We drove from Madurai to Rameswaram in the morning of March 23, 2017 and returned the same evening, through the Pampan bridge. That one day experience will ever remain with me, especially the pitrukarmas on the sea bed.
‘Iyer Mani onkalai gavanitchuparu- will take care of you,’ said the influential businessman at Rameswaram, introduced by my friend Taliparambha Ganesh.
Iyer Máni is Mani Vadhyar. When I met him and also when I left him, he appeared to be a confused man, but once on his job, he was the man for the job!
Soon after I reached his house, I explained what I would like to do and wanted to know his demand. He didn’t commit. When I insisted, he said, ‘onnum vendAm, enakku ellAm irukku- I need nothing, I have enough’ . He lifted and rotated his hand and showed the house, as a proof of his prosperity. Later I knew it was not his house, but his brother’s who is no more!
‘Not this man for my job,’ I thought but he won’t leave me as he had clear instructions from Taliparambha Ganesh’s friend ‘to take care of me- avar periyavaru. avarai gavanitchukkunko’
‘Follow me’. He asked us and declared, ‘Onkaluuku onnum theriyAthu- you know nothing ( about the proceeding and practices here)’
He kick -started his two wheeler and we drove behind him. No other way!
And it was a sight to watch, the Vadhyar, wearing a helmet, his uthareeyam flying in air, driving in top speed, with no other vehicle in sight in the long road to Dhanushkodi.
Dhanushkodi is 20. Km away from Rameswaram, devastated by the 1964 cyclone which decimated all structures and took away the life of nearly ten thousand people. With absolute impartiality, Nature had converted to debris a church, a temple, railway station , fishermen’s huts and every other standing structure on her path. It is difficult to believe, going by what you see now, that there existed once a small township with men, women and children, busily engaged in their activities, enjoying the sea breeze and viewing the amazing sunrise and sunset. In fact, there is nothing to see there now, but the very sight itself with scattered remains of structures and the mighty sea behind, is worth visiting.
Vadhyar stopped his vehicle at a point beyond which a new road has been recently constructed to reach the end point of the land, but that is yet to be officially inaugurated. A big bamboo barricade managed by a few police men stops the entry. One has to hire a jeep or a mini truck and drive through the beach, virtually through the sand, prepared to push the vehicle and even to get stranded if the vehicle doesn’t move through the watery, sandy path. That was how people interested in seeing the end of the land, were going earlier and are going even now, unless they are VIPs whom the police salute and allow entry!
We were watching, seated in our car, Mani Vadhyar arguing with the cops, calling someone and handing over the phone to the cops. Ten minutes waiting.
Alas, goes up the bamboo barricade, the cops didn’t salute us but allowed our vehicle to pass through. That was exactly what we wanted and not their salutes.
Elaborate rituals to satisfy the souls of the dead are performed by many but my desire and capacity was to have a simple tilatharpanan , offering sesame water on the sacred sea bed. It is not possible for me now to go to Allahabad, Kashi, Gaya etc and come back to Rameswaram again for a second round of rituals after completing the prescribed rituals on the bank of the Ganges. I had earlier, under better health and circumstances, performed shradhams in the Ganges several times and once, along with my wife at Gaya, Brahmakapalam etc earlier and now my desire was Just to remember with respect the predecessors and pray for the reunion of their souls with the Ultimate. My father believed in that, though he had no opportunity to go to Rameswaram. I am not sure whether my children will be going.
Mani Vadhyar spread the materials he had brought with him, on the sand and asked me to take bath in the sea.
‘If you can’t do it, sprinkle water on your head and come’, he said. Even my sisters were hesitant about my fitness for a sea bath but once I was in the waters, I forgot my age and disability and dipped my head and body several times and returned completely fresh in body and mind and performed the rituals, seated under the scorching sun , with no head cover, unlike the Vadhyar of half my age. He had brought with him sufficient cooked rice for offering pindams and asked me again and again to recollect the names and gothrams of several relatives and I could therefore offer food with unalloyed sincerity to several souls, including my three brothers in law, my father in law and mother in law whom I wanted to visit during her last days but could not, my elder brother who died when he was just one year old, my beloved sister Raji who died young, her son Rajesh who died much younger and I performed his last rites at Chicago last year, my two siblings who died a few minutes or days after entering this world, my own uncle and aunt and many more. It was not an elaborate shradham but the mental Peace and satisfaction it gave me will last ever. Vadhyar again and again asked for the names of the second wives of elders and I said ‘no’ , as to my knowledge they were as honest as I’m , though Iyer Mani didn’t appear to believe me!
‘Aarukkavathu erukkaname- some would have certainly had a second wife’, he doubted . I’m not surprised. In my family, women used to outlive their husbands. The only exception was my wife.
We went inside the great temple without the help of Vadhyar but had no problem. My brother in law Patchu helped me to pass from one theertham to the next, treading through the wet floor, without slipping and falling. We had wonderful darsanam too.
In total, my Rameswaram trip was a ‘janmasAbhalyam’. I’m unlikely to make another trip, but no worries.
While coming out of the temple after worship, preceded by the rites on the sea bed and bath from the water poured on head from the 22 sacred wells, my sister’s remarked with absolute happiness and satisfaction : ‘Anna, you did it!’.
I pointed my hand to the sanctum and bowed and said, ‘He did it’
Yes, he did it. Last year, this time, when I was struggling with the side effects of radiation and harmon treatments, I never expected that I would be able to come back to India and undergo the strain of such a long pilgrimage, but He made it.
I’m remade now, yes, I’m