Guruvayur the abode of the Lord in Kerala

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Anupama Nair

Now let me tell you about Guruvayur, a pilgrimage town in Kerala. It’s famous for the centuries-old, red-roofed Guruvayur Temple. The presiding deity of the Guruvayur Temple is Guruvayurappan and is often referred to as “ Bhulokha Vaikunda” or the  “holy abode of Vishnu on Earth”. We can see a four-armed standing Lord Vishnu, carrying his conch Panchajanya, the discus Sudarshan Chakra, the mace Kaumodaki, a lotus with a mala or garland of Tulsi. This was the image of the majestic form of  the Lord  revealed to Krishna's parents Vasudev and Devaki around the time of Krishna's birth. Even today the Lord is worshipped as per the laws laid down by the great saint Adi Shankaracharya.

Even today strict dress code existed for people who wish to enter the Guruvayur Temple. Men are to wear dhoti around their waist, without any dress covering their chest, but can cover the chest with a small piece of cloth called veshti. Girls and women are prohibited from wearing any trouser-like dresses or short skirts. Women are allowed to wear sarees and girls can wear lehngas or pavada. However, the dress code for women have been relaxed with kurta-pajama being allowed.

Guruvayur is famous for Anakotta (Elephant Yard ), and has 56 elephants today. An anakotta is the home of the largest population of male Asian elephants in the world. These elephants are donated by devotees to the temple and kept in a compound close to the temple. However, as more and more devotees donated elephants, the space became insufficient and hence they were moved to a larger property. The devotees consider these elephants as the form of the Lord. Guruvayur Keshavan and Padmanabhan were the most loved among all the elephants.

The deity of the temple is more than 5000 years old. It is believed that in the 14th century, a Tamil book called “Kokasandesam” there are references to a place called Kuruvayur. In the 16th century there are many references to Kuruvayur. In ancient Tamil, kuruvai means sea, hence the village on the Malabar Coast could be called Kuruvayur. The earliest mention of the many important Vishnu temples of Kerala are found in the songs of Alwars,  and through Mamankam  (a very famous local event at Tirunavaya). There were many battles in Calicut fought by the rulers called Zamorins and people of Valluvanad . Due to these prolonged battles, people across the riverbank started preferring Guruvayur. Later, even the Zamorin become a devotee and there are references to a place called Kuruvayur made by his subjects.

When Lord Brahma was creating the world, Lord Vishnu appeared before him and conveyed his wish to get salvation for himself and his children. Lord Vishnu gave him an idol made by himself. Lord Brahma gave this idol to a king named Sutapas and his wife Prasni, who were worshipping Lord Vishnu to get a son. Lord Vishnu appeared before them and stated that he would himself be born as their son in four births, and in all those births, they would be blessed with the idol which they worshipped. Thus, in the first birth in Satya Yuga, the Lord was born as Prasnigarba, the son of Sutapas and Prasni and in Treta Yuga, when Sutapas and Prasni were born as Kashyapa and Aditi, the Lord was born as Vamana their son. In Treta Yuga itself, when they were born as Dasaratha and Kaushalya , the Lord was born as  Rama, their son, and finally, in Dwapaar Yuga, when they were born as Vasudev and Devaki, the Lord was born as Krishna, their son. In all these births, the idol was also with them and Lord Krishna, an avatar himself, took the idol to Dwaraka, and began to worship it.

When the Lord was ascending to heaven after his samadhi, he told his friend and devotee Uddhava, the idol should be given to Brihaspati, the guru of the Devas and Vayu, the Wind god. Uddhava took the idol from the sea and gave it to Brihaspati and Vayu. Brihaspati and Vayu went southwards with the idol. On the way, they saw a city with large, beautiful lake very close to the sea, which was full of lotuses of all colors. They then saw a huge forest near the lake. They met the sage Parasurama, who took them to the place where his guru Lord Shiva and  Goddess Bhavani were sitting.

Lord Shiva told them he had worshipped Lord Vishnu in the place they were standing. The lake on the north side is known as Rudratheeram, as Rudra bathed there before conducting poojas. Many years later, ten princes named “Prachetas” came to the place to get the title of Prajapati. When Brihaspati and Vayu heard the story, they realized that the place was suitable for consecrating the idol. They then called Vishwakarma, the architect of Devas, and he built a temple within minutes and the idol was consecrated there. The place came to be known as Guruvayur as it was Brihaspati or Guru and Vayu who bought the idol there, and the idol came to be known as Guruvayurappan.

Guruvayur Temple was mentioned in Narada Purana. King Parikshit, a descendant of Kuru dynasty, being the grandson of Arjuna and son of Abhimanyu, died due to the bite of Takshaka, a fierce snake, after the curse by a sage. His son, Janamejaya, tried to revenge this by conducting a fierce yaga named Sarpasatra and many innocent snakes got killed in the ritual fire. However, Takshaka did not die, as he had drunk Amrita or nectar. The king suffered from severe leprosy, and his condition did not improve after treatment. Both his body and mind got weaker over time. Sage Dattatreya appeared before him and requested him to worship Lord Vishnu of Guruvayur to get cured of the disease. It is said he got a cure after a darshan of my Lord.

(At the outset, it was Sri Ganesha, Mata Saraswati, my Guru  who inspired me to write this article. I am only an instrument and it was my Giridhar Gopala who came as thoughts in my mind, which got converted into words. Dedicated to Late Uncle Pai for Amar Chitra Katha and the late B.R Chopra for the serial Mahabharat).


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