Monday, January 16, 2006

Ahindus and Hindu temples

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!


At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anand thanks for this post!

The non-hindu entry into Guruvayoor had not been debated well in the so called progressive society of Kerala. But isolated voices (as Anands father says in the book) were always heard in recent times. For example see

The temple authorities have always been hypocritical in admitting people. They stopped Yesudas and Kecheri; and did Puniaham for Vyalar Ravis son but allowed filim actress Jayabharathi (A Muslim) to perform inside the temple!

Also the communists in the state have never made a comment against this nonsesnse. They dont even rember that their leader The Great AK Gopalan (AKG) was the volunteer captain of famous Guruvayoor Satayagraha of 1931 which finally enabled the Dalits and Shudra communities entry into the same temple.

There were couple of petitions filed against the authorities, but the orthodox judges of the Kerala high cout summarily rejected such petitions time to time.!

I wonder why the temple authorities and their so called educated supporters like Rajeev Sreenivasan dont want to see what Krishna had shown in Bhagad Gita without evoking a single word of Religion: the oneness of Humanity.

I quote Nataraja Guru from his book, Vedanta Revalued and restated:

"Vedanta, like mathematics, is a sastra (science text) as the Gita claims at the end of each chapter, and its open and dynamic character is so categorical and unequivocal as to make Krishna, as the true Vedantic Guru of the Gita, declare its character by saying:

"As each chooses to approach Me, even accordingly do I have regard for them. My very path it is, 0 Bharata (Arjuna) that all men do tread from every (possible) approach." (iv. 11)

Such a categorical denial of any closed and static outlook , taken together with the other well known Upanishadic dictum that 'he who sees plurality wends from death to death' (Katha Upanishad IV.12), must be enough to dispel any vestige of doubt in the matter of the unity demanded in one voice by the canons of Vedanta".

..... all become equal in the eyes of God. The absolutist himself who looks at anyone from the same godly perspective can only see equality reflected in all things whether considered sacred or profane. This truth is also strikingly expressed in the Bhagavad Gita (V.18) where we read:

"In regard to a Brahmin endowed with learning or humility, a cow, an elephant and even a dog, as also one who cooks dog (for food), the well-informed ones (panditah) see the same differenceless reality."

Every person is made in the image of God and has the kingdom of God within them. God is a reference to man and man is his dialectical counterpart, giving the same status to the Son of man as to the Son of God, i.e., the same Jesus of Nazareth.

So for Krishna even a dog-eater is not excluded from the grand scheme of the Absolute he represents!

Therefore without reading and assimilating this non-dual Wisdom preached by the Krishna, the ignorant temple authorities are openly creating artificial walls to devide the humanity. Its also worth point out that this is happening in Kerala, where 117 years ago (1888), Sree Narayana guru challenging the Hindu orthodoxy, established first temple for everyone devoid of caste or religion. Also he placed a plaque containing a motto on the temple wall which reads:

"Devoid of dividing walls
Of caste or race
Or hatred of rival faith (Religion),
We all live here
In Brotherhood,
Such, know this place to be!
This Model Foundation! "

How long we need to wait to see suh a motto on the walls of Guruvayoor Temple?

Another forgotten Hero of the Guruvayoor is Swamy Ananda Theerthan (1905-1987,deciple of Sree Narayana Guru) who fought till the end of his death for the entry of all Humans into Guruvayoor temple.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Well, temples, churches and mosques should be run by only private organizations and the Indian constitution should be freed of such words as "hindu", "christian" and "muslim". Now if one such private organization doesn't want people of so-and-so religion to enter its place of worship let that be so. This is the only way true secularism is possible.

Now that yUsaf ali kEccEri is one guy who wants to peddle his own interpretations of hinduism and proclaim them as canonical. His point of view closely parallels that of die-hard ahammadIya fanatics ( atleast that is what I infer from his poems ). I would be only glad he wasn't allowed into guruvAyUr. Though I wouldn't want that about general christians or muslims. Particularly muslims writing on hinduism have been much more respectful than left liberals. And I don't see why you commented ( at Indianwriting ) that the only sensible division is that between believers and non-believers. You are trivializing the distinction between beliefs there, I suppose. Personally : I wouldn't mind atheists as long as they are respectful ( not to see architecture or to view some third world religious customs but out of spiritual interest notwithstanding lack of belief ).

Anand, regarding your comment on Indian writing : even as those Mahe church etc. would let you light a candle they would proclaim that only those who appeal to the blood of jesus christ have a passport to heaven.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uma -- Thanks.

Pradeep -- Your comment is very informative. Thanks a lot. Incidentally the translation of "Jatibhedam matadwesham ..." reads very well? Whose translation is that?

froginthewell -- Privatisation is the one word panacea for everything, eh?

The division between belivers and non-belivers seem to be making more sense to me at a place of belief than restrictions based on religion etc. I don't see the logic behind the rule barring a Muslim or Christian who wants to pray to Guruvayurappan when an atheist like me can enter the temple just to see the architecture or to see the third world customs.

I don't care what they proclaim. I was allowed to enter on my terms and I entered. In certain temples, I'm not allowed to enter on my terms, so I don't enter. As simple as that. That said, I'll always support any effort from the part of those genuine believers who ask for more reforms.

Kumar -- You don't see the obvious. The demand for reforms come from within. It's the worshipping Hindus who are asking for reforms. It's they who think it's sensible to allow all those who want to pray to the Lord inside the temple. There must have been people like you who must have said changes were not possible and would not take place before reforms of substance took place. For instance, Dalits getting the right to enter certain temples. But the majority thought otherwise. And reforms did take place.

Here's what you've called comical:

I've gone to many temples in the north without much restrictions, but in Kerala I avoid temples in general because of these sort of irritating restrictions.

Comical or not, that's what I do. And you got the analogy right. I avoid such run-of-the-mill restaurants too.

I think temples are going to change many of these policies. They'll change when many more people find these policies irritating. I don't see why that cannot take place.

Well, I'm not particularly exercised by these rules as well. But when there's a fight between the fanatics and the reformists, I don't hesitate to support the reformists.

At 3:30 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Your analogy is syllogistic. The temple let you in only because there was no mechanism to check your religion, non-hindu non-public figures can get in. For an atheist like you all temples churches etc. may be places of belief and hence similar. But to believers like me to whom the difference is real, the church is as different from the temple as a secular institution is. Well, you don't believe in "spiritual vibrations" etc., what can I say?

pradIp, your "vidyA-vinaya-sampannE..." talks only what the "paNDita" does; not how the non-wise-men should act. That said, indeed gIta doesn't specifically say that so and so people should not do this or that; and gIta is indeed universal.

At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is one thing that you said in your first comment:

Organized religion is, necessarily, a hierarchy to one degree or another; certainly Hinduism’s central institution of guru-chela (say, Bhagavan Krishna and Arjuna) can’t be ‘reformed’ into something that won’t offend the egalitarian sensibility.

In reply, what I said was the following:

There must have been people like you who must have said changes were not possible and would not take place before reforms of substance took place. For instance, Dalits getting the right to enter certain temples. But the majority thought otherwise. And reforms did take place.

No ad-hominem attack there. I did not say that you would have done sth or the other a century ago. I said there must have been people even then who would have argued the way you argue today. The point is that your argument of today's one could have raised even then. And one could have theorized that reforms wouldn't take place. Could have concluded that "certainly Hinduism’s central institution of guru-chela can’t be ‘reformed’ into something that won’t offend the egalitarian sensibility". But then reforms did take place. And these reforms were in line with notions of egalitarianism.

So reforms will take place when enough people start asking for it. There's no central institution that is unchallenged or that cannot be reformed.

froginthewell -- Yes, there's some difficulty here in communicating to each other. I don't understand "spiritual vibrations" etc. In any case we did not differ much at the starting. You too say that anyone who's respectful should be allowed irrespective of his/her religion. I agree with that part. I might ask for further loosening of the rules. But we do have some initial common ground.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

You too say that anyone who's respectful should be allowed irrespective of his/her religion.

This might sound like nitpicking but that is not really what I said. Allowing people with the "right" attitude is what I would prefer. But I always maintain that the right to admit or reject should rest with the *private* trust/organization/individual/... that owns the temple ( with the understanding that all religious institutions should be privatized ). The first is philosophically my preference and the second the legal stance I advocate ( close to the libertarian stand ). These may not be compatible but I don't want to impose my preferences on others. Thanks and regards.

P. S. : Interesting to know mElputtUr was a vaiyyAkaraNa. Gels well with the general context of mElputtUr vs. pUntAnam stories!

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

froginthewell -- Thanks for the clarification.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kumar -- You are my guest here @ Locana, and let the last word on our debate be yours. So I don't add anything to the thread now. I'll end with a quote from Amitav Ghosh.

"To be able to understand and appreciate ideas that are different from one's own is a gift in itself: to look for agreement is really futile, since - let us face it - much of the time, it's quite a struggle even to agree with oneself."

Thanks for your comments and hope to see you again here.

At 2:10 AM, Blogger Ardra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:13 AM, Blogger Ardra said...

HI Anand!
came here via desipundit...and moved on to the excerpts from your father's autobiography...
found it very interesting and hope to get a copy...

why I'm writing this comment is to express that i'm interested in reading the article by your father comparing the 2 versions of Maraar's Rama- how? I'm not sure...

my mother had told me about the 2 versions- but was not able to get hold of it...
I've only read Maraar's "Bhaarathaparyatanam" and a collection of letters compiled in his Smaranika...

now let me go back to reading the rest of the excerpts.
Thank you

At 2:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Ardra. Let me know (by e-mail) if you can't get hold of a copy of my father's book, and I may be able to help you.

Marar's first essay on Rama appeared in his book Rajankanam. At least in its first edition. It seems he replaced it with his second version in its later editions. Perhaps the first essay is also available in his collected essays published by Kerala Sahitya Akademi. Second essay is easy to get. For instance it's there in his book Sahityasesham published by Marar Sahitya Prakasham. Whether the first essay is indeed there or not in his collected works, that I'll confirm in this space in a day or so! (I need to get the answer from my father.)

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ardra -- Yes, Marar's first essay is there in his collected works published by Kerala Sahitya Akademi.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anand: The translation of “Jatibhedam, Mathadwesham... ‘ is by none other than Nataraja Guru . It’s taken from his book, The Word of the Guru: Life and teachings of Narayana Guru” which was first published in Geneva in 1927, when he was a Ph.D student at Sorbonne University, Paris.

Froginthewell: I agree with some of your thoughts.
The aim of the Gita teaching is to elevate the seeker (by dispeling his avidya) to the level of the Absolute (the Purusottama or the Paramount Spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, XV.19). Therefore, the Guru and Shishya are interchangeable terms of the Dialectical (Yogic) teaching of Vedanta. If we consider this as the common ground, there is no point to argue that Gita verse stands true for wise man or non wise man. What I wanted to show is that nobody (believer or nonbeliever or a dog or a dog eater) is kept out of the Universal teaching of Gita vis-à-vis The Absolute. Also Gita teaching advocates a strict bipolar relation with the seeker and the Absolute. Keeping this in mind Narayana Guru wrote in 1888 that Human beings have only one religion which he defined in his book Atmopadesa satakam as the Quest for Happiness:
“All beings, at all times, everywhere, are exerting them- selves to attain happiness. This quest for happiness is the "One Religion" in the world, of which no one has any dispute. Knowing this, one should restrain from being lured into any sin of fighting one's own fellow beings” (verse 49)
“ The normative essence of everybody's conviction is the same. Those who do not know this secret become fanatical in establishing relativistic points of view and argue like the proverbial blind men who went to "see" an elephant and couldn't agree between them in the description of the animal. Avoid all such disputes by cultivating the all-embracing attitude of sameness.” (verse 44)
“One man's faith will appear as unworthy to another. A basic dictum of another's religion is often looked upon with disdain and is rated unsatisfactory. Such confusion born of irrational prejudices continues in the minds of people as long as the unitive secret of universal sameness remains unknown.” (verse 45)
In this definition the man-made words such as Hindu, Muslim, Christian.Marxists and Atheist vanishes. So my basic point is that, one who really assimilates this Universal teaching would not argue for the protection of temple from non-Hindus or non-believers or foreign tourists. However, to protect the sanctity of the temple there is nothing wrong in demanding a decent dress code (which should include pant, salwar...) and other basic practices. This should be clearly displayed on the main gate of the temple.
Kumar: Once the above mentioned philosophy is practiced Temples would become “Model institutions” to the Governments and to the whole world and. Then, there won’t be any scope for the Govt to interfere in their affair. Unfortunately, since it’s not being the case in our country, it’s not wise to argue that Govt should be kept away from such institutions.

I have serious concern about these so called believers. If ones belief doesn’t impart humanness (or kindliness), such belief is equally harmful the society (a dual tragedy). This is clearly demonstrated by Hindu-believers in Bombay (1992) and Gujarat (2002). So those who argue for the non-Hindus and non-believers entry into the Hindu temple has the responsibility to explain, the so called Harm caused by such people in Sabarimala and many other temples in Kerala where there is no restriction are imposed on the entry. I personally know many non-believers and non Hindus (one example is Paul Zachariah) visit Sabarimala every year.

Another interesting fact is that they never see a problem in seeing non-Hindus or non-believers clicking around with digital-cameras at the gatherings of modern day Gurus (Mata Amritanandamayi & Sri Ravishankar). A lot of their so called disciples (mostly Westerners) are under hysterical neurorosis and expecting quick ready-made remedies to their personal problems (basically most of the Hindu and Non-Hindu believers going to the temples/churches also falls in this category).

Also Kumar: Although you have all rights to disagree, why are too concerned about lengthy replies from Anand? If he can maintain a blog, he is wise enough to find writing lengthy or short replies of his choice.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Anand - to reply to pradIp I will have to digress; hope it is okay with you as it has been before.

pradIp : for bhagavad gIta 15.19 you seem to be translating "bhajati" as "attains". Even the God-father of the present day "understanding" of advaita, Adi shankarAcArya, does not translate it that way. And then your statement "Therefore" doesn't automatically follow ( even with your translation it doesn't ).

For the rest of this comment I will assume common beliefs of vEdAntins. Of course there is a difference between how a wise man may act and how an unwise man should. A paNDita ( paNDA AtmaviShayA buddhiH asya asti iti paNDitaH ) may involve himself in the world anyway he likes but if you or I do that we will pull ourselves further and further into saMsAra. Why don't you consult chapter 3 verse 3; the adherences "sAnkhyas" and "yOgins" are to follow are different.

Your biased choice of examples betrays prejudice.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

One more thing, pradIp : I am not sure how many hindutva guys are for or against allowing temple entry to others. The decisions are made by some minority bureaucracy which controls the affairs. And this bureaucracy is appointed by the Government. In other words, the responsibility for this rests with the Government. It has nothing to do with general hindus or hindutva as the contrast with Mahe church might aim to show.

And then your statement :

Once the above mentioned philosophy is practiced Temples would become “Model institutions” to the Governments and to the whole world and. Then, there won’t be any scope for the Govt to interfere in their affair.

This is not true, there are so many other things the Government can regulate like the accounts, the festivals etc. For instance in kEraLa the dEvasvam officials are appointed by the Government.

Solution : privatize privatize privatize.

At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

froginthewell: Let me clarify quickly.
You are mistaken with my sentance." The aim of the Gita teaching is to elevate the seeker (by dispeling his avidya) to the level of the Absolute (the Purusottama or the Paramount Spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, XV.19)"

What I wanted to say is that Purushotatama is another word for the Absolute(God or Brahman or Atman) in Gita. So that sentance is not a translation for X15-19! Sorry for making confusion.

My Gita understanding is based on commentary written by Nataraja Guru and his deciples. The introduction of that book can be found at

The introduction itself clarfied many of my doubts on Gita. Please go throught it if you find time.

At 3:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should we campaign for liberalization on one side we should support return to greater orthodoxy at the same time. Dress code is fine and if we should go beyond we need that all who wish to enter the temple should have a bath in the temple’s sacred tank and have an entry with wet cloth’s conforming to the dress code.

It does not matter to which faith one belongs once you have a dip in the sacred temple tank –

At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bhagavad Gita and management

Mind is very restless, forceful and strong, O Krishna,
it is more difficult to control the mind than to
control the wind ~ Arjuna to Sri Krishna
The ancient (nearly 5000 years old) Indian
philosophy of keepiing mind and body for the well
being, has entered the managerial, medical and
judicial domain of the world. Today it has found its
place as an alternative to the theory of modern
management and also as a means to bring back the right
path of peace and prosperity for the human beings. One
of the greatest contributions of India to the world is
Holy Gita which is considered to be one of the first
revelations from God. The management lessons in this
holy book were brought in to light of the world by
divine Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swamy Chinmayananda,
and now being popularized by Swami Bodhananda, a
renowned seer and teacher of Vedanta, meditation and
values, the spiritual philosophy by Swamy Vivekananda,
the devotional philosophy by Sri Srila Prabhupada
Swami, personality development by Sri. Sri
Ravishankar, its relevance to uplift the weaker
sections by Mata Amrithanandamayi Devi, and humanism
by Sai Baba. Maharishi calls the Bhagavad-Gita, the
essence of Vedic Literature and a complete guide to
practical life. It provides “all that is needed to
raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible
level.” , reveals the deep, universal truths of life
that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone.
Arjuna got mentally depressed when he saw his
relatives with whom he has to fight.( Mental health
has become a major international public health concern
now). To motivate him the Bhagavad Gita is preached in
the battle field Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna
as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men
stood by waiting .

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anand,
Your emotional thrust is understandably revealed. Fine, but what was the subject poem of Yusuf Ali Kechari. I'm also a fan of this famous writer....but if Pisharodi had rejected an invited poem what was his comments and ground of such a rejection? What is the poem is all about, in fact? Can you throw some light? My e-mail:

Curious to hear on my question.



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