It starts from a message being floated in the holistic group saying “the first ever outstation trip being arranged for our parents community’’. Prior to this I had never heard about Saturagiri at all. But the messages said that it a very holistic place and lot of healing and blessings one receives with the visit. Don’t know what triggered me, I cancelled the flight tickets booked (for the same time frame as that of this trip) for my Mom’s place to and fro, both for myself and my daughter. The airlines told me that I won’t be getting back any money if I cancel these, but still I went ahead with it and booked tickets for train to and fro for Virudhunagar. They say, one can visit Saturagiri only when there’s a calling and now i can vouch for it.
I remember those preparation messages floating on the group asking the parents community to walk some distance everyday barefoot, one to increase our stamina and second to get used to walking barefoot. Neither myself nor Hubbiji was able to, due to our workload. Nevertheless, all three of us myself, Hubbiji and daughterji were very excited about the trip and the trekking. Since the day the train tickets were booked we were waiting for this trip to start. Fortunately our journey’s start day was falling on the same date as the last day of my daughter’s school.
After a restless wait of close to a month came the D day. Majority of the parents travelling from Bangalore to Saturagiri had booked train tickets, a couple of them were coming by car and few came from Chennai. The train tickets were from Majestic to Virudhunagar and return via the same route. The former train was at 5:15 p.m. from Majestic and the later at 10:42 p.m. somehow, it was in my mind that the former train was at 10:00 p.m, I got confused with the return train J. Morning we all three went ahead with our routine of going to our respective offices and daughterji going to the last day of the school in party wear :). She was all exited for the double bonus, school ending and trip starting :).
Hubbiji said we will come back from office at around 1:00 p.m. and we will get ready accordingly, since the train is at 10:00 p.m. or so (at times he does not bother to re-check and takes my word and it puts us in soup). As usual hubbiji got busy with his meetings and we managed to start from office only at 2:00 p.m. Hurriedly we picked-up daughterji from her daycare. When were about to reach home I checked the train tickets and was surprised to find the train is at 5:15 p.m. !!! The first thing that came to my mind was to board the train from Hosur instead of Majestic and it will give an additional one hour 15 minutes time, but Hubbiji was of the point of view of that let us not take the risk as we have not boarded any train from Hosur station till date. He also said that the cabs will not take us to Hosur as they mostly won’t have the interstate permit. So the plan was to reach Majestic.
The cook was supposed to come at 5:00 (that day being a Friday we were supposed to have dinner at home as we cannot eat anything outside due to Santoshi Mata pooja at home), immediately called-up the cook and asked him to come right away, fortunately he was at his home and not cooking at some other house so he came down. Started cooking and we started packing. The plan was to put things in the bag only on Friday once we were back from office. Also rather than packing the food we thought we will quickly gulp it down, it will save time we thought. So finished with that. But daughterji is a person who will not eat under pressure. Kids observe all that goes around in the house, she understood the complete scenario and was concentrating only on the fact that we should make it for the station. For her this break was all the more required. By the time we finished all this it was already 3:45 p.m.
The cab arrived at 3:50 p.m. types and we rushed for Majestic station. While in the cab, I posted messages on the messenger about the current state of affairs, parents on the group started praying for us so that we should make it to the station and also suggestion started coming-in, one of them was to board the train from Hosur instead. Till that time we were of the firm belief that we would board the train from Majestic station itself. One of the reason was we had checked with the cab driver, he said he will not be able to go to Hosur. We were also hoping that the train might get delayed by few minutes which will give us a cushion of making it to Majestic. But thanks to the Bangalore traffic we managed to reach Kormangala’s Forum junction only by 4:40 p.m.types. In the meantime, messages starting flooding the communicator’s inbox with other parents saying we have reached majestic, we are about to reach, we have boarded the train etc. Now that people had boarded the train and train was on platform (it starts from Majestic) we were sure that the train is on time. That was the time when we asked the driver to take a U-turn and drop us at the Hosur toll gate, we thought let us take a chance. Fortunately the moment we got down at Hosur toll gate we saw one ST bus waiting on the toll gate, since we were not sure about the destination of the bus, I rushed to the bus and checked with the Conductor if it will go to Hosur. The moment the Conductor said yes, we hopped on it. Fortunately, in the bus met one person who was also going to Hosur to board the same train J. We got down a little prior to bus stop, took an auto and nicely managed to reach station at 5:50 p.m. itself, safely having a buffer of 20 minutes. After reaching the platform we waited there for one and a half hour J, as the train got delayed in between Majestic and Hosur.
By the time we boarded the train we were so tired with all those stunts that we had performed some time back and daughterji was also too bored with the wait time. We boarded the train, fed a bit to my daughter and within few minutes we three went to sleep. Had set an alarm for morning 3:15, the designated arrival time of the train was 3:30 a.m. As soon as the alarm rang I jumped off the berth and called-out hubbiji to get down the berth. While I was calling him another person jumped from the upper berth and walked with me to the door to check if the station had come. But the train was running late and we were still around 45 kms away from Virudhunagar, thanks to GPS and mobile data for giving us such accurate information and being available in between stations respectively. When we walked back to our berths, that time only we came to know that we were going for the same trek J. A round of introduction went for some time and then we sat back again on our seats waiting for the train to reach its destination.
And in some time we could see Virudhunagar the long waited station. As soon as we reached the platform mapped the faces with all the messenger names, especially the ones which were virtually part of our Hosur stunt. As soon as we came out of the platform we were welcomed by the volunteer group. We were briefed about the further plan of ladies being dropped at the Kalyan mantapam for getting ready and gents to be taken to Mango farm for the same. In close to an hour we reached the Kalyan Mantapam, a neat and tidy place for us to get ready. We all, with a mix of ladies, one aunt and two kids quickly got ready. By the time we got ready, the bus also came back. The bus had gone to drop those few gents (who were also seated in that bus) to the Mango farm. We boarded the bus and it took us to the Mango farm. Mango farm was too good to describe in words, huge mango trees laden with mangoes, some of the mangoes were at the reach of a six year old kid. The sizes of the mangoes were truly in proportion to the size of the trees. We walked over the mud road of the mango farm to reach the middle of the farm where breakfast was arranged for us. Once we reached the place we found the Indian style chulas were lit and big big vessels sitting atop busy in cooking stuff for us. Within no time we were served with healthy, organic and delicious spread of breakfast. The taste was just yum. There were few local people who were cooking, serving and arranging for the breakfast along with the volunteers. No doubt Volunteers were serving with all their grace and humility, not less were the local people. They were truly enjoying the serving part of it. Each one of us had a lofty share and was still relishing the lingering taste of the food, suddenly came our team volunteers asking us to get ready for a shoot with the drone camera J. In a little time, we were able to see the drone camera flying on our head capturing each and every movement of ours. Some of us, who were very eager to see the other side of the technology, went and peeped into the tab which was displaying the video being captured by the drone. The clarity was very good.
With that note we embarked on our trek, we were dropped by a bus to the starting point of the trek. So we were a mix of men, women, one aunt and two kids each 2 years girl and 6 years girl. It was a little hot by the time we started; the earlier plan was to start before 7.00 a.m. but got delayed due to Chennai train being delayed. It was around 10:30 a.m. when we started. At the gate we saw one old man selling some drink kinda, our group members explained us that it was palm juice and very good for keeping the body hydrated. It was being served in the palm leaf. Myself and hubbiji had one each and it was very sweet. As soon as we entered the check-in point all of us started with a very good speed. But within 1.5 kms few of us got tired J. Then only we realized how lethargic lifestyle we are living L. But this tiredness continued, the more we went ahead the more it was a problem. The couple with 2 year old girl were forced to pick the baby after 3 kms or so, but kudos to the Mom she managed to climb-up the hill carrying the baby. Moms are really great, she carries the baby for complete 9 months in her womb and if need be she can carry a two year baby to such a trek also. Our kid is 6 years and managed to climb all by herself. In between she was getting tired and a little irritated but after listening to some of the stories she would again start with the same enthusiasm J. Babies at this age are really very innocent you can fool them around for all these things. Though at the age of 6, it was not something impossible for her but given the life-style they lead with all the comfort and luxury around, it was really something to be praised about.
On the way our group people tried supporting us, by offering our daughter to accompany them so that we can relax a bit, they tried things like chocolates etc. J but all in vain. Baby preferred to stick to us, needless to say she eat all the chocolates offered to her without agreeing to the later part of the deal. The trek was amazing with a mix of big rocks, small rocks, uneven road, cemented stairs, sandy path etc. There were small stalls around at a distance of 500 meters, offering cold drinks, lemon juice with some herbs, tea, munching stuff like peanuts, chips etc. At places they were making hot pakoda, ragi-puri kinda. During our in-between breaks we enjoyed a lot of these things along with Glocondine (some local made glucon-D). But that was a life-saver in that burning sun. For parents like us who do not promote all these soft drinks, this was the best way to keep ourselves hydrated. We kept on walking with in-between stops for drinking, eating, resting, clicking photos and asking how far are we from the destination. Best part is, each time we asked someone on his way back to the foothill, we used to get a different answer. Someone would say it is 2 hours, someone would say it is 3 hours from here someone would say it is 4 kms and someone would say it is 5 kms. None of them revealed the exact distance just to make sure we are not discouraged by the distance. Somewhere around half way the volunteers arranged for lunch, we had a nice curd-rice for lunch. The place that we chose for lunch had a lot of monkeys around. So we had lunch in groups, one group of say 5-6 members use to have lunch and the other 2-3 members would shoo away the monkeys. The monkeys though were very smart, they were climbing the small branches on top of our head and were trying to lean from there. Still we managed to somehow finish the lunch.
At around 4:00 p.m. types we reached the first temple of Lord Siva named Sundara Mahalingam. As soon as we reached we had a nice lunch with rice, sambar, rasam, buttermilk and payasam, it was being served as AnnaDhanam (i.e. free food). The best part I noticed there was, each person was supposed to wash their own plate that too with water alone. No soap was being used for washing; only a big vessel filled with water was kept there. We were supposed to pre-rinse the plate with hand and then rinse it in that vessel and the plates were shining crystal clean. What a blessing for the environment – no soap and very minimal water usage. While we were seated outside the temple we noticed one bull coming towards us, the mandir-sevaks asked us to give way to the bull. It seems the bull prefers that particular route, though full of stairs it has been taking that route for its commute and prefers that route itself. Temple was very crowded thus we were not able to take Darshan. So we bowed our heads from outside and started walking for the second temple (its name was Santhana Mahalingam), which was like 164 steps ahead.
By the time we reached the Santhana Mahalingam Temple it was kinda getting dark. Herbal tea – called sukhu was being served (again for free), people who drink tea had it. I tasted it, it was good – aromatic and piping hot and very soothing. By the time we had tea the volunteers made arrangements for us to have a look at the room where we were supposed to sleep at night. One room was arranged for ladies and one for gents. It was not a very hi-fi room but a decent one to give us shelter at night. Then we went to take the Darshan of the Santhana Mahalingam temple, some 15-20 steps from the place where our room was located. It was so calming, people were nicely taking Darshan, no pushing, no shouting, and no rush – nicely took Darshan with calm mind. By the time we came back from the Temple dinner was ready, our group quickly took the dinner as we were instructed to start at 5:30 a.m. next day morning. Each one of us had only one goal in our mind, that was, to go to bed as quickly as possible, sooner we go to bed more time we get for sleep. We entered the room, chit-chat went for some time and then all of us were fast asleep. Morning we woke-up at around 5:00 a.m., there was a group photograph session, though some of us preferred to start walking to save time. We climbed down those 164 stairs to reach Sundar Mahalingam, Abhishek was going on in the Temple, and we nicely took Darshan. People were generous enough to give us way so that we can get a glance of the holy shrine. With a satisfied mind we started our journey back to foothill.
Again with the same zeal we started walking back, since our feet and body got used to that walk previous day, the down run was not that difficult. On the way back we took a stopover at the half way through Siva temple. We did not go inside the Siva temple, but there was a small water pond with thousands of tiny fishes, something that attracted my daughter’s attention. She was very excited to see those many fishes. People were actually enjoying fish spa. Myself and my daughter also put our feet inside the pond and kept it for some time without a slight movement. If done so, the fishes will come to eat the dead-skin of your feet. But the moment they touch your feet you get a tickling sensation and we both were moving our feet with that sensation. And zoom they run away, again we need to wait for like seven-eight minutes for them to come back near your feet.
By the time we reached the foot hill it was close to 11:30 a.m., we reached and relished a glass of chilled sugarcane juice, it was such bliss. By the time we could have finished our juice Aunt also followed us. We took an auto arranged by the volunteers and reached our Mango farm. When we reached the mango farm Aunt received a round of standing ovation for completing the trek without the help of a Doli at this age. There we went directly to freshen-up. In some time the session that was arranged with Dr. Selva Shanmugam started. At the very beginning we all introduced ourselves and my daughter got a big round of applause for making it to and fro all by herself. Though my daughter is six years and the trek was not a very big deal for a six year kid, given our lifestyle and the level of comfort that we throw to our kids, it was really a big achievement. Myself and hubbiji were on the eight cloud on our daughter’s achievement. There were couple of our friends who did the trek bare foot, they also got a big round of applause. And then started the sessions by the knowledgeable Doctor, we all were engrossed in the kind of knowledge and revealing facts those were being shared by the doctor. The session continued for close to 4.5 hours with a gap of 45 minutes for lunch. We got a lot of doubts clarified during the session.
As soon as we were done with the workshop, there was a round of ‘bye’ and ‘see you’ for people who were not boarding the return train to B’lore. It was such a superb experience to have so many like-minded (people believing in our ancient holistic way of leading life) people around. We all boarded the bus which took us to the Virudhunagar station. While in the bus few of our friends were still very enthu and were cracking a lot of jokes and revising the workshop stuff, but we three were very tired to even speak a single word and preferred to take a nap. Once we reached station we parked ourselves in the waiting room till the time of the train. Boarded the train around 11:15 p.m. Next day morning we reached Bangalore at around 9:00 a.m. Wow what a relaxing, stress-buster, rejuvenating, refreshing and blissful trip it was.
When Velu Jayaprakash, the author of Swarnaprashna.org, brought up the idea of visiting Sathuragiri Hills, I found myself instantly agreeing to go on this journey. It was an idea thrown open to all members of our whatsapp group, that have come together to discuss ancient sciences and holistic parenting.
Unlike myself, to agree so readily to undertake a journey of this kind with people I have not met before, but the idea was very exciting and I had immense clarity that this is a trip that I must take.
I chose to drive from my home in Bangalore to Virudhunagar, a small village about an hour’s drive away from Sathuragiri Hills. I spent the night there at a hotel, waiting for the rest of the group, who were to arrive the next day morning.
I woke early next morning and waited for the group to meet me enroute. The drive from Virudhunagar to the base of Sathuragiri was itself very pleasant. This small village had plenty of temples, all washed clean while the incense of sambrani and camphor wafted through the air even before sunrise. Small houses with cow dung cakes on the wall had roosters crying out loud to welcome a brand new day.
We reached the base of the hills and were ushered into a beautiful mango grove, that was our base camp. The mango grove was a very relaxing place, filled with age old trees with trunks so large that I could not get my arms around them. Each tree was organically grown and was in prime health. Few friendly Rajapalayams (Indian Sighthound) scampered around me pouring out their love.
It was here that I finally met people in the whatsapp group, who were till this point just intelligent posts and a display picture.
We were rejuvenated by a freshly cooked, healthy breakfast. Care had been taken that all meals we had were cooked with wholesome organic produce sponsored by HLP’s Community Store
A few minutes walk from the mango grove stood the majestic Sathuragiri Hills. There was a car park at the base with plenty of small shops around. These shops sold everything from sambrani, incense sticks, japa malas and figurines of almost every hindu deity that one could think of.
We began the trek and just a few steps ahead we found a small Ganesh temple. The priest showed aarathi to the deity and filled my hands with a generous amount of divinely smelling vibhuthi. I said a silent prayer that my experience at the hills would be blessed.
The path was lined with people in saffron robes begging for alms. While some looked extremely pious, it was certain that the rest were there only to make a quick buck. I did not feel particularly interested in any of them and simply walked past.
Initially, the trek seemed very easy. The track was neatly laid granite with a step up every hundred meters. “Not bad at all” I thought aloud. We soon encountered a small mound that we had to walk around and then more steps, although this time around, it was cut out of solid rock. Soon the steps stopped exposing a steep terrain of jagged rocks.
The path was fairly crowded. I was informed that the crowd was due to ‘Shani Pradosham’, an occasion according to the hindu calendar. Well, our group did not come here because of this auspicious time. So let us just assume that the universe intended for all of us to be at Sathuragiri at this very particular point of time.
It was just past noon and was getting very hot. The group began to scatter, each one going according to his or her physical capability. The trek was gruelling at some points, very steep indeed, and then relaxes to an almost horizontal path. There were few small shrines along the path, some seemed very ancient while the rest seemed like recent add-ons.
Every half kilometer or so, one would find a temporary shop set up by the local people selling buttermilk, lime soda and bottled mineral water. I found myself having generous amounts of buttermilk to keep myself hydrated. Although, I must add here that these shops were only set up because of an expectation of large amounts of people visiting. Most often, they would not be present. However the entire group came prepared. We were even offered some organic treats along the way, courtesy… HLP’s Community Store
As I walked on, I reached the Naaval Ootru. A small pond most often filled with sacred water laced with miraculous herbs. Sadly, I saw an dry, empty pit. I expected Sathuragiri to have more water all along. I was hoping to see gentle brookes and a cascade of water falls here and there. But the stark reality of water shortage struck very hard. How we human beings are sucking the planet dry would call for another deep discussion. The picture below shows the roots of an old Jamun tree, usually these roots are submerged in the natural pond.
I then reached the Pathanjali Lingam, a cave with an age old lingam,that featured at the end of a very slippery terrain of rock.The only grip being some roots of trees. Much deeper, were some ropes tied together to help the adventurous folk along. There seemed to be some water flow in this region. I could not muster up the courage to jump in the water and wade my way to the cave. A decision that I regretted almost immediately.
As I climbed higher, I found a tribal woman plucking some leaves from a tree. On looking closer, I found these to be Bilva patra (Aegle marmelos) commonly known as Bael. A traditional medicinal herb most often used in any ritual to appease Lord Shiva. I also noticed creepers and shrubs of Shankapushpi flowers (Convolvulus pluricaulis) growing wild. Their white and purple hues breaking the monotony of rock and green in all its splendor. These conch shell shaped flowers are also used in the worship of Lord Shiva. Sathuragiri Hills is a treasure trove of medicinal herbs, I hope to do a more detailed study of these herbs some day.
Further ahead, I caught a glimpse of Thavasi Paarai, the abode of siddhars, still known to meditate here. The route is fairly inaccessible. I tried to find out if there was a way to get there, but most people said it was too dangerous.
We finally reached the summit. It was very crowded On the right paved the way to the Sundara Mahalingam Temple and to the left, the Santana Mahalinga Temple.
I first chose to visit the Sundara Mahalingam temple. It was packed with people who were chanting bajans in praise of Lord Shiva. I chose not to go further when I heard the crowd would clear soon. We as a group intended to stay over night so I always had the option of visiting later and have a quieter moment.
Near the shrine there was a medium sized room with a back door that opens to a wash yard and open forest. This is called the kanji madam. This place was brimming with hospitality and gratitude. Every half hour, a volunteer at the temple would come out and extend a warm welcome to all passersby for a delicious meal. They addressed everyone as ‘Shiva’ here. The meal is absolutely free of cost, however one could leave an offering if they chose to.
We then went to the Santana Mahalinga Temple. I was able to visit this shrine right away. A simple and beautiful place. I enjoyed witnessing the aarathi and exited the temple feeling blessed.
It was evening now and it was getting dark very rapidly. The group had found a hall nearby to rest in, but however I felt the need to find a possibility of sleeping out in the open. I walked back to the Sundara Mahalinga Temple. Most of the crowd had cleared by then. I entered the shrine and found a beautiful Lingam at a slant, decorated with flowers and tulsi leaves. After aarathi, I left the temple and for no apparent reason, I looked up at the sky. It was sprayed with glittering stars. I have never seen the sky so spectacularly beautiful. Amongst the cosmic dust laid the crescent moon just four days before Amavasya.
I sprawled my bedsheet on the pavement outside the temple and gathered some rest. Not the best sleep, but it sufficed. At 3;30 am, I woke to find myself blanketed in mist. Again volunteers at the temple were inviting passersby, this time for some piping hot coffee. It was certainly welcome and soothing.
I found myself a spot directly opposite the Mahalingam. There were about fifteen people meditating there. I sat there and closed my eyes. I went into a very deep meditative state. Peaceful, Silent, Bliss are words that could come close in describing how I felt that very moment. I strive to get this state of meditation when I practice back home in Bangalore. At times I cannot even come close. I presume, that’s why the knowledgeable siddhars still choose to meditate on these hills.
After meditation I briefly met the group and started descending while it was still dark. Dawn breaking at Sathuragiri is spectacular. A feast for all senses. The sky broke into a deep orange and there were hundreds of birds all chirping at the same time. I just paused there to soak up every bit of this beautiful experience.
The descent was very rapid. At times I had to check my speed and slow down on purpose. After a very few breaks, I reached the base. I bowed down at the Ganesh temple where I stood the day before, feeling a deep sense of gratitude and achievement.
I was expecting myself to be overcome with fatigue but surprisingly, I felt rejuvenated. After a scrumptious breakfast at the mango grove, we were addressed by Dr. Selva Shanmugam, a professor of Siddha medicine. An honest and humble individual who explained how to incorporate the science of siddha into our day to day activities. The more I heard, the more I understood that although Siddha is such a deep subject, the philosophies are very simple and could be easily woven into my city bred life.
The time had come where I had to leave. On the drive back home, I was listening to some soulful music, while I asked myself… ‘would I do this again?’ My mind instantly portrayed a picture perfect of all the minor difficulties I had during the trip, but deeper within there was an assured feeling that I would most certainly return.
My discovery of Sathuragiri has just begun.
Holding the worlds apart, as the Heavens high He spreads;
Himself the scorching Fire, Sun and Moon,
Himself the Mother that sends down the rains
Himself the mountains strong and oceans cold.
– A poetic verse no.10 from Tirumantiram
Shiva, the mighty god of gods, is revered since many yugas in India. Shiva, also represents the higher consciousness which is present in all of us. India has always been a land of seekers, a place where people have questioned life, wondered what it is beyond the world projected by the five senses. From the various yugas, the mystery of life has been questioned and debated. Few of them turned inwards to understand. Such mystics who have spent their whole life and various births to solve this riddle, consider india to be such a blessed land which has given them opportunity to delve deeper into their self. The seers/yogis/mystics who have transcended their mind and bodies have found shiva as a subtler form of higher consciousness within them.
Space intermingling with space,
Nectar drowning in nectar,
Light dissolving in light-
The elect are they, the siva-siddhas.
Who these splendid visions perceive
– Poetic verse no. 124 from Tirumantiram
Siddhars, are such seers who have risen to their higher selves across many ages. They have attained few siddhis and are regarded to have magical powers and they bring forth their knowledge to common folk to help them through the samsara of life. Many such siddhars are still believed to live in their astral bodies in one mystical mountain called Sathurgiri, in south India, which is considered as the embodiment of Shiva himself. Many spiritual aspirants from all over the world come and seek blessings of the lords and siddhars. The picture above depicts siddhar Agastiar on a bark of a tree.
This mystical mountain is square shaped and is surrounded by four hills – hence the name chathuragiri (chaturam – square, giri – hills). These four surrounding hills, also represent the four vedas.The legend has it that, when lord Hanuman was passing by Sathuragiri with the Sanjeevani hill, Siddhars requested him to give a fragment of Sanjeevani mountain to them. It is due to this fragment which lord Hanuman happily gave them, this hill contains many medicinal herbs and plants.The center point of the hill is also known by the name of Sanjeevamalai. Sathuragiri still houses many rare and kaya kalpha herbs. Siddhars in their various works have mentioned the preparations of these herbs to heal and transcend the body and mind.
Those that are destined to be
Let them be;
Those that are destined not to be
Let them not be;
Those that are destined to go
Let them go;
Those that are destined to come
Let them come;
The mighty Nandi shows all
And witnesses all;
All things appropriate,
To those of tender love for Him.
– Poetic verse no.504, Tirumantiram
It is believed that only when one gets a calling, can the devotee successfully make it to the hill. The devotee needs to surrender himself to the hills and trek through the tough rocky terrain of the hills which is about 7 kms walk from the foothills of Sathuragiri to the hilltop where SundaraMahalingam and Santhana Mahalingam temples exist.The only authorised entry point to Sathuragiri is through Thaniparai town in Virudhunagar district. There are three other routes from Theni and other towns, but it is illegal to take other routes as it may disturb the wildlife and also due to safety issues of the devotees. The pilgrims are allowed only during six auspicious days of the month – i.e. on Amavasya, Poornima and Pradosham days. There are various mattams on the hill top which provide food and shelter for the devotees who throng the hill on these auspicious days. Devotion to their personal god, gives people strength to overcome many obstacles. To take blessings of their lord who sits high upon a mountain, people take on tedious journeys. A varied range of devotees are seen – some get a calling to seek blessings of the hill in their meditations and some bhaktas carry their small child in a doli made of sugarcanes and a cloth and the parents hike the hill along with their infant or toddler.
This mystical hill is a hidden treasure for a spiritual aspirant – from
exploring the many hidden caves to meditate or just to breath in the air filled with aroma of herbs, it is one-of-a kind journey people embark upon.
Sathuragiri – the benign looking quaint hills tucked away near the picturesque sleepy town of Watrup (Virudhnagar) belie the arduous journey that lies in wait. At its onset the cemented, mildly elevated pathway appears beseeching, shrouded with thick green vegetation on either side, giving you no clue of the soul-stirring, mind-numbing climb up ahead. But then – to seek oneself one must take a leap of faith into the unknown…
So about a month ago, in blissful oblivion I enrolled myself for this promising spiritual retreat into the Sahyadris. It not just exceeded my expectation – it actually uplifted me physically, spiritually in a way that cannot be explained – only experienced. And I’m sure the 60 others – old, young, younger – who participated came back ‘richer’ like never before!
Virudhnagar – Watrup, is not used to city-bred visitors – so it has no resorts or even hotels. Our stop-over after an over-night train journey (that ended at 4am) was at a freshly constructed Kalyan Mantap. The adventure began with the challenge of completing our ablutions in newly constructed basic toilet-cum bath in the courtyard of the Kalyan Mantap.
Soon after, we were transported to a mango farm with trees that are almost 700 years old. This was going to be our abode for the rest of our stay. After a sumptuous breakfast of ponga-rice idly, horse-gram chutney, vada, drumstick sambar and, of course, kesri bath, we were finally set to meet the task master Sathuragiri – or so we thought!
We started off for the foothills equipped with our pouches (backpacks were wisely handed over to porters) and a walking stick treading across the insignificantly elevated cement pathway. Soon an uneven rugged towering rock surface seemed to stare squarely at us! The only way forward was one-step-at-a-time.
The steep jagged stony path consisted of rocks of uneven length set-up to create some semblance to a pathway, complemented only by a dry ridged roughly cut path created by, perhaps, running water. One wrong step and you could land yourself a sprained ankle. Yes, raw, ruthless and unyielding….as natural as it could get.
The strenuous climb put to test our mental strength and determination – shunting out conversation not just with co-climbers but even with oneself! Yes, it was powerful enough to silence even those unhindered thoughts that plague us everday… Our meditative mind contrasted with the forced rhythmic steps, not allowing the body to give up as one negotiated the rigours of that climb; with only enough energy to focus on one goal – reach the summit. Thus, the Sathuragiri hills, to my mind, are an embodiment of the intense and demanding Lord Shiva – a penance in itself. Surrendering in spirit to that journey is the only way to benefit from this extraordinary experience.
On reaching the summit we met with the twin shrines of Sundar Mahalingam and Chandana Mahalingam which were reverberating with devotees on the auspicious occasion of Shani Pradosham. I could not fathom how people got here ever so often (for regular rituals, poojas…) and felt so humbled, almost embarrassed that I’d made the climb out to be such a Herculean task. Yet, it was…
And just when my body was going into rigor mortis (so it felt) and I couldn’t imagine taking another step – there lay a flight of 300 odd steps to reach the most sacred spot on these hills – the Siddargal Sannati – the Chandan Mahalingam temple, spectacularly designed with a naturally flowing ‘Ganga’ cutting through rocks within the temple. This is the most revered space for spiritual seekers – consists of a cave that has been inhabited by 18 Siddas that resonates with cosmic energy. A few minutes of meditation here –the treasure of a lifetime…
As most devotees are locals – there are 2 chowltries (huge hall) constructed at the entrance to provide a place to rest in. The public toilets are unspeakably ill-maintained. We, being novices and city-breds were offered, in an act of kindness, the exclusive priviledge of staying close to the temple is an elongated room – that appeared to be a makeshift cowshed with an uneven dung-seasoned floor – a luxury – as we discovered later that night. Once the crowds poured in – the chowltries were bursting at their seams while we got to sleep fairly soundly on our blue-tarplouline-sheet -lined floor. Life in these places is simple and one learns to appreciate all those basic amenities that are taken for granted in city-life. What an eye-opener…
As we set out at the crack of dawn on our descent, to the accompaniment of charmingly mesmerizing chirping of birds – we felt enriched, eternally grateful and invigorated encompassed by the morning fresh air and scenic hill sides. The descent for me was as challenging as the climb, as I engaged every muscle to balance, but it left me awestruck as I witnessed several shocking sights ahead: an old toothless lady chanting fervently as she climbed, a stout mother balancing a two-year old on her hip as she climbed, several devotees with 5 kg bags perched on their heads as they climbed and finally a young man precariously balancing a 15kg gas cylinder as he strode up the hills!! Apparently, food and amenities have to find their way to the temple on foot!
I have nothing but ADMIRATION for these locals! Being an auspicious Amavasye (no moon night) hoards of devotees of varying ages and sizes ascended, aspiring to visit the Lord that day; while I was using all four limbs to negotiate the precarious descent with my wobbling jelly legs….
A super sense of achievement and a wave of relief engulfed us as we made it beyond the entrance arch to return to the arms of our mango farm. A memorable dicky-ride in an auto and an even more memorable Totti Bath (like maidens of yore, ladies were guided to a small tank filled by a sump pipe in a secluded, sufficiently private for a refreshing bath) amidst coconut farms and mangroves overlooking the Sathuragiri hill range. Soon after we were treated to one more a nutritious power breakfast.
The blue tarpaulin sheet laid beneath an age old mango tree, seemed to beckon us to rest our aching bodies – but it was time for the second highlight of the show – A workshop on traditional food and practices by the famous Dr. Selva Shanmugam. So, yoga master Ganesh, came to our rescue and put us through a quick rejuvenating Yoga Nidra session. That was aptly followed by a Kriya meditaion conducted by mentor Velu, leaving us all fresh as morning dew.
Lord Shiva is known for his benevolence – and so our atoning climb was duly rewarded with the ‘Var’ of a life-changing workshop by Sidda expert Dr. Selva. What sheer coincidental fortune to have been graced with his presence on that trip. Multiple topics ranging from tips on daily activities to dealing with debilitating common diseases – we lapped it all up coming from that fountain of knowledge!
Now that’s an experience of a life-time and no words can capture the eternal gratitude I have in my heart for this amazing opportunity. To all those who aspire for such an experience, all I say is, wish fervently and open your heart to the generosity of the Universe! All else will follow….
HAR HAR MAHADEV!