Saturday, January 12, 2019

Varkala Janardhanaswamy!

Steps leading to the Varkala Janardhanaswamy Temple
Varkala is a beautiful town on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It comprises of unique Cenozoic Sedimentary formation cliffs in the otherwise flat coast of Kerala, and is a notified geological monument. The cliffs overlooking the spotlessly clean beach attract thousands of tourists across the world each year. Equally significant is the number of pilgrims who visit the unique and ancient Janardhanaswamy temple here.

Janardhana refers to one who destroys birth and provides salvation or mukthi. There are very few temples in India, where Lord Vishnu is called Janardhana and these places are significant for mukthi and pitru pariharam ie. for performing rites for ancestors, and praying for salvation. Varkala Kshetram is also known as Dakshina Kasi.

Legends of the temple:
The temple of Janardhanaswamy has a number of legends associated with it. 



Brahma's Yagna
Once Lord Brahma came to earth, to perform a yagna. He chose a calm and serene location by the sea, which is the current day Varkala. He got so engrossed in the Yagna that he forgot the duty of creation. The worried Devas requested Lord Vishnu to intervene. Vishnu came to the Yagna site as a very old Brahmin. The brahmins who were assisting Brahma in the yagna,  received the old man and offered him food. He started eating all the food that had been prepared effortlessly.

Suspecting the old man was no ordinary person, the brahmins alerted Brahma. When Brahma saw him, he knew it was Vishnu. At that moment, he was taking water in his hand and with the word aabhojanam was about to do aachamanam (the process of cleansing oneself after food, by shaping the palm like the ear of a cow, and drinking water from it thrice). Brahma stopped him mid-way , saying if he consumed the water, the whole world would be drowned in a deluge.

Lord Vishnu asked him to finish the yagna and resume his role of creation and Brahma obliged after seeking a vision of his Vishwaroopa. He requested Vishnu to stay in the place forever as Janardhana and give mukthi to those who worshipped him. The Devas built a temple here for Janardhana with his right arm in the process of performing aachamanam and the place came to be known as Janardhanapuram.

Another glimpse inside the Janardhanaswamy Temple, Varkala
Narada and the Navaprajapathis
One day, Narada walked towards the earth signing songs in praise of Vishnu. Pleased with his devotion, Vishnu followed him unobtrusively. Lord Brahma crossed their path, accompanied by the Navaprajapathis. On seeing Vishnu, he bowed towards him. The Navaprajapathis who could only see Narada, thought Brahma was saluting his own son, and made fun of him. Lord Brahma told them what had actually happened. 

The Navaprajapathis ashamed of their impertinence, asked Narada for the right place to do penance to be rid of this sin. Narada threw his valkalam (upper garment made of deer skin) and it landed in the spot where Sri Vishnu resided as Janarthana. The place came to be known as Valkala, now morphed to Varkala. The Navaprajapathis requested Vishnu to create a theertham there by bathing in which people would be rid of all their sins.Vishnu released the Sudharshana Chakra to create a theertham to the North of where Janardhana resided. This theertham is called the Chakra theertham and is about 240 feet wide. 


Beautiful maiden in the Janardhanaswamy temple, Varkala
Balarama and Janardhana
The legend further states that Balarama, a manifestation of Adi Sesha, worshipped Janardhana here. Over time, the temple of Janardhana became dilapidated and was swallowed by the sea. The idol sank to the depths of the sea and remained there for centuries.

Janardhana Recovered from the sea
A Pandya king was once haunted by spirits. Any intervention by his physicians and priests did not give him relief. So he set off on a pilgrimage. When he came to Varkala, he was very tired and decided to spend the night there. In his dream, he saw a dilapidated temple on the seashore. He also heard a voice that instructed him to go there the next morning,  where he would find the idol of Janardhana in the place where a huge amount of flowers would be floating on the water. Further, the voice instructed him to repair the damaged left hand of the idol with gold and install him on the cliff nearby. The King did as suggested and worshipped Lord Janardhana. On doing this, the King was cured of the spirits that haunted him and went back happily.

Sri Janardhana Swamy at Varkala (Photo Courtesy: Our Heritage Vaishnavam)
Temple Inscriptions
  • The temple as we see it now was built in the 13th century. According to a Tamil inscription in Vattezhuthu, found on the South base of the central shrine of Sri Janardhana Swamy, King Vira Padmanaba Marthanda Varma Thiruvadi (1240-1252 CE), of the Venad Dynasty,  converted the temple of the Bhattaraka of Varkalai Udhayamarthandapuram to stone from Adhistanam to Uthiram, He further had the Sri Vimana covered with copper sheets, renewed the Mukha Mandapa and consecreated the temple on Karkataka Rasi, Wednesday, 21st day of the Rishabha Month, in the Kollam Year 425 (1252CE),  (2/1084,T.A.S Vol 4, Pg 151)
  • Another inscription found on the North base of the mandapa in front of the Janardhanaswamy shrine, containing a Sanskrit verse, written in Grantha characters. This inscription has been intepreted in depth by Prof. Kielhorn in Epigraphia Indica Volume 4. It says King Goda Marthanda, had the god Hari, bathed by Brahmins around mid-day on Thursday 11th May, in the Kollam Year 655 (1480 CE). The inscription mentions Varkala as Vayka. (Prof Kielhorn is of the impression that it could also be referring to Vaikkom).
  • An inscription in the East Prakara, belonging to Raja Ravi Kulasekara Perumal, of Attingal Swarupam, who performed Hiranyagarbha and Tulabhara in Tiruvananthapuram, speaks about repairs executed to the temple in Kollam year 700 (1525 CE).
  • There is a bell found in the southern side of the temple installed in the year 1757 CE. A Dutch ship that was passing by Varkala, who suddenly stop and not move despite the wind being in favour of the ship. All attempts made by the crew to move the ship proved futile. At that time, the captain Michael Everard was advised to pray to Janardhanaswamy and he did with all sincerity. Soon the ship started to move. In gratitude, he came back to Varkala to install this bell, in which his name is inscribed.
  • An inscription on the East and North base of the Dwajasthamba, belonging to King Rama Varma (Kollam Year 1071- 1896 CE) mentions that the flagmast was set up by the King on Thursday, the 4th day of the Makara month, when Sun was in Mrigasirsha.
The temple as it exists today



The Janardhanaswamy temple is situated on top of the cliff in Varkala. One has to climb around 70 steps to reach the temple. There are two entrances to the relatively small temple built as per Dravidian architecture. It overlooks the Papanasam beach, named so because the curse of the Navaprajapathis was removed here.

Words fail one while attempting to describe the beauty of Janardhana Swamy. The sanctum has been placed in such a way that one cannot see the face of the Lord standing straight, unless they get close to the sanctum. On entering, one has to bend down to glance at his divya mangala swaroopam. With the conch and discus in his top hands, and a mace on his left hand, he is seen as if performing achamanam. They say the palm of the right hand is always wet, and the arm has been moving up over time.


It is believed that the world will be submerged in a deluge, when the hand reaches up to Janardhanaswamy's mouth and he completes the aachamanam. They match up the folded arm, with an attachment on the left side, and decorate Lord Janardhanaswamy as Venugopalaswamy, Narasimha or Mohini. Apart from the main deity, there are shrines for Lord Shiva, Ganesha, and Naga Devatha. There is also an Ayyappan temple nearby. 

Vedi Vazhipadu - worshipping with firecrackers is a common practice here, and there are people available, to facilitate this worship for a price. A large number of people come here to perform the annual rites of their ancestors, as it is believed that if the rites are performed here, they would attain mukthi. There is a huge peepal tree, with hundreds of cradles hanging from it. These have been tied by devotees who are desirous of begetting a child.


The Arattu festival that happens in the Malayalam month of Meenam is a ten day extravaganza where thousands of people from across the world participate. The festival starts with Kodiyettu on Karthigai day (flag hoisting) and ends with Arattu on Uthiram day, when there is a grand procession and cultural performances through the ten days.


Dress Code: Men have to take off their shirts while entering the temple. Traditional wear is recommended for women.

How to get here: Varkala is about 45 kilometres from Trivandrum on the Trivandrum - Kollam road. It is about three kilometres from the Varkala railway station and the nearest airport is Trivandrum.

Temple Timings:  5.30 am to 12 pm, 5 pm to 8 pm

Contact details : 0470 2607575

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mr Suresh Uthaman, Varkala for his assistance with pictures for this article. 






2 comments: