The Walk of Hope padayatra left Kottayam at 6.00 am today, walking towards Malliyoor — the destination for the day. The day was no different with groups of people waiting to receive Sri M in every small town or village they traversed through—starting with the first one at 7.30 am at Sankranti which also doubled as a tea-break.
A reception by the local commune followed by a group from Caritas, a Catholic diocese, and then another small reception was accorded when they entered a major town of Kottayam district—Ettumanoor, after having walked around 9 kms. Ettumanoor is a town of historical significance as mythical lore mentions that Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharat, visited this place and established its main temple, Ettumanoor Mahadeva temple. The name Ettumanoor means the ‘land or place of the deer’.
The padayatra walked through the town and were received by a group of 50 at the Collectorate. Then, they proceeded to the Ettumanoor Mahadeva Temple, an ancient temple from the times of the Pandavas. The annual ‘arraatu’ festival held in the months of February/March attracts a large number of people. At the end of the festivities, gold idols of seven and half elephants (ezharaponnaana), weighing almost 13 kilos, are displayed to the public. A Travancore Maharaja donated the idols to the temple. Sri M and a group of people visited the temple and offered their prayers. Breakfast was also served here.
Leaving the temple by 9.30 am, the padayatris were soon welcomed by another group of 100 people. Reaching the Temple Junction of Kanakkary, Sri M was again received by another local commune comprising around 25 people. Walking on, they had a 20-minute break for refreshments in front of the Kothanalloor Bhagwati Temple, where members of the local community had an opportunity to interact with Sri M. Kothanalloor is a village on the highway, surrounded by paddy fields, and is mentioned in Unnineeli Sandhesham (14th century AD). The group had covered nearly 17 kms by this time.
As they progressed, the day became exceptionally humid with overhanging grey clouds, another first in the yatra. It is noticed that summer is fast approaching and the evenings are warm too. The highest temperature is 32° C these days with the lowest around 23° C. Usually, in Kerala, when the weather has been exceptionally humid for a few days, there is a chance for intermittent showers, bringing down the mercury a few notches. “When will it rain?” seems to be the big question floating around.
At 11.45 am, the padayatra was received in the village of Manjoor by a group of 25 and most of these local people joined the Walk later. The group, numbering just over a 100 when they started, had now doubled in strength.
An hour later, the padayatris walked into the precincts of the Malliyoor Sree Maha Ganapathy Temple. Again, they were led in a procession through the town with Chenda Melam, to be finally received by the village community and the temple administration. Malliyoor is most famous for its Ganapathy Temple that attracts a large number of pilgrims from all over the country. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Siva and Parvathy, who is considered the remover of all obstacles– either material or spiritual. Hence, Ganesha is worshipped before any other God in the order of precedence. Lord Ganesha is depicted here with a young Sree Krishna in his lap. Hence, the presiding deity is called Vaishnava Ganapathy and embodies the infusion of both Saivite and Vaishnava traditions. The main inspiration here is the widely respected main priest of the temple, Bhagavatha Hamsam Malliyoor Sankaran Nampoothiri, who dedicated his life to the worship of Lord Ganapathy and the rendering and exposition of the Bhagawatam (he had completed 2500 renderings of the holy text). The temple hosts and celebrates a Bhagavatham Sapthaham or Satram every year where the text is read and explained to the attending devotees.
After lunch at 1.00 pm, the group retired for a rest in dormitories, having walked 23.5 kilometers in just over 7 hours.Most of the walkers have now settled into a rhythm in the midst of uncertainties on the road. Look at the contrasts: sometimes, they spend a day in a quiet room with clean washrooms while, on the very next day, they would have to share a dormitory with 30 people with just the bare necessities. For the ones walking for a while now, unspoken ground rules have helped diverse people come together in harmony.
This spirit is also very evident when new walkers join the Walk. A keen observer can easily notice how the seasoned walkers (all of 26 days old!), when compared to the new walkers, react and respond to situations in a more mature manner. Today’s accommodation, in the midst of a forested area with a large number of trees and greenery, is spartan yet quiet and restful. It is also close to the Satsang venue, which provided more leisure time for the yatris.
At 6.00 pm, Sri M and a group of walkers visited the temple and offered their prayers. The satsang began at 6.30 pm with a congregation of more than 350 people on the temple grounds. Sri Parameswaran Nampoothiri, son of Malliyoor Sankaran Nampoothiri, was also in attendance.
After lighting the ‘vilakku’ (lamp) and being welcomed by the Nampoothiri, Sri M began his talk by saying that they had arrived at Malliyoor, the place of Malliyoor Sankaran Nampoothiri, after having covered around 400 kms. Not only was this his temple, it was also his final resting place – his Samadhi. Sri M considered this a ‘punya bhumi’ (a sacred land). Sri Sankaran Nampoothiri, he added, was reported to have rendered the Bhagawatham in the most stirring manner, though he himself wasn’t fortunate enough to have listened to him.
Srimad Bhagawatham, he said, was a scripture very dear to him. The scripture originated when Sage Vyasa, after compiling the Vedas and writing the Bramhasutras, was still not satisfied and, therefore, sad. Narada Muni, after understanding the reason for Vyasa’s unhappiness, suggested he recount the stories of Sri Krishna, starting with the Matsya Avataar (the first manifestation of the Supreme). The Bhagawatam, Sri M said, stated the Vedantic truths, in the simplest of terms. He remarked that he also did Bhagawatam Saptahas in English, jocularly saying that it was ‘only to impress people.’
He recounted a story from Sri Ramakrishna’s life. A ‘gentleman’ of Indian origin, very English in his ways and easily impressed by the then ruling English, used to visit Sri Ramakrishna, and was once heard talking loudly about how great the Bhagawat Gita is. Sri Ramakrishna heard this and immediately remarked, “An Englishman must have praised the Gita.” Sri M’s Guru, Babaji, had specifically advised him to render most of his talks in English so that many people in the present age could listen and comprehend the message. He also said that he would prefer to do more Bhagawatam Saptahas, even though people preferred speeches on the Vedanta and Upanishads due to the mistaken notion that Bhakti was for old, retired people.
Sri M said that Bhakti (devotion) was most pertinent, as the technique of Kriya Yoga could be effective only if one has ‘bhakti’ and ‘bhava’ (devotion and emotion) in one’s heart. Many people have attained realization through Bhakti only. He cited the case of Mira Bai. He spoke of how Sri Ramana Maharshi, known as a ‘jnani’, shed tears at the very mention of the word ‘Arunachala’. Sri M quoted from Kabir – “That the body is like a veritable graveyard in which love has not entered, it is like the blacksmith’s bellows which breathes in and breathes out the air but has no life of it’s own.” These are the times when shortcuts are in demand for everything. Unfortunately, in the matter of Sadhana or practice, there are no shortcuts.
In Bhakti yoga, one mode is to listen to the great spiritual leaders intently. There is no need for any further explanation or clarification. He reiterated that he did not mean ‘buddhi’ (the intellect) was not required. Even the Gayatri Mantra prayer was for intelligence – ‘May my intellect be illumined’. The most intelligent soon realize that mere intelligence is not sufficient to reach the truth. This is because knowledge is very highly related to the inputs derived from sense organs and our sense organs’ power to garner information is very limited. The vision of the eye, the sense of hearing and other such senses are incomplete by themselves. Citing a simple example, he said, “We know that the sun rises in the east but we understand that the sun does not rise, it is the earth that moves. Thus, we are made to believe in something that we do not see.”
Quoting from the Keno Upanishad, which describes Bramhan (the Supreme One): “That which cannot be comprehended by the mind, and by which the mind understands, you realize That alone as Brahman, not this which people worship.” Sri M added that we need an extraordinary mind to see God with Akaara or Niraakara (with or without form).
Narrating how Sri Ramakrishna, while performing his duties as priest at the Kali Temple, Dakshineswar, had a unique way of worshipping the deity wherein he was deeply in love with the deity and would ignore usual rituals and associated paraphernalia of worship. He would have very personal conversations with the deity. This was a great example of ‘para-bhakti’. Sri M continued, “Imagine the pleasure, when you see a beautifully performed ‘aarti’. If this pleasure enters your soul too, it would be an absolute rapture.”
He recalled the story of M’s (Mahendranath Gupta) first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna. Visiting Dakshineswar to sit near the flowing river, M also wanted to meet Sri Ramakrishna, who was then being spoken of in many circles in Kolkata. Bumping into Sri Ramakrishna, not knowing he was the one, M asked to be taken to the holy man. The seer, not revealing his identity, started a conversation with M and asked him if he believed in a God with form or without form. M, being from the Brahma Samaj, replied that he believed the latter. Sri Ramakrishna, then asked him pointedly, “If you believe that God permeates everything and is everywhere, why not in the idol too?”
Sri M continued that Sri Ramakrishna did not have even a little trace of ego. He would walk, eat and live like a normal person but his mind was totally pure without even a wee bit of Ahankara (ego). Swami Vivekananda had a tad of ‘veera-rasa’ (bravado). Sri Ramakrishna had told the Swami, “I need a man like you so that I can make others understand what I mean.” He then narrated a story of Hriday, Sri Ramakrishna’s nephew, who took care of him for a while at Dakshineswar. Hriday, wanting to emulate his uncle, once decided to do ‘kanya pooja’ (worship of Devi in the form of a young girl). He saw Mathur Babu’s (Rani Rasamoni’s son-in-law) daughter, a child of 8 years, and went ahead with his puja with an elaborate ritual. Mathur Babu saw this from a distance and was extremely angry. In a spurt of anger, he said that all Brahmins should leave the temple at once. An upset Hriday packed up his belongings and started walking to the gates. Sri Ramakrishna saw him and enquired as to where he was going. Hriday told him that Mathur Babu had asked all Brahmins to leave the place. “Is that so?” asked Ramakrishna.
The seer also immediately went to his room, packed up his mat, and started walking out, much to the chagrin of Mathur Babu. When Mathur Babu ran to him and told him that he should come back as it was not meant for him, Sri Ramakrishna turned back without a demur.
He again repeated the story of Kunti’s prayer – her prayer to Krishna when he was bidding farewell to them after the Kurukshetra war. After the coronation of Yudhisthira as King, Lord Krishna bowed toKunti, respectfully asking for her blessings. Kunti’s prayer went thus: “Let all the world’s sufferings and calamities come to me; let me suffer as that is when you will appear before us, giving us your darshan”.
He said that one has to wait patiently for the truth, “Initially, the sanctum is closed, then there will be music, following which the door opens slowly and, only then, do we see the wonderful ‘aarti’. Don’t close your eyes when the aarti is on. See the wondrous sight. Gradually, there will be silence.” Sri M compared this to sadya – the vegetarian meal with as many as 64 items prepared and served during Onam. He continued that once we can visualize this in our minds, there is no need to go a temple.
In addition to all the above ingredients, a bhakta should have love for humanity just as Lord Krishna said ‘Sarvabhuta hite ratah’ – the welfare of all beings at heart. Consideration for fellow beings, and kindness and compassion in one’s heart for all living things should be practiced consciously on a daily basis before it takes root completely. “Our padayatra is only an enquiry as to whether we can practice it and demonstrate it to other people as well. It is also a ‘sadhana’ for all people walking with me”, he said.
Swami Vivekananda, before he became famous, had done this by walking and living with the common man. Sri M said that his mission of ‘Manav Ekta’ was to share with people that we are all one. This, he said, was a completely Indian thought. “If all of us realize this, then our country will definitely progress and set an example to the rest of the world. Already, many people from other countries have joined our Walk.”
Sri M repeated his reason for having chosen Kanyakumari as the starting point (it being the confluence of three seas), and also starting the Walk on 12 January 2014 (being Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary). He said the intention of Walk of Hope was only to spread, amongst the masses, the message of oneness and bring about awareness of people’s needs.
He concluded his talk by requesting Sri Parameswaran Nampoothiri to pray for all in the congregation. He requested all those present at the venue to walk with him for a short while.