Sridhar Venkatasubramanian

Inspirational Others


Sridhar Venkatasubramanian

Inspirational Others

An Enchanting Tale Of Our Tour Of South India-Part 17 Of 20

An Enchanting Tale Of Our Tour Of South India-Part 17 Of 20

7 mins

OUR SOUTH INDIA TOUR IN 1975 (Episode 17 of 20)


Meeting a gentle elderly priest and other stories

From Kanyakumari, we came to Trivandrumto catch the evening train to reach Sankaran Koil in the morning.

However, when we arrived at the station we learned that the 8 p.m. train was delayed by about 3 hours. This proved to be both fortunate and unfortunate. The train finally departed at around midnight. 

The good thing that happened due to the delay was that we were able to witness the natural beauty of the Western Ghats, the next morning, as the train chugged its way along on its journey from Trivandrum to Senkottai. The lush green hill slopes and the tunnels we got to see were awesome. If the train would have departed on time then we would have passed the above places during the night.

But the delay also proved unfortunate, details which I will narrate later in this episode.

So, finally, we arrived at Sankaran Koil at around 9 a.m. instead of the scheduled time of 5 a.m. We took our bath in the waiting hall itself and immediately set off to have the darshan at the temple. 

Sankarankovil is home to the Sankara Narayanar Temple, which was built by Ugra Pandiyan in 900 BC. It houses the deity by the name Sankara Narayanan, which is half Shiva and the other half Vishnu.

After the darshan we had a quick breakfast of hot idli and vada at the bus stand where we had come to catch a bus to Sivagiri.

Sivagiri is about 50 km from Sankaran Koil and it takes about a couple of hours by bus. Our purpose for visiting Sivagiri was to pay a visit to our family deity (Lord Ganesha) which is situated at Viswanathaperi, a small village about 3 km from Sivagiri. 

We reached Sivagiri at about 1.30 p.m. However, much to our dismay we learned that there were no immediate buses available for Viswanathaperi. The next bus was scheduled to arrive at 4 p.m. Auto rickshaws were also not available. 

Then someone in the bus stand suggested that we take a bullock cart. I was naturally thrilled. Travelling in a bullock cart for me was something like an exotic adventure. I sat in the front with the driver (?). It was fun watching the great bulls (one pure white and the other jet black) running along the roads with their bells jingling. Now and then the driver would shout ‘he..he..’ and crack his whip in the air to make them run faster. Though the journey was backbreaking due to the bad condition of the roads, I hardly felt it so immersed I was enjoying the sights. 

We reached Viswanathaperi village at around 2 p.m. We asked the bullock cart driver to proceed straight to the temple. The cart driver said it was about half a kilometer further away from the village bus stop.  

The gentle elderly priest

After about 10 minutes of the ride, we could see the temple. It was built beside a huge bund. Scores of date palm trees stood tall on the embankment, like school children standing in attention during morning prayer. The temple was surrounded by a lot of pipal and banyan trees that served as a canopy in that scorching afternoon sun. Some goats were standing under the trees. A typical village scene, I thought. There was neither any sign of settlement nor any person as far as we could see.

Just then, a frail old man wearing a saffron dress came from inside the temple towards us with a big welcome smile. He must be the priest of the temple, I thought.

My father apologized to him for the delay. We were supposed to arrive there by 10 a.m. We couldn’t inform him about the delay in our plans beforehand. In those days communication was only through letters. The mobile phone was a distant dream. Even only a few households owned landlines. In this village, only the post office had a landline connection that served the entire village. But postal delivery used to be very reliable. Before beginning our trip my father had sent a letter to the priest advising our date and time of arrival. He had again confirmed the same when we landed in Madurai a few days back. The priest said he had received both my father’s letters and had made all arrangements for the puja. We gathered that he had arrived at the temple by 8 a.m. to do the daily pujas for the deity and had been waiting for us there since. My father once again apologized for making him wait. 

But the priest smiled and said it was no trouble for him at all. He said he was so happy that we had come from distant Calcutta. 

Then he gave us each a cup of coffee, which he had so thoughtfully brought in a thermos flask. He said all the travelling must have been very tiring for us and so asked us to have coffee first and then take a bath at the well or in the tank. He then said that he was sorry for not having brought something for us to eat too. The level of kindness of the priest touched the core of our hearts.

My father went to pay off the bullock cart man, who said that he will wait for us and drop us at the priest’s house or Sivagiri, once the puja is over. He said otherwise we have to walk back with our luggage. I was very much touched by the simplicity and kindness of these people. 

After taking a bath we went inside the temple. Lord Ganesh was very well decorated with a lot of flower garlands. Then the priest started the puja.

Once the puja was over the priest asked us to sit on the corridor of the temple. He brought some banana leaves and then served us the prasad offered to the God viz., Sarkarai Pongal and Vadai. It was delicious and we had to our heart’s content. The priest offered some prasad to the cart driver too and then had something for himself. The poor man must have had nothing to eat since morning, yet he served us, the guests, first and only then he decided to have himself. The experience was a real eye-opener for me.

By the time we returned to the priest’s house in the village, it was already 5.30 p.m. The last bus to Sankaran Koil, from where we had planned to catch a train for our onward journey, had already left. The priest graciously invited us to spend the night at his house.

At the priest’s house, his wife welcomed us warmly. They did not have any children and were living alone. The house had a couple of big rooms but was not in great condition. I presumed that the old man must not be earning much as a priest in a small village temple. The house didn’t have an electricity connection too. It was quite uncomfortable in that hot sultry weather. I felt pity for the poor people.

My parents had brought a sari for the lady and a dhoti and shirt for the priest. They accepted it graciously. The lady asked my mother about dinner, whereupon my mother said that we will rather have nothing that night. Our stomachs were full after consuming a sufficient quantity of prasad that too quite late in the afternoon. Also my parents didn’t want to burden the elderly lady with cooking for the four of us.

Time seemed to stand still in that place. It was only 7 p.m. and we were not feeling very sleepy. So we sat outside on the verandah enjoying the cool breeze. 

A gentleman from the adjacent house, on seeing us, four strangers, came over to introduce himself. He was surprised to note that we had come from Calcutta. He was further amazed when he heard about our trip. 

Then he invited us to spend the night at his house. He said he has a spare room with a ceiling fan and we can have a good night’s sleep. My father hesitated at first, but the gentleman was insistent saying that at least for the kids’ comfort he should take up his offer. The priest also agreed that it would be better for us all.

In the next episode, I will share the story of meeting a wonderful family and five divinely beautiful girls.

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