“Guruvayurappane” ! In many a hapless situation, we would have found ourselves calling out to the Lord of Guruvayur, on that summer morning, for the first time, we were finally on our way to see Lord Krishna of Guruvayur.
We followed Google Maps for the 27 kms distance between Thrissur and Guruvayur. For most part of the highway after you leave Thrissur, one can find lot of shops selling the world famous Kerala banana chips. We were told Guruvayur had the best variety of chips, so we decided to wait until we reached Guruvayur. Either Google took us through a shorter route or we missed the road somewhere, we seemed to have deviated to some village roads but we nothing to complain about because the roads were good and route very scenic. Village roads meant it took us more than an hour to reach Guruvayur.
Ramakrishna Lunch Home
We were excited as we drove into Guruvayur, one of the most sacred pilgrim places in India, known for its strict adherence to traditional and cultural practices. It was lunch time when we helped our friends check in at a hotel the wedding party had booked for them and then all of us headed out for lunch. Our friends who are regular visitors to Guruvayur had told us that the best place for an authentic Kerala meal was Ramakrishna Lunch Home. It was an extremely hot and sultry day, walking to the restaurant, we got a feel of the Kerala summer, the heat was pricking us like pins ! It was a relief when we entered the restaurant and sat under the fan.
Ramakrishna Lunch Home, is one of the oldest and the best eateries in Guruvayur, if you want a proper Kerala full meal, there is no place better than this one. The heavenly meal is served on a plantain leaf and the Sambaar even out did Coimbatore Sree Annapoorna’s taste.
As we are typing this 4 months after our visit, the aroma of the Sambaar is suddenly everywhere around us ! After a meal that left us barely able to move, we managed to drag ourselves to Guruvayur Heritage Homestay, a pretty resort, where we had booked our stay. Staying in the cool interiors and watching the afternoon burning heat outside, we drifted off to sleep.
The Elephant Fort
Our siesta ended at 3 PM when we headed out to Anakkotta or the Elephant Fort which is an elephant sanctuary run by the Guruvayur Temple Devaswom. It is only about 3 kms from the temple.
The Anakkotta was actually a palace of a local ruler once upon a time, it was converted into the elephant sanctuary where the elephants owned by the Guruvayur temple are housed and cared for. There are about 50 odd elephants in the sanctuary. The lush green sanctuary is well maintained, one can walk around watching the elephants go about their business.
You are not allowed to go near the elephants or disturb them, just quietly walk around and watch these magnificent animals.
In one corner of the sanctuary, we spotted an elephant being bathed.
The elephant seemed to enjoy the wash while its attenders climbed over it and scrubbed it clean. As we were watching, it let out a heavy breath, it was just an exhalation but enough to send the mud and leaves flying around !
It is a pleasant walk around the sanctuary, here and there, you can see a few Kerala style buildings, probably the palace buildings of Punnathurkotta as this place was known earlier.
We had a good time at the elephant sanctuary and then headed to Chavakkad Beach.
“I mean what I mean but they can’t be so mean !”
Until we began searching for places to see in Guruvayur, we did not know that Guruvaryur was a coastal town ! We were surprised when we found beaches listed under places of interest in Guruvayur. Chavakkad Beach is the closest one.
Before going to the beach, we stopped at a road side eatery for tea and Pazham Bajji. Pazham Bajji is a famous Bajji in Kerala, a ripe Nendram Pazham (a variety of Banana) is mixed with Besan batter and deep fried, the resulting taste is yum ! A great accompaniment with tea.
We arrived at the Chavakkad Beach around 6 PM. The sun was getting ready to set. It was a weekend, so there were quite a number of people at the beach but more than the beach, it was this scene that fascinated us.
Ever watched “Michael Madan Kama Rajan”, the unforgettable Tamil comedy movie? Writer Crazy Mohan’s wordplay on the Tamil word “meen” (fish) and the English “mean” is epic ! We were reminded of that dialogue when we saw hundreds of freshly caught fish being sold on the beach. The fish came in all colours and sizes.
A group had formed around a massive fish to participate in the auction for that fish. After about 10 minutes, one of the dealers came out of the crowd, triumphant, proudly carrying that giant sized fish. It was a very exciting experience for us, we had never seen such a big fish market right on the beach, talk about buying from the source !
We actually spent more time watching people buying fish than sit and relax at the beach.
We sat for a short while enjoying the sea breeze, the sun set quietly behind the clouds in the horizon, we couldn’t get a view but it is nature and it has its own will, every course of nature is beautiful.
It was close to 7 PM by the time we left Chavakkad Beach, we had been told that if we wanted to visit the Guruvaryur temple, we had to stand in the queue leading to the temple by 7.30 PM, the latest. Road blocks and diversions within Guruvayur town meant, we hardly had 15 minutes to go to our hotel, freshen up and go to the temple. Hoping we had just about enough time to make it to the temple that evening, we walked the 1 km to the temple from our hotel because it would take time to drive considering the one way routes. It was 7.45 PM, thankfully, it being a weekend, people were allowed to join the queue till about 8 PM before they closed the entry gates.
Guruvayur temple – A divine world of culture and art
We joined the queue that seemed to stretch from the entry gates for almost a kilometer ! There are no specific special darshan tickets, except Rs.4500/- and Rs.1000/- which is for a special Ghee lamp seva, everybody is expected to wait in the queue for their turn. Senior Citizens and mothers with babies less than a year old are allowed in a separate queue at specific timings.
By 8 PM, the gates were closed for entry, all we had to do was stand in the serpentine queue as it moved slowly. For someone who is used to long queues in temples, the pushing and pulling, noise, arguments and so on, we were pleasantly surprised that at Guruvayur, people were surprisingly disciplined and quiet. We don’t know if it was just that day or if it is usually like that in Guruvayur, we were floored. It took us more than an hour to reach the inner prakara of the temple. We spent the time admiring the Kerala traditions, people, their attire and the beautiful temple, the humid weather, almost forgotten.
As it was closing time, the authorities were rushing with the darshan, despite that, people weren’t being pushed, nor were the people creating a ruckus. The only one place where there was some mad rush was at the entrance door to the main shrine and that was because the entrance is very narrow and small, probably as big as a window.
Beyond the entrance is the tiny idol of Guruvayurappan, Lord Vishnu or Unni Krishnan (Little Krishna) as He is also known in Kerala. Despite the darkness and light coming only from oil lamps around the idol, one can get a clear view of the idol, divine grace or just human discipline, we do not know but a darshan of Guruvayurappan is wonderful experience !
Done with the darshan, as we were leaving, we spotted people settling down around the main shrine, we had heard about a procession before closing the temple and we decided to stay back and witness it. It was around 9.30 PM by then. Slowly, the crowd grew on the temple steps and the courtyard. The outer wall of the shrine has 1000s of oil lamps on all sides, which were being lit by people, anybody from the general public can go and light the lamps. We lit a few lamps too. In about half an hour, the entire wall was lit with lamps and words cannot express the sheer beauty of the sight, the sight is sure to make your heart overflow with emotion !
As we stood admiring the stunning visual before us, 3 of the temple elephants were getting ready for the procession, called the Seeveli. The ritual involves a procession of the idols of Lord Krishna around the temple on elephants. Priests holding temple umbrellas and icons balance themselves on the elephants as they go around the temple to the sounds of the Chenda Melam, the Kerala drums and wind instruments. The effect is electric ! There are three rounds of the procession, each with a different idol, people walk along with the elephants, singing bhajans.
We had never witnessed such an event in our lives before and we were short of words. As the Seeveli ended and we were planning to leave, when we spotted some mikes and a curtain being arranged in one part of the temple. That’s when we realised, there was going to be a Kathakali performance. We walked around the temple, not having enough of the beautifully lit temple, gushing about what we had just experienced.
About 15 minutes after the Seeveli ended, the Kathakali dance started. The tradition of Kathakali performance going on till the wee hours, is still being practised. Never in our lives had we expected to be sitting in a temple as important as Guruvayur and watching live performance of one of India’s most famous classical dances ! A sense of “this is life” does come to you at such moments.
We sat and watched the cultural event till about 11.30 PM when we realised we had to attend the wedding next morning and decided to head back to our hotel. We walked back, it was close to midnight, we didn’t have dinner and were feeling tired. We couldn’t find any eatery open but our hotel guys were very kind and prepared a quick bowl of fried rice for us. We couldn’t thank them enough.
Kerala wedding Guruvayur style !
By 8 AM the next morning, we were ready for our friend’s wedding. The wedding was to take place at the open mandapas installed just outside the temple. We walked to the temple and were taken aback to see thousands of people and several weddings taking place one after the other within a matter of an hour ! Kerala weddings are usually very short, done within 15 minutes and at Guruvayur, one had just a few minutes to get onto the mandapa and tie the Thaali, the couple parents alone are allowed on the mandapa. T
he rest of the family and friends have to stand in the ocean of wedding guests of all the weddings happening at that time, you wouldn’t know who has come to attend whose wedding. People just stand jostling to get a view of their people on the mandapa and try to click a few pictures. Even passersby can stand and witness the weddings. It is chaotic but fun, if the wedding is during the summer months like our friends, you can add heat, humidity and suffocation to the chaos ! After the wedding, the couple is allowed inside the temple to get a darshan of Guruvayurappan. Like all the experiences we had during this trip, this was yet another unforgettable one.
Amidst all the rush, we managed to click this lone picture of the Guruvayur temple.
The wedding event done, we headed to the banquet hall where the remaining wedding rituals would be performed followed by the Kerala wedding feast, Sadya, which was one of the main reasons for us to come for the wedding all the way from Hyderabad !
Right after the wedding, we headed to market area near the temple. One doesn’t leave Guruvayur without buying Banana Chips and different varieties of Guruvayur Halwa ! We spent close to Rs.1000/- on Chips and Halwa and adding almost 4 kgs to our luggage !
By 3 PM, we left Guruvayur and drove back to Coimbatore. Our friend who studied in Coimbatore had many memories to share and we made one more visit to Sree Annapoorna near Coimbatore Bus Stand and ate to our heart’s content ! Our friend was overcome with emotion, such is the effect familiar food and taste can have on you !
Our flight was 11 PM, we dropped off the ZoomCar and walked to the airport, we spent the next 3 hours chatting, this writer even ran into a friend from school, it was an unexpected reunion after more than a decade !
As the flight took off, we spotted some vapour from the AC vents, enough to send this writer into a panic mode and glance a terrified look at the air-hostess, who very calmly signalled to us that we were being stupid ! All was well and we reached home in Hyderabad by 2 AM.
We had just one thought as we drifted off to sleep – Kerala is truly God’s own Country, no doubt about that !
- For information about the Guruvayur temple, timings, accommodation and other information, check the temple’s website http://guruvayurdevaswom.nic.in
- One has to be traditionally dressed to enter Guruvayur temple. Men are required to wear dhoties, while women can wear sarees or salwar kameez.
- Seeveli is performed three times during in day, however, the lighting of the lamps happens only at night, it is totally worth staying back to witness it atleast once in a lifetime.
- There are lot of temples around Guruvayur that can be visited during a stay at Guruvayur, since we were short of time, we limited our visit only to Beach and Anakotta. Anakotta closed at 6 PM.
- Guruvayur chips and halwa are a must buy, the market place is full of such shops and almost all the shops are good ones, we purchased our lot at a shop called Ayodhya.
“The content and pictures on this blog are owned by the authors of http://www.highwayonlyway.com and are not available for copying or reproducing elsewhere without any written consent from us.”