Legends of Guruvayur
SANKARACHARYA'S FORCED LANDING: Once Sankaracharya was on his aerial journey to Shringeri. While above Guruvayur he smiled at the pompness and vividity of the procession of Sreebhootha Bali (feeding celestial attendants) and tried to pass the temple without making any obeisance to the Lord. Suddenly he came crashing down and the procession stopped there at the northwest corner. He soon recovered and saw the Lord in all his royalty. Realizing the cause of his fall, Sankaracharya prostrated before the Lord and tried to win the Lord's favour by chanting 8 slokas in praise of Govinda, known as Govinda Ashtakam. The small opening in the roof over the North- West courtyard is in commemoration of this event. Sankaracharya is believed to have instituted the Mandala Vilakku (lighting of lamps for 41days).
MANJULAL : Manjula was a virtuous and devout Variyar caste girl. Every night she used to bring garlands for the Lord. One day she was late and the temple got closed. She could reach only up to the banyan tree (from where elephant race starts during Utsavam ), and started feeling guilty. Poonthanam, on his way back from the temple saw her crying near the banyan tree. He comforted her and said that she could place the garland on the stone at the foot of the banyan tree, since the Lord is everywhere .She was convinced, kept the garland there and happily went home. Next day morning, the Melsanthi removed all the garlands from the idol, but one garland remained stuck on the idol. The devotees were puzzled but Poonthanam realised last night's event. It was the garland, which Manjula had placed on the stone at the foot of the banyan tree.
Poonthanam told the story to everyone and then the garland slipped down from the idol. Devotees started chanting the name of the Lord and struggled to collect the flower from the garland. Worshipers went to the banyan tree to make their obeisance. Since then, the banyan tree came to be known as Manjulal
DEVOTION OF NENMINI UNNI : Once a Nenmini Namboodiri was the priest at Guruvayur temple. There was only one priest on those days and had to go out on an urgent and unavoidable situation. He told his 12 year old son to offer the Nivedyam to the Lord and left. At the prescribed time he offered Nivedyam (cooked rice) to the Lord and thought in simplicity that the Lord will eat the rice, but the idol did not move. Unni went outside and brought some salted mangoes and curd from neighborhood in the belief that the Lord like food this way. He mixed the curd with rice and offered it again. But the idol again remained unmoved. He cajoled , requested, coaxed and in the end threatened , but idol still unmoved . He started crying on his failure and shouting towards the Lord that his father would beat him. The Lord could not bear it any more, and suddenly the Nivedyam got disappeared. The boy left the place satisfactorily. The Nivedyam offered to the Lord was the Variyar's prerequisite.
On seeing the empty plate, he became very angry with the Unni, but Unni still could not understand and told Variyar that God ate up the rice with the curd and salted mangoes. The Unni's innocent word made Variyar more furious. On santhi's arrival, Variyar told the complaint that Unni himself had eaten the Nivedyam, and that he was making a false story. Though Unni told his version, father could not believe it. He raised his hands to beat him, but just then an asareeri (celestial voice) was heard saying, "I am the guilty, Unni is innocent".
ANAYOTTAM OR ELEPHANT RACE :Once Guruvayur was a Keezhedam (subordinate temple) of Thrikanamathilakam (Trikkunavay). The festival of Trikkunavay used to finish two days before the beginning of Guruvayur Utsavam . The elephants used to come from Trikkunavay for the Guruvayur utsavam. Once they refused to send their elephants to Guruvayur for not making payment in time. The elephants were chained but they broke the chain and ran to Guruvayur without the mahouts on that night. From that day onwards the elephants used to leave Trikkunavay on Punarvasu to reach Guruvayur in time for the festival.
Trikkunavay was destroyed by the Dutch in 1755. To keep the reminiscence of this unusual event, the elephant race (aanayottam) is conducted every year and this marks the beginning of the Guruvayur Utsavam. The elephants run from Manjulal, (the banyan tree half a kilometer away from the eastern entrance to the temple) enter the temple, take 7 rounds and touch the flagstaff in the end. The first elephant to touch the flagstaff will be given special treatment inside the temple on the days of Utsavam and will get the privilege of carrying the Lord's thidambu for the procession.
THE LORD AS ASSISTANT COOK :One day a devotee wanted a feast to be held for the Lord with a hundred measures of rice. In Guruvayur the intended offering to the Lord is to be prepared by the two Keezhsanthis. One of the Keezhsanthis was on leave due to illness. Mallisseri Namboodiri was worried and he spent a sleepless night pondering over how to make the next days' arrangements. He could do nothing other than pray to the Lord chanting His name overnight for a solution. The next day he went to the temple, looked around, and was relieved to see the Keezhsanthi who had been on leave returned and was preparing the feast. After completion of cooking the Keezhsanthi went to Rudratheertham for a bath but not to return. He was not seen the next day also. Mallisseri sent his man to enquire about him. To his surprise he learned that the Keezhsanthi was actually bed ridden ever since he had been on leave. It was unbelievable but Mallisseri understood the whole thing. It was the Lord himself who came and helped him out of the difficulty.
THE LORD AS MANGATTACHAN : Poonthanam a devout devotee of the Lord who used to walk about 100 kilometers to take darshan of Guruvayurappan every month. Once on his way, he was attacked by some robbers. Sensing the danger he closed his eyes and cried out for Lord's help. After some time there spread a sweet scent of Vanamala, the garland worn by Sreekrishna, and he opened his eyes to see Mangattachan (the Minister of the Zamorin Raja) standing before him with his drawn sword drenched in blood and also the dead bodies of the robbers around him. Quite relieved, Poonthanam cried out "Krishna!, Krishna!, your leelas are wonderful!". He took the ring off his finger and presented to Mangattachan.
The Melsanthi of the Guruvayur temple, the same night, heard in a dream, an Unni Namboodiri telling him "You will find a ring on the idol. give it to Poonthanam, who will come tomorrow". Quite miraculously, he saw a ring on the idol when he opened the Sreekovil next day. Shortly Poonthanam came for darshan and started his prayers. Melsanthi came out from Sreekovil and gave Poonthanam the ring and told him what had happened. Poonthanam was flabbergasted to see that the ring was his own, which he had presented to Mangattachan, the day before!. It was Lord Guruvayurappan himself, who came to the rescue of Poonthanam as Mangattachan.
MELPATHUR HUMBLED :The Jnanapana (means the song of wisdom) written in simple Malayalam is Poonthanam's greatest work. Melpathurwas the most knowledgeable and learned man of that time. Poonthanam showed the draft of his Jnanapana to Melpathur. Malayalam was not accepted in the learned circle those days and Melpathur had contempt for Malayalam, which was not considered equal to Sanskrit. He refused to see Poonthanam's work and told him blatantly to learn Sanskrit and then start writing. This act of Melpathur hurt Poonthanam. Melpathur was composing Narayaneeyam in those days and when he came next day to offer dasaka of ten slokas (ten stanzas) before the Lord, he could not utter a single word. A small boy in his teens, never seen before presented himself and pointed out mistakes after mistakes in the slokas composed by Melpathur.
After ten mistakes in ten slokas Melpathur realised the divinity of the boy. He felt at the feet of the boy but the boy disappeared and there was an asareeri (celestial voice) saying, "Poonthanam's Bhakthi (devotion) is more pleasing to me than Melpathur's Vibhakthi (learning or knowledge in Sanskrit grammar)". Melpathur realised his mistake and asked Poonthanam to pardon him and amended his arrogance by reading the works of Poonthanam
THE LORD'S PARTIALITY FOR POONTHANAM :Though Poonthanam and Melpathur were great devotees of Lord Guruvayurappan, Poonthanam, a great poet, who wrote his verses in the vernacular, was famous for his bhakthi where as Melpathur, an erudite scholar and great poet in Sanskrit was known for his vibhakthi.The Lord was partial towards Poonthanam than Melpathur. Melpathur used to laugh at Poonthanam's Sanskrit reading and recitation. One day Poonthanam was wrongly reciting "Padmanabho Maraprabhu",which means Lord of trees in Malayalam. Melpathur openly laughed at Poonthanam and corrected saying, Padmanabha is not Maraprabhu (Lord of trees) but Amaraprabhu (which means Lord of immortals in Sanskrit). Immediately, there was an asareeri (celestial voice) from the inner shrine, "I am also Maraprabhu" (Lord of trees).
Now there is a statue of "Maraprabhu" in the Sreevalsam Guest house compound fully made of clay. This is the biggest idol made of clay in Asia.
VILLWAMANGALAM'S VISIONS :Villwamangalam's devotion and dedication towards the Lord was such that he could have visions of the Lord, independent of the image. Wherever he went, he had visions. He visualised Vishnu, Siva, and in Guruvayur it was Unnikrishna and the Lord's other disguises. Whenever he came to Guruvayur for darshan, the Lord granted him vision from the Sanctum-Sanctorum (central shrine). One day he did not get the Lord's vision from there. He went around the temple in search of the Lord. The sound of tinkling of bells from the northern chuttambalam attracted his curiosity. He peeped in and saw Unnikrishna dancing there. From that day onwards this place came to be known as Nritham ( Nrithappura or dancing hall).
On another occasion also, he could not see the Lord's vision in the central shrine. Later he found the Lord sitting amidst the Marar boys (drummer's boys) and sharing feast with them, as the Lord was fond of the feast given to the Marar boys. It later became an important offering with the devotees.
A third time also, he failed to have the Lord's vision in the central shrine. It was night time and the Krishnanattam was being staged in the courtyard. The saint ultimately found him on the stage with the 'gopikas'. Since then, Krishnanattam came to be staged in the northern bahyankana (outer courtyard) instead of the eastern bahyankana. And it begins only when the central shrine is closed after the last pooja at night.
KURURAMMA, VILLWAMANGALAM II AND THE LORD :Kururamma was a childless widow. She adopted Unnikrishna as her son and gave Him a lot of motherly love. Villwamangalam also saw the Lord in the form of Unnikrishna but the Lord always preferred Kururamma for her devotion.
Once an old Brahmin with severe stomach ache approached Villwamangalam for relief. Villwamangalam could not cure him and told that the pain is the result of his past karma. Dispirited and dejected he unknowingly reached Kururamma's house. Kururamma thought he is hungry and offered him some food. The Brahmin said that he could not eat any food because of his stomach ache, which even Villwamangalam could not cure. After listening to his grievances, she told the Brahmin to have a bath in the tank, in the name of Lord. After his bath, he was served food. He realized that his stomach ache had disappeared. He ate the food and expressed his gratitude to Kururamma
One day Kururamma was washing her cloths. A few drops of water unintentionally fell upon Chemmangatt Amma, another lady of the locality who had finished her bath. She felt polluted and took a second plunge in water to purify. She sarcastically told Kururamma that now she was doubly clean and stated that today Villwamangalam would be coming to her illam (house of a Brahmin) for bhiksha (alms). By this she wanted to show her acquaintance with the saint Villwamangalam. Kururamma replied that saint would only come to her illam and not in Chemmangatt's illam. Kururamma sent a member of her family to invite the saint, but he apologetically refused since he had promised Chemmangatt earlier. After his daily worship, Villwamangalam started for Chemmangatt's house for the bhiksha. But the pilot who was to lead his way by blowing conch to announce his presence could not produce any sound from his conch (shankh).
It was a bad omen and Villwamangalam was bewildered. Then he remembered his refusal to Kururamma's offer in the morning, and decided that it is the Lord's wish that he should go to Kururamma's illam. On this thought itself, the conch started functioning and filled the air with its resonant sound. The saint then turned his steps towards Kururamma's house. The Lord was always partial to Kururamma.