The presiding deities are the ones who make the temples famous, especially the shrines in Kerala. Ayyappa of Sabarimala atop the Western Ghats, Anantha Padmanabha Temple at Thiruvananthapuram, Krishna Temple at Guruvayur, the Vadakkumnatha Temple at Thrissur, are some of the few examples in which the place names became synonymous with the chief deities.
In rarest of rare cases, the main offerings to God also become famous for a host of reasons. The Panchamritham offered to Murugan at Palani temple in Tamil Nadu, the laddu offered to Balaji of Tirupati belong to this category. The second question that every devotee encounters after the pilgrimage to these shrines is whether he/she has brought the main offerings at these temples, the first query being whether he/she had a good darshan.
Ambalapuzha Paalpayasam (sweet milk stew or kheer), the main offering to the deity at Krishna Temple at Ambalapuzha commands the same or even more respect and adoration among the devotees. Paalpaayasam is a sweet porridge made out of milk that is offered to Krishna. The offering is made in the sacred kitchen of the deity by well-trained chefs. There is no other sweet delicacy anywhere in Kerala which can match the stature of Ambalappuzha Paalpaayasam.
This is an offering that enlivened the hearts of poets. One of the popular film songs in Malayalam, “Ambalapuzha Paalpaayasam, Chundil Vidarmee Mandahaasam.. (the smile that blooms on your lips is as sweet as Ambalappuzha Paalpayasam..) sings the lover in praise of his lady love. A rare distinction for an offering to the God!
It was the Paalpayasam that made Ambalappuzha town and the temple famous. The Krishna temple in this small town is one of the seven Vaishnavite temples in Kerala. Vishnu appears in this temple in the form of Parthasarathi, the charioteer of Arjuna.
The temple is believed to have been built during the 15th – 17th CE by Pooradam Thirunal Devanarayanan Thampuran, ruler of the erstwhile Chembakassery kingdom. This shrine highlights Kerala style of architecture and is noted for its Chuttambalam (building constructed around the sanctum sanctorum) that is adorned with beautiful wall paintings.
Though there are temples in Kerala where Paalpaayasam is the main offering, no delicacy has influenced the people as Ambalappuzha Paalpayasam. The fact is that all efforts by many chefs over the last few centuries to replicate the Ambalappuzha Paalpayasam elsewhere have come a cropper. Mankombu Gopalakrishnan, the famous poet who hails from a nearby village says that the recipe of this Paalpayasam is known only to a few priests of the Lord Krishna Temple at Ambalappuzha. “We experience what is sweetness by tasting Ambalappuzha Paalpayasam. It has the sweetness of devotion, love, compassion and dedication. One may have to invent words to fully describe the uniqueness of this sweet delicacy,” said Gopalakrishnan.
It has large demand from devotees all over India. One can try his luck in getting this offering from the temple itself. There was an attempt by the CPI(M)-led Kerala Government to produce and market Ambalapuzha Paalpayasam as a commodity by manufacturing it in a major production centre. But the devotees of Lord Krishna fought the move tooth and nail and the Marxists had to back off. Ambalapuzha Paalpayasam is one of the invaluable cultural heritages of India.