The much-awaited twin-barrel tunnel through the Kuthiran mountain between Thrissur and Palakkad on NH-544 in Kerala, of which one side was recently opened up, will be a relief to commuters travelling outside as well as into the state. The tunnel will remove the risk of bends and steep slopes that made this key road an accident-spot before. However, as the tunnel is on its way to becoming fully functional, the future of the Kuthiranmala Sree Dharmasastha Temple on the existing road connecting Thrissur and Palakkad, is bleak.
The Kuthiran road has been infamous for accidents and roadblocks for the last several decades. The road passes through mountainous forests and slopes, making it a dangerous drive. This made the road-side temple very popular, as devotees, drivers and passengers offer prayers and coins to the deity to help them travel without accidents or delay. Because the stretch is located on the interstate national highway, many national carriages travel through the road. This has been generating a good source of income for the temple for several decades.
The name of the place is derived from the deity worshipped in the temple. The idol of the deity worshipped here is Aswarooda Sashta, or horse-mounted Sastha (âkuthiranâ in Malayalam, which is what gives the region its name). Shimjith PS, managing trustee of the Kuthiranmala Sree Dharmasastha Temple Trust, connects the prayers of devotees in the present day to an age-old practice of people of Peruvanam village. âWhen people of Peruvanam went out of the village, they came to Kuthiran temple to pray to the deity to safeguard them in the journey. That tradition continues till date,â he said.
Though the twin-barrel tunnel has not been officially inaugurated yet, the Union government opened one tunnel on July 31, 2021, after facing pressure from the state government to open it soon. With this, vehicles from Palakkad district enter into Thrissur district through the tunnel. But this has led to the traffic passing through the old Kuthiran road to decrease, which means the revenue of the temple has also decreased.
âThe revenue has decreased due to the opening of a tunnel from Palakkad to Thrissur,â said Shimjith, however, he refused to comment on the exact numbers. âWhen the second tunnel opens, the revenue will dry up further. Only devotees from nearby areas will visit the temple,â he said, adding that devotees have not been coming to the temple for the last two years due to COVID-19.
The Kuthiranmala Sree Dharmasastha Temple has been owned by Pambumkattil, a private family trust named, for more than two centuries. âAccording to legend, it is one of the 108 temples built by Parasurama, the mythological creator of Kerala,â Shimjith said. âIt is also one of the four temples that keep the Peruvanam village, a culturally rich village in Thrissur district, safe. The Kuthiran is in the eastern part of the village,â he said.
The link between the temple and the Pambumkattil family started when the king of the Kochi kingdom gave a contract to construct a road cutting through the Kuthiran forest around 200 years ago. The contract was supposedly awarded to Ittaman alias Krishnan of the Pambumkattil family. âDuring the construction of the road, one night he dreamt of the Aswarooda Sastha standing on the mountain. Later, he consulted with an astrologer. The astrologer asked him to construct the temple, where he saw the deity,â Shimjith explained. The temple is situated in 50 cents of land in the forest, which was given by the King of Kochi, he claimed.
When the new tunnel is fully functional, the National Highway status of the road will be lost and National Highway Authority (NHA) will hand it over to the state Public Works Department (PWD). When this happens, the temple will face more setbacks. âBecause the road passes through forest land, more restrictions will be placed. We donât know what will happen next. As of now, the state government has informed the High Court that the road entries from Palakkad side wonât be closed. The temple and devotees can use it,â said Shimjith. The state governmentâs response was to a petition filed by the temple in the Kerala High Court.
In the case of road entry from the Thrissur side, uncertainty exists, said Shimjith, as it is a very steep and dangerous road. âThe road on that side is in very bad condition. Former minister K Sudharakan, while he was in office, gave an assurance that the road would be opened from Thrissur side too, in a letter asking the government to take a decision about the issue,â he said.
Now, with the Kuthiran tunnel fast approaching completion, the Trustâs hopes to revive the temple rest with the Sabarimala pilgrimage season. For several decades, Sabarimala pilgrims have passed through the Kuthiran temple to take a break on their journey, and the temple Trust provides them with facilities to rest. According to Shimjith, another source of revenue is from those who cannot visit Sabarimala, and choose to offer prayers at the Kuthiranmala Sree Dharmasastha Temple.