On a Pilgrim’s Trail

published on December 9, 2005

[Smt. Padma Jayaraj is a former professor of English Literature at Calicut University and now lives with her husband in Kerala. Besides being a regular contributor to many national dailies and magazines writing on Indian fine arts and traditions, Smt. Jayaraj frequently travels to different holy sites in India and writes travelogues.  Her writings are rich, inspirational  snapshots of her very personal sacred experiences. Haindavakeralam is proud to present these images to you, unedited].



Daylight was just peeping in when our bus raced through misty, roads.Leaving towns and fields beyond, morning braced us as we entered a wild terrain. There is hardly any geographical division that forms the border between Karnataka and Kerala. Dense forest stretched far away; wind played its loud symphony. Beyond the shifting roof of green, an arboreal world was throbbing with life.





In mythical times during the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, Hanuman flew to the Himalayas in search of mrutha sanjeevani, a plant to rejuvenate the unconscious Lakshmana, Ram’s brother. Unable to pick and choose, hanuman took the entire mountain, Meru, to Lanka. Later, he took it back to place it in its original place. On the way, a small piece fell down. And it grew in wild abandon, forming Kudajadri: a mountain rich and wild, a gift from the Monkey god. 


Oral history recounts another dimension.  At a time when knowledge bounded the Indian archipelago known as Bharatha varsha, Sankaracharya came here.  He was, at  that time, a peripatetic monk travelling the length and breadth of the country establishing Devi temples. While living at Kudajadri,Sankaracharya had a vision of Devi. He prayed that she blessed Kerala his
homeland with her presence. She agreed on one condition that he should not look back doubting her word. The sage agreed. And he walked on lulled by the music of the tinkling ankle bells of the goddess following him. But, at some point, he felt he could not hear the jingling music any more. In his anxiety, he turned back forgetting his promise. So Devi held back; she had to keep her promise. And Sankaracharya founded the
temple of Mookambika at Kollur, on the border between Kerala and Karnataka.


In Mookambika, Devi is residing  in her aspect of the goddess of learning. Pleased with Sankara’s efforts at establishing the Vedic knowledge, goddess Saraswathy has blessed her devotees with knowledge. This is a famous centre now for the ceremony of initiation into learning. Anxious parents with 3-year olds flock this temple during Navarathri puja for the special blessings of Sarswathy.Artists make their pilgrimage to pay homage to the goddess, their patron. The temple stands, truly on the border, for the people here speak both kannada and Malayalam though it belongs to the state of Karnataka politically.The quiet that envelops the mountain terrain calms your wearied spirit. Down below flows the river Souparnika gazing at you with a thousand eyes: green,sparkling gold, crystalline, and azure. The priests, ceremonial rites, and rituals are a mixture of both Kerala and Kannada style. The goddess feeds her devotees twice daily regardless of their number.




Outside the temple walls, jeeps throb inviting you for a ride to the top of Kudajadri. It is a long way up. But only a visit to Kudajadri completes the pilgrimage to the temple of Mookambika. So many, hardy enough for a 10 kilometre- hike, park their private vehicles and climb. Others go by hiring a jeep and return like tourists. Yet, it is an experience that lives with you for many years to come. The upward climb through narrow road is exhilarating. The scenery, awash after two monsoons, is catching. You feel the purity of mountain air, an element that is lost to modern world. And the cool of lush green is a special gift of forest land.The jeep races through gullies now dry. The thrill of adventure courses through your blood stream. You brace yourself to brave any eventuality if man or machine fails! Occasional hiking groups smile at you sharing a sacred joy.  Here is the original temple of Devi whose vision blessed Sankaracharya. The river Souparnika is a trickle here collected in a tank for daily use. To drink from a mountain spring, its cold elixir has a tonic effect. Here lives the family of the priest whose sole mission is serving the goddess. You have a home here. They feed you; give you space; blankets to sleep if you want to spend the night. And you need them to complete your trail. Another two km-hike lay ahead. You have to do it on your own as a pilgrim. No choice! Hiking with ordinary slippers over rounded boulders is not easy. The fear of slipping and sliding down to the valley,accompany you all along. You grope for an absent staff. Yet, something propels you … The panorama all around is simply breath taking:  the verdant height surrounded by a mountain chain of misty valleys. Yes, finally you reach the place where a lone flat rock bathed in the gold of setting sun, tells this was the seat of honour. Here sat Sankaracharaya, meditating, composing. From that high throne spread strong waves of Vedic Hindu concept, and the philosophy of Advaita to a land under Jain and Buddhist sway. Today, shed of all its past glory the seat of honour looks lonesome. 


Now, here is a man waiting for you with buttermilk to take care of your mundane need. It tastes wonderful after such a strenuous climb. Nearby is the mouth of a cave. None goes through it now. In the days when Sankaracharya lived here he used this cave to walk to the temple for his daily worship of Mookambika, probably, a shortcut of four miles, they say. There is a sense of the sublime here: overwhelmingly beautiful,beyond approach, the finite merging with the infinite Silence reverberates the air. The serenity, the vastness, and the thin veil of mist forming a curtain …the eye goes beyond the physical reality. Something, close to embalmed-sleep, overwhelms your body, mind and spirit. Nirvana is possible here when the life-wearied soul reaches its haven. At sunset,hills and valleys, waves of shades of green, lay bathed in a shower of fiery gold. The chain of mountain ridges seems to be the shattered pieces of that chunk that fell off from Maha Meru. From time immemorial they have grown, rooted in gay abandon, a home for all who revere the sacredness of all created things. You understand the mythical dimension; feel the meaning of pilgrimage. An exalted state of wonder engulfs the self. 


 The sun slipped below the vast expanse bringing a spiritual pain. Hovering mist absorbed the glory of twilight. Far beyond the cosmic window the December new moon would rise. The sky would be a chaos of stars very soon. After Life’s pilgrimage, it would be a different horizon for all of us. After knowing such heights, we climbed
down careful not to fall.


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