Guruvayur Temple   Leave a comment

The Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple (Malayalam: ഗുരുവായൂര്‍ ക്ഷേത്രം, Guruvayūr Ksheṭram) is a famous Krishna temple located in the town of Guruvayur in the Thrissur district of Kerala. It is one of the most important places of worship for Hindus and is often referred to as “Bhooloka Vaikuntam[2] which translates to the holy abode of Vishnu on Earth. The divine idol installed here represents the enchanting form of Sree Krishna endowed with the four lustrous arms carrying the conch Panchajanya, the discus Sudarshana Chakra, the mace Kaumodaki and the lotus. Adorned with the divine Tulasi garland the idol represents the majestic form of Maha Vishnu as revealed to Vasudeva and Devaki at the time of Krishna Avatar; Hence it is also known as Dwaraka of the south (of India). Shri Krishna is popularly known here by different names such as Kannan, Unni-Kannan (Baby Krishnan), Unni-Krishnan, Balakrishnan, and Guruvayoorappan.

The presiding deity in the sanctum-sanctorum is Mahavishnu. He is worshipped according to the pooja routines laid down by Adi Sankaracharya and later written formally in the Tantric way by Chennas Narayanan Namboodiri (born in 1427). The Chennas Namboodiris are the hereditary Tantris of the Guruvayur temple.[3] The temple/pooja routines are strictly followed without any compromise. The Tantri is available full time at the Temple to ensure this. The Melsanti (Chief Priest) enters the Sri Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) at 2:30 AM and does not drink even a glass of water up to the completion of noon poojas at 12:30 PM.[4] The vedic traditions being followed here with absolute perfection and sincerity is the hallmark of the Guruvayur temple. It is important to note here that, even though the shrine is considered to be one of the holiest spots for Vaishnavites, the temple is not a part of the 108 Divya Desams.

Divinity of the location

Lord Siva (Rudra) performed tapas and worshipped Maha Vishnu for years under the waters of the sacred tank located on the northern side of the present day temple and hence this body of water got the name of Rudra-Theertham. In the ancient days, Rudra-Theertham extended up to Mammiyur and Thamarayur (about 3 km away) and was known for its ever blooming lotus flowers. Prechethas (the ten sons of King Pracheenabarhis and Suvarna) came to this place to do tapas to attain Prajapathithwam (to become the king of all kings) from Lord Mahavishnu. Sensing the motive of the Prechethas, Lord Siva emerged out of the Rudratheertham and revealed to them the Rudrageetham, a hymn in praise of Mahavishnu. Siva suggested them to chant it with all their heart to get their wishes fulfilled. The Princes won the favour of Mahavishnu after rigorous tapas for 10,000 years under the waters of Rudra-Theertham by chanting the Rudrageetham.

Story of the Deity

The Deity of the Guruvayur temple is unique, since it is carved out of a material called Pathalanjana Sila, and is considered extremely sacred. This idol was once worshipped by Lord Vishnu in Vaikunta and Vishnu handed it over to Brahma. King Suthapas and his wife worshipped Brahma for a child and being gratified with their devotion, they received this idol from him and advised them to start worshipping it. Being pleased with their worship, Lord Vishnu appeared before them and blessed them with the boon that he himself will be born as their child in their three re-births in three different forms and in three different situations, with the idol.

Thus they got the good fortune to worship the same deity in all three rebirths. They gave birth to Prsnigarbha who gave to the world the practice of Brahmacharya Vratha (Celibacy). In their next birth, Suthapas and his wife were born as Kashyapa and Aditi and their son was Vamana. In the third rebirth as Vasudeva and Devaki, the Lord was born as their eighth son Krishna. In the long run, Lord Krishna himself installed this idol in Dwaraka and worshipped it.

At the time of Lord Krishna’s Swargarohana (ascension to Vaikunta), his devotee Uddhava became sad thinking of the departure of the Lord. The Lord then gave his foremost disciple and devotee Uddhava this idol and instructed him to entrust Brihaspathi (the Guru of the Devas) with the task of taking the idol to a suitable location. Uddhava was plunged in grief thinking of the fate that would befall the world in Kali yuga during his absence. The Lord pacified Uddhava and promised him that he himself would manifest in the idol and shower his blessings on the devotees who take refuge in him.

A deluge had closed in on Dwaraka, but Guru salvaged the idol floating in the water, with the help of his prime disciple Vayu. Guru and Vayu went around the world in search of an ideal place. At last they entered Kerala through the Palakkad gap where they met Parasurama who was going to Dwaraka in search of the very idol they were bringing. Parashurama led Guru and Vayu to a lush green spot with a beautiful lotus lake where they felt the presence of Lord Siva. Lord Siva along with Parvathy welcomed them and told them that this would be the ideal spot for installing the deity. Siva permitted Guru and Vayu to perform the consecration rites and blessed them that henceforth this place would be known as Guruvayur (since the installation was done by Guru and Vayu). Siva with Parvathy then left to the opposite bank to Mammiyur.

It is in memory of this incident that a pilgrimage to Guruvayur is said to be complete only with a worship of Mammiyur Siva also. Vishwakarma, the divine architect built this temple. He made it in such a way that on the day of Vishu (Summer equinox) the first rays of the sun fall straight on to the Lord’s feet. The deity was installed in the solar month of Kumbha (February – March) and the ceremony was begun on the seventh asterism of Pooyam and completed on the day of Anizham[3]

The Temple of Guruvayoor

The Krishna temple in the town of Guruvayoor in Kerala is one of the five famous Krishna\Vishnu temples in India. The others are Jagannath Puri in Orissa, Venkatachalapati in Andhra Pradesh, Nathdwara in Rajasthan and Dwaraka in Gujarat. Of course there are many other famous ones of Vishnu as well as of Krishna but these are considered to be the most popular. Even though the idol in Guruvayoor is that of Vishnu it is still known as a Krishna temple since the boy Krishna is always said to be running around incognito in the temple precincts. Guruvayoor is known as “Bhuloka Vaikunta” or the abode of Vishnu on earth.

The whole life of this town revolves round the temple and there is very little activity beyond what is connected with the temple even though there are a few other noteworthy temples in the area. One can get to Guruvayoor by car or train from the town of Thrissur which is very close to Cochin. There are many flights connecting Cochin with all the big towns of India.

Lord Krishna in Guruvayoor is popularly called Sri Guruvayoorappan. Appan means lord or father so the title means the Lord of Guruvayoor. The small idol is made of the stone known as black antimony and is a magnetic stone said to have special medicinal properties. Every morning the Lord is anointed in til oil. He is then sprinkled with a special cleansing powder made of herbs known as “vaka”. This powder is light brown in colour and gives an added hue to the idol. Crowds go to the temple at 3 A.M in order to see this charming sight. Then water from the temple, consecrated with mantras is poured over the idol for his ritual bath. This holy water is then eagerly drunk by the devotees since it is said to contain a little of the miraculous properties of the stone of which the idol is made.

The history of the idol goes back to the hoary past to the age of Dwapara when Lord Krishna was alive. His parents were Vasudeva and Devaki. She was the sister of Kamsa, the cruel king of Mathura. They two of them had been great devotees of Lord Vishnu for many ages. After assiduously wooing him for many births, the Lord had manifested himself to them and promised that he would be born as their son for three lives in succession. He promised them liberation at the end of these three births. This was their last birth as Devaki and Vasudeva in the clan of the Yadavas in the city of Mathura and Krishna was born to them as their eighth son. The idol of Lord Vishnu which is found in Guruvayoor is one which had been worshipped by Devaki and Vasudeva and one can easily imagine that it must also have been worshipped by Lord Krishna himself. This is the greatness and glory of this particular idol of Lord Vishnu – that Vishnu himself had done puja to it in his incarnation as Krishna.

At the end of his earthly sojourn, Krishna prophesied to his friend and devotee, Uddhava that the island of Dwaraka, which had been his stronghold, would be swept away by the sea, seven days after he left his mortal body. He instructed him to rescue the precious idol of Vishnu which his parents had worshipped, and hand it over to Brihaspati, the guru of the gods who would come to him. After seven days, the island submerged in the sea as foretold by Lord Krishna. Uddhava went sadly to the seashore and saw the idol bobbing up and down on the waves far out in the sea. He begged the wind god – Vayu to bring it closer to him. The wind wafted it gently to the shore and Uddhava picked it up lovingly and cradled it in his arms. As he was wondering how to contact the guru of the gods, he found that Brihaspati himself was walking towards him. Uddhava told him the whole story of how Lord Krishna had instructed him and Brihaspati who knew everything agreed to take it and install it at some special place. He was sure that he would be given further instructions.

Now Brihaspati asked Vayu, the wind god to transport him through the air so that they could choose a perfect spot for the installation. Carrying the precious idol in his hands, Brihaspati was wafted across the sub-continent of India till they came almost to the sea shore to the spot where the present town of Guruvayoor now stands. Looking down Brihaspati saw a beautiful lake filled with lotuses on the banks of which Shiva and Parvati were dancing. He was charmed by the sight and he requested Vayu to float him down. For some time he stood spell-bound by the dancing couple. When they had finished he prostrated to them and begged Shiva to tell him of a perfect spot to install the idol of Vishnu. Shiva said that this was indeed the ideal place. He told him to build the temple right there at one end of the lake where he and Parvati had been dancing. He magnanimously said that he himself would take up residence at the other end of the lake which was known as Rudrathirta. The temple of Mammiyoor to which Shiva shifted still exists. However during the course of time the lake dried up little by little and now only the temple tank adjoining the Guruvayoor temple remains to tell the tale of this ancient lake. The word Guruvayoor has special connotations. It is made up of two words “guru” and “vayu”. Guru means preceptor and vayu is wind. The idol was installed by Brihaspati, the guru of the gods and Vayu, the god of wind and hence came to be known as Guru-vayoor! The word also has an esoteric meaning. It stands for the body of the human being which is the abode of wind. The five pranas or vital breaths are what sustain the body and make it function properly.

Guruvayur Mahatmyam-early legends of Guruvayur temple

Sri Narada purana mentions how Janamejaya was cured of leprosy by taking refuge under the feet of Guruvayuruppan. The Pandavas handed over the kingdom to their grandson Parikshit, and left for the forest to spend their last days. Parikshit died of the curse of a saint, who cursed that Parikshit will die of snake bite by Takshaka, the king of serpents. After the death of Parikshit he was succeeded by his son Janamejaya. Janamejaya conducted a sacrifice to destroy all the snakes of the world including Takshaka, who was the cause of his father’s death . Hundreds of thousands of snakes fell into the sacrificial fire and were killed, but the sacrifice was stopped by a Brahmin called Astika, before Takshaka was killed.

Since Janamejaya was responsible for the death of millions of snakes, he was afflicted with leprosy. He lost all hope of a cure. One day Sage Atreya (son of Atri) came before Janamejaya and told him to take refuge under the feet of Krishna at Guruvayoor. Atreya told him that in the temple at Guruvayur the effulgence of Sri Hari is at its best and Vishnu showers his blessings on all devotees. He immediately rushed there and spent the next ten months worshipping the lord at Guruvayur. At the end of ten months, he returned home hale and hearty and took the astrologer to task for making a false prediction. The astrologer told him that he would find the mark of a snakebite on his left leg. He had escaped death only because he was at that time in a temple where Anantha (the emperor of serpents) was present and Anantha was the brother to the Lord at Guruvayur where he had finished worshipping.

The king being convinced of the astrologer’s verdict decided to build a full-fledged temple at Guruvayur. In course of time, this temple came to be downgraded and reduced to poverty during the days when Kerala was ruled by the Perumals. The Perumal rulers were mostly Shaivites and did not extend their patronage to Vaishnavite shrines. The Shiva temple at Mammiyur received their patronage and with the shift of royal patronage, the worshippers also swung more to the Shiva temple. The Guruvayur temple was thus reduced to utmost poverty, without even means to light the temple lamp. However, one day, a holy man went to the Mammiyur temple for food and hospitality for the night. Though the temple was affluent, the temple authorities pretended they had nothing and scornfully directed him to the neighbouring Guruvayur temple knowing fully well that the temple was in destitute conditions. When the holy man entered the precincts of that temple, he was courteously received by a brahmin boy and sumptuously fed. The holy man was very much pleased and he pronounced a blessing. “I came here from Mammiyur temple, because they said there is nothing there,” he said.”They told me also that there is plenty here. Well hereafter it will be exactly like that!” It is said from that day, Mammiyur Siva temple began to decline, and the fortunes of Guruvayur Vishnu temple progressed from strength to strength.

Early history to 20th century

According to legend, the idol worshipped here is more than 5000 years old.[9] But there are no historical records to establish it. In 14th century, ‘Kokasandesam’ (a Tamil literary work), references to a place called Kuruvayur are made. As early as the 16th century (50 years after the Narayaneeyam was composed) many references to Kuruvayur are seen. In ancient Dravidic, Kuruvai means sea, hence the village on the coast may be called Kuruvayur.The earliest temple records date back to only 17th century. The earliest mention of the many important Vishnu temples of Kerala are found in the songs of the Alwars, Tamil saints,whose time-line is not exactly fixed.

Mamankam was a very famous event at Thirunavaya, on the bank of Bharathappuzha. The war between the Zamorins and the Raja of Valluvanad of Thirunavaya in a way popularised Guruvayur temple. Due to the prolonged war people across the riverbank started preferring Guruvayur. Even the Zamorin become a devotee and thus his subjects followed him completely. The central shrine that we see today is said to have been rebuilt in 1638 AD. Vishwabali was performed later to propitiate all the spirits, good and bad. By the end of 16th century Guruvayur had become most popular pilgrimage centre in Kerala.[11] In 1716 AD, the Dutch raided Guruvayur. They looted treasures, gold of the flagstaff, and set fire to the Western Gopuram. It was later rebuilt in 1747 AD. In 1755 AD, the Dutch in war with the Zamorin destroyed Trikkunavay temple and the Brahmins fled from there. Later the Zamorin become the trustee of both Guruvayur and Trikkunavay, and also their Melkoyma (Sovereign protector)

The flagstaff was completely enclosed in gold in January 1952. The temple flag can also be seen in this pic

In 1766 AD, Hyder Ali of Mysore captured Kozhikkode (Calicut) and then Guruvayur. He fined 10,000 fanams (a form of currency) to spare the temple. This fine was paid, but due to insecurity, pilgrims receded , the supply of rice was stopped and the tenants stopped annual dues. On the request of the Malabar Governor, Shrinivasa Rao, Hyder Ali granted a Devadaya (free gift) and the temple was saved from extinction. Again in 1789 AD Tippu Sultan invaded Zamorin’s province. Apprehending the destruction, the idol was hidden underground and the Utsava vigraha was taken to Ambalapuzha by Mallisseri Namboodiri and Kakkad Othikkan. Tippu destroyed the smaller shrines and set fire to the Temple, but it was saved due to timely rain. Tippu lost to the Zamorin and the English in 1792 AD. The hidden idol and the Utsava vigraha were re-installed on September 17, 1792. But the daily poojas and routines were seriously affected.

The Ullanad Panickers rescued and looked after the temple for good 75 years (1825 to 1900). Like Chempakassery Namboodiri and Deshavarma Namboodiri ,the Panickers offered everything from service to property. Thus with their help daily pooja and Utsavam (annual festival) were once again restored.From 1859 to 1892, the Chuttambalam,the Vilakkumatam, the Koothambalam and Sastha shrine were renovated and roofed with copper sheeting. In 1900, Sri Konthi Menon , as a manager fixed the hours of worship and led the drive to keep the temple premises clean. He set up the big bell and reconstructed Pathayapura (granary). In 1928, the Zamorin once again become the administrator of Guruvayur.

The fire of 1970

On November 30, 1970, a massive fire broke out in the temple. It began from the western chuttambalam (circumambulatory temple) and raged all around for five hours, but the Sreekovil (sanctum-sanctorum), the Vigraha (main idol), sub-shrines of Ganapathy, Ayyappa, Bhagavathy and flagstaff remained unaffected. People from all walks of life, irrespective of age, caste and creed fought the fire to set a glorious example. Later, the temple was once again built to the glory of the Lord. This shocking incidence of fire took place on 29 November during the season of Ekadasi vilakku (Ekadasi lighting). On this day Vilakku was celebrated on a grand scale and all the lamps in the Vilakkumatam were lighted. After the (Seeveli) procession, the function came to an end and the gates of Gopuram were closed. Around 1.00 am, somebody in the immediate neighbourhood near the western chuttambalam saw a blaze from within the Temple. Roused by the news, the whole lot of people, irrespective of caste, colour or creed rushed to the Temple and joined in fighting the fire with water and sand. Later, the fire force units of Ponnani, Trichur and FACT arrived and started fighting the fire which seems to have started from the western Vilakkumatam. It was brought under control by 5.30 am. Seeing the uncontrollable fire, the authorities had already removed the valuables from the Sreekovil. The Ganapathy idol, Sastha idol and the main idol of Lord Guruvayurappan were shifted to the Koothambalam and then to a safer place, the residence of the Tantri. The fire gutted the whole of chuttambalam, the entire Vilakkumatam on the west, south and north sides. The Chuttambalam was only 3 yards off, but still the fierce fire did not touch even the dry flower garlands, which hung on the corner of the Sreekovil.

Two committees were formed to undertake the renovation work. One committee was headed by the Devaswom Minister, Government of Kerala and another technical committee to advice on the renovation work. It had eminent engineers, astrologers and the Tantri as the members.The foundation stone for the renovation was laid by Jagatguru of the Kanchi matha, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamikal. After the great fire, the Vilakkumatam, for the first time, was lit on Vishu day,14 April 1973.

Location and transport

The temple is located about 30 km from Thrissur. The nearest railway station is at Guruvayur. Only Guruvayur-Chennai Egmore express train from Chennai via Thiruvananthapuram, Madurai and Tiruchirapalli runs up to this station. However, a regular passenger train service to Ernakulam via Thrissur is available. The nearest major railway station with better connectivity is at Thrissur. The nearest airport (75 km) is Cochin International Airport, at Nedumbassery near Kochi. Guruvayur is well connected from all major towns of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Various private and state government-owned bus companies operate regular services to this temple town.

Dress Code

Strict dress code exists for devotees who wish to enter the temple. Men are to wear Mundu around their waist, without any dress covering their chest. But it is allowed to cover the chest region with a small piece of cloth (Veshthi). Boys are allowed to wear shorts, but they are also prohibited from wearing a shirt. Girls and women are not supposed to wear any trouser like dresses or short skirts. Women are expected to wear Sari and young girls are to wear long skirt and blouses.Presently the dress code for women have been relaxed with Salwar Kameez/Churidar being allowed.[13] However most women who are strong believers still visit the temple wearing a Sari or traditional Kerala dresses. Unlike North India, in Kerala and other South Indian states Hindu women do not cover their heads in temples. In Kerala covering of head while worshiping is practised only by Christian and Muslim women. Like all other temples in India, footwear is strictly prohibited.

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Posted May 26, 2011 by davis in Uncategorized

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