Saturday, April 21, 2007

Open Up Guruvayur

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….


  1. I have to say, I disagree with your views on Guruvayur and Sabarimala….some traditions should be honoured and not cast away with in the effort to be liberal…

  2. I do not agree with you on the Sabarimala part but I can still understand the issue….

    But why would you want to stop people in the name of religion in Guruvayur? What is so traditional about this?

  3. In the isolated cases of yesudas, who I believe has immense respect for Hindu traditions and decorum, it is indeed heartbreaking that he cannot enter the temple….and in his case, I have no issues with him entering the temple as a special case..

    But if the gates are thrown open to all people from other religions, I can guarantee you that Guruvayur ill turn into a museum rather than a temple…because that is the approach with which people from other religions will enter the shrine….do u believe that we should open our shrine to the vary people who mock our religion ??? u think these people will think twice before littering and defiling the shrine once they are inside….we all know about fundamentalist muslms( and there are many more than you may think) and they would have a field day in the shrine if you let them in…

  4. This is a complex issue. On one side just like Praful Shankar wrote," some traditions should be honoured and not cast away with in the effort to be liberal…" but on other side, we have to welcome others who sincerely believe in Hindu concepts and ideals.

    How we can achieve that is a million dollar question???

    To a person who sees everything as ADVAIDA [one ] nothing matters but to people who are deep into ritualistic worship, everything matters.

    We have to reach a middle path upon which all of us can agree.

    After publishing my book AM I A HINDU? [] many westerners have written to me, expressing their ardent desire to become Hindus. But unluckily, there are no proper way for them to become Hindus, since HINDUISM IS A CULTURE and caste system is a stumbling block in their conversion.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. Excellant blog. The word "Punyaaham" means sacred or blessed day (Punyam Aha:). Sacred day or blessed time is said to be an important factor for the success of any "Karmam". In Manthram 2-21-6 of Rig Vedam, "Sudinathivamanhaam" or Punyaaham is also included among the sacred things to be received while praying to Indran. The Punyaaham ritual includes Manthram to the effect that gods will be pleased and will support blessings by pious Brahmanans who are themselves pleased through such rituals. Through blessed times (Punyaaham), the mind and body get cleansed and awakened, and through the power of the mind, all Karmams achieve success. In Punyaaham, prayers for purification are repeated several times. Moreover, this ritual is said to be a highly effective Karmam leading to the attainment of aura of action (Karmachaithanyam), purity of words, long life, happiness and fertility as a result of the blessings of more than ten gods/ godesses.
    Sun, the son of time (Kaalam), is indeed the most appropriate god to be prayed for a blessed day, which ensures success of "karmam" after tiding over bad times. Undoubtedly, it is the Sun god who has to be propitiated during Punyaaham. But the ritual begins and ends with prayers to Varunan. This contradiction has been clarified by Sankaraacharyar by explaining that the 533rd name in Vishnu Sahasranaamam equates Suryan with Varunan which has been accepted by Saayana also. Reference to Prajaapathi in the punyaaha manthram is also explained through ch 533 of "Saanthi Parvam" of the Mahaabharatham epic where Sooryan is depicted as one of the Prajaapathis, while Varunan is not. The Sun god is confirmed as the deity ruling over Punyaaham. The undeniable place of Sun god is further reinforced through the symbolic acts of raising the hands to the sky to bring Sun god down to the earth as well as the dropping of bright gold into holy water (Theertham), and certain manthrams.

    The Punyaaha manthram is in fact an integrated form of selected Manthrams from Thaithireeya Samhitha and Thaithireeya Brahmanam. The "Naandeemukham Punyaaham" is performed prior to most of the important rituals for improving sanctity of the Karmam. "Sudhha Punyaaham" is done for eliminating "Asudhhi" (impurity or pollution), while "Ara Punyaaham" (half-punyaaham) is a brief or shortened version of "Sudhha Punyaaham"..

  6. convert to hinduism and enter. that should be the way to enter the temple. all others are just publicity stunts.

  7. Mr.Pradeep,

    Both Guruvayoor and Sabarimala are two great temples which are immensly sacred for several reasons like the kind of Idol installed there and due to the strictness and importance given to the Pooja's done there.

    When Temple authoritys say that entry of Non- Hindu's is not allowed, shirt is not allowed etc, there are many logical and sceintific reasons behind that(which I don't want to elaborate as of now).A temple's sacredness is maintained not just by the people who do Pooja there, but by the people who visit the temple also.If the worshippers are not able to or not willing to abide by the Temple customs then it is going to adversly affect the positive energy present in the Temple.

    I am not saying that allowing Yesudas will dampen the Temple sacredness because I know that Yesudas is such a great devotee of the Lord and his devotion is 100 % true.But once Guruvayoor temple deliberately allow one Yesudas to enter the Temple, other people including anti-social Non-Hindus(whose real intention may not be true devotion) also will start raising their voice for Temple entry and that is where the problem comes.So Yesudas must understand this before he fights for permission to enter the Great Guruvayoor Temple.

    And not just Yesudas, people like you also must understand this properly before putting forth reasons like equality of people and other Democratic terms.

  8. @Bhattathiri: Thanks for the info on punyaham. I did search the net briefly to know more about it but to no avail.

    @Ed: You are right about taking the Middle path but are we even willing to listen to other opinions or simply believe in the policy "You are with me or against me".

    @Anonymous:I am an energy healer myself and understand what contributes to positive energy. I would still like to know how entry of non-Hindus can sap the positive energy in temples.

    You say "Yesudas is a great devotee". I do not know and I cannot judge anyone's devotion; that is left to God's wisdom. You also say "other people including anti-social non-Hindus will raise their voice" but then is it ok if anti-social Hindus enter? God does not believe in all this differentiation and I have as much right to God as any other non-Hindu has.

  9. The rule should allow Jews to enter mosques also. Do not think Any minister will have the guts to ask that.

  10. No non hindu should be allowed to enter Guruvayoor Temple the most sacred temple for Hindus. Whatever is being said about being modern, there are some factors that must not be changed. Each religion has their own values and tradition and it must not be changed for anybody, whoever it may be. I do agree thatKJ Yesudas & Yousuf Ali had sung so many devotional songs, but they did not do it for free. They were paid handsomely for their work. So let tradition be left alone and not mess with it. If Mr. Pradeep wants to be more modern let him just try to get permission to enter any mosque and offer his prayers. By the way if KJ Yesudas is a beleiver, what is stopping him from converting to a Hindu. And also the Minister Mr. Sudhakaran, does he have the guts (i should have used another word) to just say that any beleiver must be allowed to enter a mosque.

  11. To me it seems that if you are coming to adore the Lord, you should be admitted regardless of the label you carry outside the temple; and if you're coming as a tourist you may be excluded, even if you carry the tag of "Hindu".

    It is not as though being "Hindu" is a guarantee of respectful behavior in the temple.

  12. The suggestion to open up guruvayur temple for all people is a welcome one. But there are so many other important issues going around in the world to keep one worrying about an oppurtunity for entry into a place of worship which has turned itself into a commercial complex long ago.

    Anyways, regarding the welcome entry of jains, one thing which could be assumed from the historical circumstances in which the temple came into being is that, it must have been a jain place of worship, and the idol must have been of a jain theerthankara. all these assumptions as from the strong presence and influence of jainism in kerala, coming from regions east of the western ghats...

    My reasons, if you ask, for entry into the guruvayur (originally "Kuravayur", pre-Sanskritization) temple would be none other than for its historical significance, if any..

  13. It is ridiculous not to let a person who wants to enter the temple to see the deity and pray. Even if I am a Hindu, I can never agree preventing people like what they have done against Yesudas or Yusuf Ali Kecheri. To my Hindu friends I just have to say only one thing. Learn from Christians. Any one can enter a Church and pray at your will.

  14. Those people who are making a hue and cry over non Hindus entering temples do not understand the fact that people are not coming to see them but God for whom there is no cast/creed/religion. If you are in God's path, you can not prevent any body who is wishing to enter the temple. There is no wonder that in this era of exploiting people's devotion and making a business out of that, the narrow minded ideologies of these people will prevail forever.