He asked the holy one to choose anything from his ship – “A gratitude for guiding us to safety.” Madhvacharya chose the sandalwood ballast. While transporting it, a small piece broke away to reveal a glittering jewel. Curiosity unleashed a sparkling discovery. Sri Krishna had just arrived in Udupi from Dwarka by way of an ancient statue. Thus started the Udupi Krishna temple story.
When it comes to Udupi tourist places, most will unanimously put the Udupi Sri Krishna temple on top of the list. Some attribute it to it being one of the must-visit pilgrimage destinations for Hindus while others land up here for the various stories, rituals and architecture. My first visit fulfilled the first reason while the latter visits were largely to quench my thirst for the tales of Udupi Krishna temple.
Though not an overtly religious person, I landed at the Sri Krishna temple Udupi on count of being a newly wed (my husband hails from Udupi). That visit was more about seeking blessings of the Lord but it did let me catch whispers of an unusual Udupi Krishna temple story. The subsequent visits to Udupi Sri Krishna temple made me realize two major things. The first is that this is not a temple but a complex of shrines that even included Mathas. (Hindu institute). The second part that I realized was that the Udupi Krishna temple story is not just one tale but a bouquet of it. And that is what will make this post on the Sri Krishna temple Udupi tour intriguing and fun!
Udupi Krishna Temple history
If you are familiar with the story of Lord Krishna, then you would know that he was born in Mathura, spend his childhood in Vrindavan and then ruled from Dwarka. All in the northern part of India. Then how, you might ask, did Sri Krishna land in Udupi which is in South India? Well, for that, I have to take you back to the life of Lord Krishna.
Owing to her imprisonment, Lord Krishna’s birth mother – Devaki could not experience the childhood of Lord Krishna. In Dwarka, she expressed her desire to see the Lord as a kid. Krishna took the form of a child again for some time. He played with her and performed his famous childhood antics of stealing butter. The entire episode was witnessed by his wife- Rukmini who fell in love with his child form (called Balakrishna).
Rukmini commissioned the famous celestial architect – Vishwakarma to make an idol of Balakrishna. He created a gorgeous one using shaligram stone. This idol was worshipped by Rukmini every day. Once Lord Krishna left the world, Arjuna (from the Mahabharat fame) cremated his body and buried this statue of Balakrishna in Rukmini Vana (Rukmini’s forest). The place and the statue were lost in the flood that engulfed Dwarka.
Later in the 13th century, a ship headed from Dwarka got caught in a storm. A sage – Anandatirtha happened to be on the shores of Udupi (present-day Malpe beach) and saw the ship in trouble. He guided the ship through to the coast using his angavastram. As a gesture of gratitude, the captain asked Madhavacharya to take anything he wanted from the ship. The saint chose the rocky ballast as his gift.
Off the famous Malpe beach, is an island that has been declared as the National Monument of India. Discovered by Vasco Da Gama, St Mary’s Island is a delightful destination that you must visit when in Udupi. Check it out through this post.
As the rock was being transported, it chipped off in a few parts to reveal the shaligram idol of Balakrishna. Anandatirtha scooped up the idol, bathed it and then set it up as per rituals – thus creating the famous Udupi Krishna temple. Given that he was responsible for the discovery of this ancient idol, he became famous as Madhvacharya and was credited as the founder of this Sri Krishna temple Udupi.
Today, the Udupi Sri Krishna temple is considered one of the must-visit pilgrimage places in India. Since the Udupi Krishna is the child form of the Lord, the place is also, deemed as the Mathura of South India – the place where the Lord was born.
The architecture of Krishna temple complex in Udupi
Udupi Krishna temple complex consists of three different temples, one temple pond, a few mathas, a kalyana mantapa (reception hall) and a goshala (cow shed). If you keep the main Krishna temple in the center, all the other buildings are constructed around it. All these reflect a very Dravidian style of architecture. You can see it clearly on the temple gopurams and entrances.
The temple interiors are devoid of those intricately carved pillars that you might have seen in some of the Hampi temples or even the Brihadeeswarar temple. However, there are plenty of interesting things to see within – all of that coming up.
Madhwa Sarovar – the Krishna temple pushkarni
The green pond next to the Udupi Krishna temple is more than just a pretty spot. This is the same pond where Madhvacharya bathed the famed Balakrishna idol before installing it in the shrine. That gave this pond or pushkarni the name – Madhwa sarovar. The pond is used for ritualistic baths by the temple priests.
Chandrasala Hall & Navagraha Kitiki of Udupi Sri Krishna temple
The main hall of the Udupi Sri Krishna temple has a platform where an eternal temple lamp or the Deepsthamba is erected. The main shrine stands in the center boarded by a window with nine holes. This window is called the Navagraha Kitiki and one can view the Balakrishna statue only through this. The entire shrine has been recently fitted with a stunning roof called the Swarna gopuram. The roof has been made with around 100 kg of gold, 900 kg of silver and some bit of copper. All this was through donations from various devotees.
At one end of the hall – called the Chandrasala hall, there is a statue of Hanuman while at another end is one of Sri Madhavacharya himself. They say that the bells in the hall are quite unique and when they are rung, it feels as if they are chanting “Krishna Krishna”. To be honest, I have not experienced the same but then I have never visited the Sri Krishna temple Udupi during any festival or pooja.
Along with the suvarna gopuram (swarna gopuram), a recent addition to the hall is a queue complex that allows devotees to directly get to the shrine via the Madhwa Sarovar. The path is called Vishwa Patha and it was inaugurated in 2021.
P.S – Photography in this section is prohibited. The photos of the deity have been shared by the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha
Kanakana Kindi – a new Udupi Krishna temple story
Remember I said that the Udupi Krishna temple has more than one story to share? The first Udupi Krishna temple legend was its history of how the Lord came from Dwarka to this coastal town. Initially, Madhvacharya placed his beloved Lord facing east as was the norm. It so happened that an ardent devotee by the name of Kanaka Das came to Udupi to get the blessings of his Lord. However, he was denied entry to the Udupi temple as he belonged to a lower caste.
Kanaka Das sat in front of the temple and prayed to the Lord until a miracle happened. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Krishna decided to bless him with a glimpse of his idol the Balakrishna idol which was initially facing east, magically turned to face the west. A crack appeared in the walls of the temple allowing Kanaka Dasa to see his Lord. Since then, a proper window was constructed in the place where the cracks appeared and this window got a name – Kanakana Kindi. Even today, the idol of Udupi Krishna faces the west.
Why is the Sri Krishna temple Udupi referred to as annabrahma kshetra?
Once you are done with the Chandrasala hall and Navagraha Kitiki, you will find yourself in a community dining hall (Bhojanshala). Most likely you will find hundreds of people sitting in a line eating a complete meal on a plantain leaf. This is one of the key features of this Krishna temple in India. Every day, they feed people for free. It is not just here but free meals from the temple are served to various kids in schools.
The meal is a complete one that includes rice, sambhar, curry, rasam and sweets. It is in fact, famous for its delicious chutneys – a unique one that my mother-in-law keeps raving about is made from ridge gourd. She also, swears by the unusual Jackfruit curry that is served here – one that she says can never ever be found anywhere else – neither restaurants nor wedding receptions. All these are prepared in the kitchen temple without using any onions or garlic. You can see the massive temple kitchen as you descend down the stairs from the dining hall. Behind the kitchen is the goshala or the cowshed.
The custom of feeding people is why the Udupi Krishna temple is called annabrahma kshetra (anna referring to as rice or food).
The shrine of hidden treasures – another Udupi Krishna temple story
Right opposite the temple kitchen is the shrine of Lord Subramanya – recognizable by the serpent God. This is no ordinary shrine but is in fact, one that tells you another interesting Udupi Krishna story. In fact, this legend of the Krishna temple Udupi is engraved along its roof. It goes back to the 16th century when Sri Vadiraja Thirtha was the Dvaita head of the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha.
As the story goes, he was on a pilgrimage in North India – somewhere near Delhi. At that point, Delhi was ruled by a Sultan. Some of the Sultan’s soldiers objected to his praying on a burial spot. They told the saint that the spot has the dead remains of the Sultan’s son. To this, Sri Vadiraja replied that the same was not true and the body in fact was living. The soldiers went and complained to their Sultan who himself rushed to the spot. He found the sage performing pooja at the end of which the Sultan’s son rose from his grave.
Grateful, the Sultan gifted Vadiraja with wealth, which the sage threw into the River Ganga – saying that wealth was of no use to him. The Sultan reached out to him again with more treasure and insisted he use it for the temple. The sage accepted it and brought it to the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha and buried it. A shrine of Lord Subramanya was built over it for its protection. It is said that the treasure is to be used only when the temple runs out of wealth to feed people. Fascinating tale – right?
Hall of samadhis -Brindavana in the Udupi Krishna temple
A small hall of stone memorials can be found opposite the Subramanya shrine. This hall of samadhis (called Brindavana) honors several learned scholars of the Udupi Sri Krishna mathas. They are primarily mortal remains of yatis (priests or monks) who have either died or have willingly sacrificed their mortal form. If you talk to some of the priests here, you will get to hear several tales of miracles related to Brindavana. One such story was that of Madhvacharya himself.
His story is conspicuous by the absence of a Brindavana or a memorial stone. That is because his mortal remains were never found. It is said that he suddenly disappeared when he was preaching at the nearby Ananteshwara temple. All that was seen was a shower of flowers. No one knew what happened until some reports of his being in Badrinath came through. Many disciples went in search of him but never found him. It is believed that he still lives in the Himalayas.
Chariots at Krishna temple Udupi
In front of the Madhwa sarovar, you are likely to find one or two of the decorated chariots of Udupi Krishna temple. These are generally used during festivals when the idol of Sri Krishna is taken out and driven around the temple. There are usually three chariots that follow in succession.
The biggest one is called Brahma Ratha and that is reserved for the Lord. Behind it is the 2nd chariot called Garuda Ratha which has the idol of Lord Hanuman (Mukhyaprana) – the same one that resides within the hall of Udupi Krishna temple. The last chariot is termed as Mahapuja Ratha and it hosts the deities from Chandramouleeswara temple and Ananthshwara temple.
The three chariot festival is generally celebrated around Makar Sankranti in January – the day that the Lord was installed in the temple by Sri Madhvacharya. The festival, also called Churnotsava, is a three-day affair. The chariots are hand-pulled by the devotees around the temple complex – mostly on the Car Street.
Shri Anantheshwara Temple in Udupi
The Anantheshwara temple of the Udupi Krishna complex is actually older than the Krishna temple itself, dating back to 8th century. This is the place where Madhwacharya disappeared. He used this temple as a place for his discourse. However, this isn’t the only reason this temple is famous. It is the deity within the temple that is unusual.
The small shrine within has a lingam within. The unique part is that this is said to be a representation of Lord Vishnu along with Lord Shiva. Legend has it that King Ramabhoja performed a penance for Lord Parashurama (an avatar of Vishnu) here and the Lord had appeared to him in the form of Ananteshwara.
It is customary for devotees to visit this temple and the Chandramouleswara temple before visiting the Udupi Krishna temple
Shri Chandramouleshwara temple of Udupi Sri Krishna Matha
Right in front of the Anantheshwara temple, the Chandramouleshwara temple has Shiva as its chief deity. It is as old as the Ananteshwara temple. Legend has it that the deity was established when Lord Shiva forgave the Moon God and released him from a curse by Daksha Prajapati.
Rituals at the Udupi Krishna temple
If you would have read my post on the Dwarkadhish temple in Gujarat, then you would know how elaborate the poojas and rituals are in the Krishna temple. Out there, the entire day and the poojas depict the life of an adult Krishna. It begins with waking him up in the morning to putting him to sleep at night. His clothes are changed as per the occasion and all the rituals are performed by the priests of the temple.
Quite like that the Udupi Krishna temple too has its share of rituals. The only difference is that they are centered around the life of a child Krishna. It begins with waking him up, giving him a bath, playing with him, offering him curds, singing to him and putting him to sleep. He is even taken for a ride in a palaquin around the temple in the evening. On special festivals and occassions, the palanquin is replaced by a chariot.
There are around 14 poojas centered around his day in the Udupi Krishna temple. The earliest one starts at 5:30 am and the last one is at 8:50 pm. The last pooja is about putting the Lord to sleep and hence, there is no ringing of bells. A lullaby is sung to him and his cradle is rocked in this particular ceremony.
A little about the Udupi Sri Krishna Mathas – the Ashta Mathas
Matha is basically a Hindu institution. In case of Udupi, there are actually eight mathas and hence the term Ashta Mathas (ashta means 8). These came into being when Madhvacharya chose eight of his disciples to take care of Udupi Krishna. To ensure that they all get an equal chance to serve the Lord, each matha gets two years to serve. The charge is then handed over to the next Matha and so on. The Ashta Mathas are named as below –
All these Mathas surround the main Krishna temple in Udupi and co-exist peacefully. They are incharge of the temple management during their tenure. The main priest of that Matha during the tenure is called Paryaya Swami. The handing over of the tenure to the next matha is a grand event and is celebrated as Paryaya festival. It takes place every two years, usually in January.
During the Paryaya festival, the swamis and the disciples of the Mathas bathe in the Madhwa Sarovar, then visit the Ananteshwara and Chandramouleshwar temple before heading to the Krishna temple. There is an elaborate process of handing over an ancient pot of rice – Akshay Patra to the next Paryaya Swami who is made to seat on a silver throne at the same place where Madhvacharya used to sit. All this is done with a lot of pomp and joy. After the same is done, the Lord is taken on the three chariot procession.
The world of Udupi Krishna temple is quite a colorful one – with its rituals and stories. It is no wonder that people add it to the top of their Udupi sightseeing list. I am sure you have too. So go on and pin this to your board.
How can I reach Udupi Krishna Temple?
The closest airport to Udupi is Mangalore at 55 km. You get regular buses and trains to Udupi from Mangalore. Alternately, private cabs can be hired to get to Udupi. Sri Krishna temple is right in the center of the town. Hop into any auto and they will get you to the temple.
What is the best time to visit Udupi Sri Krishna Temple?
In terms of the season, Udupi is best enjoyed between the months of October to February when the weather is a little cooler. Being a coastal city, it is humid throughout the year. Monsoons are quite heavy and do take the fun out of enjoying the city.
The Udupi Krishna Temple timings are as below. It is recommended that you visit it during the festivals of Janmashtami (August – September), Dusshera and Diwali (October/ November) and the Paryaya festival that takes place in January every two years.
What are the Udupi Krishna temple timings?
The Udupi Krishna temple opens at 6 am every day and closes by 9 pm. However, the first pooja of the day begins at 5:30 am. Refer to this website for the official pooja timings. There are 14 poojas throughout the day. The best one to witness would be the evening aarti (Maha Mangala aarti) at 7:00 pm.
The Annadanam meals are served twice in the Udupi Sri Krishna temple. The meal timings are 12 pm to 2:30 pm for lunch and 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm for dinner. These meals are served free of cost.
What is the dress code for Udupi Sri Krishna temple?
Men can don full pants, dhoti kurta or kurta pyjamas when visiting the temple. Shorts and sleeveless t-shirts are a definite no.
For women, a traditional sari or a salwar kameez is the best. Jeans with long tops are fine but avoid sleeveless or crop tops, mini skirts or short dresses.
Where to stay in Udupi?
Udupi has tons of hotels available for your stay. You can pick from budget hotels to luxury ones. You can even look up hotels in Manipal, which is just 6 km from Udupi center. I have stayed at The Galleria Manipal and found it quite comfortable and convenient.
You can even opt for beach villas at Malpe beach, which is not too far from the temple.
- Photography is not permitted within the temple. You can however, use your camera to capture the exteriors.
- Footwear is not allowed inside the temple.
- There are quite a few shops around the temple – some selling authentic South Indian snacks and masalas. They are definitely worth buying if you are a food connoisseur.
- If you are looking for hotels in Udupi, you can try Booking.com . It has several options for not just Udupi but also, Manipal and Mangalore listed on the site. You can use the link given to book your stay
- Tripadvisor and their partners are the other option that can help you with your hotel accommodations in Manipal, Mangalore and Udupi. .
- If you are looking for specialized tour agencies in this area, consider Dream Holidays Manipal and R.R Tours and Travels. You can get in touch with Poonam Shetty (Dream Holidays) at +91 96865 74959 or Roshan Pinto (R.R Tours) at +91 98453 31926 for any travel arrangements and packages that you might want in Coastal Karnataka including Manipal and Udupi.
- For any home and travel shopping, consider going to Amazon using this link
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.