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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Bad, The Good, The Best

The Bad:

I had written about this earlier in these pages. Despite my intention not to repeat the same I am compelled to. Pilgrimages to holy shrines/sites in India often call for an arduous trek across difficult terrain.  The period of penance before the actual trek is supposedly designed to train you to meet the ordeal. And any discomfort beyond the said training is mitigated by the holy chants that you call out during the trek. For example “Jai Mata Di” at Vaishnao Devi or a series of chants viz, “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa” as in this case at Sabarimalai. Since I had undergone the prescribed penance for 41 days I thought I was fairly ready to take in my stride anything the trek threw at me. What transpired however was so difficult that thanks to the handiwork of the Travancore Devaswom Board I just could not get my mind together to chant the Lord’s name beyond a measly few times. Instead the entire trek was made doubly difficult as I could not take my mind away from cursing the Travancore Devaswom Board for reasons best described here!

The Good:

For someone who has spent a substantial period of my life on the banks of the majestic Ganga river in Kolkata and the subsequent experience of seeing mere rivulets masquerading as rivers aka Noyyal in Coimbatore or Thamaraparani in Tirunelveli, to witness with horror what were once rivers being reduced to the status of the world’s largest open sewage lines today viz., Coouam in Chennai, it came as a very very pleasant; nay pleasing experience to take a dip in the Pampa at the foothills of Sabari Hills as is the prescribed practise. The Holy Pampa fed with sumptuous rains rushing and gushing frothily to wash away my sins as is the belief. Whatever the belief, the swelling river with crystal clear water was a sight for sore eyes!

Washing away my sins.....Pampa!

The Best:

Recently I came across a discussion on the microblogging site Twitter about the performance of Indians at the just concluded Wimbledon. A certain Tweep had commented that the three Indian winners at the various events at SW19 Amit Nagal (Boys Doubles), Sania Mirza (Ladies Doubles) and Leander Paes (Mixed Doubles) represented the reiteration of a secular India wherein the three winners represented Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths. The comment lead to criticism from many, including yours truly, that why should one drag religion into an event where it has absolutely no role to play. Since India’s is a secular society why should one keep harping on the religion of the people/personalities went the argument. The counter posed by many to this was that while the primary DNA pattern of an Indian is Secular, it was however necessary to keep celebrating this element in us as a guard lest complacency set in and this unique but critical feature of the Idea of India be compromised. I remembered the discussion as I stood before Saint Vavar’s Shrine at the Sannidhanam of the Sabarimalai Temple. Vavar was a Muslim warrior from Arabia who went on to become, post his loss in a battle with Lord Ayyappa, a leader in the Lord’s Army and his loyal devotee says the legend. So deep was the love between the Lord and his Muslim devotee that the legend further says that the Lord asked the King of Panthalam, his earthly abode to build a temple for Vavar which duly came up at Erumely, the starting point of the trek to Sabarimalai. A Muslim Shrine in one of the holiest Hindu Temples! If this amazes you, you haven’t heard it all yet! Read on............

A Shrine of a Muslim at one the Holiest Hindu Temples!

Lullaby to the Lord, Only  K J Yesudas!

Among the various rituals that are practised in Hindu temples are the waking up of the God/Goddess as the case may be (Suprabhatam), bathing (Abhishekam), feeding (Neivedhyam) and post the darshan putting the god to sleep (Mangalam). This practise of ritually putting the Lord to sleep at Sabarimalai is done by singing the lullaby called the Harivarasanam. As I stood with thousands of other devotees all around the Ponnambalam to watch the rituals, the air was filled with the melodious and divine singing of the Harivarasanam on the public address system by one of India’s greatest singers, K J Yesudas. As his name suggests, Yesudas, Servant of Jesus, born as and till date a practising Christian! True to this spirit, Sabarimalai is a temple which is run on the principle of religion no bar!


Sannidhanam : Sanctum Sanctorum

Ponnambalam : Golden Temple


  1. As a genuine (!) secular person, I enjoyed reading your write up.
    As a Sabari malai visitor for over 9 years, you are experiences are
    similar to mine. A good narrative .

  2. Thank you so much for capturing and putting in the right context, the spirit of India. Allow me to be a bit parochial and say with pride that someone who has truly grown up in Kerala listening to the stories of Ayyapan and Vavar cannot be anything but cognitive and tolerant of other's faith.

    It is not when denying or refusing to recognize the existence of different faiths, but when respecting and being tolerant to those different faiths (and being at least as critical about one's own rituals as one is of others' rituals) that one becomes truly secular.

    Well written, keep it up.