Cochin Thirumala Devaswom in Cherlai near Mattancherry, is the place of worship for Konkanis, especially for the Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community. Lord Venkateshwara (Venkatachalapathy) is the main deity at this temple.
One version of the narrative is that Konkanis migrated to Kochi during the 16th century from Goa. Fearing the mass conversion policy of the Portuguese, through which they attempted to convert majority of the population to Catholicism, Konkanis left Goa and came to Kochi, seeking asylum. They were welcomed by the King of Kochi. During the 13th century, Goa was attacked by Alauddin Khilji. Alternatively, some historians suggest that the migration of the Konkani community to Kochi took place during this period.
The Gowda Saraswath Brahmin community is one of the communities among the Konkanis of Kochi. Today, there are about 2000 families belonging to the community living in and around Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. It is believed that the first pratishtha (installation) of the Lord Venkateshwara statue, was done in 1559 CE, in the lunar month of Chaithra on Pournami (full-moon) day according to the Malayalam calendar, by Swami Vijayendra Tirtha of Sri Vijayendra Mutt at Kumbakonam. An eight day festival called Arat is celebrated even today in the temple to commemorate this day. The temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662. The present temple was constructed by the community and the pratishtha of Lord Venkateshwara was made in 1881.
Apart from Lord Venkateshwara, Lakshmi, Ganapati, Tulasi, Hanuman, and Garuda are the other deities worshipped here. The sanctum sanctorum of this temple has a copper plated roof with a golden sikhara (spire). The gateway or gopuram on the northern side is constructed in the pagoda-style, with copper plated roof. Various scenes from epics can be seen here. One of the attractions of this temple is a huge bell, hung in front of the main shrine. It is the biggest bell in India and is hung on a wooden frame fitted over huge granite pillars. Each of the four pillars is carved out of single rock. Legend has it, that the bell could be heard in the Royal Palace in Thrippunithura (about 15 km away) and that the King woke up to its chimes every morning.
Two Aarat festivals are conducted every year. One in the month of Vrishchikam (November- December) and another during Medam (April-May). The celebrations last for eight days. On the first day of festival, the sacred Garuda flag is hoisted to mark the commencement of the festival. Processions are carried out on all eight days in the mornings and the evenings. It is believed that during these days, Lord Venkateshwara visits his disciples. The image of the deity is taken on a caparisoned elephant, and another utsava (festival) image is taken on chariots or vahanas decked with precious stones, jewelleries, and garlands. The procession follows a fixed route on each day, and families of devotees living on these routes welcome the procession, and make offerings of delicacies. The outing on the seventh day is believed to be for pallivetta or hunting. It is believed that Lord Venkateshwara meets Siva of the Udyaneshwara temple after pallivetta before returning to the temple.
The eighth day involves the final bath or avabritha snanam, for which the statue of the deity is taken to the pond near the temple. For this, two country boats or machuvas are brought by the community members. These boats are carried on shoulder, and accompanied by caparisoned elephants and bands playing traditional music or nadaswaram. Some believe this is to mark the fact that the fore-fathers of the Konkanis came to Kochi from Goa in country boats. A sumptuous feast follows the holy bath. The idol is seated on a throne on the mandapam (pavilion) in the middle of the pond. After the aarti ritual, the idol is taken back to the temple through the eastern entrance and is seated on the Garuda vahana. At the end of the festival, the Garuda ensign is brought down to mark its end. On all eight days, a Vishnu yaga (ritual) is performed for the well-being of all.
Apart from the two Aarat festivals, there are special poojas and celebrations in the temple during Navrathri, Deepavali, and other Hindu festivals. The temple is managed by Cochin Thirumala Devaswom. The temple maintains a gowshala, where cows are fed and maintained, and a pigeon house on its premises to feed the pigeons. The Devaswom runs schools that impart Vedic training, education till the Higher Secondary level of schooling, and training to teachers.