Vadakkunnathan Temple situated in the town of Thrissur is one of the most important Sivan temples in South India. As the name suggests, the principal deity here is Lord Siva and is also known as Vadakkunnathan. This is the only Sivan temple where the idol is not visible. This is due to the ghee that is used in abhishekam for the god every day. One interesting thing to note is that, no foul smell emanates from this ghee even during the very hot summer months.
A forty one day special program known as the koothu, a mythological story-telling, and koodiatham, a special dramatic dance is performed here every year in the Koothambalam. Two very important murals of Lord Shiva are also prayed here. They are the Vasukisayana and Nrithyanatha murals. Both these murals are said to be over three hundred and fifty years old.
The temple along with the mural paintings has been declared a national monument by the Archaeological Survey of India in the year 2012.
Legend says that the temple was supposed to be built by Lord Parashurama on killing twenty one kshatriyas did a yajna to absolve his sins and also gave away all his lands as peace offerings to the Brahmins. He then requested Lord Varuna to give him a piece of land for meditation. This new piece of land thrown up from sea came to be known as Kerala. Parashurama, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva asked him to bless this new land and requested him to take his place in Kerala. Hence, Lord Shiva along with Parvathy, Ganesha and Subramanya descended to Kerala and stopped at a spot. Here, a Shiva Linga was formed under a banyan tree. This place is now called Thrissur and the spot under which a Shiva linga was formed is called Sri Mulasthana. The Maharaja of Cochin, then moved the linga with all due rituals to its current place and built the Vadakkunnathan temple.
The Namboodiris known as Yogitrippadis used to look after the temple and its affairs. This was later taken over by the Maharaja of Cochin.
Lord Adi Shankara is said to have been born to the couple, Shivaguru and Aryamba due to their prayers in Vadakkunnathan temple. It is said that Lord Shiva appeared in the couple’s dream and asked them to choose either between a mediocre son with a long life or a scholar with a short life. Both the parents chose the latter option and thus was born Adi Sankara named after Lord Shiva. It is also said that Sri Adi Sankara attained Mukthi in Vadakkunnathan temple.
Another interesting thing to note is that Tipu Sultan never destroyed this temple during his exploits in Thrissur. The Sakthan Thampuran who was the Maharaja of Cochin between 1751 and 1805, changed his capital from Cochin to Thrissur due to his affection towards the Vadakunnathan temple. He brought about the Thrissur Pooram festival by clearing the teak forests that surrounded the temple.
The temple has classic Kerala architecture with one gopuram placed on each side of the temple. The public can enter the temple from the east or west gopuram only. The inner walls of the temple are separated by the outer walls with the help of a granite stone. This is called the Chuttambulam.
Other deities in the temple include Krishna, Parashurama, Ayyappa, Ganapathy and Adi Shankara. The most important festivals celebrated in the temple include Maha Shivarathiri, Aanayootu, and Thrissur Pooram. During the Mahashivarathiri a hundred thousand lamps are lit in the temple and the deity of Vadakkunnathan is not taken out for procession. The Aanayootu occurs on the first day of the Malayalam month Karkidakam. Thousands of unadorned elephants are fed by the public who believe the elephants to be the incarnation of Lord Ganapathy. The main attraction of the Thrissur Pooram is the two hour Chendavadyam by the top artists in the city.
The temple is open from three in the morning to ten thirty and from five in the evening to eight thirty in the night.