The group congregated at 5.30 am for a cup of coffee. Sri M and a small set of people visited Rama Temple and the padayatra started subsequently at 6.15 am for the destination of the day—Thrikkannapuram. They were soon greeted by a gathering of 15 people, with children leading the procession playing the Chenda-melam.
The early hours, lost in cool mist, made it comfortable to walk.
At 7.20 am, upon entering Malappuram district, the group was greeted by a host of dignitaries from the area and members of the local community. The dignitaries included Shri P Sreeramakrishnan, MLA of Ponnani and CPI(M) leader, Shri Ashraf Kokkur, President of the Malappuram unit of Indian Union Muslim League, Shri K K Surendran from the BJP and Shri P T Ajay Mohan from the Indian National Congress. All the dignitaries addressed the meeting and lauded the objectives of the padayatra.
Sri M started his address, thanking the dignitaries and the community for the overwhelming reception. He narrated the story of the four blind people and the elephant and quoted from the Rig Veda – ‘Ekam Sat, Viprah bahuda vadanti’ meaning ‘Truth is one. The wise know it by many names’. He added that sharing the dais with dignitaries from different political backgrounds gave him hope vis-a-vis unity of man, despite the stark differences.
Malappuram district includes major centers like Tirunavaya, the medieval center of Vedic learning; Kottakkal, home of the traditional Ayurveda medicine and Ponnani, one of the oldest centers of Islamic education. The present development of the district, both on socio and economical fronts, is mainly due to the Gulf migrations of the 70s. The region has achieved excellent health standards and almost 100% literacy due to this reason.
Walking on, the yatris were greeted by a small group in front of Shri Vadakke Manaliyar Kavu Devi Temple around 9.30 am and shortly thereafter by another group. This stop also served as a lemonade break. After this point, there were at least three groups of students from different schools welcoming the walkers – first at 10.30 am from the AUP School, another 100 children from the GLP Public School and another group from AMPS School at 11.20 am. Factoring a tea break in between at a roadside shop and a break for a refreshing juice just before noon, the group finally reached Mallur Shiva Parvati Temple, just outside Kuttippuram.
The Mallur Shiva Parvati Temple is on the banks of the river, Bharathapuzha, also known as the River Nila, which is the second-longest river in Kerala. Being a shallow river, it is not navigable except at the point where it joins the Arabian Sea.The yatris were provided lunch at the Temple and assigned places of rest. Some of the male yatris were assigned to a hall about 50 metres away and another lodge about 2 kms away. The women were provided accommodation in yet another lodge about 2 kms away from the temple. Some of the group, staying close to the river, enjoyed a dip in the river.
The day was hectic for the walkers, since many of them had stayed up later than usual the previous day on Shivaratri. After the initial cool hours of the morning, they had walked mostly on State Highway # 69 in the blazing sun on broad open roads, experiencing dry weather. With Shivaratri heralding the end of winter, it seemed the day was the hottest since they started the yatra. The last 6 kms provided some respite, the yatris walking on narrow hilly roads with sharp curves, and in some places, shaded pathways lined by old trees and people. They had covered 22 kms amidst the day jam-packed with the morning public reception and a special event in the evening, in addition to the usual satsang. Anyway, for most people, the days seem to be ending only at 11.00 pm and beginning as early at 4.00 am. The Shivaratri crowd is thinning and the Walk expects to reach its optimum pace within a day or two once the visitors leave.
The group gathered again at 4.30 pm for evening tea and left for the program at the Old Age Home, about 2 kms away from the temple. The gathering numbered about 700 people.
The event in the evening again had local and religious leaders from across communities. Sri K T Jaleel, the MLA from Thavanoor constituency was the first to speak. The inaugural address was by Panakkad Basheer Ali Shihab Thangal, Chancellor of the Darul Huda Islamic University. Sri E Balakrishnan, Block President of the Panchayat, Sri Chennas Dinesan Namboothiripad, Thanthri of the Guruvayoor Temple and Sri C Haridas, an ex-MP were the other dignitaries. It was heartening to hear about their enthusiastic support for Walk of Hope and Sri M.
Sri M began his address with the concluding verse from the Guru Gita (a Hindu scripture said to have been authored by the sage, Vyasa, and believed to be part of the larger Skanda Purana) – “Brahmanandam parama sukhadam kevalam jnanamurtim, dvandvaateetam gagana sadrusam tatvamasyadi lakshyam, ekam nityam vimala machalam sarvadheesaakshibuutam, bhaavaateetam triguna rahitam sadgurum tam namaami.” While extolling the qualities of a perfect Guru (That Guru is God), this shloka talks about: “That One experiencing the supreme Bliss of Brahmaananda (transcendental divine bliss), beyond space and time, beyond the pair of opposites and the embodiment of wisdom. This is One without a second and does not change under any circumstances. He is absolutely pure and without movement. He is a pure witness and beyond the three gunas (satva, rajas and tamas). I offer my humble salutations to such a Guru who possesses all these qualities.”
Speaking in Malayalam, Sri M said his Malayalam language skills were inadequate in comparison to the dignitaries who had spoken with such mastery. He said that he would only touch upon the core objectives of the Padayatra and the reason why he embarked on the journey.
The padayatra started from Kanyakumari as it was the confluence of the three seas, again symbolic of the spiritual confluence within. It started on 12th January, the birth anniversary of the great spiritual leader – Swami Vivekananda. The padayatra had already walked more than 570 kms of the total 6500 kms. Sri M said: “People who have read Guru Samaksham might know about me and my background. However, from the perplexed faces of many people on the road, I can discern their surprise as to why somebody should undertake such an arduous and long journey. I was born in Thiruvananthapuram as Mumtaz Ali. I had interest in Vedanta and Yoga from a young age. At nineteen years of age, I left home and went to the Himalayas, where I learnt and experienced many things under my Guru, Maheshwarnath Babaji. This Padayatra, we are undertaking, is only a physical expression of my experience.”
He continued: “At twenty-two, my Guru told me that I would one day walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He also added that I would have many people along with me. This was a little upsetting to me as I have never been a public person but my Guru strictly told me to comply with his instructions. Three years ago, I told a group of five close associates about this initiative. They all readily agreed to the idea. As days went by, this group grew in size and, by August 2014, they had put in lot of hard work and came to me with a neatly laid-out plan detailing how many kilometers to walk, the route and the places where we would stay. Then, I understood that it was nothing but my Guruji’s design and not our own handiwork.”
“My Guruji had also told me that if I were not able to understand the sorrow of a child even after many years of continuous meditation, there would be no use of all that meditation.” Sri M thereafter narrated the incident from Swami Vivekananda’s life about how the Swami had tears flowing down his cheeks when he heard of a dear friend’s death. A few people questioned him as to how a sanyasin could cry over death. Swamiji replied that being a sanyasin did not mean being insensitive and cold-hearted.
Sri M said: “Malappuram is a district of Kerala where the majority follow Islam. Any prayer of a Muslim mentions two words, Rahim and Rehman; thus there is a definite mention of compassion and mercy. If all humans could demonstrate these two qualities to all other human beings, there is no greater way to get closer to God.”
Sri M then narrated another story about Mohammad Nabi, who was leaving to offer prayers on Ramadan day. The place was a little far away from a small mosque and he was getting late. It is usual for followers of Islam to buy good clothes for children on this auspicious occasion. On the way to the mosque, Mohammad Nabi found an orphan child in tattered clothes. He asked the child if he had any new clothes for the occasion. When he came to know of his plight, he took the child with him, bought new clothes, had them stitched for him and made the child happy. All the while, his followers were reminding him that he was getting late for the prayer. Mohammad Nabi told his followers that what he did for the child itself is the greatest prayer possible and, even if his prayer gets a little late, it is not of greater importance than this act of his.
Sri M then quoted from the twelfth chapter of the Bhagawad Gita: ‘Sarva bhute hiteh ratah’ – meaning one who has the welfare of all beings at heart is a true bhakti (devotee).He also quoted from the Bible: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ ‘But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…’ so goes the Old Testament. Jesus also said ‘…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” and the final quotation – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God.” Sri M said that the message from all religions was that we should live together peacefully, respecting our differences. This message should originate from India, which has a long and hoary tradition of upholding this great wisdom.
“Walking is my message and I have got a group of sahayatris (co-walkers) from all over the country and abroad who are going through many difficulties as they undertake this yatra. Seeing them go through these hardships, without complaint, gives me hope that we will complete this yatra successfully. The message of peace should be passed on forever though I may not be there tomorrow.”
Sri M shared the story of how the Hindus and the Muslims fought over the remains of Kabir Das as each community wanted to do the last rituals as per their own religious customs. Hindus stated that they wanted to cremate the body, as Kabir was a Hindu, and Muslims said they wanted to bury him according to the Mohammedan rites, as he was a Muslim. The story goes that when they were fighting, the spirit of Kabir Das appeared and said, “I was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim. I was both. I was nothing. I was all. I discern God in both. There is no Hindu and no Mussalman. To him who is free from delusion, Hindu and Mussalman are the same. Remove the shroud and behold the miracle!” When they removed the sheets covering the dead body, they found only some flowers instead. They distributed the flowers amongst themselves and completed the funeral, according to their own traditions and customs.
He added that he had visited the site of Kabir Das' death. Kabir Das had travelled from Kashi (Varanasi), where he lived in a place near to Gorakhpur. He used to say that since anyone who died in Kashi goes to heaven, he wanted to try some other place instead to test it. At this place, the followers of Kabir (Kabir-panthis) offer prayers and next to that, there is a tomb and the Maulavi offers prayers daily as per Islamic traditions. Both the groups do this with tremendous respect for each other without even an iota of discordance. Sri M concluded his talk with the statement: “Continue to reflect on this as someday I too am to go.”
Though the day was a tiring one, it was also satisfying as the reception, coverage and the gatherings more than made up for it. Leaders from varied backgrounds were full of approval for Walk of Hope and had offered their unconditional support.
After the evening program, dinner was organized at a hotel close by. The group dispersed at around 9.30 pm, going back to their places of stay for the night.