Rameswaram – The Journey

The East Tower Entrance of the Ramnathswamy Temple

Rameswaram (joining of two words in Sanskrit – Ramah and Ishwaram – meaning the God of Rama), is a temple town at the Southernmost tip of Indian Peninsula on the Pamban Island. It’s significance is from the Hindu epic Ramayana (Story of Rama) – Rama had launched his army to Lanka from here to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. Why the name Rameswaram? Rama installed a Shivalinga here and worshipped Lord Shiva here. There are two stories about whether it was before the war to get Shiva’s blessings or after the war to get rid of the “paap” of killing Ravana who was the son of a Brahmin (killing a Brahmin is considered a big sin in Hinduism). I won’t be able to explain the complicated philosophies of “paap”, “punya”, “mukti” etc here. Whatever the story, today it is one of the four holy places that the devout Hindus want to visit in their lifetimes. The other three are – Badrinath in the North, Jagannathpuri in the East and Dwarika in the West. Interestingly, all four are associated with Lord Vishnu or his incarnations – Rama and Krishna. In the other three, the main deity of worship is Vishnu while at Rameswaram, the main deity is Shiva. The temple is therefore, accordingly called “Ramanathswamy” temple – the temple of the Lord of Lord Rama!

It is a very big temple compound today and hosts millions of pilgrims from all over India every year. The carvings are so beautiful and must have taken a long time to build. I wasn’t sure if photography was allowed inside or not – it is usually not allowed inside temples – so I refrained from it. Expand the pics to see the details on the entrances.

The people of all ages can be seen here – some chanting loudly the name of Shiva, some silently, some trying to find their way, some following the crowd, some admiring the architecture, some just trying to understand what’s going on. One of the interesting things for me was to see the brisk business that priests did to perform some special poojas for the pilgrims, which is a common site at all the big temples – irrespective of location. Please do not think of this as a judgmental statement if it appears to be that. It’s just another way of earning a living.

Another thing here which caught my attention was that the floor of the whole temple was wet. I got to know the reason later – when I visited it the second time in the morning – there are 22 places (kund / teertham) where the devout take a bath. The first teertham – Agneeteertham – is at the sea outside and the rest of them are either wells or ponds inside the temple.

In the sea, you can take a dip yourself and then walk to the temple. A man or two at each pond/well then pull out water in a bucket from those teerthams and drench the already soaked devotees. A purification ritual I believe, before meeting the God. So that explained the wet floors – dripping devotees walking from one teertham to the next.

The idols of the deities in the temple are beautiful – mostly of black stone which is what is used in the South in contrast to white stone, usually marble, used in the North. The whole ceiling is also adorned with beautiful colorful floral paintings – somehow reminded me of mandalas. There were also some areas with statues which were colorful but those looked a bit in disrepair.

Once done with the darshan and special pooja (Rudrabhishekam), we checked out from the hotel and went ahead to look at some other beautiful sites of Rameswaram. First stop was the Ramarpatham temple. There were stories from a part of Ramayana hanging around the temple. The location is believed to have the footprints of Rama. We had some refreshing tender coconut there which felt great in the summer heat (well technically it was not summer yet but the Sun didn’t care about those technicalities). There was a Shivalinga at the sea there and the devotees were paying their obeisances there.

The pilgrims

Shivalinga near Ramarpatham Temple

We then proceeded towards Dhanushkodi – which used to be a village but got destroyed in a Tsunami in 1964. At the end of the village, is the end of Indian border. The fantastic thing is to see the mixing of oceans there (of course, it’s difficult to make out the difference but the notion of it being the place where Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal would be mixing up makes it special for you :-)).

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Can you make out the colors of two oceans?

Then since it was getting hotter every minute, we decided to return. It would be a three and a half hour journey to Madurai in that heat when even the air-conditioner of the car would not have any effect.

On the way back, we also saw a temple of Hanuman – the Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple where apart from a huge statue of Hanuman with five faces, there were a few stones considered to be part of the Ramasetu – the bridge constructed by Rama’s army on the sea to reach Lanka. The stones were porous and could therefore explain why they floated instead of sinking in the sea when the bridge was to be constructed. (Satellite images today do show a stone structure like a bridge sunk now under water, connecting India with Srilanka from Dhanushkodi).

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A part of the Pamban Rail Bridge connecting the mainland to the Pamban Island where Rameswaram is located

Then we kept driving back until we reached the comfort of our hotel in Madurai, briefly stopping for lunch in between. We were exhausted but felt good after having seen what we had come this far to see.

How and when to go to Rameswaram:

There are flight connections via Bangalore/Chennai to a temple town called Madurai. From there, one can go either by road or by train. There are three trains that ply between Rameswaram and Madurai. There are also buses that can be taken from Madurai. We took a taxi. The road is good. Best time would be to go in winter. It was already very hot in the beginning of March when we were there.

Where to stay:

There are lots of hotels of all price ranges and several lodges around the temple. Some of the hotels can be booked online but you can also find accommodation directly when you arrive there. Of course, online booking makes things easier. We took the TTDC (Tamil Nadu tourism department) hotel which was booked in advance via their website. It is not a luxury hotel but is very good and conveniently located. The food (all vegetarian) was quite good too.

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Time…where are you flying to?

Time is a very skilled juggler. It can make something reach a pinnacle and then ravage it as if there never was anything…and we humans think we can be immortal or make something that will remain forever even if we are gone. But Time doesn’t agree to it. It flies and takes away everything that was and will also take what will be…yet..nobody knows why and where!

Here’s a picture from a temple in India, constructed centuries ago..the corroded statues telling the story of impermanence of everything…
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For more interpretations of time, do visit the Daily Post’s photo challenge Time.

Colours

It’s very co-incidental that I just now came across the DP photo challenge today and found the theme for this week to be “Vibrant” and had the thought about vibrancy earlier during the day when the sun suddenly peeked out from the clouds and made everything look very vibrant. Here’s the view which I immediately captured because I was afraid that the gloomy clouds would come back again (which did happen). So here’s what I saw.

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View from the office window

The second image is from November last year, when I had made these diyas for Diwali. I can’t believe it was just 3 months ago..feels like it was a lifetime back. More details about that here.

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The color of hard work

 

And the next one is a very vibrant sunset from early January, when I was at Dwarka which is situated on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

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Hope these pictures will lift up the spirit of everyone suffering from the winter gloom and give the hope that spring is not far behind!

Ranganthittu – Revisited

I had visited the Ranganthittu Bird sanctuary for the first time in April 2012. You can find my memories of that trip here First Visit. The lake is actually created by the water released by the Krishnaraj Sagara Dam and has some small islands on it which makes it a suitable place for the migratory birds to come and nest. So somewhere in 1940, the famous ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali, persuaded the Maharaja of Mysore (king) to declare this as a bird sanctuary (“pakshi kashi” in the local language Kannada).

Coming back to the present. In July this year, I got the chance to visit the place once again. One of my colleagues and friend, J wanted to visit the place to make some photo shoots. He asked if I would join and since I was free that Sunday, I went along.

It was a beautiful day – not too hot and though there were some clouds, there was no forecast for rains. On the way we stopped for some breakfast near Maddur and then reached the bird sanctuary at around 9:30 AM.

Once inside, we walked around a bit and found a viewing area called the King’s seat or something like that.I learnt a trick used by J but sadly, didn’t employ it there. He takes photos of the information boards so that he doesn’t have to strain his brain later about what he saw, like what I am having to do now! Noted – for the next time. We took some nice photos from there, rested our feet and enjoyed the cool shade of trees. Then we started for the second part – i.e. to enter the lake.
We rented a full boat for the two of us. There are two options – take one whole boat for yourself, at a higher price of course, or take the one which is shared with several people. J wanted to take the full boat as the boatman then takes you even inside the canopies of trees to locate the birds which are hiding, which is not possible with the bigger boat with many people.

It was nice when we started but gradually the sun’s heat began to prickle the skin. So it used to feel really nice when a small cloud would cover the sun for a bit or when the boatman would take the boat inside a canopy of trees.
The last time I went, it was nesting season for the birds. The eggs had hatched and the place was full of cacophony, for the young ones do make a lot of noise. The birds were seen sitting mostly in the trees. This time, it was relatively peaceful as most of the birds who migrate, had left with their next generation. Some like the Painted Stork, Cormorant, Darters, Egrets etc. were still there who were teaching their little ones to fly – for migratory flight needs a lot of endurance. There is also a set of bats who have made their homes on the tall bamboo bushes (or trees?).

Painted Stork with its children

Painted Stork with its children

Birds on trees

Birds on trees

Bats

Bats hanging from bamboo branches

One of the interesting things for me was to see the nests of swallows under the boulders and the nests of weaver birds hanging from the trees. The birds have long since flown out but the ruins tell the story of a once thriving colony, as an archaeologist would say :-).

Swallow Nest

Swallows’ nests

Weaver Bird Nest

Weaver birds’ nests hanging like garden ornaments

You can always count on finding at least one crocodile in the water or one resting on the rocks there. I am glad it was far from me (last time it was near the boat!).

The Diving Crocodile

The Diving Crocodile

Once we had our fill of watching the birds and taking the photos, we decided to return and came back to land.

Walked around a bit and reached a garden. It had lots of trees but the funny thing was that the name boards were for the common trees (like guavas) while the uncommon ones were left without any details!

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Unknown tree with interesting flowers (or fruits?)

One new thing that I hadn’t seen (or noticed) before that day was ants making their nest on a tree. They secrete  something (probably saliva) which then hardens to make a thin white cottony structure, which joins the leaves.

Ants making their nest on the plant

Ants making their nest on the plant

After taking a round, we came out and proceeded to our next destination – Somanathpura temple. The details of that will come soon. It was a really great visit and I think, I would make another trip in another month – may be when the migratory birds start to arrive again.

The Bazaar

For an Indian, there is no way that he/she wouldn’t ever have gone through a bazaar. One will find one or more in all the cities and villages. It’s actually a Persian word meaning a marketplace. So probably in all the countries where the Persians went for trade or for invasions, they brought this entity called the bazaar into existence. Now I don’t know how the bazaars are in other places but in India, they are like a giant living organism! You really need to go to one to feel the hustle-bustle and the vibrancy of the bazaar!

And the funny thing is – the old bazaars in all the cities – be it Bangalore or be it Lucknow, are so alike that if you could read/speak all the Indian languages, you wouldn’t feel any different being here or there!
               In Bangalore, one such bazaar is on “Avenue Road” – the criss-cross of lanes beside which teem with anything and everything that one might want to buy in India! Many of them are wholesale shops, so people go there when they want to make bulk purchases but these shops sell retail also and at a lower price than the purely retail shops. In Lucknow, the counterpart is “Aminabad”, in Delhi it’s “Chaandani Chowk” and I think in Hyderabad, it might be Chaarminar bazaar.
             Why am I writing about this? Because I am just awed by these bazaars! They are filthy, with narrow lanes, cows roaming about along with the people, dirty water running on the street with a maze of electric wires visible if you glance up and really old discolored buildings. And then you would see an occasional swanky car trying to navigate through the street, beside hand-carts, horse-carts and bullock-carts! In Lucknow & Delhi, you will also see cycle-rikshaws. Lots of small-shop owners who come there for making purchases for their shops, can be seen on their two-wheelers (moped, motorcycle, scooter), with things loaded all around them! The lanes of course also have temples, with people nodding their heads in the direction of the temples when they pass by. It’s really an interesting way of worship – your head has to be bowed by looking in the direction of the temple by the side, while also being careful to not bump into the next person, and into another vehicle if you are driving! And you also need to be careful about pickpockets! All this can happen only in India.
            Despite all the discomfort, if what I have explained above repulses you, you will still go there because you know you can find anything and everything that you are looking for, if it is traded in! Students come for books, housewives come for bargains in dress-materials/sarees and grocery, artists and craftspeople come for supplies, people wanting to buy jewellery – precious ones as well as imitation, hardware, technology stuff – you name it and you’ll get it! The shops are small, the inventories huge and even with no electronic management of their inventory they know exactly what they have and what needs to be ordered – they don’t need to even leave their counter to go check that! It all works as precisely and as efficiently as let’s say – the human body and that’s the reason I feel like I am inside a living organism when I am in a bazaar! The noises of vehicles, hawkers selling their goods, buyers bargaining with the sellers, temple bells. bizarre ringtones of mobile phones, along with the smells of street-food, drains, cows, flowers, fruits – they all are inseparable part of the bazaar!
              It’s an overwhelming experience and definitely not for the faint hearted! When you return home in the evening after having spent a whole day there exploring stuff, buying things which you need and also which you don’t need, you feel a sense of accomplishment, with the pockets/purses empty of cash and several bags full of things for which you again need to find a place in your already overflowing cupboards! Here’s my toast to the Great Indian Bazaar!
And here’s a picture of a horse-cart parked in a no-parking zone 🙂 in the bazaar :
P.S. Hopefully one day I will also explore such a bazaar in some other country too! Let’s see :-).

Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary – Mysore

Looks like this year is going to be the year of fulfillment of many of my wishes. Like this Saturday, I finally managed to go to where I wanted to go since the last three years – the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary – a place close to Srirangapatnam on the way from Bangalore to Mysore. Now, how it materialized could be taken as another proof of the philosophy that when things have to happen, the catalyst will appear. But that’s not important. What’s important is that I was there – and thank goodness I didn’t believe the nonsense websites which had different opinions on the best times to visit the place. The boatman said that January to July is the right time to visit the sanctuary as the birds come here in around January and April-May is the breeding season. By July, they will start back to where they came from with their young ones. 
                    It was a beautiful day. There had been lot of rain there the night before. So the soil was wet, and some weak trees had fallen but the morning looked calm. So after walking a bit, we hopped onto the boat with several other tourists and the boatman started rowing. 
The first interesting sight he showed us were the bats hanging from the trees – I’d never seen them in open and in daylight and so many of them!! One interesting thing to note was that these trees were not the typical huge deciduous trees but clusters of bamboo trees (or plants?). I wonder what happens there at night when these bats wake up while it’s time for other birds to go to sleep.
Next on the route were the groups of Open Beak Storks (yes the legendary Stork who brings the baby). (In the picture above, there is also an Egret) and I don’t know if that was the time of the day when everyone starts cleaning their bodies or it was just a coincidence that I caught all three of them doing this. There were so many of them and the all of them seemed to be talking about something. It felt like being in a “bazaar” where the sellers are busy hawking their goods and buyers are busy haggling for the best prices. The birds were in their nests – as the boatman told us that this is the breeding season. 

Next came another species of Storks – the Painted Stork – see the pink color near the tail?  So it was nicely perched on the Mango tree probably watching us pass by and looking as old people sit in the market square and watch the crowds passing by. It was one of those “a penny for your thoughts” moment (or rather “a fish/worm for your thoughts” could have broken the silence?)

Then came the time to see the pelicans. They were also busy doing some antics with their necks. It would have been a great scene if they were diving into the water and getting the fish into their neck pouch! But probably we’d met them past their breakfast time and too early to start the lunch preparations! Some other time then…      
I am so glad for my camera that it captured long shots so well – even though it’s not one of those SLRs.

                                                                            Oh and how could I forget the crocodiles lazing around on the stone and one of them visible in the water but diving back inside when we were too close.This was the closest I have been to a croc – hardly at a distance of 1 meter! I guess the crocs also had their breakfast before we arrived – or else…
Then there were Egrets – which also visit my office campus sometime from January to March. This year, I got to see them strolling even in April!
See an Egret close to the crocodile in the picture?
Then there was one more bird species called the Carmorant – black in color – look closely in this picture and you’ll see it perched on top of the tree. We also saw another species called the Cattle Egret which was white like the common Egret but  had some golden fluff around the neck.
You could feel the buzz of life in the air. So far in my life, I had seen one or two nests in a tree – and been excited about that, but here, I got to see so many of them on every single tree! Says something about the purpose of existence – reproduction – isn’t it? Alright, making the earth vibrant is also an activity but that’s a side-effect and not the primary thing. It’s the propagation of life which is the basic purpose. Before I get into more philosophy, I’d stop. Go for a visit yourself – it’s worth a trip, And I forgot to mention – it smells too because of the by-products generated by “life” – so if you have a sensitive nose, carry a handkerchief!
Go early – it’s open by 8:00 AM, there is an entrance fee for the sanctuary and a separate fee for the boat-ride. You can also have a boat to yourself for a higher charge. 

Makar Sankranti

This year looks interesting. Since my childhood (and may be my parent’s childhood too), the festival of Makar Sankranti, which marks the transition of Sun into the zodiac of Capricorn, has been falling on the 14th of January. But from this year, it will be on the 15th of January. So I have seen at least one effect of the tilt of earth in my lifetime!
The festival is a harvest festival, like many others in India, because of it being a primarily agrarian society.
There’s a tradition of donating grains on this day. A typical offering looks like above – rice, lentils, jaggery, sesame and some money. People have different interpretations for it but I feel the significance is of sharing one’s good fortune (harvest) with the less privileged. In fact in one of the cities where I have stayed as a child, there was a temple and people used to donate so much grain that the temple used to overflow with it and you couldn’t really walk into the temple without stepping on some of it!
It’s interesting that the festival is celebrated with equal gusto in almost all parts of India, since old times. I sometimes really wonder how these traditions spread from one part of the country to another, when travelling was not an easy option and very few people, mostly traders, traveled. May be someone has researched on this topic and someday I’ll be able to read about that.
Since having fun is also an essential part of the festivities, so on Makar Sankranti, people have fun by flying kites! In many parts of India, you can see the sky dotted with colorful kites on this day. There are also fetes (“mela”) held in many places with vendors selling handicrafts and food items. Besides all this, the day also marks the beginning of auspicious time for people to do something of importance. I guess that could be because the winter is supposed to start receding from this day.
Let’s see what other new things happen this year. For now, I will enjoy my “khichdi” and “til-gud” like the rest of my country-people!

A Garden in the "Garden City"

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been living in Bangalore but strangely, I never had a chance to go and see the Cubbon park. So one weekend when I got the chance to go there with some of my colleagues for an event, I made full use of the opportunity to explore a bit of this landmark of Bangalore.
                Now Cubbon Park is an interesting park – it is both a park as well as a thoroughfare! And many may not know, that it’s official name is Chamarajendra Park ! It is at the central location of Bangalore surrounded by many old and new landmark buildings such as the Vidhan Soudha, the high court, UB City Mall to name a few.
The park itself also houses a lot of buildings – like the Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall, KGS club etc.
                          I went inside the red colored building which I’d seen many times while passing from inside Cubbon park – that’s the Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall – now the Central Library. It’s huge with so many sections that I estimate it would take two days to just skim through each section! The books looked quite old and I wondered how many people would have read them in the last 90 – 100 years!
It was quite pleasant to walk inside the park and explore the stalls  – the bhelpuri, the roast corn, the fruit chaat & the tea stall (that was outside the park) :-). There was enough time in between the event to be able to walk to UB city and come back! I’m sure that the park would look even lovelier in the spring season when all the trees would be in full bloom.May be I’d go in spring too. But for the moment, I’m glad that I got to explore it, which might not have happened if there was no other reason to go to the park! Until next..keeping the eyes open for other chances to explore..

"Sunny Days" of 2010

It rained so hard on the eve of the new year (in Bangalore) and the new year itself came out so bright and sunny. But that’s not the point here. What I am thinking about is not the sun but that
how time flies like an arrow (and, oh, by the way fruit flies like a banana)..
It’s already 22:30 hrs of the third day of the new year. Days pass so quickly that by the time you say “Weekend”, it’s already over! How does that happen?
Anyway, I tried to fill the “unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run” (as Kipling said).
So let me share my journal with you:
1) Watched a movie on the 1st of Jan (as is the ritual since the last couple of years)
(No suspense here. I watched a bollywood movie – 3 Idiots – quite alright – good that the script was only inspired by the book and not copied from it, else it would have become quite unbearable)
2) Went to that cafe which I had been eyeing since quite a long time
3) Invested in some retail therapy (a.k.a. shopping)
4) Watched another movie as the mind needed some diversion from something.
(Hollywood movie – Australia – I liked it).
5) Got a haircut – not quite to my satisfaction – but now will have to manage with it until the hair grow back. (I always feel myself to be at the mercy of someone wielding a pair of scissors.It’s so scary whenever I go for a haircut!)
…………..
…………..
That was the gist of the first three days.
Let’s see what does tomorrow have in store for me – it’s the day when I start working for a new team, to which I am assigned for the first half of this year.
Keeping my fingers crossed. Until next – take care and have fun :-).