The 13th, 14th & 15th of February 2008 will go down in the annals of the Chitrapur Saraswat Samaj as golden days, when unparalleled historical moments were born. When did it all begin? Was it when our beloved Param Poojya Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji, the eleventh Mathadipati of our glorious Chitrapur Math, first glimpsed a unique way to make amends? There cannot be a single Saraswat who is ignorant of our infamous past, where we left no stone unturned to humiliate our revered Guru – Brahmanishtha Swami Parijnanashram III, ultimately leaving our whole community wounded & bleeding! How could we make up in some way for our misdemeanor? Would it be ever possible to wipe away the tears & anguish the community had caused that great Soul? Was there some way we could compensate for those long years when we had stooped down to our lowest levels slandering, not a personality, but surely our own souls?
The 13th, 14th & 15th of February 2008 will go down in the annals of the Chitrapur Saraswat Samaj as golden days, when unparalleled historical moments were born.
When did it all begin? Was it when our beloved Param Poojya Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji, the eleventh Mathadipati of our glorious Chitrapur Math, first glimpsed a unique way to make amends? There cannot be a single Saraswat who is ignorant of our infamous past, where we left no stone unturned to humiliate our revered Guru – Brahmanishtha Swami Parijnanashram III, ultimately leaving our whole community wounded & bleeding! How could we make up in some way for our misdemeanor? Would it be ever possible to wipe away the tears & anguish the community had caused that great Soul? Was there some way we could compensate for those long years when we had stooped down to our lowest levels slandering, not a personality, but surely our own souls?
He, the ever-compassionate & the all-pervading, was beyond anything that was meted out to Him! Nothing could besmirch that cheerful Face, those glowing Eyes & that calm Look. Whatever was done would be beneficial for us – for the emotion of humility & repentance were ones that would wash out the past, leaving us pure & clean. We could definitely work together to blot out the shameful past & usher in a fragrant future!
This may have been the thought which became a seed that sprouted out into the Guru Jyoti Paada Yatra. What better time for us to display our united endeavour to express our love & gratitude to our Guru Parampara, than in this 300th year of its existence?
An event that would require a Herculean effort from as many of the Saraswats as possible, it was assigned to the Bangalore Sabha under the able guidance of the convenor of the Tercentenary Commemoration Committee, Lt. Gen. Prakash Gokarn Mam from Mumbai. The Bangalore Sabha formed a team headed by N.Jaywanth Rao Mam
(Vice President, Standing Committee) & Vivekanand Basrur Mam (President, Bangalore Local Sabha) that quickly sprang into action.
The task was to set up a plan that would see Saraswats carrying a portrait of Poojya Swami Parijnanashram in a procession, along with the lit lamps – the Guru Jyoti – as well as the Holy Padukas of Swamiji, from Gokarna ,our Adi Math to Shirali, within the sanctity of which lay the Holy Samadhis of most of our Gurus.
Yatris were asked to enroll their names as early as October 2007. Three categories were provided as options – Sankalpitas, Aayojakas & Swayamsevaks. People were allowed to choose the category that best fitted them, depending on their age, gender, fitness levels & time available. Slowly but steadily, the list grew to immense proportions. The team aimed at having at least 300 Sankalpitas! Lo & behold! There were at least five times those numbers during the Yatra! Saraswats from all over India & abroad too, decided to make a statement of love to their Guru, their Samaj, to their country & to the world!
Power-point presentations were made in early meetings where Yatris were initiated into the Plan of Action! Impressive speeches were made by doctors & seasoned walkers that inspired the laymen on how to prepare for the event. Acupressure sessions were conducted to further strengthen the resolve of those 'brave' enough to have given their commitment to walk the nearly 100 kilometres from Gokarna to Shirali. Knowing that it would be not just physically but also mentally & emotionally challenging, precautionary measures were being taken. A wise move, for they all helped when the occasion demanded every ounce of will-power from the Yatris.
Completing the first part of the journey from Karla to Gokarna, several Yatris accompanied the Holy Relics along with our Guru, Param Poojya Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji.
The second phase began on the 12th February 2008, the day that coincided with the appearance of our first Guru, Swami Parijnanashram I, at the Gokarna Kotiteerth, 300 years ago!
Yatris poured into the Adi Math & were greeted by smiling members of the Bangalore Sabha. The first stop for every Yatri had to be at the toll gate as one entered Gokarna. One had to furnish their name & receive their identity number. This would make the job of those at the register counter at the Math easier.
As the Yatri registered, he/she was given a neatly packed kit. It contained a lot of things that would be of use during the Yatra. Thoughtfully, a packet of confectionery that would be a 'sweet' replenishment & homeopathic pills to keep away aches & pains (courtesy Seema Kalbag Pachhi) were a part of the kit. Obviously a lot of visualization & planning had gone into preparing it.
Alongside, a shamiyana had been put up where a dedicated group of Pachhis were constantly explaining to Yatris about groups & other finer details. Vidyanand Kalyanpur Mam tirelessly explained rules to be followed & patiently answered questions that were flung at him from anxious Yatris! On-the-spot thinking went on too! All of a sudden, Prakash Gokarn Mam's booming voice was heard over the speakers, as he assertively instructed all the Yatris to note down a few emergency numbers to be kept on their person, during the Yatra, just in case! One really was left wondering what the secret of this exuberant energy was, that filled all those associated with the registering process! The team work was transparent as different people manned the various areas all through the day & well into the night of 12th February.
The 13th morning dawned – maybe wondering what had happened to the sleepy town of Gokarna! Thousands of people made their way up & down its by lanes, excited that it was nearly time for the grand procession to begin! Though a majority were Amchis, there were an impressive number of non-Bhanaps, comprising men from Chitrapur & Shirali, who had insisted on joining the Paadayatra! Curious locals were out on the streets to share in the excitement.
After the preliminary religious ceremonies within the Math, Param Poojya Swamiji arrived to the sound of Jaijaikars of the devotees. The Kotiteerth wore a festive look. Yatris encircled it, awaiting the 'ratha' that had been created to carry the Holy Relics, led by His Holiness. Men dressed in the majestic, traditional wear stood interspersed by the colourfully dressed women, who had been allowed the liberty to wear any dress that suited the purpose of walking without any hindrance. The sea of yellow caps was what distinguished all the Yatris & made them stand out in the as yet dark morning.
Ram, the handsome bull that had been given the privilege of pulling the cart, looked around with pride at all the attention being given to him! Bedecked in ornate head gear & with tinkling bells tied around his neck & back, he suited the major role that he was to play in the Yatra. Venkatraman, Ram's owner, stood beside him at attention, well aware of the massive responsibility on his shoulders! It is to their credit that they both did complete justice to the task given to them.
The air became electric when His Holiness arrived. He lovingly placed the portrait of His Guru on to the platform created on the cart to hold it. The two glowing Guru Jyotis were placed on either side of it & before it were placed the 20 kalashas of waters from 10 sacred rivers. Nine of them were our own Indian sacred rivers while the tenth was the river Credit in Canada that Swami Parijnanashram had crossed during His Seemolanghan all those years ago!
The lanes of Gokarna resounded with the signature tune sung by the enthusiastic Yatris as they finally got onto what they had been preparing for! The Guru Jyoti Paadayatra had begun!
The procession moved with men taking it in turns to carry the Holy Padukas with reverence on their head, walking just behind the Ratha. Swamiji walked alongside the Ratha, constantly keeping a check on the portrait, sensitive to anything that could cause any untoward happening. As He walked with a watchful & caring eye on the contents of the Ratha, one actually felt as if there was something that He could see, that the others could not! Something that was alive, visible & tangible, yet manifesting itself only to the Eye that could discern & fathom what was above the human, sensory zone!
All the Yatris had received a booklet that gave minute details of the distances between the points on the route that the procession would take during the two-day march. The exuberant Yatris walked with vigour & zest, eating up the kilometres that stretched between them & their goal. Slowly, the fast walkers overtook the ones who believed in being slow & steady, until there were no more groups left! One could only see clusters of Saraswats winding down the scenic countryside, busy matching strides with their buddies!
As the sun beat down upon the enthusiastic walkers, there were the lively cheer-leaders who lifted up their spirits with the sheer energy-lifting welcome that they gave! Amazing! As the group of walkers went past the cheering Pachhis, a few Mams & young kids standing under a shamiyana by the roadside, they spontaneously smiled! A little while later, once more could be heard the familiar chorus of excited voices! Once more they stood under the familiar shamiyana, their voices resonating as they sang Guru bhajans! It was some time before the Yatris realized that the group would wait for them to pass & then quickly hop onto a vehicle, one to carry them & another to carry the accommodating shamiyana, to a spot a little beyond where they were & set up camp again!! Kudos to them for their unlimited fervour! They were having a great time & in turn keeping the Yatris going too! Water bottles, energy drinks, healing & energizing homeopathic pills plus loads of encouragement is what was doled out at every cheering point!
The ambulances that had been arranged did fantastic work too. None of the Yatris noticed fatigued or unwell Yatris being pulled out of the Yatra by the attendants in the ambulances. Cars that were patrolling the Yatris would quietly note people in distress & rush to their assistance as smoothly & subtly as possible. Blisters were treated, feet were bandaged & people were set back on to the path to continue the walk! Those in need of salts were administered strong doses of the same, allowed to nap for a while & then cheered back on to join the others!
All the meals had been organized to ensure fast movement. Nobody was made to wait for too long. The breakfast had been organized at Madangiri the first morning & one would find it difficult to forget the nice, hot 'moodes' (a South Kanara delicacy) served with love. The second day found the hungry Yatris devouring steaming idlies, chutney & sambar at Honnavar! Lunch was at Kumta on the 13th & at Manki on the 14th. Both the days found everyone eating more than necessary, though a warning had been given beforehand to avoid this health hazard! No one could help it – the food served was generously sprinkled with Bhakti – an extra ingredient that added to its taste! The two night halts – one at the Haldipur Math & the other at Shirali's Maha Maya Ganapati Temple – came as a welcome respite to the tired feet that eagerly looked to flopping down for the night! A quick but sumptuous dinner & it was time to hit the bed! Red-faced, the Yatris heard the next morning that our pillar of strength – Param Poojya Swamiji – had returned later on both the nights – to perform the Guru Poojan & even share a few words to the few who had stayed awake to watch Him!
Sashtang Pranaams to His Holiness!
It would be outrageous if the acupressurists' excellent services were not mentioned! Every time the Yatris reached a resting point, they looked forward to being pampered by those waiting to massage & apply acupressure to their sore feet! Quite a few laymen (women too), who had practiced to provide this as their 'seva', waited for those in need to give them some respite. Aayojakas aur Swayamsevaks ki jai ho!
At Haldipur, the Sankalpita Yatris were surprised to find basins placed at their feet. Ladies strode in & out with mugs of hot water laced with salt! Wow! It was heavenly to place their weary feet in the hot rejuvenating water! Each Yatri must have surely sent out blessings to those sincere & dedicated Aayojakas & Swayamsevaks, for this wonderful gesture!
On Day 2, the procession was blessed with the Holy Darshan of three other Mathadipathis including Param Poojya Vamanashram Swamiji of the Haldipur Math.
Though each Yatri wished to pay homage to our Guru Parampara through this Yatra, it was heart warming to see a few who really walked through a fire kindled by their own firm resolve to complete the walk. On the night of 13th February, quite a few of the young & old could be seen hobbling along with bruised feet. But, of course, they would choose to travel by a vehicle, is what everybody else thought. They were wrong!
The next morning found the wounded back on their feet, bandage & all, determined to complete the walk! Watching them dragging their feet, especially towards the end of the day, one marvelled at their will-power that must have been fuelled with a Divine Fire – for they all accomplished their heart's desire! One perforce was reminded of the well-known story 'Footprints' where the man is assured by the Lord that at the toughest moments of his life, he had been carried by the Master! Wonder if that was what happened?!
Cheers of happiness rent the air at the Sharada Hole, Shirali, as the weary but delighted Yatris trooped in, behind His Holiness! People, including the doctors themselves, had right at the beginning said that it was an impossible task to cover nearly 100 kilometres in just a matter of two days! The impossible became possible only because of the oneness every Yatri felt with our Gurus – every one of the eleven from our glorious Guru Parampara! Indeed, we are a blessed community!
The third phase of the Yatra was the culmination of the whole event. As thousands made their way to the beautifully decorated Math, a light drizzle fell upon them! It seemed like a discreet but definite proclamation by the Gods above that the historic event had Their blessing! "Pushpa Vrishti" exclaimed the elated crowd! A gaily adorned elephant heralded the arrival of the procession, as the Srivalli High School band played a celebratory tune. The 12th Chapter of The Bhagwad Geeta was chanted in unison by the school children, in clear & ringing tones! Around five thousand onlookers watched the screens that showed revered Shanti Pachhi, leading the procession into the Chitrapur Math. Most had a lump in their throat! It was a befitting conclusion to the Paadayatra & a homecoming to cherish, for our beloved Parijnanashram Swamiji. As His Holiness mentioned in His Ashirvachan in the Dharmasabha on Friday evening, though a Guru is always 'sarvatra', He was now formally within the Home that housed His Beloved Gurus. The Saraswats had now another sacred shrine at the Math where they could worship their tenth Mathadipati!
"Laago tuze paayi dhyaana Dayaala – aanni na maago mee kaahi krupala!"
The next excitement was palpably felt in the beautifully done up Math when the Prathishta of the Devi Bhuvaneshwari & Adi Shankaracharya were done by Param Poojya Swamiji. The sacred idol of Lord Ganesha also found a new 'sthaan' just beside the two newly consecrated idols. Undoubtedly there were many moist-eyed devotees who watched the Pratishtha of our Revered Guru Parijnanashram III's Padukas, being done by His Holiness Swami Sadyojat Shankarashram. Every gesture & movement demonstrated His unflinching devotion to His Guru. It truly seemed like the whole aim of the Guru Jyoti Paadayatra had found its fulfillment.
People audibly held their breath as the veil was drawn away from the radiant & beautiful Bhuvaneshwari Devi. As She stood in all Her Glory, one could only exclaim at whoever had created Her!! No words could do justice to the encompassing peace that filled the Bhaktas, as they saw the marble white murti of Adi Shankaracharya being unveiled. When draped skillfully with an orange angavastra by His Holiness Sadyojat Shankarashram, the crowd sighed, as the Saint looked even more Divine! Ganapati Bappa, standing alongside, seemed at peace with His new place! Perhaps knowing that Parijnanashram Swamiji III was now where He used to be, was what added to His happiness? The happiest were all our Gurus, who must have blessed all the proceedings with Their Benign Presence.
Let us pay obeisance & express gratitude for having been born in the warmth of this blessed community – the Saraswat Samaj!
Om Namah Parvati Pataye Har Har Mahadev!