Udupi Kshetra

Udupi is a holy town that always conjures up the image of Lord Krishna with one hand resting on his hip and the other holding a butter churn.

Mythological Origins

Legend has it that Devaki, Krishna’s mother regretted that she had been unable to see him sporting as a child, brought up as he was by his foster parents Nanda and Yasoda. Lord Krishna therefore showed her through divine vision all that he had done as a child and this was witnessed by his chief-consort Rukmini also. Rukmini requested Krishna for an idol depicting him as a child for her daily worship. At the end of the Dvapara Yuga, when Lord Krishna left for Vaikuntha, Arjuna buried the idol in a safe place after encasing it in gopichandana paste. This hardened into a stone and was used many centuries later as ballast for a ship that sailed the Arabian Sea. As the sea approached Vadabhandeshwar on the Konkan Coast, a violent storm sprang up and it appeared that the ship would sink. Sri Madhvacharya (1238-1317 AD) was meditating nearby and was able to divine that the ship contained the idol in it. He quelled the storm using his powers and the grateful captain offered him all that was on board as reward. Sri Madhva accepted only the stone used as ballast. He took it with him and proceeded inland where he broke open the casing and extracted the idol. He then washed it in a lake named Madhva Sarovara and installed it at a Mutt in the temple town of Udupi.

Udupi or Udupi was a well known pilgrimage spot even before the arrival of the idol. The moon, Lord (pati) of the stars (Udu) worshipped Lord Shiva here to be redeemed from a curse. The spot therefore came to be known as Udupatikshetra which we now know as Udupi. There is an ancient Shiva temple here dedicated to Lord Chandramouleeswara which supports this legend. However, scholars claim that this story is of relatively recent origin and that the name Udupi is derived from Odipu in Tulu language which means raft or boat thereby relating it to the legend of Lord Krishna’s idol arriving there by sea. Yet another theory associates the word with the act of “cracking open” (Odepu) which is what Madhva did to the stone encasing the idol.

Apart from Chandramouleeswara, there is a temple dedicated to Lord Anantheswara which again is a Shiva Linga in which Lord Narayana is also said to reside. This is believed to commemorate the Parasurama Avatara before taking which Lord Vishnu trained himself in archery under Lord Shiva. He desired that there must exist a temple where this divine association is commemorated and hence the name. King Ramabhoja is said to have constructed this temple in ancient times. It is customary that worship is offered at Chandramouleeswara and Anantheswara temples before worshipping at the Sri Krishna shrine.

Sri Madhva

The Anantheswara shrine was where Nadillaya worshipped to get a son. This was Madhva. Growing up, he became the founder of the theory of dualism (Dwaita) and Udupi is the town most closely associated with him. The Anantheswara shrine was where he preached and the plank on which he sat is even now available for worship.

The Sri Krishna Mutt

This is the most important shrine in Udupi. Located close to the Madhva Sarovara, it has a gopuram (tower) through which pilgrims can enter the shrine. The sanctum sanctorum has the idol of Lord Krishna which Madhva installed. This can be viewed only through a window with nine holes known as the Navagraha Kitiki (the window of the nine planets). The main entrance to the sanctum is used only by the Swamiji in charge of the mutt and his chosen followers. In addition to the Lord Krishna idol, there is an idol of Lord Venugopala in the sanctum said to have been consecrated by Hastamalaka, one of Adi Sankara’s four prime disciples. This idol was installed by him elsewhere and it is through the travails of history that it is now in this shrine. In the outer mandapa is a window called Kanakana Kindi, through which Kanakadasa is said to have had darshan of Krishna.

There is a separate shrine to Sri Madhvacharya inside the temple complex. This was installed by Sri Vadiraja. The shrine has a treasury where jewels of seven centuries, gifted to Lord Krishna by rulers ranging from those of the Vijayanagar Empire to modern day Mysore are stored. In addition there are shrines to Garuda and Hanuman, both the idols having been brought from Ayodhya by Sri Vadiraja. An interesting tale pertains to the shrine of Subrahmanya here where he is depicted as a divine serpent. He is said to be guarding a huge mass of gold donated by the Emperor of Delhi for covering the roof of the shrine. Others attribute the donation to Achyutadeva Raya of Vijayanagar. But owing to divine sanction not coming through, the project was given up and the gold was buried. Sri Vadiraja is said to have consecrated the idol of Subrahmanya over the spot.

Renovations to the shrine have happened many times, the first being done by Sri Vadiraja himself.

Worship and Festivals

The Lord Krishna idol is worshipped an incredible fourteen times each day. The first seva is called the Nirmalya Visarjana Puja. It takes place at 4.00 am when the adornments and flowers of the previous day are removed and the idol is shown in the form in which Sri Madhva first saw it. The next is the Ushatkala Puja when at dawn the idol is bathed in cold water and then decorated. The third is the Akshayapatra and Go Puja during which the special vessel donated to the Mutt by Sri Madhva and the cows are worshipped. In keeping with the promise of Sri Madhva, feeding of the public goes on all the time at the temple in keeping with name of the sacred vessel – Akshaya (ever full). The fourth worship is the Panchamrta Puja when the Lord Krishna idol is anointed with five unguents. Then comes the Udvartana Puja when the idol is cleaned of all unguents. Three short pujas – Kalasa Puja, Teertha Puja and Alankara Puja are done. There follows an interesting ritual when everyone leaves the sanctum. It is believed that Sanaka and three other holy sages offer worship to the Lord. This is called the Avasara Sanakadi Puja. The Maha Puja, offered by the presiding Swami of the Mutt is the last one for the forenoon and concludes at 11.00 am. The Mutt is usually free for darshan between 2.00 and 4.00 pm after which the evening worship begins.

The first is the Chamara Puja when the processional deity of Lord Krishna is brought out and placed in the mandapa in front of the sanctum. There the presiding Swamiji waves two chamaras (fly whisks) made of yak’s tail hairs. The waving is done according to an intricate pattern. This is followed by Ratri Puja when the idol in the sanctum is worshipped and this is to the accompaniment of music. Then follows the Ranga Puja to Hanuman after which comes the Mandapa Puja when the processional deity of Krishna is taken in a golden palanquin all around the sanctum. The last worship is Ekanta Puja when the processional deity is placed in a golden cradle and lulled to sleep by the singing of lullabies. The temple closes at 11.00 pm.

The eight Mutts

Udupi is home to eight Mutts sacred to the Madhva tradition. These are outside the main temple premises and each has a Swami presiding over it. The Swamis become administrators and heads of the order in turn every two years. The presiding Swami is said to have entered the Paryaya period and administers the Krishna Mutt during this time. The eight Mutts are the Palimar, Admar, Krishnapur, Puttige, Shirur, Sode, Kaniyur and the Pejawar Mutts. These are all in the Car Street just outside the Sri Krishna Mutt. Each of the Mutts has its own presiding deities as well which are worshipped by the Swamis.

There are festivals right through the year at the temple with the avatara dates for the many of the incarnations of Vishnu being celebrated. In particular Rama Navami and Janmashtami are very important. In addition the beginning of the Chaturmasya, the retreat period of two months when the Swami does not travel anywhere is very important. The transition of the Mutt’s administration from one Swami to another among the eight Mutt heads is also a high point in the festival calendar which happens every two years.

Visiting Saints and Savants

While the holy town is inextricably associated with Madhvacharya, several later savants have embellished it. Sripadaraya (1420-1487) of Mulbagal Mutt was ever immersed in Harinama Sankeertanam which included creating several songs on Krishna of Udupi. Vyasaraya (1460-1539) was the brightest among the stars of Udupi. He was so respected that he is said to have even occupied the throne of Vijayanagar when it was believed that the king would be under the baneful influence of certain planets. Vyasaraya was not only a great scholar but also a musician and composer. He is said to have initiated the Dasa Koota or “band of devotees” who went far and wide singing the name of the Lord. Purandara Dasa (1484-1564) was foremost among his disciples. Yet another was Kanaka Dasa, who being from a low caste had to face several hurdles before being accepted. But Vyasaraya accepted him as his disciple and it is said that the Kanakana Kindi opened automatically in Udupi to allow Kanaka Dasa to have darshan of the Lord thereby establishing the devotee’s greatness to one and all. Kanaka Dasa has composed several songs on Krishna. It would be no exaggeration to say that he is the saint of Udupi. Purandara Dasa needs no introduction to the lovers of Carnatic Music for he is considered to be the one who codified the art thereby earning the title of Sangita Pitamaha.

Vadiraja (1480-1600) was a great scholar who became pontiff of the Sode Mutt. Prior to his time the Paryaya came once in two months to each Mutt. Vadiraja changed it to two years and given his long lifespan, he observed Paryaya five times himself. He is credited with taking religion and Madhva philosophy in particular, to the masses, by translating several works into Kannada. He has composed several devotional songs. Vijayadasa (1682-1755) belonged to the post Purandara period and it is believed that his initiation into music was by the saint appearing in his dream and writing the name of Vijaya on his tongue. He became a prolific composer who also initiated others such as Jagannatha Dasa into the Dasa Koota. It is also believed that his account of Purandara Dasa’s life as given in his compositions is the most authentic.

All shrines acquire an aura due to the great saints and savants who visit them and pray there. Udupi is no exception and given the long line of seers who have graced it, it is no wonder that it remains a kshetra among kshetras.

Note: This was written for a CD by MS Sheela recorded by Charsur Digital Workstation, comprising songs on Udupi. http://www.charsur.com/charsur-india/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&cPath=69&products_id=1250