Ksetrasampada of Guruvayur Temple: PRG Mathur

Welknown anthropologist associated with the Ananthakrishna Iyer International Centre for Anthropological Studies, Palakkad, Kerala.

Guruvayur is situated 29 kilometers away from Trichur, a township well connected with liberal bus services and road networks. Traditionally Guruvayur was a temple state subordinate to bigger complex of Trikkanamantilakam.

Guruvayur is believed to have become divine because of the prolonged penance of ›iva in the Rudra Tirth (temple tank). The tank is the venue for aaraattu, immersion ceremony of Guruvayurappan’s processional idol at the annual festival of the temple in March. The idol of Guruvayur is believed to have been made of the rare mineral paatalanjana sila

Glory of the lord was revealed by sage Dattatreya at the time of swargaarohana, ascent to Heaven of the lord, Sri Krsna who told Uddhavar that the purpose of his avataara was over. Sri Krsna pacified the grieving Uddhavar by promising to manifest in the idol and to shower his blessings on his devotees. He instructed Uddhavar to take good care of the images and install them in consultation with Brahaspati (Guru). Brahspati obtained the collaboration of vayu. Together they wandered and reached Kerala, where they were met by Parasurama who had reclaimed the land from the sea. He was in search of a divine image to be installed in an ideal spot in Kerala. Parasurama guided them to a beautiful lake full of lotuses. ›iva and Parvati were there to receive them. Siva said that the place was destined for an image of Narayana. He would leave with Parvati and settle at Mammiyoor on the opposite bank of the tank. He also ordained that the place would henceforth be known as Guru-Vayu-Pura from which the tadbhava form Guruvayur arose. According to certain legends, the deity and the installation are more than 5000 years old. The earliest reference to Guruvaur is in a Tamil invocation in which the lord is addressed as “O Lord of the celestials, residing at Guruvayur”.

According to a tradition, 72 Nambudiri families had the urayma (trustee-ship) over the temple. Of these only Mallisseri has survived. The first inscriptional mention of the temple occurs in kolezhuthu a script of the Malayalam language in which aspirated consonants are not represented and where the lord of Guruvayur is praised as Kuruvayur Thevar, Lord ›iva near the sea. The governing body was the Uralar, originally the executive committee consisting only of the members elected annually by the yogam or Assembly composed exclusively of Nambudiri Brahmins. In course of time, the office of Uralar became hereditary. The tantri is the supreme arbiter of all sacred matters.

The authoritative text prescribing the norms and rules of construction both profane and sacred, now universally adopted in Kerala, is the Tantrasamuccaya, of Chennas Narayanan Nambudiripad. It consists of 15 chapters (patalam). The second patala deals with temple architecture, beginning with the construction of parasaada. A praasaada is where deities and humans find pleasure. All temples should face either towards east or west for full benefit of the sun rays. Various parts of the temple structure are then described alongwith the vertical dimensions appropriate to each design. The praasaada forms the focus of the temple complex including ancillary structures like halls, theatres, subsidary temples, wells and tanks. These are arranged according to the disposition of the panchapraakaaras or the boundary walls of the five main functional divisions, viz., antaramandala, antahaara, madhyahaara, baahyahaara and maryaada.

The Guruvayur temple has two imposing gopurams, entrance towers, the one on east is known as the kizhakke nada, and the other on west is the patinhare nada. In front of the gateway is a huge dispastambha, a pillar cast in bell metal to support eleven circular tiers of lamps. The eastern gateway leads to the outer courtyard, baahyangana. It discharges several functions and has corresponding synonyms. The first structure a devotee notices as he proceeds in the clockwise direction (pradakshina) is the kuuthambalam – the dance hall designed for presenting Chakkiar kuutu , the famous Sanskrit drama of the chakkiars of Kerala. On the southern stretch to the west of the kattumbalam, is the shrine of the deity, Ayyappa. At the eastern end is the kaavu or shrine of the Mother Goddess Edattedattu Kavil Bhagavati. She is believed to be a Vana Durga, Goddess of the forests. Throughout the outer aspect of the inner wall along the preambulatory path, is Vilakkumaadam, the gallery of lights, a grid of wooden uprights and cross members covered with brass has been erected. At each node, small wick lamps are placed. The complex consisting of the sopanam, antaralam and the garbhagrha is called the Srikoil. Guruvayur, is of the dwitala, two-storied type. The famous and celebrated icon of the deity is of the four-armed Vishnu in a standing pose. He is shown as standing on an hour-glass shaped pedestal, known as padma. The icon is supposed to be a yogamurthi, a satvic deity who changes character according to the belief of the worshipper. He is adorned with a crown, kiriitam. His eyes are beautiful, wide and elongated like petals of a red full bloomed lotus. There are no representations of his consorts Bhudevi and Shridevi.

The outer walls of the Srikoil are decorated with mural paintings. There are number of panels surrounded by decorative motifs of flowers, beasts in copulative positions, amorous couples, and other designs. The temple is bounded by a fortress like wall and surrounded by roads on all its peripheries.

Guruvayur is the most well-endowed, most publicized, and most crowded temple complex. It presents the paradoxical example of a nucleus of old-style belief systems surviving and being adapted to conflicting trends of modernization in the aura of conventionalism and traditionalism. Another development is the emergenece of the temple as a repository of art-forms. The temple has also been the patron of the little known form of dance drama, the krishnaatam, supporting the young artistes who devote themselves to it. Of late, South Indian art forms like concerts of classical Karnatic music have become popular. It is also a place where people from all over the country mingle. A new surge of cosmopolitanism is evident. From the very rich for whom star-hotels cater to the needs of ostentatious marriages, to the humble devotee who survives on free meals served from the temple kitchen, they represent a humanity united in a desire to communicate with the deity, Lord Guruvayurappan.

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