Udupi Paryaya: A Unique Tradition

On the 18th of January 2018, Sri Sri Vidyadheesha Tirtha Swamiji of the Sri Palimaru Matha will be taking over the responsibility of worshipping the Lord Krishna murthy at Udupi. This occasion is known as the “paryaya” mahotsava and is a unique tradition in the entire world — and one that has survived for nearly 500 years! The present article is an attempt to introduce the reader to this great, long-lasting, tradition due to which the worship of Udupi Sri Krishna has gone on smoothly for so many centuries.

Establishment of the Krishna Temple

At the beginning of the 14th century, the great Dvaita saint Sri Madhwacharya established the Krishna temple at Udupi. He rescued a ship at the Malpe coast and in return accepted two large poles made of “gopichandana” — the sacred mrittika available at Dwaraka (at gopi-talaab).

The two poles contained the idols of lord Krishna and Balarama. The Balarama idol was established at Odambadeshwara, near Malpe. while the main Krishna idol was brought by Sri Madhwa to the center of Udupi. The beautiful idol of Krishna, holding a churning rod in the right hand and a rope in the left hand and the back of the head having three shikhas, was washed in the madhwa sarovara nearby and then consecrated at the place where the temple stands today.

Sri Madhwa made a very unique arrangement for the worship of the murthy to ensure strict adherence to pancharatra traditions even after he left Udupi permanently to reside at Badari. The reason for this is that the idol was originally crafted by Vishwakarma and given to Rukmini Devi. The sannidhana (presence) of lord Krishna therefore is very high and naturally it calls for very high discipline and devotion in worship.

Sri Madhwa gave sanyasa deeksha to 8 “bala yatis” — child ascetics — and made them in charge of the worship. Each yati was supposed to take turns and worship the murthy for two months. Thus, once every 16 months, the opportunity to worship would return.

This tradition continued for about 200 years. The eight Swamijis went on to establish their own mathas and local kings and chieftains made generous contributions to each of the mathas in terms of land and monetary grants. Over time, each of the mathas came to be known by the village in which their headquarters were located. The names of the founders of the mathas and their matha name is as below

  1. Sri Hrishikesha Tirtha — Palimaru Matha
  2. Sri Narasimha Tirtha — Adamaru Matha
  3. Sri Janardana Tirtha — Krishnapura Matha
  4. Sri Upendra Tirtha — Putthige Matha
  5. Sri Vamana Tirtha — Shirooru Matha
  6. Sri Vishnu Tirtha — Sode Matha
  7. Sri Rama Tirtha — Kaniyooru Matha
  8. Sri Adhokshaja Tirtha — Pejawara Matha

The change of responsibility between the 8 mathas took place in the same order as above.

Introduction of Paryaya

Around C.E 1522–23, the great Dvaita saint Sri Vadiraja Tirtha, who belonged to the Sode Matha, decided that the time had come to make a change in the system of worship. He wanted to ensure that the 8 yatis of Udupi also had ample opportunities to undertake tirtha yatras, and more importantly, the opportunity to teach and spread the tattvavada philosophy of Sri Madhwacharya. Therefore, he changed the system from two months to two years. The new system started with the Palimaru Matha and would end with the Pejawara Matha, and the same cycle would then repeat again.

The transfer of responsibility, and indeed the whole duration of worship, came to be popularly known as “paryaya”. For e.g. if the yati of Pejawara Matha was handling the worship, it would be known as the “Pejawara paryaya” and so on.

The handover from the Swamiji of one matha to the next one, it was decided, would always be on a fixed day — the 4th day after makara sankramana. On most occasions, this falls on the 18th of January. Therefore, every alternate year, on 18th January, the ‘paryaya’ takes place.

Preparatory ceremonies

While the current paryaya Swamiji is engaged in the worship of Krishna, some preparations are to be made by the Swamiji whose turn is next. These preparations chiefly concern the ensuring of requisite materials for the puja of the lord, and feeding of the devotees. Remember — Udupi Krishna is known as the Anna Brahma — the lord who feeds all. Therefore, great emphasis is placed on ensuring every devotee gets to have the prasada of Krishna. The preparatory ceremonies are chiefly four.

  1. Baale muhurta — this ceremony occurs about one year prior to the paryaya. The incoming Swamiji (who will take over worship), after necessary rituals, plants tulasi seeds and plaintain. This is to ensure abundant tulasi is available for worship of Krishna when the paryaya arrives and also to ensure enough plaintain leaves on which to feed the devotees.
  2. Akki muhurta — Akki means rice. This ceremony begins the process of accumulating rice that would be needed to feed devotees. On a typical day, several thousand people are fed at the Udupi temple. Hence adequate stock of rice is vital, and this ceremony formally begins the collection process.
  3. Kattige muhurtha — Kattige means firewood. As a follow-up to akki muhurtha, this ceremony is performed about six months prior to the paryaya and begins the process of collecting firewood necessary to cook prasada.
  4. Bhatta muhurtha — a few weeks before paryaya, typically during harvest time, the bhatta or paddy ceremony is conducted. Since a paryaya spreads over two years, it becomes necessary to stock paddy as well to ensure supply during the latter part of the paryaya. The same is initiated through this ceremony.

Sanchaara and Pura-pravesha

The incoming Swamiji makes a lot of spiritual preparation for the paryaya. For several months before the paryaya, if not longer, he engages in tirtha yatra to various places around bharata. This is known as paryaya-purva-sanchaara.

Around two weeks before paryaya, he arrives at Udupi, at which time he is formally welcomed by the dignitaries of Udupi. He enters the town in a grand ceremony and prays to lord Krishna. In a ceremony he formally announces various plans that are to be executed during his paryaya. This ceremony is known as pura-pravesha. During this time, and continuing thereafter, people from various cities, towns and villages offer their contributions to the Swamiji for smooth conduct of the paryaya. This is known as hora-kanike.

Paryaya Festival

On the day of makara sankramana, a grand festival is arranged at Udupi. On the next day, the churnotsava (jaatre) is conducted. Two days later, the outgoing Swamiji conducts a brahma-rathothsava and offers special pujas to Krishna and arranges a grand feast for all devotees.

On the paryaya day, very early in the morning, at around 3AM, the incoming Swamiji goes to a place called danda-tirtha, which is about 10kms from Udupi. There is a sacred pond at this place which was created by Sri Madhwacharya using his danda (stick). Sri Madhwa also undertook his studies at this place. The Swamiji takes bath in the tirtha here and begins his journey towards Udupi.

Meanwhile, the six Swamijis belonging to the other mathas not involved in the current or next paryaya get ready at Udupi and proceed towards Jodu-katte, which is on the Udupi-Mangalore highway. This is the traditional location of receiving the incoming Swamiji.

At Jodu-katte, the 6 Swamijis, and thousands of devotees, greet and welcome the incoming Swamiji. Each of the ashta matha Swamijis were given idols of Lord Vishnu and other devatas by Sri Madhwa himself during the 14th century. These idols are known as “samsthana pratima”. The samsthana pratima of the incoming Swamiji is kept in a golden palanquin at Jodu-katte. The incoming Swamiji and the other 6 Swamijis are seated in well decorated palanquins and a majestic procession begins. The journey from Jodu katte to Udupi Krishna temple takes a few hours.

The Swamijis of the Dvaita tradition are not allowed to wear silk clothes. The only exception is on the paryaya day when all of them wear shining new silk clothes.

Swamiji enters Udupi

The culmination of the grand procession occurs with the Swamiji reaching the center of Udupi, specifically the ratha-beedi (car-street) where the temple exists. As per tradition, he first has a darshana of Krishna at the “kanakana kindi” — the historical window in front of the Krishna idol, where the great devotee and poet— sri kanaka dasa — worshipped Krishna.

He then visits the Anantheshwara and Chandramouleshwara temples right next to the Krishna temple. These two shiva temples predate the Krishna temple and are extremely sacred. Tradition has it that every visitor to Udupi must first visit these two temples and only then enter the Krishna matha. The incoming Swamiji also follows the same custom.

The outgoing Swamiji, meanwhile, finishes the nirmalya-visarjana-puja to Krishna. On any given day, the paryaya Swamiji has to perform 14 different pujas to Krishna starting at brahmi muhurtha and ending late night. However, on the paryaya day, the outgoing Swamiji performs only the first of these pujas. The subsequent ones are to be performed by the incoming Swamiji.

The paryaya Swamijis meet

As the incoming Swamiji approaches the matha from the Chandramouleshwara temple, the outgoing Swamiji comes out and meets him at the entrance. They both proceed to the madhwa sarovara pond and wash their hands and feet.

They then enter the matha together and the incoming Swamiji places his samsthana idols in the “tirtha mantapa” and both of them then enter the sanctum sanctorum — the garbha gruha. An arathi is performed to Krishna and then to the hanuman and garuda murthys just outside.

In the nearby room, the “simhasana” or paryaya-throne is placed. This is the same seat that used to be occupied by Sri Madhwacharya 800 years ago. Both the Swamijis hold each others hands (as a sign of affection) and proceed towards this seat. The outgoing Swamiji briefly sits on it, performs some rituals to welcome the new Swamiji (such as applying sandalpaste) and then the incoming Swamiji occupies the simhasana.

At this time, the outgoing Swamiji hands over the “akshaya patra”, a ladle and the keys of the matha to the incoming Swamiji. The akshaya patra and the ladle were given by Sri Madhwacharya at the time of consecration of the murthy with the special blessing that the feeding of devotees at this place would continue undisturbed forever (due to the presence of the patra). Hence it is a vital part of the paryaya ceremony and the new Swamiji accepts the same with great reverence.

Honoring the other Swamijis

When all of these ceremonies are taking place, the other six Swamijis reach a nearby room known as the badagu malige. Here they are seated with great respect. The two paryaya Swamijis arrive here and offer them sandalpaste, flowers, fruits and other honors.

Darbar at Raajangana

The final part of the paryaya ceremony is the glittering public ceremony at the nearby “raajangana”. This is a public hall where the 8 Swamijis arrive together. Huge number of dignitaries — political, social and religious — would have gathered there by then. The new paryaya Swamiji honors scholars and other achievers on this occasion. He, and the other Swamijis, address the “sabha” and bless the gathered crowd.

Back to work

The single most important responsibility of the paryaya Swamiji is the dedicated worship of Krishna. Therefore, immediately after the darbar sabha, the new paryaya Swamiji bids farewell to the outgoing Swamiji and rushes to the inside of the matha to continue the remainder of the pujas to Krishna. Recall that only one puja would have been completed by the previous Swamiji up to that point.

Note: The Swamiji who is in paryaya is not allowed to leave Udupi for two years.

Later in the afternoon, nearly a lakh of devotees are fed a sumptous meal, consisting of the prasada offered to lord Krishna.

Cultural festivities

In the evening, a grand brahma-rathothsava is held for anna-brahma Krishna and then in a glittering ceremony, numerous cultural programs are held.

In this way, the grand paryaya festival culminates. The strong ritualistic angle to all of the activities involving this transfer of responsibilities has ensured that the system has continued undisturbed, and without distortion, for nearly 500 years now!

May anna brahma udupi sri krishna bless all!

The official invitation from palimaru matha for the upcoming paryaya ceremony on 18th Jan 2018 can be found at 

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About the Author

Hariprasad N
श्रीमध्वाचार्यस्य तत्ववादः | ऋक् शाखः | राजराजायते रिक्तो राघवेन्द्रं तमाश्रये | सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं | Twitter: @pranasutra