Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When You Visit Guruvayoor Temple

Join the serpentine queue in the wee hours of the day with the intention of seeing the Nirmalya pooja in the sanctum sanctorum (Shreekovil) of the inner yard of the temple. See the idol of Lord Krishna being prepared for the day’s rituals. If not Nirmalya pooja, it could be Thailabhishekam, Vaka Charthu, Shankhabhishekam….or the evening poojas. Then move around the sanctum sanctorum for blessings from Ganesh, Ananthasayana, Subrahmanya, and Hanuman. Come out to the outer yard after collecting the sandal paste (prasad). Go to the shrines of Ayyappa and Parvathi.

Lord Sree Krishna

Then go to another Ganesh shrine famously called ‘Office Ganapathy’ near the temple’s office/ museum.

After your offerings (vazhipadu), if any, you proceed to complete the ‘chain visit’ by trips to Mammiyoor Temple, Parthasarathy Temple and the Venkatachalapathy Temple. You may also visit the vast Elephant Care Centre called Āna-thāvalam owned by the temple as well as Vrindavanam, where the temple keeps over 500 cows. Then get back to where you stay; done, it’s time to pack off.

This is all that a devotee does.

But if you are one with a bit of interest in history and folklore, there are a few features that are intertwined with the legends and history of the Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple. You will certainly be curious to see them.

Your pilgrimage is not complete unless you see the following inside and outside the temple:

[Guruvayoor temple has an external yard with three main gates on the east, south and west. There is no northern gate because the temple pond occupies that area. At the centre is the sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) which is inside a square structure (ankanam). This square structure is inside another outer square structure (nālambalam)].

Outside the Temple Complex

  1. Structure for Low Caste Devotees (Demolished)
East (Main Gate): The temple has a long pandal in the main entrance on the east. About 400-500 feet away from the pandal there was a small structure called Theeyar4Ambalam (Theeyars’ temple) on the road. It was not a temple but a sort of guard room where low caste devotees were stopped from entering the temple. With pain and disgust, they used to worship Lord Krishna from the structure. In

The Theeyar Ambalam was somewhere near the transformer
1936, due to social and political pressure and the Satyagraha movement under the patronage of Mahatma Gandhi3, the ban was lifted, despite objections from the Samoothiri (title of the king of Calicut) and many leaders of the upper castes, allowing all devotees to enter the temple. The structure which pointed to a dark age of Kerala was removed a few decades ago. Just for remembering and empathizing with those unfortunate souls who were barred from entering the temple, go to this spot (almost in front of an electric transformer near Arunodayam Tourist Lodge). The temple was opened for all Hindus in 1946.
  1. Statue of King Manaveda (Outside the temple Complex)

Against the southern gate of the temple complex, you will find the Panchajanyam Satram (Lodge). Get inside its compound. Don’t worry; nobody will stop you.  At the southern end of its front yard, you will find the statue of King Manaveda Samoothiri (1585-1658, CE), one of the rulers of the Samoothiris (Zamorins), the longest-ruling dynasty in India. He is believed to have been cremated at the same place where the statue stands.
Manaveda Raja
The Samoothiris ruled Malabar for over 800 years1During their sojourn at Guruvayoor, they used to stay in a palace (kovilakom) near the temple. The small palace, having gone in to a state of disrepair long ago, was demolished to make way for the Satram and the nearby Srivalsam Lodge. Manaveda’s reign as Samoothiri was short (August 25, 1655 to February 15, 1658). He was a Sanskrit poet and a contemporary of both Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri (1560-1646, author of Narayaneeyam ) and the Malayalam poet Poonthanam Namboothiri (1547-1640, author of Jnanappana). Purva Bharata Champu and Krishnagiti are  two well-known works of Manaveda. The dance form called Krishnattam, set to the rendition of Krishnagiti, is the precursor to Kathakali. A number of historians and art lovers credit Manaveda with the authorship of Krishnanattam2. The dance is performed daily in the temple around 10 pm, near the counters for offerings, on the northern strip of the pradakshina pātha (pathway for circumlocution).

The Statue Can't Complain!
The temple authorities (Guruvayoor Devaswom Board) have been lighting a traditional lamp daily before the statue since its installation on February 16, 1987. Sad, these days they also dump waste and scrap in front of the statue! (see picture below).

External Yard (Ambala Muttam)
South: During the circumlocution (pradakshinam) of the temple, you will find a Koovalam or Bilva tree (Aegle marmelos; Wood Apple Tree; also called Stone Apple Tree) outside the southern structure of the temple. The tree is now young and in its full glory; its bright yellowish-green luxuriant leaves

Bilwa/Koovalam/Wood Apple Tree

are a treat to watch. Don’t ‘litter’ the branches of the tree by throwing your bead chains or Tulsi mala which, unfortunately, is what pilgrims returning from Sabarimala do. Don’t try to pluck the leaves or fruit either.

North: The pond on the north is special and is known as Rudra Theertham (Shiva’s Divine Pond) because it was where Lord Shiva appeared before the 10 Prachetas of Hindu mythology. (According to a legend, Rudra Theertha was very vast once upon a time and extended till Mammiyoor temple). On the Aaraattu day, the tenth day of the annual festival called utsavam, the image of the idol of Lord Krishna (Thidambu) is taken to this pond in a procession and dipped, to denote the Lord’s divine bath.  This procession stops near an athaani3, a porter’s rest near the north-east corner of the pond’s wall.
Athaani (The Porter's Rest)
Years ago, the temple’s administrator, referred to as Kandiyoor Iyer, a Tamil Brahmin, was murdered near the athaani. To propitiate the soul of the Brahmin, the Aaraattu procession stops near the athaani.  The priests, elephant that carries Lord Krishna’s image, percussionists, buglers etc., wait silently for the word of permission of the descendants of the Brahmin to proceed. At least one descendant of Iyer is always present to declare ‘we have no objection’. The procession then continues with the usual fanfare. It is supposed that these descendants have a right over the place where the murdered man lay and hence the requirement of ‘NOC’.

Innermost Temple Yard (Ankanam)
1.  Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri: The queue that you have joined outside the temple moves forward and takes you inside the temple. Once inside, climb down the ‘bridge’ near the flag mast and enter the corridor. In the corridor on your left is a raised mini hall called Thekké Vaathil Maadam. You will find a wick lamp and a board reading: Melpathur penned Narayaneeyam sitting here. The wick lamp (kedaavilakku) is never extinguished. There is another mini hall (Vadakké Vaathil Maadam) on the right of the corridor where daily feast for Brahmins was organized during Zamorins’ reign.
2.  Muzhakkōl, Carpenter’s Reaper (One Yard-long Ruler): Keep left. You move forward to the mandap. When you reach the northern side of the mandap, run your fingers on the side of the granite floor. You can feel the muzhakkōl, a thick measuring reaper, carved out of rock. You will not able to see it because you are almost afloat in the crowd. If you are a VIP, you can break all rules and see it when the sanctum sanctorum is not open.  Those who have seen it have recorded that it is not calibrated and is about half-an-inch longer than the usual muzhakkol. This, elders say, is the ‘replica’ of the original muzhakkōl used by the carpenters/sculptors who constructed the temple.
3.  Koothambalam, Dance Theatre: After having darshan of the Lord you move southwards and in the south-east corner, you will find a small roofed structure called Koothambalam, the place where chākyār kooth, a form of temple art, used to be held. You can ‘inspect’ the interior and come out through the west door.
4.  Saraswathi Ara (Room for Saraswathi Pooja): As you walk toward the Ganesh shrine, the wall on your left hides the tiny room where Saraswathi Pooja used to be held. (The pooja, held during Vijayadashami celebrations, has since been shifted to Koothambalam). When you stand before Ganesh’s idol, look behind, you can see the door of this pooja room. In the adjacent room, you can see sandal paste being made.
5.  Secret Vault (Thurakkaaa Ara): There is a vault, under the structure facing the Ganesh shrine. It is said to be behind Saraswathi Ara. Or, may be, under it. The treasure in the vault includes, elders say, the mythological gem Syamanthaka. The vault’s entrance is blocked by a huge stone. Inside, the treasures are, devotees believe, guarded by hooded serpents! Nobody has opened the vault in the living memory. Or so are we told. There is a mention about the vault in the official website. Leave it at that. Let not the matters go to the Supreme Court; nobody wants a repeat of Padmanabha Swamy temple, Thiruvananthapuram. According to a version, the main idol was hidden in the vault in 1789 CE when it was apprehended that Tipu Sultan of Mysore would invade Guruvayoor, after capturing Calicut, the Samoothiri’s capital. The Bimbam (the metallic idol used for procession) was taken to the Sree Krishna temple in Ambalapuzha in southern Kerala for safe custody; symbolic poojas were performed there till the main idol was reinstalled in Guruvayoor on September 17, 1792. By the time, the procession idol also was brought back from Ambalapuzha.
6.  Ananthasayanam: Exactly behind the sanctum sanctorum, you will find Lord Vishnu’s Ananthasayanam, (Vishnu reclining on Anantha, a serpent) carved in rock in the 1970’s. Earlier there was a door which was closed and a mural of Ananthasayanam was painted. It is said an employee of the temple attained moksha (salvation) merging with Vishnu here. He is said to have reached vaikuntham (the abode of Vishnu). This part of the temple is now called vaikuntham after this incident. I checked with some personnel of the temple for finding out the details of the employee, date, year etc. but everybody had only very sketchy information. The carving of Anathasayana you see now was done after the mural was destroyed in the fire of November30, 1970. Incidentally, the temple as such is known as Bhooloka Vaikuntham (Vishnu’s abode on the Earth).
7.  Nritha Ara (Dance Chamber): After you take leave of Vishnu and the nearby deities of Muruka (Kartikeya) and Hanuman, you reach the northern area. You cannot perform the circumlocution of the srikovil because the north-east part is cordoned off. The door there is only for letting in the temple priest and staff. Before you exit through the northern door, to your right in the fenced area, there are two rooms worth seeing – from a distance, though. The first is the nrutha ara where the sage Vilwa Mangalam Swamiyaar is believed to have seen Lord Krishna as a shepherd boy, playing flute and dancing. I could not go near the room. Insensitiveness of the Devaswom Board is matched by the arrogance of some of the employees. The Board can find an alternative to the present system so that devotees can go to see these chambers, but it will not.
8.  Mula Ara, (Chamber for keeping Navdhanya Sprouts): This room is next to the dance chamber. Nine different kinds of seeds of plants are used for utsavam rituals. They are: Bengal Gram, Wheat, Horse Gram, Green Gram, Rice, White Beans, Black Sesame seeds, Chic Peas and Black Gram. These seeds, with a sprinkle of water, are put in pots and kept here for four days. They germinate on the fourth day and are used for rituals in connection with the annual utsavam. I understand that some other poojas are also performed in this room.
9.  Mani Kinar (Sacred Well): Water for temple’s rituals is taken from a well, north of the manadap. It was cleaned in March 2013. Although devotees expected to find some valuables in it, nothing of significance was recovered.

It is time to get out. Use the northern door. You are on the pradakshina paatha now.

Outer Temple Yard

Chastening of Shankaracharya
Almost at the north-west corner of the pradakshina paatha look up to see a tiny hole on the concrete roof. This hole memorializes the ‘fall’ of Shankaracharya, one of the greatest of Indian seers. The story is that he, along with Sage Narada, was taking the aerial route to Sringeri. When they were passing over the temple, Narada wanted to come down since the procession of Sree Bhoothabali, a daily ritual, was going on in the temple. No sooner had Shankaracharya, an advocate of monism and opponent of idol-worship, disagreed than he fell on to the pradakshina paatha, crashing through the roof. He found himself lying right in front of the procession. Humbled, he chose to stay in Guruvayoor for a few days, penned the famous Govindashtakam, a canticle of eight verses in praise of Govinda (Lord Krishna) and went on to formulate and implement various rituals of the temple. They are still being followed. Some markings made by the temple authorities on the pradakshina paatha where the seer fell can be seen. The concrete roof was built in 1970 after the original wooden roof caught fire. Elders say the hole in the old roof was bigger.

Another Recommended Site

Pāramél Mahavishnu Temple, near Choondal

Choondal is about 7 minutes’ drive from Guruvayoor; on the Guruvayoor-Trissur road. The temple, built on medium sized rock, was once owned by a local family; now it is run by local residents. The chief deity is Mahavishnu. Hanuman, Kaali, Ayyappan are sub-deities. It’s a modern construction. You can see vast areas of paddy fields, coconut groves, and distant hills from the top of the rock…very ideal for peaceful prayers.


Takeover by State Government:

The Guruvayoor temple was being well-run by a committee headed by the Samoothiri and a group of respected people, though there used to be some glitches in administration once in a while. But after the temple was taken over by the state government in 1971, the Board appointed by the government seems to be more interested in placating their political bosses. The titular head of the committee is the Samoothiri who, for all practical purposes, is sidelined. So are the honest members, if any, on the Board!

Names of Politicians on the wall!

Behind the Srikovil, you will find names of two politicians carved on the wall, informing you that they did some inauguration of something in the temple. To be fair to these two politicians, they were not crazy about cheap publicity. But the influential members of the Board, being shameless devotees of politicians, go to any extent to display their loyalty. Surprisingly, even the chief priest (tanthri) of the temple did not object to etching the names of the two politicians.

Bureaucrat’s Name on the Wall of Temple Pond!

If some members of the Board are a blot on the spiritual heritage of the temple, can bureaucrats be far behind? There is a pond in the south-east corner of the temple complex. It was renovated sometime

Wall of Shame: The Wall of the Southern Temple Pond
back and lo! There is a long list of staff of the Board and temple on the wall of the pond! The repairs were done during the tenure of an IAS officer belonging to India’s elite civil service.  Of course, his name appears on top, just below the name of the chairman! The long list of staff ends with the name of a junior employee and below his name appears the name of the contractor! The Lord must be smiling, for He knows He is no longer the Lord!


1.   Lunch and dinner offered free by the Devaswom Board are served in a hall attached to the temple. Don’t expect high quality of service. It’s all raw hands from top to bottom here. But the food is better, when compared to what you get in local restaurants.
2.  Food from restaurants - Flatulence and constipation are assured. Carry tablets to get some relief! I was forced to go to an upper class restaurant where the staff did not even know how to serve a cup of tea. Don’t argue with anybody on this issue – even the ‘dynamic’ media will not support you. Your intention is to see the Lord; not to end up in jail.
3.  There is a public reading room and library, about 100 meters away from the pandal on the east. It is run by the Devaswom. The library is quite old, looks old and destined to be so for another hundred years. But you will get many Malayalam publications and a few English newspapers and periodicals. You can read peacefully.
4.   There are internet cafes. The one near the library is air-conditioned.
5.   There are allopathic and ayurvedic hospitals nearby.

Happy darshan!

N.B: Few sites mention the year in which the temple was opened for all castes; even the official site mentions three dates – 1946, 1947 and 1949. Some reliable sources told me it was 1946.
This article is not intended to cover detailed historical aspects like the attack, arson  and looting by the Dutch in 1716 CE, the role of Samoothiri in the past, Krishnanattam,  attacks of the Mysore Sultans, shifting of the ‘procession idol’ to Ambalapuzha, satyagraha, temples under the control of the Guruvayoor Devaswom Board, takeover by the state etc. Books on the temple’s history must be read for more information. 

Helpful sites:
http://www.guruvayurdevaswom.org/tcustom.html (check the rules of entry etc.)


1. Kozhikodinte Charithram (in Malayalam) By K. Balakrishna Kurup (Pub. Mathrubhumi, Kozhikode
2. http://chintha.com/kerala/krishnanattam-history-origin.html#comment-97171
3.Athaani: A π-shaped structure made of three granite pieces on which porters and travelers could keep their luggage in the old days during their long journeys. Although no longer in use, many athaanis are still preserved in many places of Kerala for their heritage value.
4.Theeyars: In the notorious caste system thrust on Keralites by Brahmins, the Theeyars are were deemed as low caste. In southern Kerala they are called Ezhavas.

More photos:

Manjula Peepul Tree
Temple Elephant: Ravikrishnan
Temple Elephant: Krishnanarayan

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