Thirunelli Temple (also Tirunelli) is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu on the side of Brahmagiri hill in Kerala. Temple is located at an altitude of about 900m in north Wayanad in a valley surrounded by mountains and beautiful forests. It is situated 32 km away from Manathavady its nearest town.
No proper records of the exact dates of establishment of temple exist, though it is beyond dispute that Thirunelli was once an important town and pilgrim center in the middle of inaccessible jungled valley surrounded on four sides by mountains. There also exists documentary proof that Thirunelli at the time of Chola king Bhaskara Ravi Varma I (962–1019 CE) was an important town and pilgrim center in south India. In the dense jungles surrounding temple, the ruins of two ancient villages can be found. Also recent excavations at the time of paving roads have yielded period coins of 9th and 10th century. Noted historian V. R Parameswaran Pillai in his book "Thirunelli Documents" clearly states that this temple was once an integral part of the early history of North Kerala.
Veda vyasa wrote 18 Puranas. His Padma Purana has mentions of a beautiful Vishnu temple located in the picturesque Sahya valley deep in the middle of forest of unmatchable beauty. According to tradition, Lord Brahma was travelling round the Earth upon the Hamsa, when he became attracted by the beauty of the area now known as Brahmagiri Hill. Descending on that spot, Brahma noticed an idol set in an Amla tree. Brahma recognized the idol as Lord Vishnu Himself and the place as Vishnuloka. With the help of the Devas, Brahma installed the idol and called it Sahyamalak Kshetra. At Brahma’s request Vishnu promised that the waters of the area would wash away all sins. (Thus, the spring and river near the temple is called Papanasini—“washes away all sins”). Even today the head priest of the temple leaves a portion of the worship materials in the belief that Lord Brahma Him self will come and perform Pooja rites deep in the holy hours of morning.
Famous incarnation of Lord Vishnu Parasurama is reputed to have visited Thirunelli and performed last rites at the death of his father sage Jamadagni. He also took immersion in the Papanasini to wipe away sins committed in killing Kshatriyas.
Kottiyoor Temple and Trisillery temple are inextricably linked with legends and folklore to Thirunelli temple. There exists an old route which traverses Narinirangi Mala to connect with Trissilery Maha Deva lord Siva temple. In earlier days, all devotees who visited Trissilery used to undertake the arduous crossing of Narinirangi mala to pay respect to lord Vishnu and Brahma at Thirunelli. The journey was fraught with danger and might have been comparable to hardships of early Sabarimala pilgrimages.
Papanasini Emanating from the heart of Brahma Giri flowing through roots, leaves and flowers of ancient trees and medicinal herbs ,Papanasini is a holy mountain stream accessible around 1 km North west of the temple premises. One dip in the cold Papanasini waters in reputed to wash away all sins committed in a life time. It is further believed that Papanasini is the confluence of river Ganga and Saraswathy.
Panchatheertham is the holy temple pond. One notable feature of the temple is the lack of a temple well in the premises. Hence water is transported from a perennial mountain stream deep in the valley via impressive stone aqueducts right into the priests room. Thirunelli is famous as the destination to perform last rites of the deceased at the rock close to Papa nasini stream. Parts of the temple including sanctum sanctorium is being renovated. Renovation activities can be seen on one side of the temple where sculpted stones and beautiful wood carvings are under preparation.