The richness of India’s spiritual traditions finds its fullest expression in Guruvayur, one of India’s holiest places. Also spelled Guruvayoor, it is home to the amazing five millennium old Guruvayur Shri Krishna Temple, one of the busiest pilgrimage sites in the country. Legend has it, that the temple was built by the divine architect Vishwakarma himself.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the idol is made of a rare stone known as Patala Anjana. If you are anywhere near Guruvayoor in February or March, don’t miss the famous Ulsavam festival, when you can enjoy great music and dance performances, as well as elephant races and processions.
Places to See in the Temple Town
Shree Krishna Temple
The entire town of Guruvayoor rose to international fame because of the popularity of the Great Krishna temple, thus the temple and its surrounding temples are the prime attraction. Nearly 6-10 million devotees visit annually and it is one of the richest temples in South India. On an average, 40,000 to 50,000 people visit the temple on daily basis.
Things to keep in mind while visiting the Temple
The temple upholds several rigid traditions and customs unlike other Kerala temples.
Non-Hindus are not allowed even inside the perimeter of the temple complex. The temple guards and police can pull aside anyone found wearing other religious symbols like crosses or the Muslim Namaz mark. Westerners and whites are generally regarded as non-Hindus, even if they have converted to Hinduism. Only certificates endorsed by Arya Samaj-Kozhikode will be accepted as a formal document of conversion. Dharmic religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism are considered as part of Hinduism, hence they are allowed. Sikhs must remove their turbans and kirpans to enter into temple.
The temple advises children under 2 years not to enter the inner layer of the temple, though their entry is not prohibited. This advice is maintained, because in the event small children urinate inside the temple, the parents will be liable to pay fines for purification rites.
The dress code is extremely rigid inside the temple. Men are not allowed to wear shirts, baniyan or vests and must remain topless while inside the complex. They have to wear strictly Kerala Mundu (only white/saffron/black/blue) and are free to wear a shawl to cover the upper body. Wearing lungis or checked dhothi is banned inside. Until recently ladies had to wear sarees, but the rule has been relaxed recently. The current dress code allows ladies to wear churidars, pyjamas and kurthas. However sleeveless or short tops, pants, shorts and denims are not allowed inside. Covering the head is strictly prohibited inside temple for both gents and ladies. Children under 12 are allowed to wear trousers.
The temple prohibits mobile phones, video cameras, any kind of electronic device, bags (except ladies small hand-bags and gents purses) etc, which must be deposited at the cloak room. Just before the main gate, there is a police check-post where all devotees have to undergo a pat-down. In the event they find any of the above items, you will be sent out of the queue to deposit the items in the cloak room.
Unlike other South Indian temples, there is no special queue system to bypass. All devotees have to stand in one single large queue. There are no special darshan tickets or out-of-way procedures to skip the queue. The exception to this rule is for senior citizens above 60 and VIPs who have security concerns or protocol laws.
The temple closes from 1 to 4 PM and from 9 PM to 3 AM on the next day, where no darshan is allowed. In addition to this, the temple closes for a few breaks for certain rituals like 9-10AM and 12-1PM. On special days, a special rite known as Udayasthamana Pooja is performed which means there is a break for darshan every 10 mins due to the special nature of this pooja.
The temple is believed to have been constructed by Lord Parasurama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) himself, on request of gods. The original temple was just the sanctum sanatorium. The other complexes were later built by various kings and other rich men, as gratification of their devotion to the presiding deity.
The outer ring of the temple was constructed by the Great Zamorin King Manadeva Var
Offerings and Pujas
The main offering of Guruvayur is Thulabharam (Scale) where the offerer gives various items according to his body weight, determined by weighing himself on a scale with an equivalent amount of offering in other side of scale. The lord’s favourite items are yellow bananas (Kadali variety). Other items like butter, ghee, sugar, Thulsi leaves etc are also offered in amounts equal to the weight of the offerer. Some rich people offer in terms of gold or coins, but this is rare.
The second most important offering is performances of Krishnanattam. Krishnanattam is an exclusive art-form, unique to Guruvayur temple, not performed elsewhere. The art-form is the predecessor of Kathakali, hence the costumes looks similar. 10 stories of Krishna’s life are adapted in this highly Sanskritzed dance-drama. The art-form was composed by Zamorin King H.H Maharaja Manadeva Varma in the 14th century, which later inspired the composition of Kerala’s celebrated art-form Kathakali. Krishnaattam is performed daily in evenings throughout the year except in the monsoon month of July. Prior bookings are needed have performances of the art-form in one’s name and performances are done outside the temple, thus allowing anyone to watch the art-form.
Another important offering is Udayasthamana Pooja, which means Dawn-To-Dusk Poojas, consisting of 15 special poojas along with other routine poojas inside the temple, apart from 5 special processions (Srivelis) and feasts. The pooja ends with smoking of the temple premises with a special kind of incense, known as Thripukka. The pooja is of high demand and completely booked till 2060.
Chuttuvillakku or Lamp Illumination is another important offering, done on every evening. The temple walls have mounted lamp posts all over and its a treat to see the entire temple lighted up with lamps.
Chuttuvilakku or Lamp Illumination around the temple
The temple has presence of Goddess Durga, which is considered to be older than the main temple. The important offering to her is Bhagavati Azhal, where 10 or 20 wicks soaked in oil are kept in a sheath of plantains and lighted before the goddess Bhagavati, mostly done by ladies.
Major temples near Guruvayoor
Mammiyoor Shiva Temple. The large Shiva Temple, is located just 500 meter from the Main temple. Its believe Lord Shiva was the original owner of Guruvayur temple and decided to relocate to current site to place the Vishnu idol in Guruvayur temple. Hence its customary for all devotees visiting Guruvayur temple to visit Mammiyoor temple before leaving the town, to complete the pilgrimage. The temple has 2 independent shrines, one for Lord Shiva and one for Lord Vishnu, both facing east.
Parthasarathy Temple. Located within a kilometer from main temple, its a must see temple, with its main shrine built in form a gigantic chariot and Lord Krishna sitting as Parthasarathy, advocating Gita to Arjuna. The main deities are Krishna reciting Holy Gita and Arjuna hearing it. Both idols are installed facing east. This temple was installed by Adi Sankaracharya, and after the invasion of Tipu Sultan, it went without daily poojas for many years, until Anjam Madhavan Namboothiri, the great Bhagavatha scholar, renovated it and daily poojas were started. Lord Ganesh, The Nine Planet Gods, Lord Ayyappa and Adi Sankaracharya are also installed.
Thiruvenkatachalapathy Temple. This temple is located near Parthasarathy Temple. This is also called ‘Kerala Tirupati’, as the main deity is LordVenkateswara, who is another form of Lord Vishnu worshipped in the world famous Tirupati Temple. According to the legends, the temple was installed byRamanujacharya, the founder of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, and later an idol of Goddess Bhadrakali was also installed. But due to the invasion of Tipu Sultan, the idol of the Lord was destroyed and no one knew whose idol it was until 1973, when a Devaprasna was held in the temple to know the real nature of the deity. Later, in 1977, a new idol was made and taken to the temple. Now both the Lord and the Goddess have equal importance.
PunathurKotta- The Elephant Palace
Punathur Elephant Palace, Punnathoorkotta (4 Km from West Nada). Believe it or not, you will see a sprawling large palace and its courtyards for a luxurious life for its residents, none other than 65 large elephants. Guruvayurappan (Lord of Guruvayur temple) is the owner of largest number of domesticated elephants, all offered by devotees. Being lord’s own elephants, their accommodation was arranged in a nearby palace fort, which was renovated from its ruins to its present splendor. The 65 elephants spends their full day, eating, bathing and playing with other inmates as they are not allowed to work elsewhere. Many elephants are famous in Kerala, being star elephants and have huge number of fans across Kerala. Such star elephants, gets more splendid accommodation and services. Most of the elephants are used only for temple procession during festivals and for certain ceremonies. The annual elephant feast and Gajapooja (elephant worship) are some of the tradition ceremonies held inside the Palace. Also one can see the grand Punathur Palace, built strictly in traditional Kerala style.
The Statue of Maraprabhu
Statues of Maraprabhu and Guruyaur Kesavan, South Nada (Sree Valsam Guest house complex).Guruvayur Devasom has erected two giant statues at gardens of Sree Valsam guest house complex. The statue of Guruvayur Kesavan, one of the most celebrated elephants of Guruvayurappan’s stables was erected as a memorial to the deceased elephant, who was crowned as Gajaraja (Elephant king) several times during its career as Lord’s main elephant. Another landmark, located just near to Kesavan Memorial is the giant statue of Mara-Prabhu. The statue is a creative interpretion of Lord Krishna as a trunk of giant banyan tree. The statue was erected based a traditional folk-lore story.
Gokulam Estates, (40 kms from temple at Vengad). Vrindavanam Gokulam Estate is a 100 acre estate at Vengad in Malapuram District under the possession of Devaswom. Known as Vrindavana Gokulam Estate, it owns 550 cows, one of the largest dairy farm in Kerala. The estate also has cultivation of coconuts ,cashew trees etc. along with palm and other vegetation which provide not only cash crops but also feed for the temple elephants and cattle.
Institute of Mural Painting. The institute is located at the east gate of the Guruvayur temple, established in 1989 is managed by Guruvayur Devaswom. This institute was founded by renowned master of mural painting, Shri Mammiyoor Krishnankutty. This institute follows a traditional Gurukula system with residential facilities for the students. It offers many courses for the art loving students. The courses offered include five year diploma courses in mural painting, aesthetics, sculpture and art. This institute arranges exhibitions, seminars and training related to the art and culture of Kerala. Many students from Kerala and other states undergo training here.
Devaswom Museum. Devaswom museum is located very close to Guruvayur temple’s east gate. The museum has many collections of antiques, temple materials, mural paintings, musical instruments and other valuable materials. The temple devaswom museum serves as a place to store valuable offerings in the temple. Devaswom museum displays the images and remains of famous religious poets like Melapthur and Poonthanam. Also it showcases adornments used in folk arts like Krishnanattam and Kathakali. The precious items used to adorn renowned elephants in Guruvayur are also displayed in this museum. The museum is open to public on all days.