Sunday, December 21, 2008

A trip to remember-Part2

(Continued from previous post)
I just came back from the music season in Chennai and hence the delay in posting this. I had an absolutely wonderful time listening to so many kutcheris and spending time with some cherished friends :). Continuing with my pilgrimage trip, December 4th, 2008 was a special day in this mortal's life. I got up at 4:45 in the morn, took a refreshing bath and caught the bus to trichy inorder to attend my friend Vasumathi's marriage at Srirangam. As the bus passed through tanjore, I caught a glimpse of the BrihadISwara temple and continued on to trichy. I reached Srirangam around 8:30 am and was right on time for the muhurtham. Vachoo akka welcomed me with her brilliant smile as always :). For pictures, please click here. I had breakfast, watched the mAngalyadhAraNam and after wishing the couple, I walked to the Srirangam temple. By accident, I tagged along with a special darshan group (they had obviously paid money for the darshan :) :)). I did not know it was a special darshan group and I got an amazing darshan for free thanks Ranganatha swAmi :). I sang "rangapuravihAra", "ranganAyakam" and "shrI bhArgavi". I took the prasAdham (kalkandu, chandanam and a lotus from thAyAr RanganAyakI's divine feet) and went back to the kalyana mandapam. Vachoo akka and Balaji were extremely happy and took the prasAdham with glee..what better way to bless the newly-weds. After a sumptuous lunch, I bid goodbye to the couple and took a bus to my college REC, Trichy (now NITT).

As I walked into the campus, I realized that thanks to some serious Central government funding, the college has undergone a massive transformation in the last 3 years. There were new buildings for classrooms, a brand new alumni building and great upgradation of the EEE auditorium (where we used to watch films every friday night), the A2 hall and the barn. The main road itself has been converted into a beautiful avenue filled with trees. After paying a visit to the Octagon (our computer center) and the snacketeria, I went to my mechanical engineering department building :). Amidst nostalgic memories, I walked around the building and went to a few other places in the campus which are very close to my heart ;(. For pictures, click here. With much reluctance, I moved on to the bus stand to catch the next bus to tanjore. I reached tanjore around 2:30 in the afternoon and immediately took a bus to tiruvArur, the divine place that had drawn me to come back to India from the US.

With much excitement I boarded the bus and watched all the paddy fields pass by in a rush. As I reached tiruvArur at 4:00 pm, the evening breeze had set in and cool winds welcomed me :). For some weird reason, I felt as though I belonged there and had been there already though I have never been to tiruvArur in the past 25 years of my existence. I walked in a particular direction from the bus stand without asking anyone for directions to the temple. After a 15 minute walk, I was standing outside the majestic tyAgarAja-kamalAmbA temple. At that moment, I felt as though I had attained the goal of my life and served the purpose of my existence. As I entered the temple through the east gopuram, vast corridors welcomed me. I felt like an ant as the 8 towering gopurams of tiruvArur stood before me. With tears in my eyes and devotion in my heart, I started singing the tyAgarAja vibhakti series of krithis as I walked around the temple. There were probably around 60-70 lingams just on the outside prAkAram, each with their own sannidhis. After a wonderful darshan of the swAmi, I continued to go to each of the famous tiruvArUr panCalingams. I sang AnandESwarEna samrakSitoham and went to all the 5 sannidhis.

I came back to the main prAkAram and visited the nIlOtpalAmba sannidhi. She was beauty personified. Running high on emotions, I sang "shrI nIlOtpalanAyike", "nIlOtpalAmbAm"(both in nArirItigowLa) and "nIlOtpalAmbikayAH"(kannaDa gowLa) and did a sASHTANga namaskAra to the dEvi. I prepared myself to enter the hallowed corridors of Goddess kamalAmbA next. With trembling feet and the navAvarNams on my lips, I entered the sannidhi. I have no words to describe the beauty of Her. She was robed in glorious red and Her beauty brought tears to my eyes right away. I spent quite sometime at the sannidhi and sang a few lines of all the navAvarNams. With utmost reluctance, I left the temple and walked to the grand temple tank, kamalAlayam. As I sat there on the steps of the tank and watched the sun go down against the main gopuram of the temple, at the height of my emotions, I prayed that if I ever had a next birth, I should be born in tiruvArUr and spend my entire life in and around this temple.

Since it was getting dark, I had to move on. A 5 minute walk from the temple took me to dIkshithar's house. I had run out of tears already and with a kind of numb feeling, I entered the nAdhajyOthi's house (now converted into a small temple for the trinity by the Government). I prayed with all my might and meditated for a few minutes. I sang "mInAkSi mE mudam". As I finished, a group of about 10 kutti school girls came and sang beautifully. My soul was satisfied and I had finally done what I had wanted to do for so many years. I went to tyAgarAja swAmi's house in the next parallel road and to Shyama Shastri's house in the road next to that. The fact that the trinity, perhaps 3 of the biggest musical geniuses to have walked this planet were born in the same city and had lived within 5 minutes walking distance of each other is remarkable to say the least. It was past 7 pm and I still had a 2 hour ride back to kumbakonam ahead of me. Hence, I was forced to leave this beautiful town ;(. With a promise to myself that I will come back in 2009, I consoled myself and took the next bus to kumbakonam. With my heart still at tiruvArUr, I spent the next 2 hours in the bus to kumbakonam listening to some nice dIkshithar krithis on my ipod. After a nice dinner, I retired for the day.

On 5th December, I woke up at 5:15 and after a refreshing bath, I was off on my temple hunt :). I began the day with a visit to the Brihaspathi navagraha sthalam at Alangudi, about 20 kms from kumbakonam. Since the next was guru payirchi, I wanted to avoid the crowd :). Had an amazing darshan and sang the pallavi and anupallavi of "brihaspatE" (aTHAna) as I walked around the prAkAram. Next stop was Pattiswaram durga dEvi temple. I was blown away by the size and beauty of the main gopuram as I approached the temple. I entered the temple right in time for the morning main Aradhanai. The dEvi was amazingly beautiful and even now as I write about Her, my eyes well up. If anyone goes to the kumbakonam area, this temple is a must visit. With much reluctance (as always :)), I left this temple and the next stop was thirukarugAvUr garbarakSAmbikai temple. As the name of the dEvi suggests, this temple is extremely special for pregnant and expecting mothers. This temple is a 10 km deviation from the main road to tiruvaiyyAru. Guru (the cab driver) took me as close as possible to the temple. From where he parked the car, I had to cross a beautiful bridge by foot. The wooden bridge overlooking the Kaveri river was the only way into the town. After crossing the bridge and walking half a kilometer, I reached the garbarakSAmbikai temple. As I washed my feet in the huge temple tank, the soothing morning breeze and the bright sunlight was a beautiful experience in itself.

After a peaceful darshan of the dEvi and the swAmi here, I walked back to the cab as we took off for the 108 sivAlayam in papanasam on the way to tiruvaiyyAru. As the name suggests, this temple has 108 lingams. It was much smaller than I expected it to be. The next stop was tiruvaiyyAru. As we drove from pApanAsam, we crossed the 5 rivers after which the town is named ("aiyy"(5)+"Aru"(river)). I couldnt get enough of the countryside as we drove for about 40 minutes. I reached the tiruvaiyyAru panCanadISwarar temple around 10:30 am. The main gopuram was huge but it for sure needs a new touch-up. As soon as I entered the temple, I could immediately feel vibrations which were perhaps the highest I have felt in the last few days. The temple's long winding corridors were intricate and I reached the main sannidhi wondering how they had constucted this magnificient temple. I sang shrI panCanAdISam in sahAna composed by Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer as walked around the huge prAkAram. I walked through a small corridor to enter the Dharmasamvardhani thAyAr sannidhi. The dEvi was beautifully adorned in green that day and it was a sight for eternity. With all devotion I sang dharmasamvardhani in madhyamavati. I was just in time for an abhishekam. As I left this wonderful kSEtra, I once again consoled myself by promising to come back in 2009. A 10 minute walk took me to Saint tyAgarAja's samAdi. After praying to the sadguru and worshipping the same rama idol that he had worshipped, I sang manasa yetulo in malayamArutham and nannu vidaCi in rItigOwLa. I walked behind the temple and sat under a huge tree on the banks of Kaveri. After enjoying the location and the breeze for a few minutes, I walked back to my cab.

Next stop was the navagraha sthalam for Chandra at thingalur, a 15 minute drive from tiruvaiyyAru. I very vividly remembered the winding path from the main road to the temple through the paddy fields from my previous trip here. After worshipping the Lord, I sang Chandram Bhaja mAnasa in asAvEri. As it was approaching noon, I had to get a move on. The final stop in my pilgrimage was swAmimalai on my way back to kumbakonam. After having darshans of Lord Shiva and Parvati here, I walked up the steps to Lord Swaminatha's Sannidhi. I sang swAminAtha paripAlayAsumAm in nATa and seeked His blessings. I sang daNDAyudapANim (Anandabhairavi) and the majestic shrI subrahmaNyAya namastE (kAmbhOji) as I walked around the beautiful temple. Guru drove me back to Kumbakonam. After thanking him for the wonderful service, I had a nice lunch and caught up on some sleep in the afternoon. Around 5 in the evening, I had a hot coffee and went on a nice evening walk around this beautiful temple town. I purchased some sweets and a pack each of the famous kumbakonam appalams and kumbakonam coffee :). I went to the nAgESwaran temple in kumbakonam and spent my evening there before returning to my hotel. Had dinner, watched some TV and went to bed.

On December 6th, I had to catch my train back to bangalore at 8:30 pm. From my college days, I had fallen in love with the Sangeethas restaurant next to Central bus stand in trichy. Just for eating there, I had decided to board the train from trichy instead of kumbakonam :). In the morning, I woke up a little late, took a bath and went to the famous kumbESwarar-mangalAmba temple. I sang mangaLAmbAyai namastE in mALavaSri and had a wonderful darshan. I then went to the sArangapANi temple and returned to my hotel. After having a sumptuous lunch, I packed my luggage, settled the hotel bill and around 3:30, I left kumbakonam. I bid adieu to this amazing place with a tear in my eye and caught the next bus to trichy. I passed by the BrihadISwara temple and my beloved college REC,trichy once again. I reached Trichy around 6:30 pm and ate to my heart's content at Sangeethas. Amazingly, the manager recognized me from my college days (because of my extremely often visits I presume :)) and came and spoke to me :). After a nice, slow dinner of bhel puri, pAv bhAji, one masala dOsa and a hot coffee, I walked to the train station at 7:30.

Since it was December 6th (Babri masjid disaster day ;(), there were elaborate security arrangements at the train station. After a brisk frisk through my luggage by the police, I entered the trichy station from where I have travelled so many times during my college days. The train journey was uneventful and I was back in Bangalore the next day. I will forever remember the 4 days I spent in and around kumbakonam visiting all those temples. The only regret about this trip was that I could not go to the mannArguDi rAjagOpAlaswAmi temple :(. It is just a 20 km drive from AlanguDi but because of the heavy rains, a connecting bridge was broken and unfortunately, I could not go there ;(. I am sure I will be going back to kumbakonam once again in 2009 and I will for sure visit mannArguDi and ofcourse go back to tiruvArUr :) :). I thank you all for reading patiently and listening to my experiences :). If any one of you is planning to make a similar trip, please contact me and I will be more than happy to share with you some travelling information (route maps etc) so that you can plan your trips accordingly. I feel blessed to have gone on this pilgrimage and I am sure this is just the beginning and there will be many more temple trip in the coming years :).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A trip to remember-1

On the 4th of December, 2008, I finally set foot on the holy land of tiruvArUr, the birth place of some of the greatest souls to have walked this planet. I had to start off this post on my amazing pilgrimage with the high point. Now that I have mentioned this and got my urge satiated, I will try to list the temples I visited in chronological order and write a few lines about any special incidents or feelings I experienced in this extraordinary trip. For those of you who are just interested in the pictures and not in my ramblings, please click here

On December 2nd, 2008, I left my house in Bangalore on what I would call as my "dream-come-true" trip to South India. I bid farewell to an anxious amma (anxious for sending me alone) and boarded the Mysore-Mayiladuthurai express from BNG junction at 7 pm. Except for the excitement of going on a train after 4 years, the evening was quite uneventful. The next day morning, I woke up at 4 am and immediately opened the window to feast my eyes upon the glorious country side. The rich paddy fields and the "margazhi oodha kaatru" waltzed into my heart. Around 6 am, I disembarked the train at kumbakonam junction. After checking into "Hotel Kasi International", I started off the day with a cup of hot kumbakonam coffee..the taste still lingers in my tongue :). I took a snappy bath and made a few calls to find the cheapest cab service inorder to start my visits to the temples. After narrowing down, my cab driver friend for the next couple of days, Guru picked me up in that ever faithful Ambassador car :).

I started off with the Raghu navagraha sthalam at tirunAgESwaram. The first thing that struck me about this temple was the beauty of the temple tank. I washed my feet and entered the temple to see nAganAtha swAmi and the separate Raghu Bhagavan sannidhi. I sang "nAgAbharaNam nagajabharaNam". Next I went to Uppiliappan temple (stone's throw away from the Raghu temple) and sang "ShankachakragadApANim". From there, I went to Pratyangira dEvi temple, made famous by the former chief minister J.Jayalalitha. The dEvi here was perhaps the most ugra (angry) I have seen. Next stop was Thirumeichur lalitAmbika temple. With mEganAtha swAmi, the dEvi here moved me to tears. Also, the lalitAmbikai here wears an anklet ("kolusu") in one of her legs. This anklet has a wonderful story behind it as narrated by Shreekrishna's mother when I met her nearly 2 months back. I will get the full details from her and post it in my next blog.

The next temple in line was Koothanoor Saraswathi amman temple. Guru took major pains to drive us to this temple as one of the bridges were broken. It was well worth the effort. This special temple dedicated to Saraswathi amman was a mesmerising sight. I sang shrI saraswathi namOstutE in Arabhi. From there, it was a long drive straight to tirunallAru, the navagraha kSEtram for SanISwara Bhaghavan. On route, I saw some of the damages the recent torrential rains have caused. dharbAraNyESwarar in all his majestic beauty welcomed me :). I proceeded to the SanISwara sannidhi and witnessed a beautiful ArAdhanai for the deity. I felt extremely blessed to witness this and sang "diwAkara tanujam". With no heart to leave this temple, I reluctantly moved on to tirukadaiyUr. For some reason, the abhirAmi thAyAr-amritakadESwarar temple here was distinctly imprinted in my mind from my previous trip. The huge, beautiful gopuram at the corner of the dead end road brought tears to my eyes. Altogether, it was an overwhelming experience here. I sang shankaramabhirAmi manOharam with tears of joy ;(.

From here, we drove further east to kEthu navagraha sthalam at keezhperumpallam. Though the temple lacked great embellishments or a big gopuram, there were still some very strong vibations that I experienced here. Since it was nearing lunch time, I had to rush so that I could cover a few more temples before they closed the sannidhis. Next temple in line was the Budhan navagraha sthalam at tiruvEnkAdu. With a newly touched up gopuram and a huge prAkAram, the shwEtAranyESwarar swAmi temple with the sannidhi for Budhan bhagavAn was an extremely pleasant sight to say the least. The temple has two huge tanks and long corridors. I sang budhamAshrayAmi on a wednesday at the budhan sthalam..what more could I ask for. From there, we rushed to vaithISwaran kovil, the navagraha sthalam for angArakam. This kSetram is of special significance for any dIkshithar bhakta since he was named after Muthukumaraswami at this temple. The main sannidhis of VaidyanAtha swAmi and tailAmba dEvi were beautiful. I proceeded to the muthukumAraswAmi sannidhi and sang bAlasubrahmanyam in surutti. I managed to make it to the sannidhi as they were closing down for the morning with the deepArAdhanai. I then proceeded to the angArakam sannidhi and sang angArakam AshrayAmyaham and rejoiced watching all the reddish decorations for the God.

Guru and I decided to stop at mayilAduthurai for lunch and take a small nap until the temples reopened in the evening at 4. After a nice lunch, we went and parked the car in front of the abhyAmbA-mAyUranAthar temple and took a small nap :). I was the first person to enter the temple at 4. Needless to say, it was a beautiful and a pretty huge temple with long prAkArams. The mAyUranAthar sannidhi was brilliantly decorated and I sang mAyUranAtham in dhanyASi. I continued to the abhyAmbA sannidhi and spent some time there. The dEvi here was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. She was dressed in green and I could feel extremely divine vibrations here that my knees started shaking. I sang abhayAmbA jagadamba in kalyANi, abhayAmbikAyAH in kEdAragowLa and shrI abhayAmbA in shrI rAgam. With utmost reluctance, I left this temple and proceeded to vadAnyESwarar temple, which is hardly a few kilometres from the mAyUranAthar temple. The local people at mayilAduthurai call this temple as Vallalar kovil. vadAnyESwarar has a small sannidhi but I once experienced some very high vibrations that instantly brought tears to my eyes. I had a nasty headache because of roaming since morning but the energy here was so great that my headache went away in a break of sweat. I sang vadAnyESwaram, the best dEvagAndhAri ever. I then visited the jnAnAbikA sannidhi and continued to the next sthalam.

We started our way back to kumbakonam and had quite a few temples on the way. The next stop was tirumanamchEri. The kokilAmbAl temple here is very famous and the grandeur was marvellous. We moved on to a small yet famous vanadurga temple at kadirAmangalam. True to the name, the durga dEvi here sits pretty much in the middle of a forest. But, the effort was well worth it. The deity was decorated beautifully with a garland made out of lemons. I loved the location of this temple and ofcourse the deity's brilliance. Next stop was kanjanUr. The sukra bhagavAn temple was deeply engraved in my mind from the previous visit (probably 10 years ago). Unfortunately I dont know shrI sukra bhagavantam and hence did not sing anything here :(. It was slowly getting dark as I left this temple and continued to Suriyanar kovil, the navagraha sthalam for Sun God. I wanted to be at the temple exactly at dawn or dusk, but I was a little late and reached the temple only around 7 pm. Unlike other navagraha sthalams where an amsha of Lord Shiva is the main deity, the main sannidhi at Suriyanar kovil is Lord Surya himself. Since He is believed to be an amalgam of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, Surya occupies the central and a supreme position among the planetary members. He sits in an elevated platform and as you go on a pradakshanam around the temple, you will come across separate sannidhis for all the other navagrahams. I hummed SuryamUrtE as I walked around the temple.

As I left Suriyanar kovil, night had fallen. The last stop for the day was tribuvanam (tiru-pU-vanam). The majestic SarabESwarar temple here is very famous. This was perhaps the most well-maintained temple that I have seen till date. The towering gopuram and the huge corridors stand testimony to some of the best architectures ever. I was really tired by this time and my legs were aching. I found it a challenge to complete the pradakshinam :). It was 15 minute ride back to my hotel at kumbakonam. I had a nice dinner, made a complete tally of the money I had spent for the day and rejoiced in the fact that I had covered 17 temples in one day :) :). After informing amma of my rich haul :), I went to sleep very early (around 10 pm) because I was tired and since the next day, I was to go to Srirangam and to tiruvArUr :D :D.

Since this post was a little longer than I thought it would be, I will stop here and continue with the rest of my experience in the next post. Hope I did not bore you guys with my own stories and experiences. I will try to wrap up my next post a little shorter than this :). More later.