“There shines in holy temple of Guruvayur what at first appears to be an image but in reality, the Truth-Consciousness and Bliss, the Brahman, the Supreme, the incomparable, the incomprehensible, limitless, the ultimate end which all the scriptures, Vedas and human seek. Blessed indeed is the humanity that such a divine Supreme exists among them as the image of Sri Krishna”(Sandranandava…Narayaneeyam, Canto 1 Verse 1)
“Narayaneeyam”, which hails the glory of Guruvayurappa, begins with the above verse. Blessed indeed is one who is able to set foot to this holy land of Guruvayur, known as the ‘Heaven on Earth’ (Boologa Vaikunta). As he steps in through the tower gate and reaches the precincts, he hears the sound of bells ringing, devotional music being rendered, mantra being chanted, sacred names, “Narayana”, “Narayana” being recited and he is transcended to a new world of divinity. Being in the queue that moves forward at a very slow pace, he anxiously looks forward to that great moment when he would be before Lord Guruvayurappa. He has no other thought now except that of Guruvayurappa. Normally, preparing for a happy event or remain in expectation of a great event gives more happiness than the event itself. The devotee is also happy at the prospect of seeing his favourite God, Guruvayurappa. Reciting the sacred names of the Lord, he moves forward and reaches the second gate. Now, like a lightening that suddenly appears in the horizon and goes, he gets the glimpse of the Lord from a little distance, in between the two heads of the devotees in front. The recitation of Narayana mantra reaches a crescendo. At last, when he stands just in front of sanctum sanctorum and see Krishna in his magnificence, whose chest, ears and head adorned with ornaments, the body with garlands made of flowers of pleasant perfume and colours and waist draped in yellow attire, he is overwhelmed beyond words. After the worship, he moves sideways so that others can also share the same experience. He returns with a sense of great spiritual fulfilment, the experience that he would cherish in his heart for ever.
According to legend, the image of Maha Vishnu, made of precious and rare Anjana stone, was given by Mahavishnu Himself to Brahma. From Brahma the idol changed hands of many Rishis and ultimately reached Vasudeva, who in turn gave it to his son, Krishna. It was consecrated at Dwaraka. In view of the impending deluge, Krishna asked Udhava to advise Brahaspati, the Deva Guru, to look for the idol which will come floating after the flood. The Deva Guru took the help of Lord of the Wind and of Vayu, got the idol and started searching for a suitable place down South. They descended on the banks of a lake, Rudra Teertha, the holy place where Lord Siva was doing penance. Lord Siva then suggested that the idol of Vishnu be consecrated there itself. The Lord then moved over to a nearby location and resumed his Tapas. The place where Lord Siva continued his Tapas has come to be known as Mammiyur Mahadeva temple.
As the image was installed by Guru and Vayu at this location, the place got the name ‘Guruvayur’. According to this theory, the temple is more than 5000 years old but based on the available records; the temple belongs to 17th century. Pandya King happened to know about the divinity prevailing in this temple and he undertook its renovation in a big scale. The idol of Krishna is about 4 feet tall but its glory is high as Himalayas. It is in standing position with four arms, carrying the conch, mace, disc and lotus. Bhagavan Vishnu manifests as Krishna at Guruvayur. What we see at sanctum and sanctorum is not a mere idol. It is Brahman, beyond time, space and place and beyond attributes (Nirguna) and yet he manifests as Krishna, full of compassion, love and grace, manifested, ever present at Guruvayur to elevate the devotees to the state of truth, Consciousness and Bliss (Sath Chith Ananda). It is said that Adi Sankara has prescribed the Puja practices for the temple. “Oh Krishna who killed the demon Kamsa and Chanura, who brought infinite bliss to Devaki, who came as the Universal Guru, I worship you”, said Adi Sankara in his Krishnashtakam.
The most important part of worship is Nirmalya Darshanam in the early morning in which the God is seen with the garlands that remained during the night. There is a belief that after the closure of gates, Devas come in the night and worship. So, seeing the God in early morning with the same garlands and attire in which Devas worshipped God, is considered very auspicious. The next part of the ritual is Vakacharthu, the act of sprinkling the idol with Vaka powder which is made by powdering the branches of the precious Vaka tree. There are many other rituals like Abhishekam (anointment) Puja, Siveli (procession of elephant with the idol), Ucha Puja (Noon puja) Deepa Aradhana, Athazha Puja (the night worship) etc., each ritual unique in its own way.
There is a long list of offerings to Guruvayurappan, such as butter, Paal Payasam, the sweet creamy dish made of sugar and milk, plantain fruit etc. Thulabaram is a ritual by which one balances himself with the weight of an article he has chosen. In Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 9-26) Krishna says: “Offer me a leaf, a flower or a fruit with devotion and I would accept it willingly. Here, we would recall an instance that happened before Kurukshetra war. When Krishna went Hastinapur to bring the two warring factions together, he was invited by Duryodhana for a sumptuous feast, but Krishna declined the offer and instead went to the residence of his devotee, Vidhura, as an uninvited guest and accepted the very simple food offered by Vidhura because it was offered with devotion.
Guruvayur wears a festive look on all days but when Guruvayur Ekadasi comes, the festivities defy description. Of the 24 Ekadasi in a year, the one which falls in the month of Vrichika is solemnized as Guruvayur Ekadasi. Devotees observe austerities during Ekadasi which reminds us of what Arut Prakasa Vallalar said: “Pasithu Iru” (Remain starved). The yearly festival, Guruvayur Utsavam, is a major event which begins on the day of Pushya in the month of Kumbham (February-March) and culminates on the 10th day. It consists of processions by caparisoned elephants, followed by different notes of percussion instruments and other fine arts like Kathakali, music, dance (Krishnanattam) etc. All the cultural events take place in the auditorium which is named after the Sri Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam (Melpathur Auditorium). Other auspicious events are Malayalam New Year, Vishu which falls in mid-April, Janmashtami, (August) and Kuchelar Day. As the years passed by, the glory of Guruvayurappa reached the all time high. There are many instances of Lord Guruvayurappan having heard the call of devotees and gave His Abhaya Hasta, the hand that protected and safeguarded the devotees from many adversities. As the flow of devotees increased, the need for an easy accessibility to Guruvayur was felt. Thanks to the initiative taken by Sri K. Karunakaran, the then Chief Minister, an ardent devotee, who used to visit Guruvayur on lst day of every Malayalam month, Guruvayur town was connected with the Railway net-work.
Maha Vishnu has manifested in earth in different forms and in different times to establish the principles of Bhagavata Dharma. Sri Krishna guided us through Bhagavad Gita, the paths of karma, Jnana and devotion, as a doctrine, in an impersonal way. He also guided us through Srimad Bhagavatam, in a personal way by means of stories. It was from Krishna Sri Narada Maharshi heard Bhagavatam and conveyed it to Sri Ved Vyasa who composed Bhagavatam in its existing form. Apart from being an Avatar Purusha, Krishna is considered as Purusha or Bhagavan Himself. The divinity that surrounds Krishna, his compassion, his power, his majesty and his infinite qualities are indescribable.
There was one devotee who described Krishna beautifully, who brought out the nectar from Srimad Bhagavatam and presented it to humanity as a remedy for all ills. He was Melpathur Sri Narayana Bhattathiri. Born at Melpathur Illam, situated on the banks of Bharatha River near Shoranur, Sri Narayana Bhattathiri gained knowledge of Sastras from his father, Matridatta, Vedas from another Master, Madhavacharya and grammar from Achyuta Pisharady. Over the years, Achyuta Pishardy became a Philosopher-guide to Bhattathiri. The Guru-Sishya relation was so intense that when the Guru has fallen victim to paralysis, Bhattathiri rushed and attended to his Guru with great love and care. He could not see his Guru suffering, went to Guruvayurappa and said that he was prepared to take upon himself the ailment of his Guru. By a divine intervention, it happened and Sri Pisharady was cured and his disciple, Bhattathiri became paralytic. Though Bhattathiri accepted it willingly, over the years he found that the pain was so unbearable that it distracted him from pursuing his devotion. He then vent to Guruvayur, gave expression of his devotion in 108 verses and sought remedy to his illness. ‘Narayaneeyam’ which he created not only brought remedy to his illness but also served as a guide for the welfare of whole humanity.
Bhattathiri started his work with the prayer that he should be able to undergo the eight-limbed discipline of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) (Canto 4), observe the discipline of self-control (Brahmacharya) and undertake introspection and meditation so that we will be able to compose a work of such epic proportion. As he described the different manifestations of Maha Vishnu, he became totally absorbed in his divine mission. Going by his description, it would appear as if he described them after witnessing those events. Narayaneeyam shows us the path of Dharma, the path of truth which leads to liberation. It says: “The mind, attached to the sense objects, is the only obstacle to reach God. Bhattathiri says “Oh Lord, manifesting as Kapila, you gave advice (Upadesa) to Devahuti how to overcome the adjuncts (Upadhis) of body, mind and senses and attain liberation”. Bhattathiri elaborately describes the various manifestations of Maha Vishnu, as boar to protect the earth from being submerged, as Matsya (fish) to save Vaivaswatha Manu from the deluge, as tortoise to support the Mandara mountain that was used to churn nectar from ocean, as Narasimha who emerged from the pillar and destroyed the ego of Hiranyakasipu, and as Lord Rama, who lived a life of truth and perfection (Uthama Purusha). Bhattathiri goes on describing how God liberated Gajendra from the clutches of a crocodile. Indradyumna was an ardent devotee of Maha Vishnu but due to the disrespect shown to Agasthya he was cursed to be born as elephant. However, when under the grip of the crocodile, he cried out for help, took out a lotus from the lake and offered to God, the Lord Vishnu appeared and rescued him. Bhattathiri describes how the Lord came as Vamana and blessed Mahabali who had surrendered. ‘Narayaneeyam’ becomes most enlightening and endearing one when it comes to describe Krishna. Out of 100 chapters of Narayaneeyam, fifty two chapters are devoted to Krishna, his divine sports and frolics at his young age, Krishna as a thief who stole butter, as a protector of the residents of Vrindavan, as a melodious player of flute, as a lover of Gopikas, as a resident of Mathura, as the supreme power who liberated Kamsa, as the consort of Radha, as Arujuna’s charioteer in the Kurukshetra war, as a friend of Kuchela and above all as the Jagatguru who gave the right direction through Bhagavad Gita. ‘Narayaneeyam’ describes not only different manifestations of Hari but also the qualities of dispassion and dedication shown by devotees like Kapila, Ambarisha and Kuchela.
In the Chapter on Bhagavata Dharma (Canto 91) Bhattathiri elaborates on devotion. “He who continues his devotional practice like hearing and chanting with a mind that is pure and ever under control, attains the state of Para Bhakti (supreme devotion) (Canto 15-5). “He who adopts devotion and seeks your Lotus Feet liberates himself from the world of Samsara, the life of repeated birth and death.” He says that the world is an illusion and one should never get attracted to its passing images. “Though the objects of enjoyment would stay with us for some time, they are sure to leave us after sometime. When the objects of enjoyments leave us on their accord, the mind gets disturbed. Then why not voluntarily discard them and renounce them now itself so that you save the disturbance of the mind.” “Let me overcome the sufferings which this worldly life brings, let me rise above this material life and direct my mind to Thy feet, never deviating from it even for a second. Let me transcend from the world of unrealities, remain detached from both joy and sorrow, remain at peace at all times of prosperity and adversity and always meditate on you.” (91-7) “Oh Lord, give me a heart full of devotion which would express by way of respect towards your devotees, compassion towards the needy, tolerance towards persons in ignorance and indifference towards antagonists. (91-8) “Oh God, give me a mind that seeks the company of saints and sages and that yearns to listen to the advice of the Guru and a mind that is dedicated to walk the path of truth. (91-10).
In another verse (91-5), Bhattathiri says; “I should always keep chanting Thy sacred names, Thy incarnations and thy benign qualities. Having immersed in my devotion towards you, I may sometime laugh, I may cry, or shout or sing aloud or dance in ecstasy and move about like one who has lost one’s link with the world around and its conventions. Oh Lord! Do bestow me this state of mind.” This verse brings before us another similar instance in the life of Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra. The Yoga Guru, Sri Paramasivendra was an erudite Jnani who initiated his disciple to the order of Sanyasa and named him as Sadasiva Brahmendra. Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra was free from mind and body, never complied with the normal standards of conduct and ever remained in bliss. On one occasion, he was dancing in ecstasy. Seeing this, another devotee went to his Guru Paramasivendra and complained that Sadasiva was moving around like a madman. What the Guru said surprised him. “I eagerly aspire for that day when I would also reach that ecstatic state”.
Having described the God in his splendour and glory, Bhattathiri now comes to Canto 100. It is now, when he reaches the end of his work, he gets the clear Darshan of Hari in his magnificent form. Earlier in Canto 2 also, Bhattathiri has described the Lord, His crown equalling the brilliance of the sun, forehead having the upward mark of the sandal paste, His neck adorned by ornaments, His eyes signalling his compassion. This description was based on his knowledge of Bhagavatam. Now, when he is getting the clear Darshan of the Lord, he becomes eloquent and words start flowing from him in beautiful poetic verses from his own experience. He reaches the zenith of happiness which he expresses in 11 beautiful glowing verses (Canto 100) beginning with the words ‘Agre Pasyami”. “How blessed I am to have the vision of the Lord in such splendid form!” he says. This description is regarded as the crowning glory of ‘Narayaneeyam’, and a humble attempt is made here to give an approximate translation of these 11 verses. Narayaneeyam is an ocean which contains a vast ocean of treasure. We can only take few drops from it to sprinkle all over us.
“I see a radiance before me that excels the effulgence of Kalaya blue flowers. Looking at it, I experience a great sense of bliss like being bathed in the shower of nectar. Then, in the centre, I see an enchanting, charming and budding young boy, surrounded by enlightened sages like Narada and women, who are the embodiment of Upanishads (Agre Pasyami….1)”
“ I see thick locks of curly hair, adorned by jewels and garlands, the eyes glistening brilliantly and the broad fore-head with a mark of sandal paste, resembling the brightness of moon. (Neelabham 2)”
“Your eyes with their brows were moving beautifully just as the waves having their sprinkling lashes were moving. Those eyes, so charming like the lotus flower, radiate the light of peace and serenity. (Hrudhyam 3)”
“Oh Lord, how beautiful you look with your shining sharp nose, your cheeks dazzling like emeralds, your ear-ring ornament reflecting a bright light, your colourful lips partly revealing the shining teeth behind and above all the smile on your face that brings happiness all around. (Uthungollasi…4)”
“Oh Lord, fill my ears with the divine music that flow out of your flute; the music that symbolizes the Brahman, the music that comes through the play of your lips, the music that is produced by the deftly movement of your fingers, the music that radiates an aura of peace and serenity all around (Bahudwan Dena….5)”
“I concentrate my mind on your neck coloured by the reflection of the Kausthubham jewel, on your chest beautified by the Srivasta mark and adorned by sparkling necklaces and colourful fragrant flowers. (UtsarKausthuba….6) “
“Oh Lord, we meditate upon your beautiful form that emit the pleasant perfume of aroma and that attract the whole world. We meditate on your waste, though slender but that embodies the whole world and we meditate on your body that is adorned by the yellow attire, ornaments and garlands (Ange Pa…7)”
“Oh Lord, I meditate on your thighs which even Goddess Lakshmi would admire, which are covered with yellow clothes so that the world does not get excited by its beauty. I also meditate on your knees which appear like caskets for gifting the devotees and I meditate on your fore-legs which are enchanting.(Uroo chaaro….8)
Even while composing Narayaneeyam, Bhattathiri was writhing in pain and so he ended up every verse with a prayer for the cure of his disease. However, as he went on with his work and came to the end of it, he became totally absorbed in his devotion towards Krishna. He became more Krishna-Conscious than body-conscious. He forgot all about the illness in the body. The more he thought of Krishna, the less he thought of himself. In fact, Bhattathiri thanked his body which prompted him to seek Krishna, the Lord whose grace elevated him from the realm of his body. However, he pleaded for healthy body (Arogyam) which could serve as means to find spiritual fulfilment. Narayaneeyam not only brought relief to Bhattathiri but it continues to bestow the grace of Guruvayurappa , a long life, a healthy life and a prosperous life (Ayur Arogya Sowkyam) to all those who recite it with shraddha (involvement). It is unique for its language, the Sanskrit, for its literary beauty, for the philosophy it conveys, for its style of description and above all for the spirit of devotion it kindles in the heart of devotees. ‘Narayaneeyam’, the essence of Srimad Bhagavatam, that hails the glory of Lord Narayana, is considered as an outstanding devotional hymn. It is incomparable in its description, invaluable as a devotional work, excellent in its narration. Narayaneeyam was completed by Bhattathiri on 27th November 1587, exactly 100 days after he started it.
There were occasions when the Lord guided him and even corrected him. He was describing Hanuman who had succeeded in locating Sita. Hanuman then rushed to Rama to give the good news. Hanuman also gave to Rama the crest-jewel (Choodamani) which Sita had given him to be passed on to Rama. At this situation, Bhattathiri was in a dilemma. If he had mentioned “gave the ornament to Rama” it would exceed the meter length. If he had mentioned the words “gave to him” it would be perfect alignment. Since the use of the singular term ‘Tey’ would be disrespectful, Bhattathiri hesitated to use it and wondered how to proceed further. Then the Lord Himself gave him the vision and consent for the usage of the singular term, ‘tey”. Accordingly, Bhattathiri concluded the line as “Ratnam Dhatho de”. (See Canto 35-2) .
Having described the Narasimha Avatara (the Lord in half-lion form) exactly as it happened, Bhattathiri addressed Guruvayurappa as “Oh! Prahlada Priya” (the Lord who is dear to Prahlada). Suddenly, a voice came from somewhere which said: “I am not merely Prahlada-priya; I am all Bhakta Priya (dear to all devotees). Therefore, we would now have a glimpse of some Bhagavan’s Bhaktas who are dear to Him.
Among the many devotees of Lord Guruvayurappa, the one who occupies the prime position is of course Sri Narayana Bhattathiri. He was afflicted by a paralytic illness and all attempts made to cure the illness turned out in vain. He then decided to approach Lord Guruvayurappa with a prayer in the form of a composition. Having received guidance from Pundit, Sri Thunchathu Ezhuthachan about the nature, style and content of his work, he went to the Guruvayur temple, took a seat in a corner and initiated his divine venture.
According to the doctrine of Advaita, the Brahman alone is real, the one without a second. Brahman is the one reality which is reflected as the Self (Atman) within. He who transcends the adjuncts (Upadhis) like body, mind and Indriyas would realize Brahman shining within. (Aham Brahmasmi). Though Bhattathiri began with a prayer for a healthy body, gradually he has dispelled the wrong notion, “I am the body”. He said that the body would ultimately perish and what shines for ever is the Self (Atma) (Canto 93-9). We find that he has equated Krishna with Brahman, the Absolute Reality. In the concluding verse, he says: “Though the world of multiplicity is perceived, it is only the non-dual Self that is apprehended, just as gold only is seen and not the ornaments and just as the rope only seen in the darkness and not the snake” (Canto 98-7). In fact, the path of devotion and the path of Jnana are complimentary to each other as one leads to the other.
Apart from the need for devotion, Bhattathiri also stresses the need for respect and reverence towards Guru. His veneration towards his Guru, Pisharady is unique and it continued even till the last moment of his Master. Even while lying in bed, readying himself to bid farewell from the world, the learned Master, Pisharody, composed a poem: “As my body is losing its energy, the voice becoming faint, the eyes losing their vision, the breath getting weaker, all indicating that my life is coming to an end, Oh! Lord Siva, the consort of Kartyayani, liberate me, impart into my ears the …………..mantra.” As the tongue could not move and the voice became chocked, the Guru could not use the adjective he intended and looked at his disciple. His disciple, Bhattathiri promptly filled the gap and completed the sentence with the word, ‘Taraka’ (Taraka mantra means the saving Mantra).
Poonthanam, (1547-1640), a contemporary of Bhattathiri, was an ardent devotee of Lord Guruvayurappa. He was devotion personified. Though a child was born to him few years after marriage, it died just before the start of the birth-day celebrations. Though Poonthanam felt grief, he accepted it as his fate and considered Krishna as his son. “When Krishna is dancing in my heart, why do I need a child?”, he said. Poonthanam then dedicated his entire life for worshipping Lord Guruvayurappa. He was the fine example of the dictum ‘devotion paves the way for Jnana’. This is evident from his immortal works, ‘Jnana Pana” (the pot that contains the treasure of knowledge). His role in influencing and directing the people towards the path of devotion was indeed great. When Poonthanam felt sad for not being able go to the temple due to his old age, it is said that he heard the voice of God asking him to stay back at his house where Krishna would visit him. This is substantiated from the fact that Poonthanam was often found speaking to himself, without anyone around. The house that he resided, known as Poonthanam Illam” is considered as a sacred monument and as a historical museum preserved and protected by the Government.
There is one song that is heard or recited by Malayalee devotees all over and that is the Jnana Paana composed by Poonthanam. It begins by invoking the names of Krishna: “Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardhana, Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare”. “Let the sacred names which my Gurunatha has placed on my tongue remain forever so that this life I have taken would become worthwhile.” “ I know not what all happened yesterday nor do I know what would happen tomorrow. I also do not know what would happen to this body to which I am so proud now” “Theories there are many, their interpretations are many but hear from me the easy way for liberation; reciting the Names of God.” “We are not born together. We also do not die together. Then, why during the intervening period, we struggle for supremacy?” “Seek liberation from the cycle of life and death by removing the motivation behind Karma and the best place for this is our own land, Bharath”.
Bhattathiri was a famous scholar in Sanskrit while Poonthanam was a simple devotee. Once, Poonthanam took his works, ‘Sri Krishna Karunamrutam” to Bhattathiri and requested the author of ‘Narayaneeyam” to review and edit it. Bhattathiri, who considered Sanskrit as the prime language and was even proud of his knowledge of this language, did not oblige. On the next day of this incident, the disease which had left Bhattathiri made a comeback. Bhattathiri got the message and went to Poonthanam and apologised. In all his works, Poonthanam emphasised the importance of Namasankeerthan. He said chanting the names of God or remaining ever in the thoughts of God is the easiest path to liberation. He was an excellent commentator of devotion. Poonthanam’s role in revival of Bhakti movement in Kerala is phenomenon.
Sri Madhavan Nambudiri (1920-19), born near Pattambi, on the banks of river, Bharatha received training on Veda and scriptures from his father who was a great scholar. The ancestral house to which he belonged was called ‘Anjam’ and he came to be known as Anjam Madhavan Namboodiri. Just as any other youth of that period, the young Madhavan Namboodiri also came under the influence of communism. It was his uncle, Trivikraman Namboodiri, the Chief Priest at Guruvayur temple, who re-directed him to another path, a higher path; the path of devotion. It is the path of Nishkama Karma where you work without any desire or expectation, the path where you need to gain nothing but the grace of God. It is the path shown by Srimad Bhagavatam. The reasoning behind these words of truth appealed Anjam. They appealed him because the divine culture which he had inherited was already within and was actually waiting for such an opportunity to unfold. Apparently, a transformation has taken place and Anjam Madhavan Namboodiri, a materialist has retraced his step and has become a spiritualist. Now, the presence of Guruvayurappa was experienced in every cell of his body. He adopted Mekkad Neelakanta Sadguru as his Guru, started chanting the names of God and soon there emerged the real Ajam Sri Madhavan Nambudiri, the name that spells devotion, dispassion and dedication. He thus sowed the seed for another kind of revolution, the Bhagavatam movement. The temple precincts, the consort hall, the dining hall and every platform became a stage for his discourse. Wherever Anjam spoke, Bhajana Samaj at Calcutta or Ashtika Samaj at Mumbai, at Haridwar or at foreign countries, devotees came in large number and experienced the presence of Lord Guruvayurappa. The ‘Narayanalayam’ which he established on the northern side of the temple serves even now as an institution to fulfil the spiritual aspirations of the devotees. A devotee visiting Guruvayur temple considers his visit complete only after visiting Narayanalayam and getting the blessings from Anjam. The Bhagavathothama, who lived in accordance with Bhagavata Dharma, who created a Bhakti movement across the nation, who kept uttering the names of “Narayana” “Narayana” always, passed away at the age of 78. For the first time, Guruvayur, the town used to be vibrant always with great devotional and cultural activities became still and silent. This writer, who was blessed enough to stay together with the venerable sage at Calcutta recollects his memories. While leaving Calcutta, Sri Anjam said “feel free to ask me anything” and this writer made a request: “My mother who is your ardent devotee would be happy to see you.” Few weeks later, I received a long letter from my mother stating that while engaged in her house-hold duties she was pleasantly surprised to see 4/5 vehicles reaching her house and Sri Anjan Namboodiri alighting from the first one and coming to her house. She said she had heard devotee going to God but this experience of God coming to devotee was unheard of.
Till 1960, the glory of Lord Guruvayurappan was confined only to the boundaries of Kerala. One could straightway come, even sit on the Mandap in front of the shrine and meditate. If he happened to come during the lunch time, he could even sit on the side room, inside the temple and take food, the privilege this writer enjoyed during early 60s, but today all that is changed. Now, the glory of Guruvayurappa has reached throughout the Bharat and beyond. If the world has come to know of Guruvayurappa as the God of infinite compassion, as the God who cures all ailments, as the God who liberates, it is mainly because of Sengalipuram Sri Anantharama Dikshithar, known as Upanyasa Chakravarthi (An emperor in the art of devotional discourse). He learned Sastras from the same Master, Sri Swaminatha Sastrigal who taught to Kanchi Acharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal. His heart was full of devotion, mind always pure and at peace but a disease in the body distracted him. He then came to Guruvayur and prayed for a body free from disease so that he could continue his devotion unhindered. Guruvayurappan heard his prayer and blessed him and Dikshitar continued his discourses. Wherever he rendered Upanyasa, Calcutta or Mumbai, he described the beauty, the grace, the compassion, the divinity of Guruvayurappa. He said whenever Bhattathiri was in doubt and not able to proceed with his composition for want of certain details, the Lord gave him the right vision and even prompted him. “After the composition of a canto while Bhattathiri was wondering whether he had done it rightly, prompt came the divine approval from the Lord,” said Dikshitar. He even used to pronounce the approving words uttered by God. Unheard of God of such magnificence, the audience were spell-bound. By repeating these lines often, Dikshitar has brought before the audience the very scene of the incident. Soon thereafter, a perennial stream of devotees started flowing towards Guruvayur. Dikshitar has also done Bhagavatha Sapthaham at Guruvayur many times. This writer who had the privilege of being the audience of Dikshithar has also seen the large portrait of Dikshithar prominently displayed inside the temple of Guruvayur in the 60s.
Palakkad has presented many gifted singers to the world of music. There were many artists who rendered vocal and instrumental music in perfection. But there was one who was more than an artist, more than a musician and high in devotion. He knew the meaning of the song, rendered it with bhava (involvement) and used the song as a bridge to reach God. He was Chembai Sri Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, who owned a rich voice and who said that he owed all his talents, knowledge and voice to Lord Guruvayurappa. When, suddenly he found that he has lost his voice, he approached Lord Guruvayurappa, prayed and soon he regained his voice. One of his favourite songs was ‘Karuna Cheivan Endu Thamasam Krishna” (Oh! Krishna, why there is so much delay in conferring your grace?) He popularized the Lalithadasar composition, “Paavana Guru”. While he rendered the song in his own inimitable style, the whole auditorium experienced an ecstasy. He was not only a singer par-excellence but created many singers like T.V. Gopalakrishna , K.J. Yesudas, P. Leela and others. During the music programme at All India Radio, the announcer did not introduce T.V. Gopalakrishnan, as this Mridamgist was not their graded artist. However, in the midst of the consort, Chembai said in his Palakkad Tamil: “Mridamgam Vaasikkarathu Gopalakrishnan akkum.” It is a great coincidence that exactly while rendering a devotional song at the Ottapalam Sri Krishna Temple, where he did his inaugural consort (Arangetram), he breathed his last. The Annual Music Festival regularly held at Melpathur Auditorium in front of Guruvayur temple is named after Chembai.
According to Bhagavatam, Indradyumna, a King in his previous birth had to be born as an elephant (Gajendra) in his next birth as a result of karma. While going near the lake, he was caught by a crocodile. However much he tried he could not extricate himself. However, the devotion he nourished in his earlier birth now came to his rescue. He cried out God’s name, “Narayana”, “Kesava””Govinda” and the Lord of infinite compassion heard the call and rescued and liberated his devotee. This reminds us of another elephant who by virtue of his pure devotion in his earlier birth was honoured as the main elephant of Guruvayur temple, the elephant that was blessed enough to carry the idol of Gurvayurappa (thidambu or kolam) during the procession (Seeveli). Only when he sees the priest who carries the deity of the Lord, he would bend down and allow him to climb over. All others who carry the umbrellas and Alavattam had to climb up from behind. The moment, the deity of Guruvayurappan was on his top, he raised his head majestically and moved on. “Guruvayur Kesavan”, as he was known, had the distinction of serving the Lord for over 50 years. Then, the inevitable happened. After he participated in the procession, he came in front of temple and dropped down with his trunk raised as a mark of prostration before the shrine. Guruvayur Kesavan fell down for ever, on the sacred day of Ekadasi day, on 2nd December 1976 and the whole Guruvayur town witnessed a grief never felt before. The anniversary of his death is still celebrated at Guruvayur. His tusks are placed just above the entrance to the temple. The temple authorities put up a statue of the same height of Kesavan outside the temple Never before in the history of any temple, an elephant was associated with God, worshipped, venerated and respected by the people all over as Guruvayur Kesavan.
Karrooramma became a widow at an early age without even being blessed with a child. However, being an ardent devotee, she adopted Guruvayur Krishna as her son. Perhaps, it was God’s way of drawing her closer to Him. The more she distanced herself from the world of relations and friends, the more she came closer to Krishna. There are occasions when she experienced the presence of Krishna in her home. As she became old, her devotion became more intense and she continued to recite the names of God. One day, a young boy came to her and said that he was an orphan and he has come to stay with her. Though Karooramma accepted him, she did not consider the boy as another form of Guruvayurappan. He helped Karooramma in her house-hold duties and remained as an affectionate child. The child’s antecedents is a mystery and nobody could guess why choose Karooramma’s house.
Sri Krishnan Namboodiri dedicated his life to the service of his brother, Sri Anjam Sri Madhavan Namboodiri. Wherever his brother and Guru went and wherever his Guru did his discourse, Krishnan Namboodiri was by his side. This practice of following his Guru like a shadow got him another name, Lakshmana, the brother of Lord Rama. Having received the blessings of Sri Anjam and also of Sri Guruvayurappan, Sri Krishnan Namboodiri too excelled in the art of devotional discourse. A huge number of devotees used to assemble to listen to his Bhagavata Saptaham. Sri Krishnan Namboodiri also continued the great service being initiated by Sri Anjam in the name of Sri Guruvayurappan Trust. He started the ritual of conducting the Nama Parayanam (chanting of the names of God) known as Koti Archana to which devotees participated in great number. Apart from then ritual of daily Nama Japam, Sri Krishnan also carried out many social welfare measures like feeding the poor, serving the essential necessities of devotees. He visited many countries to convey the message of Lord Krishna. He reached the Lotus Feet of Guruvayurappa on 4th September 2011.
Sri Damal Ramakrishnan, is a renowned scholar. Though he speaks on many subjects relating to Sanatana Dharma, when he comes to speak about Narayaneeyam, he really does a miracle; transforming the entire audience to a new world of devotion. Though ‘Damal; is the name of the village near Kanchipuram to which he belonged, it was Guruvayur that his heart longed for. Though he took up profession as Income Tax Practitioner as a necessity, it was the divine duty of Upanyasam he adopted by choice.
P. Leela, gifted with a divine voice, received training in music from Chembai Sri Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. When Guruvayur Devaswom decided to bring out an album on Narayaneeyam, the choice of the singer fell on P. Leela. Though she received many awards, she considered this recognition as a great honour. She also rendered ‘Jnanappana’ which is still heard by devotees with great interest. There are many other devotees like Sri Vilvamangalam Swamy, Malliyur Sankaran Namboodiri and the list goes on.
Those are the voices of devotion, the voice that we heard through discourse, through songs, through hymns. But there are many voices that we do not hear; the voice of devotion expressed through silence. The devotion towards Lord Guruvayurappa is planted at such young age in Kerala that every one claims Guruvayurappa as his own and in all occasions of either joy or sorrow, they cry out: “Ente Guruvayurappa”. Instead of claiming Guruvayurappan as mine, would it not be better to say that ‘I belong to Guruvayurappa’? Whichever way they say, what is needed is the unity of the devotee with Guruvayurappa, the merger of Jiva with Paramatma.