18th June 2011
Finally I was going to a place where I have always yearned to go…Alone. I was really excited about my trip which was totally unplanned and also because I was going alone as I wished. I managed to reach to the nearest bus stop from Tirunelveli Chinmaya Mission Ashram where I was staying on account of my Vedic Maths classes in town. Buses in Tamil Nadu write their destination names in Tamil only. My illiteracy in Tamil made me depend on others to ask for directions. I asked a couple of people in my broken Tamil, “Does this bus go to Tirunelveli Junction?” They gave their replies which sounded like the sound of a musical rocket (‘music’ because of the tune and ‘rocket’ is the attribute I can give to the speed of the language). One of the bystanders understanding my challenge in speaking Tamil told me that the bus that was coming this way would be going to Tirunelveli Town and I can get down at Tirunelveli Junction. I thanked him and waited for the bus to come near the stop. For the next 30 minutes, I felt as if I was inside a Tamil movie.
The bus driver, a dark lean fellow, with his shirt’s three buttons open, a lighted cigarette on his lips, stopped the bus after drawing a perfect arc. I hopped in. In a couple of minutes, the bus started off. They had put on some Tamil music. Thanks to the deck quality, I could hear only the drum beats and nothing else. Tirunelveli being a town, everybody around me were typical villagers. Many of them even didn’t wear any footwear. I got myself settled down in my new environment and asked my fellow passenger to let me know when Tirunelveli Junction arrives. He nodded his head. I assumed that he understood what I said. The bus got fully crowded in no time. I was lucky to get a seat since I boarded the bus from the first stop. At the main stops, the driver stopped for 3-5 minutes waiting for more passengers to get in. Nobody in the bus seemed to be in a hurry. After some time, I could see a line of buses on the right side of the road inside a parking lot. Even my bus stopped there for a while. I guessed that to be my stop. I asked my fellow passenger if it was Tirunelveli Junction? He once again nodded his head. I thought, “Why this guy didn’t tell me?” Immediately I managed to get down from the bus and crossed the road. I asked a shopkeeper where the Junction bus stand is. He said, “You have to go a long way. Do one thing. Get into that bus (pointing at the bus from which I got down) and you can reach there.” You can guess what I might have thought of at the moment. It is better that I don’t write down my feelings of that moment. Once again I crossed the road, and luckily for me, the bus was still waiting. I got into the jam packed bus. I travelled standing till I reached my stop. I got down at Tirunelveli Junction from where, I was told (by a newly met friend), that I could get a bus for Kanyakumari or Nagercoil. To my surprise, I came to dawn upon the knowledge that, I had taken a wrong bus. I should have boarded a bus for ‘The New Bus Stand’ to get a bus to Kanyakumari. Trying to maintain my peace of mind, I boarded another bus that would go to ‘The New Bus Stand’. This time I was lucky. Nothing went wrong. By the time I reached ‘The New Bus Stand’, it was 10 am and I had left my place at 8 am. Two hours gone and I was still in Tirunelveli. My excitement started deteriorating. However, I kept convincing myself that this was part and parcel of such kind of travels and it’s fun to be on the road sometimes like this. The forced fake self-motivation helped to some extent.
From the new bus stand, I took a bus to Nagercoil (from where I would take another bus to Kanyakumari). I was welcomed again into a Tamil movie. This time, the bus was showing a Tamil movie. Each and every passenger (even the 80+ year olds) was looking at the action sequences with their jaws dropping. I got myself a seat and closed my eyes trying to get some sleep. To my surprise, I saw myself engrossed in the movie after some time.
Within 90 minutes I reached Nagercoil where I struggled only for a few minutes to get the right bus to Kanyakumari. Yeah! I was once more happy to have gotten on to the ‘final’ bus to my destination. In my high spirits I said in my mind, “Vivekananda…here I come”.
I rightly got down at Vivekanandapuram (a 100 acre land with cheap accommodation facilities provided by the Vivekananda Kendra). I booked myself a room, the cheapest one, which was a three-bedded room with common bathroom at Rs.45/- per night. Since I was alone, the whole room would be allotted to me. It was around 1:30 pm. I quickly had my lunch from Vivekanandapuram itself and left for Vivekananda Rock Memorial at 2 pm. There were other luxurious hotels on the way, but I had decided to keep luxury aside and travel in the cheapest possible ways.
At 2:20 pm, I reached the ticket counter for the ferry that takes one across to Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Since it was the afternoon time, there wasn’t much of a rush and I got into the ferry in no time. My mind was constantly thinking about Swami Vivekananda since I reached Kanyakumari. I had read his biography, his inspirational talks to the youth and on Vedanta. The impact it had on me was massive. If the printed pages itself were enough to inspire a person to thrive for a noble cause, what impact must have been left Swamiji himself on to his listeners? I was feeling as if I’m going to meet him personally this time.
As the ferry neared the Rock, my heart throbbed with joy. In a few minutes I was on the Vivekananda Rock Memorial – the rock that attracted Swami Vivekananda like a magnet. It fascinated Swamiji so much, on that 25th day of December 1892 when he reached the tip of our motherland after travelling the whole length of the Indian sub-continent, that he wanted to go there immediately. He didn’t have money to pay to the boat man. He didn’t wait for a second to think twice. He jumped immediately into the sea. Swimming across almost half a kilometer in the water that was then infested by sharks, he reached the huge rock which covered an area of around 4 acres. There he spent 3 days in continuous contemplation on his journey completed after an extensive travel throughout India. He reflected on the poverty he had seen in his country, the misery and hardships the common man was going through, the awakening that was required among the masses, animalistic life people led in utter ignorance, etc. After deep thoughts on these issues, he came out with a solution of going to America and taking their financial help for the upliftment of the masses in India. He was clear with his thought that, India was the spiritual center for the whole world. Elevating India means helping themselves – this is what Swamiji had thought of conveying to the Americans. At this point one should not forget the fact that how Swamiji longed to get dissolved in Self-Realisation amongst the magnificent peaks in the Himalayas, and only reason he sacrificed his was for his country and country-men. On this sacrifice, these were his words, “I do not care of liberation, I would rather go to a hundred thousand hells, doing good to others (silently) like the spring. This is my religion.”
The rock has a Mandap (structure) which houses a statue of the Great Master. It also has many book stalls set up by Vivekananda Kendra. They have the best of books, at the cheapest rates, on Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Eknathji Ranade (the visionary behind Vivekananda Rock Memorial), etc. I bought a few books that I could gift to my students and also the book – Life of Swami Vivekananda (by Advaita Ashrama). I had a very old print (printed somewhere in 1940s) of this book at my home but its pages used to come apart every time I turned a page. Now my baggage had become heavy. I already had a set of dress, few books and water bottle, on one of my shoulder. This new bag was heavier than that. Unlike the normal times, this time, I didn’t feel tired because of the weight. I felt as if I was carrying Vivekanada with me (and he is supposed to be heavy). So I carried my bag with pleasure.
There was also a meditation hall on the rock. I spent very few minutes in there and came out. I couldn’t help myself from enjoying the strong winds of the sea and the sight of water all around me. The scene of waves hitting the rock was a sight to see. The water came in full force trying to get on to the rock in utter joy. Please don’t take this as a poetic imagination when I say about the water. The sea literally looked so happy to be around the rock. There was a smaller rock nearby. Sometimes the waves ran over the rock and the froth that went back to the sea gave a picture of milk being poured onto the rock. Every now and then my mind would go wondering as in how on earth anyone would even think of doing such an act of swimming across such a sea that was full of strong currents, rocks, sharks and what not. It is then that I really thanked the people who came up with the idea of building a National Monument for a National Hero like Swami Vivekananda who believed in a Universal Religion and strived for the upliftment of his countrymen irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It is for the same reason that Swamiji had followers from all the religions. Building this monument was very necessary. How many people get inspired just by coming to such a place? How many lives get changed after hearing stories about this man who had the courage to stand up against the whole world if required, this man who lived a life only for his love for others, this man who knew no fear, this man who could be called as a synonym for firmness! If we would not have built this monument, it’s very sure that a few generations later, people will find it hard to believe that such a man existed. Many would say, “The stories of Swami Vivekananda are just exaggerated tales or else how could anyone swim across the sea for hundreds of metres? It’s just impossible.” They might even turn these stories to legendary tales or make him a mythological character. When people could label Rama and Krishna as mythological characters even with geographical scientific evidences & proofs that match with the stories of Ramayana and Krishna, it wouldn’t be a surprise if people of the future would not make an exception to Vivekananda. And how easily they could kill an ideal, kill an inspiration, and kill history, by just labeling it as legend or mythology?
With these thoughts I ponder stood on the rock watching the sea and waves hitting the rock. After a couple of hours, I had to force myself to leave the rock. I literally came back a couple of times after walking a few steps towards the ferry boat. Such was the strong pull of the rock. No wonder, the pull of Vivekananda had to be strong. There was no other way!
After convincing myself to leave the rock, I got on to the ferry to the next rock where the statue of the great Tamil Philosopher ‘Thiruvallur’ is built. The statue is so tall that if we look up by standing at the foot of the statue, it will look as if the top will touch the sky. I climbed on the steps that took to the top floor of the statue. Within 15-20 minutes I boarded my boat to get back to the shore.
It was 5:30 pm. I was strolling along the different shops. I also bought a few shells for my family and friends. Suddenly I saw an exhibition to my right side which read “Wandering Monk Exhibition”. When I realized it was of Swami Vivekananda, the speed of my footsteps fastened. There was an Rs.2/- entry ticket for the exhibition which exhibited the pictures and stories of Swami Vivekananda’s life as a Parivrajaka (wandering monk) that he led before his travel to America. There were hardly one or two visitors inside the beautiful place. I sat down leisurely before every picture and read the write ups that explained the story behind the picture. It took me around 2 ½ hours to complete reading all of them. Before leaving the premises, I bought myself a copy of the book which included all these write ups, with pictures along with few of Swamiji’s letters that he had written during that period.
With nothing other than Swami Vivekananda in my mind, I walked on the road to Vivekanandapuram. Not feeling the weight of my shoulder bags, nor the tiring legs that held me on for more than six hours, I kept walking with a feeling that I cannot express.
My stay in Kanyakumari would end the next day morning where I would leave the place for Suchindram temple (after watching the sun-rise and chasing some peacocks in the peacock sanctuary at Vivekanandapuram) which was a huge temple with tall stone pillars (as many as 34 pillars on either side of one of the many passages with an average of 6 feet distance between two pillars), ceilings around 25 – 30 feet above the ground and painted with beautiful natural colours, stone inscriptions in Tamil and which had Shiva and different forms and names of Shiva.
However, this travelogue would be incomplete if I miss out to write my meeting with one of the living fighters of our country, the result of whose courage, fight and dedication is what we see in the form of Vivekananda Rock Memorial, but whose name got lost in history. The story of Lakshmanji, whose life changed at the age of 23 and who changed the course of history at such a tender age.
….to be continued under the Post – ‘Lakshmanji – a forgotten hero’.