The authorities of the Bhagawathy Temple at Cheranaloor, near Kochi, searched the length and breadth of Kerala for a teak tree that could be converted into a kodhimaram (flagstaff)
Photo: O. Chandrasekhar, president of the Bhagawathy Temple Upliftment Committee, standing next to the tree. Pic by Manu R. Mavelil
By Shevlin Sebastian
It was a sunny day on March 31 this year. At the estate of Jose Plathottam, in Poonjar, about 93 kms from Kochi, a group of people have gathered next to a teak tree. It is a magnificent specimen, soaring 82 feet in the sky, with a circumference of 100 inches at the base. “The tree is more than hundred years old,” says Jose.
Soon, a priest sits cross-legged on the ground and murmurs shlokas. Lamps have been lit. Occasionally, he throws leaves, rice, and flowers at the base of the tree. Conch shells are blown. “The aim of the prayers is to get permission of the birds and the insects which live in the tree,” says O. Chandrasekhar, president of the Bhagawathy Temple Upliftment Committee.
After the prayers, workers wield axes simultaneously at the base of the tree. Finally, a mechanical saw is used. When the tree begins to shake, the boom of a crane is released, and the hook is inserted around the top of the trunk. Another crane is used for the lower half.
“The chief priest, Pradeep Namboodiri, told us that at no time the tree should touch the ground,” says Chandrasekhar. So, the tree is carefully lifted up by the two cranes, taken some distance away, along a narrow bridge, and placed on a flatbed trailer on the main road. Thereafter, it is wrapped in a cloth of fine red silk. The total time taken is 12 hours. Thereafter, the journey to the Bhagawathi temple at Cheranaloor, near Kochi, begins. Incidentally, the cost to transport the tree is Rs 2.5 lakh.
The temple is hundreds of years old. It is one of 108 Durga temples in the state. At one side is the tiled roofed house of the priest. It has been made in the ancient style, with thick lime walls. Large steps at the back lead to the temple pond. The water has a tinge of green, and small fishes in their hundreds can be seen. It is, of course, mandatory to have a dip, to purify oneself, before entering the temple.
At another side, there are several rooms which were used by musicians of ancient times who would come from long distances to sing and play at the temple. Now, it remains locked and empty.
Two years ago, the kodhimaram (or flagstaff) of the temple got rotted from within and collapsed. “It was about 60 years old,” says Narayanan Namboodiri, whose family had owned the temple for hundreds of years, till the Cochin Devaswom Board took possession in 1940. The temple authorities spent the next two years, travelling the length and breadth of Kerala, searching for the right teak tree. Finally, they chanced upon Jose's tree.
It took a year of negotiations before the prize was fixed: Rs. 13.5 lakh. “The Devasom Board gave us Rs 9 lakh,” says Narayanan. For the rest, they depended on the donations of the devotees. “There were a couple of people, who gave us cheques of Rs 50,000 and 1 lakh,” says Chandrasekhar.
When the tree arrived at the temple, a huge and excited crowd was present. There were drummers beating hard on the drums, while women and girls who lined the street were throwing flower petals. A part of the temple wall had been demolished, so that the trailer could enter the courtyard. And after solemn prayers, the tree was taken down and placed at one side, under a shamiana. At that very moment, there was a fierce wind and rain fell in torrents. “For us, devotees, we regarded this as a good sign,” says Narayanan
The hard work begins now. The tree has to be scraped, to reduce the circumference. “The scraping has to be done by hand,” says Narayanan. “The chief priest has said that no mechanical device should be used.” The height will be reduced from 82 to 65 feet, because of calculations made by the priest.
All this will take a few months. Thereafter, the tree has to be placed in a tub full of palm oil, for six months, to give it a burnished look. “We would need at least 1600 litres,” says Chandrasekhar. That itself will cost Rs 1.6 lakh. Then the decision has to be taken on whether the tree should be wrapped in gold or not. Around 7 kgs of gold is needed.
“If the Devasom Board gives us a significant contribution, we could ask for donations to cover the arrears,” says Narayanan. “If the Board says no, it will be impossible, because the cost will be about Rs 2 crore.” Most probably, the kodhimaram will be enveloped in copper, at a price of Rs 10 lakh.
Meanwhile, everybody is focused on getting the flagstaff ready. “We are hoping to have the kodhimaram set up, by July, 2013, and make our temple complete,” says Chandrasekhar.
(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)