In Hinduism, every God has been associated with an animal or a bird. For instance Lord Ganesha has a mouse as His carrier, Lord Shiva has Nandi the bull, Goddess Laxmi has an owl, etc.
The Ananthapura Lake temple in Kasaragod, Kerala has a crocodile as the guardian. The 9th century temple is situated between a 302 feet deep lake and is accessible by a bridge. The temple is the moolsthanam or the original abode of Lord Ananthapadmanabhana.
Legend has it that this place was the site where Divakara Muni Vilwamangalam, a Tamil Brahmin sage, used to perform pooja and do penance. It is believed that one day Lord Vishnu appeared as a child to distract the great sage and test his patience. The glowing face overwhelmed and intrigued the sage. The sage asked the boy about his family and home and the boy replied that he had no mother or father and no home either. Vilwamangalam felt pity and allowed the boy to stay with him. The boy served the sage but soon his pranks grew intolerable for the sage. Irked by his constant mischief, the sage reacted violently. The boy disappeared in no time after proclaiming that if Vilwamangalam wants to see him again, he must visit the forests of serpent god, Anantha.
Vilwamangalam realized that the boy was none other than Lord Vishnu himself and ventured into the forest. He found a cave and entered it to find the boy. He reached a sea and upon walking further south, he entered woods. There, he saw the boy turning into a huge Mahua tree. Immediately, the tree fell down and took the shape of Lord Vishnu resting on top of hundreds of serpents.
The most peculiar thing about the temple is the presence of the crocodile called Babia in the waters of the lake. The devotees take bath in the holy water but the crocodile has never harmed anyone. People believe that he is the messenger and the guardian of the deity. Unlike other crocodile who are carnivorous, Babia is strictly vegetarian and feeds on the rice and the molasses offered to him by the devotees.
There is another interesting story about how Babia became the guardian of the lake. Once Sree Vilvamangalathu Swami, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, was doing penance. While in deep meditation. Lord Krishna appeared in front of him as boy and began to distract him. Being irritated, Swami pushed the boy to the left with his hand. The boy fell into the cave and disappeared. Swami almost instantly understood about the identity of the boy. The crevasse into which the boy fell is still present and is believed to be guarded by a crocodile.
It is believed that there is only one crocodile in the lake, However, in 1945 when the British troops were stationed around the temple, one soldier shot the crocodile. A few days later, the soldier died of snake bite and another crocodile magically appeared in the lake.
The temple was originally made of more than 70 medicinal materials called kaadu-sharkara-yogam. The idols were later replaced by metal ones in 1972. Efforts are ongoing to replace the idols with the original kaadu-sharkara-yogam. The impressive five-feet tall statue of Lord Vishnu present in the temple is open to all devotees irrespective of caste and creed