Sri Venugopala Shrine At Purakad

Sixteen kilometers south of Alleppey in Kerala state, stands a palm-fringed picturesque village known as Purakkad, the remnent of a sea port which flourished as a commercial center carrying on trade in spices and other products with the west. The trade was entirely in the hands of Gowda Saraswat Brahmins known otherwise as Konkanis who migrated from Goa owing to the policy of proselytism adopted by the Portugese. It was in 1560 A.D. that a hundred and fifty one families from Salcettee pradesh of Goa landed at Purakkad whose Raja gave them permission to build "pandikasalas" (wholesale business houses) to carry on trade. Thereupon under one Janardhana Pai, who is said to have owned a fleet of seven merchantmen plying in the Indian ocean, the Gowda Saraswats carried on extensive trade with the countries of Europe.

In the Dutch records, mention is there of a well-known Konkani merchant Pimbula Naik. He was in business at Porka. "In 1728, Naik received some illtreatment at the hands of the King of Porka. As a result, he left Porka to seek his fortunes in Trivandrum. The King obviously regretted his actions, as four years later Pimbula Naik returned and immediately plunged into big business. His plan to construct a harbour near Porka alarmed the Malabar Council in 1732". (A Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian trade, Cambridge university press, 1967, page 179) The other business magnate of Porkawho had extensive dealings with the Dutch East India Company before the fall of Porka was Govinda Pai. He had been the chief merchant of independent Porka. "He succeeded Poko Moessa, a local regiadore (The chief merchant of Porka appointed by local ruler) and greatly annoyed Commandeur De Jong with his 'intrigues'. In 1765 Gowinda Poy appeared as the envoy of Haider Ali "to search for the treasures of the fugitive Zamorin in the Kingdom of Cochin." (A. Das Gupta, Malabar in Asian Trade, 1967, page 180) It may incidently be noted that the English and Dutch East India companies held the Gowda Saraswats in high esteem. However with the rise of Alleppey in 1791 AD. as a sea port the importance of Purakkad dwindled and disappeared all together in course of time.

Quite in keeping with their tradition of building temples wherever they settled, the Gowda Saraswats of Purakkad also built a temple and had the image of Venu gopala installed there in. Today, it is a diety of not only of the local Gowda Saraswat families numbering about twenty, but of thousands of Gowda saraswats in other parts of Kerala and in Karnataka, who consider it as their duty to worship at the shrine at least once in their life time.

There are many historical legends concerning the image, some of which bear mention. A Gowda Saraswat Brahmin, Baruda Bhatta had left Goa at a time of some political upheaval, for Moodibidri, a strong hold of the Jains in Dakshina Kannada district with an image of Venugopala which he had secured from Kelosi-Kusasthali in Goa. After a short sojourn there, Baruda Bhatta set on a pilgrimage to Manjula-Kshethra, the present Manjeswar with his image which was, so to say, a vademecum to him. One day, while he was bathing in the sacred 'Seshatirtha' he saw the resplendent figure of godess, 'Naga Kanya' who after expressing her desire to Baruda Bhatta that she should be worshipped along with his Venugopala image suddenly vanished. Soon after he saw image of 'Naga Kanya' on the bank of sacred tank, which he picked up. Since then, he began to worship both the deities. At the request of one Krishna Kudua, a grain dealer of Manjeswar, Baruda Bhatta settled in Manjeswar with his two images. But with his death, the images passed down through two generations in to the possession of Ananda, a scion of the family.

One Ananda on his way to Rameswaram with the two images, happened to halt at Purakkad. As if the two images were destined to have their permanent abode at Purakkad, the Adhikari or the headman of the Gowda Saraswats had in his sleep a vision of the Lord, who told him of the impending arrival of the two images and his desire to stay at Purakkad. With this prospect in view, the Gowda saraswats had a temple built and kept ready for the installation of the images. When it turned out as pre-sensed, the Gowda Saraswats of the place told Ananda, on his arrival, of the Lord's revelation and requested him to install the images in the temple built for the purpose. The local ruler, known in the history as the Raja of Chempakassery, joined the Gowda Saraswats in their request.

Ananda agreed, and on his return journey from Rameswaram, installed the image of Venugopala in the temple and that of 'Naga Kanya' in another temple nearby. This was in 1654 AD. As a mark of respect to the memory of Ananda, a pair of sandals used by him with his name inscribed thereon in Kannada, is preserved in temple. The Raja of Chempakassery, an ardent devotee of Venugopala, granted a rent free plot of land for the perpectual use of Ananda and his successors. He built a palace near the temple for his stay during his visits to the temple which were very frequent. He also gave liberal donations for the renovation of the temple in 1705 AD.

Another legend is about the miracle that was brought by the image. The story goes that all the seven members of a family known as the Nelpurakal Veedu died of the terrible tragedy, but with full faith in Sri Venugopal, the neighbours laid all the bodies within the precints of the temple shut the doors and invoked the Lord's mercy. The preyer had its effect, for the life was restored to all the seven. But on finding that the image turned blue, evidently by absorbing the poison, the people performed an abhishekam with the milk meant for their days consumption; with the result that the image regained its former complexion, while the milk turned blue. Yet another anecdote relates to the penalty inflicted on a worshiper for refusing to oblige a child which cried for one of the plantains which the worshipper had been taking for offering to the deity. It is said that he had an attack of excruciating stomach ache and that the Lord appeared before him in a dream and demanded of him to atone for his lapse by distributing plantains among children even before they were offered to him. The worshipper having complied, he got immediate relief. Whatever be the truth or otherwise of his legend, the practise of distributing plantains among children prevails in the temple even today.

Meanwhile, with the sudden disappearance of the image 'Naga Kanya' for which there was not been so far any explanations, the people and the place fell on evil days. The Raja lost his kingdom to the enemy. The sea began to encroach on the shore and many buildings including factories and warehouses were submerged. Hundreds of people who were rendered homeless left the place. The sea which was once three or four miles away is today fifty yards off. To ward off further calamity and restore the place to the former pristine glory, the people had a new image of 'Naga Kanya' installed in 1963. In the astrological prediction, the lord revealed that the western Gopuram of the temple built in 1705 and which remained in a dilapidated condition due to revage of time should be renovated. Foundation stone for the Gopuram to be renovated was laid by Padmasri Dr. K N Pai of Trivandrum on 17th january of 1990 with the blessings of H.H. Srimad Sudheendra Theertha Swamy of Kashi Mutt Samsthan. The renovation work is completed and the beautiful Gopuram, Vyasa mandir and Agrasala has been opened by H. H. Srimad Raghavendra Theertha Swamy of Kashi Mutt Samsthan in 1997.

Devotees in large number throng to the temple bringing their children from different parts of Kerala, Karnataka and other states for the performance of a special function called in Konkani "Devaku Deevop" means surrendering the child to the lord and later reclaimed by performance of the function called "Sodovop" (releasing) at the time of Upanayanam, marriage etc.

There are smaller shrines dedicated to other deities all around the temple-Sri Madanagopala installed by the swamiji of Sri kashi Mutt Samsthan the religious head of Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community, Siva, Garuda, Hanuman, Ganapathi, Mahalakshmi, Kalabhairav and one to a saint known in local parlance as 'Jogi'.

Of various festivals in the temple, the 'Arat' festivals in the months of 'Makaram' (January/february) and 'Medam' (April/May) are the most important. The temple runs a Upper Primary School and a guest house for the convenience of the pilgrims.

With a church and mosque built by the portugese and the Moors respectively in the close vicinity of the temple, the place remains a symbol of age-long communal harmony among Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The National Highway No. 47 runs on the west side of the temple.

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