The day began at 6.00 am: the padayatris leaving Parumala Church for the day’s destination—Aranmula, a village of temples. Walking along slender, tree-lined streets, they witnessed the sun rise and flush the landscape with its trademark golden tone. Today, the walkers came across several houses, along the path, lined with a vilakku (a traditional lamp) or candles to welcome Sri M. He had to stop frequently for ‘arti’ and accept welcoming garlands. A first-of-its-kind experience where people of a town welcomed Sri M in such an ebullient manner—indeed, a very stirring occasion for the yatris.
At 6.30 am, the group was welcomed by representatives of the St. Marks’ Orthodox Syrian Church, Pandanad West. An hour later, a small team of students and teachers also welcomed them in front of the Swami Vivekananda English Medium School, Pandanad. A short tea break was arranged at8.00 am by the Residents Association of Thalapanangad at their office.
Walking through Chengannur, the group was welcomed by the priests of the Mahadeva Temple and members of the local community. By this time, the group had traversed 10 kms and they enjoyed a leisurely breakfast here.
An hour later, it was a special moment when the Head of the Malankara Orthodox Church,Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, walked with the group for a distance. A short time later, the priest from Shasthamkulangara Narasimha Swami Temple and the local community also greeted them.
From this point onwards, the padayatris walked side-by-side to the Pamba river—the third longest in Kerala. The number of welcome receptions accorded by local communities to Sri M is increasing; at least, five of them happened upon reaching this area.
Another tea break later, the group reached Aranmula by 12.00 noon. Aranmula is a small temple village on the banks of the river Pampa. Home to the Lord Parthasarathy Temple, the village is held sacred by the Hindus for its network of temples and sacred groves. Aranmula is also famous for its mirrors— Aranmula kannadi—a handmade metal-alloy mirror. Unlike normal mirrors, it is a front surface reflection mirror, which eliminates secondary reflections and aberrations typical of back surface mirrors. The exact metals used in the alloy are unknown and is maintained as a family secret. It is polished for several days in a row to achieve the reflective surface.
A grand welcome was accorded with the singing of traditional songs accompanied by the ‘Panchavadyam’. The Panchavadyam (literally meaning an orchestra of five instruments) is an old temple art form of Kerala, consisting of four percussion and one wind instrument. Around 150 people from the town joined the padayatra at this point.
The group reached the Temple caretaker’s house where they had refreshments. Television networks interviewed Sri M at this point. The hosts also served lunch and the group left at 2.00 pm to their place of stay. They Walk of Hope today covered a distance of 25.29 kilometers, averaging about 19 minutes per km.
Sri M, accompanied by a small team, visited the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple at 5.30 pm. Considered one of the 108 temples dedicated to God Vishnu, it is revered by the 12 poet saints known as Alwars. The deity is Parthasarathy (Lord Krishna as Arjuna’s charioteer in the Kurukshetra war featured in the Mahabharata). This temple is also of significance as the sacred jewels (Thiruvabharanam) of Swami Ayyappan are taken in procession to Sabarimalai annually from Pandalam to Sabarimalai—Aranmula Temple being one of the stops. This is also where the golden attire (Thanka Anki) for Swami Ayyappan, donated by the King of Travancore is stored.
The padaytris then congregated for the evening Satsang. Starting his address at 6.00 pm, Sri M, befitting the setting, spoke about ‘Partha Sarathy’—the charioteer of Arjuna. He referred to Krishna as a Poorna avatar (a complete manifestation of the divine) and added that he played all roles and did not miss even a single role. He continued, quoting again from the Isha Upanishad – ‘Purnamadah, Purnamidam, Purnat Purnamudachyate, Purnasya Purnamadaya, Purnamevavshishyate’ (completeness here, completeness there, from the completeness comes the completeness, if something is removed from that completeness, still the whole remains).
A spark of the divine is in every person. Constant and consistent sadhana or practice is required to manifest this divinity. There are varied paths to the same destination, to uncover this divinity. Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Yoga are the four major paths. To use any of these, purity of mind is required and an individual needs to put in meticulous effort. The path depends on one’s attitude to God and one’s beliefs.
Generally, people are ‘form’ oriented. Driving home the point, he said ‘when we wake up in the morning, most often, the first thing we do is look at the mirror’. He said there is the ‘Nirguna’ way also – the worship of the formless. But that path is not for all and seldom taken. The most common mode of worship is Bhakti or devotion.
He narrated the story of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahendranath Gupta (popularly known as M – author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna). M was a typical family man facing trouble in his domestic life. He went to the Dakshineshwar Gardens, along with his friends, to watch the Ganga and find some peace. He enquired with a person, he met in the garden, about the ‘Paramahamsa’ residing in that area. The person, none other than Sri Ramakrishna himself, said, “I will tell you in a moment, but why are you here?” In the course of his introduction, M told the seer that he was from the Brahma Samaj. Sri Ramakrishna asked him if he believed in a God with form or without form. M, in accord with the belief in the Brahma Samaj, declared that he believed in a God without form. Sri Ramakrishna said, “If you believe that God is present everywhere, why do you think that God does not exist in the stone image? The form and the formless belong to one and the same Reality. He who is formless is also endowed with form”.
M was taken aback at this gnana or knowledge coming from such an unassuming person. Worship of a God with form comes easily for most people and Sri Ramakrishna advocated it through his devotion to Goddess Kali in Dakshineshwar Temple. Sri M continued that unless one is ready to give up everything, one couldn’t realize the divine. Sri Ramakrishna was one such who was ready to sacrifice his head to Kali. Nobody can pray that way unless one is truly ready. Most people are shaken when the carpet is pulled out from under their feet. The smallest disturbances are enough to shake their faith. One cannot ask for the ultimate truth unless one is completely prepared.
Bhakti or devotion wells up in one’s heart only after a lot of preparation and purification. That’s the reason, Sri M said, the Bhakti Yoga in Bhagawad Gita is introduced only after 11 chapters. Initially, Arjuna had known Krishna as a dear friend, relative and a charioteer. It was only when Krishna comes to the 12th chapter, does he reveal his true nature. Arjuna is shattered when he sees this aspect of Krishna.
It is important that this sort of shattering take place—all logic must crumble and the ordinary mind and its thinking defeated—before one surrenders. Unless one completely surrenders, one cannot realize the universal consciousness. It’s only when the sense of surrender sets in that the inner journey begins.
Sri M said that the goals of Walk of Hope are the same. This was the objective with which he started the padayatra. People often ask him why he set out on this walk. Sri M’s reply was, “I am mad and the people walking with me are also mad”. The padayatris trust him and they have come forward to walk with him. The ‘Hope’ was to reach Kashmir. He prefers not to talk about it until the Walk reaches Kashmir. He said, ‘The Lord is with me and He also works from my heart”. He mentioned noticing the change in people walking with him. They are happier and he hoped that the change is a permanent one.
He concluded his talk by urging people from all walks of life to join the Walk. The audience then joined him in the chanting of OM, followed by meditation.
After dinner at 8.30 pm, the group retired for the night.