyappa, which translates to ‘favourites of Lord Ayyappa’. It is widely believed amongst the devotees that Meenoottu will cure any kind of skin warts.

As all of us started feeling hungry by this time, we decided to have our breakfast by the banks of Kulathupuzha River. Amma had prepared yummy idli, sambar and passion fruit chutney. Ironically, while Sankar’s kids loved the idlis, my little one, Zavi is not really an idli person So while we hungrily ate up all the idlis, Zavi sticked to eating the potatoes in the Sambar. Amma had also packed up some coffee and bananas, which we all had after the idlis. After a sumptuous breakfast, we tidied up our plates and took the kids to the banks of the river. Many devotees were standing on the bridge that connected the main road with the temple and were feeding the fish. We could see the turmoil in the water, as there were umpteen number of fishes right under the bridge. As we were contemplating on whether we should buy the feeds or not, so that we could see the fishes nearby, an elderly lady came to the banks and started putting the feeds in the water. First a lot of small fishes started coming and then we were surprised to see the size of the fishes that were there, almost 2-3 feet in size. The kids were super excited seeing this sight. Also here fishing is strictly prohibited, so its a peaceful haven for our aquatic friends.

Off to Aryankavu Next

Our next destination was Aryankavu Temple, which was around 25 kms from Kulathupuzha. As we drove through the hilly terrains and went through the first few hair pins, Sankar’s younger son fell ill. While they stopped the car to get a breath of fresh air and to clean up, we decided to get a feel and capture a few snaps of the nature in my camera. By the time we reached Aryankavu, Sankar’s younger kid and Zavi were fast asleep. We decided to carry our sleeping baby with us, Sankar’s wife stayed back in the car. As we descended the steps to the temple, it seeemed like we were already in Tamil Nadu. Aryankavu, by the way, is situated on Kerala - Tamil Nadu border. So the whole place was heavily influenced by the Tamil culture. As we were going to enter the main temple complex, we noticed that there was LED board stating that female devotees between the age of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter the main temple complex. This might be because Lord Ayyappa is Brahmachari here. As Laya waited outside with Zavi, I quickly prayed and came out, bought some unniappam as prasadam and went to Laya and Zavi. It was almost 10 am, it was starting to get really hot. We quickly prayed to the subordinates deities which included Karuppusamy and Karupayi amma and then headed back to our cars.
An Adventurous Ride to Achankovil

Our next destination was Achankovil Dharmasastha Temple, which was around 40 kms away. The way to Achankovil was adventurous, especially because Achankovil Temple is situated inside the forest. There were several hairpins as we rode uphill first and then went downhill. Zavi was super excited. We then crossed through the border and entered Tamil Nadu. Although Achankovil Temple is situated in Kerala, in order to reach there we have to take the route via Sengottai. I hate to say this but we could literally make out the difference in states by the difference in the quality of roads itself. As we cruised through, we were faced with a roadblock, we had re-entered Kerala and there were some road work going on. After passing through, we again started our uphill hair pin climb. We soon entered the reserve forest area. It was relaxing to drive through the thick forest. It was almost 11 am and the sun was out in full force. As we haven't had any rains for some time, the small rivulets all along the way were almost dried up or with very shallow water. Finally we reached our destination. Like in Sabarimala, here also we have to climb 18 steps to reach the main temple.
Zavi was fascinated by the carvings of horses and elephants on the temple pillars. After praying in the main sanctum of Lord Ayyappa, we proceeded to pray to a number of sub deities including Malikapurathamma, Karuppusami, Ganapathy, Murugan and the like. There was also a Kavvu for the serpent gods Nagaraja and Nagayakshi. As we exited from the temple, all of us proceeded towards a person selling palm juice. After having the palm juice, it was snack time again. Amma had prepared some vattayappam, which is something like steamed cake made using rice flour.. After hungrily gorging on the the vattayappam, all of us had some black coffee that Sankar’s wife had got along. As it was getting pretty hot, we jumped into our cars and started our return journey.

A Quick Splash

On our way back, we stopped by a rivulet. Sankar’s kids jumped out of the car instantly, took off their clothes and rushed to the water. Although this was the first time Zavi was visiting such a place, as he saw his friends rush to the water, he was equally enthusiastic about joining them. Eventually, all of us took to the shallow waters. This was fun and the kids had a great time splashing around. There were a large number of tiny colourful fishes in the water. Amma and Sankar’s wife tried catching some fish with a towel, but the attempt was unsuccessful as the fishes appeared to be super smart. After playing around for some more time we decided to get on to the banks and back to our cars. There were a lot of monkeys around this area too. Zavi loved looking out at the monkeys but we were a little cautious as the monkeys seemed to closely watch our every movement.

Pots, Potter and Pottery
It was almost mid noon when we started our return journey. As we were approaching Sengottai, Achan stopped his vehicle next to a vendor selling utensils made of clay. Soon all of us trooped to the street vendor. On enquiring they told us that they were making the pots there itself. We requested them if we could see them making the pots. They ever so graciously agreed. This was the first time that all of us were seeing a live demo of a potter making pots in his wheel. It was mesmerising to watch the potter shape a pot out of a mere chunk of clay. He also patiently explained the process that goes into making the final product. While we were there, we noticed that there were some music box playing some FM radio station. Up in the high shelf we saw a speaker kept between two old broken suitcases. This seemed to be his only entertainment during his long work hours . During our conversation, he mentioned that there would be a huge demand for pots during the Attukal Pongala which is a 10 day festival celebrated in the city of Trivandrum, Kerala. On the 9th day of the festival women gather to prepare divine food, commonly known as Pongala, made of banana, rice and jaggery in earthen pots and offer it to the Goddess Attukal Devi. After clicking a few pictures and buying some clay utensils, we got back to our cars.
Now our only thought was to find a decent place for lunch. Our potter friend had told us that at Sengottai there would be good places to dine. Finally, we found a decent restaurant. After having lunch, we debated on whether to go to Thenmala on our way back. But finally we decided against it as all of us were already tired. We reached back to Laya’s home by around 4:30pm. After having some tea and snacks, Sankar and his family bid farewell. I was at peace, since I got to spend a lot time with my little one and family and it just reinforced my belief that family time is the best time.

*All the pictures were taken using Sony A7M3 and Zeiss Batis 25mm f2.0 lens.

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Rahul Devakumar
Creative Media Studio

We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.


  1. Useful narration. I along with my family of four members followed the same route and time and on our return trip from ACHANKOVIL we visited the Thirumalaicovil and the famous waterfalls at Courtalam near Schencottai


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