Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spiritual Diary: Chapter 29

My husband and I landed in Chennai on February 4th, 2007. The very first thing I did was to give my pictures for framing. Somehow, taking this new Baala painting and the smaller painting of the Sri Chakra to Nemili was the most important task ahead of me.

On the final Friday in the auspicious tamil month of Thai,( February 9th, 2007),my husband, myself and an aunt of mine went to Nemili to hand over the paintings.

My husband was a reluctant recruit on this trip. Until the previous day, it wasn’t really clear if he would accompany us. However, it was Baala’s desire and he was merely summoned to visit her.

I explained briefly to Ezhilmani the reason for this photo copy and the events that had come to pass while working on it. He merely smiled and positioned the painting on the side-wall . I continued with my narration and said that the original was meant for the Raja Rajeshwari Peetam. Ezhilmani’s reply surprised me “Why Amma, I have just returned from Vizag where a huge temple Kumbabishekam took place. This is Haran Aiya’s Guru’s temple. I met him and his Guru and have told him about you . Do go to Rochester, but call first as Haran is a very busy man”.

Ezhilmani lit the camphor on a plate and reverently showed it in front of little Baala in her Peetam first and then to the paintings I had given. The flame lingered near her eyes and then her right foot!

We went up to receive the kumkum prasadam. I received the prasadam in my cupped right hand. However, when my husband came up, Ezhilmani placed the prasadam at the feet of Baala and then applied it directly on his forehead. I felt this was a significant moment implying that Baala’s grace would definitely be with him.

I moved away to the book stall for a few minutes with the intention of buying a few newly released CD’S. I had just about finished my purchase when my aunt nudged me urgently. As I turned arount, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a green skirt, more like a whirl of colours disappearing in front of me.

I looked at my aunt questioningly.

She said “I wanted you to see this very, captivating, small child who just walked in. She moved purposefully to the center of the peetam, took the prasadam left on the tray there, and even as I was going to ask her who she was, she ran away without uttering a word with just a small smile on her lips. I wanted you to see this child because she looked so enchanting but you were busy buying the cassettes. You just missed her”!

Of course, it had been Baala and my Aunt had been honoured with her darshan!! I felt happy for my aunt because she is a pious lady and I had brought her with me just so she could receive Baala’s blessings! I remembered reading in Ezhilmani’s book that Baala often enters her own peetam in human form either as a child, an old woman or in the guise of a dog!

Back in Chennai, my husband suddenly seemed interested in visiting a few temples. I suggested a short two day trip to visit Madurai Meenakshi Amman ( since she was the family deity) as well as Rameshwaram. Both these temples are world reknowned for architectural splendour and appealed even to non- religious tourists.

On Friday, February 16th, we left for Madurai by the early morning flight and proceeded to the temple immediately. We were treated to an extended darshan of the Goddess and witnessed her glowing splendour as she was worshipped by myriad of lights- “Alankaara Deepam”.

After a short tour around the ancient temple precincts admiring the statues and sculptures in the 1,000 pillared hall and “listening” to the sounds produced by the musical pillars, we left Madurai on our journey to the holy city of Rameshwaram.

It seemed incredibly fortuitous that we would be reaching the most famous abode of Shiva on perhaps the only day in the whole year that is extremely auspicious—Shiva Rathri.

However, on the way to Rameshwaram, we stopped off to visit a few temples associated with the legend of Ramayana.

The first of these was Devipattinam. The story is that as Rama was on his way to Sri Lanka to fight with the demon Ravana and reclaim Sita, Devi appeared in his dream and asked him to worship the nine planets at Devipattinam. The goddess informed Lord Rama that his misfortunes had been caused by the adverse planetary conditions which could only be set right at this holy spot.

However, when Rama did arrive at Devi pattinam, he did not find any temple for the Navagrahas. Instead, he fashioned these Nava Bhashana or stone figures out of the sand and worshipped them. Later he went to Thirupullani where a bridge to Sri Lanka was built with help from the army of monkeys. Rama’s defeat of Ravana and his triumphant return home is a well known story. However the legend is that on his way back from Lanka, Rama stopped off at Rameshwaram to pray to Shiva in order to mitigate the sin incurred by killing a Shiva devotee!

Hence, Rameshwaram is a magnet for pilgrims, both Shaivaite as well as Vaishnavaites.

At Devipattinam, the sea is calm and serene. About a few hundred yards into the expanse of water lie nine roughly hewn blocks of stone which the priest said represented the nine planets. It is generally believed that devotees perform worship here for a number of reasons apart from removing the malefic influences of the planets. Indeed, they seek relief from sins incurred during their previous birth; offer prayers for the liberation of departed ancestors and perform the last rites for their fore- fathers at this holy spot.

Devi is supposed to have fought and killed the demon Mahishasura at this place, hence the name and the aura of auspiciousness that surrounds this place.

The priest who took our archana basket waded waist deep into the water as he performed puja for each block of stone.

We offered our heart-felt prayers and proceeded on our journey.

The next stop was the famous temple for Shiva at UthiraKoshaMangai.

This is an ancient and breathtakingly beautiful temple although it has not been well maintained due to paucity of funds. The sculptures in each of the pillars supporting the inner courtyard are replete with scintillating images of Kings, mythical beasts, dancing girls and stories from the Puranas. The main feature of this temple is the massive image of Shiva as the dancing Lord Nataraja, made entirely out of emerald. When we visited this temple, the huge 5 feet image was covered with a Kavacham ( cover) of sandal-paste. We were informed that this cover is taken off only once a year at the Arudra Darshan in the tamil month of Margazhi ( december).

The evening was closing in as we carried on to the next temple at Thirupullani. The story goes that Lord Rama rested on a bed of Grass here before moving on to defeat his foe, Ravana. Lord Vishnu reclines majestically on his serpent, in the main sanctum offering protection and blessings to all his sincere devotees.

We hurried on to our last stop for that night, the Ramanathaswamy temple at Rameshwaram. Although, it was quite late in the evening, this famous temple was heaving with pilgrims, since our visit coincided with the holy night of Shiva Rathri.

The temple itself dates back thousands of years and has several remarkable features such as the thousand pillared corridor and the magnificent temple towers. The temple is also famous since it houses one of the twelve Jyotir lingas, sacred due to the fact that Lord Shiva’s radiance or light ( Jyothi) is believed to be locked up inside these lingas.

It was here in Rameshwaram that Lord Rama prayed to Shiva by the ocean ( Agni teertham), to absolve himself of the sin for killing Ravana ( an ardent Shiva devotee).

The story here is that Lord Rama wanted his faithful servant HANUMAN to obtain a Shiva linga for his worship from Kashi, in the north. However, Hanuman did not procure this linga on time. Hence, Sita fashioned a Shiva Linga from sand and it is believed Rama worshipped this image. On his return, Hanuman was sorely disappointed and to appease him Rama declared that the temple in Rameshwaram would house two lingas; the one brought by Hanuman would be worshipped first!

There are 22 wells within the temple precincts, fed by an underground spring. It is believed that a dip in each of these is bound to have marvellous purificatory and medicinal effects on people.

Early on the following morning, we caught a glimpse of the sunrise over the ocean at Rameshwaram. The shore was teeming with pilgrims who were preparing to bathe in the sacred waters. Some were already waist deep in the sea; yet others were setting off to the temple dripping wet with sea water. Other devotees were offering prayers and purificatory rites to their ancestors. Yes, This auspicious day meant brisk business for the innumerable priests plying their tools of trade.

My husband and I waded into the sea and then dutifully traced our path to have the obligatory dip in the numerous wells.

However, the floors of the temple were by now treacherous and slippery from the combination of sand and water and the jostling pilgrims. We opted for a light sprinkling of water from each well and then hastened to the main sanctum for a glimpse of the Lord as Shiva Linga.

There is no doubt that Rameshwaram is a beautiful temple steeped in mythology and legends.

We rounded off our trip with a quick visit to Dhanushkodi, the narrow penninsula jutting into the Bay Of Bengal, at a strikingly close distance from Sri Lanka.

Another brief halt at the famous Kodanda Ramar temple to view the foot prints of Lord Rama, finally brought to a close this amazing pilgrimage.

We started back to Madurai in the early afternoon to catch the evening flight back to Chennai.

However, there was sufficient time to view two more temples close to my heart.

Pazhamudhir Cholai is a famous temple for Lord Muruga, set among the lush hills on the outskirts of Madurai. A perennial waterfall, Noopura Ganga, tinkles down from the hils above, fed by an underground spring.

Lord Muruga stands serenely alongside both his consorts at this peaceful temple that has been glorified by several poets of the Sangam period, especially Nakkirar in his authoritative work, Thirumurugattruppadai. Among the six abodes of Lord Muruga, this tranquil spot is believed to enrich a devout seeker with spiritual wealth!

Following a darshan of Skanda, we proceeded to the famous fortified temple complex- Alagar Koil, which enshrines Lord Vishnu, and is regarded as one of the most important of his 108 abodes!

This two- day temple tour went by too quickly, yet we had the total satisfaction and peace of mind from just being able to visit and worship at these ancient and hallowed sites.

It seemed that Goddess Bala had started me off on a never- ending pilgrimage, because a few days later, again , at my husband’s request, we set off on another small tour. This time we visited the magnificent temple complex at Chidambaram ( second time for me), followed by the Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore.

After spending one night at Tanjore, I decided to visit Pudukkottai the following day as I wanted my husband to receive the blessings of Goddess Bhuvaneswari.

We reached the temple quite early in the morning and I sat in front of the Judge Swamigal samadhi and closed my eyes .

As always, when I visit Pudukkottai, a feeling of great sadness envelops me as I see this familiar temple and remember the innumerable times I have come here in my childhood days when Swamigal was alive. This occasion was no different. I sat with my eyes closed wishing Swamigal to give me guidance. I sincerely prayed that He should assist me further on my spiritual journey. No sooner had I finished my plea when a sudden instruction alighted in my mind. I use the word “alighted” because a second before, the thought did not appear and a second later it vanished. However, there was no mistake in the command. “Go to Sendamangalam”!.

I opened my eyes and saw an elderly priest beckoning me to his side. This old man was a close confidante of Swamigal when the latter was alive and is in charge of the administration of the Temple. My husband and I hurried to his side and went inside his little room. After paying our respects , I casually asked him if there was any importance attached to the temple at Sendamangalam.

I was informed that Sendamangalam housed the Samadhi of our Swamigal’s immediate preceptor or Guru- Sadasiva Brahmendrar ( the person in the photo at the samadhi of Bodhendrar).

I realised then that I had been given an answer to my silent plea.

Although Sendamangalam was not in our itinery, a decision was quickly made to visit this place following a short detour to Pillayarpatti.

I had wanted my husband to visit this famous abode of Lord Vinayaka. As luck would have it, the temple was quite empty and the colossal image of Pillayar seemed even more imposing as he sat there decked in his Golden Kavacham, waiting to bless us!

After a short stop in Trichy for refreshments, we set off again on that hot and dusty afternoon towards Sendamangalam. The priest at Pudukkottai had given me a packet of Vibhuti with instructions to smear it all over the stone idol of my Guru’s Guru. A priest at Sendamangalam would perform this rite and then hand over some of the sacred ash back to me as prasadam. Apparently, this vibhuti prasadam was unique and had curative powers.

When we arrived at Sendamangalam around 5 p.m., the temple seemed deserted and empty. I approached a small row of huts directly in front of the temple. These housed the temple priests. I entered inside the first house and awoke the elderly priest, who was taking his afternoon nap and requested him to open up the shrines inside. He was more than willing to do so, and soon we were walking up a steep flight of steps carved in the hillside to reach the shrine of Murugan and Sadasiva Brahmendrar.

The shrine containing the mortal remains of my Guru’s Guru was a very small, cave- like room with an extremely low ceiling. I crouched and went inside. Here, there was a stone image of the Guru right on top of his samadhi.

In the ante room were old, faded photographs of the Guru when he was young along with several other Sanyasis whom I didn’t recognise.

For a long time after the arathi was over,I sat inside this small room and sincerely prayed to this great soul to help me mature in my spiritual quest.

Later we visited the shrine to Lord Muruga and then took leave of the priest after he pressed some Vibhuthi prasadam into my hand.

We headed back to Trichy from Sendamangalam with one stop enroute to see a Huge statue of Hanuman as Anjaneya in a temple at Namakkal.

The striking feature of Namakkal is the giant outcrop of rock that seems to have thrust its way right in the midst of this small, bustling city. The ramparts of an ancient fortress surrounds the city. However, the most interesting feature are the two temples; one dedicated to a huge image of Anjaneya and another directly opposite, hewn out of rock, wherein resides Lord Narasimha ( Vishnu).

The story here is that Lord Anjaneya brought with him a Saligram stone ( fossil- worshipped as a symbol of Lord Vishnu) from the mountains in North India. At Namakkal, he decided to do his worship for Lord Rama and asked Mahalakshmi to hold it. However, the latter found the stone becoming significantly heavier and placed it down on the ground in order to rest her hands. The stone remained unmovable at the spot and soon assumed the gigantic proportions of a huge stony mountain devoid of any vegetation.

In the center of this spiral of rock is a cave where a shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his avatar of Narasimha.

The fierce and angry lord can be seen here, tearing the life and heart from the demon Hiranyakasipu, lying on his lap.

Lord Anjaneya stands directly facing his Lord’s feet. The image at Namakkal is probably the tallest Hanuman in TamilNadu. There is no roof to cover this colossal statue and Anjaneya bestows his blessings with a majesty and rare grandeur to all his devotees.

The following day, we returned to Chennai. My husband departed to London shortly thereafter and I remained behind for a month longer in Chennai.

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