Conserving our architectural heritage is one of ARPO's focus areas. Through this we aim to preserve and promote traditional architectural practices, skilled craftsmanship and the intangible traditions associated with the architecture.
Restoration of Karnikara Mandapam of Kunnamangalam Bhadrakali Temple, Kozhikode
Nestled deep within the quaint village of Karuvannur in northern Kozhikode, the Kunnamangalam Bhagawati temple, is a testament of the rich history, beliefs, and identity of its environs. The temple, its precincts, its streams, and inhabitants, are believed to be fiercely protected by the resident goddess. There are references to this belief in the local folklore as, for instance, ‘Amma nokkumchalil' which translates to ‘streams guarded by the mother’, is the name of one of the 18 hills nearby that she is believed to guard.
View of Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple from the Western side
Within the sacred complex of the Bhagawati temple facing the Sreekovil (Sanctum Sanctorum), stands a semi-open hall called the Karnikara mandapam, a hidden architectural gem. It is the last standing structure of the centuries-old temple from the time it was built.
The centrally located mandapam represents the centre of a sixteen-petaled lotus blossom (karnikara bindu) and hence its name. The sixteen pillared square hall has a laterite stone plinth (adisthana), mud flooring with a granite border, clay-tile roofing, along with pillars (sthamba), and roof structural members made of timber.
Years of neglect and deterioration, however, had taken a toll on this once remarkable structure. An ambitious documentation and conservation endeavour, initiated by ARPO aimed to breathe new life into the Mandapam and preserve it for future generations. We partnered with Team Ezha, a group young conservation architects for the task. One third of the fund for this expensive endeavour was donated by Mr Vivek Sahni, Chairman, Kama Ayurveda, and the rest was crowdsourced from the locality by the temple management committee.
The dilapidated condition of the Karnikara Mandapam before restoration
The Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple is famous for its annual seven-day festival, a celebration of devotion and cultural heritage. During this vibrant event held in the month of Meenam, unique rituals take centre stage within the Karnikara Mandapam. Rudhira Kolam, also known as Kolamvettu, reenacts the legendary slaying of the Asura Darika by Bhadrakali, while Kalamezhuthu mesmerizes the devotees with the creation of a grand image of the goddess using natural powders on the mud floor. The festivities culminates with various poojas in the mandapam, symbolizing the divine bond between the deity and her devotees.
Kalampooja and Kalam Mayakkal rituals
Kolam Vettu or Rudhirakkolam, a rare ritualistic performance, held at the Mandapam
The Need for Conservation
The Mandapam had succumbed to the ravages of time. Seepage and termite infestation had left their mark, leading to decayed pillars, beams, rafters, and a deteriorated ceiling over time. The structure had lost its original finial, and timber elements had fallen into disrepair due to cracks and fungal rot. On initial inspection, the outer beams and pillars were temporarily supported by scaffolding and steel tie-rods. Recognizing the urgency to preserve this architectural marvel, the temple management committee joined hands with ARPO (Archival & Research Project) and Team Ezha (conservation architects),to launch a restoration project. Contributions from Mr Vivek Sahni, chairman of Kama Ayurveda and the local community through crowdfunding paved the way for the conservation process.
The restoration of the Mandapam embraced a meticulous approach rooted in ancient Indian treatises of Vastushastra. Combining Jirnoddhaarana (restoration) and Punarudharana (regeneration) principles, the project sought to preserve the original stone and laterite elements while reconstructing severely damaged timber members using authentic materials. The restoration process involved removing cement additions, repairing broken roof tiles, addressing leakage issues, while maintaining the structural and material integrity.
To safeguard the restored materials, traditional preservation methods, skilled craftsmen and experts were employed. The exposed laterite stone of the plinth received a coating of natural stone polish, preserving its timeless beauty, while lime plaster (kummaya koottu) enhanced binding and allowed moisture flow. A medicated oil from Vriksha Ayurveda rendered the timber termite-resistant. The aromatic properties of Vriksha Ayurveda created an environment where visitors could breathe in its therapeutic essence, promoting a sense of tranquillity and well-being.
Concealed illumination was incorporated into the timber elements, highlighting the Mandapam's exquisite carpentry work and creating an enriching ambience. Careful design considerations maintained the sacred aura of this revered space, providing a holistic experience to the visitor.
The story of the restoration of Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple's Karnikara Mandapam serves as a testament to the power of collective efforts and unwavering dedication. The incorporation of vernacular materials and natural oils makes the Mandapama sanctuary of healing and tranquility. The lack of legal policies for heritage protection and dedicated funds for maintenance for the temple complex, however, poses a future challenge.
The restoration of the Mandapam at Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple aimed not only to revive its architectural splendour but also to ensure the continuity of the temple's traditions and preserve its historical and cultural significance. Fuelled by community support and driven by a passion for preserving cultural heritage, the restoration process ensured the preservation of the temple's cultural legacy for generations to come. As we celebrate there birth of this architectural gem, let us also recognize the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and cherishing the traditions that connect us to our past.