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A shrine between two RudrAksha trees in Florida

“KarasthE hEmAdrau giriSa nikaTasthE dhana-patau
gRhasthE svarbhUjA(a)mara-surabhi-cintAmaNi-gaNE
SirasthE SItAMSau caraNa-yugalasthE(a)khila SubhE
kam-arthaM dAsyE(a)haM bhavatu bhavad-arthaM mama manaH”
( sivanandalahari )
General meaning:
The Golden mountain is at your hands; Kubera, the Lord of wealth by you;
wishes- delivering Kalpaka tree, Kamadhenu and Chintgamani are at your abode;
the moon with cool rays on your head; at your feet are all the auspiciousness.
What does this poor man have to offer you (when you have everything at your command), MahAdeva, except my mind?
Had the Jagath Guru, seen the divine sight of two grand RudrAksha trees offering their bright blue fruits and brown Rudraksha seeds to the Lingeswara at their base, he would have, in mystical exaltation, added that blessed pair too in his list of Mahadeva’s assets!
Yes, I had the fortune of seeing those trees, not in the Himalayan Valleys, but here in Florida, in a place called Fort Lauderdale! Not only that, in between those two giant trees, there is a shrine sanctified by a divine Banalingam, Mahameru, eleven Jade (maragatha)Lingams and one Paradeshwara (mercury lingam) as well for Nithya Abhishekam and some more idols of utmost artistic fineness and beauty. Regular poojas with abhishekam, Archana , naivedyam, doopa, deepa Aaradhana are offered strictly as per the Vedic prescription.
I expect the next question from you. How did this wonder happen? Is there an influential organization with powerful and wealthy members, behind this holy venture?
Or did any States helped or religious Mutts supported ?
Amazingly the answer is: ‘NO’.
The Shiva Temple , enshrined beneath two magnificent Rudraksha Trees, aptly named
Bhujageswara RudrAksha Mandir, is the result of poetic imagination, phenomenal dedication of a pure- hearted Indian born physicist, Acharya Vijay Raghavanji , settled in America since long and Swami Divyanada Saraswati who was his life partner in her previous Asram and an inspiration for him.
It all started in the vacant land behind the house Vijay Ji and Swami Divyananda bought in 1995. All that was there was a swimming pool and the pool deck. Why not install a Ganesha idol – thought the spiritual- minded scientist. Swami Divyananda’s favorite 16” standing Ganesha was readily available at hand and that is how it all started. Today after two decades that it is a great shrine where Lord Bhujageshwara resides in an Ashram like green land of peace and serenity bestowing his blessings on a few sincere devotees. Thanks to the valuable assistance from Swami Divyananda Saraswathi.
Acharya Vijay Raghavanji also affectionately called “ Sri Vijayji”, is a true blend of Vedanta, Hinduism and Physics. He is the founder of Adi Shankara Advaita Ashram , a non-profit organization dedicated to the teaching and popularizing the ancient wisdom of India – Vedanta.
Vijayji is graduate in Physics from Madurai University, his initial training in Yoga and Meditation was in 1976 with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh at the foothills of the Himalayas in India where he was also exposed to Vedic Studies, Vedanta and Hindu Rituals including Rudra Abishekam. After serving Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi as an Administrative Director for all his centers in India, He spent another two years (1980-1982) at South India Research Institute (SIRIS) Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh, India) developing and establishing the Department of Psycho- Physiology to further research on the effects of Meditation on the Physiology and Psychology of SIRIS company workers. He had taught Yoga and Meditation classes in Surinam (South America) from 1983-1984 .
Sri Vijayji has been living in US since 1985 and has been teaching free classes in Yoga and Meditation for the last 30 years in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville areas. He has also conducted many Rudra Abishekams and Rudra and Ganesha Homas for Temples in Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers and workshops at VHP (Viswa Hindu Parishad) camps and for various Balavihar groups and taught children the values of Hinduism and how to do Pujas. He has organized Bhagawath Geetha chanting competition for children at South Florida Hindu Temple.
By Profession, he is a state of Florida Licensed Medical Health Physicist and was with the State of Florida Bureau of Radiation. For the last thirteen years he has been with a well known Radiation Oncology group as a Medical Health Physicist and lives in Fort Lauderdale.
Now, let me come back to the story of the temple.
The swimming pool has been made over as a lovely Temple Pond with several idols artistically installed around it. Besides the two gigantic Rudraksha trees – almost 80 to 90 feet tall, there are other trees: Bilva, Nagalinga, mango, banana and Jack fruit all around the Bhujageshwara shrine. He has also built a small house for him and Swamini Divyananda Saraswati. As Vijay ji continues with his professional career, though he lives the life of a Yogi, the Sanyasini helps him in the temple maintenance and daily Poojas.
What was the source of finance for this project for a public cause? Did he collect money or any philanthropic agencies extend a helping hand? After all, the 14 statues, one or two of them really big, and all of them made in India and shipped from there in a 40’ container would have cost him a fortune.
And the daily maintenance too requires financial resources.
True. But Vijay ji, hasn’t sought any help from anyone. It is his whole life savings supplemented by that of the Sanyasini that they invested and he continues to utilize his earning from the profession for the routine maintenance. The shrine is in a private residence , and visitors are welcome upon advance request. So, very few know about this saintly abode of Gods. It is a home shrine for all practical purposes and definitely worth a visit. On Monday evenings he conducts Rudra Abishekam and Puja for a few sincere devotees. Swamini chants Rudram and Vedas with him.
It is my submission to Vijay ji that he should spread the message of the existence of this rare shrine to the public so that the society is benefitted. Let the blessings of Bhujageswara reach every corner of the Earth!
In the meantime, my salutations to these two moving RudrAksha trees, Vijaiji and Swamini Divyananda Saraswati, who have placed their life at the feet of the Lord Bhujageshwara.
Note: As I am finishing up this article Sri Vijay Ji after participating in an intense ekadasha Rudra Japam is getting ready to go to Memphis to take part as a Ritvik in a 5 day Sata Rudriya Maha Yagnam to be conducted under the guidance of Sri Sadguru Bodinatha Veylan Swami of Kauvai Adheenam – a divine coincidence

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Perinkulam car festival musing part 2

  • The Kerala Agraharams, colonies of the Brahmins of Tamil origin, are of a unique style. Many of the houses are being sold now and the new houses which come up, have no resemblance to the old ones, constructed under different circumstances, long ago. The Kerala Govt has declared the Kalpathy agraharam as the first heritage village in the State and we have to wait and watch how long the identity will be maintained.
    Security, understandably, was the main concern when the agraharams were built by the migrants. The houses are adjacent to each other with common walls on left and right and arranged in parallel lines facing each other, so that in case of burglary or attack from an outsider, the entire village could be awaken by shouting, as the primitives used to do. There was no better instrument to collect crowd than yelling, in the absence of powerful lights or other communication system like telephones. Every one knew who lived in the other houses unlike the occupants of the present flats where the next door neighbor remains a stranger.The arrangement was so ‘open’ that no guest could come and go without the knowledge of the entire agraharam. In an ‘open’ society, it helped socialization, mutual dependance, which were essential.They had plenty of time at their disposal unlike the present generation and they needed each others help. The whole agraharam was like a big single house, having separate kitchens.
    The slope-roofed and duct-tiled tops of the houses facilitated speedy drainage of rain waters .The absence of windows opening outside, on the side walls, to a great extent, was made good by providing an opening to the sky in the central roof, through which sunlight could enter the house. The rain water pouring through this opening was collected in a big square pit, called ‘kottathalam’, granite slabs on the sides and bottom, insulating the dampness and a provision made to drain the water through an underground canal to the backyard.. A big brass vessel filled with water used to be kept near that, for washing hands and legs and a basket with viboothy would be hanging from a raft on the side, as the holy ash was required for smearing on the body thrice a day and for some, even before going to bed. There was hardly any furniture, except an easy chair for the elderly or a book rack. Chairs were luxury and even cots, unless unavoidable again for the comfort of the elders. The floors were extremely smooth and shining and it was a pleasure to lie flat on them during summer or on a grass mat, during the summer. In the absence of electrical fans, palm- leaf fans were kept handy along with palm- leaf umbrellas, for protection from the sun and the rains. The main doorway was not very wide or tall and one has to submissively bend his head while entering the house. ‘Aam’, house, was an ‘Aalayam’, shrine for them. Even the agraharam was respectable and those wear sandals for long walk, which was necessity and habit, used to remove them while entering the village. The memory of my father removing the sandals at the entry point of the first village in the series, is still vivid in my memory. He was not ashamed, to hold the feet -protectors, to cover the distance of three agraharams, before entering ours, the last one. ‘These have been shouldering my weight throughout; why don’t I carry them for a short distance ?”, was his comment.
    There was no platform in the kitchen and the cooking was done in fire-wood stoves, ‘aduppus’, sitting on the floor. There was no chimney for throwing out the smoke which was allowed to exit through big windows facing the back yard. The toilets were away, in the backyard and for old people it was a task to get down the steps and approach the toilets especially during night hours, an inconvenience tolerated without a murmur.
    The frontage of the house had a raised platform, called ‘thinnai’, the floor nicely polished . Thinnais used to open to the street . That was an area for receiving the guests, for relaxation, children’s studies and holding meeting with friends and co-villagers, where issues of common interests were discussed and decision taken. Big gatherings used to be held in the temple premises. Two vertical small platforms, projected from the thinnai, towards the main street, where women used to sit and enjoy the evening sun and breeze and keeping an eye on those moving on the street or entering or exiting from any house. If you enter the Kalpathy heritage village, these thinnais, uniformly laid, will be the first catch of your eyes and they add beauty . The frontage of every house was decorated with fresh ‘kolam’ every morning, artistically drawn in geographical and mathematical patterns with rice powder during special occasions or ‘kola podi’ powdered sand lime, on other days, after cleaning the area with water and occasionally cow-dung, believed to have anti-septic properties and hence provides a literal threshold of protection for the home. The rice powder provides food for ants and other small insects and birds. Apart from the decorative and insect-helping purposes, Kolam serves as a welcome board, for visitors including the most-welcome woman, the goddess of wealth.
    The village ‘kovils’ ( temples ) which our forbears constructed as a part of their colony, nay, as a crown of it, was the main center for individual and collective worship, though every house had a small shrine of its own. Weddings and other auspicious social activities too took place under its roof or in its premises. My first sister’s wedding was conducted some fifty years ago in our temple and the scene of women folk preparing snacks like murukku, sitting on the thinnai of Pakku mama’s house, opposite to the temple, appears vividly in my mind. The women sat around a clean white sheet spread on the floor of the ‘thinnai’ and with amazing dexterity of fingers, they rolled and twisted the carefully prepared dough and in no time appeared several uniformly twisted circles surrounding a short cone made of the same dough with a pottu, kukum dot, to represent the god Ganapathy, remover of obstacles. Chuppani mama and other villages prepared food in a corner of the temple, using huge vessels. When the food was ready, we had to go to each house and invite the inmates to come for food, though a formal personal invitation was made on the previous evening. But every one used to happily participate actively, as if it was his family wedding. I don’t remember the invitees presenting any cash as git, to the newly-wed.The cash-starved brahmins, naturally avoided, gifts other than their blessings, which alone was fondly sought for.
    Agraharams , other than on the river banks, like Kalpathy, have at least one pond, which was the main source for bathing and washing clothes in the old days. There used to be a common well near the pond, as the one we have in the Perinkulam pond. My other used to collect water from that well and carry the pot through the village street everyday, like other women . As a child, I had observed the womenfolk carrying big bundles of clothes for washing to the pond and their men walking happily going to the pond for their body wash, with a ‘thothumunu’, small cloth on their shoulder. It is unfortunate that many of these ponds, constructed with great care and dedication, which served the society so well, are now neglected. Ponds, add beauty to the agraharams even now and are still useful. These water bodies must be protected.
    It appears that while the migrants gathered to construct agraharams, they chose mostly their own sub groups, like Ashtasahasram, vadamal etc, which had prominence those days. Marriages used to be only among the members of the same subgroup and it is surprising that even now, some parents insists on ‘vadamal only’ as in the case in my Pitchumani story. But such out- of- date conditions are peeling off now as it has become difficult to find matches even from the same caste.
    The annual car festivals were imported from the land of their origin, another unique practice of the migrants. The villagers settled far, too enthusiastically participate in the ‘ther’ in their village, as I try to do.
    Kerala Brahmins, also worship in ‘kavus’, the shrines of Goddess Parvathy, who s the ‘kula deivam’ for many families. The ‘kavus do not have chariots and their annual celebration is called ‘vela’ or ‘pooram’ . Chariots are unique for the agraharam kovils, following the tradition in Tamil Nadu, from where the Brahmins migrated. In fact the chariots are perhaps the only link remaining now between the migrants and their earlier place of dwelling. They have left ‘kootu kari’ and switched over to ‘ molakoottal, kalan, olan’ but continue to hold on, happily to ratholsavams and kalyana sampradayam, wedding style of their Tamil days.
    When they arrived at a new place for settlement , it is natural that our ancestors had to seek Divine intervention and blessings for their new life . They found the Bagavathy shrines in the forests, ideal place for the purpose. If not the Divine Mother, who else would help those hapless families? They surrendered to Bagavathies of those little shrines and behaved as if she was their mistress and as a token of their subservience to the Goddess, they placed a small amount as ‘padipanam’ just as the small kings used to pay ‘kappam to the emperor. I had carried a small gold coin as an offering to our kuladeivam, Cherunetturi Bagavathy which wanted to place on the steps of her shrine. The priest asked me to get it receipted in the dewaswam office, before placing before the deity. The office manager told me that now a days, devotees are offering big amount as ‘padipanam’ and sometime, it doesn’t reach the temple treasury. Obviously the Goddess do not collect them! No doubt that the kavus are shining better now with liberal contributions mostly from the non-Brahmin community.
    The Cherunattori Bagavathy holds a sword in her hand. The immigrants needed the support of that, as they themselves were not equipped with any weapons.
    I was elated that my youngest son, Srikanth, who got married in July last, attended the car festival along with his wife Hamsadwany. They both took active part in the festival. Later I took them to our Kuladeivam. My younger brother whose eye sight has been eroded by cataract and feet have become unsteady due to high blood sugar also could participate in the celebration and worship in Kavu. I was also happy to meet a few net friends, who recognized me .
    Here below, is a link for some pictures shot on her mobile by my daughter in law. Hope you like the pictures.
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Perinkulam car festival musing

This year’s Perinkulam car festival was of special significance for me, as my youngest son Srikanth along with his wife Hamsadwani, who are likely to leave shortly to US for higher studies, participated in the festival. I was on a happy high seeing them actively engaged in various activities , extending a helping hand to pull the chariot, to serve food etc.
The chariot was advancing when I pulled and I was proud of my strength, for a while. Then, I noticed sweat oozing from the face and bare chest of my son and realized that it was not my strength alone that contributed to the advancement of the vehicle. I turned to my right and left and found there were many, stronger and younger ones,  pulling the thick rope and when I looked at the back of the chariot there was a huge jumbo pushing with all its strength!
There was not a drop of sweat on my forehead or face or chest! So, I was just holding the rope when others pulled it !
Standing on the veranda of his house, an youngster was encouraging the procession, waving his ‘angavastram’, small cloth and shouting,’aa,aa’. He didn’t bother to come down his steps and give a helping hand.
Chariots won’t advance by touching the rope or screaming, ‘aa,aa’. Combined efforts are needed for any advancement, whether of a chariot carrying an idol or of a family or society holding many human beings.
I was, anyway, happy that I could be present there at least to touch the chariot.
“Thank you Krishna for making this possible for me. I have no strength left in my weak body to pull your chariot.” I prayed silently and looked down to see whether there were any foot-prints of my father and grand father who would have, with no sandals on their feet and no shirt on their body, pulled the chariot. Had the dark tar not covered  the mud roads, I would have been able to see their foot prints, I thought.
Nanvaneetha Krishna laughed. ”Looking for the foot prints of your forbears when your offspring is right in front of you, pulling my chariot along with you?” He asked.
I lifted my eyes and looked at His face. He smiled.

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The Hindu Temple in Tampa

 Satatyanarayanaswamy Temple in  Tampa Florida  is on a hillock and you have to climb nearly fifty steps to reach the temple walls covered with carvings and statuary . The statues of Jaya and Vijaya, on your left and right welcomes you at the entrance.The earth-toned gopuram, which breaks above the tree line, the walls of the same tone but enriched with elegant statues, the open space around with a banyan and neem tree pair sheltering a snake temple and  a navagraha group opposite to that provides a distinctly unique charisma to the complex. A team of ten from India spent ten years for completing this  architectural achievement. A serene lake with a single swan on the side, adds beauty to the artistic extravaganza.
Crossing the ‘kodimaram’ or flag post, you enter a spacious hall with high roof around which, there is a ‘prakaram’ for ‘pradakshianam’ or circumambulation.  Facing the entrance is the main diety of Satyanarayana, in His resplendent grace, opulently  ornamented and to His right is  His Divine consort Mahalakshmi and to His left, the  Mahlingeswar. In between are the shines for Sree Rama parivar and Radha Krishna love birds. Before you approach them, turn left, take the blessings of the Vinayaka swamy , move ahead pray all the Gods at your front, collect prasadam, turn right and enjoy the Valli, Devasena sametha Sri Subramania swamy’s elegant kalyana kolam and take the blessings of that  celestail celebrities too. Columns on the south and north walls exhibit figurines of the avataras of Vishnu and Siva. The interior of the spacious shrines are covered with glazing black marbles,  all the deities are richly ornamented  and draped with velvety apparels. No unwanted sounds , inside or outside, no tit bits anywhere, neatly maitained, purohits are courteous as in all other temples I have seen in USA.
I was however, sad to see the single swan in the adjoining pond roaming alone without a companion. I do not know whether that lovely bird is a male or female but when I saw it , dipping its head inside the water and lifting it up elegantly and swimming all alone , I wished how happier it would have been had it a companion to rub its lovely body and twist its neck with that of another one. In the moonlit nights, that single bird would have longed for a mate so that it could tell stories about the shy stars silently hiding behind the silvery veils of the clouds, while the moon approaches with smile and satisfaction of their presence. When the winter winds shakes the water and makes the bird cooler and cooler every time it dips its body into it, how can you blame it for asking for a warm hug from another co-species ?
After all, was this bird not known for its helping attitude towards one of the ever green lovers of mythology , the lovely  Damaayanthi, whom even the celestial kings longed for and Nala who underwent untold miseries, though born as a prince. The immortal picture of  ‘ hamsa -Damayanthi by Raja Ravivarma still illumines my mind as well as the kathakali padams of ‘Nalcharitham’.
” Oorjithasaya parthipa vara jan, upakrama cheyyam
Orthu kandolam uthamanam nee,upama thava nahi moonnulakilum”
” Oh, the great king, your are honest and upright with no equals in all the three worlds. I will help  you”
I could not help looking up and asking the Divinities in the second floorSri e ” “Ithu nyayama ?’ Is this proper ?
Guess what they replied
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Visalakshi sametha Sree Viswanatha Swamy, the presiding deity of the prime temple of Kalpathy had already mounted His glamorous chariot in all glory, escorted by other divine family members , all in their own chariots, when I landed at the Kalpathy village during the recent annual car festival celebration.
I was witnessing that divine family union after a gap of three years and should have instantly, at the very sight of the celestial procession ready to take off, fallen on the ground like a stick, raising my hand and joining the palms in salutation and surrendered to the parents of universe, ‘jagatha pitara’, or at least raised my joined-palms to my chest. No such things, sadly happened. Instead, ( ashamed to say), I picked up my web camera from the pocket and took snaps of the chariots, from the front, from the back, from the sides, standing close by and keeping a comfortable distance!
What a shame! I quickly reflected on my faulty action the moment I held the thick coir rope to pull the chariot. I mused. Why do I need these pictures? All the local news papers have already front-paged lavish photographs of the chariots and I have my own collection of the previous years. Will these new pictures, when transferred to the computer screen, give the same spiritual enchantment the instant salutation and surrendering to the Supreme would have bestowed, to rekindle my spirit and soul? Definitely not. Then why did I indulge in that foolish act? In what way was my action different from the chatter and gossip of some women while standing before the sanctum of a temple awaiting the door to open for the sacred, scintillating deeparadhana service ? What right had I to scold my sister who, while worshiping at the Guruvayoor temple the other day, driven by unalloyed affection and consideration for me, diverted her attention to find a fault in the way I was wearing dothy?
I was becoming small and small, overburdened by self pity and was not in a position to pull the chariot. The celestial mount did not move an inch. I pressed my toes firmly on the ground, bent my back a bit to the front, used all energy and strength I could draw from within and pulled the chariot. No success. Now, I bent my body backward, stretched my hands simultaneously pressing the ground harder and pulled the chariot. Again, no success. The chariot did not move an inch!
I gave up. I am not fit to pull the divine vehicle. I am fit only to shoot a picture of it. I have never felt so helpless before.
Exasperated at my own folly and helplessness, I was about to leave my hold on the rope and quit, when I suddenly gained the strength of an elephant and thought for a moment that I was carrying on my shoulders the mighty ‘ulsavamoorthis’ the golden idols of the Lord and his consort on a mighty brass bull, mounted on a wooden platform supported by a pair of stout wooden rolls, as I used to do, along with other devotees, during my young days. My shoulders were strong then, my faith in the Almighty deep and I could give a helping shoulder to carry the Idols and mount the steps. Along with others, in full throat, I used to shout, ‘Kailasapathae!’
That sound used to reach the waters of the adjacent river and echo.
That echo, I could hear clearly, when I was standing helplessly, to pull the rope of the chariot. That was all!
Instantly, a cry came from the bottom of my heart, ‘Kailasapathey!’ That scream then echoed in the distant western hills after transgressing the voluminous waves of sound emanating from innumerable percussion instruments leading the procession and crossing the muddy waters of the Kalpathy river.
And, the chariot instantly moved with a jerk!
Dec 4, 20

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Vaikkathashtami-An emotional extravaganza

From Kasi to Kalpathy for the car festival and from there to Vaikom for Ashtami, soon after returning from the US, was a spiritually rejuvenating reward. The presiding deity of the oldest Shiva temple in Kerala, is affectionately called Vaikkathappan, father of Vaikkom or Mahadevan, God of gods. The sacred vaikkathashtami festival lasting twelve days, takes place during the dark lunar fortnight of the Malayalam month Vrichikam and concludes on the Ashtami day. People from far and wide converge there in thousands to pray and receive the blessings of the God.
True to his name everything is ‘mahat’, big and great there. Situated on the shores of the Vembanattu kayal or backwaters, in a huge courtyard of about eight acre land, with four big gopurams or towers on all four sides, two elephant houses in the east, the campus welcomes you with a broad pathway, lavishly leveled with crystal white river- sand, where elephants in a row march majestically, carrying the ‘thidambhu’ or symbolic idols of the gods.  The main entrance to the Sreekovil, sanctum sanctorum itself is an imposing structure with a high roof supported by gigantic pillars.  Even the temporary shed constructed for the annual Ashtami festival, with uprooted fully grown areca palms as pillars, is so huge that jumbo elephants pass through it, in procession, majestically and comfortably. It is so high that the tip of the tall umbrellas over their head, held high by those standing on the pachyderms, do not touch the roof! The six feet tall Sivalingam, installed on a three foot platform looks magnificent. The kitchen, the vessels, the lamp holders, umbrellas and other accessories for the elephant procession-everything is ‘mahat’ there! And almost in every house in Vaikom, there will be at least one person named ‘Mahadevan’.
According to the legends it was on the Vrichika-krishnapaksha -Asthami day , the God appeared before Vyagrapada Maharishi who was the custodian of the Lingam handed over by Khara and later consecrated by Parasurama. In the morning, the God is worshiped as Dakshina moorthy, the great guru who imparts of wisdom and knowledge, and at noon, as Kirathamoorthy, giver of success in all endeavors( sarva karya jayam) and remover of obstacles ( sarva vighnopasanthi). In the evening, the Lord assumes the form of ‘shakthi panchakshari),  is in a very happy mood, enjoying his leisure with the divine consort and sons, Ganesha and Karthikeya. Ideal time to ask for what you want!
After paying obeisance to the magnificent golden flag staff and the Stambha Ganapathy in the north eastern corner of the Belikalpura, I walk further and enter the Namaskara mandapam where the Ramayana story is sculptured on the inner roof. The huge single stone Nandi gives me permission silently, to move towards the Sreekovil.  It is round in shape, roofed with copper plates and has two chambers, the outer one, the Mukha mandapam and the Gharbha griha, the inner chamber.
Ha! What a magnificent manifestation of the cosmic consciousness is this, in my front!
I see three prominent, glittering chandrakalas, crescents, adoring the head of the Lord and their captivating appearance stimulates every nerve center resulting in a spontaneous flow of  Sankaracharya’s immortal ‘ Sivanadhalahari”, from the cavern of my heart.
“Kalabhyam choodalamkritha sasi kalabhyam ——
I see three prominent eyes, so powerful that fire of anger emitted by one of them, I have no doubt, would have turned the god of love into ashes, when he intervened in a wrong time.—
I see a prominent nose, ‘thripundram’, three white lines of ash marks, colourful garlands around and the golden icon of his physical form in the center with the Ganges on the head, rudraksham on the chest, snakes around the neck and siva abharanams on his four hands.
I become emotional, struggle for words but somehow completes the slokam,
“Karasthe Heamdrau, girisa nikatasthe dhanapathau,
Grihasthe swarbhoojaamara surabhi, chinthamani ganey,
Sirasthea seethamsove, charanayugalstheghila subhe
Kamartham dasyoham, bhavathu bhavdartham mama mana.”
“The golden mountain is in your hands; Kubhera, the lord of wealth is close by; Chinthamani,Kamdhenu and Klapaka tree adore your house; all heavenly auspicious things are at your feet; the moon adores your head. What is there I have with me, to offer you, oh! Mahadeava?  I have nothing else but my mind.”
“It is, indeed, an immersion in ‘anantha lahari or absolute bliss, to stand before the great God and recite the slokas soaked in bakthi or devotion and beauty.  A marvelous experience it was, the Vaikathashtami worship. Absolute peace and unalloyed bliss- that was what I experienced on that morning.
The monkeys of the mind were waiting for me to come out of the Sreekovil and the moment I was out of reach of those power triple eyes of the Lord, they started playing their tricks. Deep down from the valley of memory, the taste of ‘pappadams’ and ‘paladapradhaman’ appeared on the tongue tip, untimely though not unnecessarily.
‘Where is the thidappally?,’ I inquired a good looking woman, coming out of the shrine, clad in snow white mundu. That was an unnecessary, untimely question but attracted by her serene looks and charm, I uttered some stupid words, as it has become a habit with me for some time now.
‘Thirumenikku enthaa  visakkunno- it appears you are hungry?,’ She asked, kindness and consideration reflecting through a simple innocent smile. I blinked as usual.
‘Hold my hand if you don’t want to fall on your knees. Pakshe jan chovathyia- but I belong to backward community,’ She was worried that I would be pushed down by the surging crowd.
‘But, you are charmin,’  I smiled and offered my hand and added, ‘I am not a Namboodiri (Kerala Brahmin); anyway, hold my hand firm’
Kuttymalu, that was her name, took me to the grand kitchen full of huge copper and brass vessels. ‘This is the place where the ‘pradal’, the great offering to the ‘Annadana prabhu’ is prepared,’ She bent down, touched the floor and taking the dust to her head, continued, ‘This is a holy place, where, Vaikkathappan was seen working. Therefore, the ashes from the fire- wood ovens here, is the main prasadam in the temple. It is believed to possess curative power’
‘Yes, I know,’ I replied. ‘I have in my house one such rosary brought by my wife, long back . She was born here’. That statement brought us still closer.
‘That is the ‘Manyasthana’ where the Lord, disguised as Brahmin, was seen eating his ‘pradal’ and a sacred lamp, ‘badradeepa’ is kept there, even today, as a mark of respect to the God, before the mass feeding starts’
She then took me around and showed the other sacred places like, Vyagrapadasthana, where the great saint performed pooja and received the blessing of the Lord in person, Mathrusala, where the belistones of seven divine mothers are worshiped, theerthas or holy tanks and many other things.
Pointing her finger at the top of the flag post, she said, ‘the twelve day festival commences with a ceremonial hosting of the flag and the thread for the holy flag is brought with pomp and pride, by a fisherman of Untassery family. This right is the reward granted by the then ruler, the Maharaja, for helping him and his parivar for crossing the backwaters in an emergency. In fact, every section of the society participates in the celebration and do you know that the NSS and SNDP (prominent social organizations) conduct the first three days’ festivals. Even goldsmiths have a part to play. Four Brahmin groups, ‘samoohams’, compete with each other in serving rich foods to the devotees.’ (The taste of the idichupuzhinja payasam, a variety of pudding, I enjoyed that noon in the Vaikkom samooham, is still fresh on my tongue- full four servings I had; hell with my diabetes)
‘Why do you laugh?,’ She inquired removing the sand from a granite platform, with her upper garment, preparing a seat for us, while repeating her statement about the presence of the God in the kitchen.  ‘Did I say anything wrong?’
‘You didn’t,’ I confessed, ‘I was enjoying mentally the sight of the Lord, in the form of a cook, holding a long ladle, with his dothy tied  above his knees, and his body painted with holy ash here and there,:  I replied, looking into her eyes to see whether she was able to catch up with me.
As calmly as she took my hand to lead me out of the rush inside the temple, Kuttimalu, who teaches Sanskrit in a college,spontaneously but slowly recited the sloka from ‘Kumarasambhavam’ related to Uma’s brusque reply to shiva who appeared before her in the form a vadu (Brahmin bachelor) and denounced the attributes of the Lord.
“Vibhooshanolbhasi pinaghta boghi va,
Gajajinalambi dukoola dhari va,
Kapaliva,syadhathavendu sekharam,
Na Viswamoortheyravadharyathe vapu:”
Adorned by jewels or crisscrossed by snakes, attired by elephant skin or silk cloth, carrying the moon or skull on the head, no one knows the real form of the Viswamoorthy , the omnipresent.
That settled it. Here is a person who speaks my language. For hours together, sitting under the golden flag post, we discussed about the great epic of the immortal poet.
Comes night and we are in, to get enthralled by the most famous ashtami vilakku.
Having learnt that Karthikeya , his son was engaged in a war with Tharakasura, Vaikkathappan, the ‘jagath pita’ or father of the universe, becomes restless and like any other earthly father, awaits anxiously, for hours together, for his successful return. The lights are dim, the drum beat dull and occasional and He is alone on an elephant, unaccompanied by any royal escorts. The people who witnessed the pompous procession of the Lord, a little while ago, sit silently sharing His anguish and anxiety. The sky is derived of clouds and the air gloomy. Time drags on.
Suddenly the sound of drum beats and pipe music becomes audible from a distance and we go outside. Yes, it is Karthikeya, the Sura senani’s  victory parade, after conquering the asura. He is coming from Udayanapuram, his abode, with his court and army, to meet his parents and pay tribute.
The royal procession of the celestial army chief, is awesome. I have never seen such a breath taking procession anywhere. A score of  majestic tuskers in their caparisoned splendor, With mahouts atop them, holding glittering idols of Karthikeya and other devathas, high tinseled silk parasols (muthukuda) and swaying white tufts (venchamaram) and peacock feather fans (aalavattom) lead by a big orchestra of drummers and pipers, arrive majestically towards  the eastern gate of the temple where the Lord is waiting patiently. The people of the town has arranged a rousing reception for the winners, with Nirapara(paddy filled brass measures), nilavailakku(brass ornamental lamps), flowers, thoranas(decorative small flags artistically woven with leaves from the coconut and plantain trees) etc.
A happy and proud father gets ready to meet his son of valor along with others. The oil lamps glow brighter, the drum- beats become louder, the pipes and bugles pour out melody. The divine meeting is so artistic and articulate that people become emotional and their enthusiasm is infective.
All the caparisoned elephants, there are a dozen of them, assemble around the proud jumbo carrying the head of the family. For more than an hour, the whole family celebrates their union and victory of the family member, which brings peace for the world, , when drummers and pipers produce their best and the lamp holders illuminate the whole campus. People rejoice.
Even  good things  have  to come to an end and it is time now to say good bye. Karthikeya and others, take leave of the divine parents. Their elephants, one by one, slowly and sadly approach the patriarch, bend the right knee, raise the trunk, and bow before him. The jumbo of the father, lifts the trunk and blesses. There is practically no high sounding drum-beating and the music flowing from the pipes, nadaswarms, is soft and sorrowful. Not only the people who witness the scene of separation but even the elephants bow their heads with sorrow.
The father slowly comes to the main gate to see the children off and one by one, they take leave again.
By attributing form for the formless and providing family and shelter to the one for whom the entire universe is abode and family, we derive a unique pleasure We feel that, by doing so, the God has come closer to us. The Kalpathy car festival, The Vaikkathashtamy and several other celebrations illustrate this .
While returning from the temple after the fireworks at around four in the morning, I asked Kuttymalu, how the elephants were acting so meticulously, as if they were trained for a professional circus show.
‘They are trained to synchronize their action with the sound from the sanku, conch,’ she clarified .
‘And  their eyes were moist!’
‘As they are animals’
‘I understood, Kuttimalu’. I held her hand without her asking.
‘I like you Kuttimalu,’ I said and held her close to me.
‘Won’t you come for the next Ashtami?’, She asked while bidding adieu, along with her parents. ‘I am your Karthikeya , though I have not won a battle’
‘You are,’ I asserted, ‘ You have won my heart’
‘Now your eyes are moist,’ she taunted me with a mischievous smile and queried, ‘that means?’
‘I am an animal,’ I admitted and moved towards the bus-stand.
I had no courage to turn back and say ‘good bye’ again.
Jan 13, 2009
Leaving for the Kerala trip, with my sister, her daughter in law and little Ishaan tomorrow. The top priority in the otherwise sightseeing tour is Vaikkathashatmi on the 7th of this month, which happens to be my  actual birthday, though my official birthday has passed on, with the benign blessings of the gods at the Greater Baltimore temple, to whose divine presence , my son Sharath and DIL Meghana, lead me with love and care. The Vaikkathappan’s darisanam on the dawn of the next day also happens to be important for me as that will be my star day, vritchika Hastham, according to  the perinkulam astrolger Mookkunni, who  wrote my janmapatrika, a valuable, though seldom used written document.

It was three years ago that I was earlier endowed with  the blessings of participation in the  extravaganza of Ashtami celebrations, which was so enthralling that I came out with a story, “Vaikkathashtami, an emotional extravaganza”, which drew the appreciation of many and severe censorial slashing from a senior scholar whom I revere for his elucidate writing and enviable knowledge.  The reason for the ire of the elderly soul was my narrated companionship with an imaginary character,Kuttimalu, an young woman who helped to go around the temple explaining the importance of places and events.  My explanation that the woman never existed in reality and was purely a product of my imagination and my narration was linked to the union of the Divine Father and His son and the subsequent separation, movingly enacted by the caparisoned pachyderms carrying the idols of Vaikkathappan and Subramania Swamy,  didn’t carry much weight with that puritan Brahmanasri and our  debate went on for days, giving literary entertainment to the readers.

This is the problem if a writer combines reality with imaginary events and characters, in his works, but having used to that habit, I find it hard to come out of it. I am writing stories not autobiography.

The skirmish with the senior, however, left no ill feeling in our relationship, thanks to his generous heart. My respect for the elderly scholar continues. He too continues to love me and  magnanimously and unreservedly blessed my children when I invited him for their weddings, in July this year.  The strong and silky cultural web that winds our elders is so elastic that it can afford to absorb any shock but suffers no fracture or retains any dust , when the windstorm passes away.

 Vaikkathappan’s call came again unexpectedly while I was in USA and I am more excited now (not with the hope of meeting with my imaginary woman- friend Smile, but because I can meet my Lord on my janmanakshatram ) .
If the life is tuned in a spiritual mode, unexpected union with the Divinity occurs. Who expected this day, last month in Florida, I will be making a trip to Vaikkam to submit my obeisance to the Mahadevar that too on my birthday.

Dec. 3, 2012

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Kalpathi car festival

No sooner I landed at the place of my birth to participate in the annual car festival this year, after an unpardonable gap of many years, than I rushed to the river for a dip, before visiting the recently renovated temple of Viswanathaswamy to offer prayers. I am familiar with the moods of the Kalpathy river, having spent several pleasant evenings on its bank, idly lying on the sand- bed gazing at the setting sun or at the silvery clouds descending from the neighboring mountains. Mostly, she flows silently, sandwiched between two rocky ranges, like a newly wedded, shy and slender girl escorted by her in laws .

Gazing at the scenic beauty of the western ghats, the falling leaves from the huge tree on the bank and the chirping birds on it, I sit for a while on the granite steps descending from the backyard of the temple .

The time clock gets pushed back by several years.

While performing the avaniavittam ritual seated on these steps amidst hundreds of Brahmins, I repeat verbatim, the sonorous sounds of vaadhyar Chuppamani, who stands like a statue ahead, bright white threads and vibhooti marks crisscrossing his ebony -black frame. For a while, surreptitiously, I glance at the bathing beauties nearby and get caught by his watchful eyes. Unwilling to interrupt the flow of mantras which is inevitable if he scolds, he stares at me and produces a ‘mmm’ sound. I repeat that sound too under the impression that it was also a part of the mantra stream. Vaadhyar breaks into laughter unmindful of disruption to the recitation.

It is this river and its scenic surroundings that gave wings to my short-lived poetic fantasy. It is the waters of this river which carried the ashes of my mother which I emptied from an earthen urn reverently and it is the big banyan tree here around which many of childhood fears and fantasies hang . Did I say an earthen urn ? Yes, I did. How cruel I am ! A mother’s love, hope, aspiration, pain, smile, laughter, woe, worry, affectionate hug, kiss, scold, scream everything, everything pushed into an empty earthen pot and I emptied that pot pouring into the flowing waters ! And those waters which embraced her many mornings and evenings in her childhood, accepted the ashes without a murmur and carried them away as if carrying a handful of dry flowers and tulasi leaves thrown from the corridor of the temple above !
I have a close relationship with this river, as close as to that of a childhood girl- friend. Much later, even while acquainting with more attractive and sophisticated damsels like Thames and Seine , this innocent village girl with sparkling smile, used to peep from a corner of the mind.

My mind transforms into a melody at the presence of my childhood and juvenile companion. In kasi, philosophy and mythology takes over its control. The vast expanse of the Ganges in the front, the burning ghat at my back, the scintillating ‘harati’ at dusk -and many more such scenes and incidents evoke an illusion that I am in a supernatural sphere moving to the land of unknown. With kalpathy, it is a down to earth feeling. The homely temple and friendly river, the sweet girls in pavada and elderly women in six or nine yards saris, the bare- chested brahmins holding a packet of darbai or an umbrella, the children going to school carrying their books, the small tea, fruit, flower and provision stores, a lonely bull freely moving about, the overflowing music from the ‘koodams’, living rooms of the roof to roof houses – all these are homely .
The sonorous chendamelam wakes me up from my reverie and I proceed towards the temple. The recent renovation, without hampering the originality has given a face lift to the temple which looks cleaner and spacious. The deity, the same old Viswanathar, appear as simple as he was during my childhood, though his divine consort Visalakshy Amman looks much younger. I felt as if I was standing before my parents when I go home for vacation, my father seated on the thinnai of our Olavakkode house with white vibhooti lines prominently displayed on his broad chest, long hands and other parts of the body and mother humbly beside him with a tumbler of coffee in her hand.

My meeting the divine family was purely a family reunion. It was more affection and respect rather than bakthi or devotion that ruled my mind during our meeting. In fact it is so in most of the Kerala temples. You are at home with an elder to whom you can open up your heart and ask for a help.

In fact, the Kalpathy car festival itself is a family affair, the grand divine family coming out to meet the families of the mortals. You should see the enthusiasm of the crowd waiting on the street outside the temple, when the idols of the Viswanathaswamy, Visalakshi Amman, Ganpathy and Subramania swamy appear on the surface, carried up by the devotees through the flight from the ‘kuntambalam’ . The head of the family along with his consort mounts a chariot, as it should be and then, the juniors on their respective ones.

It is a pleasure to watch the divine procession in half a dozen colorful chariots,beautifully decorated with flowers, flags, sugarcane, coconuts and plantain bunches, ceremoniously drawn through the streets by thousands of devotees, accompanied by caparisoned elephants and percussion. While the learned Brahmins chant Vedic hymns rhythmically, the devotees irrespective of caste or creed close their eyes in silent prayers and pull reverently the thick coir ropes , an act which is believed to remove the accumulated sins.. The pachyderms, by moving their trunk, tail and ears enthusiastically exhibit their exhilaration at the roaring but synchronized chenda melam.

The broad roads which would have allowed easy movement of two bullock carts from opposite direction in the olden days now facilitates the ceremonial rolling of colorfully decorated chariots surrounded by enthusiastic crowd . Two rows of identical houses on both sides with slopping tiled roofs and a pair of shining small ‘thinnais’ or sit outs at the entrance on both sides of the steps, relaid and polished recently by the state Government under the Parental Heritage scheme, provide a distinct architectural alignment.

This is a fantastic scene -the assembly of six charismatic chariots, after visiting the villages, followed by elephants, surrounded by enthusiastic crowd when the setting sun envelopes the sky with a vast crimson coverage or shamiana. All the deities including the Lakshmynarayana perumal with his consort and the Mahaganapthies from Chathappuram and New kalpathy are together with the Viswanathar family now. After other formalities, they take leave of the grand sire and withdraw to their own places, to return next year.

June, 2018

Dec 29 2008
comments ;

Dear Sir,
I am  born and brought up in Mumbai and my wife is from Trivandrum. All along I have been working abroad but
on every opportunity I have visited Kerala.
Just today I went through ur article on Kalpathy car festival and while reading the mail I was just carried away all the way
to Kalpathy from Philippine where I am at present. My father hails from N Parur and mother from Alleppey.
I am of the opinion that only the blessed children of GOD are born in Kerala in a Brahmin Family.
My last wish is to have a room in any BRAHMIN  AGRAHARAM in PALAGHAT ,go to the temple at 4am, go into deep meditation in the temple,have Idli for the breakfast with Kattan Kappi everyday, read HINDU, have a afternoon nap, some pakodam or omapodi or muthusaram with tea in the evenings, again have a darshan of the Almighty in the temple, have Kanji and then retire for the day by 9pm.
No doubt  its a dream to be fulfilled
 and some more last wishes
Sir please keep writing and I enjoy it very much .
Blessed are ur children ,grandchildren,SIL and DIL
who are fortunate to be with you all the time listening  to your experiences, teachings,,reading ur writings and last but not the least have the opportunity to SERVE YOU WITH ALL THE DEVOTION.
 A5 Ramani
A fine write-up sir. I was immediately transported to Kalpathy by reading this. Thank you
With warm regards,