I belong to the coastal state of Kerala which is popular for its coconut palm trees, spices, natural beauty and most of all, its temples.
My Ammamma (maternal grandmother) used to tell me that our house was earlier a Mana/Illam (the house of Namboothiris or the Brahmins of Kerala; also called Brahmaalayam or Mana) and it came with a Paambu Kaavu (abode of the snakes) which included Brahmarakshassu (the spirit of a Brahmin). My childhood vacations were by default spent in this house with a large compound and hence most of the stories I remember revolve around this place.
Brahma Rakshas is actually the spirit of a Brahmin, a dead scholar of high birth, who has done evil things in his life or has misused his knowledge, who has to suffer as a Brahm Rakshas after his or her death. The earth-bound duties of such a scholar would be to disperse or impart knowledge to good students. If he did not do so, he would turn into a Brahma Rakshas after death which is a very fierce demonic spirit. The word Brahm means Brahmin and Rakshas, a demon. As per ancient Hindu texts they are powerful demon spirit, who have lot of powers and only few in this world can fight and over-come them or give them salvation from this form of life. It would still retain its high level of learning. But it would eat human beings. They have the knowledge of their past lives and vedas and puranas. In other words they have qualities of both Brahmin and Rakshas.
We used to have regular Vishnu/Devi Poojas, Naivedyams and Sarpa Pooja. As I type this I can smell the milk and jaggery based payasams, uzhunnu vada, neiyappams and the other delicacies that were served to the gods. The poojas were mostly done by my ammavan (Amma’s younger brother). It was an exciting experience. As a child, it was fun to run around plucking Tulsi and Koovalam (Bhel) leaves, jasmine and rose flowers and dehusking malar (puffed rice). The memories of those days I hold precious.
Until I got married I hadn’t visited any place in Kerala except the houses of both grandparents and a few relatives. But I did travel the length and breadth of the state visiting various temples. Sometimes clinging on to Muthachan‘s (maternal grandfather) fingers or walking behind Amma and Mema (her younger sister).
This is what made me notice the stones that are laiden around the temple complex at various distances. These are called Bali Kallu or Bali Stones. Like all children, my mischief would multiply the moment I landed in Kerala because I knew there were enough people to support and protect and acres of land to run and escape to, from Amma’s spanking. These round stones looked interesting and were nothing more than stepping stones to the innocent child in me. I used to jump around on these without any knowledge about what they were.
Amma’s punishments made me feel rebellious as she did not provide any accompanying answers to my Whys and Whats. They are sacred and we should pray, that’s all she would say. What is it? Which God are they? Why should we not step on them? My questions were always hushed and I was told God will punish me for my sins. I wanted to meet this ‘monster’ that everyone prayed and called God. I wanted to ask him in person why he will punish innocent children for asking curious questions.
Recently Li’l Love, my younger one, did the same thing and as a reflex action I scolded her. She is an improvised replica of me and hailed a number of Whats, Whys and Why nots my way. It made me research for this post.
Bali Kallu/Bali Stones
These are small stones laid around the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) and the outer perimeter of the temple. These stones represent the Ashtadikpalakas or Lokapalakas, the rulers of the eight directions.
Utsava Bali at the Chuttambalam Balikallu (Picture Credit: Guruvayur Utsavam)
During the utsavam or annual festival in the temple, most of the ceremonies are around these Bali Kallus. The annual festival is meant to please these lesser known deities because they are the ones who take care of the village for the entire year. The main deity’s idol is brought out for “Bali” or rounds during the festival and during these rounds or pradakshinams, the various Bali stones are offered Pujas.
Ashta Dikpalas are the guardians of direction. They are:
Kubera : for North (Uttara)
Yama : for South (Dakshina)
Indra : for East (Pūrva)
Varuna : for West (Paścima)
Isana (Shiva) : for North-East (Īśānya)
Agni : South-East (Āgneya)
Vayu : North-West (Vāyavya)
Nirrti (sometimes Raksasa) : South-West (Nairṛti)
Apart from these there are two more deities added for the vertical directions and then the Dikpalakas are considered as being 10 or Dasa-Dikpalakas.
Brahma : Zenith (Ūrdhva)
Vishnu : Nadir (Adho)
Vastu-Shastra is strongly related with the eight directions. It defines the eating, sleeping, reading and worshiping habits. The most commonly referred example is not to sleep with your legs facing the South(Dakshina) direction.
Some temples in Kerala have Sapthamathrukkal (
While you are completing the circumambulation, these stones must be on your right side. These stones are considered to be the hub of energies and are constantly transferring energies around the temple. This is why we are not supposed to touch or step on these because that causes a break in the transfer of energy between them.
So, the next time any child steps on these stones, kindly share the story with them instead of bashing them up without clearing their doubts.
Stay tuned every Monday for more such lesser known stories. Would appreciate your suggestions and additions to the stories. It helps us expanse our knowledge.