Monday, February 15, 2010

The Inheritance of Loss

The temple of Devi Sri Mookambika at Kollur in southern Karnataka is quite well-known in this part of the country.

People who visit here, also try to visit the hill-adobe of the Goddess at a place called Kudachadri, high and deep inside the forest, the road itself motorable only by 4-wheel drive jeeps and drivers experienced to drive through it. At the top, the jeep drivers wait for an hour and a half, to allow those who are interested to, to trek a few kms further on foot to the point called Sarvajna Peedam (The Seat of all Knowledge), which is where the sage Shankaracharya, whose name is associated with the legend of taking the Goddess from her hill-adobe down to the banks of the Sowparnika river, is supposed to have meditated.

A further few km up ahead is a place called Chitramala, literally 'picturesque hill', which is rumoured to be a place to go to if you wish to leave civilization behind. But the drivers advice you against it, partly because the terrain is too risky, and because it will take too long a time that they were not willing to wait for your return. Whatever it might be to you, it was for them also a matter of time and money, though I am sure for each of them, who had to scale those treacherous hair-pins many times every day, the Goddess was as important as to the best of pilgrims. There are no atheists in fox-holes.

I have for long been drawn to the temple, the river, the hill adobe, and the seat of knowledge. More than once my travels, aimless though they were, have culminated here: the restlessness that might not have been satiated anywhere else would finally be quenched, and I would return back to routine, content.

Each time, as I stood at the top of the Sarvajna Peedam, at the culmination of many a long journey, I have felt a sense of complete tranquility, of belonging, of having belonged for long. Each time, I would want to come prepared to go to Chitramala, but desist, not sure I was ready to take the final stretch, yet. At the Peedam, there is a small idol of the sage, inside a small temple-like room made of blocks of stone.

The first of couple of times I had been up there, the Peedam, though not a deserted place, was largely part of the landscape. Travelers there, only a few of them pilgrims in the strict sense of the word, would silently sit and savour the moment - try to take as much of it into them as they could. I remember having sat inside the stone structure, barely a feet from the idol of the sage, my shoes off, and feeling a profound respect fill inside me. I might have plucked a wild flower or two and left it there.

When I went there a year and half ago, for the first time with family and hence in a slightly mellowed mood, I could notice the early signs of change. There were enterprising young men perched at regular intervals along the trekking trail, selling refreshments to the travelers, who were now beginning to form into a crowd, with a more pilgrim-like way to it. At the top, someone had cleaned the idol of the sage and there were flowers strewn around like there had been a proper puja. People had already begun observing a respectable distance around the structure.

I went there again this weekend.

There was a priest conducting full-fledged rituals, people queuing up to have them performed. The idol looked all neat and polished, almost happy. I stood there wondering what to do, feeling like one might, when, having come to visit an old friend from afar, finds that man a millionaire now with people fawning over him.

Just then a boy of 10 or 12, dressed in a priest-like red and white dhoti, came over to where I was standing, ten feet away from the structure, which had started resembling a temple by now.

He told me that the ground on which I was standing was sacred, and authoritatively asked me to remove my footwear.

I remained on the spot for a while, realizing I did not belong here anymore.

After a while I removed the shoes, stood in the queue obediently, and when I got to front, completely ignored the priest (to his surprise), spent a few moments gazing at the decorated idol, took a little of the saffron kept in a dish nearby, said a silent good-bye in my heart, and started back.

I doubt if I will ever visit Chitramala now.

With apologies to Kiran Desai, for having used the title of her novel.


  1. I had been to Mookambika a couple of weeks back with my family but we couldn't make it to Kudachathiri due to lack of time. I really feel I missed something..
    I can understand how you must have's like finding an abandoned pup, being there for it, loving it and then one day it is taken away by its so called owners....
    Don't mind the comparison with the pup...was just using the example of something I love the most...

  2. hmmm, tell me something? is that how a mother in law feels when she see her son being fed an pampered by her daughter in law? a boy whom she loved and around whom her world revolved, and who made her feel like a queen is suddenly dethroned. The position taken up by a girl, who was unknown just a few days ago and is the boy's world today!! Inheritance of loss indeed!! Thats when detachment comes to mind..

  3. @destiny: did that happen to you? did someone take away a pup from you? Sad, then.

    @Sujatha: Every mother was herself a new wife some day, rt?

  4. My father was given a quarter by the government and I spent the happiest 13 years of my life there. I grew up in that house, I had my friends there, I laughed and cried there. It was my sanctuary and a witness to my growing up years.
    After his retirement, I went once to see the house. A new family was staying there. The house had turned into a stranger and was no longer mine. I realized then you could never go back to your home again.
    For some reason, your post reminded me of that.

  5. @Aparna: I can understand the feeling. May be I ought not to feel attachment to a place, that is after all dedicated to the memory of a sage, who lived a life of detachment! But yet when the kindness and joy that was mine only yesterday are deprived to me now, feel sad

  6. Results of Commercialisation ! I have faced lot of similar situations at different places.

  7. I read it with double-feeling. There are not so many places in Russia closed to tourists because they belonged to religious worship of different confessions. I felt that another one piece of the world became business-like. One the other hand we need to accept it that none of us can change the situation. Many places, which we consider saint to us, is now under the pressure of “golden body”. We only need to keep them in our hearts as saint until we will be able to change it.

  8. Nicely evoked. Silence has its own dynamics, and left alone it develops a mystique.

    In time the crowd will develop a different dynamic. It is the knowing of the 'before' and then seeing the 'after' that brings in a loss of inheritance.

  9. nicely written article, doctor. the business of religion is always on the look out for new ideas, new opportunities, new places to branch out its activities to.

  10. That was one place on my list of 'to go' places.
    After reading you, in second thoughts :-(

  11. Hi Doctor, I am not sure what happened to the post I left just this week in regards to this writing. I read this and felt sad that you could not feel like going back to something that you cared so much for. Sometimes, pain involves change and change involves pain. I could see the beauty and peacefulness inside the imagery of your words. Again, I don't know what happened to the first comment I left for you... Take care

  12. now thts one place id definately love to visit:)
    nice post. thnks for droppin by on my blog.cheers.

  13. hope all is well at your end ! 4 months no post !

  14. Thanks Nu! A lot's been happening of late, but not really the kind that might interest anyone. Have taken a break from work, preparing for UPSC exams. Dont have easy net access as well anymore. But you'll see me soon enough, and hopefully in a different capacity. In the meanwhile, stay good.

  15. Good to hear from you ! Thanks for the info :)

    Good Luck for the exams !

    Hope to read you soon :)


Thanks for giving me this moment of your life.