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I am an ardent blogger and a web enthusiast. My blogs include varied topics from the picturesque details of my travelogue to theology and worldly facts. My passions are reading English and Tamil classics, Management Topics, Playing Tennis and taking long walks. I live with my wife in Bangalore. Visit regularly my children in Michigan and Colorado to spend time with them and three grandsons. Please brief your opinions there in when you read my blog :-

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sri Lanka Ramayana Trail - Part 6 / Day 6

Sri Lanka Ramayana Trail -  Part 6 /Day 6

24-09-2015 ( Thursday )
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( Shankari Devi )

September 24, 2015 was the concluding day of our tour of Sri Lanka.  The schedule for the day was to reach Trincomalee (100 K.M.)  to visit Shankari Devi and Thirukoneswaram temples  and then leave for Colombo ( 275 K.M.) to catch the return flight to India.

We had a few hours of sleep only as we got back from Jaffna by 2 A.M., after completing successfully the visit to Nainativu in Jaffna the day before. However we were ready by half past 6 A.M. itself. We packed our bags and left them at the Heritage Hotel lobby. As we had some time before breakfast, we walked up to the Tissa Wewa lake and were able to see the three Buddhist Stupas more clearly as there was no fog like the previous day.

Anuradhapura where we halted is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and famous for its well preserved ruins of ancient Lanka. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. It is on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. It was founded in 10th century B.C. Excavations have uncovered information about the existence of prehistoric habitation of human in the citadel. The city gained prominence after the introduction of Buddhism when the great buildings era began. The city contains rich collection of archeological and architectural wonders, enormous dagobas, soaring brick towers, ancient pools, crumbling temples that were built during the thousand years of rule of Anuradhapura over Sri Lanka. Today several of the sites remain as holy places and temples and taken care of.

We walked under the shade of mature trees around the hotel inhaling the smell of the wet soil and grass as the overnight dew was evaporating in the warmth of the rising sun . It reminded us of Rudyard Kipling’s quote, “ The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it ”. We had   breakfast by 7.30 A.M. The menu was not much different from the previous day. Rice cakes  (instead of rice noodles ) looking like doklas were included which we relished along with butter, coconut milk, green chutney and baked beans. We finished the b/f with hot Ceylon tea /  Nescafe. We bought some trinkets like crystal beaded chains, silver bangles and small statues of Buddha from a local vendor who had exhibited the items near the hotel reception. He preferred Indian currency towards the cost of items we bought, as he was planning to visit Madurai and other pilgrimage centers in South India.  We felt happy and obliged him.

Bye bye Hotel Heritage                         Our Team in The Trail

We were seated in the chartered vehicle by 8.30 A.M.  Mr.Madhavananda Dasa welcomed us with the greeting ‘Jai Shriram’  enthusiastically. We chanted  after him the Narasimha Stuti in chorus. He outlined the day’s schedule again and narrated the various puranic references connected with the place of visit i.e. Trincomalee or Tirukkona malai where the Shankari  Devi Shakti Peetha is located. It was very much interesting to listen to Mr.Dasa narrating the mythological background of Tirukkonamalai (a triangular hill).

The first amongst,  the 18  Maha Shakthi Peethas strewn across, is Shankari Devi in Sri Lanka where the groin of Sati Devi is said to have fallen and the place is hailed as one of the sacred places for worship. As an authentic reference, the first verse of Adi Sankara’s Ashta dasa Shakthi Peeth sloka commences as  “ Lankayam Shankari Devi “, meaning Shankari Devi in Sri Lanka is the first.

The Legend (1) :-  In Tretha Yuga, Parvati Devi desired to have a beautiful palatial mansion to reside and requested Shiva to arrange for it. Shiva who is extolled as the yogi of yogis, was not in favor of any personal possession. Parvati remained firm that she was asking for the good of the world, Shiva realized the thought behind Shakti’s request and gave his assent finally. Shiva asked Vishwakarma to locate a place and build a best palace ever seen in the world so that Uma can have her desire fulfilled.

Vishwakarma chose a beautiful spot in the island of Lanka where he raised a magnificent structure gleaming with gold, gems, cooled with fountains and filled with the smell of many divine flowers in the garden - in short a palace that can be qualified as worthy residence for the mother of three worlds. Devi was extremely pleased with the outcome and desired to employ the best brahmin to perform the Griha Pravesh ceremony. Shiva and Parvati came to Lanka to look for a brahmin when they heard a lustrous and powerful voice chanting ‘ Om Namah Shivaya’. It was Ravaneswaran who was performing the austere tapas invoking Shiva.It dawned on her that Ravana was immensely qualified to perform the gruha pravesh as he was proficient in all the four vedas and was the son of  great saint Vishravas. She invited Ravana to perform the ceremony. Ravana gladly accepted Shakti’s invitation and performed the ceremony in a splendid manner, ritualistic in the true sense and adhering to the rules of Sastras. Parvati too pleased, favoured Ravana to ask for a boon of his choice. Shiva interrupted to say that a brahmin should not ask for Dakshina and it is left to the ‘Kartha’ to decide. However since Shakthi had made the offer, he told Ravana to ask whatever he pleased. Ravana in a clear tone asked for the magnificent palace itself built by Vishwakarma so meticulously. Parvati smiled at the play of fate and granted Ravana’s wish. Ravana felt guilty for robbing Parvati the palace,and pleaded with Shakti Devi to remain in Lanka. Shakti Devi accepted that her spirit would remain in Lanka so long as Ravana remained free from misdeeds. When Ravana refused to free Sita Piratti, Shakti left Lanka. It was Vibheeshana who succeeded as the King of Lanka after Ravana, prayed to Shakti to return to Lanka and Shankari Devi acceded to his fervent prayer.

Legend (2):-  There is a reference in Vayu Purana to ‘Trikonamale’. Once Adisesha and Vayu had a bitter fight to know who was mightier. Adisesha coiled himself around Mount Kailash and challenged Vayu to attack the Kailash Parvath. Vayu turned into a hurricane and attacked the mountain. Shiva asked Brahma to create another Kailash in the South. Brahma chose Lanka and created the second Kailash. Shiva came to Lanka to reside since then it became Dakshina Kailash.

When Adisesha lifted his three hoods out of 1000 hoods to listen to Shiva, Vayu blew over the three peaks of mount Kailash. Those three pieces fell in three places (1) in Srikalahasti (Thondai Nadu) , (2) Tiruchirapalli (Chola Nadu ) Rock Fort Temple or Thayumanavar Swamy and  (3) Trikona Male in Lanka. Trikona Male lies in the same longitude as that of Kailash (like Kataragama, Sri Lanka).

Legend (3):- In Koneswaram the temple teertha , the Mavali Ganga, bubbles up from a well at the western portion of the hill there, goes around the hill and empties into the Indian Ocean. It is believed that Parvati once examined Shiva’s matted locks and she caught sight of a woman’s face for a fleeting second. The terrified Ganga froze into an ice cube. Shiva scooped it up and dropped into the sea in three places. This formed the Mavali Ganga or Mahabali Ganga in Trincomalee, Manik Ganga in Kataragama and Kaveri Ganga in Thiruketheeswaram.
Mr. Dasa involved us by eliciting answers to related questions. Whenever our attention deviated he used “Hare Krishna ‘ as wake up call which we too echoed. Mr.Dasa demonstrated  that storytelling is an excellent art  !!  

           Lakshmi Narayana Perumal Temple ---                              bell tower

At 11:00am we reached Sri Lakshmi Narayana Perumal Kovil in Nilaveli on the way to Thirukonamalai. It is a beautiful temple structure visible from quite a distance across the plains.
The outer walls painted in sky blue reflecting the dome of sky above and sparkling gold embellished with intricate carvings is very attractive.The tall bell tower in front of the temple is also painted in golden yellow. The temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu was constructed in 2011. It is an exact replica of South Indian temples and has been made with the help of South Indian craftsmen. The prakaram around the sanctum sanctorum has small sannidhis for deities like   
Hayagriva, Mahalakshmi, Lakshmi Narasimha, Ashtalakshmi(s), Dasavatharam idols, Dhanvantri, Andal, Kuberan and so on..

We were in front of the main deities at aarati time. When the curtains opened we had darshan of  Goddess Lakshmi and Sri Narayana bedecked with rich jewels . It was a divine sight to see the Goddess of wealth and Protector of the Universe side by side.
After darshan we left for our next destination Thirukonamalai to visit the Shankari Devi temple.

The temple is located on the N. E. coast of Sri Lanka in a city known as Trincomalee (Thirukonamalai). It is reached by a steep hike up the Konamalai also called as Swami Rock.  We parked our bus in the parking area  near the beach and rushed to the temple by autos. We had to elbow our way through the crowded shopping area .
Temple Entrance

We were inside the temple right at the aarati time. We offered our sincere prayers to the Goddess.  We viewed some mural paintings depicting scenes from the puranas as well as from the history of the temple.

2000 years back the ancient temple was destroyed by the Buddhist king Mahasena Vijaya  who built a monastery and dagoba (dome shaped stupa) in that place .Later the Chola King Kullakottan, a descendent of the legend King Manu Needhi Cholan of Thiruvarur restored the Koneswaram temple at Trincomalee and the Kantalai Tank after finding the ruins. He was the son of Vara Rama Thevan, who had been a prolific benefactor of the Konesar temple.
Kullakottan visited the Munneswaram temple on the west coast  before going to Koneswaram. He brought  the ancient Vanniyars to settle down in the  the east of the island. According to the chronicles, he extensively renovated and expanded the shrine, lavishing much wealth on it. He was crowned with the epithet Kullakottan, meaning builder of tank and temple.  He also brought about agricultural and economic developments.

There is a stone edict of Kullakotta Chola  with the inscription-- the brahmins in his court had predicted that Yavanas would destroy the temple. On 14th April 1624, the Portuguese in the guise of brahmins entered the temple and looted the gold, pearls and gems collected over thousands of years and destroyed the thousand pillared temple using cannons. Only one pillar survived the damage. The broken building materials were used in the construction of the nearby Frederick Fort.  The present Koneswaram temple is located within the fort. Some of the artefacts from the demolished temple were kept in the Lisbon museum. People worship the lone pillar standing at the top of the hill as the remnant of the ancient Shankari temple.

The Lone Pillar

The temple priest carried the idols of Swayambhu Linga and Shankari Devi and hid them in a silted well. In 1952 Arthur C. Clarke , a British researcher retrieved the Swayambhu Lingam from the ocean and found the Shankari Amman idol also from a well. After a gap of almost 450 years  (after the Sri Lankan Independence) some Sri lankan Tamil Hindu people of Trincomalee came together to build the present temple in 1952.

The present temple is of modest dimension as compared to the ancient one.
Besides Shiva Linga, Koneswaram has shrines of Ganesha, Subramanya, and other deities around the central Garbhagriha which enshrines ‘Thirukoneswar’ ( ‘Asura Linga’ - another name in the context of Ravana’s severe worship of Shiva) ) as the main deity. The temple offers a spectacular view of the Indian ocean stretching beyond infinity. By the edge of the cliff stands an ancient and sacred Bilva tree under which Rama is said to have meditated.

The panchaloha idols of Koneshwar, Mathumai ambal, Chandrashekar, Trishul, Ganesha, Veera Sakthi , Annapakshi (bird) were retrieved when excavations were carried out and later consecrated in 1953 and housed in the Vasantha Mandapam.

We had darshan of Koneswara Linga and came out of the main temple.

Cave Entrance--Markandeya Puranam

Scene from Pittukku Mann Sumantha Perumal Episode

Sthala Vriksha               Trishul                            Ganesha

Ravana asking for pardon--Shiva Linga

Shiva Parivar

We then entered a stone arch and walked through a narrow path which looked like a cave, there we saw colorful idols depicting the story of Markandeya purana, ‘Pittukku mann sumantha Perumal’, Ravana begging pardon in front of a Shiva Linga,  and Shiva Parivar. We had a view of the Indian Ocean from the top of the cliff.

In front of the temple, there is a humongous idol of Shiva with a Nandi (Bull) at the side.

We then came to the spot Ravana Vettu, 350 feet above the sea level.

Ravana Vettu                                                                       

Ravana and his mother were great devotees of Koneshwar. Apparently when his mother was suffering from ill-health, the king wanted  Shiva and his consort to visit Ravana’s mother. When they refused Ravana tried to take the Koneswaran hill to her. As he was lifting the rock, Shiva had made him to drop his sword which created a great  cleft in the hill. This is known as Ravana’s cleft or ‘Ravana Vettu” in Tamil. We can see the two sharp edges of the cleft created by the sword of Ravana.

We further came across an idol of a Nandi (excavated) , Statue of Kulla kutta Chola and a beautiful scene depicting the mango episode in the Shiva Parivar on the rock.

                                         Nandikeshwara Idol

 Kullakutta Cholan                     Mango Episode       

Koneswaram is the easternmost shrine of the 5 ancient Iswarams (temple locations) of Lord Shiva on the island. The others are Naguleswaram in Keerimalai, Thiruketheeswaram in Mannar, Munneswaram in Puttalam and Tenavaram in Tevan Turai.

The heat was oppressive and the hot sand literally scorched our feet.( we felt we should have worn socks) . We had  King coconut juice on the way, got into the autos  to reach the parking area.

Ocean view Trincomalee----Chamith and Sangeeth with our team member

We went to Sri Wari Balaji Vegetarian Restaurant adjacent to the Lakshmi Narayan temple for lunch.  We had hot and simple meals -  rice ,dal, greens subzi prepared with coconut, brinjal bhaji, curds and rasogolla (MTR).

By 3:30pm  we went to the nearby Kanniya Hot Water Wells - கன்னியா வெந்நீரூற்று in Tamil. The seven hot water springs are square in shape. As the depth is 3 to 4 feet only, the bottom of the wells can easily be seen. The temperature is fairly high and vary from one spring to the other. When 10-15 buckets of water is taken out, the wells dry out of water.

Entrance to Kanniya Wells--Hot water wells--------- Old Buddhist Temple

In Ramayana, there is reference to Kanniya hot water springs. Ravana started performing his mother’s rites at this spot. Ravana stuck the earth with his sword in several spots and fountains sprang from those spots. A fee of Rs.10/- is collected which is used for the maintenance of the hot water springs. They are enclosed in a rectangular structure, protected by high raising walls. Small stalls at the entrance sell food items and fancy goods. There are newly excavated sites seen of late. These reveal the base of ancient pagoda belonging to old Buddhist temple complex that existed in historical time. Hot water spring wells are crowded. Using soaps is prohibited. There are separate dressing rooms for men and women. Hindus visit nearby Shivalaya Temple after bathing in the spring wells. Ravana used to worship Shiva in the temple near by which is now not in sound condition.

Nilaveli Beach :- We made good use of the time before starting our journey to Colombo. We visited Nilaveli Beach by 5.00 p.m. on the Indian ocean. Soft white sand, clean water and
sizable crowd, make the beach as a tourist attraction. The beach is free of vendors.
  Nilaveli Beach------------Waiting for the next  huge  wave  !!!

We stood in the water and like little children enjoyed the current of the tides washing our feet.It brought the nostalgic feeling in us . Few kids were playing in the sand building towers and many were seen bathing in the sea. Reluctantly we returned to the vehicle to begin our return journey to Colombo airport. We collected our dinner packets  from Balaji restaurant containing Roti, dal and curry. It was 6.30 p.m. when we finally departed from Trincomalee with a heavy heart. We maintained silence during the travel towards Colombo, probably for this reason and also as we were exhausted.  At 8.30 p.m  we stopped on the way to have  dinner. By 1.00 A.M. on Friday, the 25th we reached Bandaranaike International Airport.                                        

We finished the formalities and waited for the Spicejet SG 2 which got delayed by an hour. In turn our arrival at Chennai International airport too was delayed. We collected our baggage, after customs clearance rushed to the Domestic Terminal. The Spicejet staff helped us in an exemplary manner by taking care of the luggage to be checked in the flight SG 3301 bound for Bangalore  and directing us in the quickest route to board the connecting flight. The aircraft landed safely at Bangalore airport by 8 A.M. Since our baggage was booked in the next flight due to shortage of time at Chennai we waited for an hour more. We finally bid farewell to our team members and  also thanked Sri madhavananda Dasa for conducting the tour efficiently,  and left for home, sweet home.

The World is a Book and those who do not travel read only a page. We proved this saying by travelling and we have the satisfaction of reading many pages in the book of Sri Lanka. The travelogue what we have written in 6 parts is exhaustive and carries minute details of places visited replete with as many pictures including references from puranas and history.In this  trail we had covered about  2000 km.

We humbly dedicate this travelogue to our Guru Smt. Shantha Viswanathan who is our inspiration. With genuine interest she took the initiative and was instrumental in finding the  able coordinator for the spiritual theme‘ Sri Lanka Ramayana Trail’. In this tour we have gained spiritually and more. .

We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment. One’s destination is  never a place, but a new way of seeing things.Travel and change of place impart new vigour to the mind..The mind can never break off from the journey - the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the secret chambers. There are no yesterdays on the road. .A ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are built for.

Jai Shri Ram !

--- Natarajans  ( participants of the Trail )


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