Around the Country with My Kith and Kin

The pearl-like handwriting of Vatsala Shankar will remind one of an ornament. Her book, ‘Ennangal’ (Thoughts) was published in 2017. This grand daughter-in-law of N. R. Karupanna Nadar has a prodigious memory and is known for her narration. Her book shares valuable information about her sojourn to religious places around the country.

Vatsala Shankar talked about her first trip to Rameswaram by train. She crossed the waters with her kids, Manivannan, Umarani, and Sanjay when they were 7, 5, & 2 years old, respectively. This was about 50 years ago. The kids had been super-thrilled while seeing the waters under the flexible bridge. Thereafter, they had gone to Rameswaram by car. She remembered going to Dhanushkodi by a jeep. Dhanushkodi had been destroyed by a cyclone decades ago.

The pilgrims learnt about the proposed trip of Diwan Annachi and Vanathi Madhani to Kasi and decided to join them. They had a bath at Agni Theertham in Rameswaram and collected the sea sand. They offered their prayers to Ramanathaswamy and Parvathavardhini on the island. The pilgrims undertook their North Indian pilgrimage thereafter. They dissolved the sea sand at Prayagraj at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswathi.

Vatsala Shankar; her sister, Viji; and niece, Lakshmi Devi; took a bath at River Ganga in Haridwar and collected the holy water in a container. This water was in turn offered to Lord Ramanathaswamy at Rameswaram. Tears of devotion had emerged from their eyes at that time. The pilgrims feel that some power had made them travel to several sacred places. Viji and Devi had offered a practice to follow this for oneself too! Devi had wanted to know if she was to do the same. Immediately, Vatsala Shankar told her that it was not required and since Bheesha had been a bachelor, people used to perform ceremonies for him. She wished Devi a century of life in the travelogue!

The group visited Kasi Viswanath Temple and also had a bath on the ghats. She told us that it was difficult to find out the Viswanath Temple for it was in a crowded place. A special mention was made about Goddess Annapoorneshwari, the deity who fed not just the world but also her consort, Lord Shiva. Vatsala Shankar also explained about the guardian deity, ‘Bhairava' of Kasi. Devotees would place the sacred wrist thread at his feet and wear them regularly.

They visited the Manikarnika ghat, the sacred place which was formed after the fall of the earrings of Goddess Sati. She felt that the sins and sorrows got washed away after their visit. This visit extended itself to Haridwar and Rishikesh. Haridwar was at the entrance and was engulfed by the Shivalik hills. The travellers got to see the Ganga Aarti and they had overjoyed on seeing the floating lamps offered to Mother Ganga by her devotees. A visit to Manasa Devi was by a rope car and one could enjoy the flow of Ganga from the sky.

The pilgrims visited Rishikesh, the place known for Sadhus and Saints. The cross-hanging bridge was known as ‘Lakshmi Joola'. The cold waters would cause horripilation to anyone while having a dip. They visited the Shivananda Ashram and witnessed a pooja there.

The Sathyanarayana Temple, Gita Bhavan was fully made of marble. They visited Gaya, Buddha Gaya during this sojourn. One had to give up one vegetable, one fruit, and one leaf after a visit to Ganga. They had bought Cowrie Shells in Gaya and offered it to the deity.

All of them visited the Krishna Janmasthan in Mathura. However, they were not happy to see Krishna briefly after passing through a large security ring. 

The travelogue contains details pertaining to the temples connected with Lord Buddha at Buddha Gaya/Bodh Gaya. Vatsala Shankar tells us about the interesting musical instruments used by the Buddhist monks. She states that the music endows one with a lot of calmness.

Visits to Odisha were part of Vatsala Shankar's journey. She got to see the three cars belonging to Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladev and their sister, Subhadra. One could be but reminded of the affection between siblings. People believed that a vision of Lord Jagannath was equal to performing an Ashwamedha Yaga. The travellers partook the Prasadam made in the largest kitchen of the world (Temple kitchen). They enjoyed the cool sea near Puri and were reminded of the big piece of wood that was received by King Indrajumna long ago. He had wanted to have a vision of Lord Jagannath and therefore performed 100 Ashwamedha Yagas. The Lord had appeared in form of this huge piece of wood, and it was used to carve his image.

Vatsala Shankar had written a full page appreciating the Sun Temple at Konark. They had got wet with sweat due to the sweltering heat. She stated that it would be impossible to build a temple like that. The readers would be enthralled to read her lovely description in Tamil. She stated that it appeared as though each sculpture was conversing with the visitor. The temple had resembled a chariot and was being preserved by the Government. The Sun would appear fresh in the morning, harsh at noon time and tired in the evening hours in the sculpture. They visited the Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar and moved over to Kolkata. A visit to Kalighat was part of the programme. The author stated that the tongue of Kali had been made of 5 Kilograms of gold. They visited the Ramakrishna Mutt at Belur and were happy to see the marble images of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Mother Sharadha, and Swami Vivekananda. It was here that peace engulfed them. The pilgrims had to undertake a thrilling boat ride on order to visit the Dakshina Kali Temple.

Every South Indian traveller packs Nepal into his or her trip, our friends are no exception.

They visited the Pashupathinath and the Neelakanta Narayan Temple during their visit. They were hugely impressed with the only Hindu kingdom in the world. Vatsala Shankar called Nepal, a dreamland. This dreamland had the Himalayas extending up to 2600 Kilometres as its boundary. The pilgrims enjoyed the view of the silver streaks flowing out of the mountain river, Bhagmathi. It reminded them of Bharatapuzha in Kerala, while the climate reminded them of Coonor. 

Vatsala Shankar talked about the temple at Dwaraka. It had been built on a 17-metre-high rock and was 52 metres high. The flag on the top of temple was replaced 5 times a day. She even had wondered if the lovely temple was created by the Gandharvas. The devotees took ‘Drishti’ in order to remove the bad effects of casting an eye on the Lord. The lovely Rukmini shrine was to be visited to gain complete merit. A very thought of visiting Dwaraka was supposed to wash off the sins of one's ancestors. Every step towards Dwaraka would endow one with the merit of performing an Ashwamedha Yaga. The one who saw the flag fluttering atop the Dwarakanath Temple would be rid of 5 types of sins. 

The lady had visited visited Badrinath 4 times and had described about the impressive Lord Badrinarayan Temple. They had visited Kedarnath by helicopter. The journey had taken just 7 minutes from Rampura. A flood had destroyed a lot in Kedarnath and had just spared the temple. Lakshmi Devi, Viji, and Vatsala Shankar visited the Raghunathji Temple at Devaprayag. The author stated that the deity, Lord Rama, is Purushottam. She explained about the Triyuga Narayana Temple. The fire which was lit at the time of Parvathi's wedding continues to glow there. Lord Vishnu had conducted the wedding.

They visited Kurukshetra during this trip. Vatsala Shankar narrated about the temples, the statue of Bheeshma on a bed of arrows and another chariot which contained the Gitacharya, Lord Krishna & Arjuna with Lord Hanuman on the flag.

It was evident that a non-believer will begin to believe if they visit Kurukshetra. The place had been the most ‘liked’. The huge Banyan tree at Kurukshetra was to remind everyone of the sacred, ‘Bhagavad Gita'. Lakhs of people had been visiting Kurukshetra during the time of a solar eclipse to have a holy bath. This had been happening for thousands of years.

Travel pilgrims like Vatsala Shankar have been enjoying the serenity of sacred places in Bharat since time immemorial. Her visit and positive outpourings would encourage everyone to undertake several holy pilgrimages during the time to come. She talks about the people, food & places of interest in her entertaining travel diary.

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