This is a travel piece, a different one...
A bit long...but hopefully interesting to some...
A Mythological trip
Walking through the streets at Guruvayur is like walking through a busy market. Shops line both sides of bumpy uneven lanes and savvy marketing lads from shops overloaded with clay figurines of various Gods and Goddesses, beckon you to their wares.
If it weren't for the glaring loudspeakers playing devotional songs of Lord Krishna, (the deity at Guruvayur temple) you could even imagine that you were in one of Kerala'a shopping districts. It was for this very reason, that the name of this feisty town, some 29 km off Trichur, evoked memories of childhood pleasure trips.
Now, 20 years later, I walk through these streets, holding firmly on to my daughters' arms, and guide them through the labyrinths of mythology, but find them mesmerised not by the story of the Almighty but by the power of merchandise that pulls them away from my grasp to these shops and its wares.
"I want this," says my younger one, gesturing to the toy a gleaming shopkeeper (has chosen to entice her with.
"I will give discounts," remarks the cheeky guy.
I pull my girls away and appease them with a story instead, the story of how a poor hungry boy, while visiting the Guruvayur temple, steals the two bananas kept for the day's pooja (the daily holy ritual with offerings to the deity). The boy was so consumed by guilt that he returned one banana but could not resist eating the other. A priest nearby saw this incident and punished the boy and asked him to go around the sannidhi (the walkway for devotees around the deity) 100 times.
Though it is difficult getting the girls' full attention, the crime and the punishment involved in this simple act, soon make them all ears for the story. I pause to stoke their interest further.
We are nearing the temple now. The temple is located at the centre of the town, and the town is also called Guruvayur. The temple has four entrances on each side, called East Nada or North Nada, according to the direction the main door or the Nada faces. Running perpendicular to the walls of the temple is the main street and the shops are lined on both sides of these streets. So invariably, with the strategic location, anyone who had an intention of visiting the temple could do so only after passing through the shops.
We stand in the women’s section of a long queue that runs parallel to the walls of the temple. An old woman glances down affectionately at my younger one and pinches her cheeks and she lets out a loud wail in protest, embarrassing me in the process. The old woman hastens to make peace and massages the young one's cheeks, which is again resisted with louder wails. To quieten her, I go back to the story.
While the priest was watching, I blabber, the poor boy goes around the sanniddhi and the priest sees something that transfixed him.
Now both of them hang on my words, and implore, "Amma, go on, tell us fast."
As we inch forward in the serpentine queue towards the main Nada, I continue with the story.
Taking the first round, the priest sees the poor boy but as he starts the next round of the sannidhi he sees the Lord in the boy's place, in all his splendour. This was repeated on and on...
The priest finally asked the boy what was happening to which the Lord answered, "One of the fruit was given to me, hence half the punishment is mine."
The priest realised his folly and asked forgiveness for his inhuman deed.
We are close to the main door which is a bit small and narrow and barely just wide enough to squeeze in two people at the same time. With two parallel rows, it is probably the only uncomfortable moment in this whole process of worship .But the story had made such an impression on my young ones that both of them are eagerly waiting to have their first glimpse of Sri Guruvayurappan, all signs of discomposure notwithstanding.
I carry the younger one, tug the elder and push the person in front. That was the accepted method to get in, the deliberate push, the occasional nudge and a calculated pull to get ourselves safely ahead and off the closest body of arms and legs. Some of the men have also bared their torsos, gleaming with sweat in the humid day, but all are here with one puritan intent, to experience the slight but fulfilling glimpse of the Lord at the main entrance. A preview of sorts.
Suddenly there rises a chant which gathers fervour as the line inches close to the deity, "Krishna, Krishna, Unni Krishna (baby Krishna), Narayana, Narayana" .The sounds vary from tones of passionate devotion, intercepted by wails of desperation from some to off key vibrato. The atmosphere is charged. I can see my girls' going through the same emotions, their brows coming together in concentration as they mumble with me, the same chant that is echoing through the small passageway that leads to the deity.
At last as the chant gathers momentum, we find ourselves before the deity and I feel electrified and increasingly stupefied by the power of devotion that envelopes me. I find myself crying and look down in confusion to see my girls' praying quietly, the picture of innocence and yet with a trace of awareness, as if they finally understood what the story was all about. All this happens in a fraction of seconds, before we are pushed aside, giving way to the wave of devotees behind. The moment so brief, I am not sure it even existed, where it not for the tears that wash my face.
We move aside silently, and the moment disappears...we are brought down to earth, to material things around. All of us, devotees, seem to have an air of abundance about us, a happiness or a relief of sorts, as if relieved and pardoned of all the sins committed, having handed them over to the Gods to handle.
Legends say that the idol worshipped is more than 5000 years old through there are no historical records. The temple became popular through Melpathur Narayana Bhatathiri's Narayaneeyam, a poetic work of hymns describing the story and mischiefs of Lord Krishna.
The priests are everywhere and both the girls look at them with distaste. The temple is beautiful, with stone carvings on the sides depicting the other Gods of the Hindu mythology.
We go around the sannidhi and come out of the inner sanctorum to the outer part of the temple, where prayer groups and various men and women huddle around, chanting. The outer passage has a roof and supporting this roof are pillars, huge ones with 'apsaras' (Godesses) carved out in each of them, some holding diyas, lamps and others in various dancing poses.
Our senses have calmed and as we emerge back at the outer ring of shops, the girls seem less affected by the wares. I look at them amazed until N, the younger one, gestures to a doll, the same one that was offered to her by the shopkeeper. She looks at me enquiringly.
Relived, I buy it for her...her happy face reflecting mine, and we move away from the temple. This is comfort, this tangible emotion of desire, as opposed to the over whelming power of the unknown that we had experienced a few moments ago.