Soon after returning from the America, I proceeded to Thiruvanantthapuram for the Navarathry celebrations. I was excited to notice the remarkable progress of the Sri Durga temple close to the Sreekanteswaram Siva temple, as I happened to be a witness to its gloomy past. Kudos to the Kerala Brahmana Sabha which took over the temple in 1973 and the leadership of the neurosurgeon cum thanthri Dr. Sambhasivan whose pooja procedure strictly according to the thanthric style of Namboodiries, provides an ideal ambiance for worshiping.
The temple now has a two-level concrete structure,the lower one housing the bright yellow metal-wrapped sanctum sanctorum and a small auditorium and the top one, a dining hall, both adequately furnished. I was present for the poojas and music programs during the last 3 days of the festival and it was a memorable experience.
The evening concerts were so absorbing that I abandoned my original plan to attend music at the Navarathry mandapam .
Enthralled by the enchanting melody provided by Sangeetha kalanidhi sri.Sankaranarayan and his accompanists of admirable skill and admiring the benign smile of the aesthetically decorated idol of the Goddess from her glittering abode, my mind slipped down some thirty forty years through the valley of memory, while sitting unrecognized and unnoticed by any one, in a corner of the temple.
A slim, simple and humble old man, securing his constant companion, an equally aged umbrella, under his arm-pit, walks into a deserted and dilapidated house adjoining the pond behind Sreekanteswaram temple, holding a bottle of sesame oil for lighting lamps, a brass vessel with small quantities of rice and jaggery for preparing neivedyam( offering) for the small idol of goddess Durga, situated in an ill- ventilated room in the center of the house, probably once an illam or a Namboodiri residence.
On Tuesdays, he buys a few lemon fruits, bifurcate them, extract juice, add sugar and distribute to the couple of women devotees present there, after converting the left over lemon-shells into temporary lamps.The number of women devotees swell in due course and he purchases sufficient stock of lemons and sugar and I inquire how he manages to obtain funds to meet the expenditure, as I was aware of his dwindling financial status.
‘Than vishamikkanda- you don’t worry ” He assures me, pointing his hand towards the Goddess. “SHE takes care of it”
As desired by him, I recited Lalithasahasranam there one evening and apart from him there was only one person to hear my recitation, but I had somehow, the satisfaction that the one, who should hear, did hear my prayers. Since then I started liking that small temple and used to help the old man, who happened to be my Amman or father-in-law sri.Krishan iyer, during my sojourns to my wife’s place. He is one of the characters in my story, “Oh, paramasukham” and the Sreekanteswary mentioned in my song, “Arasum moodu Ganapathy mama gathy” is the presiding deity of the temple mentioned above.
I was glad that Amman’s absolute optimism that ” She will take care” has come true and wish that the Kerala Brahmansabha continues to extend its helping hand to similar other temples too, without jeopardizing its good work of helping the needy students and less fortunate men and women, as it is doing now. Aware of the unattractive strength and under-privileged status of our community the Sabha has wisely involved other communities too in the developmental activities.
Next, I went to Lucknow to celebrate Deepavali or Divali as it is known there , with my daughter-in-law who has come to her parents along with my grand children from US . A new set of dolls of Ganesh and Lakshmi is bought and Lakshmi pooja performed accompanied by dancing and singing.The North Indian folks grab any small opportunity to dance and their enthusiasm even under hostile circumstances, to sing and dance is contagious.
It is a disgrace to our spiritual awareness and aesthetic sense to keep Kasi, the Mecca of Hindus, in such a pathetic condition. No effort has been made to halt the merciless and unashamed pollution of the holy river or to improve the width of the innumerable narrow lanes, dirtied by cow dung, rice balls and waste materials dumped on the roads. The approach roads to all the temples are unclean and it is a nightmare to enter the main Baba Viswanath shrine through the crowded narrow lane, pushed by unsolicited guides, where a large contingent of armed guards await who search you from top to tow, irrespective of your age, eight or eighty and the pandas extend their arm for charity leaving the holy idol unattended .There are many foreigners, mostly interested in the Buddhist shrines around. While in US, I used to watch with awe and jealousy at the lavish bottoms of some Americans but after riding the hand-pulled rickety rikshas and experiencing the discomforts of the sloppy and slender- cushioned seats, I raised my hands up in prayer to my creator for using limited quantity of clay for my molding .
With all these deficiencies, Varanasi still has an attraction of its own for the religious Hindus. Sitting on the banks of the Ganges watching the glamorous ‘harati’ to Gangamayya performed by colorfully dressed young, good looking pundits is a feast to the eyes and the accompanying hymns pouring from the sound system enthralls your soul. You forget for a moment the muddy waters of the river while witnessing the village women boating in group singing folk songs in praise of Baba Viswanath and the Gangamayya. You spare some time to think about your forgotten ancestors, who crisscrossed the country, bare-footed, mostly with empty stomach facing inclement weather and other inimical conditions, just to have a dip in the holy waters or even to drop their mortal frame on its bank. You will realize how thin is the dividing line between life and death while gazing at the dead bodies burning above and the singing and bathing devotees below on the ghats.
Later, while strolling on the banks of the rivers after bathing in the Sangamam and Sarayu , the mind was scintillating with the brilliance of the ‘hartai’ performance by the glamorously dressed handsome pandas on the bank of the ‘dasaswametha ghat’ accompanied by the reverberating bajans and not the cow dung stained narrow streets of Varanasi nor the big-bottomed African American struggling to place his huge physical possession on the sloppy little seat of a hand- pulled riksha.
So, the trip was not bad, I presume.