On Dwadashi day I woke up to the strains of lilting songs floating in from the Shri Krishna temple in Udupi. The air was still. Past the goshala to the back of the temple, the songs in praise of Lord Krishna pushed me out of bed. The cows in the goshala at the intersection of two paths in front of the elephant enclosure were up for the day and were being given their morning bath. And Subhadra as well. She’s the elephant in the enclosure named after her predecessor, Rukmini.
In the evening, followed by her mahout she breaks into a run along Car street, past Madhwa Sarovara, the temple pond adjoining the Shri Krishna Math, before ambling past the Chandramouleshwara temple, the shops selling items ranging from kitchen utensils to those employed in religious rituals, and the Ananteshwara temple where Madhwacharya’s parents prayed for several years before they were blessed with his birth at their abode in Pajaka, thirteen kms. off Udupi town.
It is here in thirteenth-century Udupi that Madhwacharya installed Krishna’s idol where the Shri Krishna Math now stands, and to this day it is an important site of pilgrimage for Vaishnavites, and particularly the Madhwas as the brahmin followers of the Madhwacharya’s Dvaita or Dualistic school of thought are known. The Vaishnavites are distinguished by their worship of Vishnu, and his avatars, Krishna and Rama.
Madhwacharya also instituted eight mathas, among his eight disciples, entrusting each with the responsibility of administering the Shri Krishna Math in turns. The Ashta mathas as the eight mathas are known derived their names from their place of origin, namely, Palimaru, Admar, Krishnapura, Puttige, Shirur, Sode, Kaniyur, and Pejawar. Now they are located in the same temple complex as the Shri Krishna Math, along Car street.
When I last visited Udupi, the pontiff of Puttige Math Sugunendra Teertha, was in paryaya, as the two-year period in charge is known. Early this year, the paryaya passed to Shirur Math.
Temple guide and stage artiste
Ramdas Samaga, the temple guide I first met upon stepping inside the Krishna Math had a way with words, and his rendition of the history of the place was as if he had momentarily fast forwarded time from that era so he could bring to life the story of Lord Krishna before stepping back in time. It turned out that he was active on stage during the staging of Krishna Leela on festive occasions, having played the role of Kamsa with aplomb. Accompanied by Ramdas Samaga, I later met with the then pontiff in paryaya Sugunendra Teertha, along with his two assistants in his room. Dusk was ceding ground to the advancing night.
Sugunendra Teertha was done with his responsibilities for the day at the Shri Krishna Math, where in an age-old tradition, to the resonating hymns chanted by youthful priests, he performed the evening puja, occasionally breaking into a series of steps and swaying to the beat of invocations to the deity as lamps in their hundreds flickered in the movement choreographed in devotion to the Lord who, moved by Kanakadasa’s entreaty, had turned to face him centuries ago.
Refreshed in his room, the pontiff of Puttige Math spoke of universal brotherhood, his soft tone conveying in his words the need for ancient religious places to become more responsive to the societies they’re situated in, a facet he stressed in his vision during his paryaya and beyond. In addition to anna-dana that the Udupi Math is known for, he spoke of social initiatives he instituted, including the imparting of vocational skills like flower beading and the like. And stepping out onto Car street, flower vendors busy beading flowers into garlands are among the sights that first welcome the mornings on the street.
Car street on the inside
On the inside, the Car street circles the Chandramouleshwara and Ananteshwara temples, in addition to shops ranging from an eating joint and a tailoring shop to those selling tender coconuts, items of daily use in addition to those for use in rituals. Walking along Car street I quickly passed each of the eight Mathas on the outside of the street, with shops and eating places interspersed in between.
On the outside, the street circles past the Shri Krishna Math, and the eight Mathas that Madhwacharya instituted. On Dwadashi day, young brahmin boys training in religious scriptures at the respective Mathas form a line nearing noon and file past shops on their way for early meals after fasting the day before. Located on Car street between Puttige and Adamar Math, Mitra Samaj, whose vegetarian thali is relished as much for its simplicity as for its delicacy, served up a lunch to remember.
Opposite Shri Krishna Math, workers were busy stringing up a cane structure on the wooden chariot parked on the street. The chariot was being readied for Deepotsava celebrations to run four days, beginning the next Dwadashi day, at the end of the calendar month. Dressing up the chariot in traditional style is an art. “We’re among the last of them, after us it’ll be difficult to find chariot dressers to carry on the tradition,” one of the workers said to me as I stood watching them work the cane strips.
Across the street from K H Upadhyay, the coffee maker who sells ground coffee and coffee beans sourced from Chikmagalur, and adjacent to the Chandramouleshwara temple, lies Bhaskar Tailoring House for ladies.
Two elderly male tailors sit at their sewing machines located at opposite ends of the shop. A cupboard placed in the centre doubles up as a counter to conduct dealings with customers while another glass cupboard to the back holds clothing material on shelves, dresses sewn awaiting their owners, dresses awaiting sewing, and possibly dresses that were stitched but never picked up.
Abandonment is a recurring theme in old shops in old localities. And time threatens spaces with obscurity that results from their abandonment!