Leaving at the usual time of 6 a.m. from Irinjalakkuda, today’s group of walkers, numbering around 200 set out for the day’s destination Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. The density of vehicular traffic was remarkably high, as could be expected if you are in the suburbs of a thriving city like Thrissur, the urbanscape leaving the traditional verdant green of Kerala far behind. With just two days for Shivarathri, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of padayatris, with the majority of them having joined in from the district.
At 6.45 a.m., Sri M was greeted by a group of about 15 people, with most of them joining the walk towards Thrissur. A few minutes after 7 a.m., the group broke for a short tea-break, resuming shortly after, and was again greeted by large group of around 50 people, at 8.30 a.m. Soon after, they were at Urakam, a village close to Thrissur. Sri M and the yatris received a ceremonial welcome with the traditional percussion ensemble of Kerala (Chenda melam) and were led in a procession through the town. They were taken to a padayatri’s house where they were served breakfast. Sri M interacted with people from the community at this point.
Soon they were enroute and the sweltering tropical heat, laden with an all-prevading humidity seemed to have a tiring effect on the padayatris. Departing from Urakam, the yatris took a break at a wood yard on the wayside. There were two groups greeting them before and after the break, with many of them joining the walk.
They reached Palakkal, about 6 kms from Thrissur city and were received by a group of about 40 people at the Narasimhamoorthy Temple. Walking on, they reached Thrissur at 1.00 p.m. where they were greeted by students of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Poochatty. The students joined in, chanting and leading the procession.
The walkers reached the Sri Sankara Hall & Auditorium on M.G. Road which was their congregation point. After lunch, they were assigned their place of stay. The menfolk had been assigned a lodging quarters in the vicinity while the women’s accommodation were arranged in a nearby hotel along with transportation. They left for their rooms around 3 p.m. The padyatris at the destination was 250 strong, having walked 24.5 kms in 7.5 hours.
It has become more of a norm, one month into the padayatra, to have the senior members of the padyatra being allocated rooms on a sharing basis, as and where available, with the younger yatris having to remain content with the dormitory spaces. Needless to say, most dormitories are spartan, in terms of comfort and space, with 10 to 15 in a hall, accompanied by erratically-functioning ceiling fans, unable to ease the night’s humidity and the swarming mosquitoes. The rooms are relatively very comfortable and sometimes the difference is striking for many city-bred walkers. Despite this, the spirit of camaraderie binds them together. Almost in all places, people staying in rooms invite the ones in the dorms to use their restrooms and share space as much as possible.
After being served tea at 4 p.m., Sri M met the media at 5 p.m. and then had an interaction with leading people from the city and with the local volunteers.
There was a melodious flute recital till 6.30 p.m. after which Sri M began his address.“Our plan is to walk 6500 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir out of which we have completed about 530 kms today. We start at 6.00 am every day and end at noon, to begin again the next day, not even having the time to worry about the kilometers we have to cover. Since by now many of you would have heard about the padayatra as it is being covered in newspapers and television and also through pamphlets. I will not go into it in detail. I will focus on why we undertook the Padayatra.”
Continuing, Sri M said, “I was never a public person and have never worked in public with many people around me. But, many years ago, my Guru, Maheshwarnath Babaji had told me, at Uttarakashi, on the banks of the Ganga, that one day, I would undertake a journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He also told me that with me, would be many people. I asked him why and told him that I would do the yatra alone and that I did not want to do it with many people for company. He firmly told me that I had to do it and that was it. I was twenty two at that time.”
“This instruction has always remained within me but I was too scared even to think about it. I am sixty-six now. Three years back, I remembered about it again and thought that if I did not attempt it now, I might not be able to do it at all. The next thought was about the people who were going to accompany me. I voiced it to a small group of my friends and surprisingly all of them were enthusiastic to take part in the yatra. Since then, it has snowballed into a full-fledged padayatra as you see today. Over the last two years, many of my friends have voluntarily mapped, reconnoitered the route we have to walk and we are following that route from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. The journey started on 12th January from Kanyakumari, significant as it was the birthday of Swami Vivekananda and as the place is a sangam of three seas, the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It was here that Swami Vivekananda meditated and drew up his master plan for the revival of India. After about 35 days we are here, and will proceed after offering our prayers to Vadakkumnathan.”
“The Manav Ekta Mission's message is very old and is ensconced in the Rig Veda which said more than 2000 years ago that “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti”. A similar message is also conveyed from the Bhagavad Gita which is divided into eighteen chapters. The first chapter is Arjuna Vishada Yoga. Most of us are in a condition similar to what Arjuna found himself in, with many sorrows and reservations and difficulties. Vyasa's attempt in the eighteen chapters of the Gita is to find a solution to Arjuna's problems and also help us solve our problems. I will tell you the link between the twelfth Chapter of the Gita and our Padayatra.”
Sri M continued, “You might wonder why Sri Krishna waited for the twelfth Chapter to instruct Arjuna about Bhakti Yoga. The reason is that till the twelfth Chapter, Arjuna was not ready to receive the same. Till the end of the ninth Chapter, Arjuna would treat Sri Krishna as a close friend and relative and the whole discussion or samvada was in the nature of a friendly chat. But, when Sri Krishna, in the 10th Chapter started mentioning that among mountains he is the Meru; among Achalas he is the Himalaya; among Vedas he is Samaveda and among Munis he is Kapila, Arjuna is perplexed and his normal thinking process gets derailed. With the Viswaroopadarshana in the eleventh chapter, Sri Krishna dealt the death-blow to his logical mind and its workings. Had Sri Krishna come to Bhakti Yoga any earlier, Arjuna would not have been able to comprehend the same.”
Sri M then recounted the traits of a true devotee of a bhakta as described by Krishna in the Bhagawad Gita – Sarva bhuta hiteh ratah. Any individual who is able to control or restrain his sense organs, who has equanimity at all times and also the welfare of all beings is a true bhakta.
“The root of our Padayatra is from the third quality Sri Krishna mentions as a compulsory quality to be considered his Greatest Bhakta / Yogi. Sarvabhoota hite ratah. It is to enlighten people about this that we are walking and talking to people assembled every day during our satsangs. The effort is to understand at an experiential level that we have within ourselves, a small portion of the infinite Parabrahma, just as Ishwara (Kshetrajna) is placed in every human body (Kshetra). I have no other agenda. I am particular that this great wisdom should spring forth from our country where once upon a time, people from all over the world flocked in search of wisdom. This flow has been reversed in the last several decades. If this padyatra helps us come together in ekta despite our obvious differences, it will be the first definitive step towards rebuilding this nation, eventually making it the centre of learning once again. I am speaking from my personal experience but, I am taking the help of scriptures as they are authoritative.”
Sri M concluded his address speaking about the many travails of the yatra. “Our padayatra is physically very taxing and many of my sahayatris are not used to such hard physical effort and heat. Many are not used to the Kerala cuisine as well and in many places there are mosquitoes and whatnot. But, they are not complaining even a little bit though many have to resort to pain balms and massage at the end of the day. Though a little bit of Gurubhakti is also involved, I would like to thank all of them for going through all this without a murmur.”
The yatris dispersed after dinner, by 9 p.m.