Gurvayoor is one of the most sacred and important pilgrim towns in India. This temple-town is extremely famous for its large Sree Krishna Temple, believed to one of the 108 most divine Vishnu temples of world. The town is located in Thrissur district, nearly 102 km from Kochi. Apart from pilgrimage, a few tourist delights are available here.
Guruvayoor Temple is one of the largest and most famed temple in Kerala at national level, attracting more than 5 millions devotees annually. The presiding deity is Lord Vishnu, in form of Sree Krishna (8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Hindu mythology says the Lord Krishna used to worship an idol of Lord Vishnu at his palace in legendary Dwarka island. However Krishna knew that, soon after his death, his palace island would wash into seas. He instructed the Deva Guru (Heavenly Saint) Brihaspati and Vayu Deva (Wind God) to take his favourite idol, once Dwarka gets submerged and place it in some other place, where devotees can worship. As instructed by Lord, Guru and Vayu took away the idol, when Dwarka was sinking and was hunting a place to the idol. Soon they would a sacred place where they wished to place the idol. However a Shiva temple existed in that area, making it difficult to place the idol nearby. Soon on Guru's invocation, Lord Shiva appeared and agreed to move his temple from the sacred place, to install the divine idol. As Guru and Vayu placed the idol and errected a temple in its honour, the place came to known as Guruvayur.
A large Shiva temple exists at Mammiyur, within a kilometer from the main temple, where the original Shiva temple relocated.
Guruvayur was a royal temple under Kozhikode's Zamorin times. After annexation of Malabar into British presidency, the temple became part a private trust, headed by titular Zamorin ruler and Chief Priest of temple, who were known for their rigid orthodoxies. This resulted in rigid and cruel discrimination based on caste and creed. In 1930s, calls for equality and social reformation started across Kerala and large number of congressmen assembled at Temple gate protesting against the regime of caste discrimination for temple entry, which resulted in closure of temple in 1931. The temple soon was stormed by a group of revolutionaries ending the centuries old pratice of social discrimination. Soon the Madras Presidency nationalized the temple and agreed to allow people of all castes and creed within Hindu fold, to enter the temple, which started the social renaissance in Kerala's caste ridden society of 1930s. Today, the temple is under control of Government of Kerala, managed under Guruvayur Devasom (a semi-constitutional temple trustee body).
Though several reforms happened in temple, still much of the temple management and local public uphold the traditional conventionalities and rigid orthodoxies. Non-Hindus are strictly debarred and several rigid dress code is in place.
The nearest airport is Cochin International Airport located at Kochi (87 km). Alternatively, passengers can use Calicut International Airport located at Kozhikode, located about 100 kms. A large helipad at Guruvayur, enables helicopter transportation from Cochin and Kozhikode airport. An aerodrome and heliport is under consideration at Guruvayur, to cater growing number of pilgrims
Gurvayoor town as a large railway station, where several inter-city passenger and inter-state passes. Equally convenient to take the train up from Thrissur which is a major railway station where almost all trains bound to Kerala stops and then take a taxi (approx Rs 300) to Gurvayoor. During festival days and Sabarimala pilgrim season, several special trains runs via Guruvayoor to Ernakulam
Its pretty easy to get a bus from near the railway station (KSRTC Central station) or private bus from Shakthan Thampuran Bus Stand, to get connections from other parts of Kerala. A few buses of SETC of Tamil Nadu connects the town with Coimbatore and Palani.
Guruvayur is connected rest of country with NH 17 (Mumbai-Kochi highway) and several state highways connect the town to Kozhikode, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Palakkad etc.
Guruvayur is a small town, which can be accessed by foot itself. The entire town is structured around the Guruvayur temple, which is also the major commercial center. Taxis and auotrickshaws are available at nominal rates. Be sure you fix your price before getting into one or else there is a chance of the drivers fleecing the passengers, especially westerners. Currently there is no intra-town bus services, however most of the inter-city buses stops at various suburbs of the town.
Sree Krishna Temple
||WARNING: Non Hindus strictly not allowed. The temple is extremely notoriety for following rigid orthodox traditions, by not allowing Non-hindus inside the main complex. Violators will be heavily fined, if refused to pay expect an arrest.
The entire Guruvayur town rose to international fame, because of the popularity of Great Krishna temple. Thus the temple and its surrounding temples are the prime attraction. Nearly 6-10 million devotees visit annually at the temple and one of the richest temples in South India.
The temple upholds several rigid traditions and customs unlike other Kerala temples
- Non Hindus are not allowed even inside the perimeter of temple complex. The temple guards and police can pull off any-one if found wearing other religious symbols like Holy cross, Muslim Namaz mark etc. Westerners and whites are generally regarded as non-Hindus, even if they are converted into Hinduism. Only certificates endosed by Arya Samaj- Kozhikode, will be accepted as a formal document of conversion. Dharmic religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism is considered as part of Hinduism, hence allowed. Sikhs must remove their turbans and kirpans to enter into temple.
- The temple advices children below 2 years not to enter inner layer of temple, though their entry is not prohibited. This advice is maintained, because in event small children urinate inside the temple, the parents will liable to pay fines for purification rites
- Dress code is extremely rigid inside the temple. Men are not allowed to wear shirt, baniyan or vests and must remain topless while entering inside the complex. They have to wear strictly wear Kerala Mundu (only white/saffron) and may free to wear shawl to cover upper body. Wearing lungis or checked dhothi, mundu in any other colours are banned inside. Untill recently ladies have to wear sarees, which 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 head is strictly prohibited inside temple for both gents and ladies. Children below 12 are allowed to wear trousers.
- The temple prohibits entry of mobile phones, video cameras, any kind of electronic device, bags (except ladies small hand-bags and gents purses) etc, which must be deposited at cloak room. Just before main gate, there is a police check-post where all devotees have to undergo a pat-down body search procedures. In event of finding any of above items, they will be turned out of the que, to deposit the items in cloak room.
- Unlike other South Indian temples, there is no special que systems to byepass. All devotees, sans their ability to pay, has stand in one single large que in the que complex and go according to que. There are no special darshan tickets or out-of-way procedures to gain entry without standing in que. The exception to this law is for senior citizens above 60 and VIPs who have security concerns or protocol laws, who can byepass the que and gain direct entry to the inner layer.
- The temple closes for darshan from 2:00 PM-4:00 PM and from 9:00 PM- 3:00 AM in morning, where no darshan is allowed. In addition to this, the temple closes for few breaks as per rituals like 09:00 AM- 10:00 AM and from 12 noon to 1:00 PM. On Mondays and Fridays, a special rite known as Udayasthamana Pooja is done which means there will be a break for darshan at every 10 mins due to special nature of this pooja.
The temple is believed to 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 where later built by various kings and other rich men, as gratification of their devotion to the presiding deity.
The outer ring of temple was constructed by Great Zamorin King Manadeva Varma of Kozhikode, one of the celebrated devotees of Guruvayurappan (as the presiding lord is known), in traditional Kerala architecture. The first layer inner ring and extensive mural works, were one of the oldest part of the structure, commissioned by 4th Pandyan King in AD 52, after getting cured of snake-bite poison.
The sanctum sanatorium is the most oldest structure and believed to be constructed by Lord Parasurama himself. Archeologists estimate the complex to be atleast 1000 years old. The sanctum sanatorium is unique, as the structure itself has 3 layers inside which is not seen in other places. Inside the 3rd layer, the original idol is placed. The idol is a larger representation of Lord Vishnu, but often represented as baby form of Krishna, with help of sandal sculpting. Nearly 100 golden lamps light the inner sanatorium.
Apart from main deity, 4 smaller temples are located inside the main complex. While sanatoriums for Lord Ganesh and Lord Sree Padmanabha (Royal deity of Travancore in Trivandrum) are located inside inner layer of temple; sanatoriums for Lord Ayyappa and Goddess Parvathi are located in outer layer.
Offerings and Pujas
The main offering of Guruvayur is Thulabharam (Scale) where the offerer offers various items, as per his body weight, by weighing himself in a scale with equivalent amount of offering in other side of scale. The lord's most favourite item yellow bananas (Kadali variety), other items like butter, ghee, sugar, Thulsi leaves etc are also offered as per weight of the offerer. Some rich people offer in terms of gold and coins which are rare.
The second most important offering is performances of Krishnaattam. Krishnaattam is an exclusive art-form, unique to Guruvayur temple, not performed elsewhere. The art-form is the precessdor of Kathakali, hence the costumes looks almost similar. 10 stories of Krishna's life is adopted into this highly Sanskritzed dance-drama. The art-form was composed by Zamorin Manadeva Varma in 14th century, which later inspired for composing Kerala's celebrated art-form Kathakali. Krishnaattam is performed daily in evenings throughout the year except on monsoon month of July. Prior bookings is needed to perform the art-form in one's name and performances are done in outside the temple, thus allowing all people to watch the art-form.
Other major offerings to the lord, which will be returned back are Paal Payasam (Milk Dessert), Bananas, Sugar, Avial (Flatten rice), Sandal balls, Butter and Unniappams.
Afternoon feast is free to all devotees and provided to anyone who assembles at Ottupura (temple dining hall).
- 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. The temple is extremely famous for its large murals.
- Parthasarathy Temple. Located within a kilometer from main temple, its a must see temple, with its main shrine built as a chariot and Lord Krishna sitting as Parthasarathy, advocating Gita to Arjuna. The main deities are Krishna reciting Holy Gita and Arjuna hearing it.
- Thiru Venkatachalapathy Temple. A small temple, dedicated to Thirupathi Venkatachalapathy, established by Telugu pilgrims as their token to devotion to Lord Krishna.
- Punathur Elephant Palace, Punnathoorkotta (500 meters 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. free.
- 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. free.
- 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. free.
Being a small temple town, reglious activities tops the list.
- Guruvayur Festival; The annual Guruvayur festival is in months of Febuary-March, as per Malayalam calendar and zodiac signs. The festival is for 10 days. The festival kicks off with Great Elephant Race, where selected 10 or 15 elephants of Guruvayur temple will race from Manjualla (a baniyan tree located nearly 1 kilometer from temple gate) to the temple. The first elephant who enters the temple gate and complete 3 rounds inside the inner-layer of temple will be adjourned as winner. Winning elephant wins the right of holding deity for processions for all days during festival, apart from a special feast. Large number of tourists attend the opening day of festival, to watch the Elephant race, which is a feast to eyes. Special feasts are arranged for devotees on all festival days.
- Guruvayur Ekadesi; This is one of the main festivals of temple, held on Ekadeshi day of month of November, where the temples are illuminated with more than 10000 lamps. A week before the Ekadeshi, the Vilakku or Lamp festival commences, where devotees or various associations sponsor lighting of all lamps of the temple.
- Chembai Sangeetholsavam; The musical feast is the highlight of Guruvayur Ekadeshi day, where more than 1200 musicians all over the country performs classical music performances. For a week prior to Ekadeshi, the musical festival starts, though the main highlight is on Ekadeshi where group performances of all leading musicians happen. The music festival ends with grand recital of Pancharatnakireethanam (a rare classical note). Several music lovers all over the country, visit to hear the grand recitals.
- The Melpathur Auditorium located outside the temple is a regular venue for various cultural performance. People irrespective of caste, religion etc can attend and watch the regular performances at the hall. Mostly there are classical dances, music recitals as well as recitals of Bhagavatam (sacred Krishna scriptures).
- Watch training classes for Krishnaattam performers at Krishnaattam Academy or try a hand in painting of Kerala murals at Institute of Mural Paintings.
The East Nada (Gate) and West Nada are major commercial alleys with several shops sellings traditional Kerala handicrafts, souvenirs, lamps, brasswares, paintings all related to Hinduism. Apart from handicrafts, Guruvayur is famous for its large unique variety of savories, large the famous Guruvayoor Padappadams, Murukkus, sweets etc.
Guruvayur is also one of the largest centers of devotional music centers, with several music stores selling several records of chart-busters devotional albums and audio/video cds.
The temple town is known for its pure vegetarianism. Around the temple one can find plenty of pure vegetarian restaurants. The cuisine is mostly South Indian. Most restaurants serve good ghee roast dosa. Finding a non-vegetarian food stall or bar is extremely difficult.
- Krishna Inn, East Nada, ☎ 0487-2550777.
Once you are done with all the temple visits, head to Chavakkad Beach around five km from Guruvayur. A beautiful quiet beach during the day. To watch the fishermen bring in their catch get to the beach around 5PM, an awesome sight with a zillion fish on display on the beach itself.