Lord Krishna at Guruvayur, a city located in Trichur district in Kerala - India, is worshipped as Lord Guruvayurappan. It is said that the idol of Lord Guruvayurappan was worshipped by Vasudeva, father of Lord Krishna and represents the full manifestation of Lord Maha Vishnu. The idol is made of a stone called "Patala Anjanam" or black bismuth and is in the standing pose with 4 arms carrying the shanku (conch), the chakra (discus), the gada (mace) and padma (lotus). Guruvayur is also hailed as "Bhooloka Sri Vaikuntham" where the Lord reveals himself to his devotees in the same majestic form in which he welcomes them in Vaikuntha, his celestial abode.
Origin of the idol
King Sutapa and his wife Prishni prayed to Lord Brahma for a child. Lord Brahma, with the consent of Lord Maha Vishnu, gave the king an idol of Lord Sri krishna given to him by Lord Maha Vishnu himself. It is said that by the grace of this idol Lord Brahma was able to fulfil his task of creation. When Lord Maha Vishnu appeared before the King and the queen in answer to their prayers, they prayed to the Lord for a son like Him. As they repeated it thrice, the lord told them that they would have to take three janmas (births) and that in all their three births He would be born to them. In due course the Lord was born to them. In their first birth, He was born to them as Prishnigarbhan, who taught people the importance Of Brahmacharya and its great power. In their second birth, they were born as King Kashyap and Aditi and the Lord took the avatara of Vamana and was born as their son. In their third birth, they were Vasudeva and Devaki, parents of Lord's avatara, Sri Krishna. Lord Sri Krishna got the idol from his father and worshipped it at his Capital Dwaraka. Before the conclusion of his incarnation as Krishna, the Lord told his Devotee and Minister Uddhava that the image would come floating in the sea which would soon engulf Dwaraka. Udhava was asked to request Brahaspati, the Guru of the Gods, to install the image at a suitable place. Accordingly when the image came floating Brihaspati (Guru) along with Vayu (the God of wind), carrying the idol, set out in search of a sacred place. They met Parasurama (an earlier avatara of Lord Vishnu) at Kerala, who was on his way to Dwaraka to bring the very same idol. Parasurama led them to a beautiful lake full of lotus flowers. Lord Shiva was doing penance there and he told Guru and Vayu to install the idol together at a spot near the lake and that the site should be known as "GURUVAYUPURA". Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi left for Mammiyur, on the opposite bank of the lake. The present tank called "Rudratirtha" is only a miniature of the original lake. When devotees go round the Krishna temple, from a certain spot, they look in the direction of Mammiyur and pray to Lord Shiva. Vishwakarma, the architect of the Gods, built the Sri Krishna temple at the instance of Guru and Vayu. This is the legend told by sage Dattatreya to King Janamejaya, son of Parikshit (as narrated in the Mahabharatha). King Parikshit died of cobra bite due to the curse of a sage. His son King Janamejaya performed a sacrifice in which thousands of innocent reptiles were killed. As a result of their curse, he was affilcted by leprosy. On sage Dattatreya's advice, he went to Guruvayur and worshipped Sri Guruvayurappan in the company of sage Atreya. He prayed with intense devotion for 41 days. He dreamt one night, that the Lord's tender hand was stroking him. Next day, when he woke up, he found that there was no trace of leprosy on his body.
Construction of the temple
An astrologer told a Pandya King that he was destined to die from a cobra bite on a particular day. He was advised to go and pray before Lord Guruvayurappan. He spent years in meditation and prayer at the feet of the Lord. Suddenly the King realised that the time allotted for his death had passed. He came back to his palace and asked the astrologer as to how his prediction had gone wrong. The wiseman showed him the mark on his left foot where the cobra had bitten him. Since he was wholly absorbed in the Lord, Who alone can dispense with fate, he did not feel the sting. In gratitude, the King build the temple at Guruvayur and set apart funds for the daily routine of the temple. Most parts of the temple, as it is today, are of the 16th and 17th centuries. At later periods and different stages, extensions to the temple were made by rich devotees. The deepastamba (column of lights) was erected in 1836 by a devotee from Thiruvanathapuram. The temple has gopurams in the east and the west. The eastern gopuram has an inscription which refers to the town as "Gurupavanapura". The western gopura was built in 1747.
There are several literary works extolling the glory of the Lord of Guruvayur. The Narayaneeyam which is described as the Gospel of Guruvayur is the greatest of all, creating a Guruvayur in the hearts of everyone who reads or listens to it. The author of this great work is Meppattur Narayana Bhattatiri, one of the foremost sanskrit poets and savants of Kerala. Bhattatiri's guru was Achyuta Pishara who was his mentor and who weaned him away from the wayward path he was following to become a great devotee of the Lord. When Pisharadi was stricken with rheumatism, Bhattatiri took it over on himself by way of Guru dakshina. His Guru was cured and no amount of treatment could cure Bhattatiri. He then went to Guruvayur, sat before the Lord and composed 1034 slokas in the praise of the Lord and recited them before the diety. The slokas are divided into 100 dasakas (sets of 10 verses). Every one of the 100 dasakas ends with a prayer to the Lord of Guruvayur for relief of his disease. It is said that the Lord personally accepted the poem by signifying his approval and also by giving him advice whenever the poet was at a loss for words.
For eg., while dealing with the Lord's incarnation as Narasimha, the poet could not visualise his form. There upon the Lord himself sprang out of a pillar in the temple as Narasimha. The Lord himself enacted Krishna dancing on the Kalinga and the Kalinga nardhanam slokas in the Narayaneeyam are set to the same tempo as Sri Krishna's dance.
According to Bhagavatham, Sri Krishna, as a child, broke a pot with a grinding stone whereas Battatiri wrote that it was with a churning stick. While he was grieving that he got it wrong, the Lord himself said that he had broken the pot both with the churning stick and the grinding stone.
Narayaneeyam contains the essence of Bhagavata. Though its aim is the cure of ills of the present birth, it ultimate aim is moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. In the last dasaka "Agre pashyami" (HIM I SEE BEFORE ME), the poet has given an inspired and inspiring vision of Srikrishna as Venugopal that was given to him by the Lord. This was on Ekadesi day.
A Few Legends
Poondanam Namboodiri was a humble devotee of Lord Guruvayurappan. He wrote a Malayalam lyric "Gnanappana" in praise of the Lord. He was not erudite like Bhattatiri but his lyrics were noted for their simplicity and devotional fervour. He requested Bhattatiri to revise it. But Bhattatiri lacked humility and looked down upon a mere vernacular like malayalam and told Poondanam that God would not listen to anything but sanskrit. Poondanam went home and wept bitterly before the Lord. That night a boy appeared at Bhattatiri's house as he was preparing to recite Narayaneeyam. Seating the boy at his side, he started to recite. The boy pointed out an error in the very first verse. The poet admitted it and proceeded with the next verse where the boy pointed 2 mistakes. In the 3rd verse he pointed 3 mistakes and so on. After the tenth verse Bhattatiri realised that the boy was the Lord himself. He now understood that Poondanam's bhakti was more pleasing to the Lord than his Vibhakti (Sanskrit grammar) and learning. He rushed to Poondanam and sought his forgiveness. When he read Gnanappana, he found that it was flawless. That is how the Lord taught humility to Bhattatiri.
Velwamangalam Swamiyar and Kurur Amma were cousins. On the eastern side of the entrance to the temple from the North, there is a holy spot called Nritham. The Swamiyar used to occupy this spot for his meditation and it is said that he used to dance in ectasy. Its believed that the Lord often gave him darshan in person after the last ritual of the day. He could see him whenever and in whatever form he wished. The Lord was a child to the childless Kururamma. She played with him and would even scold him when he was naughty. He helped her in all her household chores as a dutiful son would, for his mother.
The Garland of Manjula : There is a banyan tree a few metres away from the temple on the East Nada. A young Varasyar girl would make a garland everyday and offer it to the Lord in the night. The Mel Shanti (Chief Priest) would adorn the idol with it. One day she was late and the Sri Koil was closed. Manjula stood near the banyan tree crying and Poondanam who passed by told her "Guruvayurappan knows what's in your heart, keep the garland on the banyan tree and he will take it". The following morning, when the Mel Shanti began to remove the nirmalyam, one garland stuck to the idol and would not come off. When Poondanam saw this, he called out to the Lord saying "That's Manjula's Garland, let it also fall". The garland fell and the devotees were awestuck and started chanting the Lord's name. From that day the banyan tree is called Manjula.
Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshitar : In modern times, this well known scholar and Upanyasa Chakravati was cured of his leprosy by praying to Lord Guruvayurappan.
Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar : He lost his voice suddenly at the peak of a concert he was giving at Suchindram. Several doctors tried to cure him but to no avail. He went to Guruvayur and cried out to the Lord. He regained his voice and lived many more years to sing in many concerts.
Coconut with horns : A villager had planted a number of coconut saplings and had promised himself that he would offer the 'first coconut' from each of his coconut trees to "The Lord Guruvayurappan". When the trees started to yield coconuts, he collected the first coconut from all the trees in a sack and set forth to Guruvayur. On the way he was stopped by a robber and asked to part with the items in the sack. The villager told the robber that the coconuts in the sack belonged to Guruvayurappan and so he was unable to hand it over. The robber disdainfully asked the villager "Is Guruvaurappan's coconut any different? Does it have horns ?". When the robber pulled the sack forcefully out of the villagers hands, the coconuts spilled out. To their astonishment each and every coconut in the sack had horns!. Even today, the coconut with horns are displayed in the temple for devotees to see.
Rituals at the temple:
There is a fascinating legend about the origin of the rituals in this temple. One Ekadesi day, Sri Adi Shankara and Narada were travelling in space above the temple of Guruvayur. Narada told the Acharya that he was descending at Guruvayur. Acharya disdainfully told Narada that idol worship and chanting of the Lord's name repeatedly was for the ignorant and not for a Gyani like him and continued his journey in space. But within a few minutes, he had a fall and lay prostrate on the earth by the northern side of the temple, where the Lord's Sriveli had reached. The Acharya realised his error and begged the Lord for forgiveness. The Lord told him that temple worship, repetition of Lord's name and listening to religious discourses were all ways of expressing devotion and were all dear to him. He then asked Sri Shankara to organise the daily worship in the temple, which he did. These rituals are followed even today.
Everyday, the temple opens at 3 a.m. and the Lord is awakened from his sleep with the melodious notes of nadaswaram. The Lord is seen adorned with flowers of the previous day. This is known as Nirmalya Darshanam. It is believed that celestial beings come and worship the Lord after the temple is closed.
Sriveli is a ritual which is performed thrice every day. The Utsava Vigraha of the Lord (a miniature of the idol in gold) is mounted on an elephant and taken around within the four outer walls of the temple, three times, to the accompaniment of drums. There are beli Kallus representing the Lord's body guards, subsidiary deities and members of his entourage in the inner and outer prakara. The idea of Sriveli and the priest performing poojas at these places is that the Lord Himself standsby as offerings are made to his dependants. Guruvayur is a temple state with the Lord as its Head. Every night at the close of worship, the days account is read to the Lord even today. Another ceremony is the Thulabharam, in which the devotees are weighed against plantains/sugar/jaggery/coconuts or other articles. These are gifted to the temple.
Another is Annaprasanam, first feeding ceremony of the child.
Festivals at the temple
The utsavam in Guruvayur is in the month of Kumbham (Feb-Mar) and the celebrations are spread over a period of 10 days. The festival starts with the hoisting of the temple flag on the dwajasthamba. A special event during the utsavam is the elephant race. The Guruvayur Devaswom has about 45 elephants now, all donated by devotees. No description of the elephants in temple is complete without mentioning Padmanabhan and Kesavan. Padmanabhan was a very tall elephant and had a majestic bearing. He would allow no other elephant to carry the Thidambu. There are many stories about his kindness, devotion and unserving loyalty to the Lord. In appreciation of his services a gold chain was presented to him. A strange spectacle was seen in the Guruvayur temple in the year 1931, the day Padmanabhan died. The sandal paste with which the Lord was adorned split into two pieces and fell down. The two tusks and teeth of Padmanabhan are kept in Guruvayur. Kesavan was donated by Raja of Nilambur and came to Guruvayur in 1922. He learnt from Padmanabhan the way he should conduct himself as a servant of the Lord. He was about 11 ft tall and would raise his front leg only when the Thidambu is to be mounted. All the rest holding the parasol had to mount from the rear side through the hind leg. It was the same for his mahout too. He was honoured with the title Gajaraja. In 1976, on Navami, he fell ill during the Sriveli. On the Dasami night, he used the drinking water (kept for him) to bathe and to clean his body and stood looking longingly in the direction of the Deity whom he had served for a long time. The morning of Ekadesi day dawned. On the day Lord Krishna gave Vishwarupa Darshan to Arjuna, Kesavan lay prostrate on the ground with his trunk stretched towards the Lord. The Lord had given moksha to the Gajaraja, just before the Sri Koil opened. Guruvayur Devaswom has erected a life size statue of Kesavan in one their rest houses.
The Guruvayur Ekadesi falls in the month of Vrischika (Nov-Dec). Once when Lord Maha Vishnu visited the abode of Yama, he heard heart rending cries of people tortured for their sins. The Lord wanted to save them from more suffering and uttered the word Ekadesi. The very mention of the word removed all their sins. Observance of Ekadesi is believed to have a purifying effect. It is believed that the sins of a life time are washed away if one happens to see the Ekadesi Vilakku (festival of lights). Legend says that on Guruvayur Ekadesi, Lord Indra comes with Kamdhenu and gives all material wealth and offers worship to receive Sri Krishna's blessings. On that day all the theerthas like Kasi, Badri, Sabarigiri and Palani besides rivers like Ganga and Jamuna assemble in this sacred place.
The LORD OF GURUVAYUR is no distant elusive Deity, but one who is accessible to all devotees, learned and unlearned. As the Lord said to Arjuna in the Gita, "I am responsible for the welfare of those who think of me to the exclusion of all else and who remain devoted to me all the time", Guruvayurappan comes to the rescue of his Bhakthas in distress and manifests his grace in infinite ways.OM NAMO NARAYANA
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