Sunday, March 2, 2014
In the middle
The great epic Ramayana traces several parts of the Indian sub-continent even though its author himself appears to have spent most of his life along the banks of the river Ganga. Ratnakar the robber used to waylay travellers for their belongings and would think nothing of finishing them off. One day, after realizing the error of his ways, Ratnakar began to offer penance, focussing on nothing but the syllables "Mara-maram". Over many years, his body was covered by anthills, but the focus of his penance wavered not a whit. The Gods finally blessed him, for the syllables he uttered were nothing but the name of Rama; as he emerged from his penance, he gained the name Valmiki, the one born of ant-hills. It was then that he began to narrate the story of Rama, in the process earning for himself the title "Aadi Kavi", the pioneer poet.
So how did the robber-turned-poet know about places that he had never seen before? Was he bestowed with divine visions? Or, as one strand of the legend of Valmiki has it, did he visit the places and then write about them? In this part of Chennai, the second option is favoured. It is believed that Thiruvanmiyur, lying on the coast towards the southern end of Chennai, is the morphed version of Thiru-Valmiki-oor, (Thiru meaning holy, and 'oor' meaning village, or area) and that the poet, came here to worship at the shrine of Marundeeswarar, and stayed for a few years within a short distance of that shrine.
This one is a temple to Valmiki himself. As you can see, it is plonk in the middle of the East Coast Road, with traffic flowing along its flanks. Over the years, successive bouts of road laying have raised the height of the roads so that the temple (which was anyway accessed by going down 3 or 4 steps) appears to be even lower than what it is. Even though there doesn't seem to be a crowd visiting this temple, every passer by pays automatic obeisance. For the traffic, it seems to be a nuisance; certainly not Valmiki would have wanted!