Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Around heaven

First sight of the Lord: Guruvayurappan appears in the most unexpected places; like the hands of this poster vendor. Priced Rs 20 each, these posters of the young Lord Krishna offer devotees a visual souvenir of a visit to Guruvayur
Heaven on earth. That’s how Pepita Seth describes Kerala’s Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple in her remarkable book Heaven on Earth: The Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple.
And for the millions of devotees who visit Guruvayur every year, it is indeed heaven on earth. For Guruvayur is where they get an audience — even if for just a fraction of a second — with Guruvayurappan, on earth.
Dispeller of darkness: This traditional stone lamp stands firm in the middle of the approach to the eastern nada or entrance to Guruvayur’s Sree Krishna temple. A metal fence protects it from vehicles and other trappings of the modern world.
For many devotees the relationship with Lord Krishna, Guruvayur’s presiding deity, or Guruvayurappan as he is affectionately called is intense and personal. A one-way relationship that is an amalgam of familiarity, reverence, complete adoration and total surrender.
I know many men and women whose devotion to Guruvayurappan knows no bounds; who speak to Him in their moments of joy, cry out for His protection in times of sorrow and sometimes even squabble with Him. Who believe with every fibre of their being that He will take care of them. As Seth writes in her book: “… indeed there is a firm belief that He will grant any request that is made…”
Even up to a few years ago, it was possible to plan to visit Guruvayur on a relatively less ‘busy’ day, when the number of devotees was in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Today though, it’s a different matter altogether. Every day is a ‘busy’ day and the queues for a darshan of the Lord are always long.

Beginning of a busy day: Every day, it seems, is a busy day in Guruvayur. At 7.30 am on a recent Sunday morning, thousands of people make their way towards the Guruvayur temple’s east nada to join the serpentine queues for a glimpse of Guruvayurappan.
On a recent Sunday, the temple was packed with devotees even at 6.30 in the morning. Most of them would spend hours in a queue for a momentary glimpse of Guruvayurappan. Even the secondary queue that takes you inside the temple walls, but not to the sanctum sanctorum, was disappointingly long; and all I could see of the sanctum sanctorum, when I eventually got in, was a blaze of light. But as someone later told me: “You could not see Him, but He saw you. That’s all that matters.” Indeed, that is all that matters.

You are in the queue: Most of these people will spend several hours in the 
queue for an all too brief audience with the Lord.

Waiting: Many of the devotees who come to worship in Guruvayur do so in these hired coaches that are parked in a large yard about a kilometre from the temple. Often, people travel to Guruvayur in an extended family group that sometimes includes friends and neighbours.

A whiff of jasmine: Garlands of jasmine coiled high on a flower-seller’s rickety counter. Some of these garlands will soon be a part of a woman’s coiffure.

All that glitter: Is brass and steel. Gleaming metal lamps and vessels and religious bric-a-brac burst out of this shop on the eastern approach to the Guruvayur temple. It is commerce, centered around the temple that keeps Guruvayur’s economy humming. 

Treats: Sweet and savoury snacks of all colours, shapes and sizes are stacked in this store near the temple’s east nada or entrance. From crisp banana chips and crunchy popcorn to pappadams and sticky halwa, this shop seems to have it all.

Temple wardrobe: Lots of grand dresses to choose from in this apparel shop, including a wide range of the pavadas and blouses traditionally worn by girls across South India.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A shower of awards

For an ad that’s had lots of people taking pot-shots at it, Kerala Tourism’s new commercial, Your Moment is Waiting, has done pretty well. At least in the number of awards it has won. Nine at last count.
 Yes, I know awards don’t necessarily mean an ad campaign has worked. But then, I also believe that awards recognise and celebrate excellence. And excellence tends to go hand-in-hand with results.
After picking up a trio of PATA Gold Awards and a Das goldene Stadttor award, Your Moment is Waiting won four awards at this year’s New York Festivals. Nirvana Films, the ad film’s producer, won a bronze for cinematography and two ‘finalist’ awards for direction and original music. And Stark Communications, which conceived the ad, won a ‘finalist’ award in the travel and tourism category.
In April, Stark also won a bronze Abby Award for Your Moment is Waiting at this year’s Goafest organised by the Advertising Agencies Association of India and The Advertising Club Bombay.
And it’s not over, I suspect. I have this feeling that the film is going to get lots more recognition in the next few weeks. 
Pic courtesy Kerala Tourism

Monday, May 9, 2011

Going for gold

A decade ago, few people in Kerala had heard of Akshaya Tritiya. And fewer still observed it by buying gold or beginning new ventures. For Akshaya Tritiya, considered an ‘auspicious’ day to do things like buy gold or begin something new, was not quite on Kerala’s calendar of propitious days.
But a few years ago, change swept in courtesy a union between smart marketing by the World Gold Council and Kerala’s ever-growing craving for gold. Back in 2006 I remember walking into a large jewellery store in Thiruvananthapuram on Akshaya Tritiya and finding it buzzing at 9 in the morning; normally a time when cleaners and security personnel are likely to be the only people in the city’s jewellery stores.
What is it about gold that mesmerises the Malayalee so much? Hard to say, but as this recent article in India Today points out, gold has always been considered a good investment. It’s also a good way to flaunt wealth, especially the newly acquired variety.
And with Kerala’s love affair with gold growing stronger, the hype around Akshaya Tritiya has grown in tandem. And more people are coming to the party. As this report in The Hindu says, this year banks also joined in, selling gold coins on Akshaya Tritiya day. And the article adds:
“Jewellery outlets registered brisk sales on Thursday and Friday as the festival was spread over two days this year.

Most jewellery shops had made elaborate arrangements to meet the rush. Many of them were open by 8.30 a.m. and continued the sales beyond the normal hours in the evening.”
So does buying gold on Akshaya Tritiya beget prosperity for the rest of the year? I guess the jury’s still out on that. At the very least, Akshaya Tritiya does seem to add to the bottomlines of Kerala’s jewellers and, now, perhaps of banks as well.
Perhaps what Akshaya Tritiya’s blossoming popularity in Kerala establishes is that marketing campaigns that are pitched just so, work wonders.