If there is something that’s common to all MITians its curiosity. And our wistful wanderer was no different. He scratched his head unable to understand why the city was still dolled up a couple of days after Sankranti. He made his way through the crowds passing people of all ages on the way. It was as if the whole city had assembled in and around the temple area, but for what reason, he so desperately wanted to know.
In the sea of unfamiliar faces he saw one he thought he knew. Another MITian, a local. Finally, someone who can explain what’s going on, he thought as he called out her name a number of times only to be downed by the din the drummers were creating. The ‘Chande’ as he learnt later was the traditional drum used in South Karnataka for almost all ceremonial occasions. As far as that went, he managed to grab her attention despite every second sounding like dynamite exploding and talk her into giving him a tour of the place.
The Paryaya as the ceremony was called was a formal-religious event that took place every alternate year to mark the transfer of the temple administration and puja rights from one pontiff to the one next in line among the 8 seers of the Ashthamathas. The Ashthamathas were founded by Acharya Madhwa, and his disciples made the pontiffs of the Mathas with instructions to share the burden of the puja among themselves by a ceremony called the Paryaya or ‘change.’ The outgoing swamiji who will have finished his last day on the 17th of January every year then transfers the ‘Akshaya Patra’ which is sort of like the key to the temple to the succeeding seer. Sounds simple enough? Well, all this takes place in a gala ceremony with thousands of devotees from all over the globe.
The festivities continue from the yearly Rathasapthami, a 7 day car festival that takes place throughout the week preceding Sankranti with devotees flocking to the Car Street every night. Every alternate year, when the Paryaya is to transpire, the festivities continue and on the eve of the ceremony artistes and performers from in and around Karnataka congregate at Udupi. With stages built at every major crossroad and the Car Street filled with folk artistes the night is a feast for the eyes.
So this is quite a common event. Why then all the hype this year? So much for the college to actually give the Monday off… Well, that’s was probably because since the inception of the 2 year tenure replacing the 2 month Paryaya originally envisaged by Acharya Madhwa, the founder of the Dwaita philosophy, no seer in history has been the Paryaya Swami five times. Even the legendary Acharya Vadiraja of the Sode Matha, held the position on only four occasions. This time though, Acharya Vishwesha Theertha of the Pejawar Matha rewrites history for holding office for the 5th time and that too on the auspicious day of Madhwa Navami, the birthday of Acharya Madhwa which co-incidentally falls on 18th this year. Branded as the Pejavara Panchama Paryaya by devotees it was all Udupi ever talked about these days.
Walking through the city at night, the eyes are treated to a variety of sights. From school play grounds converted into makeshift parking lots to the actual parking lot made into a spectacular stage for the cultural and formal proceedings of the next day. The paddy fields ended up being turned into an enormous kitchen which had a granary and dining hall to feed all the people visiting. From fireworks adorning the sky to the temple bell gonging non-stop resonating with the heartbeats of everyone who heard it, the city home to usually quiet and shy natives was bustling with activity.
About an hour after midnight the city saw people stop wandering about and take their places on the footpaths or on the roofs of tall buildings. There were volunteers, scouts and guides marking a perimeter and leading people off the main road. The Paryaya procession is about to begin, he was told as he and his friend took to a building to see the procession in all its glory.
As they waited for the procession to come their way, they could hear the beating of the ceremonial drums from far away. At about 1.30 AM the seers take a dip in the chilling waters of the holy pond at Dandatheertha, a place near Kaup. And from there they arrive at Jodukatte, a place near the Udupi Taluk Office to start the Puja to the Paryaya Swami’s Pattada Devaru, a form the lord worshipped by the seer every day in his own Matha. From there, the procession begins at about 2 with the Swamijis carried on the traditional pallaki or palanquins and various artistes taking part.
Twitching his fingers in anticipation, our impatient wanderer looked at his watch. 2.30. Still only the sound of the drums could be heard. What could be taking them so long, he wondered just as he was about to be answered in the most spectacular way possible. What followed was the Paryaya procession in all its glory. Led by Udupi’s very own ‘Pili-vesha’ or the Tiger Dance, a variety of folk and urban dance and art forms native to places as far away as Punjab and Maharashtra all the way to Kerala and Andhra took part in the procession that roved the streets of Udupi for 2 hours before entering the Car Street.
After the swamijis fill their eyes with the Darshan of the lord Srikrishna through Kanankana Kindi, the window of Kanaka – a great devotee of the lord, they visit the two historic Shiva temples in the area. The Anantheshwara and the Chandramouleshwara temples after which they are welcomed into the Krishna Matha by the outgoing pontiff who will have spent the whole night in worship. After visiting the smaller shrines of Mukhyaprana and Subrahmanya inside the Matha, the ceremonial transfer of the Akshaya Patra, the utensils of Acharya Madhwa and the ascending of the Sarvajna Peetha, the spiritual seat of Acharya Madhwa by the Paryaya swamiji marks the beginning of a new cycle.
By the time this was over it was 6 AM in the morning and dawn was breaking. Unable to get into the Matha to witness the ceremony our wistful wanderer stayed glued to one of the giant TV screens that showcased the proceedings live.
The seers then follow the Paryaya Swami to the Badagu Malige, the original rooms of the very first shishyas of Acharya Madhwa during their student days. A small philosophical discussion followed by the honoring of the pontiffs by the Asthana Pandits takes place before the formal ceremony called the Durbar.
Usually housed in a place specially constructed for such events, the Rajangana this year saw yet another deviation from the standard norm just because of the sheer number of people who participated. A dais specially constructed for the Durbar, The Anandatheertha Mantapa saw all the swamijis of the 8 Mathas participate in a discourse with many VVIPs including, former Deputy PM L.K Advani, MP Uma Bharati, MP Ananth Kumar, CM of AP Chandrababu Naidu, former CM of Tamil Nadu O. Paneeraselvam and many others in attendance. Speeches, honours, a bit of political mind games and a whole lot of cultural programmes followed and before you knew it, it was noon.
After what turned out to be an eventful night-out, our itinerant MITian was famished and to rescue him from4 the pangs of hunger was the Maha Annasantharpane, or the badakhana feast as we probably would know it. My friend is nowhere to be seen, thought he. Might as well dig in like the werewolf I am.
There’s more to Udupi than amazing food, Manipal University and really fast auto drivers. We just need to go out of our campus and look around. I went out wanting a change and boy, did I get one…, he mused as he made his way back toward hostel desperately thinking of a way to let his unannounced night-out be excused by his warden.