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Eastern Mind
19 January 2009, 07:48 AM
This April for the first time (in this lifetime) I am planning to return to mother India. My daughter and I will be going to 7 (Tanjore, Chidambaram, Tiruchendur, Madurai, Palani, Rameswaram, and Tiruvanammalai) of the great Saiva temples in Tamil Nadu. I am currently looking at hiring a car/driver/guide for 14 day trip. Any advice on good companies would be appreciated..start finish at Bangalore..please reply to me privately. I thought we could publicly discuss the various traditional pilgrimages, and share travel information as well. Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
14 March 2009, 11:31 AM
Apparently there was little interest in this topic from before, but I'm giving it another shot. Since pilgrimage is one of our sacred duties, I thought it would be of interest. Just to share a story I found humorous of my upcoming trip planning. Firstly, it seemed ALL the tour groups I contacted really didn't get it... my purpose being pilgrimage, not sightseeing. (I did choose the one that came the closest to 'getting it" .) So I'm inquiring of them about the Tamil New year's Day crowd at Palani Hills, as I kind of want to avoid throngs, so I request to go up the hill early. They respond on the tram times, assuming that I will be taking the tram. But the humour is that there is no way in hades that I would take that tram and lose the possibility of the merit involved in walking up the steps. I'm not coming all the way from Canada at considerable cost to laze out by going up some mechanical device. What would Murugan think of me?
You came here to get my darshan? You lazy pompous fool! Scat from My temple!

Aum Namasivaya

(Suggestions from the original post still stand ... pilgrimage in North America
intrigues me as well.) BTW, I have added Uchi pillaiyar, pillaiyarpatti, and Rajaganapathi in Salem to above list.. wishing I had a year..

14 March 2009, 09:35 PM
This April for the first time (in this lifetime) I am planning to return to mother India. My daughter and I will be going to 7 (Tanjore, Chidambaram, Tiruchendur, Madurai, Palani, Rameswaram, and Tiruvanammalai) of the great Saiva temples in Tamil Nadu. I am currently looking at hiring a car/driver/guide for 14 day trip. Any advice on good companies would be appreciated..start finish at Bangalore..please reply to me privately. I thought we could publicly discuss the various traditional pilgrimages, and share travel information as well. Aum Namasivaya

Namaste EM,

You should have recieved some inputs, at least I assumed so.

I used to visit Tiruvannamalai often from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. You can easily visit Tiruvannamalai by hiring a car from central railway station/airport. It would take approximately 3 and half hours to reach the destination. Car rental one way would be approximately Rs. 2000-Rs.2200. I have always stayed at Hotel Rama Krishna, which suited my budget. There are AC rooms and the hotel is reasonably clean and run by devout people. Room Tarrifs used to be cheap ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 800 for a double bedded AC room, suitable for two people but 3-4 people can be adjusted. There are bigger rooms also. There are of course many hotels but I have always stuck to this. There may be accomodation available at Ramana asrama, for which you can get an advance confirmation through e-mail (available from Asrama web site) or enquire while being there.

It is also possible to take a bus (which are usually not AC and this time it will be hot) from Koyamvedu bus station of Chennai. I do not know whether that will suit you or not? But bus journey is not too uncomfortable and there are buses plying every 15 minutes or so. It takes about four hours by bus from Koyamvedu to Tiruvannamalai. Bus fare is dirt cheap, just Rs.70 per ticket. But I have not seen any foreigner travelling by these buses. Seats are two narrow for them.

While in Tiruvannamalai, you can spend one day or as many days you like. For me, a minimum of 2 to 3 days were always required. 5-6 hours would be required for circumambulating the Shiva, who stands as a hill there and this you cannot miss at all. Visit to the main Arunachala temple would take another 3-4 hours or more. Then one must sit silently at Ramana asrama and have Lunch or Dinner there. Sitting in Ramana Asrama in meditation can be for infinite time but one needs at least a session of two-three hours to begin to soak in the shanti. You can visit beginning early morning 6 am or at 4 pm. Do not visit asrama between 12.30 am to 2.30 pm during which it is rest time and the Asrama meditation rooms will be likely closed. Plan to vist either at 6 am or at 3-4 pm and staty there for 4 hours, including the meal at the end. This should be suitable for a tourist pilgrim, however you can do more depending on your schedule.

No one will invite you to Lunch/Dinner but you must approach the Manager in the office and put in a request, as soon as you arive there. I think it is must. It is Bhagawan who Himself feeds there. Do not leave without partaking of that prasad.


Regarding visiting India and booking railway tickets online you can use IRCTC.co.in and I think there is a site "IncredibleIndia" which will give you tourist information.

I feel sad about you not recieving any input on time. You may pm me for any other specific query wrt Tiruvannamalai.

Om Namah Shivaya

Eastern Mind
30 April 2009, 03:27 PM
I'm back from the trip and can post results/observations/stories if anyone here is interested. A white veryHindu perspective. Aum

30 April 2009, 07:44 PM
hariḥ oṁ


Yes, indeed... please tell us of your trip. Any photo's too?


Eastern Mind
01 May 2009, 06:35 AM
Vannakkam: Sorry, but I am not a photo type. Photos remind me of the past, and I try my durndest to live in the present. Besides, for most of the places I visited there exist many photos. I will write about each place one post at a time. Hope you enjoy.

Holy place # 1. My home temple. The evening before we (my adult daughter and I) leave we go to temple to beseech the blessings of devas, Lord Mahaganapati, and expecially Lord Palaniandavar in the Vasantha Mandapam. I have a special connection to this murthi as it was the original one at the beginning of this temple. Priest says this is the first time archana is done to Him. On inside I KNOW that my time at Palani will be sufficient Darshan for the entire pilgrimage. There is a sense of excitement and a karmic destiny. My daughter is along more for the adventure than the pilgrimage. I try to focus on God and God alone.

Holy place #2. Bangalore - It's 2AM, we've had no sleep for 28 hours. The time difference is 11 and a half hours. As the plane touches down, I cry. We meet guide, and go to hotel. Next day around noon, I ask hotel staff if there is a temple within walking distance. Desk clerk gives directions, so we go. First encounter with bustle of India is bombarding senses. We see two temples. One draws me in magnetically. Not sure which God until I spot Mayil, and then I know why it drew me. Lord Murugan gives me a welcoming stare, and I take arati from Ganesha shrine in thanks for a safe trip. A few happy stares from people as if this is the first time a white guy dressed in Veshti, smeared in vibuthi has ever been in that temple. There is an overwhelming sense of spiritual welcoming by Mother India.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
01 May 2009, 12:07 PM
Holy Place # 3: Iraivan temple carving site.

Before beginning our journey I return to the same temple and purchase Ganesha archana for a safe trip. The day before we are introduced to our first scam. Driver takes us, (tired, not thinking clearly) to the best clothing store in town. We pay at least triple the going rates for saris, suits, and veshtis. (The fact there were no Indians in the store should have clued me in.) But I wipe it off my slate as learning from mistakes, and compare it to prices in Canada and its still cheaper.

We arrive at the carving site, and get a tour by the manager/host. The work is at once impressive. (Those interested can see pictures on the Kauai Aadheenam website) The stone bell and chains are marvels. Later we visit the hosts (an architect by trade) house and he has the most magnificent shrine room I have ever seen.

Holy place # 4: Salem and Rajaganapathi

We check into hotel, and soon I ask for the location of the nearest temple. I am given directions down a back alley/road, and soon I am at a small Ganesha temple that reminds me of home. I do pradakshina, sit for a moment, and then have to embarassingly ask "hundiyal?" and am shown a large steel container that I soon learn is the common Hundi in Indian temples, whilst I am used to a plain box on a stand type here. The vibration for me is not particularly strong, but still it is Ganesha.

On the way home I am introduced to the hardships in India via an armless youth searching through garbage with his mouth. I am forced to mentally chant "All is Siva."

The following morning we head off for the famous Rajaganapathi temple. The driver is unfamiliar with it so we keep asking for directions. We are sort of looking for a gopuram or larger temple. On the fourth or fifth asking for directions, the fellow we are asking points to beside the car, and there is Rajaganapathi in all His splendour. I get out and join the crowd, not having a clue what I'm doing. I see a priest near the archana booth so show him my card size picture of my Guru thinking it might help. He immediately breaks into a wide smile, and motions me to follow him. We skip the archana ticket. He pulls me up close and asks for name, nakshatra etc. and just goes in and does the archana right away. He returns with flowers, fruit, and a bag of vibhuthi enough for the prasad of 100 archanas. The vibration is unworldly, and I give him R100 dakshina, and off we go. The pilgrimage is now very on.
Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
02 May 2009, 06:41 AM
Holy Place # 5: Unknown name hill Temple one hour SW of Salem - Just off the highway we see 2 gopurams and many smaller shrines, and walks surrounding the hill. We turn around and go up to investigate. At the top of the hill we enter a Rajarajeshwari temple and discover the hill is surrounded by I think 3 pradakshina paths and there are exactly 1001 lingams. After aarti and darshan with Rajarajeshwari, we move down to the lower portion plateau area of the temple. Here it is cool, there is lots of grass, and it is very clean, and open aired. There are 108 Siva Lingams surrounding the courtyard. We walk to the main temple area, and encounter the largest Lingam ever. It must be 15-16 feet high. The place has one security guard, about 10 devotees, and a priest. Soon he is doing aarti for us. Nice clear loud chanting, but to me the place seems void of vibration. My daughter loves it. It is her favorite place on whole trip. We wander around a bit.

Holy Place # 6: Palani - We can see the hill as we approach, and I am feeling it. After reaching hotel, I arrange for tonsuring. Very short barber arrives, and we go to hotel tonsuring area. My daughter is amazed at his ability. Three minutes later, with no cuts even with karmic physical scars on my head, its done. We decide to climb very early the next morning in hopes of avoiding crowds as it is Tamil New Year. I am told that only Skanda Shasthi and Thai Poosam get larger crowds. We go for a couple of wonderful walks about the temple shops, admiring the happiness of the people. We see one other white skinned person working in a shop. My daughter experiences the touch of curious women feeling her oh so soft white skin.

Next AM we arise about 5 to beat the crowd. As soon as we get to the steps, and pray to Ganesha shrine there, we realize beating the crowd was some sort of absurd optimistic dream. I am determined to climb without stopping, so pace myself. As we arrive at the top, the queue goes back and forth all along the side of the temple, and must be 5000 strong. I estimate it will be a minimum of 4 hours. Given the new found heat, I figure its impossible, and we may faint from heatstroke, given our western wimpiness. Having no idea how to purchase archana ticket, and with no guide, I am overwhelmed, and say, "Well, at least we should walk around it." Nearer to the sanctum area, I spot a different line beginning at a sign that says R200. I realise it must be the special darshan shortcut line, so pull out my R stack, get a bit of help from a broken English deva in human body, cut through the main line, and am escorted into a fenced line with still a substantial queue. We follow along until we have to squeeze through a small hole of a door. Its dark, hot, sweaty, and dank. Suddenly we are there in the darshan of Palaniandavar. I have no idea what happens next, other than I sense its important. It takes somewhere between 2 seconds, and 2 hours in our time sense, and we exit the other side to be given vibhuthi and kumkum by a priest. We see others looking upwards and realize the early morning sun is hitting the vimana. It is a glittering gold like I've only seen once or twice before. We feel happier than earlier, and continue our walk more slowly around the temple. After what feels like only going half way, we realise we're back at the steps. We watch as kavadi bearers go by and we see a few women beginning their penance of rolling around the temple. The rocks seem hard and dirty for that, but I know they know what they're doing. After a few more minutes, we decide to descend. it is relaxing, and we stop here and there just enjoying the bliss. I mention to my daughter that the pilgrimage is now over. All the rest will be bonus. If it was 10 seconds, and we paid $6000 Canadian, then His darshan was $600 a second. Priceless.

Later that night I am faced with a moral dilemma. I am being kept awake by a light coming through the crack in the curtains, as I am light sensitive. But when I get up to draw the curtains, I realise it is the light from the pinnacle of the hill, and for a minute it seems like I am turning my back on God if I close the curtain. After another hour of circling moral debate, I beseech Palaniandavar mentally, and He allows me to close the curtain.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
03 May 2009, 06:29 AM
Holy Place # 7: Madurai Meenakshi temple.

After a night's rest we meet company's temple guide at hotel and start out by car. Immediately he informs me that I won't be allowed in the 'inside part" where only Hindus are allowed. I chant some slokas, and ask to be turned around to retrieve my passport copy, and certificate of conversion. We set out again. He is not at all convinced, and doesn't seem to understand that I am not a tourist.

After stopping at the guide's priest contact house, we enter via east gopuram. The 12 year kumbhabishekam had just finished on April 4th, so gopurams have fresh paint, and look magnificent. (Personally I prefer stone, plain stone, as it adds to feelings of antiquity for me.) After demonstrating (prostrating and praying to every God statue that comes into sight) I don't really want to hear the details of architecture etc, we finally arrive at the 'Hindus only' entrance point. Priest meets us and takes documents to an administrative office. In the meantime about 5 or 6 priests gather around and kind of watch us. One in particular, I can feel. He is young, but has that special 'wow" feel about him, and the thought strikes me that he is running this whole show from the inside. Perhaps he is just a vision.

The priest returns, and says "No problem, no problem." I can't tell from look on the guide's face whether he is surprised or disappointed. None of this actually bothers me much. It is just part and parcel of the story of life: karma comes, karma goes. Later, when I encounter gawking western tourists, I am thankful the policy exists.

We all (driver, guide as well) enter and follow the same priest to the front of the line at both the Meenakshi, and then the Siva shrines, getting archanas performed at each. Security is everywhere, and stick out their hands for bribe/dakshina at each passing, which is a definite distraction to the worship. I'm glad I have a pile of R10 notes in my pocket. The darshan is otherworldly, but I am unsure why. I ponder if its just the unfamiliar crowded dark dirty methods, or a real vibration. In the end it doesn't matter as I KNOW that its not if you see him, but whether or not He sees you.

When we exit, the priest accepts my generous dakshina and supposed donation to the temple itself. My daughter is overwhelmed and starting to feel 'templed out'.

The guide escorts us to his business contacts outside in some "special shop" that is really just a sideline of his as he is to get a cut from the shop for bringing in some stupid western tourist. The two shops we are shown are run by Muslims (They don't know that I know this, but it's blatantly obvious.) and although the artifacts, statues are nice artistically, have had all vibration drained from them. I am looking at a simple one I like, and the owner shows me a 'finer' one. I stare him down and state directly, "I'm not interested in how it LOOKS. I only care how it FEELS." This, being very contrary to his frame of reference, takes him aback, and he no longer even wants to help much. As I leave it strikes me that our guide may well have been a Muslim, too. This would really highlight the stupidity of the "No Hindus beyond here." policy we just went through, and show it for what it is in part... racism, pure and simple.

When it comes time to tip the guide, my offering is somewhat cheaper because of all this. Besides, he's getting paid by the company.

Back at the hotel, and across the street, I find an uncovered Ganapati about a foot high on a small concrete slab amidst the garbage of an Indian street. I am impressed, and He becomes my 'real Madurai' for the next couple of days. I am not alone here as each morning when I go to see Him, someone else has already garlanded Him.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
03 May 2009, 03:10 PM
Holy Place # 8: Pillaiyarpatti:

From Madurai we are on a day trip to the famous Pillaiyarpatti rock cut Temple. There is a sense of anticipation as this of all Vinayaka temples, comes highly recommended by older souls than me. The drive takes about 2 hours. We stop the car, and being unfamiliar with the temple, we enter the south entrance. We start pradakshina, (which of course I later realise is impossible in rock cut temples unless you venture outside and walk around the granite outcrop itself) and soon encounter Pillaiyarpatti himself. I stand alone for a few minutes, and prostrate. A priest comes along, and I show him my Guru's picture. We have a brief but powerful discussion on when the last time the current Guru of Kauai Aadheenam was there, and when He will be in my home town as well. I ask for archana, but he explains that archana is not done in this temple. I am not sure whether it is just now in this moment, or it is an ongoing temple policy, not to rip anyone off, and just give free darshan. Because of this I make substantial hundi donation. After continuing pradakshina, I realise better how the temple is laid out, Siva facing south, Pillaiyar facing east, and the two lines of darshan crossing, with two kodimarams. I reapproach Pillaiyar in the more traditional way, directly from the east, and this time I get a much stronger Darshan. After a few minutes we exit and sit by the temple tank. Two or three buses pull up and identically clad souls in beautiful yellow saris and similar veshtis approach. I ask for an explanation, and it is a college field trip. Everyone seems so very happy. There is something to spiritual camaraderie, that makes me eerily homesick for the first time. We sit beside a Sanskrit homa class inside a temple premises classroom, and listen to the many young priests in training there. On the way out, we see the temple's cow herd. They all look so well fed and happy.

Holy place # 9: Unknown named Murugan Hill temple 3 km east (past .. my sense of direction is way way off with no reference points, and sun almost directly overhead) ) of Pillaiyarpatti. (After returning home and researching, this temple is called Kundrakudi, and the 6 faced Shanmuga Murthi is worshiped there. It is a very old temple steeped in tradition.)

At Pillaiyarpatti, this temple was recommended. We know nothing of it, but stop at the row of shops heading towards the temple. I purchase a garland. On the street I see up close two marvelously carved festival carts. We climb the hill, and I notice how the steps are carved into the rock with footprints carved along in each one. One wonders how many souls have passed this way, or for that matter, in each temple we have visited, or will visit. It is not a far climb. After pradakshina, we encounter Lord Murugan peeking out. I offer my offerings, priest does aarti just for us. It seems again that we are the first and only westerners to ever be here. I am struck by how Pillaiyar automatically leads to Murugan somehow. And once again it strikes me how so extremely individualised worship is. The field trip group arrives just as we are leaving as per Pillaiyarpatti. Aum Namasivaya

04 May 2009, 12:17 AM
Dear EM,

You can really narrate your story in a captivating manner. Thanks. I suggest you may try your luck in writing ! :)

Regarding your no-so-good experience in some places ... yes, it does make me sad hearing from a guest in my country ... especially your experience of bad behaviour of some Pandas in Meenakshi Temple for being white. I pray you to just forgive them as "they don't know what they are doing". IMO, all important temples should be handed over to state administration or well selected Trust for better management, like they have done in case of Vaishno Devi Shrine, Tirupati Devshthanam etc. & free the temples from the clutches of greedy Pandas.

Asking for money at various stages in and around temple is irritating but it is equally bad for Indians too. Though there is strong tendency to give in such places but it is better to resist this tendency. It has encouraged a very unhealthy tradition in all such places. The more you give, the more you encourage "begging" in the name of religion. Though I am preaching this doctrine but I have landed myself into difficulty a number of times for my "giving" habit. Quite a few times I was almost mobbed & was somehow able to manage my escape route. When I think rationally, I feel it is better to give in the donation box only whatever you want to give but not to encourage those individuals seeking undue favour.



Eastern Mind
04 May 2009, 06:34 AM
Holy Place # 10: Tirupparamkundram

The last evening in Madurai, our driver mentions there is a Murugan temple a few kilometres south of town. Nothing is on my list of special temples, as I am very much a baby at all this, having blind faith in Devas, and Ganapati. I do not know its name and am thinking it will be maybe like the small one in Bangalore.

All that changes as we turn off the main road down a street that leads directly to the temple. The gopuram is large, and the temple backs into a hill. After purchasing garland, we enter. Immediately a man comes forward and offers to be our guide. (Our driver has never been to these temples for worshipping purposes either, and is also a bit overwhelmed at the difference between this job and his usual job of hustling typical camera toting gawking tourists to 10 places a day.) I immediately agree to the guide's offer fully knowing he'll be expecting a few rupees when its over, but for sure I will get more benefit/knowledge with him along. He does the route for this temple, stopping hither thither to point things out. He lights up when I name the four great Saiva saints from bronze statues of them. Soon enough we arrive at the sanctum. At that point I realize it is a rock cut temple just like at Pillaiyarpatti.

We take darshan, and for the first time, after vibhuthi, and kumkum, I am offered the teertham. From earlier horror stories from others of indigestion and worse, I fake taking it by turning to the side. (This is another moral dilemma for westerners in India... risk getting violently ill by drinking the nectar of the Gods, or perhaps insult priests.) I think he notices, and keeps giving me more and more teertham, practically emptying the whole cup. Perhaps I just appear too impure to him so he thinks I need a lot of it.

As we exit the guide takes us to the temple tank to the east, and I sit on the steps for brief meditation. Then on the way out a peddlar has a book about this temple. I am curious, don't mind spending a few rupees, so buy it. Later, back in the hotel only, while browsing the booklet, I realise that it was Tirupparamkundram, the first of the sacred 6 abodes of Murugan spoken of in Tamil literature.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
04 May 2009, 05:24 PM
Holy Place # 11: Unknown named roadside Ganesha temple about 1.5 hours south of Madurai on main Kanyakumari to Kashmir highway.

I beseech the Ganapati across the street from the hotel before heading to Tiruchendur.

There are no explanations sometimes other than mystical ones. I have by now seen 40 or so roadside temples to Vinayaka. I'm guessing there are 10 000, probably more, in India. The road shifts from '4 lane highway like Alberta' to 'under construction, take diversion'. We notice a small newer looking Ganesha temple on the right. For whatever reason, I decide to stop. We enter, and its a very clean temple with flowering trees planted around in the compound. I ponder how I can get a flower without doing what seems like trespassing. The priest arrives, and tells of when the mahakumbhabhishekam for his temple was. The moolasthanam is for Pillaiyar only, and its concrete, not stone. But the place is really nice. On a whim I pull my Guru's pocket picture out. By now it feels very much like a VIP card, and I am feeling very grateful to the manager of the Iraivan carving site for giving me a pile of them, let alone my Guru for tagging along on the inside.

When the priest sees the picture, everything changes ... dramatically. He smiles broadly, and in his broken English starts naming many of the monks of Kauai Aadheenam of whom I am familiar with and know, to some degree. He explains that he stayed there for 6 months back in 1984 or so helping the monks with Sanskrit and pujas. I stare in awe, and am not much of a conversationalist. Takes my voice away, which if you knew me, isn't easy. I talk too much.

So we take aarti, I give generously, and we're on our way south again. I'm noticing the further south we go the more ancient it is feeling. Tiruchendur looms. I've wanted to go there for a long time. Something about the sea, I think.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
05 May 2009, 07:46 AM
Holy Place # 12: Tiruchendur

The technology of the internet and the beautiful pictures were the catalysts for bringing us here, Murugan's home by the sea. As we are arriving we can feel the moisture. It's quite contrary to the plateau-dry we have been in for the past few days.

After checking into the hotel, and resting, we decide to go for a walk down to the temple, not to worship, just to familiarize. As we leave the hotel, I think I see a familiar face. The gopuram is covered for repainting, and I am struck by the size of the temple. Many pilgrims are resting, ocean dipping etc. There seems to be a lot of devasthanam activity for pilgrims. My daughter is often asked her name, and she enjoys the attention. They are surprised that she has a Hindu name. There is little English, if any.

On the way back, I notice a group of orange clad swamis. One in particular, is wearing the gold capped rudrakshas that indicates he is an Aadheenam head. Because I respect all swamis (legitimate vs not is another debate altogether ... for this trip I am just using my gut .. in some places you could spend a lot of time touching feet) I figure I can touch his feet so I kick off the sandals, and humbly approach. He is welcoming of the gesture, and I pull out my own Guru's picture. There is a smile of recognition, and then the other younger swamis gather around me in a circle staring at the picture, and sort of ranting in Tamil. I'm surrounded by about 7 or 8. Feels like some sort of spiritual swarming. I'm curious as to where they're from, and figure the only Tamil word I know they might recognise is Aadheenam. Soon they point to themselves and say "Dharmapuram Aadheenam" to me.

It seems to me I've made their day more interesting, and certainly they have made mine. Back at the hotel I see the familiar face again. This time the curiousity gets the best of me and I just discard the feelings of being rude. I say, " Are you from Calgary?" Turns out the face is familiar because he comes to my home temple a few times a year.
He says, "Yes," and we have a brief discussion on what each of us is doing here. I always find it amazing when the "Its a small world," cliche happens.

Next morning I head down by myself before dawn to get darshan. I'm not familiar with temple timings at any of the temples, so go on gut mostly. I pay the special darshan rate and follow a beckoning friendly priest to the spot right in front of the sanctum where another 50 or more eager souls are packed in like sardines. The sanctum curtain is closed, and I realise I am about to see my first actual temple puja of the trip. After about 10 to 15 minutes, the curtain opens, and as anyone who has experienced this knows, there is a rush of energy. Again, I'm just awestruck. When the flame is being passed there seems to be a whole lot of rude pushing but I don't mind at all. It's bonus time after Palani after all. The priest makes sure I get substantial vibhuthi and I follow the exiting hordes to sit by the ocean and watch the sunrise, which is remarkable. God is indeed everywhere.

In the afternoon, my daughter and the driver come along to purchase archana for my wife back home. Again we make our way to the sanctum, a different priest guides us, and with due process, the archana gets done. I honestly cannot remember much of all this. After the puja we listen to the 'Aum" in the small hole in the shoreline outer wall. My daughter is definitely templed out. Its like eating a huge meal, and just not feeling hungry any more. Totally understandable. I, on the other hand, am still hungry.

I loved Tiruchendur town. Being an outlying pilgrim center, its smaller with much less bustle, and the people were the friendliest we met anywhere.

Aum Namasivaya

06 May 2009, 06:40 AM
Namaste EM,
You seem like a prolific writer. I am enjoying every word of your pilgrimage narrative. Very spiritual and mystic !


Eastern Mind
06 May 2009, 08:01 AM
Holy Place # 13: Rameswaram

By the time we reach the holy island, both my daughter and I realise we've been initiated by the God of foreign bacteria. I know from hearing previous stories from friends and my wife that this seems inevitable for any trip to India, and feel fortunate that we lasted as long as we did before becoming ill. The notion that temple visits will be shortened now, and extra will power will be necessary is apparent.

While I'm resting for the whole afternoon, our driver goes out to arrange with the company's temple guide for my Rameswaram experience. There is some negotiation back and forth, and we settle on contents and a price, with the main thing being the 22 wells, and darshan of the lingam.

The next morning I arise pre-dawn. The driver, myself, and the guide meet and head off to the holy site. This guide feels much different, seems to have a much better handle on my wishes. We head down the street past the many pilgrim houses of Indian states, to the ocean. I head in and it seems so refreshing and clean considering the amount of dipping that goes on here. I do the customary 3 dips and beseeching of Gods. On the way back, I am definitely aware of the difference between walking in a dry veshti vs a soaked one. We stay pretty much silent.

It turns out this guide has some sort of special privileges arranged with the temple. He motions me to follow, and we cut through some side door past the queue that is by now substantial.

The wells don't open for a few more minutes so he finds me a quiet corner to sit and reflect upon a lingam while he goes to arrange some more things. The timing is excellent as when I sense it is time, he is walking towards me.

He has a bucket and rope from somewhere, and we head for the first well. I soon realise that it is he that will do all my well baths, and I will be first in line for this day. I'm amazed at his expertise and balance as he tosses the bucket down each well, quickly retrieves it, and pours it over my head. I am chanting the holy mantram of Saivism continually. We move on fairly quickly as is the customary case. Soon the wells become a blur, and I can't remember which well I'm on. He sometimes uses one bucket, but sometimes even two or three. Only later do I realise the specialness of all this as I witness others in the bath route having one bucket shared by 4 or 5 people. The thought occurs to me that if the wells of Rameswaram wash away sins, then I must have compiled a few lifetime's worth.

When the ritual is over we walk alongside some lingams, and there is one that apparently devotees can do abhishekam to as is more common in the north. The driver has picked a few flowers, so I chant my abhishekam mantra I remember and we bathe the lingam, then decorate it.

Then we head off for darshan. The sanctum has just opened and I do the by now common gawk of awe for whatever time seems right and we move on. As we are heading out of the endless inner hallways, the guide brings me to a spot where there is a hole in the wall, and rays of early morning sunshine peer through to light our faces. Awesome.

Later that afternoon my daughter is up to coming out so we go for more of a sightseeing tour of the temple's long hallways, and then our driver takes us to the far end of Rameswaram Island to watch the sun go down. I look across the 24 km straight to Sri Lanka and pray for families of friends and an end to the war.

We just have fun talking (gesturing) to school children and simple living fishermen. Again, I am struck by the happiness. India people are different than those of the west.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
07 May 2009, 07:43 AM
Holy Place #14: Uchi Pillaiyar Temple at Trichy

Being a lover of Ganapati, and of rock hills, the famous Rock Fort temple calls. Trust Ganesha to lighten things up a bit. After driving back and forth over the sacred Cauvery, we arrive in the street (alley) beside the entrance. My daughter is really ill still, and the driver is tired, so I go alone. The entrance manager when I ask for entrance and archana, just gives me the entrance, so I give back the R3 and state my intent more clearly. He gives me an odd look but eventually passes the ticket on. This is totally understandable as this place gets a lot of tourists as well.

I climb the inside part of the hill relatively quickly, but soon encounter a problem as I exit at the top. It`s about 37 degrees out and the rocks are absolutely cooking. My fresh from the winter Canadian feet are not ready for this - at all. I ponder if I really want to continue. Risking permanent burns for the rest of the trip doesn`t seem like an option. But their are shadows here and there along the few shops, and a resting place where there is a tree. So I make runs for it.

Then I spot small pieces of cloth laid out every 10 steps or so for the exact purpose of solving my problem. For the next five minutes, I make mad dashes up the steps only to stop at each small cloth a bit to dance while my feet cool. The other Indian pilgrims watching me think it`s hilarious. Small children laugh and point. The God of Humour at the top of the hill seems to be laughing as well.

The inside of the small temple at the top is so cool, so refreshing. It`s still hot but not like the steps. While I do pradakshina, I spot a tourist with socks on his feet, which I guess is allowable. But something feels good about not having to resort to that. On pilgrimage things are supposed to be a bit harder.

I stand in front of the Pillaiyar, and have archana performed. My Guru`s picture is recognised in an all too familiar way by now. Pillaiyar seems to be chuckling with mirth. The trip back down is much easier.

Holy Place # 15: On the road from Trichy to Tanjore:

This is not a holy place per se, rather a holy experience. It is about 3 in the afternoon, and I spot a large group of similarly clad people joining the main road from an adjacent road. The line stretches intermittently for about 3 km or more. There are elders, children, tots, young men and women, a cross section of society. I ask the driver what`s up. He explains it is a yatra to Palani.

This is truly humbling. My spiritual ego is patting itself for climbing the Palani steps from a nearby hotel. Now it takes a decent well deserved blow. These people are walking for at least 8 days (I know not where the yatra originated) somewhere around 50 km per day, in 37 or higher degree heat, barefoot, on black pavement, resting in temple stops, (not in nice hotels) and looking really happy doing it. As if it is just an ordinary walk in the park. Intense admiration sets in.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
08 May 2009, 07:13 AM
Holy Place # 16: Tanjore

As we enter Thanjavur city in the late afternoon, the temple is visible on the skyline, and yes it looks different than previous temples.

Next morning I arise early, and we (just the driver and myself) make our way. We enter the courtyard and someone lets us know that a priest will be along shortly to open the main temple. There are a few other devotees gathered here and there as we do the pradakshina. We wait on the steps. As the priest comes, about 15 devotees follow, all chanting various versions of Aum Namasivaya. He opens the doors, and Lord Siva is there. There is a fairly brief aarti, opening puja. Slowly all the devotees excluding the driver and myself drift off to morning duties etc. Then even the driver decides to go get flowers.

For the next 15 minutes or so, there is just the priest, the Lingam of Siva, and me. I am just overwhelmed and the priest sees it, suggesting (ordering me) that I sit. There is a sense of antiquity and some ancient connections from the past. I know not of what they are. Because of the physical illness I am feeling, the darshan seems to go in further than normal. This is BIG BONUS grace.

Eventually the driver returns with flowers, and I ask for archana after the offerings are made, and the wonderful servant of God obliges. Of course by this time I've shown my Guru's picture, and am getting the VIP treatment. After we wander along the hallways on the edges of the huge courtyard, and proceed back to the inn.

In the late afternoon, my daughter and I go back. There is a bharatanatyam performance going on near the Nandi mandapam. The people seem so refined and cultural here, more polite than at some of the previous temples. We admire the ancient architecture. At one of the pillars that has ancient writings, I ponder my connection again. Perhaps in some past life...

After the tour we go to a park that is outside the temple. Without knowing beforehand that it is there, we 'discover' the temple tank. it is just huge huge huge. The largest tank by far I've seen. The sense of the civilisation that existed here some 12 centuries back is just numbing.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
09 May 2009, 09:00 AM
Holy Place # 17: Chidambaram

As we arrive tio the sacred residence of Nataraja, the health situation for my daughter and I have flipped. She is feeling somewhat better, and I am quite ill. After checking into the room, I call up an old friend from Canada, a retired university professor, get directions to his place, and go. There are wide smiles all around as its been 15 years or so since he and his family moved back to India. We share news about the people we know, and I get a grand tour of the house. He agrees to being my Chidambaram temple guide for the next morning. This is the absolute best type of guide: knows English, knows me, knows the temple, and shares in the Love for Siva.

Early in the morning we depart. He has prearranged with a priest he knows for the special archanas etc. Everything goes absolutely wonderful. The main difference is I learn a lot more about this temple, yet am busy listening so have less time just to look and observe. Can't multitask. We watch and participate in the opening puja from the back of the crowd. Seems he has retained his polite Canadian methods. This is fine by me. After the puja the priest beckons me up for close darshan. As the archanas are done, my friend shows me where to look and what to do. I am shown 'Chidambaram's secret' and after some time it's over. The darshan reminds me a lot of back at Palani; can't really feel a lot, but I sense the importance. Such is the mystery of God Siva. It seems to work like an X-ray. The healing, majestic, and powerful energy just sort of hits me, not like a rock, but like a fine fragrant mist.

After all the archanas are done, we just sit by a the pillars and alternately meditate, and stare at Nataraja. As we leave my friend points out his pillar, meaning the one where he usually sits. I observe we really are creatures of habit at temples. I have my own favorite spot at my home temple as well. Its like the devas and temple guardians have a 'reserved' sign in the ethers.

We return to the hotel and I am given the ultimate compliment by a western tourist in the elevator when she asks, "Do you live here?" My daughter is up and feeling much better so goes with my host back to his house to visit for the day. I, on the other hand, have to take an illness raincheck.

In the evening she returns all happy with much new knowledge and stories of the real India she has gleaned from my friend's daughter. We decline the opportunity to visit the temple again. Even I am beginning to feel 'templed out'.

Holy Place # 18: Tiruvanammalai

Tiruvanammalai turns out to be a lesson. Soon after we check into the hotel, the hotel management calls to inform us that our driver is drunk and is making a scene. Back to reality. We have been suspicious of this for quite some time, but didn't really know what to do, given the distance from Bangalore, the language barrier, and horror stories of corrupt officials. Previously when he had looked 'tired' I had given him the money for a room, but he hadn't taken the opportunity. God has guided us and reduced the impact of our karma all along. The driver has been nice enough, and has also enjoyed having the darshan of the great beings as well. Perhaps all this has accellerated his karma. I refrain from too much analysis, and decide to act.

As I go back to the room to ponder the course of action, I look up at Arunachala for guidance. The correct course of action is obvious. For the safety of ourselves, and others in the future, I feel the need to act. When very soon I return to the hotel foyer, Ramana Maharshi's garlanded picture is looking down at me with compassionate, all knowing eyes. I phone the company, and they agree to immediately send out a new driver, in time for us to make our flight connection home. At the same time, I feel so much forgiveness and compassion for the soul who has been our driver.

That evening I bypass a proposed visit to the Great temple here, and the following morning forego a proposed walk partway up Arunachala to see the famous scene pictured all over Saiva lore. Family dharma beckons, as my daughter is not only ill, but reacting to the driver situation. But I am extremely thankful for the Grace of Arunachala, and the smile of the famous Saint. Shortly after noon we depart, heading straight for the Bangalore airport. We feel a sense of relief as we arrive safe and sound. India has been so much and more than what I had ever imagined. Prostrations to Mother India!

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
09 May 2009, 01:38 PM
Holy Place # 19: Maha Ganapatii Temple in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

(This concludes the log of this pilgrimage.)

This is my home temple. Since my pilgrimage to India I've been over to see the familiar face of Maha Ganapati 3 times, having just returned now, this minute. A rough estimate says I've been there well over 1000 times. Yet each time it is new. My Guru once was marveling about the instinctive mind ... I was driving Him somewhere in a car. We had just eaten some huge meal somewhere, and he was laughing and saying how in about 6 hours it would be "Gobble gobble gobble" all over again. This is how my home temple is. I need that fix at least once a week. If not, I get hungry, and MAKE time to go. I think it's the same for everyone. My Chidambaram friend has had Nataraja select him as a soul to live there. He wouldn't have it any other way. My Karnataka contacts all said, "Next time you come to India, you'll have to do a trip like this around Karnataka. In this context, ethnocentricity is so very understandable.

But to me this temple IS special, and I am not alone. For now it is the only South Indian style temple in western Canada that looks like a temple from the outside. There are North Indian style temples that look the part, and there are South Indian congregations that don't yet have a new building. It is a place of pilgrimage. Just this morning 4 young souls from Saskatoon (a city about 6 hours away) were there. In the summer expecially there are often 4 or 5 cars in the parking lot with out of province plates. People, old Hindu souls are attracted here by the ever present darshan of He Who Has One Tusk. There are also small miracles around His place. I'm sure He invites anyone reading this to come visit.

Aum Namasivaya

06 August 2009, 03:59 PM
Absolutely amazing!

thank you :)

Eastern Mind
01 December 2009, 05:43 PM
My wife and I just did a fairly arduous driving pilgrimage from here (Edmonton, Canada) to a Ganesha temple in Omaha, Nebraska. (Google it.) We put about 5500 kilometres on the car. This is also why I haven't been posting.

Pilgrimage takes you out of the functioning normal world into a mental focus on God alone. Intuition is allowed to operate better. The interesting thing was how we arrived and found the temple. It is on the internet, but I forgot the address or to take a map with me. We entered the city about dusk, and stopped to look in a phone book. Unfortunately, the temple wasn't listed. Ganga suggested we go to a nearby library so we asked the guys at the gas station where a nearby library was. ("What?" you're thinking. "Americans read?") So we get to the library and a very helpful librarian points me to a computer. It turns out the temple is about 7 blocks north of us as is the nearest motel. Omaha is not that big, but 6 blocks?

So we end up buying an abhishekam for the next day and having a grand time in His presence. I would highly recommend this temple for anyone living in the American midwest.

Aum Namasivaya

28 March 2010, 05:32 PM
What an amazing journey! You would think 14 days would be enough time...but it seems like even a month would not be adequate..there's so much to see and do. Thank you for taking the time to post this, it was truly a beautiful story.

Eastern Mind
23 January 2011, 07:03 AM
Vannakkam: As most of the regulars know, my wife and I just went to India again, and returned about a week ago. This time we did the traditional arupaduveedu Murugan pilgrimage to 6 famed Murugan temples. I have decided not to write a detailed log this time, but I will share two people stories on the trip that I considered highlights beyond the architectural amd vibratory magnificence of the temples themselves.

1) We stayed at Swamimalai for 2 nights and went to the temple 3 times. On the second evening we forgot to leave our shoes in the car as we had become accustomed to. So upon arriving at the east gate, we looked about for a shoe drop place but found none. A woman with a few garlands for sale noticed, and just pointed to under her table. So that's where we left the shoes. We entered the temple and since it was our third visit a few of the priests recognised us, and a couple of conversations were struck. One had even spent time working in Toronto so was somewhat familiar with Canada. We shared some stories of the 5 metal carving of the lingam base for Iraivan temple etc. But all that was unimpressive compared to the humility of the woman back outside. At many temples, the shoe drop places expect or even demand a donation to the temple or to the shop. Some don't of course, as the service is provided for free by the devasthanam (management). So my wife and I totally felt like we should give the woman a small gift for so kindly letting us stash our shoes there. it seemed quite appropriate. But when I pulled the R10 note out of my shirt pocket, she absolutely refused to take it. Now, look at the contrast. Here she is, earning a few extra rupees by making garlands and selling them, and then here we are, some foreigners who made more money in a month than she may make in a whole lifetime, and she simply won't take money from us. We're staying at an R3000 per night place and she's just humbly standing there hoping to sell a garland or two. But there was this certain undeniable feeling of camaraderie. Her mind seemed to be asking me, "How can I take money from legitimate Murugan bhaktars for no real reason, despite the fact they can obviously afford it?" It was so impressive, especially when compared to some of the other experiences of deceptive greed we encountered which I won't go into.

2) On our second last day we hopped aboard a rickshaw from our hotel to the famous Madurai Meenakshi temple with the intent of being like tourists for the morning, not really to worship, but more just to explore the wonders of this beautiful temple, the 1000 pillared hall, the ancient bronzes, etc. After all we'd just completed a fairly intense 10 day pilgrimage, and the worship that intensely is kind of wearing. So after looking around for awhile, we were passing the gateway to the inner area where the sign for 'Non-Hindus not allowed beyond this point" is. The queue inside for the Siva portion looks fairly short, and I recall my Guru's words: "Never lose an opportunity to enter a Hindu temple" . So I turn to Ganga, and ask, "Should we go in for darshan once more?" and of course she says sure, as she's the religious nutcase between the two of us.

So we make our way along the free darshan queue, and then head out the west portion to continue the circumambulation process around the Siva shrine. at the far back corner is another lingam where a man is just sitting behind a pillar in deep meditation. Talk about finding peace amidst chaos! We stop to worship that lingam and then continue on to the northeast corner, where we decide to sit, do japa, and watch the devotees leisurely and joyously wander by, having partaken of the darshan just as we had. After a few minutes, and old soul in the body of a ten year old girl stops to talk. She's curious about these Caucasian devotees with shaved heads, and lets her grandfather go on ahead. I honestly can't remember what she said to us, but there was this deep connection. She scurries off to catch her grandfather, and together they return and sit to talk. He's pretty astute too, but not in the same way as the granddaughter and together they ask about our pilgrimage adventure. Eventually I ask her casually, "So who's your favorite God?" Without hesitation she replies, "Siva". Then I ask her, "Where is Siva?" and with a bit more hesitation she says, "Siva is everywhere."

By now it's clear who is the teacher and who is the student. I feel like this 57 year old baby in Hinduism being taught in such a gentle way by this 10 year old chronologically but very deep old soul. You can just see it in her eyes. it is apparent that the grandfather knows it too, as he has this gentle smile about him while talking with her. Who knows what subtle but deep messages she mystically passed on to me? Definitely the highlight of my trip.

I think there is a lesson here for all of us on HDF.

Aum Namasivaya

Eastern Mind
23 January 2011, 07:03 AM
double post -

Aum Namasivaya

23 January 2011, 04:09 PM
After reading your experience Eastern Mind, this reinforces my desire to live in Mother India when I am older. There is so much spirituality you just have to know where to look. Thousand year temples within walking distance of nearly every major city is a double-plus : )


24 January 2011, 11:07 AM
Beautiful post, EM, thanks for sharing.

Certainly we could learn a lot from two short little anecdotes. Mutual love for God is a lot more powerful than love for money, rare though the examples may be. Wisdom sometimes comes in the unlikeliest of guises; only the observant will ever be able to pick up such subtle messages from the Divine.

Om namah Shivaya.

Eastern Mind
24 January 2011, 11:30 AM
only the observant will ever

Om namah Shivaya.

Vannakkam: The power of observation is often overlooked as a spiritual discipline. One study method my teacher taught was to walk along a street of houses, and try to decipher what the people inside are like, by the color of the house, the car in front, the maintenance level of the yard and all that. Its such a spiritual tool, not to mention also a practical one. Take salesmen, for instance. Now those guys (the better ones) know observation, albeit for their own selfish interests. They can figure out the nature of the customer after just a few steps inside the door.

Its so much fun watching people. Who's vain, who isn't? What job they do, and on and on. Its very much like the skill of listening, don't you think?

Aum Namasivaya

24 January 2011, 11:44 AM
We are truly of the same mind.

I have watched others my whole life. Put myself into their shoes. What a wondrous adventure such things provide. Think about a newyorker in a one bedroom efficiency apartment, single...working at the coffee shop a block from his home. Eating a bagel...coffee. What kind of life and knowledge would that bring?

Or a life in India, watching the sun rise over the river, two bare feet upon stone steps.

This world is full of endless possibility and adventure.

I thank you so humbly for giving me such a view of your trip, from this I can sit for hours and think about it...and be there.<3

25 January 2011, 11:59 PM
Namaste Eastern Mindji,

While I greatly enjoyed the detailed log of your first pilgrimage and found it to be very enlightening, these two short anecdotes are truly just as enlightening. It also shows us never to judge somebody just from the age of their physical body, because the soul in that body can be very old and wise indeed!

Jai Sri Ram

26 January 2011, 12:15 AM
Thanks EM, for conveying these experiences to us. As cliche as it sounds, I guess one really does encounter the Lord in the most unexpected of places. Your experiences remind me of several stories from Shirdi Sai Baba's time over a hundred years ago, in which devotees found him at the times that they least expected it.