As dawn made its advent across the Eastern skies, the first light witnessed the padayatris leaving Mannarsala Guest House for Parumala—a distance of 16.8 kms. Leaving at 6.30 am, the group maintained a leisurely pace since the distance to be covered was relatively less. The backdrop was scenic, quite naturally for God’s Own Country, as the group meandered through quaint rural roads, with lush paddy fields on both sides, interspersed with houses shaded by innumerable coconut trees.
Most often, families stood by the wayside, witnessing the epoch-making yatra with diverse reactions writ large upon their faces—curiosity, wonder, smiling, waving and observing. The advance announcement of the impending arrival of the yatra was the sole sound reverberating in many localities. After a while, the stretch of Walk had River Pampa flowing in parallel to the route, and with relatively less vehicular traffic, it turned out to be one of the most refreshing walks so far.
The strength of 100 or so walkers soon swelled and many people joined in at certain points. Again, there were at least 4 halts where the local communities greeted the yatris and garlanded Sri M.The group had breakfast at 7.30 am, after which the group had a meaningful interaction with Sri M. Continuing on the Walk, around 9 am, the walkers were led to a riverside shelter, which housed a snake-boat used for the annual ‘Vallam Kali’.
‘Vallam Kali’ or the snake-boat race is a traditional boat race in Kerala. It is a form of canoe racing, and uses paddled war canoes, with a technology more than 650 years old. It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival, Onam. Fast paced and rhythmic traditional songs sung by the men on the boat accompany the rowing. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race is the premier annual event held in the Punnamada Lake for the snake-boats.
The yatris saw the 45 year old, 110 seater, wooden snake boat named ‘Karichal’—popularly know by its nickname – ‘Champion’. Having won 14 Nehru trophies, the snake boat has a huge reputation and is a prize exhibit for visitors. The local community soon broke into a traditional boat song, with Sri M and many of the Walkers joining in.
Walking on, the group was invited to a local community member’s house. The spontaneous invitation and the tea offered by him warmed everybody’s hearts. He opened up his house and the courtyard for a brief interlude with the walkers. A small group again surrounded Sri M to interact with him.
Around 11.10 am, the group had tea at a wayside tea shop, again an opportunity for many to interact with Sri M. At 12.25 pm, the group reached Mannar and by 12.45 pm, the Parumala Church where Sri M spent some time in prayer in the company of some yatris.
The St. Peter’s and St. Pauls’ Orthodox Church, also known as Parumala Pally, is a prominent parish church of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian community, dotting a small stretch of land on the shores of the river Pampa. Malankara Metropolitan Joseph Mar Dionysius established the church on a 2-acre land donated by Arikupurathu Mathen Karnavar. The church saw a change of hands to Metropolitan Mar Gregorios (later known as Parumal Thirumeni) to carry on teachings of the Syriac Orthodox sect. The church also houses his tomb. Testimonies about his saintly intercession have made Parumala Church and the tomb a popular center of pilgrimage.
The Guesthouse, about 50 meters away from the Church, served as the halt of the day. The rooms in the guesthouse were small yet clean, cool and quiet. After lunch at 2.00 pm, the group of walkers retired for a nap.
The walkers gathered again at 5.30 pm for the evening satsang. After the welcome and an introduction to the Walk of Hope by the Manager of the Seminary, Augen Ramban, Bishop Very Rev. Dr. Thomas Mar Athanasius addressed the gathering.
He began by saying that Christianity came to India in 1 A.D., when St. Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, landed in India. This is contrary to the popular belief that Christianity was introduced in India by the colonial powers. The Dutch and the British came to India much later and they were instrumental in the spread of Christianity. He said that India was the home to many religions and Christianity too has formed a base in India while having adapted and blended with the Indian ways.
The Reverend Bishop said that the Parumala Church’s architecture was very similar to the Indian temple architecture. He continued to speak about similarities between Christianity and other religions, mainly Hinduism, while stressing on the underlying unity. He said that the main objective of The Walk of Hope - human oneness and oneness of all religions - was the need of the hour. Communal harmony assumes tremendous importance in these times. He shared an anecdote about a poem on humanity written by a 5th grade girl studying in their school that overwhelmed him so much that he shared it with the then Prime Minister of India, the late Rajiv Gandhi. In his message to the PM, he said, “You are worrying about the future of India – there are children in India who think differently.” meaning that the future of India was in good hands. The PM was moved and sent a response to the girl. The Bishop quoted that, “the destiny of a nation is forged in her classrooms”. He concluded his talk with a clarion call for the country to stand united and wished the very best to Walk of Hope.
Sri M, speaking in English today, thanked the Bishop for the introduction and the hospitality bestowed on the group by the Church.He moved to one of his favorite stories, Rumi’s story of the four visually challenged men who go about describing an elephant. One touches the feet and describes that the elephant is like a pillar, the second man feels the trunk and explains that it is in the shape of a hosepipe, the third one touches the tail and explains that it is a stick with bristles, and the fourth person feels the ears and describes them as fans. They start fighting amongst themselves claiming that their personal version of the elephant, as sensed by them, is indeed the right one. Noticing their agitation, a passerby with clear sight enquiring on the reason for their fight, laughed and explained that while each one was correct in their way, they had missed completely ‘the whole’, the elephant in its entirety. Sri M said that varied religions were also like this.
Each one sees only one perspective and concludes the truth from that whereas the essence was vast and infinite. He reiterated that the essence of life is so infinite that all attempts to define ‘That’ falls flat many a time. If it is understood that the essence that forms one is the same in all, then there will be no problems. He quoted from the 2000 year old Rig Veda - ‘There is but one truth, the wise call it by many names’. He spoke about ‘Shunya’ from Buddhism. ‘Shunya’ literally means a ‘void’. This void is something that cannot be described but only experienced. Everything emanates from it, is of it and in it. He said what’s mentioned in the Hindu texts is also the same and quoted from the ‘Ishavasya Upanishad’ – Purnamadah, Purnamidam, Purnat Purnamudachyate, Purnasya Purnamadaya, Purnamevavshishyate’. Sri M added that he prefers the word ‘Poorna’ (completeness) rather than a void or nothingness.
Sri M continued that Jesus was a ‘parivrajaka aniketa’ (a wandering yogi, one without a roof over his head). He quoted from the Holy Bible – ‘Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’; and another, ‘Know ye not that you are children of God’. This conveys the fact that all religions have a common essence. The mind has impurities and, therefore, purifying the mind is the goal. Good and kind deeds, contemplation and meditation ensure salvation of any being. This culminates in the realization that one is a small spark of the divine.
He moved on to a story from Guru Nanak’s life. Guru Nanak, on a pilgrimage, visited Mecca. One day, while resting, a traveler told him that it was improper for him to rest with his feet towards Mecca. Guru Nanak gently asked him to show him where ‘Mecca was NOT’. Sri M said that God is everywhere and it is for us to discover and experience this truth. He drove home the point with a quote from the Bible, ‘Lay treasures in your heart that no thieves can steal’ and another one from the Bhagwad Gita, ‘One who has the welfare of all beings in his heart is the devotee closest to me’.
Religions may differ on their intrinsic philosophy but all religions profess the same message – Man should become compassionate, kind and loving. Thus, the implication is one and the same.
Sri M stated that people who are walking with him are all walking happily; there is an air of camaraderie and togetherness growing everyday. The Walk of Hope is also an inner journey and the objective of the external walk would be fulfilled if the hearts of those who walked changes even a wee bit and becomes more compassionate, loving and understanding. When people go back after the Walk, they should take this state back with them and continue to be with it, wherever they are. To walk like this is not easy, there are many difficulties to face and many sacrifices to make. He concluded his talk by thanking everyone for taking part in the padayatra and for walking with him despite the many troubles they face on a daily basis.
The audience of around 200 people, many of them local, dispersed after the satsang. The padayatris were served dinner at 8.30 pm, after which they retired for the night.