The Ayilyam day in Tulam, Kanni and Kumbham months in the Malayalam calendar and the Mahasivarathri are celebrated here with great pomp. The Ayilyam in Kanni is the birthday of Nagaraja and that in Kumbham is the birthday of Anantha, the Muthassan of Nilavara (cellar).
The most celebrated festival at Mannarassala is the Ayilyam of Thulam. In the beginning, the Ayilyam of Thulam had no speciality or importance. It was a regular custom for the Maharaja of Travancore to visit this temple on Ayilyam day in Kanni. On one occasion, the Maharaja could not reach the temple as usual and had to postpone the visit to the Ayilyam day in Thulam. The royal palace met all the expenses for the celebrations of that Ayilyam. Several landed properties were given away to the temple free of land tax in order to make the festival more attractive, as an expression of repentance. Thus the Ayilyam of Thulam came to secure a royal splendor and official glamour without difficulty. The Ayilyam days of Kanni and Kumbham are still celebrated with befitting grandeur.
Sivarathri, the day of the great festival in Siva temples, is given unusual importance in this temple of Nagaraja. Celebrations are also held accordingly though this is not very widely known even today. The installation of the Nagaraja is in accordance with the concept of Siva. The poojas also are on the Saivite model. Thus Sivaratri assumed special importance among the annual festivities.
The festivities on Sivarathri day at Mannarasala are also associated with Vasuki, the King of Serpents. Legends say that once Vasuki went round the gigantic Thanni tree in front of the temple in a sportive mood and stretched his hoods shining with jewels towards the east; opened his mouth and hissed; all the sands in that place flew away; and a little pond came into being. This is Karoli pond (Karoli Kulam). On Sivarathri day, it is believed, he goes in procession in that direction to have a glimpse of his playful creation.
Annual pooja in Nilavara
Only once a year Nurum Palum is offered and performed in the cellar (Nilavara): that is on the day next to Sivaratri. On the fifth day after Sivaratri, the Mother comes to the Illam after the daily pooja in the temple, and opens the cellar. The prasadam of the Nurum Palum is distributed among the members of the family by the Mother. After the pooja in Nilavara, Nurum Palum and other poojas are performed in Appooppan Kavu ( Grandfather's Grove), which is the abode of "Muthassan".
Only for Sivarathri is the evening ceremony for lights held in this temple. After the meal, there is no Pooja in the sanctum sanctorum. It may be that Sivarathri was chosen for the ceremony of lights because fasting is compulsory on that particular day. All Poojas including the 'Athazhapuja (evening worship) are performed on that day. The main items of that day are Sarpabali and Ezhunnallethu (procession).
The Poojas for Sarpabali are performed by Valia Amma herself on the platforms in front of Nagaraja and Sarpayakshi. The members of the Illam grind rice in the mortar for the Nurum Palum of the Sarpabali on Sivarathri day. The Sarpabali is the offering made by the Illam. Hence, grinding rice is a voluntary sacred offering by the members in the family.
That only on Sivarathri day is the Sarpabali which is pleasing to Nagaraja offered on behalf of the Mannarasala family because of the special attachment to Siva, the Sarpabhushana (one who wear serpents as ornaments). In the last quarter of the night - the images of Nagaraja and Sarpayakshi from the temple are carried on head - the senior and the junior are taken out in ceremonial procession towards the due east of the temple and placed at the foot of a divine tree about half a kilometer away. The journey is around the Illam; when the procession returns to the sanctum sanctorum by the southern side of the temple, the scarlet glow of the rising sun will have come up in the sky. The bright light of the traditional torches (theevettis), silver umbrellas, decorative discs and fans (Aalavattam and Venchamaram), all accompanied by musical instruments add to the grandeur of the celebrations. Sarpabali is more of a ritual of the members of the Illam, when compared to other festivities where devotees are offered to take part and share the devotion of the festival.
Sarpam Pattu (Serpent song)
Though a very rare and hilarious process in terms of the poojas and execution, Sarpam Pattu is most pleasing of all Poojas to the serpents. This holy ceremony is to be conducted once every forty-one years. There are records of Sarpam Pattu held several times, After 1073 M.E. it had been continuous except for once. The details of the Sarpam Pattu of 1074 have been recorded clearly. Thereafter in 1151 (1976) M.E. this ceremony attracted public attention.
Conduct of Sarppam Pattu requires huge spending and manpower for many months. Six to Seven Kanyakas (virgin Brahmin ladies), Amma and Valia Amma participate in the Poojas that may last for many weeks, until the Amma realises in her trance that Nagaraja is satisfied with the Pooja. Separate poojas are offred to the nine Nagas namely Nagaraja, Sarppa Yakshi, Naga Yakshi, Naga Chamundi, Nilavara Muthassan, Kuzhi nagam, Kari Nagam, Mani Nagam and Para Nagam during these days. The ladies of the family who partake in this festivitiy avoid rice meals during these days, as part of the rituals.
The Yajnavedi (the altar of sacrifice) is in the yard south of the cellar. When floor decorations, songs, serpent dance, and sacrifice for serpents as well as Nurum Palum are performed in the presence of Valia Amma, the place around the altar becomes a fantasy world of devotion, thanks to the songs of Poojas and dances, the many types of musical performances, the decorations, the accompaniments etc. At such times the temple gates are not closed. The rituals that go for days and nights last until the day when Amma becomes divinely possessed and makes prophetic announcements.
Pallippana and Gandharva Song
The year after the Sarpam Pattu is celebrated Pallippana. It is the 'pana' performed by the Velan tribe. Gandharva song is held during the year after Pallippana. The 'Kurups' draw the figures on the ground known as Kalam, Valia Amma performs the Pooja; and this is known as Gandharvan Pattu.
Pulasarppam Pattu is an annual offering in Pulakkavu, situated to the north-east of Illam. The main Pooja here is Nurum Palum. Valia Amma has the right to offer pooja. (Nurum Palum is offered here regularly on Ayilyam Day in Kumbham or on any other Ayilyam coming thereafter).
Kavumattam and Sarpabali
Families without serpent groves are rare in Kerala. It is believed that several hardships arise from the anger of serpents when people encroach or clear these holy small jungles. Kavumattam is a traditional ritual performed to shift the serpents from their place of permanent residence to a place that they deserve which pleases them and honors them. Kavumattam is done with the blessings and instructions from Valia Amma. There are rituals concerning the installations of Chitrakudas. The serpent deities that are brought over through invocation are installed in Chitrakudas and propitiated with special Poojas. Rows of Chitrakudas installed in this way can be seen in the jungle to the northwest of the temple.
There are long lasting and varied Poojas and rituals for Sarpabali. The Sarpabali that begins after sunset will come to an end only during the last quarter of the night. Cheria Amma grinds the rice for Nurum Palum. The head of the family often goes to perform Sarpabali in other places.