After camping at Chitradurga for a day, Walk of Hope left for Sirigere—a distance of 24 kilometers.The early morning is cool comparatively and it is a beautiful sight as the sun comes up, the sky lit up by the early morning colors of gold and orange. The terrain is changing and so is the hue of the walk. The yatris have had to adapt rapidly from culture to culture along with the terrain.
The areas they are now passing through are mostly in the agricultural belt and, therefore,not that populous. The color of soil has been changing from black to red and agricultural crops grown too vary accordingly. The road is lined with farms with some of the workers smiling and wavingas the padayatra passes by. Most of the time, they just watch quietly, bemused by the sight! The first stop was at a senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Nijalingappa’s Samadhi. Soon after, Sri M was greeted and welcomed by a group of 15 people. The padayatra then stopped at the Sri Adichunchanagiri Goshala, Kartalu. This cow-preserve is situated near a giant lake and has over 200 cows, many of them rescued from the roads.The Swamiji of the Goshala and his staff greeted Sri M and the walkers on arrival. Sri M was accorded a traditional welcome and taken around the goshala.
While the stretch from Tumkur onwards is greatly influenced by the teachings of spiritual leader and social reformer, Basaveswara, and the rise of the Veerashaiva (Lingayat) community in Karnataka, the Adichunchanagiri Mutt, also followers of Shiva, has its headquarters in Nagamangala, Mandya district which has followers from the Vokkaliga community. These two form the major communities in Karnataka when it comes to political clout and power.
Travelling northwest on National Highway #4, the padayatra passed through quite a few villages before reaching Sirigere. Sri M was accorded warm receptions at many places where people had gathered in large numbers. As they neared Sirigere, the numbers and receptions progressively increased. Around 200 students from STJ college (Sri Taralubalu Jagadguru College) lined the streets on either side while Sri M and the padayatra passed through. The reception at Sirigere was overwhelming. A stretch of 6 kilometers was lined with children from various schools and colleges. As they entered the small town, there were more than 600 people present and it seemed as if the whole town had come as one to welcome the padayatra. Many people who were going about their daily chores – men, women and children - stopped and joined the yatra.
The long procession reached Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru Brihanmath by 12.30 am and were provided refreshments. Dr. Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji, the current pontiff, a jovial Swami welcomed Sri M and the yatris and narrated stories of his travels—a good orator, he made his listeners break into peals of laughter every few minutes. Almost all his jokes contained deep wisdom. Hospitality at his Math and Ashram has been one of the warmest yet. After spending some time in the math, the padayatris were transported about 5 kilometers to the 200-acre ashram.
Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru Brihanmath is a well-known organization in Sirigere from the ‘sharana’ or Basaveswara school of thought. It is recognized for its yeoman service in the field of rural education. There are more than 172 institutions right from kindergarten to the Engineering College all over the State of Karnataka under the care of this organisation. Nearly 32 thousand students are studying in various schools and colleges and more than 6,000 students are provided with free boarding and lodging. Saint Marulasidda, popularly known as Viswa bandhu Marulasiddha, founded it during the 12th century. He blessed his successor with the words "Tarala Balu!" (My lad! Live long!) and that is how the pontiffs of this sacred seat have come to be known as "Sri Taralabalu Jagadguru". This organisation is a pioneer in service to the scheduled castes/tribes and other backward communities and they provided reservations for them even before Independence.
The current pontiff, Dr. Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji, is also the founder president of STJ education society. He has a PhD in Sanskrit from Banaras Hindu University and later pursued postdoctoral research from University of Vienna. He is most prominently known for his role in the establishment of water tanks in dry rural areas around Sirigere benefiting thousands of farmers – and has initiated a padayatra this year called ‘kereyinda kerege padayatre’ – a padayatra from lake to lake in the cause of rejuvenating the lakes in the area.
The day incidentally marked Basava Jayanthi. Basava Jayanthi is observed by the Veerashaiva community (Lingayat). Veerashaivas is a distinct Shaivite denomination and is considered to be a religion in itself. It propounds monotheism through worship centered on Lord Shiva in the form of linga. It marks the birthday of Basavanna, 12th-century poet-philosopher, who is considered the founding saint of the community. Basava was a spiritual leader,a statesman, poet and a social reformer. He fought against the practice of the caste system, which discriminated against people based on their birth, gender and other rituals prevailing in society. He spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanas. Basavanna used Ishtalinga, an image of the Śiva Liṅga, to eradicate untouchability, to establish equality among all human beings and as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment.
He created a model Parliament called the Anubhava Mantapa, which not only gave equal representation to men and women but also had representatives from different socio-economic backgrounds. He also produced the Vachanas, which are mostly like interpretations of the Vedas, or is the essence of Vedic knowledge while attempting to explain the social revolution he was ushering in. Basava did not preach the intricate aspects of spirituality. He taught people how to live happily in a rational social order, which later came to be known as the Sharana (lit. shelter) movement.
Reaching the Ashram, the padayatris had lunch and rested. The lunch was hosted by the ashram. In the evening at around 5.00 pm, they were all transported back to the Math for the evening program. Here, they visited the samadhi of Sri Balagangadhar Swami, the spiritual teacher of Dr. Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji and also a picture story exhibition of Viswabandhu Marulasiddha. Viswabandhu Marulasiddha, also called Marularadhya, was a Veerashaiva saint who was one among the Pancha acharyas, the five apostles of Veerashaivism. There were about 30 paintings depicting his life story.
After this, they proceeded onwards to STJ School for the Satsang and the evening cultural program. Reaching the school, the walkers were led to a hall and saw a movie on the efforts of Dr. Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji in bringing water to villagers. After that they proceeded to an open space with an audience of around 800 people present, many of them students. Sri M was felicitated and he likewise felicitated Shivacharya Mahaswamiji and both of them addressed the gathering. Following the address, there were three presentations by the students that went on into the night.
Sri M began his address thus
“Akhaṇḍa-maṇḍalākāram vyāptam yena carācaram|
Tatpadam darśitam yena tasmai śrī gurave namah||
(Which) pervades the entire unbroken form of the circle (of creation), moving and unmoving.
To that beautiful and benevolent Guru through whom that state was revealed (to me), salutations.
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwara
Gurur Sakshat Parabrahma Tasmai Shree Guruvey Namaha
The Guru is Brahma(The creator), Lord Vishnu(The preserver, and Lord Shiva (the destroyer),
To that very Guru I bow, for He is the Supreme Being, right before my eyes.
Loka samasta sukhinoh bhavantu – May the entire universe be happy”.
“Unfortunately, I cannot speak in Kannada so you must excuse me; I will speak in English. I do not want to say much. First of all, I want to thank Swamiji, Jagadguru Dr. Shivamurthy Shivacharya Mahaswamiji and all others at the math for welcoming us here, being kind to us and looking after us. You have seen the details of the walk on the screen, so there is not much need to speak on that. We will take one and a half years for the entire padayatra; from today, about one year exactly. And today, on this auspicious occasion of BasavaJayanti, we are here at the Taralabalu Math. We don't know how but this is a coincidence that this happened. I don't believe in coincidence. We think it is a coincidence because we don't know what's working behind it.”
“Now, we have completed more than 1500 kilometers. We have another 6000 kilometers to go. In April 2016, with God's and Guru's grace, we will reach Srinagar. From this April to the next, we have one year to walk. I am also very touched that so many people are walking with us, forgetting their worries and homes and walking with us in the hot sun everyday for 20 to 25 kilometers. They can stay at home but they are here. They are moved by a certain desire to understand and broadcast the message of Manav Ekta. It is this spirit that keeps them moving.”
“Now, the greatest service that you can do to divinity is by serving human beings. Just now we saw a video of Swamiji’s efforts in providing water to the villagers. My guru, Babaji, used to say that giving a thirsty person water to drink and a hungry person food to eat; there is no better meditation than that. In fact, he told me once, that if you meditate for thirty years, for twenty-four hours a day in a cave and when you come out, if you cannot hear the cry of a child in the village, all your thirty years worth of meditation becomes shunya; shunya, not in the larger sense, but in the ordinary sense. So this is the principle with which I am walking and I have no other agenda.”
“Three thousand years ago, the Vedas said ‘Ekam Sat, Viprah bahudaa vadanti’, There is only one truth but the wise may call it by different names. Since by now, I am a little familiar with the literature of the Vachanas, I find that there is no difference between what we are saying and what is in the Vachanas because the divinity in each human being, which Basavanna has described in the Vachanas as bhava-linga, prana-linga and ishta-linga; these three together form the divine spark in every living being. Now, this is the spark of the great fire of the Supreme Being and all human beings are moving temples of the living god who is the antaryami (indweller). Therefore, there is no service better than serving people. This was also the aadesh of the Nath sampradaya into which Maheswarnath Babaji initiated me; whenever we used to meet, he used to say 'Alak Niranjan' and I used to say 'Aadesh'. So, this is my aadesh, this is what I am doing today.”
“I am a married man, I am not a sanayasi, I have children. I think, at a certain stage, you begin to think that all children are your children. All the elders are your fathers and mothers, so the mind has to grow gradually to this understanding. Now, you know why I am walking. I am sorry, there are others who are also walking with me. I started from Zero Point in Kanyakumari. I asked my friends, let us start from Zero Point leaving our egos behind, empty ourselves, walk and we will see what happens afterwards.”
“The aim is that we should not forget that we are human beings. We may belong to this religion, that religion, this ideology, that ideology, this culture, that culture. But never forget that we are all born from the mother’s womb; nobody falls from heaven! Everybody is born from the mother's womb—your mother is equal to another person's mother, there is no difference. Other mothers experience the same pain that my mother underwent to deliver me. This proves that we are all one.”
“And, when we die, we go into the same earth. Today, I went and put some vibhuti (religious sacred ash) on my forehead. I always remember that it reminds one of the last part of the Isha Vasya Upanishad, which says
Vayuranilamamritamathedam bhasmaantham shareeram
Om Kratho smara kritham smara kratho smara kritham smara
Let my vital force attain the immortal Air. Let this body be reduced to ashes. O Mind! Remember whatever you have done. O Mind! Remember whatever you have done.
“Finally, this is where we end. And, when we end, it is the body that ends. The auspiciousness, which the Kashmir Shaivites call Shivam, is eternal, it does not end. Now, since we know this, let us impress upon other people that you are all human beings from a common stalk, from a common spiritual center. Do not let anyone make you forget this. I am specially talking to the young. If somebody comes to the school and says, that fellow is different from you, let us eliminate this act, please do not listen to him. It is nothing like that. You are all one. It is the responsibility of the young to understand that you are young and not be misled by people who say otherwise and live together as one humanity.”
“This message should go from this country because Bharat is the country that has welcomed people from all over the world. The Vedas do not say that people of only one place should be happy; Loka Samasta Sukinoh Bhavantu – Let the entire universe be happy; Sarve bhavantu sukinaha – Let everybody be happy. Let us understand this and live together as human beings, helping each other, holding each other's hand, moving forward and make the future of this country and of the world a beautiful one”
“In the garden, there are many kinds of flowers. We are not trying to take one flower and put another. When all the flowers blossom and the breeze blows, you get a beautiful aroma. This is the breeze, the fragrance, the perfume, the scent of love, compassion and togetherness. So, I plead with all of you, with permission from Swamiji, to be a part of the walk, even if you are not walking. If you can think about this, your inner journey has already started. And the inner journey is more important that the outer journey. Let this inner journey of oneness of humanity carry on in your heart, even if I leave. I am 66 now, another 25 years, 30 years, who knows how long one lasts. Remember that a mad man who walked throughout India in the hot sun came here and said that let us live together as one humanity. By joining us in spirit, you will also be respecting the teachings of the founders of this institution.”
After the event, the padayatris were transported back to the ashram and they turned in for the night after dinner. It was a long day for the tired yatris, having walked 25 kilometers in the hot sun and the evening function ending late at 9.30 pm, after the cultural programs by the children and the talks.