When I was in Bangalore last November, I decided to take a weekend trip to Tirtutanni in Tamilnadu, which is one of the six abodes of Lord Subramania. My family has been living in Bangalore for generations and despite having my own place to dwell in the city, I was forced to check into my company guest house since my home was undergoing renovation. I had ample spare time during the weekend and decided to take a trip to Tirutanni.
Lord Subramania of Tirutanni is our family deity. Our family last names are borrowed from him; this includes our children’s names. Any major happening in the family, be it marriage, child birth or such begins with obeisance paid to Subramania of Tiruttanni. My father made it a point to visit the temple each year on December 31st and he continued to dedicate himself for over seventy years until he passed away just last year. I have not visited the temple for many years and decided to utilise the spare time during the weekend to travel.
I booked myself on the second class 8:00AM train from Bangalore to Chennai, which is about five hours in total. I especially recommend this class for short travel as you get many opportunities to interact with vibrant people from all backgrounds. The enchanting sounds and the variety of food preparations sold during the entire journey is a vivid experience by itself; people selling books, pens, toys, pain balms and China articles made to look dignified and impressive or waiters in uniforms tantalising you with the latest onboard meal. I took the opportunity to interact with few trans-genders who had hopped mid-way whose only source of income is begging. I enjoyed their sense of humour and couple of them shared their stories on home segregation and how difficult it is for them to get a job.
It was past noon when the train arrived in Arakonam Junction. The train station was buzzing with crowd as I made my way through the station and crossed the over bridge to the other side of the platform to look for a transport to Tirutanni, which was approximately 20 km away. The other side of the station had a different name – ‘Vyasrpadi’ – and I was amused when the locals told me that it had been renamed to Vyasarpadi for a movie shooting.
I hired an auto close to the station to take me to the hill temple for 200 Rupees. It was a roughly forty minute ride and I asked the auto driver to drop me in the town centre so that I could find an accommodation for the overnight stay. The auto driver also promised to pick me the next day morning at 8:00AM and drop me at Arakonam station for my return journey to Bangalore. I tried to get an accommodation in one of the temple cottages but I was told it would be a lengthy three hour wait. Instead, I submitted myself in a nearby hotel with an A/C room without any windows. After a lunch that was rather spicy and a quick shower, I proceeded to gain my first glimpse of the temple.
The temple is accessed through a flight of 365 steps with each step representing a day in the year. I had to park my footwear in one of the stalls on the way before climbing the steps on the hill. A woman who was looking over the stall asked me to return back by 9:00PM. I reassured her that I will and started to make my way upwards. It was a 30 minute climb to the temple and the good weather made the walk pleasant. I spent some time near the temple tank on the way and it is believed that a refreshing bath in the mineral laden water transforms you hale and healthy.
It was 6PM when I reached the summit which was empty of the usual crowds. The temple has hundreds of years of historical importance and is very neatly maintained even to this day. I spent over 45 minutes in the sanctorum witnessing the ritual bathing of the deity and decided to spend the next couple of hours in the temple complex absorbing the positive energy. The temple has stalls that sell snacks that are delicious. At about 9:00PM, the deity is taken in a gold platted chariot on the top of the hill in a ceremonious procession accompanied by a wonderful Nadaswaram. It was pleasant and I decided to hang around until about 9:45PM before I climbed down the hill.
I was worried about my footwear that I had promised to collect by 9:00PM so I started walking briskly back.
I noticed someone behind me, a half naked middle aged man who seemed keen to pick a conversation. He asked ‘are you climbing down?’ ‘Yes’, I replied as he started to follow.
‘I am normally not available after 9:00PM and you wouldn’t find me. If you are alright, I would like to tell you couple of stories as we walk down together’, the man said.
My thought was to be wary of such strangers but without waiting for my answer he continued to speak.
“Let me tell you about Bhishma, the most important character in Mahabharatha, next only to Krishna. Bhishma wished he should not be re-born and knew all his past karmas should be exhausted before his death so to ensure he did not return back for another birth. This is why he self sacrificed himself throughout his life and was willing to accept any suffering that came in his way. It is very difficult to find a person like Bhishma; he can choose his time of death, making sure that he had no accumulated karmas to fulfil. This is what humans should aspire through their journey’.
I continued to listen to him silently.
“Now let me tell you another story, and this is a longer one. It is about people who are sure to be born again and again.
There once was a wandering ascetic who happened to stay overnight outside a village home. The head of the family in the village home noticed the ascetic shivering in the cold and aided him with a rug to keep him warm.
The next day morning, when the ascetic was about to leave, he thanked the man for his kindness the previous night and said he would like to return the favour. The man said he did not want anything in return and was only helping someone in need. However, the ascetic insisted his desire to return the favour and said ‘I will give you enlightenment’.
The man hesitated and said ‘Sir, I thank you for your kind words but I think I am not yet ready. I have just gotten married and I have the responsibility to look after my wife. Please return after seven years and I will be ready to take enlightenment from you’.
After seven years, the ascetic promptly arrived as per the man’s wish. However, the man looked worried. He said “Sir, I have two young children now. They will suffer along with my wife if I take enlightenment and leave. I would like to wait until they grow older and I then should be ready for enlightenment. Could you please come after seven years?”
The ascetic returned after seven years. The man was still not ready. He said “my children have grown up and are teenagers now. They are lazy and have become rouges. They don’t listen to me and trouble me frequently. I would like to see them married so that their wives can mend their ways. I will complete this responsibility and should definitely be ready in another ten years.
The ascetic then turned around once again and returned, ten years later, but this time could not find the man in his house. He enquired the neighbours as to the whereabouts of the man and got to know that he had passed away few years ago. The ascetic found a calf tied near the door of the home and through his vision came to know that the man had been reborn as a cow. The ascetic felt disappointed; he never had the opportunity to return the man’s favour. The ascetic left the house and the new cow.
Several years had passed and it happened that one day he was passing through the same village and was curious to know about the cow and the family. He walked into the village home to enquire with the man’s children who were grown up men.
‘Sir, the cow died last year and we are sad about it’, they said, ‘It used to work so hard for the family and now it is gone’.
Suddenly the ascetic noticed a movement in the cowshed and found a cobra. He at once knew the cow had been reborn as this cobra. The man’s children saw the cobra and panicked; they took sticks and before the ascetic could prevent anything, killed the cobra with a few sharp thuds on its head. The ascetic cried, ‘you fools, you have killed your father! He was protecting a treasure that he had buried long back under the cow shed, his hard earned savings. You grew up as rouges and your father wanted to give the treasure to you when you had mended your ways. He was trying to do it birth after birth and now you have killed him. You can take the treasure but ensure you live your life in the right way’. He walked away soon later.
The man was so attached to his wealth and family, and hence he was repeatedly reborn at the same location of his attachment. There is no running away from consequences, people have to face them”.
The stories were absorbing and in no time we had reached the bottom of the hill. He ended, “I am normally not available after 9:00PM. I found you and wanted to tell you the stories and you seemed very eager to listen’, after which he strolled away.
I collected my footwear and found the woman at the stall waiting for me. I thanked her and paid her, paid her more than what she wanted. I was very hungry and found every eatery in the area closed. I noticed a road side idly shop and the person was inviting me to taste the steaming hot idlys. I didn’t mind and enjoyed them, along with a bottle of mineral water.
The next day morning my auto driver came promptly at 8:00 AM to pick me back to the train station for my journey back.
Divinity can arrive in any form.