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Sacred Complex of the Guruvayur Temple is the first comprehensive study of the tantric aspects of the famous Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple, which has become the second richest and busy pilgrim centre of Indian in recent years.
Guruvayur is the centre of a great cultural tradition embracing sacred and secular institutions with diverse religious and social functions, cultural values and symbolic configurations. Pilgrims from different parts of India and abroad have celebrated the diversity of traditions that have shaped Kerala’s culture and religion. The history of Guruvayur is the rich and polyvalent religious history of Kerala. A quintessential expression of this history, Sri Krishna cult of the Zamorin of Calicut found its lasting manifestation in the monumental Sri Krishna temple at Guruvayur. The Guruvayur cult has been hailed for visvapapahatya, removal of earthly sufferings, and bestowal of saukhyam and avesam, earthly well being and pleasure, leading to anandam, or heavenly bliss.
The uniqueness of the Guruvayur Sacred Complex is its universal appeal. The secrets of the Sacred Complex of Guruvayur are described in simple language for the lay devotees by the author. The author has combined the humility of a votary with the objectivity of a scientific researcher. This pioneering and outstanding work is expected to receive attention from social scientists, planners and administrators and inspire researchers to the study other sacred temple complexes as mirrors to Indian religious tradition.
P.R.G. Mathur (b. 1934), a distinguished anthropologist, has earned national and international attention for his painstaking efforts in the area of applied anthropology, to the chagrin of several vested interests. His stewardship of the Kerala Institute for Research and Training and Development Studies for SC&ST (KIRTADS) over a decade gave a fillip to applied anthropology in India in the true sense of the term, and some of his controversial reports received approbation at the highest Court of Indian judiciary. His extensive experience on community studies in India earned him many rewards. In recognition of his dedicated service to Indian anthropology for the past five decades Dr. Mathur has been honoured with Fulbright Fellowship in 1982 and the first Ananathakrishna Iyer Memorial Award instituted by the Anthropological Association, Mysore in 2007. He was earlier nominated ‘Man of the Year’ twice, in 1994 and 2002, by American Biographical Institute.
Author of several well acclaimed contributions to anthropological literature in the form of papers and monographs, his books: Didayi - A Forgotten Tribe of Orissa (1978), The Mappila Fisherfolk of Kerala (1978), Khasi of Meghalaya (1979), Applied Anthropology and Development Administration (1994) and Ecology, Technology and Economy: Continuity and Change among the Fisherfolk of Kerala (2008) are widely circulated all over the world.
Podikkulangara Ramaswamy Govindankutty (P.R.G.) Mathur lives in his native village, Mathur in Palakkad (Kerala), with his better-half, Mrs. Rugmani Mathur.
This book is the outcome of the research project, ‘Kshetra Sampada of the Guruvayur temple’, entrusted to the Ananthakrishna Iyer International Centre for Anthropological Studies (AICAS), Palakkad. It introduces a paradigmatic and heuristic shift in the study of temples. It studies temples as organic unities, as integral part of the cultural fabric and mental landscape, and not in terms of isolated chronological, historical, religious or economic categories.
It is in this encompassing perspective that Dr. P.R.G. Mathur has studied the manner in which architectural design and space have been utilized for installing deity, staging discourses, performing rites of passage, housing elephants, displaying sculptures, illustrative of myths, holding festivals, and conducting rites, rituals ceremonies connected with daily worship. Dr. B.N. Saraswati, former UNESCO Professor, IGNCA, encouraged the AICAS to undertake the study, and provided methodological guidance to Dr. Mathur.
A Lifelong devotee of Guruvayur, Dr. Mathur has imbibed his information from learned persons like Tantris, Othikkans, Melsantis and a lineasge of temple servents who have spent a lifetime in the worship of the Lord of Guruvayur, perpetuated its purity and tradition, and forged its bonds with the Indian people and civilization. He has taken up this study as an act of worship, and has brought to light many esoteric features which escape the casual notice of devotees.
Guruvayur is the centre of a great cultural tradition embracing sacred and secular institutions with diverse religious and social functions, cultural values and symbolic configurations. Pilgrims from different parts of India and abroad have celebrated the diversity of traditions that have shaped Kerala’s culture and religion. The history of Guruvayur is the rich and polyvalent religious history of Kerala. A quintessential expression of this history, Sri Krishna cult of the Zamorin of Calicut found its lasting manifestation in the monumental Sri Krishna temple at Guruvayur.
In the context of the effort in this temple to synthesize contemplation and action, jnana, karma, bhakti and raja yoga in a quadriga, we recall the words of Swami Vivekananda: “Religion deals with truths of the metaphysical world, just as chemistry and the other natural sciences deal with truths of the physical world. The book one must read to learn chemistry is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and hear. The sage is often ignorant of physical science, because he Reads the wrong book - the book within; and the scientist is too often ignorant of the religion, because he too reads the wrong book - the book without…The greatest of all training is to worship God along. If each man chose his own ideal and stuck to it, al religious controversy would vanish…”
The temple symbolizes man’s attempt to unravel mysteries of the universe, which he finds mirrored microcosmically within himself. Theory and practice, sastra and prayoga are harnessed to this effort. The temple gives physical shape to the magnificent concept of Srimad Bhagavad Gita which depicts the Universe as the abode (ksetra) and the God (ksetrajna) as its creator. The structure of the temple, ksetra, represents the gross body of the deity. In its pancaprakara scheme of five concentric enclosures, the constituent parts of the temple complex are imagined as symbolic of the limbs of the deity, ksetrajna, the omnipresent creator. The deity is represented by the idol, installed in the srikovil, the pancaprakara epitomizes adharacakras or psychic centres for a graduated ascent of consciousness, explained in yoga sastras. The vitality of the deity is invoked and the atmosphere purified by the Tantri or Acarya through meditation, pranayama, or breath control, and chanting of mantras. The devotee enshrines the mantramurti, the meditational icon, by concentrating on his sankalpa or resolution, by abhigamana, approach, pradaksina, circumambulation, vyapaka nyasa, touch with mental fingers, and, by an immersive sacrifice of his mutilated, imperfect, egotistical self in the pervasive presence of the Supreme Being.
Through many alterations in its ecology, the most recent having taken place in 1970, after an accidental fire, the temple complex still retains the core, which was brought alive by Puntanam Nambudiri (1547-1640) through his devotional songs. The temple complex contains the square dvitala vimana, the double-storeyed main shrine, enclosed by a nalambalam, pillared hall and covered with murals, roofs including the square namaskara mandapa, hall of salutation, covered by copper sheets, a lofty dhvajastambha, flag pillar, made of a single piece of teak wood, plated in bell metal and gold, dipastambha, lamp pillar. Erected in AD 1836, balipitha, sacrificial platform, gopuras, cyclopean gateways, and the temple tank, popularly presumed to be the relic of a lake, that once stretched from Guruvayur to Mammiyur. The inscription, in Malayalam language, records the construction of the eastern and western gopura.
In his comprehensive account, the author has thrown light on the hoary antiquity of the temple, the evolution of the mode of worship, the structural aspects, the iconography and iconology, the puja system, priesthood, ritualistic acaram offerings, punyaham or expiatory rites, subsidiary shrines, musical instruments, performing arts, the role of over a thousand ritual functionaries, and a heterogeneous population of scholars, artists, musicians and their dependants. He has highlighted measures to preserve the sanctity of the temple, in its physical infrastructure and spiritual envelope, and, to protect its precincts, supported by a secular municipal township.
The Guruvayur cult has been hailed for visvapapahatya, removal of earthly sufferings, and bestowal of saukhyam, and avesam, earthly well-being and pleasure, as distinguished from the seduction of dementation of all faculties in anandam, or heavenly bliss. Every dasaka, canto, of the Narayaniya from the fifth to the ninety-ninth, ends with a prayer to remove Melpathur’s diseases, afflictions and worries (K.V. Krishna Iyer, 1986: 555).
Puntanam Nambudiri and Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri were respectively the founder and propagator of the Vaisnava cult of Guruvayur. What Puntanam inspired by his bhajan in Jnanappana in Malayalam, Melpathur elaborated and systematized through his bhajan in Narayaniyam in Sanskrit. Together, these form the Bible of the Guruvayur cult.
The pujas and the rituals in the Guruvayur temple are performed mostly according to Tantric traditions, laid down in the Tantra Samuchcaya, a work written in Sanskrit (AD 1428) and oral traditions, ascribed to Adi Sankaracarya. The harmony maintained between sacred rituals performed at the Guruvayur temple and at other ancient north Indian temples has nurtured the unity and continuity of belief systems in Indian civilization.
The temple is a repository of religious traditions that lay down with meticulous care about how a person should behave and lead a proper life. The tradition associated with one’s caste or Jati, the Jati Dharma, prescribes the rule for proper living and prohibits what is improper (K.S. Mathur, 1964). The Nambudiri Brahmins, the guardians of this tradition, have changed their profession with modernization. They now work as teachers, advocates, bank managers, etc. Despite change in external rituals, and gathering amnesia about the original significance of mantras, the Nambudiri custodians have, to a great extent, retained the pristine core of the ritualistic heritage and preserved the sanctity of the Vedas and Kalpasutras in their exegetical observances.
The High Court of Kerala, in its judgement in O.P. No. 2071 of 1993, has recognized the pivotal position of the Tantri as the guardian and protector of the deity, in whose personality, the tone, temper and caitanya, the vibrant consciousness of the Lord, prevails. Under Section 35 of the Guruvayur Devaswom Act, 1978, the Tantri is the final authority in all religious matters. The Ksetrasampada, the sacred divine mindscape of the Guruvayur temple, has thus received renewed human affirmation in the judicial sanction.
The author has combined the humility of a votary with the objectivity of a scientific researcher. He has incited an understanding of the interaction of the material and spiritual of the interplay of local, regional and universalizing forces, of theological and demographic structures, and, of the democracy, oligarchy and theocracy of the temple.
I congratulate Dr. Mathur for presenting an empathetic, authoritative and carefully researched work on the Guruvayur temple, as his devotional offering at the feet of the Lord. I hope that this pioneering and magisterial work will receive respect and attention from social scientists and administrators and inspire researchers to study other sacred temple complexes as mirrors to the Indian religious tradition. I also pray that the Lord of Guruvayur may shower his grace, blessings and benediction on Dr. Mathur, his humble and ardent ministrant.
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