Today’s padayatra started in relative darkness—leaving Kidangoor at 5.30 am, half an hour earlier than usual. The full moon still glowed in the skies, lighting the path. At Ayarkunnam, a small group of 20 people waited for Sri M’s arrival to greet him in the early hours.
In today’s entire stretch, there were no less than 10 stops in all for local communities to greet and garland Sri M. At 6.40 am, a large group of 100 people had gathered to greet the padayatra, with some of them later joining the Walk. Later, the padayatra stopped for a short tea break. Here again, there was a group of 30 people waiting to greet him. Sri M interacted with them briefly after tea.
An hour into the walk, with the sun rising amidst the misty ambiance, it became a very pleasant walking experience. The Walk progressed again on narrow, meandering roads, with large open fields on both sides. The landscape remained a dense green with a few houses scattered here and there. A group of 30 people joined the Walk after 8.00 am, having greeted Sri M and the walkers beforehand. They reached Sri Bhagawathy Temple, Manarcaud at 8.45 am, where they were served breakfast.
Manarcad, located 9 kms away from Kottayam, is also known for the St. Mary’s Church (Marthamariam Cathedral), a Jacobite Syrian Church. Millions attend the annual 8-day festival in September, known as Ettunombu Perunnal, during which an image of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary is unveiled.
The walkers, led by Sri M, were greeted by a gathering near the Church. Just 10 minutes later, another group of 20, with some joining the Walk later, welcomed Sri M with a bouquet of roses.
Sri M was welcomed by two groups of school children, one numbering around 30, in front of The Adventist School, Kanjikuzhy. One more group from the community, consisting of around 50 people, were waiting in front of the Marian Senior Secondary School, situated on the outskirts of Kottayam, and yet another, more than 75 strong, garlanded Sri M just before reaching Kottayam.
By late morning, the padayatra was on State Highway # 220 and, later on, moved to State Highway # 1. Needless to say, the walk on the busy highway was challenging with heavy traffic on both sides. As they approached Kottayam, the traffic expanded with more people and vehicles, resulting in a slower pace.
The group reached a Satsangi’s residence by 11.45 am where lunch was served by 1.00 pm. The Walk had covered 20 kms for the day in little more than six hours. Just after arrival, a prominent vernacular newspaper interviewed Sri M. The group was then transported to the respective places of stay. As in the last couple of days, walkers were hosted across locations in the town.
Sri M later addressed a press conference where he elaborated on the Walk of Hope, its objectives and the experiences so far since the Walk began.
The evening program was organized at Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple. The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is one of the most revered temples in Central Kerala. The name is derived from the nearby hill named ‘Nakkara Kunnu’ (kunnu meaning hill) which evolved to the present day name, Thirunakkara or sacred ‘Nakkara’.
Sri M and the padayatris walked 2 kms to the temple in a procession, to the accompaniment of chendamelam—a percussion ensemble dating more than 300 years. The gathering was very large with around 500 people in attendance.
The reception had three guest speakers – Rev. Bava Baselius Marthoma II from the Malankara Orthodox Church, Rev. Father Mathew Moolekkat, Arch Bishop of Kottayam Diocese and Shri Suresh Kurup, MLA of Ettumanoor.
Rev. Bava Baselius Marthoma II spoke first. He welcomed Sri M and the padayatris to Kottayam and said that the Walk was a truly remarkable and unprecedented effort in recent history. He said that India is a great country and has a history of peaceful co-existence that is now on a gradual decline. Walk of Hope is a laudable attempt in these difficult times when communal peace is deteriorating.
He continued that the padayatra assumed great relevance in the present circumstances and should have the blessings of everyone. Expressing concern over the diminishing unity amongst citizens of the nation, he said that our culture which allowed us to treat everybody as family—irrespective of caste, creed and gender—has slowly developed fissures and the Walk would go a long way in reuniting people, bringing peace and maintaining the secular nature of our society. He said that he was very happy to inaugurate the event in the hallowed temple premises. He blessed the padayatra all success.
The next to speak was Rev. Father Mathew Moolekkat, Arch Bishop of Kottayam Diocese. He said, “A blessed act is being enacted by Sri M to enlighten our great country that has always upheld tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful co-existence”. He was sure of its success and congratulated Sri M, adding that he was very happy to have walked a few steps with him. “Let the soul of India which upholds brotherhood, individual freedom and humanitarian ideals be an exemplar to the world once again”, he said. The Rev. Father too echoed the previous speaker and said that the Walk assumes great relevance in these times. He mentioned he was very happy to participate in this meeting within the holy setting of the temple.
Mr. Suresh Kurup, MLA said that Sri M had undertaken this journey to discover India just as Swami Vivekananda had done so in 1888. He quoted from Swami Vivekananda’s historical speech at Chicago, “I represent a culture that includes the values of all cultures.” He drew attention to the fact that Swamiji had also mentioned that India was the only country that received the Jews with a red carpet and spoke about the Jewish synagogue in Cochin. Mr. Kurup added that while Swami Vivekananda walked alone, Sri M had hundreds of followers to spread this lofty message. He concluded his address by wishing the journey all success and also wishing Sri M and the padayatris continued good health and enthusiasm.
Sri M began his talk by saying that he embarked on such a journey, with more than 100 fellow travelers, since the walk is a social manifestation of spirituality. He said he is not someone who enjoys public life and rather prefers his solitude, but a strong force pushed him to undertake this journey. He continued that the motivating force was nothing other than Love.
Many years back, his Guru, Maheswarnath Babaji, had told him that Sri M would walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir one day. This was a shock for him at that time as he had taken for granted that he would live in solitude after being with his Master for three years. He asked Babaji whether he really had to do this journey. Babaji, in turn, asked him – “What do you think you are?” Sri M had then quickly answered – “I am nothing more than your dog!” Babaji then retorted – “Fine, but don’t wag your tail too much!!” Sri M quickly acceded as it was an ‘aadesh’ from the Guru. Babaji said, “You should walk.” to which Sri M said, “Yes!” That was all there was to it and nothing more. In the Nath tradition, he said ‘Alak Niranjan’ is a greeting when two Nath panthis meet. An ‘aadesh’ is a command and the response was ‘thy will be done’. The only question was when?
He was, for three years, with his Master who possessed no banner, no organization, not even a pair of slippers. But these three years filled his heart with bliss. His mind was transformed and he became a ‘stitha pragnya’ (one with complete equanimity). At this stage, Sri M wanted to be a sanyasi. When he mentioned that he wanted to be a ‘mumukshu’ (one who only wants to be completely free), Babaji stated that there would be no ‘sanyasa’ for him and added, “You will live a life of an ordinary man – get married, have children, get a job. I wanted you to be selfless but you have become self-centered”. Sri M said he could not but agree with Babaji’s ‘aadesh’ and this is what he is doing now.
He continued that until now he did not have the required courage to take on such an arduous ordeal. He was then reminded of Swami Shankaracharya who walked from Kanyakumari to Kedarnath so many centuries before. Swami Vivekanand, unknown at that time, walked the entire length of the country to feel its pulse and understand the core of the nation. He came to Kanyakumari, swam across, sat on a rock in the middle of the waters, meditated and came up with his vision and plan for India. “We too started at Kanyakumari, the sangam (union) of three oceans. The dictum of Walk of Hope is truly Indian – We are all ONE and this thought is not imported from anywhere.”
Sri M added that it is not just theoretical knowledge for him but an experience in reality. And for this, he had only Babaji to thank. He has undertaken this journey only to share his experiences with others. He spoke about Swami Vivekananda’s exposition of the ‘Daridra Narayana’ axiom – service to the poor is equivalent in importance and piety to service to God. Service to the poor is service to Narayana (the Supreme One). Sri M narrated the story of how Vivekananda, at the beginning of his leadership of the Ramakrishna Order, ran into opposition from his co-monks due to his service to the poor. The monks opposed this since Sri Ramakrishna had never preached that service to the poor was one of the ways to spiritual evolution. Swamiji was ready to drop the mantle of leadership, walk out and be a ‘parivrajaka’ all over again. As he was leaving the Math, he told them about how Sri Ramakrishna, on a pilgrimage, had ensured rations for the famine-stricken people of Deogarh. Hearing this, the monks withdrew their opposition and pleaded with Swamiji to continue as their leader.
Sri M said that it is everybody’s goal to understand that God is everywhere and a part of God is in every living being – human and animal. Human beings are blessed as they can recognize and experience this fact easily. He again spoke about ‘kshetram’ and ‘kshetrajna’ - the body being a temple and the soul being its deity.
He then reverted to the lost glory of India. He said people now travel abroad in droves to study. There was a time when people from all over the world came to study in India. He wished, “If only we could realize that we are all one and live the life of unity – as in ‘Manav Ekta’ – could we bring back the glory of the past.”
Referring to Bhakti Yoga, the 12th chapter of the Bhagwad Gita, Sri M reiterated that only a person, who desires the welfare of all beings, could be a true Bhakta. He urged people to join and walk with him, at least for 10 days.He then narrated a story from the life of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a great saint from the Bhakti order who was a yogi and an avatar (manifestation of the supreme), according to the Bengalis. He once visited Thiruvananthapuram a long time ago and was listening to a Sanskrit pravachana (recital) of the Bhagwad Gita at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple.
While he listened, he observed a seemingly uneducated cart-puller halt and pay attention to the recital. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was sure that the cart puller did not know any Sanskrit. But he watched in amazement as he saw tears flowing down the cheeks of the cart-puller. He then asked him if he understood Sanskrit. The cart-puller, with the help of a Brahmin interpreter, explained that though he did not know Sanskrit, he visualized Sri Krishna sharing great wisdom with Arjuna and, thus had shed tears out of sheer happiness and joy. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spontaneously embraced the cart-puller and they wept together.
This demonstrates that if the mind is pure and still, no erudition or scholarship is required to realize the Supreme. All we need to do is to help the needy and understand that we are all one. If we are good and do good, the whole world will improve. Thus, on this note, Sri M concluded his talk.
Sri M then called four of the padayatris to the stage and asked them to relate their experiences from the Walk of Hope. The satsang ended with the chanting of Om and the observation of few minutes of silence.