There are certain temples that become famous for their works of art, there are certain temples that stand out because of the steady flow of devotees and there are certain temples that have been a centre of socio-political changes. Guruvayoor temple in Thrissur district, Kerala is famous for all of the above. So ancient and so integral is the temple that you cannot really talk about the history of Kerala without talking about this ancient temple. And, it abounds in interesting facts. We list some out.
There are myths and documented history when it comes to the origins of the temple. The most famous myth, which also signifies how the temple got its name goes thus. Realizing that the purpose of his incarnation is complete, Lord Krishna gives his charioteer Udhava a mission: save the idol of Vishnu that had been worshipped by him at Dwaraka. Udhava sought out the help of Brihaspathy, Guru of the Gods and Vayu, Lord of Winds, and together they took the idol to where it would be safe in Kerala, the land newly reclaimed by Parasurama. They chanced upon the spot now known as Guru-Vayu-ur. The temple they set up would be the abode of the saviour of mankind during the troubled times. And it has stood the test of time. There are references to the temple in various ancient texts, and it is believed that the main shrine was rebuilt in the late 1630s. It was plundered and looted time and again by the Dutch, and Tipu Sultan, but by 1298, the ruler of Calicut, the Zamorin was vested with the administration of the temple.
In the early 1930s, those belonging to the lower castes were forbidden entry even to the streets surrounding the temple. Inspired by Gandhiji, a great Sathyagraha was staged near the temple. Political greats like K Kelappan and A K Gopalan took leadership. But despite compromises, only after Independence did the temple open its doors to all Hindus.
Elephants have always had a place of honour at Guruvayoor. Devotees gift these pachyderms to the deity and they are kept at Punnathoor Kotta. The Punnathur Kotta is a unique elephant sanctuary just a couple of kilometres away from the temple. Some of the elephants have legends around them in their own right, e.g., Guruvayur Kesavan. The elephant camp is always worth a visit, and tourists flock in there.
Every event or place, has always relied on a bard to tell its tale. Vilvamangalam swami is one of those who wrote extensively about the temple and the miracles here. Lilasuka, who authored Krishna Karnaamritham, Poonthanam who wrote about his devotion to the lord in Malayalam, Manaveda the Zamorin of Calicut who authored a Sanskrit drama and a legion of the lesser known artists who have brought the stories of the lord closer to the devotees.
The art form, Krishnanttam, is unique to this temple. A Sanskrit drama, it details the life of Sri Krishna in eight episodes. It combines music, retaining the traditional “Sopanam” style native to Kerala, and pantomime, with masks for demoniac characters and facial paint for the others.
If you are planning to visit the temple, give it a whole day. The temple opens at around 3 AM and there are restrictions on when you can enter. There is a dress code too. There is free food at the temple after 10 AM. Guruvayoor is a temple town and it seldom sleeps. There are trains that ply out of Guruvayoor to Thrissur and then on to various parts of the country. The airports nearby are Coimbatore and Nedumbassery International airports.