The mythological world of gods and goddesses is not immune to the array of emotions that ordinary mortals are captive to — sadness, happiness, anger, revenge, joy, deceit, you name it and there will be a narrative illustrating it. The following are two such narratives or local beliefs that record jealousy and petty competition among the gods of Kerala.

According to popular belief, the Vaikom and Ettumanoor* deities are not on good terms with each other.  Ironically both shrines are dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Back in 1798, Maharaja of Travancore, had a dream that the Vaikom deity- Shiva Mahadeva had asked for an offering of eight elephants. The Maharaja immediately ordered for eight wooden elephants plated in gold to be made and sent these with his trusted men to the Vaikom temple. As the entourage carrying the elephants reached Ettumanoor temple, the hungry and tired men handed over the elephants to temple guards for the safekeeping and went to bathe and eat. When they returned, they were taken aback to find that every single elephant had a serpent coiled on it with its hood spread in an attacking posture. The Maharaja’s men tried every trick in the book, but the snakes wouldn’t budge. Helpless and crestfallen as they could not reclaim the elephants the men went back to the king and reported the strange incident. The Maharaja immediately consulted his astrologers and found out that the Ettumanoor deity was unwilling to let go off the elephants** and was staking claim on the gift meant for the Vaikom deity.

As there was no other way out, the Maharaja decided to get another set of eight elephants made and sent to Vaikom deity.  That night the Vaikom deity approached the Maharaja in his dream saying he is no longer interested in the offering of elephants and instead a special ritual should be conducted for him using the same expense. This was done immediately. However this did not bring peace between two deities. It is believed that the two deities are still not on ‘talking terms’ with each other. This is confirmed by the practice of Ettumanoor residents boycotting the Vaikom celebrations on Ashtami day every year.

In another incident recorded by Thrissur locals, it appears as though deities do indulge in petty competition. During Tipu Sultan’s conquest, the famous Guruvayur temple near Thrissur was first shifted to Aranmula and then to Mavalikkara to protect the deity. Although Guruvayur and Aranmula deities are representations of same god, Lord Krishna, the lore suggests that the two deities disapprove each other.

Prasadam or the food offering given to the deity at Guruvayur is called Kaalan– a curry made of yogurt and yam. It is believed that this offering when prepared at Guruvayoor temple never turned sour and remained fresh for days. However when the Guruvayur deity was in Aranmula the same offering when prepared would turn sour and inedible immediately baffling the temple cooks. It is believed that Aranmula deity was behind this nefarious act. Similarly, the offering or prasadam–a delicious milk rice pudding (payasam) prepared  in Aranmula temple would go bad immediately, making the ritual of food offering to the Aranmula deity impossible.

The temple authorities tried various means to solve the problem without any success.  Finally they came to conclusion that the two deities are jealous of each other and are involved in petty competition to prove their superiority. Finally, temple authorities decided to shift the idol of lord Guruvayur from Aranmula to Mavelikkara. The problem of prasadam going bad was never faced again.

One wonders if it is the gods who are behaving badly, or is it the fertile human imagination at play ascribing human traits to the deities.

*The Vaikom temple, along with Ettumanoor Siva Temple, Kaduthuruthy Thaliyil Mahadeva Temple is considered a powerful triad of temples in Kerala.  (Source: Wikipedia)

**Ettumanoor Mahadeva Temple hosts the Arattu festival celebrated on a grand scale on the Thiruvathira day in February–March every year. On the 8th and 10th day of the festival the seven and half elephants (in Malayalam: ezharaponnaana) made of gold (nearly 13 Kgms) are paraded in public view. These statues was donated to the temple by a Travancore Maharaja and are considered as the prized gift of te temple. ( source: Wikipedia)


Story Collected by : Vidya Kamat

Source: Lore and Legends of Kerala, Tr. By T. C. Narayan

Location : Kerala

Image details: A terracotta head of Shiva. 400-500 CE, northern India.  ( Collection of Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

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