As the cover of darkness began slipping to reveal another day, the walkers set off at 5.30 am after a quick cup of coffee. The day began with a vista of sorts—the first rays of sunlight washed the clouds in a shade of deep orange, while in contrast the untouched clouds remained grey and listless. An enchanting palette of black, grey, red and orange competed to make the dawn truly captivating.
Walking along tree-lined roads through rustic roads, the yatris saw green-farmed land on either side inhabited by houses far and in-between in the early hours. It was also heartening to note that awareness about Walk of Hope and Sri M was high in these areas. Welcome receptions started very early and set the trend for the rest of the walk in the day.
The first notable place where a reception was accorded was Sri Narayana Vidyalaya—the samadhi of Swami AnandaThirtham. Swami Ananda Thirtham was the first disciple of the great sage, Sri Narayana Guru. The school has been built around the Samadhi. At 6.20 am,Sri M and the walkers were welcomed at the school entrance by children holding glowing lamps. They were led to the Samadhi, where they sang a hymn in praise of Sri Narayana Guru. Sri M also planted a sapling here.
The sun put on its cape of blinding brightness by 10.30 am and all that made it bearable was the steady breeze from the river. After a greeting by a family soon after, they were welcomed at Sanjayan Memorial Library, Annur. This also served as a tea break. Professor Mannikoth Ramunni Nair, known widely by his pen name Sanjayan, was a Malayali satirist known for his humorous anecdotal writings and served as the editor-in-chief of Viswaroopam, a satirical magazine in Malayalam. His contribution to Malayalam literature was mainly satirical essays about the prevalent social state.
Walking on, after a couple of welcome receptions, the yatris led by Sri M stopped at ThathberUl Islam Madrassa, Dargah and Mosque, all on the same campus. The Karammel Jumayath Dargah holds the tomb of Karammel Waliyullah, who was considered a Sufi saint. On his death, his tomb was erected at this spot and people started congregating here for worship. The origins are unknown; some say it is four centuries old, yet others say it is much older. A madrassa is situated alongside the tomb. Sri M interacted with the students of the Madrassa and they recited a verse of poetry to him.
Soon after this, the walkers rejoined the broader yet quiet NH # 66 (old # 17). The walkers were on the ascending highway for a while and they passed through small towns like Trikaripur, Kankole, Vellur, Karivellur and Cheruvathur.
Breakfast was served at a satsangi’s house at 8.45 am. Walking on, Sri M and the group were greeted by 50 students of Patti Amma Upper Primary School, Karivellur. Sri M planted a commemorative sapling on the campus. Another town of interest, the yatris walked through, was Cheravathur, which is a developing town, around 10 kms from Nileshwar. It has the remains of Dutch fort in the nearby Veeramala Hills.
Kankole is a village that has an interesting connection to mythology. The name originated from the name of the Vedic Sage, Kapila who conducted Daksha’s yagna. The story goes that Daksha’s daughter, Sati or Dakshayani married Shiva, much against her father’s wishes. Daksha had an intense dislike for Shiva, whom he considered an uncouth ascetic. Once, he conducted a yagna (a ritual sacrificial offering to the Gods) where everyone was invited except his daughter, Sati and Shiva. Sati went uninvited to the Yagna and was insulted by her father’s deprecating comments about Shiva. Upset, Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire and self-immolated. There was grief and anger and Shiva’s attendants destroyed the Yagna and Virabhadra beheaded Daksha. After intervention by the other two Gods of the Trinity, Narayana and Brahma, Shiva replaced Daksha’s head with a goat’s head and he became one of Shiva’s devotees. It is believed that this episode happened in this region and there is a place called ‘Yagabhumi’ where the Yagna happened. Kankole was earlier called Kapilan Kovval, which was later shortened to Kankole. The Kankole Shiva Temple is a famous temple here.
At 12.00 noon, they crossed a bridge and enjoyed a cup of tea at a roadside stall, while watching the scenic flowing river down below. Close to 1.00 pm, they were welcomed by a group of 20 people. Accompanied by drummers who heralded their arrival, the group walked in a procession to the halting point.
After they entered Nileshwar, Sri M was greeted at NK Balakrishnan Memorial School by about 200 young school children. There was also a photo opportunity with the children.The walkers reached Nileshwar, the congregating point of the day being Neelakanta Shiva Temple. It was 2.00 pm by the time they arrived at this point. The walk today – just over 30 kilometres in 8 hours–is the longest walked in the last 51 days! The walk in itself was not that tiring but the distance of 30 kms was a challenge even to the most seasoned of yatris. The Walk has now reached the last district of Kerala and has just three days to go before they enter Karnataka, the third state of the eleven to be covered by the padayatra!
The lunch venue was more than a hundred years old and made of stone blocks with a wooden roof. Rays of light filtered through the dust-laden and broken windows. After lunch, the group was ferried to the Good Shepherd Church and Convent, about 5 kms away, in a bus. This was their place of stay and they were put up in dormitories with basic amenities.
Around 5.00 pm, they were again transported to the temple where they were served tea. The venue was the open space in front of the temple, under the vast canopy of a huge peepal tree. The evening started with a musical recital by artists from the local community. Sri M’s address started at 6.15 p.m. with the opening prayer:
Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ
May all be prosperous and happy
May all be free from illness
May all see what is spiritually uplifting
May no one suffer
Om peace, peace, peace
followed by the invocation,‘Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu’ – ‘Let the whole world be prosperous and happy’.
Sri M said, “We are all seated at the Neelakanteswar Temple from which this place gets its name, Nileshwar. We have been walking for the last 51 days, after starting from Kanyakumari on January 12th. Many people from all over India and even abroad have joined me in this mission. Please remember the famous Rig Vedic hymn says, ‘lokah samastha’ and not 'bharat samastha' (The entire world and not India alone).
“I will speak a little bit on the Padayatra. We started the padayatra at Kanyakumari, which is a ‘sangamam’—a confluence of three rivers. Kanyakumari is also the Zero Point because India's land ends there. Zero is ‘shunya’ in Vedantic terminology. It has much significance. The mind has to be pure, clean and humble in order to understand something. This could otherwise be termed as Shunya or Zero state. To understand something, you need space. Those who know little, start thinking that they know all. They will find it extremely difficult to learn anything further. We started from Kanyakumari with the Shunya or Zero state of mind. Since we started like that, we have been learning from many great experiences right through our walk until now.”
“I am sure that by the time we reach Srinagar, many good things will happen, people will start thinking more seriously about ‘Manav Ekta’ and start putting it in practice.”
“To achieve anything, belief or faith is most important. I do not think that there is anything called superstition. Whatever good has happened in this world, it has happened on account of faith. What faith are we talking about? The faith that says all Men are one and that, basically, Men are good. Some of the happenings you read about nowadays might shatter this belief because most people do not have a very strong faith.”
“It is important to believe that a part of the all-pervading ‘parabrahma’ (Supreme Cosmic Spirit, or Godhead) is within all of us and if you lead a clean life, that portion will glow and shed a beneficent light on everyone. We are walking the length of the country while people resort to flying these great distances. Many people ask me if we are crazy to undertake such a long journey on foot.”
“I have visited Nileshwar and the nearby districts many times in a car but our experience as we walked has been very different and heartwarming. We are supplying saplings to be planted at many places. I want people to call those saplings, Mythris (My friends), or 'My Trees'. I also tell them that we will return after completing the Yatra and see how these trees are faring.”
He then narrated an anecdote: “Bhakti literature has a beautiful story about a mother and son. In the days of yore, there was a boy who lived with his mother. They were very poor. The mother wanted to educate the boy in a Gurukul, located far away, with the route passing through a deep forest. The Guru there accepted the little boy as his student. The first day, the mother took the boy to school & walked back with him. After this, the boy had to walk alone through the fearsome forest. The boy cried and conveyed his fears to his mother, about having to walk through the fierce forest on his own. The mother consoled him and asked him to call upon Krishna, a little boy who lived in the forest, to accompany him every day. The little boy, Krishna, was dark-complexioned and used to play on the flute. “Call him and he will protect you”, she said. So, the boy, walking through the forest, called Krishna every day. Krishna came with his flute, walked and played with him, and they soon became friends. As days passed in this fashion, the teacher’s birthday was fast approaching. The boy was sure that his classmates, who were very wealthy, would offer rich gifts to the teacher and he had nothing to give because he was poor. Finally, the mother and son decided they would offer milk to the Guru as their tribute. The day soon dawned and the boy took the milk in a vessel.
As he walked, troubled with doubt, Krishna appeared and asked him why he looked so worried. The boy told him about his gift that, he felt, was not good enough for his teacher. Krishna drank some of the milk and asked him to proceed; consoling him that everything would be fine.When the boy reached the school, his classmates made fun of him and his offering of milk. The teacher asked all the children to drink the milk and give the boy back his vessel. They started pouring the milk into containers and, lo and behold, the milk remained unfinished even as they kept pouring. The Guru was amused at first and thought it to be a prank. He repeatedly questioned the boy and his replies remained consistent, saying it was because of Krishna. The Guru, disbelievingly, asked to be taken to Krishna.The boy willingly took his teacher and the other children to the deep forest and called out to Krishna to appear. Krishna did not appear even after repeated calls.
The heartbroken boy, in tears, finally cried out, “Krishna, where are you? Why are you not coming? These people do not believe you are my friend”. A voice was heard from within the forest. It said, “These people have no faith. Even if I appear, they will not be able to see me.” Sri M added that such faith generates tremendous energy.
“Our padayatra is an example. We have not organised it elaborately or budgeted it properly. Still, it will go on, with this faith we have.” “Today, as we sit in front of Neelakanteshwar Temple, I am reminded about the samudramanthan—the churning of the ocean of milk. As the hala-hala-visha (poison) emerged from the ocean and threatened the very existence of the universe, Lord Shiva came forward to drink it so that the universe could be saved from destruction. This, in turn, gave Lord Shiva the name, Neelakanta—the one with the blue throat. Thus,for good things to happen in this world, someone has to make a huge sacrifice. Since we are not godly, the poison might come down the throat a bit more, so we may have to suffer a bit more.”
“Similar to this, the Christians say that ‘someone has to bear the cross’ when a sacrifice is needed. Once, as Babaji and I sat on the banks of Ganga, he suddenly told me, ‘Thirteen hours of meditation everyday, for thirteen years would not be of any use if you do not hear the hungry cry of a neighbour’s child. All your efforts would be useless.’ Later, one day, he told me that I would walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and that too with many people. This, I was not ready to do. I said that I will walk like you, alone’. Babaji had then reprimanded me.”
He continued: “Based on these two experiences and my deep conviction that we all have a portion of the parabrahma within us, I believe we are all one and can live happily together despite coming from different castes, creeds, faiths, and regions.” “Right throughout our padayatra, I have realised that others also understand this Truth. Our experiences in Nileshwar was no different as everyone here seemed to understand this and offered to join hands with us.”
“Carefully note that if you have to teach someone to be peaceful, first you have to be peaceful within. Sitting next to a Yogi, you become peaceful like an iron piece, which acquires magnetic properties when placed next to a magnet. The only thing is the rust accumulated on the piece of iron has to be removed. ‘Sadhana’ is the practice of removing mental rust. There are many Sadhana-s, and you will need one to clean and stabilise the mind to make it peaceful. Then, you can teach others how to be peaceful, sharing your experience.”
“Once your mind is peaceful, much energy can be channelised. The only thing to take care, as far as possible, is you should not hurt any being, specially human beings by words, deeds or actions and you should always think well of others.”
Sri M concluded the satsang and then called on stage four padayatris to share their Walk of Hope-related experiences. The session ended with Sri M leading the chanting of OM thrice followed by a short meditation.
The padayatris were transported back to their place of rest where dinner was served.