The earliest phase of the temple architecture of Kerala was that of rock-cut temples that were built prior to 800 AD. These cave temples reflected Pandya and Pallava style of architecture and were contemporary to the Buddhist and Jain cave temples of that time. Carved of single colossal rock and having sculptures and carved images of deities, these temples were mostly associated with the Shaivite cult. Some historians are of the opinion that these rock-cut abodes in Kerala were originally Buddhists & Jain temples, which were subsequently converted into Hindu Temples, following the revival of Hinduism after 800 AD.
Most of these rock-cut temples were abandoned and remained unnoticed for hundreds of years until the historic relics were rediscovered accidentally. Presently, these rock-cut temples are well maintained and protected under the Archaeological Department. Daily puja rituals are performed and annual festivals are held in these temples, attracting a large number of devotees and tourists.
Among a number of rock-cut temples spread throughout Kerala, we list out 7 important Kerala temples that are worth visiting.
1. Kallil Bhagavathy Rock Cut Cave Temple
Kallil Bhagavathy Temple is an ancient rock-cut temple located on a hillock in the middle of a jungle in Methala village, Ernakulam. The temple is in a cave beneath a huge monolith rock of 75 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 25 feet tall, which seems to be suspended in the air without any visible support on the ground. The word ‘Kallil’ in Malayalam means “in stone”; and everything here is made of stone. A flight of 120 steps leads to the temple.
Kallil Bhagavathy, a ferocious form of Goddess Durga, is the main deity of this temple. It also houses images of Vardhamana Mahavira, Parshvanatha, and Padmavati Devi, confirming that it was formerly a Jain shrine. It is believed that it was converted into a Hindu temple in the 9th century AD, with the decline of Jainism in Kerala. Only morning pujas to goddess Durga are performed here before noon and it is closed afternoon with no pujas after sunset. An 8-day annual festival is celebrated in the Malayalam month Vrischikam (November/December). The temple is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and attracts thousands of visitors.
To reach the temple, one has to travel 10 km from Perumbavoor town. Aluva railway station is at 22 km and Cochin International airport is at 25 km from the site.
2. Kottukal Thrikovil Cave Temple
Kottukal Thrikovil cave temple located near Anchal in Kollam district is carved out of a single rock and consists of two rectangular chambers facing East. The smaller chamber is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and the larger one is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Shiva Linga, along with the celestial bull Nandi. In between the two chambers is a small shrine where the sculpted form of Lord Ganapathi is installed.
There is a well in the temple complex that never dries up. The history of this temple dates back to 7th century AD. Daily pujas are performed here under the administration of Travancore Devaswom Board. It is one of the famous temples in Kerala that attracts visitors with its amazing architecture and serene ambiance.
To reach this rock-cut temple, one has to travel 8 km from Anchal or 10 km from Chadayamangalam where the famous Jatayu Nature Park is located. Kollam Junction is the major railway station (46 km) and Trivandrum International airport (60 km) is the nearest airport.
3. Trikkur Mahadeva Rock-cut Temple
Trikkur Mahadeva Temple is a 7th-century cave temple located on the banks of River Manali in Trikkur village in Thrissur district. This temple has a sanctum inside the cave, several Mandapas, a corridor around the main shrine and a flag post. Entrance to the temple is accessed through a flight of steps. The entrance of the Sanctum faces North, but the 6 feet tall Shivalinga is installed facing East, and hence only the side view is visible to the devotees, which is a rare architectural feat in a Kerala temple.
There is a carved image of Ganapathi on the wall. Here Lord Shiva represents Fire, one of the Pancha Boothas (five essential elements), and hence the procession of the deity outside the temple on rainy days is not allowed. During Shivaratri and Navaratri festivals, Kerala’s traditional dance drama Chakyar Koothu is performed. The temple, owned by Paliyam Trust, is a protected monument under the Archaeology Department of Kerala.
Trikkur is just 10 km away from Thrissur city. The main railway station is, Thrissur and the nearest airport is Cochin International Airport (43 km).
4. Kaviyur Thrikkakudy Cave Temple
Thrikkakudy Cave Temple located at Kaviyur in Pathanamthitta district is a wonder in rock dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple reflects Pallava style of architecture and it is believed that the inception of the temple was in the 8th century A.D. The temple facing South has a 7-foot square and 10-foot high sanctum, which houses a three-foot-tall Shivalingam. There is a bas-relief image of the Pandava prince Bhima at the doorway. Images of Lord Vinayaka and a sage are carved on the wall of the verandah.
Structures of two Dwarapalakas guard the entrance of the sanctum. A natural pond between two rocks is another attraction. Legend says that the Pandavas stayed here during their exile. This rock-cut temple is a protected monument under the Archaeological Department. The temple is recently renovated by the Travancore Devaswom Board and continued performing daily morning puja rituals.
Thiruvalla is the nearest town and railway station at a distance of 7 km from Kaviyur. Cochin international airport is at a distance of 110 km from Kaviyur.
5. Vizhinjam Rock-Cut Temple
Vizhinjam cave temple in Trivandrum district is one of the smallest of such temples in Kerala. It is excavated on a small boulder of about 3 meters height and has a single cell sanctum that houses an east-facing sculpture of Veenadhara Dakshinamurthy (Dakshinamurthy with Veena), an aspect of Lord Shiva representing as the guru (teacher) of all types of knowledge and music.
Two bas-relief images can be seen on either side of the sanctum entrance. On the right side niche, Shiva stands with his left foot placed firmly on the head of Apasmara (Dwarf of Ignorance). He holds a bow, an arrow, and an ax in his three hands, and the upper right hand is shown in a specific mudra (gesture). On the left side niche, the dancing images of Shiva and his consort are shown. The temple is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
Vizhinjam rock-cut temple is located at a distance of 3 km from Kovalam Beach and 15 km from both Trivandrum Central railway station and Trivandrum International Airport.
6. Irunnilamkodu Shiva Temple
Irunnilamkodu Cave Temple located near Mullurkara in Thrissur district was unknown to the public for thousands of years. The temple is located on a hillock and can be accessed by trekking about 400 meters. The main deity is Lord Dakshinamurthy, a form of Lord Shiva, seated on a pedestal with one leg mounted on the other. It is one of the famous temples in Kerala to visit for performing some rare vazhipads (ritual offerings) that are not practiced anywhere else.
Poomoodal vazhipad or covering the idol with flowers is the most popular among them. Annadanam (serving free food) is done here to hundreds of devotees every day. Though it is a Shiva temple, the main festival celebrated is Thaipooyam, which is usually celebrated in Lord Murugan temples. The temple is under the protection of the Archaeological Department of Kerala.
The temple is just 2 km from Mullurkara railway station. Shornur junction is the major railway station at a distance of 8 km. Cochin International airport is at a distance of 75 km from the temple.
7. Madavoorpara Rock Cut Temple
Madavoorpara cave temple in Trivandrum district is built on the top of a hillock by carving out the surface of solid rock. This less explored destination that dates back to 850 AD is now a protected monument under the Archaeological Department of Kerala. A bamboo bridge of 101 meters long leads the visitors to the top of the hillock. A flight of 33 steps on rock leads to the rock-cut temple. Lord Shiva is the main deity of the temple. Images of Lord Ganapathi and a local chieftain can also be seen on the walls.
A small park is also constructed at the top of the hillock for the families and children to relax. The panoramic view from the hilltop is amazing. A holy pond called ‘Ganga Theertham’ receives water from a continuous stream throughout the year. Shivaratri is the main annual festival of the temple.
Madavoorpara is about 18 km from Trivandrum. There are different routes among which the Powdikonam – Pothencode route from Sreekaryam is the best option because no rock-climbing is required on this route.
Even though the temples listed above are insignificant in size and splendor compared to the best rock-cut temples in the world, still they provide an ambiance of our ancient architectural excellence and reflect the rich history and culture of the bygone era!