Kalady – Birthplace Of Adi Shankaracharya Near Kochi
I first came to know of Kalady when I read the biography of Adi Shankaracharya. Google helped me locate the place very close to Kochi Airport. A Kerala trip soon came along and I grabbed the opportunity to see the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya on the banks of River Poorna. Kochi airport is, in fact, the closest point in Kochi to Kalady.
Adi Shankaracharya was born in Kalady, where you can still find temples where his mother prayed. Sringeri Mutt now stands at the place and the place is called Adi Shankara Janam Kshetra or the area that celebrates the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya, India’s greatest thinker.
Kalady literally means footprints. It is believed that Poorna or the Periyar river used to flow some distance away from the river. Once young Shankara’s mother fainted while walking to the river and he prayed to Krishna. Pleased by the child’s devotion and faith, Krishna blessed him that river will follow his footprints. This is how he brought the river to the village. It continues to live on the banks of Periyar or Poorna.
Incidentally, Kalady and its links to Adi Shankaracharya were discovered just over 100 years ago. Since then, an effort to preserve the area has been done by the followers of different Shankara Mutts in the country.
Places to See in Kalady
There are 3 main areas that you need to see. Two of them are by Sankara Mutts of Kanchi and Sringeri and the third is ancient temples and other things surrounding this village. So, let us go for a walk around.
Kalady Sringeri Mutt is the largest mutt here. This is where you need to spend the most time to know the story of Adi Shankara and his birthplace.
Adi Shankara Janam Bhumi Kshetra
The name itself means the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya. The main door is beautiful. Its walls have the traditional Kerala paintings in rust orange color punctuated by dark wooden panels. On top of the door are images of Adi Shankara with his disciples, Sharadamba the presiding deity of the Mutt and various Shankaracharyas of the Mutt. I remember admiring this wall for some time. Not many facades of contemporary buildings are so well designed with Indian aesthetics.
Inside the complex has a huge Sharamba Temple. It was closed when I visited but from the windows, I could see the sculptures of all the 7 Saptamatrikas. It is a huge temple with a huge hall. I hope next time I visit, it would be open.
There is Vrindavan of Aryamba or the samadhi of mother of Adi Shankara. There is a Shakti Ganapati Temple. You can, of course, see the life story of Adi Shankara in marble plaques. The birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya celebrates his life and shares his philosophy.
Visiting Hours: 6 AM to 12.30 PM and 4 PM to 8 PM. No specific dress code.
Ghats of Poorna River
Poorna or Periyar as it is called now flows gently behind the Adi Shankara Janam Kshetra. A small path from the complex leads you to the river. It is like any other river, surrounded by wilderness. Lone bridge over it is visible from the banks. However, if you have read the stories of Adi Shankara, there are many stories that bring you to this river.
One of the popular stories is that when he wanted to take Sanyas, his mother did not agree for it. He went into the river and a crocodile caught his leg. Shankara told his mother that crocodile will let him go if she agreed to let him take Sanyas. She agreed and rest is history. A mural depicting the story can be seen at the ancient Krishna temple here.
Sri Krishna Temple
Sri Krishna Temple is the oldest temple in town. It comes in the story of Adi Shankara’s parents who used to worship here. The current temple is obviously recent with a large compound. The core temple is still small, the compound around is fairly large.
There is a small temple dedicated to Dharam Shastra who is supposed to be an avatar of Kartik, in the complex. There are murals depicting Adi Shankara as a kid worshipping Krishna with his mother as the other Devtas overlook. Another mural shows him playing with a crocodile.
Dress code for visitors: Dress conservatively.
Kalady Kanchi Kamkoti Peetham
Kanchi Mutt here has built a lovely Keerthi Stambh that celebrates the 6 paths of worship taught by Adi Shankaracharya.
Sri Adi Shankara Keerthi Stambh Mandap
This tall tower in Ochre color and full of windows looked like a tall Deepstambh in an ancient temple. This is fairly new construction and the lack of aesthetics proves it beyond any doubt. Two elephants stand at the entrance with a Deepstambh in front. On top of the door is Adi Shankaracharya with his four disciples. I assume these are the ones who went on to establish the 4 Mutts in 4 directions in India.
Inside, a circular ramp takes you up. On your way up, you see the temples dedicated to 6 paths of Hinduism represented by the deities Ganesha, Shanmukh or Kartikeyan, Surya, Vishnu, Shakti, and Shiva. In each of these temples, the deity is being worshipped by Adi Shankaracharya. On the walls of the ramp is the life story of Adi Shankaracharya. The various episodes of his life are sculpted and painted as you go up.
You get a lovely view of the Kerala countryside from the top floors of Keerthi Stambh.
There is a nominal ticket of Rs 10/- for entry to Keerthi Stambh.
Temples at Kanchi Mutt
In the same complex of Kanchi Mutt, there are two small temples. One is dedicated to Adi Shankaracharya, it is his birthplace. Another is dedicated to Shiva Parvati and Ganapati. These are small and simple temples but you can feel the energy of devotion in them, almost instantly.
Both these small temples have a small circular back, adhering to the architectural style of the region.
Ancient Temples and Things to See In and Around Kalady
India is full of ancient temples, you can not miss them in any village. Here too I found a lovely temple with typical Kerala Temple Architecture.
Nayathodu Sankara Narayana Temple
This temple is located very close to Kochi Airport. From a distance, it looks like a big house with white walls and slanted red tile roofs. We stepped in and saw another smaller house like structure inside an open compound. A narrow path took us to the door. Inside was a lovely temple in a circular shape, surrounded by wooden pillars.
The circular wall of the temple is full of wall murals in burnt orange color. I had seen these earlier at Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum. Brass lamps hung from the ceiling. Stone steps on four sides take you to the sanctum, doors surrounded by the Dwarapalas in stone. I could only imagine how beautiful the paintings would look in the evening when the oil lamps are lit up. The oil and soot in the lamp told me that they are indeed lit up every evening.
Kerala Temple Architecture
We had the Nayathodu Sankara Narayana Temple all to ourselves, probably because it was noon, not a time when people visit temples. It is a great example of Kerala Temple Architecture. Subtle yet colorful, round walls with slanting conical roof, wooden brackets, a mandapa with wooden pillars and ceilings, corridors along the outer wall.
A unique thing about this temple is that Shiva here is worshipped with a Vishnu Mantra. It is believed that Shiva prayed to Vishnu, who came to live in the same Murti. In a way, by bringing Shiva and Vishnu together, it is celebrating the Advaita philosophy of Adi Shankara. I also found the Gargoyle of the temple very unique, almost like a canon re-used for the purpose, that sits on the head of a Yaksha.
Ramakrishna Advaita Ashram – This is a branch of Ramakrishna Mutt in Belur. Located close to the Sringeri Mutt.
Manickamangalam Karthyayani Temple – It is believed that Shankara’s father was a priest in this Devi temple
Sanskrit University here is one of its kind university focused on research in Sanskrit.
How to Reach
Kochi International Airport, Nedumbassery is the nearest airport, about 5 KMs away from Kalady. Ernakulam, Angamali (about 8 KMs) or Aluva (about 16 KMs) are the closest Railway stations. Local buses also ply.
It is about 80 KMs from the other famous religious town of Guruvayur. Buses ply between the towns.
I did not see major hotels here, you can probably do a day visit from Kochi. Sringeri Mutt does have some facility for stay but you would need to check the modalities with the Mutt.
It would be best to have your own vehicle or taxi, as the three places mentioned above are a few kilometers apart. You can potentially get a cab from Kochi Airport.
Walk around the village to see the Kerala countryside.