This post is prompted by the discussion taking place at Uma's indianwriting. Uma, rightly if you ask me, advocates temple entry reforms, in the context of the recent controversy about the Sri Lankan President Rajapakse's wife's entry to the Guruvayur temple. This is not the first time the Guruvayur temple is courting controversy in this regard. The reports that Uma has linked to in her post make it pretty clear.
Now I have something to say which I think is relevant. It's about an instance of a reform that was successfully initiated in Guruvayur by a few people including my father. I have heard about this from my father and I thought I would have a post on that. But my father has already written about it and I thought it's easier for me to quote him.
So here's an excerpt from Natannuvanna Vazhikal, my father's autobiography. I've taken some freedom with the translation, and I have enabled a few hyperlinks.
And yes, the protagonist of the story -- Yousuf Ali Kechery, well-known Malayalam poet and President of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi -- has already appeared in Uma's post.
Reminiscences of the Guruvayur days
by N.V.P. Unithiri
In the early part of 00's, I was a member of the editorial board of Bhaktapriya, the journal of the Guruvayur Devaswom. Even earlier I had been working in association with the Devaswom journal. Also I usually participated in many of their annual cultural programmes like the Narayaniyam commemoration day.
I had published many of my articles in Bhaktapriya. These include a paper on the Srauta sacrifices of Kerala, one about the costumes in Krishnanattam and essays about the Taittiriya Aranyaka and the Taittiriya Pratisakhya. My Sanskrit translation of P. Kunhiraman Nair's Narabali also appeared in Bhaktapriya.
Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri's, perhaps the most famous among the Guruvayur saints, Narayaniyam is rather well-known. There have been any number of studies on the Narayaniyam. Many might know that he was a great grammarian too. And some might be familiar with his grammatical works like Prakriyasarvaswam and Dhatukavyam. But it's not widely known that Melpathur had authored more than thirty Champu kavyas. Even among those who have heard about these, there must be many who haven't had a chance to look at these works. So I decided that perhaps I could use my editorial space to write expository columns in Bhaktapriya about these relatively unknown works of Melpathur's. These columns included expositions of Melpathur's Champu kavyas like Rajasuyam, Niranunasikam, Panchali swayamvaram, Subhadraharanam, Kaunteyashtakam, Kuchelopakhyanam, Dakshayagam, Ajamilamoksham, Dutavakyam, Kiratam, Swahasudhakaram, Gajendramoksham, Yudhishthirabhishekam and Kailasavarnanam. It was nice to know later that many readers of the journal found these articles both accessible and useful.
A few incidents from those days are unforgettable. The editorial board meetings used to take place every second Thursday. Lunch would be the temple prasadam. Paal payasam -- rice kheer -- was always there. As I was diabetic, I would taste just a little bit. Swami Mridananda, who was also a member of the editorial board, had diabetes in its later stages. He would have a lot of payasam though. Our incipient admonitory frowns would give way to a hearty laughter with Swamiji's words: "Lord Guruvayurappan's prasadam will do no harm".
Swamiji absented himself from these meetings gradually due to increased levels of diabetes. Recently he passed away.
Though ours was a journal associated to a Hindu temple, we decided that we should publish all the works that were of some interest to our readers, irrespective of the author's religious persuasion. As this was not the norm till then, we also decided to take the initiative and request a few of the non-Hindu litterateurs to submit their works to the journal. Poet Yousuf Ali Kecheri was one of the first to respond. Professor M. Leelavathi, another editor, received the poem. In our next board meeting, she showed it to me. That was a fine poem. But we were sort of hesitant to publish it right away. Because the poem touched upon the most controversial aspect regarding the temple that the non-Hindus weren't allowed inside the temple premises. The poem had (rightly) criticized such rules from a progressive secular point of view. But did not the Guruvayur temple have its own set of norms and conventions? And this tradition of course had nothing to do with modernity or democracy or secularism! The decision to have contributions from non-Hindus was in itself kind of revolutionary!
But then how could we not publish it? Not just that it was a great piece, Yousuf Ali had submitted it upon our inviting him to pen down something for us. In any case we decided to go by the decision of the venerable Professor K.P. Narayana Pisharody, the eldest amongst us, a great scholar, and also Yousuf Ali's Sanskrit teacher.
"We've Yousuf Ali Kecheri's poem with us. Please take a look", Professor Leelavathi gave it to Pisharody.
"It should be very good. He's very talented", Professor Pisharody commented even before reading the poem.
Professor Pisharody then began to examine the poem. Slowly there developed a tinge of gloom on his face.
"Alas, we shouldn't publish this in Bhaktapriya. This of course will neatly fit in Mathrubhumi or some such magazine." Professor Pisharody had decided. One question remained unanswered. How could we return an invited poem?
Finally we decided not to do anything on the matter! Do not publish and do not return!
In the near future something else happened. There was a sizzling controversy surrounding the wedding of Congress leaders Vayalar Ravi's and Mercy Ravi's son. The wedding took place in Guruvayur and the controversy was around the topic that Mercy was a Christian. But something positive resulted from the brouhaha. The public mindset started supporting the secular democratic forces on issues of this sort. It became increasingly clear that the resistance to reform and progress was coming from a fringe orthodox minority. We concluded that the overall atmosphere was ripe to experiment and that the time had come to go ahead and publish Yousuf Ali's poem. And the poem came published. It did not result in any further controversy!