Guruvayur, Thrissur District, Kerala houses the famous Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple, the fourth biggest temple in India in terms of the number of devotees per day.
Guruvayur, according to the legends may be 5,000 years old as the Guruvayur temple idol is. There are no historical records to establish it. In the 14th century, Tamil literature 'Kokasandesam', references about a place called Kuruvayur is made. As early as 16th century, many references are seen about Kuruvayur. In ancient Dravidic, Kuruvai means sea, hence the village on the coast may be called Kuruvayur. According to eminent historian Professor K. V. Krishna Iyer, the Brahmins had begun to come and settle at Kodungallur during the period of Chandra Gupta Maurya (321-297 BC).
Guruvayur was a subordinate shrine of Trikkunavay Shiva temple before the latter was destroyed by the Dutch in 1755. Trikkunavay in the Guruvayur documents is the same as Thrikkanamathilakam or Mathilakam mentioned in the Dutch and British records. And this place was in between Guruvayur and Kodungallur. The story of Pandyan King building a shrine here may be a reference to the Azhavars, but they are all silent in their writing about Guruvayur. It was Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri's Narayaniyam through which the Guruvayur temple got famous all over India.
Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple
The Guruvayur Temple is a famous Krishna temple and is one of the most important places of worship for Hindus and is often referred to as "Bhooloka Vaikuntam" which translates to the holy abode of Vishnu on Earth. The divine idol installed here represents the enchanting form of Sree Krishna endowed with the four lustrous arms carrying the conch Panchajanya, the discus Sudarshana Chakra, the mace Kaumodaki and the lotus. Adorned with the divine Tulasi garland the idol represents the majestic form of Maha Vishnu as revealed to Vasudeva and Devaki at the time of Krishna Avatar. The presiding deity in the sanctum-sanctorum is Mahavishnu. He faces east and his idol is 4 ft tall. Even though this is not a much small idol, devotees consider him as Little Krishna. He has 4 hands : The upper right hand holding chakra, lower right hand holding lotus, upper left hand holding shankha and lower left hand holding gada. He is worshipped according to the pooja routines laid down by Adi Sankaracharya and later written formally in the Tantric way by Chennas Narayanan Namboodiri (born in 1427). The Chennas Namboodiris are the hereditary Tantris of the Guruvayur temple. The temple/pooja routines are strictly followed without any compromise. The Tantri is available full-time at the Temple to ensure this. The Melsanti (Chief Priest) enters the Sri Kovil (sanctum sanctorum) at 2:30 AM and does not drink even a glass of water up to the completion of noon poojas at 12:30 PM. The vedic traditions being followed here with absolute perfection and sincerity is the hallmark of the Guruvayur temple. It is important to note here that, even though the shrine is considered to be one of the holiest spots for Vaishnavites, the temple is not a part of the 108 Divya Desams.
Ekadasi, the eleventh day of every lunar fortnight, is very auspicious to the Hindus. Of the 24 Ekadasis in a year, the Vrishchika Ekadasi (Sukla paksha) has got special significance in Guruvayur temple. A memorial honour for Gajarajan Kesavan is conducted in Guruvayur. The Karanavar or head of the elephant family places a wreath at the statue of Kesavan in front of Sreevalsam guest house and all the other elephants stand around and pay obeisance. On Ekadasi day, the Udayasthamana Pooja (dawn to dusk pooja) is conducted by the Devaswom itself . After the morning seeveli, on Ekadasi there is a grand elephant procession to the Parthasarathi temple since it is regarded as Geethopadesam Day also. On Ekadasi after night pooja, the famous Ekadasi Vilakku with elephant procession takes place and provides a fitting finale to the festival.
Chembai Sangeetholsavam is an annual Carnatic music festival held in Guruvayur by the Guruvayur Devaswom at Thiruvaiyaru as a kind of homage to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, one of the titans of Carnatic Classical Music. Chembai had conducted the festival in the temple town on his own for about 60 years. He used to invite all the great Carnatic Musicians to perform in the temple town and in course of time, the scale of the festival rivalled the Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana, which is recognised as one of the most important festivals of homage paid to Saint Thyagaraja.
The Guruvayur Devaswom decided to take charge after his death in 1974, and renamed it as Chembai Sangeetholsavam in his memory. About 2000-2500 musicians participate in this festival every year, and it is held for about 12-15 days culminating on the Guruvayur Ekadasi day, when all the musicians sing 5 favourite songs of Chembai and also the Pancharatna Kritis of Thyagaraja.
How to Reach Guruvayur
Guruvayur can be accessed from Thrissur city by state highway 49, which starts from Guruvayur and ends in state highway 69 at choondal. Guruvayur can be accessed from Kochi city by highway 17, which starts from Edapally and interchange from Chavakkad. From city there are regular private and State-owned Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses. There is a private and a Kerala State Road Transport Corporation bus stand in Guruvayur which run inter-state, inter-district and city services.There are good frequency of buses from Palakkad, Calicut also.
The main rail transport system in Guruvayur is operated by the Southern Railway Zone of Indian Railways. Guruvayur Railway Station lies in the Thrissur-Guruvayur Section. It is the last station in this section. There are two passenger trains operating from Guruvayur Railway Station to Ernakulam Junction and another two passenger trains to Thrissur Railway Station every day. An overnight express train to Chennai Egmore via Ernakulam Junction, Thiruvananthapuram, Madurai, Trichy is also running from Guruvayur Railway Station everyday. Thrissur Railway Station is the major rail head near to Guruvayur from where you can get all South Indian and North Indian trains.
Cochin International Airport is the nearest airport, which is 87 KM from Guruvayur. All international, domestic and chartered flights are available here. Calicut International Airport at Karipur is about 100 KM away.