“Pilgrimage” is rightly defined as one’s pursuit of moral significance , which evolves over a lifetime. One get’s to imbibe the lessons of life at right time and right place which is never planned… it just happens!!!
How else can i explain me being part of annual pilgrimage by foot from Kumbakonam to Vaitheeswaran temple for the first time this year which is being conducted successfully by our kumbakonam community members since 1979. Time of reckoning to experience and pursue the pilgrimage was destined this year- 2017… and during its course taught me important lessons in life.
During the Tamil month of Maasi most communities in south India embark on pilgrimage by walk to various places of worship. Walk to Vaitheeswaran Temple is conducted every year in 2nd week of Maasi,the distance of 54 kms is broken down to 4 phases covering 1.5 days.
Day 1 – Phase 1 :Kumbakonam to Thirupananthal 18.2 Kms
5.30 AM : Seeking almighty’s blessings we group of 20 members embarked on pilgrimage to Thirupananthal, our first pit stop. Being last phase of Winter season , the climate was cool and picturesque too – morning mist enveloping the open fields on both sides of road as if white blanket has been spread across them. As is tradition among Indian households, we witnessed women cleaning up house entrance and skillfully plotting Kolam (is a form of drawing that is drawn by using rice flour). Kolams are thought to bring prosperity to homes. Couldn’t help thinking how traditions are still being followed, in comparison to cities where due to the lack of TIME or RUSH syndrome… Kolams are things of history… oh no, thanks to Kolam sticker sheets, they are pasted at the entrance! Roads were virtually empty when we started, but as time ticked by traffic picked up making it difficult to walk on road. Curious passersby probed on our mission…so we were kept alert to answer queries such as- Where are we heading? , Why don’t you take alternate route? Why can’t you take a bus?. While passing bus stops on highway, passengers got anxious as to whether there was bus strike ( Quite common in this part of the world).
Pleasant climate and fresh legs kept the group going at good pace for first couple of hours, post which members got scattered mostly in pairs sticking to their respective pace. Sun slowly making its way up gave indication of possible heat we might have to experience. Between 9-10 am members started arriving at first pit stop – Aruna Jadeswarar temple(considered to be 1000-2000 years old), Thirupananthal. This is a sacred place for those seeking relief from the adverse aspects of serpent planets (Naga doshas) and Mars (Sevvai dosha). This is the place for women in particular for relief of all their problems. There are two male palm trees (Sacred temple trees) in the prakara. The rays of Sun fall on Lord on some days in Chithirai month-April-May.
Sumptuous breakfast arrived from kumbakonam and each member relished it. We took rest for 30 minutes before starting phase 2 of pilgrimage.
Day 1- Phase 2 : Thirupananthal to Pandanallur. 9.5Kms
Clear sky, scorching Sun remained the only constants in the second phase. Newcomers like me were slowly realizing the challenging task ahead to walk in afternoon heat. Only comfort being of the 9.5 kms in this stretch, almost 90% of route had tree cover as we deviated away from highway into path way used by villagers along the irrigation canal.2016 turned out to be bad year for southern states in terms of poor monsoons. Cauvery river is life line for farmers across two states – Karnataka and Tamilnadu.. and this year they were in loggerheads over sharing of natural resource. Walking along the dry irrigation canals was a walk into reality, which till then was only read in papers and media.
Bore wells being the only source is again a privilege for a few, considering the high costs. Hard to imagine that this southern Cauvery belt was once a prosperous region with rice fields flourishing. Locals were spotted clearing fields post the harvest, goats and sheep’s being herded. Poor monsoon results in low employment opportunities in fields… so we could see many of villagers enrolled for government program that guarantees day wages for carrying out specific tasks assigned ( silting of tanks, village roads…). It dawns on us as to why the free schemes are popular among the rural vote bank… for these that keep their house running. We didn’t spot a GYM across the entire walk, yet we found most of the men fit and healthy, in fact they could put our superstars to shame. Hard toiling in fields have naturally toned their muscles and kept them healthy.
Talking of health, halfway through phase 2 we had enough and more indications of how our lifestyle has played spoilsport on our fitness. We couldn’t bear the heat though we had natural tree cover. Water wasn’t enough to keep us going as we reached last stretch of phase 2. Once we hit the main road again we stopped at the first shop for few chilled soft drinks. For people like me, the veteran walkers were blessing in disguise as they were the ones who gave us company as we struggled our way ahead. Probing us with questions and discussions which would deviate our mind from physical pain… encouraging us ahead by stating ..” we are just few 100 meters from final stop”’… in reality it would be another km or two away! Finally mustering enough energy dragged ourselves to pit stop by 2 pm – Pasupatheeswarar temple, Pandanallur. Pandanallur is a village in the Thiruvidaimarudur taluk of Thanjavur district. Pandanallur is a historically important village and is known for its Pasupatheeswarar Temple and Adikesava Perumal temple.
We were the last group to arrive, majority of them arrived a good 45 minutes before us… that many minutes additional rest as well. To be honest mind was more into taking rest than having lunch. Tamarind Rice and Curd rice formed the menu for lunch. Post lunch within no time everyone stretched themselves in temple precincts. As the clock ticked its way to 4 pm, members started stretching muscles, applying pain relief spray to gear up for last leg of the day to Manalmedu. My Mind was totally shut down, given up for I couldn’t endure the pain any longer. Few of my cousins played mind games through their pep talks. “Enthusiasm is nothing without Energy and Grit to complete the task undertaken”…. something on those lines. At that moment I just laughed off , sticking to my stance of taking the next bus to Vaitheeswaran Kovil. Reached bus station , and I still can’t explain what changed my mind. I decided to continue the walk into the 3rd and last leg of the day to Manalmedu.
Day 1- Phase 3: Pandanallur to Manalmedu ( 9.5kms)
We hardly covered a few kms, car with evening snacks and tea arranged by our community members greeted us on the highway. Tanking up enough energy, we continued our walk with sun rays heat level much comfortable as it was few hours from sunset. Ensured that lessons learnt from first two legs of walk was followed to the T – to avoid taking frequent breaks, to walk at steady pace and to avoid thinking too far ahead, but to focus on the MOMENT. Being one of the laggards, was in the company of veteran (Aged 65) who was undertaking this walk for 39th time. He also happens to be one of key organizers. Learnt from him on the origin of the walk (late 70’s) and how much we owe to the people who started this initiative. Culture of firm belief in the omnipresent power can be the only reason for this walk to continue into 2017 and for people like me being part of it. According to him , the roads in this stretch was narrow and it had slopes on both sides, making it difficult for the members to balance themselves in slope and walk back while giving way to vehicles – mostly tractors carrying farm produce.
Halfway through the leg, we were offered fruits and snacks ( the final support before pit stop). Was even offered a lift in car to final destination, looking at the way I was struggling. Somehow managed to stick on and reach pit stop for nigh halt in marriage hall @ Manalmedu. Had to climb flight of steps to first floor which seemed a humongous task…excruciating pain with each step. Grabbed chair and sat for straight hour. Couple of members, continued their walk all the way to Vaitheeswaran Kovil the same day!
It helped profusely to be assisted in following few steps as advised by fellow member to ensure blood circulation in legs in turn making it pain free. Popped in pain killer after dinner and hit the bed, confident of taking up the final leg to Vaitheeswaran Kovil. Surprisingly, it was very cold and we hardly switched on fans.
Day 2 : Phase 4 : Manalmedu to Vaitheeswaran Kovil ( 12.5 kms)
Felt fit as fiddle in the morning, buzzed with energy to roll away to final destination. Plan was to start by 4 AM, but we eventually started around 5 AM. As was the norm , the group fragmented with passing time, each setting up their own pace. Morning sky was spectacle of the lights illuminating the sky as sunrise approached. Agriculture and tourism was main source of income in this part of the world. South Cauvery belt is peppered with temples all along its banks…. Most of the temples are very prominent Navagraha dosha parihara Sthalams. This sees a steady flow of tourists to this part of the world supporting the local economy. Closed sugarcane factories were sore sight to the eyes as we passed by a couple of them. Railway gate which everyone kept mentioning as the indicator of we reaching Vaitheeswaran Kovil finally came to our view and mind immersed itself into various levels of emotions. My faith in omnipresent power strengthened post this walk… for he alone tugged me along, when I had almost given up midway. How else could I explain the pain vanishing which was killing me during phase 3? When I spotted the snaps of spiritual guru at the entrance of hall booked for our stay…I silently accepted his part in the miracles en route. Most important lesson which shall remained ingrained is “To Never Give Up”… for I have experienced in past of what it feels to give up… and post this journey , how blissful one feels after completing the journey .
Other members of our community who weren’t part of walk joined us for the pooja rituals in the temple. Starting with abhishekam to Lord Ganesha and Lord Angarakan. Archanai was performed to Lord Vaidyanathar (Tamil word for doctor) and Goddess Thaiyal Nayaki. Main attraction was the Shanmugha Archanai offered to Lord Selva Muthukumaraswamy (Murugan) , where group of priests chant vedic hymns while showering flowers upon the lord, culminating with aarti offered by six priests simultaneously. How blessed is one to be part of this journey… it can be realized post experiencing it. Post lunch every one dispersed to their respective destinations , their mind bereft of negativity… filled with optimism and vigor to face the challenges that sprout in life time and again.
Wish to conclude this blog, by expressing our gratitude and love to families who have been organizing this journey year on year with aplomb. Every detail was taken care of be it food , accommodation and pooja arrangements at the temple. There was nothing to complain about. Most of us felt we need to actively contribute in one way or other towards this annual pilgrimage. With positive thought in mind, seek the almighty’s blessings to guide us.
Route Map: https://goo.gl/maps/8DEcQuBCUGt