Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dad’s Udayasthamana Pooja offering at Guruvayoor.

    It was after twenty-three years of waiting that we were granted a day to conduct a special Pooja at the Guruvayoor temple. Our father had booked for it in 1993 by depositing ten thousand rupees. He must have obtained that money from the pension arrears that the government provided to pensioners in bulk once in a while. He used to remind us over the phone and through his longwinded letters about the importance of this Pooja. “Udasthamana Pooja at Guruvayoor is sure to bestow prosperity to the entire family and you kids would have to conduct it well. I don’t know when we will be able to conduct this, but I am sure that by the time our turn comes up, I may not be around to coordinate and do the Pooja. So you all must find time to do it. Conducting this Pooja will help satisfy all your individual hopes and anticipations a well.” Every year when we go home to visit our parents, he repeated this.

Still, he had hoped that our turn would come within ten years or so. Our parents used to go to Guruvayoor for Darsan at least twice a year. I am sure they have had many occasions to see the well-adorned sculpture of Lord Guruvayoorappan in the early morning, daytime, and in the evenings. Though not rich by physical means, they led a great life- religiously sound and spiritually uplifting. They raised their children well, but didn’t spoil us in any way!


The Ekadasi day of 2003 is an unforgettable day for me. I went to Guruvayoor along with my sisters and parents. The line-up for Darsanam was too long, beyond the Manjulal in the East Nada. The Annual Chembai Music Festival is going on in the auditorium. Carnatic music with a devotional mood was in the air for the whole day. It was December and the air was cool, but it was a clear sunny Kerala day. Most devotees were in the line-up impatiently waiting and just outside the flag pole in the East Nada, there was a small group of people trying hard to take a look at the Sreekovil through the occasional gaps left by the throngs of people as they pass by in a hurry.  My mom and sisters had been in a ladies line-up already and had gone inside the temple already. 

Dad was 83 then, although he would never admit to it, he had difficulty in standing or walking for long. After walking for ten steps or so, he would find a place to sit. We sat down and listened to the music program that was going in the main stage. 

After walking for ten steps or so, he would find a place to sit. We sat down and listened to the music program that was going in the main stage. Then we walked to the flag pole and alighted there for a couple of minutes and tried to look beyond the flag pole to the Sreekovil. He said. ‘we won’t be able to get inside and do namaskaram today. Let us do it from here and leave’. We walked away from the flag post, he held on to my hands just as I would have held his hands when I started to walk as a toddler.

In the poem Ekadasi Nal,1  I had written about this-
‘Dad is holding on to my hands the same way I would have held his hands as a toddler.  “You should hold on to Guruvayoorappan…” his voice breaking…’

As we were about to leave without going inside the temple, a security officer with stars on his uniform, who was standing by the flag pole came to dad and asked, “ sir are you leaving without going inside the temple and seeing your  Guruvayoorppan?“

“No, I can’t stand in the long queue. I will come and see my Kannan some other day when he wants me to come” dad replied.

 “Who asked you to go in the queue? You can go inside now, just before the sreekovil door opens – go inside as fast as you can’. I was a bit hesitant to go along as it was a special privilege given to my dad. Then the security officer admonished me ‘what are you looking at? Go with your dad and hold his hands to help him walk’. He came with us to the inner flag pole and opened the chain. He told the security guys there not to open the other chains that controlled the crowd. The sanctum door was still closed.  As we started moving inside into the sreekovil, dad chanted “Guruvayoorappaa…”, the door opened.  

We were the only people in front and there was no one to yell at us ‘go fast, move fast, etc.’ Inside the Sreekovil was the idol of Sreekrishna, in full glory and beauty. But alas, I closed my eyes in awe. We were the only people there for may a minute or so. Dad had his eyes welled up, so he wouldn’t have seen the enchanting sculpture clearly either.

“As I move inside the temple filled my mind with anticipation
To see Kannan with his blue body smeared with sandal paste,
Struggling to see him through the throngs of people tall and fat
When I reach the door, why do my eyes close automatically?” – I had written this in a poem2
It happens to me all the time. As I reach inside, my eyes close shut

‘Move, move, ‘we hear that now and we rushed away from the Sreekovil area. The priest gave dad some sandal paste and Tulsi leaves. He put the sandal paste on my forehead.  We came to the rear side of the Sreekovil.  He was tired. ‘Let us sit down here’. Then he started chanting Vishnu Sahasranamam- He had it by-heart. I needed a book, even to chant it along with him.  Outside the temple, the Chembai musical conference is continuing. Here I was playing second ‘fiddle’ to my dad’s chanting of the one thousand names of Lord Vishnu. Once in a while, there were drum beats and Nadaswaram emanating from inside the sanctum sanctorum.  Truly this was my dad’s “Udayasthamana Pooja”. It was done after about ten years of booking for the Pooja. That was my first Ekadasi Darsanam and my dad’s last Darsanam. 

By the next May, he was gone. He was ‘under the care of the super-specialist Guruvayoorappan’- he wrote to me a few days before he passed on.

At last, after waiting for long, we got a letter from Guruvayoor Dewaswom that our turn for the Pooja would be in 2011.  As we were all getting ready, they postponed it. In 2013, our Mom has passed on. Last year our Ramani Chechi also left us. Mom’s only desire during those last days was to have the Udasthamanam conducted unitedly by all her children. 

Last year the Dewaswom informed us again of the Pooja day: Alady Padmanabhan Nair’s Udayasthamanam is scheduled for 1 September 2015. Please remit the rest of the amount. In addition to the Rs 10,000/- remitted 23 years back, there would be an expenditure of additional Rs 70,000/-. They would give two rooms in the Panchajanyam Guest House. The Pooja family is entitled to get Prasadam from all the twenty-one Poojas. There are eighteen special Poojas associated with Udayasthamana Pooja. In order for us to get inside the temple without lining up, Dewaswom will arrange staff to guide us as well.

The day before the Pooja, there is a ritualistic measuring of rice required for the day for various offerings. There is also a Ganapathy Pooja before measuring the rice. The rice is specially prepared by a pious lady and her family. That is the only work she does a day in and day out. She told me that it is her great fortune that she was chosen to do this for her Lord. She said “may my Lord give me enough strength to do this every day until I breathe my last’. In order to measure the rice, the Pooja sponsor is supposed to be present to witness the activity.  Before the person starts to take the rice, he seeks permission aloud from the people around just to make sure that everything is ready and are in order, for the Pooja the next day.

I made a list of family members who would be coming to the Pooja. There were 43 members, including children. They will all come to Guruvayoor the previous day or on the day of the Pooja. Arrangements were made for food and stay for everyone at the Panchajanyam Rest house run by the Devaswom. 

I was expecting that the Devaswom will provide us with an ID card each. But they just glanced at the list and said, you will all get the opportunity to go inside. Please don’t take all of the family members at the same time. It looks like it is their policy that they will not make anything official in this regard. 

On the day of Pooja, at 2  in the morning, eight of us reached the flag pole area at the East Nada as directed by the Devaswom worker. The general queue had already become pretty long by then.  All were waiting patiently for Nirmalya Darsanam. We were guaranteed special entry to the temple as we were the Pooja family. We had also mentioned that eight of us will come for this auspicious morning Darsanam.  Others will come for the different Poojas of the day, at their convenience.

Then the security guy at the door looked at his list and said – ‘ only five people from Udayasthamana Pooja family can go inside the temple now. We have some VIPs visiting today and a central minister is also there’. We went to him and said, no, we are eight and we had arranged for the same with the Devaswom officer, the day before. He is not budging.  

He insists that he can let only five of us inside. I tried to reason with him – we are all here from the family to have a Darsanam and which five are you going to select for this? We all need to be let in. If the Pooja sponsors are not allowed in, who are you going to entertain? All these talks were to no avail.

Then I moved forward and raised both my hands and stopped the VIPs. Then I told – I don’t know who you guys are- maybe you are politicians and movie personalities. But we waited 23 years for this auspicious moment. You can see our father’s name written on the board – Padmanabhan Nair, Perumabavoor- there, as the sponsor of the Pooja today. If you are hindering our entrance to the temple just because you are more influential, then so be it. You all go and have Darsanam. We will wait here outside. Either all of us will go or none will be going in.  My voice was somewhat raised, I think. The security guy immediately started reading the list again now with a slight change in tone – Udayasthamana Pooja family – eight people, two people from Chennai, etc. etc…

Having an early morning Darsanam – Nirmalyam is highly auspicious. I had written a song3 on forgetting the worldly affairs as soon as I stand in front of the Guruvayoor Sreekovil. Today that feeling came without even seeking it. After the Darsanam my sisters and I chanted the Vishnu Sahasranamam. Unlike my father, we needed the text to refer to as we chanted the holy names of the Lord. 

Throughout the day, there were eighteen different Poojas. We all went inside the temple many times with the help of the Devaswom staff assigned to help us. Saw the enchanting sculpture of the Lord many times. At noon we were given tokens to get in for Prasada Lunch that is given to all devotees.  My sister’s grandson, the six-year-old guy, prepared himself for the payasam. ‘Amma, I will eat only a little rice, otherwise, there won’t be enough space in my tummy to drink more payasam’. But alas!, there was no payasam today- they forgot to serve, it seems.
Other afternoon Poojas were also performed and we all could take part in most of them. In the evening, there was a good Chenda Melam followed by Nadaswaram. Three elephants were there for the Sreeveli. The final component of the Pooja was giving Dakshina for having done the Udaysthamana Pooja. The Devaswom officer there gave eleven coins to be submitted as the Dakshina- nothing more, nothing less. No need to show off our ability to pay more! This is in front of the Lord, after all. We all got ghee as a Prasadam, the ghee with wonderful medicinal properties. This was followed by other offerings and Dakshinas to the people who conducted various aspects of the Pooja and helped us with the activities of the day.

“Sree Guruvayoor is indeed the earthly abode of Lord Vishnu, the constant presence of Lord Krishna.” I had written this as a poem4 a few years back. Today I came to experience it.

It is heartening to note that the Pooja procedures were all written by Sathguru Adi Sankaracharya almost twelve hundred years ago. That tradition is continuing without any change even now. It is indeed a wonder that Sree Sankara, the authority and proponent of Advaitha has chosen to write a procedure for conducting a ‘saguna- aradhana’ (propitiating a deity with form)!  The Alady family thus became the Yajman (sponsor) of the Udayasthamana Pooja at Guruvayoor for a day.  Guruvayoor temple is not taking any more bookings for this Pooja as the backlog is until 2050, we were told.

Our parents were not there with us physically, but their presence was felt to us throughout the day. But personally, I think my dad’s Udayasthamana Pooja was done twelve years back on that Ekadasi day.

There are some photographs from Guruvayoor linked here. They would not allow any cameras inside, so I had to rely on some of my old photos and other photos on the internet.

Photos from Udayasthamana Pooja day and others

കവിത- ഗാനം links


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience during the Udayastamana puja at Guruvayoor. May God bless you and your family and keep the departed souls of your parents at peace. Oh Shanti....

  2. Thank you for sharing this
    Om Namo Narayanaya

  3. It was a delight reading this Sir !
    Thank you so much for sharing it. I dont know if I will ever get a cahnce in my life to do see this seva, but through your blog you literally gave us a virtual darshan. Hare Rama Hare Krishna!!

  4. awesome post sir.. i just searched the meaning of the pooja and your blog gave me a wide knowledge.. my first visit to guruvayur to see guruvayurappan is on 10 th April .. more excited !

    1. Superb Ramya , hope you have a great darshan , pls do share your experience here in the comments