Tag Archives: Dhanushkodi

out with the old karma, in with the new

March, 2006

Kannen and I walked to the ends of Dhanushkodi, almost to Sri Lanka, in the noonday Indian sun, but I was too hot and too exhausted to walk back to where we had started. I opted for the 30 rupee truck ride back. Other people joined us in back of that truck and at one point we got stuck in the sand — we all got out and the men pushed and pulled the truck until we were free. Using the rope that was tied to the top of the truck, I grabbed it and swung myself back up, enjoying every moment of the ride back. I did not understand a word anyone was saying, but I felt comfortable, never out of place in the back of an old truck on a beach in India.

My right-out-of-the-ocean fish lunch was waiting for me – and for Kannen, of course, since I paid for his lunch and the ride back – and it seemed to me that I had never had a more delicious meal. Sitting at the fisherman’s makeshift lunch counter in front of his open fire, I watched him cook as his daughter cleaned the planks that were used as seats and tables. Kannen told everyone that I was an “American yoga teacher” and everyone smiled and nodded their heads and asked me if I liked India. “I love India!,” I said, and that brought even bigger smiles. One Indian showed me his Bible and asked me if I knew Jesus. I told him that I certainly did know Jesus and the man was satisfied with that, he did not try to convert me. When we left, the fisherman asked me to stay in Rameswaram to teach his daughter English. I laughed and told him I would if he could find me yoga students. If only I could have stayed…

I got back to my hotel and that night Kannen and I walked to the great temple. The Ramalingeshwara Temple was built in the 12th century, and has magnificent pillared walkways, 1,212 pillars on the north and south sides. This temple is different from other temples as it is a temple for worshipers of both Shiva and Vishnu. The temple contains 22 temple tanks (like wells) each with water where one can “bathe”, that is, three buckets of water from each tank are poured over you by a temple attendant. Each tank is said to have special benefits: one gives you relief from debt, one gives you “complete wisdom”, one gives long life to a woman, and other things. I was to go through this dunking early the next morning.

Kannen and I sat and talked for a long time. Once again, as in all my travels, I was the only westerner. We sat by a tank where a man was pouring water over a boy and Kannen pointed out that was what I was going through tomorrow. I felt very much at peace in this temple, I felt like I could have slept there all night. Kannen told me about his life, his children, how his sister lived in Germany, how he likes meeting so many people from all over the world. He said he would arrange for my bucket ceremony. He told me it would cost 300 rupees, which I knew was a scandalous rip-off, but I did not care. I saw what the price was on the sign outside the temple and the cost was at least three times less than that, but I also knew that prices are automatically increased for foreigners. Besides, when would I be here again?

Kannen picked me up at 6 AM the next morning. We walked to the temple and I met my “bucket man”, a friend of Kannen’s (of course.) We stopped at each tank with the rest of the pilgrims and my man would put the bucket in the tank three times and pour the water over my head. However, he was practically running from tank to tank! I figured he was thinking, OK, I got my money, let’s get this show over with, and I told him to slow down, that I did not want to fall because the floor was sopping wet from the dripping clothes of all the people. He got the hint and we walked a bit more reverently. I was going to take as long as I could to get through all 22 tanks. I noticed that one tank was all about Brahma and it said that water from this tank would extinguish my past karma…I liked that. I must say that I did feel a bit more cleansed after that bucket of water washed over me.

The last stop was going into a temple room with other women where I wrung out my salwar kameez before meeting the temple priest for a puja. I bought flowers and fruit and made him an offering; and he then smeared sandalwood paste on my forehead, blessed me, and gave me a packet containing “temple things” including a little container of temple water.

I was done. My bucket man had disappeared, my 300 rupees in his pocket together with a new pen. I think he appreciated the “new pen” more than the rupees. I found my sandals and started to walk back to the hotel, knowing that I was in a different state of mind.

I slowly walked along the beach, stopping every so often to watch the pilgrims bathing in the ocean before they walked into the temple. Halfway to the hotel I looked up and saw Kannen walking toward me. “You look beautiful,” was all he said.

He told me to rest, to not take a shower for a few hours, that I should just let the energy from the temple water soak into me. My train to Chennai was leaving at 3 PM, and he said he would come back to take me to the train. “Beautiful,” he said, as he walked away.

walking to Sri Lanka

March, 2006

I woke up early and Kannen picked me up for our walk to Sri Lanka. Not literally, of course, but we would be close enough – we would be walking to Dhanushkodi, on the most eastern tip of India, less than 20 miles from Sri Lanka. He asked if I wanted to ride in a truck out to the point, but of course I didn’t, I wanted to walk all the way. This woman of a certain age was going to walk along the Indian beach no matter how long it would take me to get there.

Rameswaram is an island in the Gulf of Mannar at the very tip of India. Rameswaram is the place from where Lord Rama built a bridge across the sea to rescue his consort Sita from her abductor, Ravana, It is also where Rama worshiped Shiva to cleanse away the sin of killing Ravana. Dhanushkodi, named after Rama’s bow, is at the eastern end of the island about 8 kms from Rameswaram. The boulders around the sea between Sri Lanka and the place known as Adam’s Bridge are believed to be used by the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, to leap across the ocean to Lanka to rescue Sita.

Before we left for the beach, Kannen took me to the street market where I bought fruit for our trip. Everyone knew him – I’m sure I wasn’t the first westerner he brought there – and I sat with the fish sellers as they told me about their catches of the day. I was again glad about how different the Indians were here compared to the ones I had met in Kodaikanal only two days before.

We got to the place on the beach where we would start our walk, but before we left, Kannen took me to the fisherman
who would cook our lunch when we got back. The fisherman took us behind his hut and I picked out my fish that he had caught that morning. One couldn’t get a fresher lunch than that! I can tell you that I was so hungry when we returned that I would have eaten that fish raw.

We started walking and by this time it was close to noon. The sand was blazing hot and it kept getting into my shoes, the sun high in the sky beating down on us. Thank goodness I had plenty of water with me. Kannen and I had an easy conversation – as I said, he was a smooth operator. He kept asking me how I was. I asked him what he would do if I couldn’t walk any further. “Carry you,” he said.

We rested in the shade at the old ferry stop that stopped running ferries in 1964 when the area was hit by a cyclone. I had a thin cotton sarong with me that I used as a dupatta and Kannen tied it gently and carefully around my head so that my scalp and forehead would not get sunburned.

We met up with other travelers walking along the way. Again, I was the only westerner and I trudged along the Indian beach with old men, women, and childen, sweating in the noon sun.

We came to a fishing village and Kannen introduced me to the “oldest man in Dhanushkodi” – I knew that I was not the first westerner he brought to him. Kannen told him where we had walked from, and the old man told Kannen that I was a “strong woman”. We sat in his hut for a long time, and his sons came in with the old man’s pet monkey, a baby that I wanted to hold, but I knew that would be a bad idea, as a bite would mean automatic rabies shots. Seeing that little monkey with a chain around its waist made me sad, but I suppose it had a better life on the island than in a cage in Chennai. We sat a while longer and a Shiva baba came into the hut, another old man who had walked even further than we did, all the way from Rameswaram proper. I gave him some of my water and he blessed me when I told him om namah shivaya, jai jai shiva shambo.

We came to another fishing village and Kannen and I walked around talking to people he knew. We sat for a long time with a family who spoke no English — the woman made me chai, and the man repaired his nets. Kannen did most of the talking and I stared out at the ocean. I couldn’t believe I had walked all this way, almost to Sri Lanka. I left him and walked along the beach, picking up shells that I had only seen pictures of in books. Those shells and a sea urchin are now on my altar in my yoga room.

I felt very lucky to be here, I was filled with gratitude and awe because I am always drawn to the ocean. Some people are drawn to mountains or forests, I am drawn to the ever changing face of the ocean. I feel the rhythm of the waves inside me. I’ve always felt like I can walk out into the ocean, dive beneath the waves, and survive, returning only when I feel like it.

Kannen told me that he brought two western women (“Swedish”) out where we were and they stayed for three days, that he had set them up with a beach hut and water. The family we had sat with cooked their meals, and it only cost them 500 rupees per day. He told me he would do the same for me, that I could wear a “swimming suit” and swim in the ocean. I looked at him and said that I thought women are supposed to stay covered up in this part of India. I told him that people told me to stay covered, that South India was conservative – I pulled out the strap of my camisole that I wore under my sleeveless kurti and I asked him, “you mean I could walk around with this top on, no problem?” He said, yes, no problem, no one would care. I asked him why that’s so, and I waved my hand to encompass the whole area. All he said was, “we have freedom here.”

He told me if I wanted to do the beach hut next time, to call him, that he would pick me up in Madurai and we would drive to Rameswaram. The idea was extremely tempting to me, but the thought of being alone on an almost deserted beach at night where drugs and people were trafficed gave me pause. Besides, my gut told me that I would not be alone in that hut for very long.