Udupi, a coastal town in Karnataka, is gifted with pristine beaches, divine temples, rich heritage and cultural traditions that add to its charm. Pilgrims flock to Udupi to have darshan of Balkrishna in the Krishna Math but it is interesting to note that Krishna has been residing here only from the thirteenth century. Before that, Udupi was a holy place where two other temples of Lord Ananteshwara and Lord Chandramouleeswara existed. Both are Shiva temples and people from far and near came to visit these temples as they do even today. The Krishna Math is a temple and monastery established by the saint Madhvacharya. Before the devotees enter the temple, they peep through a window to have darshan of the Krishna of Udupi. This window is called Kanakanakindi which is translated as ‘the window of Kanaka’. This window is a mesh of nine peep-holes. Peeping through this window, a devotee can have darshan of Krishna's image in a flash without entering the temple. After this window was installed, it became customary for all devotees to catch a sight of Krishna's image through this window, before entering the temple.
Kanakadasa was a devotee who had surrendered himself at the lotus feet of Krishna. He celebrated Krishna’s life and mercy in his poems and sang them playing his tambura. He was denied entry into the temple as he was from a lower caste. Once when Kanakadasa entered the temple with an intense desire to have a look at the deity’s face, he was caught by the temple authorities. It is said that he was whipped and chained as a punishment, at the rear wall of the temple. In desperate pain, Kanakadasa sang a song, “Baagilanu teredu, Seveyanu kodo Hariye (Open the door O Hari and help me)”. As he was singing, his chains snapped, and the wall of the temple exploded, shattering the bricks. The deity, which was traditionally facing the east, miraculously turned towards the west and stood facing Kanakadasa thus giving darshan to his ardent devotee. Knowing that the deity, once turned, would never return to his original position, this crack was enlarged and made into a window. The unique feature of the temple is that the deity is worshipped through a silver-plated window with nine holes (Navagraha Kindi). Devotees are transfixed and can hardly shift their gaze while having darshan of the Balakrishna deity through the window.
The Krishna Matha was founded by the Vaishnava saint Jagadguru Shri Madhvacharya in the 13th century, who is also hailed as the founder of the Dvaita (Dualism) school of Vedanta. Madhvacharya was once sitting on the Malpe beach with a few of his disciples. Unaware of the outside world, he sat there absorbed composing the ‘Dvadasha Stotra’. The sea was very rough that day. The deafening sound of the howling wind and the rumbling thunder was frightening. Lightning flashed across the sky and the unruly waves crashed against the rocky coastline. As Madhvacharya lifted his head up and looked around, he saw a ship at a distance, struggling, being tossed by the waves. The saint closed his eyes and prayed to the Lord. Then he took his upper garment and waved it, signalling to the people on the ship. Suddenly the sea calmed down, the wind became favourable and the ship reached the shore. The crew of the ship danced in joy as their lives were saved miraculously. The captain understood that it was possible only by the grace of this holy saint. He got down with the help of a rope ladder and came to the shore to thank Madhvacharya. As a mark of gratitude, he offered the saint to take something from the commodities he was carrying on board the ship.
Madhvacharya accepted his invitation, went up the ship and found a big lump of clay (Gopi Chandana) which this merchant had put into his ship as ballast when he commenced his journey from Gujarat. Madhvacharya intuitively knew that this was meant for him and told the merchant that he would take this big lump of clay. The merchant was happy since removing this lump of clay would also lighten the ship and help it to move with the tide. Madhvacharya and his followers took the big lump of Gopi Chandana from the ship and got down. As they were wading their way through the shallow waters and arrived at the beach, the lump split and broke. They could see a beautiful deity hidden inside the lump of clay.
As Madhvacharya looked at the deity, his eyes were flooded with tears of joy. He couldn’t control his emotions and danced in ecstasy. There was a lot of clay still around the deity and the idol seemed to be heavier than before. The disciples could not lift the deity and hence Madhvacharya bent down, embraced the deity with the clay and lifted it into his arms as a father would lovingly lift a child.
Madhvacharya, as if in a trance, carried the deity to the tank near the Ananteswara temple and dipped it inside. Washed by the cool waters of the tank, the strikingly beautiful idol came out of the Gopi Chandana. Madhvacharya built a temple for this Balakrishna next to the Ananteswara and Chandramouleeswara temples. From that day onwards, Krishna started residing at Udupi. Madhvacharya taught his eight disciples the rules of worshipping this, Krishna. The eight disciples established their schools or “Mathas” and each head of the “Matha” gets the right to perform worship and administer the temple matters once in two years even now.
The enchanting deity of Balkrishna in Udupi was sculpted by none other than the divine sculptor Vishwakarma.
Mother Devaki had been jailed in Mathura along with Vasudeva and was deprived from watching Lord Krishna grow. Having heard the wonderful stories of Krishna, she always longed to see the child Krishna, his leelas, his gibberish speech. When Krishna heard about his mother’s wish, he smiled and assumed the form of a three-year-old baby to fulfil her desire. Devaki was thrilled and took her baby to her lap, cuddled him and poured out all her love satisfying her yearning. Krishna remained in that form for some time following Devaki wherever she went. Remembering the tales that Krishna loved butter as a child, Devaki churned some butter. The next moment, Krishna ran and took the churn and rope from her, snatched the butter and smeared it all over himself. He looked so very cute and mischievous, relishing the butter, and speaking in such childish gibberish that Devaki stood there enchanted.
Krishna came back to his normal form. But Rukmini, Krishna’s wife, who was watching the entire episode, was also enamoured with this child form of her Lord. She wanted this form to be sculpted. So, the divine architect Viswakarma sculpted the form of this child Krishna with the rope and the churn. Rukmini worshipped this deity in her palace. After the time of Krishna, Rukmini entrusted the safekeeping of the deity to the Pandava prince, Arjuna, and he in turn kept it in a place called Rukminivana near Dwarka. Over a period of time, the deity got covered by Gopi Chandana clay. The clay hardened over the deity and it became a huge clay lump which was carried by the merchant as ballast in his ship. This deity was taken by Madhvacharya and installed at Udupi. And he is the loving Balakrishna who we all worship at Udupi.
bālanīla cāru kōmalālakaṁ vilāsa gōpāla bāla jāra cōra bālakr̥ṣṇamāśrayē ||
(The charming blue child who appears like a lotus in his divine play
It is to that unsurpassable stealer of hearts, Gopalabala, that Balakrishna I depend on.)
Image Courtesy: Shyama Mohanty