22 August 2017

Story of Kubera Lingam—"On the Girivalam Path"

The below narrative is an excerpt from “Arunachala Siva—On the Girivalam Path” by Dr. Bharat Bhushan.

“Arunachala Siva—On the Girivalam Path” follows the stories at each of the Asta Lingams of different devotees performing Arunachala Girivalam. The below narrative is that of a devotee’s experience at the Kubera Lingam. 

"Arunachala-Siva—On the Girivalam Path" will be shortly uploaded as a PDF file on my Arunachala Samudra website.

Lord Kubera

Arunachala Siva !!!
Bless me, that I will always return, to you...

"Arunachala!" he whispered, "What is this amazing family of the night that you create!" Rangabhashyam sat at the open seat-ledge outside the Kubera Lingam temple. It was a Girivalam full-moon night, around 2 a.m., and he sat amazed, watching the nearly hundred devotees and pilgrims walking, sitting, worshipping, chanting, sleeping and eating near the temple. The Kubera Lingam temple was amazingly comfortable and perhaps, thoughtfully improved, this year in 1975, he thought. Pilgrims starting on the Girivalam walk from the Annamalai temple or Sri Ramanashram would be happy to take a break by the time they would reach the Kubera Lingam temple. There were open spaces alongside the temple, and the pavement was ample here, with some improved amenities in the mid 70s. Devotees, pilgrims, vendors, sadhus, mendicants and local volunteers, everyone found a place near the temple on the Girivalam full-moon night.

He had started walking at 11.30 p.m., and it had been slow progress, walking with the groups of devotees along the path. There must have been at least a thousand or more pilgrims walking on the Girivalam path tonight. Somehow, slowly, resting when possible, Rangabhashyam had managed to get up to the Kubera Lingam temple. The devotees had queued up outside the temple and there were clusters of devotees standing around the outer sanctum. Some devotees were throwing coins towards the temple, as was the unusual or usual practice at the Kubera Lingam. There were also groups of 3-4 sadhus and mendicants seated in a disciplined manner on the pavement seeking alms from the devotees. Vendors were selling foodstuffs, devotional items and memorabilia.

Rangabhashyam loved this experience. He had been on the Girivalam path, years ago, with his parents, when they had traveled up from Srivilliputtur with his two sisters. They had stayed at a choultry, cooking their own food, traveling meagrely, and enjoying every aspect of the pilgrimage. He had many memories of that visit. His father had been very enterprising and loved to travel. They had traveled all over Tamil Nadu, Kerala and as far north as Ahobilam and Tirupati. Those were the years between 1910 and 1925, and these places were not even named as such. Later, he had made one more pilgrimage after his marriage, to Tiruvannamalai, with Kodai, his wife, and three of his children, journeying from Srirangam, where they had migrated to, from Srivilliputtur. From one pilgrimage center to the other, he thought, a Vaishnava in search of Shiva!!!

Those were the only two pilgrimages to the Girivalam path, as he remembered. His father had been traveling all the while and later he had moved away from Tamil Nadu. Memories, he thought, memories were a treasure. Walking on the Girivalam path in those days, with his parents had been a true adventure. The road as one saw it today was not there. It was a network of cart-tracks inside thick forests and scrublands and one had to walk from one of the ashtalingams to the other. Each of the ashtalingams was in the custody of a resident sadhu who had settled at the premises. Beyond the 2-3 other helper sadhus in those days, ten pilgrims were considered a crowd. Years later, when he had come with his wife and kids, they had hired a local couple from near the Agni Lingam temple. The man had carried their bags and the woman had helped them cook food and took care of the children. It had been difficult, he remembered, thinking of those days.

Today, it would be his third pilgrimage, he thought. The road was much better, with comfortable walking tracks, volunteers providing food and water, eating-stalls, quick prayers at the ashtalingams, and the sight of thousand pilgrims being recognised as not being enough. Rangabhashyam sat at the Kubera Lingam, thinking of all those who had gone ahead, of those who he would not meet again. And yet, he thought, as he sat there, he could almost reach out and talk to his father and mother. In spite of his marriage of many years, his children having grown up and with their own families, for Rangabhashyam, the most precious and most treasured memories were the years that he had been blessed with his parents. If given a chance, he would give away everything that he had gained to be back with his parents. That would not be, he thought, but being on the Girivalam path, brought everything back, flooding in.

There was a significant memory of his visit with his parents to the Kubera Lingam temple, sometime in 1910 or thereabouts. He had been 10-11 years of age, and his mother had been tired and she worried about the night journey with the girls. They had been advised by the priest at the Kubera Lingam temple to stay at a nearby hut across the cart-tracks towards the sacred peak of Arunachala. A mendicant sadhu covered in a blanket, had gone ahead and informed the family staying there. His father had paid four annas for the night, and had given a half-anna to the sadhu who had helped. The family was very unique, and that was why he had remembered them, after all these years. The man was a dwarf, and his wife had been incredibly tall, compared to him. Rangabhashyam's parents had not thought it to be amusing but he had never forgotten them.

The dwarf, tiny as he was, had been extremely fat, with a big belly. He had had a golden necklace and walked about with the support of a stout staff. He had been very kind and had asked his wife to warm up goat milk with jaggery for the two girls. One of his sisters had disliked it intensely and had passed on the clay container to Rangabhashyam. He had thought it to be very tasty. Today, sitting here, at the Kubera Lingam temple, he thought, what would he give, perhaps a month's salary, to get that hot cup of goat milk sweetened with jaggery. His mother and the dwarf's wife had been chatting all the while, and worked out the dinner together and Rangabhashyam could remember the snip of the tasty coconut-oil flavoured sambar to this day. Those days were gone, forever.

In his second visit with Kodai and his children, Rangabhashyam had delayed the pradakshana at the Kubera Lingam temple. Would he find the dwarf? Would that house be there? He had wondered about it and had keenly crossed the earlier ashtalingams quickly. Kodai had not known about his intent. It was sometime in 1929 or 1930, he remembered, two sons and a daughter had accompanied them, and Kodai was keen to seek the blessings of Arunachala after tragedy had taken away a child earlier.

Rangabhashyam had asked the priest at the Kubera Lingam if he knew of a family across the road towards the sacred peak of Arunachala, of whom, the husband was a dwarf, and who had kept goats for their milk.

The priest had explained that he was new to the temple and he went back daily, by dusk, to a village near the panchamukham area. He had never crossed the road to explore the settlements in the lower slopes of the sacred Arunachala. They were all newcomers in any case, and there were only 6-10 houses in the area. Rangabhashyam had asked the local mendicants and sadhus who were camping at a small prehistoric type of ancient stone temple-structure nearby. None of the sadhus had helped him. But, Rangabhashyam had been keen, and had gone to a nearby hut and requested their help for his family to stay the night. They had allowed them, but they did not speak of a dwarf, his tall wife and his goats.

Now, in 1975, and in his third visit, Rangabhashyam was alone. They had all gone earlier, parents, sisters, Kodai - his beloved wife, and five of his children, had all journeyed before him to the great temple in the heavens. He had come down from Bombay, where his two sons had settled, to visit his daughter in Madras. With time to spare, he had got away by a bus and got a bed to sleep at the Gentlemen's Choultry at Sri Ramanashram. It had been pure bliss, getting away, finally. He could not remember when he had been entirely alone, by himself. Walking on the Girivalam path, all the memories came flooding back. He had actually sat down at the Yama Lingam and Niruthi Lingam temples and had broken down in tears.

Sitting here, he could sense his mother holding his hand, and sometimes he could remember the feel of his sisters' hands in his, holding on to him for support. He could close his eyes and feel the loving hands of Kodai, seeking his strength, and later asking him to carry their three year old son over the stony path.

The roads were well made now, tarred, with buses and cars driving by, and night lighting at some spots providing the welcome feeling. Pilgrims no longer cooked their food on the Girivalam path, out of absolute necessity. Eatables were available easily. He had taken a break at a 'tiffin kadai', actually a simple shanty made of palm leaves. They had served him a medley of two idlis, one masala vada, two types of chutneys and a small container of buttermilk - all for one rupee. He had almost laughed at the cost. It would have been at least two rupees in Bombay.

Rangabhashyam walked about, within and around the outer sanctum of the Kubera Lingam temple. Whom could he ask about the family he had met, nearly sixty years ago? Who would know? Turning towards Arunachala, he looked up at the sacred peak, in sharp silhouette under the full moon. It would not do any harm, he thought, and he spoke to Arunachala, within himself. "O Shiva! O Arunachala! My father taught me that you are the first Vaishnava. As you did, so did my beloved Kodai. She carried the Shankhu and the Chakram on her bare shoulders, and yet, she loved you dearly. Who was it that allowed my parents and sisters to stay the night, so close to you? Who was it that allowed you to love my parents, sisters, my Kodai and my children so much, that you have taken them in your embrace?"

As he said these thoughts, he saw a sadhu, aged, walking towards him, distinctively covered entirely by a blanket around him. There was something in his confident walk, the way he walked proudly, the repeated glance towards Arunachala, the steadfast denial to look down, and in his strong shoulders. Rangabhashyam extended his hands towards him and placed a five rupee note in the sadhu's palms. The sadhu looked startled. People rarely gave more than fifty paise and the rich would sometimes give a rupee. But, five rupees? This was surprising. He looked at Rangabhashyam enviously, and blessed him, "Swami, may Arunachala bless you!"

Hearing his voice, Rangabhashyam was sure. This was the same sadhu who had guided his parents to the dwarf's house. His father had given him a half-anna for his help. Smiling, Rangabhashyam said to him, "Periyanna, this is my resolution to a very old debt. Sixty years ago, you had helped my parents and my sisters stay for the night at a kind family's house for the night. My father had given a half-anna for your help. Do you remember? How can you remember? You meet so many pilgrims every day on his sacred path. Perhaps you can help me. Do you remember the family who had alowed us to stay at their home for the night? The man was a dwarf. Is the family alive?"

The mendicant sadhu smiled. He looked closely at Rangabhashyam and asked him to sit with him at the stone ledge outside the Kubera Lingam temple. He said, "You are that small boy, about ten years old, I remember, on that day. That dwarf, as you say, is my stepbrother. He could never stop talking about your family. He stayed in touch with your father, and they met each other once or twice at Tiruvannamalai. Yes. He is alive, older than me, of course, but very much present. His wife is also alive. They had moved their house to a secluded place inside the forest."

Rangabhashyam was happy. He looked up at Arunachala, conveyed a quiet prayer of thanks and spoke to the mendicant sadhu who was covered up with his blanket, "Periyanna, I never knew that you were related to the family we stayed with. Who was he? Why is his memory so strong in me? Why do I feel like I have to know about him? I had come here, when I was married, with my wife and children, sometime 45 years ago. But nobody knew about him. They never knew that there was a dwarf and his wife in the foothills of the sacred Arunachala in front of the Kubera Lingam temple."

The mendicant sadhu replied, "That is the tragedy now. The newcomers do not know of the siddhars who are the real guardians of the sacred region. Some say that they have been for hundreds of years. As much as you can remember, and as I can, all changes have taken place in these hundred years and as I feel, for the better. My brother seeks solitude and has very minimal needs. He is happy to be with Arunachala. Actually, he is a very rich man. Coconut groves, cultivation and dairy farms, away from Arunachala belong to his family. His wife's family and his children manage his properties. He lives as he taught. There are no personal needs in life. He does not need anything. I have been with him since my childhood. Sometime people like you place alms in my hand. I use it for the stuff that I cannot get in a normal way."

Rangabhashyam nodded and asked, "Can I meet him? Can I talk to him? He has been a part of my memories that I have not shared at all with my children, grown up as they are, with their children. I have thought of him, every day, in my prayers, in my sleep, in my thoughts about my parents, my sisters and my children who are no longer with me. Is it possible to go to his house and meet him?"

The mendicant sadhu said, "Wait here. Tonight is a full moon. He has to come to the temple. he has not come until now. It would be about time now. After his prayers, he will sit here for some time and watch everyone. He loves to watch the crowds, the devotees, the families and the manner in which the Girivalam path has become accepted among everyone. You wait here. I will join you when he comes."

It was about 4 a.m. or thereabouts, and devotees were moving about in waves. Many dropped coins at the open area outside the Kubera Lingam temple. Some families sat for a while. Several devotees placed coins in the open bowls in front of the sadhus who were seated in groups and chanting some prayers. The mendicant sadhu covered in a blanket stood silently, away from the crowd. He seemed very calm, unaffected by all the hustle and the numbers of people. He did not seem to be in need of alms. He was watching the dark lower slopes of Arunachala. He was waiting. After a while, he seemed to have spotted something. He shouted a prayer loudly and went inside the Kubera Lingam temple and took up a place in the premises in the outer sanctum. 3-4 mendicants came up from other places in the crowd and stood with him.

Rangabhashyam looked towards the lower slopes of Arunachala. He could not see anything. He continued to search. Then, he heard it. A faint bleat of a goat. There was an ancient prehistoric sort of medieval temple structure on the outer side of the road. It was a deserted place and in the darkness of the night, it looked like a haunted place. Suddenly as he watched, a goat stood there, quiet, watching, waiting. He kept looking at the goat. He was there; he could make out, a small shadow alongside the goat. The dwarf was there.

The goat stood still at the temple-like ancient structure while the dwarf man crossed the Girivalam path from the side of the sacred Arunachala to the Kubera Lingam temple. The groups of mendicant sadhus stopped singing. Some stood up to greet him in silent respect. He did not look like he was ninety years or more, in the manner in which he walked. He strode confidently, covered in a shawl, looking around, smiling and not stopping to talk to anyone. At the entrance to the temple, a group of 3-4 mendicant sadhus bowed in respect and touched his feet. At that moment, Rangabhashyam saw, he did not seem to have changed at all in his rotund shape.

He was fat, with a large belly, but despite it, nobody seemed to be noticing him for his shape at all. he had a golden necklace and was carrying a money bag that he handed over. One of the mendicants accepted the money bag and went over to the groups of waiting sadhus and kept handing over fistfuls of coins to them. As he saw, Rangabhashyam could notice, he now had a full-length silvery beard and a great moustache. Silvery hair, that seemed to make him look like a very wise man.

The mendicant sadhu with the blanket walked up to him from the outer sanctum and went with the wise looking dwarft to the temple. He did not push the pilgrims aside and did not break the queue. Quietly, without any showy display, he conveyed his prayer, and walked out to the garden area. He seemed to be carrying some pomegranates in his hand that he handed over to the kids who were picking up the coins being thrown by the devotees. The mendicant sadhu with the blanket spoke to the wise looking dwarf and pointed towards Rangabhashyam. Nodding, the wise looking dwarf came up to him.

"It has been a long time, Son, a very long time." He said, "You are an old man now, with your own grandchildren. Why did you not come earlier?" Rangabhashyam broke down in tears, and bowed down to touch the feet of the wise looking dwarf. The mendicant sadhu with the blanket said, "Anna, he has lost five of his children. They went back to Vaikunta as kids." The wise looking dwarf looked at Rangabhashyam quietly, thinking of all those who had gone, and made him sit on the stone ledge. He said, "I understand. You are in search of your people; you are in search of your memories. I am in search of that family who came to meet me sixty years ago. I remember your mother and your father. I remember your sisters."

"Come, come with me to my hut on the foothills of Arunachala, and stay with me for 2-3 days. My lady will be so happy. She remembers your family. Mind it; you were the only family to stay with us in all these years. The memories of that single day have made them feel like they were our family. We can talk to you about what your father and mother said, and how they loved to take care of you and your sisters. My lady will tell you how much your sisters loved you and how they gossiped. Come. My life has not changed much. My friend, my beloved Arunachala, does not allow me to go back to him, though I ask him to call me to him every day."

Rangabhashyam stood up and walked away obediently with the wise looking dwarf to the foothills of the sacred Arunachala in the hours of the early dawn. This would be his longest Girivalam pradakshana, he thought.

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