My visit to Kanyakumari, the last tip of India's mainland was a sudden development that drove me to that place. It was not a planned trip. Nor did I go there with the intension of visiting that place. It was a sudden impulsive decision, a decision to run away from home.
It was in the year 1979, I was staying with my brother who was posted in Deolali, Maharashtra state of India. This place has a unique climate. Throughout the year it is pleasant neither hot nor cold. I had gone there to look for a job. To facilitate my job hunt my brother used to get me a copy of the Times of India, Bombay Edition from his office. In that newspaper, I came across an advertisement calling youth of India who are graduates to join Vivekananda Kendra, a Service Mission at Kanyakumari. The picture of Swami Vivekananda did inspire my confidence to join this mission. In the meantime, I did apply and appeared for a number of Government services examination in Bombay. My brother always accompanied me for all these examinations. After trying for about 6 months when nothing happened, my brother advised me to go back home but I was determined not to. A few days before I really left my temporary shelter at Deolali, my brother's boss interviewed me for a Personal Assistant's post with a high official. On his advice I waited for the official to arrive from outstation. In the meantime, my brother got a letter from his wife to rush back home due to certain development. I do not remember what it was. However, my brother left me with some money to go back home in case the job did not materialize. I must confess here that my patience was also petering out very fast to such an extent that I decided to leave for any place the day I complete my 25th year of age. Till that day I patiently waited for my future boss to arrive. He did not come even on the last day of my stay. I had to act.
A colleague of my brother who hailed from Allahabad advised me to go to Kanpur where his friend would help me find a job. This offer was also there at the back of my mind. But the appeal of Vivekananda Kendra at Kanyakumari was too powerful to be ignored. So on the night of 5th September, 1978, I left for the Railway station. Believe me I could not resist crying out while taking leave of the place. I think that was due to breaking away all relationship with the family. Since then I am not in touch with my parental family. However with tears in eyes, I walked up to the Railway station and bought a ticket for Bombay (presently Mumbai) on the way to Madras (presently Chennai). The night passed off in the train thinking of the uncertain future I was heading to. In Bombay I had my break-fast at Railway Refreshment room. Before boarding the train, I bought my ticket from the platform itself, a direct ticket for Tirunelveli (nearest train station for Kanyakumari in those days) on the advice of a Ticket Inspector. He also helped me find a berth without any extra charge. I still feel indebted to that unknown Ticket Inspector for his help. After reaching Madras in the morning, I found my next train will start in the evening and I needed to register my ticket for that train. I stood in the queue and completed the formality.
Madras, a new place for me and at that time I could hardly express myself in English language. I could speak in Hindi but that too was invalid in Madras. The majority of Tamils hate Hindi language and they would not entertain you if you speak Hindi. So I had to manage with broken English. Although Hindi is not my mother tongue but as I love all languages I admire Hindi as well. People who go deeper into a language understand the distinctive nuances and unique flavor that every language has. Thus hating a language becomes impossible. In the meantime I developed friendship with a young man who was also going to Tirunelveli and we too went for lunch outside the railway station. It was the month of September and Madras has a very humid climate. Although the food was spicy but the use of green banana leaf for serving the lunch on was the most interesting one.
As we had some time, we went round the railway station. The Egmore station mainly caters to the needs of the local commuters while the Madras Central Rly. Station handles all long distance trains connecting with rest of India. After sometime we went back to our platform from where our train was scheduled to depart. Just before one hour of the departure, the Kanyakumari Express steamed into the station. As we had no reservation, we did not board the train but waited on the platform. One gentleman came there and enquired with me about the train and the reserved compartments. We took him there and lo our names were also there in the list! That means we too had a berth for the night travel. The rest of the journey by train went off pleasantly.
Next day morning the train reached Tirunelveli. I had to catch a bus from Trunelveli to Kanyakumari. As my immediate goal was not to visit Kanyakumari but to join the Vivekananda Kendra which is located three kilometers before the Kanyakumari bus station. I was advised by the conductor to alight at Vivekanandapuram and walk in. At that point of time I could not think anything else than getting admitted at the Vivekananda Kendra training centre. I neither had means to go back home nor did I want to.
On enquiry I was advised to meet the General Secretary of the Mission at this office. I waited for him anxiously. He came after an hour of my arrival there. In my broken English I told him the purpose of my being there. He told me, "I would not have any problem of admitting you but for the training has already been started from 1st of September." "O.K. we will discuss about it more, first go and have your lunch and come back" I had little money but it was enough for my lunch. I went back to his office and waited. There came another Mission executive and then I was called in. They asked for my graduation certificate as they were only admitting graduates and post-graduates. I had none. They asked me of my family background. I told them the truth. They kept me waiting for a long time perhaps to see my patience wears off. But I was equally determined not to give in. Finally, they gave in and I was admitted.
I joined the training centre with real earnest. A new horizon in my life thus opened up in a difficult crossroad of my life. The location of the training centre was so charming that I fell in love with the place at first sight itself surrounded by the sea on three sides - Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea. From the terrace of the two storey building which housed the training centre, I could see the seas as far as my sight would go. In the immediate vicinity were the coconut and tamarind trees that sooth our eyesight with greenery and the seas with blue waters. We had a wonderful routine from morning 4.30 a.m. to night 10 p.m. packed with Prayer, meditation, yogic exercises, lectures, and intellectual and physical activities. Kanyakumari is famous for its fabulous sunrise as if it rises from the Indian Ocean/Bay of Bengal waters and the sun sets into the Arabian Sea. One day I got up early around 4.00 a.m. and went for a walk by the sea. As the darkness was invaded by the light of the sun, the whole sky was diffused in multi-colors of different hues. It was a marvelous sight to see. The early morning breeze was so soothing that one can feel the presence of the invisible power that propelled the sun into its orbit. That day the sky in the horizon was absolutely clear thus paving the way for the sun to shine in all its glory. As the red fireball raised its hood, instant red lines were drawn on the sea waters. With the movement of the sun, the waters turned into red coloured, bridging the gap between heavens and earth for a while. I stood transfixed looking at this heavenly panorama. A few thousands visit Kanyakumari everyday but I do not know how many could see such a sun rise. I am sure many have seen but their numbers are limited. There is another celestial event that takes place once a year at Kanyakumari is the rising of the moon from the Bay of Bengal and the setting of the sun into the Arabian Sea at the same time.
Before I narrate some of the prominent landmarks of Kanyakumari, I would like to talk about the light house which I am sure many do not bother to look at. If you ever seen the seas on a dark night with its turbulent waves and the sudden flashing of the light house beam over the sea waters, you will understand how terrible the sea looks at that time. It gets manifold if it is a stormy night. I enjoyed seeing the nature's terrible face as well.
After we completed our training of 3 months at the Centre, we were asked to go the Vivekananda Rock Memorial everyday for a fortnight using the ferry services. Our work was to introduce to the visitors the majestic statue of Swami Vivekananda made of bronze in the main hall and also tell them a brief life history of this great warrior monk with special emphasis on his meditation on the rock. Here is the story: Swamiji after visiting the Kanyakumari temple came out and saw the twin rocks and decided to meditate on that rock. He swam across the stretch of 200 meters and stayed there for 3 nights and 3 days in the year 1892. In meditation he visualized Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa directing him to go to the West. As this rock is off the coast, a visitor has to take the ferry service to reach this place. The present temple was completed in September 1970. The pounding of the rock by the sea waves create a continuous roaring sound. But once you are inside the meditation hall the sound seems to get subdued and allows you to meditate for a while. Another interesting natural event a visitor can witness is the setting of the sun into the Arabian Sea. It is so vivid that as if in reality the Sun goes down into the waters. It is an optical illusion but none the less an enjoyable one.
There are three more important structures one can see. The first one is the 133 ft. tall statue of Tiruvalluvar adjacent to the Vivekananda Memorial. His statue was installed, I suppose, more as a Tamil pride competing with the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Of course Tiruvalluvar's composition of 'Tirukural' is comparable to the Bhagwad Gita.
The Gandhi Memorial is also another landmark of Kanyakumari. This memorial was built on the spot where the urn containing the Mahatma's ashes was kept for public viewing before immersion. Resembling central Indian Hindu temples in form, the memorial was designed so that on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, October 2, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept.
The third one is a very small temple dedicated to Shankaracharya, the exponent of Advaitya philosophy. There is another Shankarachary temple in Kashmir thus connecting India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in its Advaitic philosophy of oneness.
Most of the people those who visit Kanyakumari do not stay overnight. I personally feel that if you really want to have feel of a place, a night stay gives you an extra edge in understanding the nature's warmth. In the quietness of the night our mind can easily tune with the surrounding nature and identify oneself as a part and parcel of this universe.
On a full moon night, if you ever watched the seas, you will wonder how the waters react exuberantly by the pull of the moon. During our training at Kanyakumari we were taken to the sea shore on full moon nights & we had to deliver an ex-tempore lecture on a given subject that too in our mother tongue! If you are a nature lover spending a few hours, like taking a walk on the sea beach on a full moon night, I assure you it would definitely be a rewarding one.
I still love that place and would like to go and stay there whenever the next opportunity comes.
How to reach Kanyakumari: You can take a flight upto Triruvannanthapuram or by train and by bus / taxi reach Kanyakumari. Alternatively, fly to Chennai and take a overnight train or bus to Kanyakumari. It is well connected. The best season is Nov. to Feb. See the Vivekananda Kendra website: www.vkendra.org/
Kanyakumari - where the three seas meet
MY KANYAKUMARI DAYS
As I entered into my 25th year, I decided to take my fate in my own hands or may be dictated by destiny, I left for Kanyakumari from my temporary home at Deolali, Maharashtra where I was staying with my brother. He was in a service at Deolali. On receiving an urgent call from his wife, my brother left me with some money to go back home in case I needed to go.
Seeing an advertisement in the Times of India, Bombay edition, by Vivekananda Kendra that they were inviting graduates to join their band of 'Life workers' who would be trained at Kanyakumari before sending them throughout India for spreading the message of Swami Vivekananda. This was a great offer for me which I could not ignore.
I arrived at Kanyakumari in the morning and after a few hours of patient waiting and interview by Mr. Manian and Dr. Nagendra, I was admitted to the 8th batch of Trainees. Although the training already started from 1st of Sept. 1978 and I was late by 7 days. I took my training very seriously and enjoyed the lectures on Indian Culture, Yoga, Meditation, health, swamiji's writings. Mr. Eknath Ranade, used to take at least one class everyday. He was not a very good speaker but his real life experience enriched our knowledge bank. Eknath ji had a wonderful organizing capacity thus he was deputed to resolve the Rock Memorial issue. This issue was hanging fire between two communities : Christians and Hindus. The Kanyakumari Church claimed that the twin rocks belonged to Mother Mary and there is no question of allowing a Hindu Temple to come up there. Finally, Eknathji resolved this issue and the Rock Temple was built on the very spot Where Swami Vivekananda Meditated before going to West.
Our day used to start at 4.30 a.m. when we were woken up by bell ringing and at 5.30 a.m. we had to be present in the Prayer hall about 2 minutes walking from our training centre. After Prayer, Yogasana and Meditation, 8 O'clock was our breakfast time and the first lecture program we were to attend was at 9.30 a.m. till 11.30 a.m.
The bell for lunch would go at 12 noon and we all rush to the dining hall. Some days I too had a duty to serve food before I could have my own lunch. After this we were free till 3.30 p.m. when the bell would be sounded to have a tea break. During this free time we could either go to library or take a small nap before catching up with the rest of the day's program. There used to be one more lecture class mainly on some language learning, it was either English or Hindi. After this class we had our games, football, basket ball or plain running. After the games we used to have about 1 hour before the evening meditation. I used to take a long walk with Mr. Kulkarni, who was the senior most person in our group. Although he was a retired person, he had a robust health and always encouraged me with his positive vibes. The day he was busy with some other thing, I used to spend my time by the sea with some one else or all by myself.
My duties include serving in the Dining hall, ring the bell as per the day's program. Once I missed out on this bell ringing at 4.30 a.m. as I overslept. For this I became a subject of ridicule for a day. However, I was in time for the prayer at 5.30 a.m. There used to be a Yoga Camp in December. Many elderly people also joined the camp along with younger ones. We did have very good time with them. We also used to help our seniors in conducting Yoga Asanas, Prayers, Meditation, games and now and then a visit to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial.
After games there used to be half an hour devotional session followed by silent meditation on "OM" At 8 in the evening it was dinner time. Once we finished our dinner we used to take a long walk by the sea. The mutual interaction between our seniors and the trainees slated to be at 9 p.m. We used to put many a times many embarrassing questions to our teachers. I also rehearsed for a month to be a part of a small skit to be presented on the last day of our training. We did quite well in that and collected appreciation from all present.
After finishing our training we were given a fortnights duty on the Rock Memorial. We used to take the boat from the mainland to the Rock Memorial and it was a wonderful experience for me. My position was in the hall where a bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda installed standing with cross hands and looking into the future. My principal duty was to explain to the visitors why this Memorial was built and the story of Swamiji's visit to this rock in 1892, Dec. 22nd, 23rd and 24th and his 3 days meditation and how he found his mission in life. While explaining Swamiji's mission and his success at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, USA, I used to feel the spirit of Swami ji inspiring me. Those fourteen days were most remarkable in my life and that stayed on till date.
For an outing we had once to a hill top by Name 'Marut Malai' A Youtube video of the Hill can be seen if you click the connection here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ksPtuuagJc We all assembled at the Library Hall one fine morning after breakfast. We were also given a working lunch. When we arrived at the base of the Hill and looked up I felt it was quite a steep climb. Any way we all started with real earnest and we had a race as to who could reach the top first. It was not a continuous ascending but rest included in between. Finally, I was the first one to reach the top. Raghunandan ji was the second person followed me. When I reached the top the surrounding areas were covered with thick fog. As the sun rose higher the fog started vanishing and what a breath taking view was in sight. The expanse of the Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay Bengal all lay before our eyes. It was such a unique vista that enthralled all of us and we knew how small we are before the nature. There was a Saintly man living in one of the caves in that Hill. We paid a visit to this man and he gave us each one piece of 'Amla" which was sweet and soft. We also heard from him a discourse on how to conduct oneself in life. After paying respects, we took leave of him and left before evening for our Training centre at Kanyakumari.
After completing my 3 months training, I stayed on at Kanyakumari till 13th of January 1979 and left for Hyderabad on 14th. My program was to visit Rameshwaram and Chennai before reaching Hyderabad. At Rameshwaram we had a modest accommodation and at Chennai, our publication division was at Triplicane very close to the sea and there was some accommodation for workers going by that way for a stopover. The day, the 14th of January I was leaving Kanyakumari I was to catch the Rameshwaram Express from the Kanyakumari Bus station but due to my meeting many of the seniors I was late. By the time we reached the main gate by the road, it was time for the bus to reach there. As it was an express bus we did not expect it to stop to pick me up, so we were very tense. If I missed the bus, my further reservation will also be affected. Any way, there was noting that we could do. Yes, the bus coming in full speed with its head lights on. We all raised our hands and the bus slowed down and stopped. Immediately, the door was opened and I was welcome on board. I waived my hand to say good bye to all present and the door was closed and the bus picked up speed. How did it happen? The mystery was resolved. A yoga student of the recently concluded camp was in the bus next to my seat and he knew that I had booked my ticket that day to travel to Rameshwaram. At the bus stop when he did not see me he anticipated that I would definitely board it from the main gate. Thus he told the driver to stop the bus when he saw us all waiting for the bus. As the suspense ended in a positive way, I felt relieved and I presume others also who came to see me off felt happy. Thus ended my training and stay at Kanyakumari.