Some experiences just leave an indelible mark. Sometimes a trip can only be the beginning of a longer journey. One such destination was Kanyakumari – literally meaning believe it or not, The Unmarried Austere Girl! Well! It is after all the Incredible India!; located in the state of Tamil Nadu, it is the southernmost tip of The Indian peninsula, an actual point where land comes to an end, where The Arabian Sea from the West and The Bay of Bengal from the East fall into the vast Indian Ocean. The best part about this confluence is that it is visible at the Triveni Sangam – the blue waters of the Arabian Sea, the green waters of the Bay of Bengal and the dark grey waters of the Indian Ocean stand apart lucidly.
This trip of a mere two days ignited the spark of curiosity about Hinduism, pray don’t confuse Hinduism with the religion and the ritualistic form that we associate it with today but about the abundant knowledge and logical thinking from the times immemorial and the way of life that it imparts. It made me go back and read up about where we all began and what I found opened further doors. What did I expect?! Was I going to discover the unified theory that the scientists are trying to come up with or something?! Of course not! Those further doors opened up a few more… 🙂
Spiritualists have found resonance of the advances of the modern day science with the legends and tales of the many thousands of years old scriptures. In this age when space tourism might very soon be a reality, it is incredible how much of a similarity exists between what’s been rooted as advanced science and has only been verified in the last couple of centuries and what has been prevalent in the Hindus scriptures in the form of stories for ages gone by.
One of the theories of the present day Existence is that “something” caused a singularity or more precisely a massive (ironically) black hole to explode thereby giving rise to the famous Big Bang. The Universe as we know today has existed for over 14.5 billion years and is expanding. As far as our knowledge goes, humans are the highest manifestation of this Existence as they have what no other matter or energy possesses – the supreme consciousness. Scientists also contemplate that there will come a ‘time’ when the Universe would implode and fall back into what it came to exist from – a singularity again; this event being called the diametrically opposite Big Crunch. Scientists aren’t sure if this Big Bang and Big Crunch are just a one off happening and a mere coincidence or if it is a one in a series of such million possibilities.
Now let’s explore what the legends of Hinduism say. The best or the worst part is that there is no one line of thought. There are so many possibilities. It is almost like an equation that can be solved in more than one way. Let’s begin at the beginning then.
Trimurti or the Trinity – is the top most layer in the hierarchy of the six crore Hindu Gods and Goddesses. It comprises of Brahma – the creator, Vishnu – the sustain-er and Shiva – the destroyer. There is another line of thought that deems Vishnu as the personification of the eternal multi-verse that is forever, no beginning, no end (similar to a global variable in C programming language context) while Brahma is the personification of our temporary physical universe created with the big bang, (something like a local variable created in the context of a function “universe ()” and destroyed at the end of it. And here the function is recursive.
Another analogy can be that Vishnu is the main() function with Brahma running in a for loop inside!).
Brahma (our present day instance of the Universe) is believed to have emerged from Vishnu’s navel (an analogy of the singularity called the black hole, a starting point) in the form of a lotus blooming out (like the Big Bang, isn’t it?). This Brahma that we know of exists in only our Universe and will come to an end when Shiva – the destroyer brings about the Pralaya or the D-day or the Big Crunch! The Vedas say that there are thousands of such universes that have bloomed from Vishnu’s navel and so we are not the only one!
Scientifically the Big Crunch could be the breeding ground for another Big Bang and so the cycle of birth and death continues through ‘anaadi kal’ or eternity. Vedas put an age for Brahma too where it is believed that Brahma lives for 100 years (1 Brahma year = 311 Trillion, 40 Billion Human Years) and 1 Brahma day is equivalent to the existence of one universe (4,320,000,000 years). It endures until night befalls in the Brahma-land when the Pralaya finishes everything and another universe begins its cycle the next day.
Coming back to Kanyakumari. 🙂
The place derives its name after the (Goddess) Devi Kanya Kumari, an adolescent girl form of the Divine Mother (Goddess Durga). Sage Parashurama (one of the many incarnations of Lord Vishnu) is believed to have performed the consecration of the temple dedicated to the goddess and hence it is held in high regards due to its legacy.
The legend goes back to the famous Daksha Yagna (a Vedic ritual of fire sacrifice) and a terrific love story (in my opinion). Daksha, one of Brahma’s sons, had a daughter named Sati (also referred to as Uma) who was deeply in love with Shiva and wanted to turn her worship and devotion towards Shiva into marriage. Daksha was dead against this alliance as he deemed his family to be royal and felt Sati deserved better as Shiva was a nomad and a ‘Bairagi’ (a reclusive hermit) lodging on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas and was known to entertain all types of live forms without the distinction of good or evil.
Against Daksha’s wishes, Sati and Shiva were married after Shiva gave in to Sati’s devotion towards him. Daksha expressed his displeasure by not inviting the couple to a grand Yagna where all the other gods and goddesses were invited. When Sati came to know about it, she expressed desire to attend the yagna with Shiva. But Shiva declined and she proceeded to the venue alone. Daksha extended her a cold welcome and ensued insults upon her and her beloved. When she could no longer bear the insolence, she ended her life by plunging into the Yagna fire and immolated herself.
Hearing about Sati’s demise, overcome with grief and rage, Shiva, having destroyed Daksha’s Yagna, started to dance his famous Taandav (the dance of destruction) carrying the dead Sati on his shoulders. Lord Vishnu eventually intervened with his Sudarshan Chakra that cut through Sati’s corpse and the body of the Goddess was scattered into 108 pieces which fell from the heaven to the Earth. Each place where her body part fell is deemed sacred and a peeth (or abode of the goddess) has been established for people to worship.
One such place is Kanyakumari where Sati’s feet are believed to have fallen into the Ocean off the coast and now a couple of rocks are reminiscent of those remains!
We approached Kanyakumari from Chennai by train, a journey of a little over half a day. We hadn’t booked any rooms and were hoping that luck would favor us and it definitely did. We found a decent place with a balcony looking straight out to the sea. Kanyakumari is one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy both sunrise and sunset from and into the waters! Another stunning site is the simultaneous sunset and moon rise on full moon evenings what the locals call Chitra Poornima.
As one looks out into the sea, 500 meters away are visible two rock islands, two massive rocks jutting out of the ocean like the shoulders of a huge human swimming in the sea with the head submerged.
The British obviously couldn’t pronounce “KanyaKumari” and like Kolkata became Calcutta, Dilli became Delhi, Mumbai became Bombay and Bengaluru became Bangalore, Kanyakumari came to be known as the Cape Camorin.
On one of the rocks is located the most iconic locale in Kanyakumari – the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. And on the other rock is placed a colossal 133 feet statue of the celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar who is believed to have lived 2 centuries before Christ, the height of the statue epitomizing the 133 chapters of his famous book of ethics, Thirukkural.
A ferry ride through the sea brought us to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial that houses two mandapams (edifices) – Vivekananda Mandapam that reminds you of the Ramakrishna temple at Belur Math in Calcutta and the Sripada Mandapam honoring the rock on which the edifice stands; ‘Sri Pada Parai’ (in the local language Tamil it means the rock blessed by the feet of the Goddess). The place is extremely windy and the waves crash incessantly at the rocks throwing up sprays of water. It almost feels like standing on the deck of a ship! In the north, you can see the Indian Subcontinent land mass taking shape, absolute goosebumps!
Vivekananda or Narendranath Dutt then, was a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the spiritual guru and mystic of the 19th century. After Ramakrishna’s death, Naren left to travel the country. Five years of travel enriched him about the various religious and social traditions all across India. He lived on alms and traveled by foot, spending time with Maharajas and villagers alike, with religious gurus of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and with scholars and bureaucrats. He became aware of the rampant poverty and direness that existed all around and felt the tremendous need to uplift the nation from this nether.
Eventually in the winters of 1892, upon his Guru’s advice he found himself at the southernmost tip of the country to pray at the Devi Kumari temple. He had heard of the legend that the rocks jutting out of the ocean symbolized Devi Shakti’s feet and had an urge to seek blessings from the Divine Mother. Unable to contain his excitement, Swami Ji plunged into the stormy ocean filled with sharks and swam all the way across to the rock island, much to the awe of the fishermen and villagers. He spent three days and three nights meditating on the last stone of India where he is believed to have attained Enlightenment! He realized that the it the duty and responsibility of the learned ‘Sanyasis’ to impart their knowledge to the ignorant and live amongst civilization rather than isolating oneself and leading a passive life. The need of the hour was to revive the original ideas preached in the Vedas and the Upanishads.
He realized that India in the many conquests of the past had lost its individuality and needed to invoke deep consciousness about its rich heritage to overcome the shackles of slavery, poverty and illiteracy. What happened to the Golden Age of the Gupta and the Maurya Empires of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC in the north India and the Cholas and Chalukyas of the 5th century AD in the south India? What happened to the spiritual and mathematical bloom of the medieval period? With the Mughal conquest in the 16th century and the arrival of the Europeans and formation of the British Empire in the 17th century, India became a melting pot of cultures and religions from all across the world. Though we gained somewhere in enriching our already rich heritage, we lost out in a big way too; where religion was slowly reduced and constricted to social rituals and temple worships and festivals… and the actual essence of Godliness (man for man) was lost, respect for women was lost.
I found this excerpt on the internet from a letter written by Swamiji after his visit to the United States of America and his famous lecture with sought him a two minute standing ovation for the opening line “Sisters and Brothers of America” at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Swamiji writes “In view of all this, especially of the poverty and ignorance, I got no sleep. At Cape Comorin, sitting in Mother Kumari’s temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock, I hit upon a plan. We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics – it is all madness. Did not our Master say “An empty stomach is no good for religion”? That those poor people are leading the life of brutes, is simply due to ignorance. We have for all ages been sucking their blood and trampling them underfoot.”
Swamiji went on to establish the Ramakrishna Mission with the aim to spread the Vedic Movement. The mission has hundreds of branches all across the world and extensively works on the fronts of health care, education, upholding culture, rural management and disaster relief. The members of this mission are the hundreds of monks and the thousands of disciples who consider ‘Tyag’ (Renunciation) and ‘Seva’ (Service) to be their main motto.
In the midst of all the Hinduism relevance of Kanyakumari, lies the gorgeous Catholic Church – Our Lady of Ransom! The church is a classic example of Gothic architecture in white and has three beautiful spires. Another interesting place is the Pier or the Causeway built after the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami to protect and break away such high waves. One can walk a good 500 meters right into the middle of the Ocean reminded of Lord Rama and the legend of the bridge of rocks created by Hanuman to cross over to Lanka in the epic Ramayana!
No trip in Southern India is complete without a temple tour! And we ensured we visited a few.
- Kumari Amman or the Devi Kanya Kumari Temple with a rich legacy of over 3000 years and many more legends associated with it.
- Suchindram Temple – another Shakti Peeth where Shakti’s upper teeth are believed to have fallen – is the only temple in India where the Trimurti (Trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Madadev) is worshiped in a singular form Sri Sthanumalayan (Sthanu – Shiva, Mal – Vishnu and Ayan – Brahma).
- Padmanabhaswamy Temple – dedicated to Lord Vishnu located 90 km away in Trivandrum in the state of Kerala. Padma means lotus, Nabhi means navel and Swamy means Lord thereby Padmanabhaswamy means The Lord with a Lotus flowering Navel! The idol of Vishnu is in ‘Ananta Shayanam’ or ‘Eternal Slumber’ posture here. The shrine dates back thousands of years and is mentioned in various Puranas and the Mahabharata too. The subterranean of the temple houses treasure vaults with immense gold that have been donated over hundreds and thousands of years by the devotees of the Deity – the Cholas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Cheras and many other dynasties and the Travencore Royal families.
Our trip eventually culminated at the beaches of Kovalam, a beach town by the Arabian Sea near the capital city Trivandrum of the state of Kerala, a drive of close to 3 hours through the NH66. Kovalam literally means a grove of coconut trees in the local language Malayalam. If there is one world that comes to mind whenever I think of Kerala, then it has to be “green”!
The only regret at the end of this whirlwind of a trip is that wish I had a little more time. A little more time to sink in all the mayhem of questions that were clouded in my mind after the visit to India’s end point. A little more time to lay peacefully in a beach side hammock and introspect. A little more time away from the mundane routine of daily life! And in the meantime, the quest for the Vedic Treasure continues!
Please feel free to like and comment if you made it to the end of the lengthy read. 🙂
Special thanks to http://www.speakingtree.in/allslides/secrets-behind-brahma-big-bang-the-creation-of-universe