By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Guruvayur, GuruvAyur, Guruvaayur
Guruvāyur literally means ‘town established by Guru Bṛhaspati and Vāyu’.
One of the well-known and popular places of pilgrimage, especially for the devotees of Kṛṣṇa, is Guruvāyur in the Kerala State. It is a small town situated to the west of the city of Triśśur or Trichur, at a distance of 30 kms. (20 miles). It is famous for its temple of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the deity is fondly called as Guruvāyurappan.
According to the sthalapurāṇa or the local legends based on the Nāradīyapurāna, the image was being worshiped at Dvārakā by Śrī kṛṣṇa himself. When the city was submerged, he handed it to his disciple Uddhava with the instructions consulted with Guru and Vāyu. The image should be installed in a suitable holy place. When Guru and Vāyu came to the South in search of a suitable place, the great sage Paraśurāma helped them to find it. Then they installed it in a beautiful temple.
Thus, according to this traditional account, the temple is at least 5000 years old. King Janamejaya, the great grandson of the Pāṇḍava hero Arjuna, is said to have worshiped this deity to get rid of his leprosy. He contracted this disease by the performance of the Sarpayāga (serpent-sacrifice) to exterminate entire race of serpents.
A Brief History
Historically speaking, the earliest references about this temple are available from the 16th century. During the various political turmoils that South India faced, many times the temple suffered at the hands of the Dutch (A. D. 1756), Haidar Ali (A. D. 1766) and Tipu Sultān (A. D. 1789). It was ultimately saved by the princes of the Zamorin family in A. D. 1792. From A. D. 1825, the condition of the temple improved, mainly due to the dedicated services of the Ulanāḍ Paṇikkars’ family.
The eastern gopuram (tower) was rebuilt in A. D. 1842. Renovations and beautification of the central shrine, the maṇḍapa, and the dhvajastambha were carried out in A. D. 1892. Several administrative reforms were introduced from A. D. 1900 onwards. Temple doors were opened to the people of the lower castes, who were treated as untouchables from A. D. 1931. Gold-casing of the dhvajastambha was completed in A. D. 1952.
In A. D. 1970, a disastrous fire destroyed a major part of the buildings. But the main shrine and the subsidiary ones were miraculously untouched. Very soon, the temple-complex was restored to its original form.
The Presiding Deity
The main deity in the sanctum sanctorum is called Śrīkoil. It is the standing posture of Nārāyaṇa. It is made of a rare stone called pātāla-añjanam (black bismuth). It has four arms carrying:
- Śaṅkha - conch
- Cakra - discus
- Gadā - mace
- Padma - lotus
It is adorned with a tulasī (holy basil) garland and a pearl necklace. The walls of the Śrīkoil are adorned with paintings depicting boy Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
The Temple Complex
The main temple is small in size. It has been built in the typical Kerala style of architecture with a wooden roof covered with copper plates over the main shrine. It faces the east direction. The eastern gateway, called Bhuvai-kuṇṭham, is the main entrance. The dhvajastambha is gold-plated and 33.5 meters (110 ft.) high. On either side of it, there are two dīpastambhas 7 meters (22 ft.) in height with 13 circular receptacles for lighting the lamps.
Surrounding the garbhagṛha or the sanctum, there is a pillared hall known as Nālambalam. On the outer side of the northern wall surrounding the sanctum is the vilakkumatam. It is a gallery of 11 rows of 6614 tiny lamps that are lit on festival days. On the outer side of the whole structure, there is a paved path for processions called mātilakam.
Other structures in this area are:
- The stage for Kṛṣṇa-aṭṭam
- Two vātilmatams
- Temple kitchen
- Shrines for Gaṇeśa and Śāstā (or Ayyappan)
There is a permanently closed cell on the western side of the kitchen. It is the house of many precious jewels. This cell is guarded by the Pañcanāgas (five divine serpents).
Rites and Rituals
The main temple at Guruvāyur follows an elaborate system of rites and rituals initiated by Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820). There are five main pujas (worship) per day spread over the period 3 A.M. to 10 P.M. The utsavamurti mounted on an elephant and taken round the main shrine twice a day.
The darśan at 3 A.M. with all the flowers and garlands of the previous day is considered extremely auspicious. This is known as nirmālya-darśana. Usually there is a heavy crowd of devotees for this.
One of the popular modes of offering by the devotees is the tulābhāram. It is the ritual of weighing oneself against a specified material like bananas, sugar, jaggery, coconuts, sandalwood and so on. The material is then gifted to the temple.
God of Miracles
Innumerable miracles have been attributed to the grace of this Lord. The votaries belonging to non-Hindu faiths are also drawn towards this deity.
The ginger-oil used in the bathing of the image during abhiṣeka (ceremonial bath) is in great demand. It is believed to be a sure medicine for arthritis and similar diseases.
The story of the temple elephant named Keśavan is remarkable. It served the temple during all the festivals and ceremonies for 62 years, including the carrying of the tiḍambu (golden howdah) for 54 years. It was extremely docile and friendly. It died quietly and suddenly in A. D. 1976, in front of the chief gateway, as if bowing down to the deity. A life-size image of this elephant has been installed in the campus and it's day of demise is celebrated with a procession of decorated elephants.
The following are the most important of the numerous festivals conducted in this temple:
- Viṣu - New year’s day which falls generally on the 15th April
- Akṣayyatṛtiyā in April/May
- Brahmot-savam or Utsavam, the main annual festival spread over ten days, during February/March. An elephant race is the biggest attraction in this festival. The last day of the Utsavam is observed as the special bathing festival of the Lord at the temple-tank called Rudratīrtha.
- Next to this tank, there is the temple of Bhagavatī (Divine Mother). At this temple, the Navarātra festival is observed on a grand scale.
- The other festivals are Kṛṣṇa-janmāṣṭamī in August/September and Kucela’s Day on first Wednesday in Mārgaśira December/January.
Several cultural programmes and religious discourses are conducted under the aegis of the Guruvāyur temple. They are:
- Kṛṣṇāṭṭam - The Kṛṣṇāṭṭam is a dance-drama with characters acting their roles while the related story and songs are sung by others. On each of the nine days it is enacted from one of the themes from Kṛṣṇa’s life, except the last scene of Kṛṣṇa’s ascension, between 10 P.M. and 3 A.M. A special permanent stage has been erected in the north-western part of the processional path (mātilakam).
- Kuṭṭu - The Kuṭṭu is a mono-acting performance by a talented artists. The themes are selected from the two epics and the Bhāgavata. Humor and wit are the keynotes of this performance. It is enacted at the place reserved for it in the south-east corner, the place is called as kuṭṭambalam.
- Bhāgavata Saptāha - The Bhāgavata-saptāha is the recital of the Bhāgavata spread over seven days. It is conducted quite often.
- Recital of the Nārāyaniyam - The Nārāyaniyam is an extremely famous and popular work in the Kerala State. It is a condensed version of an original work of the Bhāgavata by Meppattur Nārāyaṇa Bhattātiripād (A. D. 1560-1625). A recital of this work is also conducted regularly in the temple.
Other Temples near Guruvāyur
Other temples at and near Guruvāyur are:
- Śiva-Pārvati temple at Mammiyur to the north-west
- Nārāyaṇī temple to the north of Mammiyur
- Pārthasārathi temple, believed to be more than 1000 years old
- Tiruveṅkaṭam temple near the Pārthasārathi temple
- Perutaṭṭa Śiva temple to the south of Guruvāyur temple at a distance of one kilometer
While visiting a holy place, a pilgrim expects not only spiritual solace but also the fulfillment of his desires which he is unable to achieve through normal human efforts. The Guruvāyur temple has certainly succeeded in fulfilling such hopes and aspirations of it's votaries. Numerous experiences of numberless devotees advocate their experiences and prove this.
Every year the number of pilgrims is multiplying. The contributions given by them is increasing, thus making it one of the few most popular temples of the country with fabulous income which is being properly utilized by the temple management.
- Guruvāyurappan is known as father or master of Guruvāyur.
- Nāradīyapurāna is also known as Gurupavanapuramāhātmya.
- Guru is known as Bṛhaspati, the preceptor of gods.
- Vāyu is the wind- god.
- Maṇḍapa is an open auditorium.
- Dhvajastambha is known as flag-staff.
- Dīpastambhas are the pillars of lamps.
- Kṛṣṇa-aṭṭam is the dance drama on Krṣna.
- Vātilmatams are the raised platforms with carved pillars.
- Utsavamurti is the processional image.
- Darśan means seeing the deity.
- Nirmālya means used flowers to be removed and thrown away in a place set apart for it.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore