29 May 09…
It was Shankara Jayanti day…
Walking down the narrow lane from our residence, we first visited the Sringeri Shankara Mutt… The main sanctum was curtained… Preparations were on for the Shankara Jayanti puja… On one side was a shrine that housed a Sivalinga that was offered worship by the great Acharya Sri Vidyaranya, who was the 12th pontiff of Sringeri Mutt, in the 14th century. To my eyes, that Sivalinga looked very similar to Kashi Vishwanatha…
From there we walked to the Kanchi Kamakoti temple and Mutt. Shankara Jayanyti was being celebrated with great elan. A photo of Adi Shankara was being taken on a procession in the streets nearby… Great joy all around!
Our local guide-philosopher then took us to visit some aged couples staying in the old age home of the Mutt, for giving daana. They blessed us profusely. This is timeless India. What a blessing…
Hiring a couple of cycle rickshaws, we set off on a quick round of some other temples. We went to Sankat Mochan Hanuman mandir, a temple established by the great saint Goswami Tulsidas. The idol of Hanumanji is huge and awe inspiring. Eyes riveted, one managed to sing a chaupayee or two from the Ramacaritamanas.
Handing over to RK’s notes…
“Our next visit was to the Durga Temple. The Deity was unusual — only the Head and Face were prominently seen and the divine Visage resembled that of a powerful tigress. Inside the temple, we were also fortunate to witness the Chandi Paat by over hundred priests sitting near the temple tank in two long rows. Some things like this incident appear very ordinary when written about, but being there is an entirely different experience, thrilling and moving but too intense and subjective to be conveyed accurately through words — any pilgrimage is replete with such moments which makes the subsequent writing of the travelogue quite a dissatisfying experience because of the number of such moments which cannot be communicated to another.
We moved on in the scorching heat (it was more than 45 degrees Celsius and a record among all cities in north India on that day) to our last visit which is regarded as compulsory to conclude the Kasi Yatra – the Kaulibai Mandir where we offer “chozhis” (little shells) to Mother Kaulibai (the word “kauli” in Hindi means “chozhi” in Tamil, and She gets Her name from them). She is the guarding deity of the old Varanasi village and the Sister of Lord Kasi Viswanatha. The story goes that because of Her overemphasis on orthodoxy in the ‘maha smashaana’ of Kasi (even the sankalpams refer to Kasi thus), She was ostracized, and upon seeking forgiveness from the Lord, He blessed Her saying that a pilgrim’s Kasi yatra would be successfully completed only after a visit to Her with the offering of chozhis and the prayer – “may the “chozhis” be Yours and may the Kasi Yatra phalam be ours”. ”
Was it hot or what! We kept drinking cold water, had “gamcha” on our heads, even had Aam-panaa (mango drink that cools the body system)… Yet we knew – we were that close to being affected by sunstroke… It was as if all the lifetsuff in us was being vaporized by the furnace of the Sun!
Afternoon saw me take a cab to the airport. The cab driver was kind enough to initiate me into the art of eating Banarsi paan… He said that the paan must remain in the mouth right until the time we reach the airport… “majaa lete raho… let it soak in your mouth…”. Needless to say, I wasnt such a good student… He was a native, and a master… Like a true Banarsi, everytime his mouth was full of spittle-saliva, he would just spit it right out without a worry. Spit anywhere! The world is a spittoon!
Got no respite from the heat in the airport either. The lounge had no air-conditioning… My body-system was running on minimum batteries… Somehow, I managed to stagger into the plane, and switched off…
So that was the Tristhal Yatra – pilgrimage to the trinity – Prayag, Kashi, Gaya… By the infinite grace of the One, we could do that during the holy period of Akshaya Tritheeya and Shankara Jayanti… What a Yatra!
Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada, in his composition “Kashi Pancakam”, describes the “spiritual” Tristhal Yatra…
काशीक्षेत्रं शरीरं त्रिभुवन-जननी व्यापिनी ग्यानगङ्गा .
भक्तिः श्रद्धा गयेयं निजगुरु-चरणध्यानयोगः प्रयागः .
विश्वेशोऽयं तुरीयः सकलजन-मनःसाक्षिभूतोऽन्तरात्मा
देहे सर्वं मदीये यदि वसति पुनस्तीर्थमन्यत्किमस्ति
“Kashi kshetra is the human body. The mother of all three worlds, is the all pervading Ganga, Knowledge-Consciousness. Devotion, faith, is the Gaya kshetra. Prayaga is the abode where one is absorbed in the contemplation of the lotus feet of one’s Guru. Lord Vishwanatha, who transcends the three states (of phenomena), is the Self, the witness abiding in the heart of every person. All these abide in my own body! Where then, is there any other-outside place of pilgrimage!”
Sometime during the final day, we took a boat and going down to the far side of the Ganges… Signing off this Tristhal-Yatra with a picture taken then… Wishing all a very happy Navarathri!