The Guruvayur Devaswom Board is sitting this week to decide on whether or not to allow the entry of the legendary singer, K J Yesudas, into the precincts of Guruvayur temple or not. This was prompted due to the renewed efforts by Devaswom Minister G. Sudhakaran who has written to Guruvayur Devaswom Board chairman Thottathil Ravindran, seeking entry for Yesudas to the temple. The Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple, located in the Guruvayur town of Thrissur district in Kerala is one of the most sacred and important pilgrimage centres in Kerala, dwarfed in terms of popularity only perhaps by the Sabarimala temple. Unfortunately despite all its holiness, its image has been somewhat sullied by its refusal to allow non-Hindus entry into the shrine.
Yesudas, who has sung several songs in praise of Lord Krishna, has not been allowed entry into the temple because he is a Christian – Kattassery Joseph Yesudas, a Catholic Christian hailing from Kochi. A few decades ago, the Guruvayur temple authorities stopped him at the gate but let in the rest of a concert troupe, led by his Guru, the late Carnatic maestro Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. The Guru walked out and his heart melted at the sight of Yesudas, standing outside in the dark, in tears. The Guru then led the disciple to an impromptu venue outside the temple and held a nightlong concert in praise of Lord Krishna.
Scores of Keralites have grown up listening to bhajans sung by Yesudas, but never have we thought of him as a Christian singing Hindu hymns. The purity of his voice has enthralled all of us and for years we have been listening to hymns in praise of Lord Krishna flowing melodiously from the vocal chords of this great singer. When asked about the Board’s decision to discuss the issue regarding his entry into the temple precincts, Yesudas says:
I and my family are thankful to the Minister. But a situation should evolve on its own when temple doors will open for all those who have boundless devotion for the Lord. My entry to the temple should not be at the expense of thousands of devotees who reach out to the Lord suffering a lot of hardships. By any measure, the extent of my devotion might count for much less than those who are often made to wait their turn merely to accommodate VIPs.
Poet Yusufali Kecherry, who has penned some of the best Malayalam songs on Lord Krishna, has similarly not been allowed to enter the Guruvayur temple because he is a Muslim. A few years ago, when Congress General Secretary Vayalar Ravi's only son was married at Guruvayur, a punyaham - ritual cleansing- was performed to cleanse the temple premises because Ravi’s wife, Mercy, is not a Hindu, but a Christian.
But the temple has its share of people it is willing to accommodate, despite its avowed policy. Recently, the temple authorities allowed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse offer a gold crown to the Guruvayoor temple and to pray for peace in his country, along with his wife. The temple put an explanation saying Jain and Buddhists are within the larger definition of Hindus. Smart thinking!!! Jainism negates the existence of God and Buddhism has been silent on this, but they can still be allowed while a devout Christian cannot!!! Even atheists and agnostics can be allowed but not non-Hindus???
In a state where there is such a substantial non-Hindu population and where religion has not been too much of an issue (at least when compared to the rest of the country), isn’t it retrograde to follow such religious practices? There have been arguments that if Yesudas so badly wants to enter Guruvayur temple, why doesn’t he convert to Hinduism? But why should he? Are we so short-sighted that our culture cannot look beyond a man’s religion? Religion is a way of leading one’s life and is not a life in itself.
There has been justified criticism in certain quarters of Christianity and Islam not allowing Hindus into their fold (except for proselytization purposes). If non-Muslims wanted to go to Mecca/Medina, would they be allowed? Since they also practice such restrictions, we are also within our rights not to allow non-Hindus into temples. Fair enough to win an argument but do we need to compare ourselves with other religions and try to do a tit-for-tat policy.
I had written about the Jayamala-Sabarimala controversy earlier and expressed my view that women must be allowed entry inside the shrine. There are different views on this with many women themselves asserting that this is not a gender issue and should not be treated from that angle. That may or may not be accurate but the Sabarimala controversy needs further debate, keeping in mind the larger cultural perspective. However, in this case, what is the justification that can be provided here other than historical precedents and cultural issues?
Certain things that have been happening in a particular way should continue in the same way, they say. But then, aren’t we moving ahead in life? Do we still need to carry such historical baggage? Popular culture is a by-product of several social and political conditions prevailing at a particular point if time. As time progresses, we need to shed many of the layers that we have been sub-consciously bearing and give way to progressive changes. Resistance to change is a basic human condition but if we need to liberate ourselves, we need to start changing with times and not cling to age old traditions which may have had relevance at some point of time in the past but no longer now.
Though not a regular temple goer, I have often felt a certain sense of peace in Kerala temples which I find missing in other temples like ISKCON (Bangalore), Birla Mandir (Hyderabad) and Siddhi Vinayak (Mumbai). This is purely a personal view and people may feel otherwise. Many people opine that this temple ethos is largely due to the efforts of the temples in Kerala to maintain their traditions and stick to many of the old rules, established in temples. Strict adherence to dress code and many of the temple rituals and traditions have managed to keep that sense of halo intact in the temple there. But as time goes, certain norms become redundant and need to be cast away, keeping in mind, the larger purpose served by temples. Can they match that fine balance between tradition and modernity, without falling victims to the whims and fancies of the people involved??
Only time will tell but till that time, we can only hope to see Yesudas singing one day within the walls of the Guruvayur temple….