|Mangaladevi Temple is a 1000-year-old temple inside the dense forests of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Made of huge pieces of granite, it stands at an altitude of 1337 m above the sea level.
The temple is dedicated to the deity of Mangaladevi, who is also known as Kannaki. Even today, Kannaki remains as a symbol of the moral power that resides in an ordinary woman who is able to take on royalty because her cause is just.
For centuries, Kannaki has remained a symbol of the great moral power that even an ordinary woman is capable of. Kannaki’s tale has been immortalized by the poet-prince Ilanko Adikal in the Tamil epic, Silapathikaram. Silapathikaram is one of the five epics of ancient Tamil Literature. The epic, which contains three chapters and a total of 5270 lines of poetry, revolves around Kannaki.
Legend has it that Kannaki burnt the town of Madurai down with a curse when she came to know that the royal court had killed her husband Kovilan after wrongly accusing him of theft. It is also believed that Kannaki reached the Periyar forests after burning Madurai.
The temple construction is in line with that of Pandyan architecture though there are no definite records of the time of its construction. The locals believe that it was the Chera king, Chenkuttuvan, who created the temple. The idol installation ceremony was believed to have been attended by many prominent personalities including the Lankan king, Gajabahu. Gajabahu also known as Gajabahuka Gamani (c.114 - 136 CE) was renowned for his religious benefactions and for his involvement in south Indian politics.
Though now in a dilapidated condition, the boundary walls and the steps leading to the temple still have huge stones which stand in testimony to its earlier days of glory. When considering the location of the temple, one can imagine the enormity of the effort that would have been involved in bringing the huge stones and granite pieces up to the mountain.
Four stone structures constitute the temple complex which houses other idols apart from that of Mangala Devi. There are sculptures carved on the stone walls. The first idol you see on entering the complex is that of KaruppaSwamy. On the left side, there is a dilapidated temple of Lord Shiva. There is also a sanctorum created for Lord Ganapathy.
As the temple of Mangala Devi is in ruins, the idol that is worshipped during the temple festival on the day of Chithra Pournami is usually brought from Kambam. It is made of panchaloha (five metals).
There had been an underground passage below the temple which, according to the local people, went all the way to the temple town of Mathura. Some believe that the secret pathway led to the famed Meenakshi temple while others say that it led to the palace of the Pandya king.
Situated on the northern boundary of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the temple can be reached only by jeep. There is a 12-kilometer stretch to be covered through dense forests and high altitude grasslands to reach the temple. The surroundings of the temple are known for their pristine beauty. A wide variety of flora and fauna can be found in the area including the highly endangered Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius). The Tahr is the state animal of the State of Tamil Nadu. The place is also known for the endemic orchid species, Habenaria periyarensis.
The temple, on a hillock on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, offers a panoramic view of the Western Ghats and the small hill villages of Tamil Nadu. The view, from a distance, of the small villages scattered amongst the thick greenery is beautiful.
In order to safeguard the ecosystem of the place, the Forest Department has taken various measures including constant vigil on the stretch leading to the temple. If you wish to visit this place, prior permission should be taken from the Wildlife Warden at Thekkady.
The temple is open to devotees only once a year during the month of April / May for the Chithrapournami celebrations. On this full moon day, priests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala conduct ritualistic prayers at the temple.
The main deity, Goddess Managala, is decorated with flowers, silk etc and poojas are conducted through the day. Thali (the necklace worn by married Hindu women) and glass bangles of women devotees are blessed during the festival. The women also cook and offer pongala (the sweet dish made of rice) to the Goddess on this auspicious day.
The preparations for the festival are supervised by the officials of Idukki district in Kerala and Theni district in Tamil Nadu. Forest officials also take part in the discussions prior to the festival. Various measures are taken to ensure that the flow of devotees to the temple at this time does not disturb the eco-system.