A journey that was not to be…

She could not have appeared more resplendent! Draped in a golden yellow sari sprayed with tiny red flowers, a vermillion dot on the sandal paste against the sacred ash across the forehead and also at the parting of her freshly washed wavy hair which caught a glint of the morning sun, she looked like Goddess Amman as she breezed in through the doorway.

Braiding her hair and completing the hairdo with a crimson rose, she was all set for the journey to the Lord of the Palani Hills. The lukewarm December skies showed all signs of a pleasant journey as the car surged forward, with the three of us and our niece. Passing farms with coconuts trees in stubs, or with drooping fronds holding on to dear life, having borne the brunt of a long drawn drought, was not a pleasant scene for a region whose bounty lay in its lush green coconut farms and textile industries. There was some relief, though, as we came across greener pastures and crops shown mercy by the rain gods. The windmills, that from afar looked straight out of picture postcards with its propellers, were gigantic!

Stopping to pray at the family temple, replete with pictures of goddesses, we moved on. A sumptuous vegetarian meal, complete with payasam and ice cream to boot, at a highway restaurant left a delicious feeling as we resumed our journey.

And finally appeared the silhouette of the temple atop the hill, beckoning to us. By around 3.15 pm we had checked into a brand new hotel. While father and son went for the tonsure, as wee were required to be at the hilltop early for the morning darshan, we stayed back. Between calls to enquire about her near ones, including her daughter who was working from home, we chatted, and I could feel her heart swell with pride as she spoke endearingly about her daughter and son.  

Dusk called for a walk around the hill. After a cup of hot coffee at the restaurant, we set out. The milling crowd at the entrance to the steps leading up to the temple was a testimony to the thousands who thronged the temple. Past vendors shouting out their fancy ware and the wayside shops stacked with goodies and photos of Gods, we reached a quieter area, away from the maddening crowd. On the right was the rope car station and ahead, the winch station — our means of transport the next morning.

Chatting cheerfully with us in turns, she suddenly expressed discomfort and asked for water. Seating her on the steps of a Bairava temple, we got water from a nearby shop. Just a gulp. The next minute she got up, grit her teeth, grunted twice and before we knew it, slid down onto the ground, right outside the temple steps. From the hilltop shone the beacon, straight onto the still form of Mani, our ‘precious jewel’. It was the Tamil month of Margazhi and close to Vaikunta Ekadashi. A shiver ran through my spine!

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A journey that was not to be…

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