A Yatra for Salvation

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Nalambalam darsanam makes for the annual pilgrimage to a quartet of temples dedicated to the sons of King Dasaratha of epic Ramayana in Thrissur, central Kerala

Chennai Central

The trains trundle in and depart from the British-era red brick building that is Chennai Central (below). The smell of the station, the announcements of trains, the attending gongs and chimes, the guard’s whistle and the waving green signal, they bring back a flood of memories from childhood when these quintessential trolley cars were the best and cheapest modes of traveling. And not to miss the screams of kaapi and chai of chaiwallahs vending the brew in kulhads or clay mugs adding that earthy aroma, and the hot puri-aloo sold on tacked leaves.

For us, who had been NRIs for over two decades, waiting at the platform watching trains come in and leave, was a long-forgotten novelty. I am overwhelmed by a rush of emotion and memory that is as intimate as it is compelling. I recollect vividly the times during the late 1960s and ’70s, when we’d prepare with much gusto for the annual vacation trips from Delhi to Madras, as Chennai was then called. The khaki green and brown hold-alls with bedding, steel trunks in various sizes holding our belongings, the bamboo baskets containing tall tiffin carriers and other goodies to last us 36 to 38 hours, inextricably linked with such journeys, have become features of the past. For us city-reared, lure of rural India, as the train chugged along, was magical.

As we reminisce the ages gone by, the Korba Trivandrum Express thunders into the platform, bang on time 11.45 pm at Chennai Central. Yes, this is one of the other huge changes we perceive about the Indian Railways – punctuality – an aspect that we don’t get to see on several flights these days! The movement on the platform is frenetic as passengers clamber to enter their coaches with trendy pieces of luggage. Since we have minimal baggage on us, we board the twotier coach without much hassle.

We are on our way to Thrissur to visit the quartet of temples, within a radius of 20 km of each other, dedicated to the sons of King Dasaratha of the epic Ramayana. More specifically, the circuit is termed Nalambala or Nalambalam darsanam, and refers to the annual pilgrimage to these temples in central Kerala during the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, christened by Keralites as the Ramayana Maasam or Month of the Ramayana which falls between mid July and mid August. It involves offering prayers at the Thriprayar Sree Rama temple,

Irinjalakuda Koodalmanikyam temple for Bharat, Moozhikkulam Lakshmana temple, and Payammal Shatrughna temple, in that order, on a single day.

We alight at Guruvayoor station past 10 the following morning, have a quick wash in one of the several cottages there, have darshan of Lord Guruvayoorappa, before proceeding by road to Thrissur. Tradition avers that worshipping all the four deities on a single day between dawn and dusk, would provide salvation to, and liberate one from the cycle of births and deaths. Our beliefs notwithstanding, we take the circuit as challenge to cover in a day. Since we arrive at Thrissur well past noon, we take on the trip the following day of our arrival here.

Stoves hiss under stew pots and swirls of smoke emerge from homes in the villages even as whirring sickles break the silence of the wee hours of dawn as we embark on our trip to the temples. Mild rays of the Sun diffuse through the misty veil as we drive past lush fields fringed by coconut and arecnut groves in stretches. We warm up to the pastoral vistas; however, it is evident that modern-day luxuries have metamorphosed the lives of the rural people.

QUICK FACTS

CHENNAI CENTRAL

  • Was built at Parktown as Madras Central in 1873
  • The building was rebuilt two times in 1959 & 1998
  • Electrification of the lines at the station began in 1873
  • Following the renaming of Madras, it became Chennai Central in 1996

Text and photos: Chitra Ramaswamy

 

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