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The Namboothiri Raavaljis of Badari

The temple Poojaaris (temple priests) of Badari are Namboothiris from northern Kerala, a tradition started and ordained by Sree Sankaracharya himself. These priests, called Raavals, are selected from the members belonging to a group of Brahmanan families who were brought to north Kerala from Gokarnam by the king of Kolathunaadu in the 17th century AD (click here for more details of these brahmanans).

Besides, Sree Sankara is also believed to be behind some other stipulations: Joshis from Kashi, Kashmir, Nepal, or Maharashtra should be the Poojaaris at Rameswram; the Chowbey Braahmanans from Orissa should be the Poojaaris at Dwaraka; and the Poojaaris at Jagannath Puri should be the Pandas from Gujarat. No doubt, Sree Sankara ordained all these to ensure the inter-linking and integration of the various pan-Indian trends and traditions.

It is again Sree Sankara who stipulated that the Raaval at Badarinath should be a celibate bachelor while the Poojaari at Mookambika should be a married householder. The systematisation of the worship rituals at the temple of the Goddess at Mookambika and at the temple of Krishna at Guruvayur is also attributed to Sree Sankara. All these have been observed till this day. Nonetheless, it is perhaps one of the quirks of irony that Sree Sankara is virtually unremembered in the land of his birth, Kerala, while his legendary eminence continues unabated outside of Kerala.

The construction of the temple at Badarinath is shrouded in the mists of antiquity. It is generally believed that it was Brahmaavu, the creator, who installed the idol there and that worship was set in place there right from the beginning of Kaliyugam.

Badarinath is mentioned in both Vaalmeeki’s Raamaayanam and in the Bhaagavatham. The legend behind the temple and its idol goes thus: Towards the end of Dwaaparayugam, the Naranarayanans undertook their severe penance ritual in Badarinath to appease Lord Brahmaavu, who eventually manifested himself before them. In response to their request for some explicit provision so people can have manifest realisation of the divine presence during Kaliyugam, Lord Brahmaavu personally performed the investiture of the idol of Vishnu made in Saalagraamam. It is believed that while doing penance, Vishnu’s sole sustenance was the leaves of wild Badari plant for thousands of years. Those who can get to Badari and worship the deity there are believed to be specially blessed. Communion with God at the Aashramam at Badari and by the river Alakananda that flows through there are considered to be undeniable means of salvation.

The worship rituals of Badari temple were systematised by Sree Sankara. Early before sunrise, the Raavalji awakens the Lord from his sleep, disrobes him and wipes off the stale sandal paste. Then he performs ritual ablutions of abhishekam first with the warm water, and then with milk, yogurt, honey and some perfumed rinses. He then systematically decorates the idol with lotus, Thulasi (sacred basil - Ocimum sanctum) and rose flowers. The adornment is completed with the gems "Kausthubham" and "Sreevatsam". This is followed by "Baala bhojanam", the first pooja offering, which will include various fresh fruits, rasins, sugar candy, etc. offered on five silver salvers. This leads on to "Deepaaraadhana", worship with the lamp. The doors of the sanctum will close after ritual worship in the morning, open again for midday worship and close mid-afternoon.

In winter there is no service at Badarinath. The chief executive officer of the temple committee, Raavalji and the officer in charge of services will together agree on a date in October-November, most often to coincide with "Vijaya Dasami", for the official annual closure of services, and on the closing day all devotees will be fed. The Raaval and others will then retire to their homes.

It is believed that until normal services resume six months or so later, the legendary sage Naaradan will take over all Pooja services. The ghee-fuelled lamp, known as "Akhanda jyoti" (eternal light) in the sanctum will continue to burn right through. For the temple to re-start services, there is a routine of traditional inaugural rituals. Once these are observed, Maharajah Tehri Gadwal, in consultation with Vedic scholars and astrologers, will set a day for the resumption of Pooja services, usually between the end of April and beginning of May. The very first ritual is the "Darshanam" (viewing) of the eternal light. The temple is open to all visitors and devotees, irrespective and regardless of their status, caste or creed.

Once, all the land between Rudra Prayag and Vasudhara was the domain of the temple. Today, the temple owns land in Dehra Dun, which yields cereals and food grains. In the valley below Badari, there are numerous caverns. Many sages and monks, including some Malayaalees, practise their austere prayer routines living there, defying the severe cold and inclement weather.

Supplying the resources for the everyday upkeep of the temple, as well as keeping the place clean and tidy are tasks traditionally assigned to certain families as a duty and prerogative, and they take their responsibilities seriously even today.

Pachamangalam Sreedharan Namboodiri and Perumba Illam Vishnu Namboodiri are two of the former Raavals. The current Raaval is Badari Prasad (2007).

Family History, etc. of Current Raaval
The son of Kesavan Namboodiri from Kunnoor and Ganga Antharjanam from Cheruthazhath Illam; appointed Assistant Raaval in 1994, Badari Prasad was promoted in 2002. Received instruction in the Vedam from his uncle Sankara Vaadhyaan Namboodiri; maternal uncle, Narayanan Namboodiri, used to be a Poojaari at Badari; Another uncle, Sankaran Namboodiri is also resident in Badari for over two decades. Started in 1999 ‘Aadi Sankara Advaita Foundation’, under the aegis of which several activities and institutions like, accommodation for pilgrims, free hospital care, meeting at Satsang hall, medical camp, etc. are organised locally. The foundation has the Raaval as its president, Justice Balakrishnan Eradi as Vice-president and Sankaran Namboodiri as the Secretary.

| Article No:7.5.3 | Last update of this article:14th October 2009 |
Source : "Badariyile Keralathanima" by M P Veerendrakumar
Mathrubhoomi Weekly - Vol. 84, No. 45, dt. 2007 January 7 to 13
English Translation: Prof: P Bhaskaran Nayar, Lincoln University, UK

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