It was not just the ride but sheer change across the board that was more than a pleasant surprise for me. From Delhi to Bhuntar is a shift of realms so to speak; and this realization struck me as a reality at the chai shop in Bhunter shortly after I alighted from the bus.
As the old man with the typical wrinkles of Himachali mountain folk was telling me how to get to Kasol in his voice – the most calm and centered voice I had heard in a while – I was subconsciously comparing my surroundings to a chai shop at the New Delhi ISBT.
And they were not of the same world at all. Bhuntar was still a town, but it was quiet in the morning, cold in weather and warm in the heart. This bus stand has seen many travelers go by for many bygone eras. My presence here in April is just another speck in the sands of time but nevertheless it was important for the speck to be here.
From here, another local bus took us to Kasol. My first impression here was that of a touristy little town, with resorts on the outskirts and little cafes (like Free Tibet) with exceptional vegan grub on the inside. It’s pretty tiny, but a vast vast Himalayan landscape branches out from here, waiting to be explored.
Unknowingly we sat around thinking about places that we can visit and bring together an experience that shall be fitting to “UnCrushed Leaves”; we came across through some travelogues about a silent town hidden in mountains. In the picturesque terrain of Himachal, the northern state of India, lies a little hamlet – Kasol.
As the bus jumps along the breaking road, it jolts me awake and I look out. The valley has turned narrower. The river is more petite and more excited. The trees are getting taller and deeper green. The sights of Parvati (valley) have lifted the tiredness of the overnight bus from Delhi and everyone’s wide awake. For once, I’m glad to be up in the morning.
There’s a mist clinging on to the folds of the Parvati (river) as if trying to veil her beauty.
But I can hear her sing.
The joy in that gushing voice belies obscurity. The path draws closer to the waters; the sunbeams shoot through the clouds, part the veil and lay their golden fingers upon her. I witness this mesmerized, musing at this communion of water and fire, in such peace, in such allure. Or maybe I’m in a sleep deprived delirium!
Onwards we go! The yellow interiors of our lovingly named ‘Hadimba Coach’ (local bus) are joyously colorful, as are the people occupying its seats. Us the out-of-towners with our backpacks and city airs, the somber migrant workers who man the guesthouses and kitchens wrapped in woolens, the jovial elderly on their daily socialization ride, the office-working/teaching women ready to share an early morning smile. Looking out of the window of our bus, we are spell bound.
The morning was crisp, we woke up with the brightness of the Sun on horizon of Srirangam. A peep out of our modest hotel room was refreshing, the town which looked sleepy by late evening was already ripe with hustling on the street.
The first thing, that one cannot miss is to witness early morning ritual of people going to the temple. We inferred that is prime motivation for habit of early rising and of course it also helped to avoid the afternoon Sun in this region. Well, the heat in the afternoon is too strong which makes the entire town take a longish siesta from 12 noon to 4pm evening.
The town is small with neatly carved out streets and tightly lined houses. Well, houses are mostly white in color and with the sun rising, the entire town has a shimmer around it.
The houses have well decorated entrances and windows which over the white layout make it fascinating treat to eyes.
We went out on the Uthra street eager to get our cuppa of freshly brewed coffee. A small shop on the street offered us with sumptuous aroma followed by the indulgence. The local coffee is one of the better ones available in the region. One cannot miss the brass filters that the shops use for filtering the coffee. It has a role to play in providing the brew its distinct flavor.
Our trip to the temple was mesmerizing with grand sculptures, raised domes and huge sanctions inside the temples. It takes a while for one to go through these and admire the beauty these structures inherit. Best part is sanctorum of the temples are much cooler even in the afternoon Sun and makes the afternoons easy for the locals.
Looking for an early lunch we ended up having the ubiquitous idli, sambar and dosa combination. We always feel the sambar in regions in south vary and this one also had its spicy variation added to it. This was followed by the sumptuous treat of tender coconut water. This is the most healthy food one can have here and for days together.
By evening the life in the town, we feel get geared towards the daily procession in the temple. Here the priests carry out the deity around the temple. Locals and visitors queue up to see it and then go home for a peaceful sleep.
Must admit the life is pretty simple in this town with chores of most of the people built around temples and rituals. This aspect of their lives, we think, builds great humility in people. By the end of the this trip we realized that life is pretty simple and happiness is very easy to find. We leave you with a collage of images of Srirangam, as itched in our memory.
History is an integral part of this town, no matter how much we resist, we need to talk some more of it. More so, we have complied it by hearing it from the people who praise this city and preserve its culture. So here we go, admiring the work of men.
Incidentally, Sri Rangam is the only place which all, the 12 Vaishanava saints, (a.k.a Arzhvars in Tamil) have praised in their hymns. These hymns are popularly known as the 4000 Divya Prabandha.
In one of the works of Andal, a Saint, she records her dream of marrying Sri Ranganath of Sri Rangam in a form of poem called Vaaranam Ayiram. Later she claims in her work that this dream became reality and she married Sri Ranganatha and became one with the lord. Interestingly, the wedding rituals of Sri Vaishnavas are based on this format and practiced even to this day.
Heard on the Street:
The story of the temple as per some of the above mentioned records goes like this: The very idol of Sri Ranganatha at Srirangam was handed down to Rama from his ancestors, who worshiped this form. This was gifted by Rama to Vibhishana, brother of Ravana. Then Sri Ranganatha chose to remain at Sri Rangam and face southwards, where Vibhishana could pay his daily salutations from far south Sri Lanka.
Around 10 century A.C.E:
At a later point in history, around 10th A.C.E this place was even more enriched by Sri Ramanujacharya, who proposed the Vishishtadvaitha School of Vedantha Philosophy. He made Srirangam as the head quarters for the school. He developed and implemented integrated systems for protecting the Vedic/Tamil literature, carving spiritual paths through self empowerment, by creating employment,
businesses, learning, teaching, debating, composing opportunities etc.; everything being Sri Ranganatha centric.
Sri Ramanujacharya lived at Sri Rangam initially for brief period before going to Melkote in Karnataka. Then after 12 years he returned back to SriRangam and lived for 60 years until he attained samadhi. One can find the Idol of Sri Ramanujacharya inside this temple, which is believed to be the self manifestation from his samadhi state.
Trivia Srirangam is refered to as ‘Kovil’ meaning ‘The Temple’ within the community for its uniqueness. As a testimonial to this one could see the businesses, residential quarters do exist inside the temple even to this day.
One could see living tradition being transferred generations after generations since the time of Sri Ramanujacharya to this day. Some of the literary accounts claim that during the life time of Sri Ramanujacharya, when he use to go on the walk, 800 spiritual aspirants would follow him wherever he went and gave discourses on philosophy.
Another interesting place inside the temple is the mandapam where Kamba Ramayanam, a Tamil Ramayanam composed based on Valmiki Ramayana was presented. As a sign of approval for the scholarly work of the poet Kamban, Lord Ugra Narasimha appears as though laughing and enjoying the literature instead of his usual posture of being angry while killing HiranyaKashipu.
At this juncture we would like to thank Mr. Arun Koushik, who shared his understanding of history of the place. When we meet in the next post we shall share about life at Srirangam & more…….
We have embarked on the Journey of “UnCrushed Leaves“. In this endeavor of ours we tend to bring to our patrons a glimpse of unseen parts of India. Places which mesmerize and journey that’s fulfilling. Our first destination is a small town nestled in the lap of river Kaveri, in south of India (Tamil Nadu)
Srirangam – Where Time, Tradition and Tranquility come together
Srirangam – Location: River Kaveri, one of the seven important rivers in India, takes origin at Talakaveri in Karnataka and flows through the midland of Tamil Nadu to reach Bay of Bengal at Poombukar. Enroute, it flows around three important islands which can never escape from the attention of someone who is on a quest, may be religious, spiritual, architectural, historical or simply a traveller.
Srirangam – The Timeless History:
All these three islands formed by the river Kaveri have an interesting theme in common – they host a temple for Sri Ranganatha, one of the forms of Vishnu, where Vishnu rests on the bed of the “Anantha Shesha” the Serpent.
– The first one is at Srirangapattana (a.k.a Adi-Ranga),
– Second at Shivanasamudra (a.k.a Madhya-Ranga) and
– Third one at Srirangam (a.k.a Anthya-Ranga).
Unphased by Time, still full of Colors
Among the three, Srirangam holds a special place. It is an important center for the Sri Vaishnava School of Vishishadwaitha Vedantha. Historical records of India were documented in an integrated form such as poetic references, songs of folklore, literary references, stone inscriptions etc.
In relatively recent times, this temple has been renovated time and again by every dynasty that ruled South India. Tamil literature has a large number of accounts that have praised the glories of this Temple.
One of the distinctions being that the temple architecture is a replica of Vaikunta, the eternal abode of Vishnu.
The journey of Srirangam shall continue with “UnCrushed Leaves”……
Let us admit, at the onset, that we are overwhelmed writing this post. We started writing this blog few months back with the idea of bringing out our collective thoughts on democracy. As for any new initiative we only had ourselves to rely on and egg on ourselves. Once we started the blog, we found tremendous support and encouragement from the blogger community worldwide. This added to our strength and we found we are not alone in the pursuit.
Must admit the world of bloggers is a parallel intellectual universe, that has the potential to define the way people think. Every time you dip into it you gain more and are kindled to think better. Hats off to the community. Thank you.
Carrying on, once we start covering India and it’s democracy, we got few suggestions from the blogger community that we should cover various places in India as well. The idea being to explore the untouched parts of India which are also not part of the avid travelers itinerary. Must admit it is a tall ask, but knowing well the support from blogger community we have embarked on this journey as well. Together we shall make it happen. We are fortunate to have few people, who share this dream and are now part of ‘dod’ family.
Today would like to introduce “UnCrushed Leaves” to all of you.
UnCrushed Leaves “untold journey”
Sights and sounds, stories and dreams,
the culture of people, the secrets of streets.
Show me the irony and tell me the tales,
how this place has grown and how it made you change.
“UnCrushed Leaves” is an endeavor of few who, by their nature of being, have adapted themselves to their surroundings. They are not the wanderers but seekers, who soak in the places they visit. They pull out experiences, which more often than not, are redeeming. “UnCrushed Leaves” is an attempt to get one closer to such experiences.