Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Lord's abode... 106 plus

Visiting Divya Desams is a dream which many Vaishnavites who worship any form of Lord Vishnu nurture.

I was free, having retired at 65, and so my wife expressed a desire to visit the 106 of 108 Divya Desams, also known as 108 Tirupathis — temples for Narayana (Vishnu) located across the length and breadth of the country (and Nepal as well). Narayana or Vishnu is worshipped in different forms in these temples, but the significant feature is that there are special devotional songs composed by at least one of the 12 Alwars, the Vaishnavite saints, on the specific deity and his consort, located in every one of these 106 temples.

The break-up of the locations of these temples is: Tamil Nadu-82, Kerala-13, Andhra Pradesh-2, Gujarat-1, Uttarakhand-3, Uttar Pradesh-4 and Nepal-1.

Among the very famous temples in this list are: Ranganatha temple at Srirangam, the Balaji temple at Tirumala, the Anantha Padmanabha temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the Parthasarathy temple in Chennai, Badrinath (one of the Char-dhams) in Uttarakhand & Muktinath in Nepal, the last two located in the Himalayas.

Out of the 82 temples in Tamil Nadu, 36 are in and around Kumbakonam and 22 in Kancheepuram. While we could cover the 22 temples in Kancheepuram in one day, we visited the 36 temples around Kumbakonam in three days riding a taxi whose driver not only knew their specific locations and timings but also the mobile numbers of every priest.

Compared to the huge crowd that many of the famous temples mentioned earlier attracts, most of the other temples, some of them over 2,000 years old, attract hardly any visitor. Many of them are in a dilapidated condition. Visiting some of these temples involves hazardous journeys and some test your endurance limits!

Visiting the nine temples at Ahobhilam in Andhra Pradesh is an endurance test. You have to walk 6 km through Naxal and wild animal-infested dense forests on a mountain to reach one of the temples for Narasimha (Pavana Narasimha); and another involves walking on pebbles and stones for more than an hour and crossing a mountain stream (which could pose a danger during rainy seasons) and then climbing 400 steps on a mountain to reach Jwala Narasimha. A real adventure indeed!

Travelling to Muktinath located at 13,500 feet in the Himalayas is an experience by itself. The journey can be undertaken by both road and air up to Pokhra, which is the second largest town in Nepal. From Pokhra to Jomsom everyone has to take a 20-minute ride on 22-seater, propeller-driven twin-engine Dornier aircraft, which operate like mofussil buses! They look like flying contraptions which can come apart anytime. Everyone gets into these jalopies, climbing one at a time on a portable short steel ladder which is held in position by the sole airhostess! No security checks, no queues!

As soon as the passengers deplane, the waiting passengers rush to get in. And you are airborne in no time and ready to land even before you have had the opportunity to savour the spectacular view of the Himalayas which you pass through with fear in your mind and prayer in your hearts.

From Jomsom it is a 45-minute, bone-rattling ride in a local jeep to Rani Powa at the foot of the mountain, on top of which the temple is located. Till two years ago, helicopters used to fly devotees right next to the temple. Since this service has been discontinued for operational reasons, people take either a two-hour walk up the mountain or the two-wheeler service operated by local Nepali boys. Riding pillion on the vehicle and holding on to the rider for dear life, devotees reach the temple in 20 minutes, praying all the way through the narrow, winding mountain path. Invariably, you can hear the boys screaming to their squirming passengers not to shake, because any untoward movement can send the vehicle for a toss! The efforts required to make old, fat and infirm people get on to the vehicle are also a sight. My wife Prabha had a problem at that height due to the intense cold and lack of oxygen, causing some anxious moments for me.

Though the journey to Badrinath is not physically taxing, it is hazardous to the extent that the acts of god and nature may pose impediments, in the form of landslides and unexpected roadblocks, sometimes leaving your vehicle stranded in serpentine queues for hours on end. On the positive side; on your way, you can enjoy a dip in the holy Ganga at Haridwar and witness the famous evening arthis on the banks of the river; later visit Rishikesh, and then move on to the see the confluence of the Alaknanda and the Bagirathi at Devaprayag before they combine to become the Ganga; or upstream watch the Alaknanda merging with the Mandakini river at Rudraprayag.

Once you reach Badrinath, located at 11,000 ft and after finishing your darshan of Lord Narasimha, you can visit Mana, considered the last Indian village on the mountains, which is just 3 km away from Badrinath. Here you are treated to the spectacular sight of river Saraswati gushing with all its fury from a nearby hill, the only place you can see the river because mythology tells us that due to a curse from Sage Vyasa it goes underground all through its journey, to Triveni Sangam at Allahabad where it merges with the Ganga and the Yamuna.

Another tough location was the Narasimha temple at Sholingur, near Vellore in Tamil Nadu, where you have to climb 1,500 steep steps, with a walking stick, tackling hundreds of monkeys all the way! During our trip a determined monkey tried to snatch my wife's handbag who was also equally determined not to part with it. The fisticuffs between them were free entertainment for the other devotees but terror-stricken moments for my wife!

It is amazing that a person like me who finds it difficult to climb two storeys to my office, could undertake all these difficult journeys without much trouble. That is what implicit faith in the Lord does to you.

I mentioned about visiting 106 out of the 108 Divya Desams on this earth. The other two are located in ‘Vaikundam' and ‘Thiruparkadal', the original abode of Lord Vishnu in heaven.

(The writer's email is

During our trip to Sholingur, a determined monkey tried to snatch my wife's handbag who was also equally determined not to part with it. The fisticuffs between them became entertainment for other devotees

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