Historical relevance of Guruvayoor Temple – By Santhu

Tipu Sultan, terror to British army, attacked Guruvayoor Sri Kirshna temple in AD 1789. Deity at Guruvayoor is popularly known as Guruvayoorappan.

Read Malayalam version of this article here

Guruvayoor temple is located at Thrissur dist, Kerala, India and very popular pilgrimage in south India. Foreign tourists are not allowed inside this temple premises and follow strict dress code and religious regulations. This article is an attempt to discover the historical significance of Guruvayoor temple during various regimes who ruled southern India. I present this article to readers after researching from various sources and referring historically significant books. The following article is historical briefs and not intended to favour or criticise any religion, community or rulers. Please feel free to correct and discuss various aspects of this article in our comments section with an impartial view.

Guruvayoor temple has a history of more than 5000 years and was protected by its devotees from attacks and invasions prior to formation of independent India. The idol of Sri Krishna (popularly known Guruvayoorappan) temple at Guruvayoor is made out a very special type of ancient stone. Historical evidence suggests that the main idol was once hidden from the army of Tipu Sultan during his invasion by devotees fearing sacred idol’s destruction.

Tipu Sultan ruled his kingdom only for 16.5 years ( 7-Dec-1782 to 4- May-1799), during his regime he had attacked the territory of Malabar(border of Kerala, India) and ruled for a short period of eight years. Tipu dreamt of becoming the Emperor of south India and only faced fierce confrontation from British, who were then dominant power in many southern Indian territories. To confront British Tipu Sultan joined forces with French, who were desperate to dominate India too. He also had support of Islamic armies like Persia, Afghanistan and Turkey. Tipu did not harm kings and rules that pledge loyalty and presented riches to him but destroyed everyone who would not approve his throne and supremacy.

Although Tipu sultan was not considered as an enemy to Hindus from his deeds, there were indications that he may attack Guruvayoor temple and destroy it. Tipu had been considerate to Hindu religion by donating huge riches to Sree Ranaganatha Swami Temple and even performed poojas there for his well being. He also took advices from the astrologers there and protected the goodwill of Hindu people, priests and devotees. Some renowned historians like “Lewis Rice” do not agree completely that Tipu sultan spared the temples or consider Hinduism as a religion. “Lewis Rice” pointed out that there were only few temples that he spared. In Lewis Rice’s opinion Tippu sultan only believed in Hindu astrology and spared only those temples of Brahmins who used to predict his future and lived in and around those temples. “Lewis Rice” even points out that the entire wealth of other temples were confiscated before 1790 itself to make up the revenue loss due to Tipu sultan padayottam( a word in Malayalam language meaning – Tipu invasion). Purnaiyya was devan(Minister) of Tipu sultan, some historians like Gopal Rao claimed that he was the only Hindu in Tipu’s regime. It is said that Tipu invaded southern Kerala on the advice of Purnaiyya.

Tipu sultan started his invasion on Kerala from a then known place as “Kumbla” at northern borders of Kerala. Spies gave early indications to rules of that region that Tipu would destroy Guruvayoor temple if he was able to defeat the resistance. Mamiyoor temple which was quite close to Guruvayoor was turned to rubbles by his army. Hydrose Kutty is said to have intervened the complete destruction of Guruvayoor temple and was successfully able to convince Tipu to spare it, as pointed out by some historians. Hydrose Kutty was said to be close to Nizamuddin a then ruler of Delhi.

The sacred idol of Guruvayoorappan was moved from Guruvayoor fearing its destruction by believers to Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Temple in Travancore State for some time. Travancore was then a much secured state and was under control of British army and jointly governed by Kerala rulers. Guruvayoorappan idol was only ceremoniously reinstated after Tipu Sultant’s regime ended. Some historians even beleive that Mulavigraha (Main deity) was hidden underground and the Utsavavigraha (processional deity) was taken to Ambalapuzha.

This was not a lone case, when Guruvayoor temple came under siege. In 1716, the Dutch attacked Guruvayur Temple and set it on fire. In 1766 Haider Ali(Tipu sultan’s father) had raided the town but spared Guruvayur temple. AD 1789 Tipu sultan stormed the Guruvayur temple with intention of destroying it and started arson. According to historians, a fortuitous downpour stopped the fire from causing significant damage to the temple. Tipu Sultan was firm believer in Hindu astrology and chose to leave the temple alone claiming that he had a dream where he was told, not destroy Guruvayur temple. Besides there were saying that his father appeared in his dream too who had spared the temple. Guruvayur temple is known for its mysteries and miracles since then. Even the British had respect to the temple there after and allowed Guruvayoor temple and pilgrimage to flourish.

Gurvayoor is significant part of Kerala’s history, culture heritage and belief. It is among very rare temples at Kerala that has independent decision making powers and is not intervened by Government of India.