Guruvayur temple saw 198 weddings in a single day (Feature With Image)September 21st, 2010 - 10:06 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
Guruvayur (Kerala), Sep 21 (IANS) The imposing facade of the ancient shrine in Kerala that rises like a timeless edifice in the early morning mist is rooted in the legends of Lord Krishna, arguably the most popular of Hindu divinities.
It sweeps up in two towering gopurams, a maze of pillared courtyards and a richly ornate sanctum sanctorum that occupies the centrestage of the small temple town of Guruvayur which hums with pilgrims and life round the clock.
Lord Guruvayurappan, the famous deity in the Guruvayur shrine, has a personal kitty of Rs.400 crore/Rs 4 billion, 65 elephants, gold, silver, a 5,000 year-old-history - and an abode that is considered an architectural marvel crafted in wood and stone.
The Sree Krishna temple, located barely 30 km from Thrissur town, ranks second in popularity and spiritual aura after the Balaji temple in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. Around 25,000 devotees from across the world visit the temple every day. Many couples choose to solemnise their weddings in the temple precincts.
“The temple earns Rs.3 crore every month by ‘hundi’ (donation) collections alone. Besides, rich devotees donate one-time grants and elephants to the temple. The shrine spends Rs.2 crore on the rituals and maintenance and to provide for the 1,000 people on its rolls. The temple has a corpus of Rs.400 crore,” former politician Thottathil Ravindran, chairman of the Guruvayur Devaswom, the temple trust, told a visiting IANS correspondent.
The temple, which wears a rather modern corporate look, is believed to pay a luxury tax for the facilities it offers to devotees.
The chairman of the Guruvayur temple said the shrine on an average hosted 150 weddings every day. “Six months ago, the temple saw 198 weddings on its premises in a single day. It was a record,” Ravindran said.
A sharp rise in the number of devotees in the last three years has prompted the temple authorities to embark upon a modernisation and expansion project to streamline the flow of devotees and wedding crowds to the shrine.
“We plan to build a queue complex that can seat 12,000 people at a time and a multi-level parking lot for 700 cars. We want to build a new rest house. The temple currently runs two rest houses with 200 rooms,” Ravindran said.
For a temple that is said to be 1,000 years old and with a deity dating back to 5,000 years, the premises are surprisingly clean and the approach is uncluttered. A wide walkway leads to the premises, where thousands of devotees stand in queues to enter the sanctum sanctorum.
The idol of Lord Krishna is a ‘Pathalanjana Shila’ - a variation of black granite that is harder than metal and considered sacred. A pair of elephant tusks adorns the doorway of the sanctum sanctorum.
The shrine is tiered in tandem with Kerala’s traditional “vaastu” principles. The tiers represent the three aspects of a man’s life - ‘artha’ (money), ‘kama’ (desire) and ‘dharma’ (religion).
The high point of the traditional Kerala architecture in the pillared courtyard surrounding the sanctum sanctorum is a 33.5-foot gold-plated flag mast that draws cosmic energy to rejuvenate the deity every day. The pillars are inscribed with sacred mantras.
The daily prayers are conducted by 18 namboodiri (brahmin) priests or tantris, a spokesperson for the shrine said.
They are led by a mel-shanti - the chief priest, who supervises the rituals in ceremonial robe. The religious colour palette is white and yellow - a carryover of the “pitambara” concpept of Lord Krishna’s lucky drapes that reflects the power of Jupiter and Saturn.
Many devotees weigh themselves against bananas, jaggery, money or gold - which is then offered to the deity. “I want to take part in the traditional thulabharam or weighing ritual,” 57-year-old N. Veeraswamy, native of Tirupati town, told IANS. He was undecided what he would “weigh himself in” - jaggery or bananas.
“Bananas and coins are easy to handle,” he said after deliberating with the priests.
Guruvayur is a cultural hub. A ‘koothambalam’ or pillared performance stage that hosts classical music and dance renditions in praise of the lord round the year has several myths associated with it.
It is said that a 16th century Guruvayur saint, Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, who was suffering from rheumatism, was cured after he composed ’shlokas’ or couplets in praise of the lord.
“A fire in 1970 destroyed several ancient murals on the temple surface in the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum). It was difficult to restore the murals,” a spokesperson for the temple said.
A dearth of mural artists prompted the authorities to set up an Institute of Mural Painting in the premises.
Guruvayur may be steeped in spirituality, but it never fails to amaze the odd pilgrim looking beyond the towering temple spire.
It has a thriving bazaar that hawks artefacts and Kerala saris - six yards of butter cotton and silks - and ethnic white drapes for men. The temple has a dress code for pilgrims. “Women have to wear a sari and men the drape and a shoulder wrap to enter the premises,” a temple trust official said.
During the wedding season that peaks during Onam, the government guest houses serve a full-course Kerala wedding feast - a spread of 21 ethnic vegetarian curries and payasam (milk and rice pudding). The feast completes the pilgrimage. And the traveller returns with the lord’s sparkle in his eyes.
Otherwise too, a wedding feast in the holy town of Guruvayur can be ordered at will - for a pilgrimage to Guruvayur is not complete without a sumptuous platter served on plantain leaves.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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