Despite the twelve hours, hot and bumpy taxi trip, the death-defying 24 hairpin bends along the overhanging cliff road, winding our way through the Palani Mountains at speed , visiting seedy hotels with cold, brown water, the ill-flavoured food; the Kodaikanal travel experience was rather exciting.
The mountains and the hairpin bends –
After hours of sitting in the back of a taxi in 100 degrees plus temperatures, we began the steady mountain climb at precisely 6.30 p.m. The enormous trees threw long shadows across the road, hinting at the impending dusk.
On each turn, a variety of hand painted slogans appeared on adjacent boulders, “Jesus Loves You” or “Jesus Saves” – a loud declaration that Kodaikanal was pretty much a place of Christian worship. Now and again, we would see ‘Sai Ram’ or ‘Om Sai Ram’ – a welcoming gesture to Baba who would take this route later, on his way to his Kodaikanal Ashram home.
Each hairpin turn became more terrifying than the one before. I held tightly on to my seat as my heart flipped over and over. We drove on slowly. Gradually, as I watched, the sun dropped below the horizon, leaving behind a night sky of soft golden hues tinged with pale iridescent pinks that soon faded into a velvety darkness, obscuring the valleys far below.
Our drive became more relaxed, the trees closed in around us, and a red glow could be seen in the distance. A forest fire was threatening to burn out of control; luckily, it started to rain and the menacing red glow became a ghostly shimmer – soon left behind.
The mountain road narrowed and was no longer just a road, but a dark tunnel of huge trees now bathed in soft moonlight. How different the mountains looked, compared with a few hours earlier, when brilliant sunshine had provided us with clear and often petrifying views of the mountain terrain. We drove on, up and up, until at last, houses began to appear.
Swami during a stay in Kodai
Out of the darkness, a barrier appeared. Our taxi driver got out of the car and wearily walked over to the guards to ask questions. I opened the car window to sniff the air; it was cool, earthly and the wet leaves from the trees made it sweet.
A young man boarded the taxi. “I will direct you to your hotel,” he muttered in broken English. We had finally made it to ‘rustic’ Kodaikanal.
Our chief concern now was to find our hotel. The young guide directed our driver to the location, but expressed disappointment at our choice, and we soon knew why.
We simply took one look at the pre-booked hotel, which happened to be situated in the centre of town, surrounded by small taverns and other eating establishments, and decided to cancel the room.
Instead, we chose the Paradise Inn which, at the time, had a choice of rooms. The manager took us to room 501 – a room slightly apart from the others. “This is a very quiet,” he said cheerfully, as he walked over to switch on the T.V. Suddenly from the ceiling came a thunderous sound. “People rushing?” I asked. “No rats!” replied the manager. “They won’t hurt you” he said with a tongue in cheek attitude. We took the room for the night, I stayed awake all night long just in case ‘our friends’ returned. They did. We left at dawn for a room on a lower floor.
Room 401, directly below, and graded ’super-deluxe’ was ample, comfortable and clean. The down side – brown water coming from elaborate plumbing, and one broken window covered with cardboard, the outside of which displayed the fearsome face of a devil. I was not amused.
Swami came by car the very next day. The ashram staff, newly assembled, told us he would arrive by four p.m. at the latest. We decided to wait at the Ashram. My husband went inside and sat in the men’s section, under the green canopy. I stayed outside – standing.
Swami finally arrived at six o’clock but I wasn’t disappointed by the long wait for, as his car turned to enter the ashram drive, a very happy Swami leaned forward and gave a spontaneous wave. I waved back with both hands.
The next morning, we arrived early and anxious for darshan. The waiting area turned out to be in the main road! Traffic grudgingly gave way to pedestrians, while tooting horns offended our ears, and petrol fumes choked us. Newly arrived vendors, soon to be entrepreneurs, offered us solace in Masala tea. But as we sipped, other vendors bombarded us with incense sticks, Swami photos, cassettes, bread, biscuits, cakes, jewellery etc. And to top it all, ‘our line’ drew `unlucky’ token number 13.
Meanwhile, the seva dal had problems positioning the ladies and by the time we reached the seating area, Swami had already given darshan. Wearily, I concluded Kodaikanal was `full of surprises’ – not all pleasant.
As the days went by, things rapidly improved. We received close morning darshans under fair and cloudless skies. The sun shone warmly on us, and Swami, much like the sun himself, was radiant, smiling and relaxed, (and definitely in a holiday mood). He took time to bless our photos, pendants, take letters, give padnamaskar – even luckier devotees managed to hold his hand.
Both the Tamil Nadu and subsequent Kerala New Year celebrations were held under a canopy of brilliant blue sky. A smiling Swami sat serenely on his jasmine bedecked balcony, while cords of delightful music entertained us. On one occasion, Swami rewarded the singer with a beautiful gold bracelet that he materialised with a wave of his hand. The singer returned to finish her programme. Sincere feelings of gratitude overwhelmed me, as I sat listening to the moving performance. I felt a sincere gratefulness for days such as these: a `heavenly break’ from the mundane chores of life.
Unfortunately, the afternoons held less promise for most devotees. The clouds gathered daily around 1:00 p.m. and torrential rain followed. The discourses, as usual, were held in the small hall but, with the introduction of V.I.P. lines, few `general lines’ could attend. We sat outside under the canopy, hoping for just a glimpse of Swami.
One morning, this family received a blessing for our magazine, INNERVIEWS, followed by an unexpected “Very happy” from Swami. We were overjoyed. Swami also blessed my golden cross and chain. (I had waited for years for the blessing.) After Swami blessed my cross, I immediately placed it around my neck again; the cross surged with vibrating energy. A friend, who has a ring from Swami, remarked that she had not felt such energy when she had the ring materialized. “Maybe darshan blessings are more potent”, I thought, with a chuckle.
Swami in slippers -cute!
An Unexpected Morning
My fondest memory of the trip has to be darshan, April 27th. My husband had left for home.
It was a dream day, clear, balmy, and from the roadside the Kodaikanal lake looked more enchanting than usual. Our line drew token number one and the seva dal promptly moved us to the entrance.
Mentally, I thanked Swami for the line. “At last,” I thought,“I can be truly near him this morning.” The seva dal took us straight in and gave us really good seats. We waited calmly for Swami to appear.
He entered the lady’s side facing the V.I.P.’s then suddenly swapped his position and stood in front of us – for a moment there was complete silence. I asked to touch his foot (padnamaskar), but the ladies seated beside me, reached for his feet first. I felt disappointed as he withdrew from us. ‘Obviously no feet touching today,’ I thought to myself as he strolled further down the line of ladies. But there is a twist to the story, and `the ending’ appears at the bottom of the page. *
After darshan, a surprise announcement from the staff, requested us to remain seated for Swami’s blessed prasad. Within minutes the college students appeared with large silver containers full of sweet rice and curd. A little later the seva dal distributed the delicious food on silver paper plates. We ate slowly, enjoying the unexpected meal.
Swami stood on the balcony watching over us as we ate, I remember how young He looked that morning. He seemed to shimmer in the sunlight, every once in a while, he smiled and waved to us. We waved back with our sticky fingers. He later jokingly asked some of the ladies if they would like second helpings. What an enchanting morning and most unexpected. That’s how it is in Kodaikanal.
On my arrival home in May, my husband revealed a dream he had had of Swami near the end of April at the time I had asked Swami for padnamaskar. The ‘dream experience’ here below, is in his own words :
“In the dream, I was working in an office complex. The corridor outside my office leads to a `T’ junction. If you turn left at the `T’ junction, Swami’s office is the first office on the right.
I had just left my office and reached the `T’ junction when Swami came out of his office bearing a number of letters and correspondence in his right hand. His left hand was empty. He asked me something in a language I didn’t understand, but to which I replied, `Yes, Swamiji’. Swami then repeated the question in English when he concluded I had not understood. Again, I responded, `Yes, Swamiji’ and with this response, Swami turned to go.
By this time I had assumed a yoga-like kneeling posture and could feel the cold partition wall against my left shoulder. In that split second, it seemed like a golden opportunity to offer a request of my own: `Swamiji, padnamaskar?’ I asked.
At this request, Swami took his left hand to raise the hem of his orange gown and uttered the word `Take!’. Now I was on the horns of a dilemma – two feet – which to choose? I made my choice and …”
* and my husband kissed Swami’s left foot… (Note that my husband had no idea I had asked Swami for padnamaskar on the morning of the 27th April. )
Transmission Through dreams –
Doing some research, we found this explanation in one of our books. ‘When the guru appears in dreams, it is real. When he talks or gives a message, it is real. If the guru or ishta keeps his hand on the head in the dream, then it’s a blessing. This is real and not symbolic.’
‘If, in dreams, one feels the touch of the guru or the ishta on the body, it is the transmission of spiritual power. It is real.’
‘Physical communication is often limited because the guru is governed by time and space, but in dreams the guru is free to give personal help and guidance and it is real.’
‘The guru gives spiritual transmission through dreams, through heart-to-heart communication, through inner guidance and intuition. The secret is to develop your ability to understand your own intuitive nature.‘
We were there in 2003, but sadly I was ill so did not stay. Swami had not been well either at the time, and darshans were not the same. Kodaikanal had been my favourite retreat and where my fondest memories remain.