14 June 2004 (26)
The next morning was still and quiet, highly conductive for mediation. The sun rose gracefully on the western skies, presenting the pilgrims with an opportunity to welcome Surya with a Namskar (offering a yogic prayer to the Sun God).
The increasing number of devotees joining the pilgrimage necessitated the imposition of certain rules. But it was virtually impossible to enforce discipline. The pada yathra proceeded towards the 58 milepost and reached Parathipuram Vinayagar Temple. It was a very small, simple temple. Soon everyone trekked to the canal for a bath, and not familiar with local flora and fauna, spread the clothes on the ground, only to pick up hundreds of nettles from the grass!
In the evening, the Vel set off to Kilivetty Murugamoorthy Thevasthanam situated in a large ground, housing artistically designed shrines for Ganesha, Sivan, Parvathy, Skanda and others. A holy sanctum titled “Kathirkamam” displayed a beautiful portrait of Lord Skanda. It exuded spirituality....
15 June 2004 (27)
At dawn, the group advanced towards Mavadichenai. A group of 100 women, men and children attempted to join the procession; the main group comprised essentially the older truth -seekers who resisted younger pilgrims due to problems experienced in previous years. However, it was virtually impossible to stop this new group from joining the procession.
Seelan Swami was a confident young student who had found time to do the yathra a few times. In his assertive manner, he took things into his own capable hands and resolved minor conflicts, ensured all were fed and still were fully-focused on the spiritual journey they all have undertaken. There were other young men too, with great potential for future leadership.
The walk towards Veruhal, through a hilly area with naturally carved rocks and hillocks was a memorable experience. It was a long arduous walk, but pilgrims were in high spirits, singing and chanting which made the journey pleasant. The first stop was at Poonager Vinayagar Temple, the second at Mavadichenai and from there, the pilgrims advanced towards the Veruhal Chitra Velayutha Swamy Temple.
It is an ancient, mandalaya style temple (community centre), considered to be the first of the Arupadai veedu (the abodes of Lord Skanda) in Sri Lanka. The others being Thirukkovil, Mandur, Uhanthai, Sithandy and Kataragama.
The temple was situated next to a river surrounded by thick green foliage. A ferry transported people across the river.
There were rumours of crocodiles inhabiting the river, but this did not prevent the devotees from taking a bath. Men and women swam and washed clothes. Children on the banks f the river squealed and shouted in glee. Clothes in vibrant colours were held against the wind to dry and appeared like rainbow country, presenting a spectacular sight. The sunset in the evening against the dark purple mountain range was memorable.
16 June 2004 (28)
The pilgrims were first transported by a ferry to the Kathiraveli Senthur Murugam temple situated by the main road. It was a very small, poor village and the temple was dilapidated. The old and the new groups had polarised with very little interaction, increasing the tension and posing a problem for the organisers of the pada yathra. Allegations were made against each other about values and habits.
Hariharan Swami, another pilgrim, listened patiently and highlighted the importance of non-judgmental behaviour for truth- seekers. He explained how morality issues were used as weapons to control the less fortunate. There was a temporary lull afterwards.
Discussions with villagers revealed the nature of their difficulties. War had left them in a time warp with no real opportunities for progress. Youth had no choice but to follow in the footsteps of their elders. There was a sense of hopeless among the people that hurt our souls.
The pilgrims proceeded to Palsenai Pillayar temple and were introduced to Valli’s people (Veddah community). An elderly woman living in a beautifully- thatched house like an igloo, explained to us how the area was prevented from flooding. Other members of the family joined in to talk about the lack of educational opportunities and the special skills, fundamental requirements to find employment in today’s world. They were once the kings of the jungle, but with modernisation, they were left far behind...
Like The American Indians of the United States, Romany gypsies of Europe and aborigines of Australia, the Veddah community too trailed behind the bourgeoisie living in dire poverty. Yet they possessed a wealth of information and skills which could be utilised for the betterment of people.
17 June 2004 (29)
The next destination was Vaharai Vinayagar Temple. Pilgrims were requested to cut down on their belongings and carry bare essentials. It was a great opportunity to discard things we have accumulated along the way, and be more detached from the material world.
It was an exceptional night sky. From one end of the horizon to the other, billions of stars twinkled. Several Milky Ways appeared like strokes from an artist’s paint brush. The painting of the universe captivated me and fuelled my imagination. It felt exceptionally peaceful. All unfinished business pertaining to the material world seemed trivial. A sense of fulfilment dawned. Only the stars and I remained...!!
18 June 2004 (30)
The Vel set off early, but a second group followed after several hours, yet were able to catch up with the leaders detained by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. There was a communication problem and the Sri Lanka Army had to obtain special clearance for the pada yathra in order to facilitate its continuity, hence the delay. The procession reached Mankerni Siddi Vinayagar Temple next. It was a day of mixed experiences and all these intense experiences proved a bit overwhelming.
19 June 2004 (31)
The Vel Swami led the walk through Valachchenai, setting the pace for others to follow. He was a farmer from Mullaithivu and had led a very eventful life. In his youth, he had battled with crocodiles, fought with snakes and lived to tell the tale. Fulfilling his family duties, he and his wife chose to walk to Kathairkamam to pay homage to Lord Skanda along with us.
The group reached Karuvakerni Amman Temple. After annathanam, the yathra left for Kinniady Vishnu Temple where we spent the night.
20 June 2004 (32)
The next morning, the pilgrims walked through Kiran Kattu, the bund of the water tank. One of the swamys (priests) talked about getting in touch with his inner self and forgetting the outer self...
There was a break at an Amman Temple nearby and the pilgrims thereafter proceeded to Sithandy Sithra Velayutha Murugan temple. It was an ancient temple with a large sculptured gopuram (tower) that displayed several beautiful images of deities. Local people narrate the story of the sculptor who fell from the gopuram and was saved by Lord Skanda himself. A colourful painting depicts this scene.
Annathanam was to be given at the Yoga Swami Atheenam. Yogaswami was a spiritual master from Jaffna. He was drawn to Nallur Kanthaswamy and wrote several stanzas on the glory of the Lord. Later, he undertook to lead the pada yathra to Kathirkamam and referred to it as a spiritual journey. He belongs to the Kalilasa paramparai of siddas (saints).
The pilgrims walked a few more miles and reached Vantharamulai Vishnu Temple. Major construction work was taking place and everyone chose to sleep outside.
As night fell, some chose to sing and dance. Hippy Swami was in the middle of a dance sequence when she experienced divine grace and went into a trance. She is an assertive, talented woman who led a normal life till the war caught up with her. All her four sons were killed by the two sides involved in the conflict. But she is not alone in her grief, hundreds and thousands of other women in Sri Lanka harbour similar grief...
21 June 2004
The next destination was Batticaloa. The journey advanced through Eravur town where necessary medicines were bought for the group. After losing the way, some of the pilgrims arrived at Sathrukondan Kannahai Amman Temple. It was apparent that no annathanam was organised. The Trustee was contacted and food supplies which arrived were cooked by the pilgrims.
22 June 2004 (34)
The pilgrims reached Mamangaswar Pillayar Temple. It was an ancient temple with a magnificent structure. There were several large Banyan trees and a huge lotus pond covered with lilies. Though it was a Shiva Temple, it now has a statue of Lord Ganesh in the holy sanctum.
The locals narrate that Hanuman carried a message from Rama and landed in Sri Lanka. But Ravana, the King of Lanka humiliated him by setting fire to his tail. Enraged by this, Hanuman used his burning tail to set fire to Ravana’s Palace and arrived at Mamangeswar Temple, and extinguished the fire by dipping the tail in the big water tank there.
23 June 2004 (35)
The pilgrims set off to arrive at Ealam Thiruchenthur Murugam Temple. It is a beautiful temple situated by the sea. Adjacent to the temple is the ashram where the hermits and the founder Omkar Swami resided. The Swami is a disciple of Sivanantha Swami of Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India. He spent time with Swami Satchithanantha of Thabovan, in Teldeniya who later founded Yogaville in Virginia, US.
Omkar Swami had a vision while mediating under the palm tree situated behind the temple building. He was requested to provide a resting place for Kathirkamam pada yathra devotees. It was that dream that caused Omkar Swami to inaugurate the temple and the ashram.
Local people say that the artist who painted the portrait of Lord Skanda on the frontage of the temple had once gone out for lunch, having not completed the eyes of the painting. On his return, he found the portrait complete.
The Swami also built a Divine Life Society in Batticaloa town. Here, he established a meditation hall, library and living quarters for hermits and yogis.
(Next week: Reaching mystical Mandur)