Sunday, January 28, 2007

A trip to Ahobilam


Earlier this month myself and my mother decided to go on a trip to ahobilam to have darshan of the famed nava nrusimha temples at ahobilam, Andhra Pradesh. They are part of the 108 divya desams which are revered by the azhwars (vaishnavite mystic saints) in the divya prabandhams.

We knew that the temples are located deep inside the forests and mountains nearby ahobilam and were looking for trip organisers who knew not only the geography of the area but also the signifance and mythology surronding the holy place. In our search we came to know about the famed Vasu Mama of triplicane who organises routine trips that covers all 106 divya desams in this material world every year, for the past 25 years. Duly we approached him and enrolled in his ahobilam trip, which started on jan 25th. The trip itinerary consisted of covering all the temples in ahobilam and also a trip to mantralaya, the place where Sri Raghavendra swamy's jeeva samadhi is present.


Since jan 26th was a republic day i didnt need to bother applying for leave. I silently slipped out of office by 3:30 PM on thursday (25th jan) so as to be there at the rendevous pt for the trip by 5:30 PM

Zeroth Day

The first thing i observed when i reached triplicane is the buzz surrounding the whole street where the busses were parked. Everyone in the street and in the surrounding areas seem to be aware that this must be vasu mama's yet another visit to another divya desam and there were enquiries about his next trips, dates, whether seats will be available for badri trip, pancha dwarakha trip etc. I was sure that atleast 25% of the people coming in vasu mama's trips will be repeat travellers.

Another thing that amazed me was the presence of large number of septuagenerians in the group, knowing fully well that this is going to be a gruelling tour, they have turned back the clock and had turned up in large number to have a darshan of the lord.

And finally Vasu mama turned up with his support staff and after some routine confusion in sorting out names and allotting seats and hauling up of heavy luggage on the rooftop of the bus we were aboard by 5:30 P.M "Indian Standard Time".

We had a brief halt for dinner that was followed by a customary speech from mama highlighting the importance of ahobilam and how thirumangai azhwar wandered around the wilderness in desperation, at ahobilam to have a glimpse of the lord in his nrusimha avatar. We were once again reminded about the gruelling nature of this tour and how we could end up walking day and night in the forest and mountains to have a darshan of Nrusimha, just like thirumangai alwar did in the good ol days.

First Day

Next morning we reached ahobilam at 5:30 AM on the dot and stayed at the huge ahobila mutt. We shared a huge room with 10 others and after completing our morning activities, were down in a flash at the impressive ahobila matt hall for a hot cuppa of coffee.

Our First activity of the day was to visit the nearby temple of lower ahobilam where the presiding deity is prahalada varadhar. All the utsavars of the nava nrusimha are kept here and bhaktas who could not undertake the arduous task of visiting each of the nine temples can worship the utsavars and take heart from it.

The temple has an impressive gopuram with vijayanagar style construction with huge facades and magnificiently sculpted pillars showing lord narayana in various forms.

After darshan we returned to the matt where hot pongal with kichdi was waiting for us and after gobbling it up, we were in the bus to go to the famed nava nrusimha shrines of the garudadri hills

Legend has it that Garuda (Lord's vahana) wanted to worship the almighty's nrusimha avatar in all its splendour and performed a severe penance in this place, leading to the name "garudadri hills".

Our first stop was at the Karanja Nrusimha temple which is around 2 kms from the lower ahobilam shrine. Here Nrusimha is in a sitting posture with a bow in his hand (the only one of its kind). The sthala purana of this shrine says that Nrusimha in order to marry senju lakshmi thayar learnt the hunting skills using the bow, since senju lakshmi thayar as an incarnation of Mahalakshmi was born in the hunting community.

From there we proceeded to the Upper Ahobilam temple which is a furthur 3 kms ride into the forests. The road ends near the Upper Ahobilam temple and from there one has to proceed by foot. Once we alighted out of the bus (we were a group of about 100 with people of various age groups with 60+ forming the fulcrum of the group) we were arranged in a formation in decreasing order of age near the upper ahobilam pond with the gentlemen following the ladies. The idea is to allow the gentlemen to follow the ladies into the forest so as the ladies dont feel left behind.

We proceeded in this manner past the upper ahobilam temple (ahobila nrusimhar can wait as the more challenging jwala and malola nrusimha residing deep in the forest were given the priority while there is sunlight). The trail into the forest/mountain starts behind the ahobila nrusimhar temple and it was truly breathtaking at the first glimpse with a beautiful stream running in the middle of the forest. At times the stream cuts into the trail and we neeed to jump across boulders to cross it. I leave it to your imagination about how the 60+ guys and girls jumped across the boulders. The fact is, they did and were the first to the reach the krodha nrusimha temple which is around 1/3 rd of the way to jwala nrusimha temple.


Welcoming us or rather awaiting for us at the krodha nrusimha temple were a horde of monkeys not unusual in this part and their main target was the fruits and other prasadhams we were carrying for the main deity. After dodging and driving them by using the sticks used by the ladies for the trail we settled down in a haphazard line formation to worship the lord. The sanctum sanctorum was a small cave with an idol of varaha nrusimha swamy. It was a very beautiful and ancient idol with thayar (goddess lakshmi) sitting graciously on varaha nrusimha's life and showering us with all the blessings.

After having darshan of varaha we proceeded to the jwala nrusimha temple with 10 fewer people , owing to Vasu mama's warnings that the trail is about to get more tedious and physically extremely demanding for people with arthritis, weak joints etc. As if to make his words come true the trail indeed disappeared and we were literally jumping across one boulder to another and walking across really narrow ledges. The forest guides and heftier and younger men in vasu mama's troop not to mention "yours truly" helped in getting the older brigade proceeding at a brisk pace.

It was indeed a sight to behold and i wondered with amazement the sheer will power of these elders (including my mother) negotiating slippery rocks and walking on hard rocks, with the single minded devotion of seeking the blessings of lord narayana .

At a particular point in the trail there was very little sunshine in the forest as the entire area was covered with thick outgrowth of bushes and trees. The stream and the fishes were our only companion and at certain places the gracious AP authorities have marked some random boulders with "way to jwala nrusimha" just to make sure we were on the right direction. It helped us little as the directions were hidden from general view and were more like pointers to a treasure hunt.

In fact our only help in making sure we were in the right direction was the huge monolithic boulder straight out of mckenna's gold called as "ugra stambham" from where Lord Nrusimha is believed to have entered into this material world to vanquish the demon king Hiranyakashipu.

It was an excellent place for the brave (or foolhardy !!) to attempt rock climbing and when we asked Vasu Mama whether we can climb that, pat came the reply "That rock is considered as the womb from which the Lord appeared. How can step on it? Dont even think about it". It made perfect sense and reason enough for us keep our mouths shut. But regardless of that the forest guide told, there are so many guys who climb ugra stambham for the sheer fun or bravado of it. In fact there is a pole planted on top of the stambham. Wonder who took the pain to carry the pole and plant it there? I bet it is the work of some hindutva or swamyamsevak guys.

Shortly we reached the base of the mountain chain of which ugra stambham is a part and came across a bridge connecting this hill to other parts of the mountain. At one side of the bridge was the starting point for a huge number of steep steps that seem to be going on forever. After climbing the steps for over 1/2 hr we reached a narrow sledge by the rocky face of the mountain. We had to made sure we attach to the mountain face like a leech so as to avoid a steep fall of over 1000 feet below.

After a ultra careful 1/2 km walk on this ledge we encountered a sharp turn and came across a breathtaking and surrealistic scene where the ledge seems to curve across the face of the mountain and on the farthest side of the ledge was the jwala nrusimha sannidhi. The reason for surrealism was a waterfall exactly halfway to the temple with the ledge on which we were walking falling right behind the sheet of water. Unfortunately during this time of the year rainfall is very scant and the waterfall was more than anything but a trickle. The guide was saying that is a really sight to behold if the waterfall is in full force, but at the same time he cautioned that is very dangerous especially during rainy season.

We were one of the last people to reach the jwala sannidhi and the small temple sannidhi perched perilously on the ledge was jam packed with our group with Vasu mama performing thirumanjanam to the idols of jwala nrusimha to appease the lord. This sannidhi is believed to be exact spot at which the lord tore apart Hiranyakashipu and so the idols were particularly fearsome. There are three idols in this cave temple Nrusimha emerging from the pillar into this world , Nrusimha chasing Hriyankashipu and finally the main idol of the Lord tearing apart Hiranyakashipu with his claws. The main idol of Nrusimha is fearsome and at the same time very beautiful. It has 8 hands, with prahalada and garuda worshipping at his base and hiranyakashipu in his lap facing the Lord's wrath.

We had excellent darshan of the Lord once thirumanjanam was done. Now that the Lord is appeased we turned our attention to appease our hunger. We need not go anywhere for food in the remotest and one of the highest and dangerous points in ahobilam hills as plenty of prasadhams like paanakam (jaggery water), fruit salad, kesari (this one was particularly brilliant) and curd rice were distributed. I dont exactly remember how much paanakam i drank but it must be quite a mouthful as i felt really heavy after my shameless devouring of the prasadhams.

One thing to point out at this time was the excellence of the support staff who had to carry all the heavy buckets or drums of prasadhams and came ahead of us to this sannidhi braving the sun and the tortorous trek. My special salute to them, for without them this trip would not have been so enjoyable.

After spending a good hour and a half at the jwala nrusimha temple we reluctantly traced the way back and reached the midpoint bridge and used it to cross over to the other hill and there to our surprise !!!..more steep steps. This time to go to the malola nrusimha shrine. This was easily the most gruelling part of the trek for the day as the afternoon sun was beating down on us (easily touching 35c) and we were climbing the never ending steps and walking over endless ledges.

We reached the famed Malola Nrusimha temple after an hour's trek with endless breaks for rest and recupertion to soothen our joints and wetting our parched throats. Malola (Ma) is goddess lakshmi and lola (affectionate) Nrusimha as the name suggest is all grace personified shunning his anger as he gives his blessing with thayar in his lap. Right next to Malola Nrusimha temple goes another trail which leads to the prahalada padi cave. Here Nrusimha is said to have taught prahalada various yogic postures and the cave consists of a small idol of Nrusimha with prahalada worshipping him..and oh..not to mention lots of bats screeching around.

The prahalada padi cave is a must visit and one curious thing about this place is the presence of footprints of a dog or lion (depending on what you think it is) on the rocky floor leading to the cave. I for one definitely thought it to be a dog's footprint and the dog straying around that place seemed to concur with me. But much to the dog's agony most of my fellow travellers were certain that it was of a lion's and their rational was compounded by the fact that this is a place frequented by the big cats due to the presence of large number of caves in this area.

We began our downward journey after this and after an hour's walk came back to the upper ahobilam temple. The temple moolavar is Ahobila Nrusimhar this temple contains the jeeva samadhi of the 8th ahobila mutt jeer who went inside the temple well to get water for the daily thirumanjanam and never came out. His disciples waited for around a month and decided to close the well forever. It is believed that one could still hear the chant "om ..om" from deep inside the well if we keep our ears close to it, but of course no one is allowed to.

By the time we boarded the bus it was 6:00 PM in the evening and we were dead tired. Luckily Shatravada and Yoga Nrusimha were in the plains and we proceeded there by bus. Shatravada Nrusimha is in a beautiful sitting post
ure seemingly enjoying the music and needless to say he was the most "livelier and jolly" nrusimhar of the lot. Yoga Nrusimhar is in a yogic pose and hence the name.

We returned back to the ahobila mutt by 8:00 PM and food was ready to be served. The menu was an excellent one with beans, kootu, vadai, payasam, capsicum sambhar, rasam and curd. But i was not having any of it as i had a bloody headache (thanks to the afternoon adventure in scorching heat) and had to be content with rasam and curd. I didnt exactly remember how i dragged myself back to the room, changed clothes and went to bed. But all i remember was that myself and my mother were bloody tired with very sore legs and a very nasty headache.


Vasu mama had told earlier that the next nrusimhar due was bhavana nrusimhar and it was the hardest trek with around 1000 steps to navigate and a 5 km trek in the forest and that we will be proceeding by 4:00 A
M in the morning to beat the heat. We decided we will skip that as the thought of waking up so early and walk around 7 km (including the steps) one way was unfathomable for most of us. The only thing on our mind now was sleep and sleep we did with a decision not to wake up before 8:00 am.

Second Day

Our resolution to sleep till 8:00 am lasted exactly 4:30 hrs as at around 2:30 am the whole place was buzz as the first of the early birds arose to take bath and get ready to go to bhavana brusimha temple. The noise created by them was enough to wake me up from the slumber. I was kind of feeling fresh that time and the headache and leg pain was gone. While i was contemplating to join all these 60+ people whose child like enthusiasm has a viral effect, i had to think about my mother who was feeling leg pains yesterday night and was considered a doubtful starter for the trek.

But it turned out that she had already made up the decision to go and after a lightning quick bath and dress change we were down in the big ahobila mutt hall for a cuppa hot coffee. Its always good to have a good south indian filter coffee early in the day and one sip was enough to revitalise us for the daunting trek waiting in the darkness for us. After making sure that all our torch lights (an absolute must to start our journey in the darkness) are charged we hopped into the bus and got down at the usual stop near upper ahobilam temple. Then Vasu mama proceeded to keep the house in order and a tight group was formed with the ladies in front followed by the gentlemen. Three forest officials and four guides accompanied us as they knew the route in the darkness and also to clear the way ahead for us. We were asked to chant "Narasimha" "Narayana" continuously so as to keep the wild animals away.

We started the trek at 5:00 AM in the morning and this time we need to head into the opposite direction from behind the upper ahobilam temple. The trek was unlike anything i have been part of before as hundreds of torch lights reflecting upon the mountain side and the chorus chants of narayana mantra amidst the eerie calmness of the forest created an unique experience that cannot be described in words. The first hour of the trek was the slowest as we struggled to climb the steep steps and step like formation in the darkness. Most of the times we need to stop in between for a break and also to help the elderly folk navigate the tricky slope.

Once we crossed around 800 steps in this manner we reached a sort of level plain by around 6:00 am and from here on followed the trail deep into the forest for the next 2 hrs. The day break was a sight to behold and once there was enough daylight it was hard to keep up with the 60+ young ladies as they shot out of ear distance. We were literally running from behind to catch up with the ladies and the elderly gentlemen, that by the time i reached the bhavan nrusimha shrine there was a big queue formation and my mother who was waiting for me chided me for taking so long to come !!!. Thanks to the guide who helped the ladies find the way , she was the first one to reach the temple.

Bhavana Nrusimhar is noted for his bright silvery moustache and senchi lakshmi on his lap. This place is believed to be where Lord Nrusimha after killing Hiranyakashipu was tamed by the beauty of senji lakshmi thayar and married her. Surprisingly today turned out to be some local festival and there was a huge local gathering also with their special offerings to god, goats and fowls !!!, much to the disguist of our group who couldnt bear to see the slaughter going on. We quickly exited from here after darshan and retraced our long route back to the base camp i.e upper ahobilam temple.

After three hours we were back in the bus and back to the mutt hall for lunch. Lunch menu was vendakkai sambhar, melaku rasam, koottu, avarakkai, sakkarai pongal (this one was too good), badushah, appalam etc. This time i was in no mood to let it go (unlike yesterday) and i was in full attack mode. After 1/2 hr my stomach was full and i was refreshed and ready to go to bhargava nrusimha temple which incidentally is the last one to be covered in the nava nrusimha temples.

We hired an auto rickshaw to go there (thats the normal mode to reach this temple). The auto started to go on a highway and suddenly without warning went into a side road which was worse than our trail route and what followed was a 10 minute hip breaking, head bumping ride. You wouldnt believe what was waiting for us when the auto thankfully came to a halt. More trail and steps !!! to go to the bhargava nrusimha temple from there. After gently chiding nrisimha for choosing such physically demanding places (for the bhaktas) to reside we undertook a short walk and had darshan of bhargava nrusimhar and asked for his blessings to give us more strength to withstand the return journey back by auto.

Back in the mutt people were busy packing for the return trip by bus and after a cup of strong filter coffee we bade farewell to ahobilam and boarded the bus to proceed to mantralaya. In the evening we halted at the beautiful and miraculous nandi temple at nandhiyal. The temple has a huge nandi from whose mouth fresh water continuously (no one knows from where) pours out and fills the pool inside the temple complex. The pool has an outlet to pour out the excess water outside the temple and in this way the pool always remain replenished and water there remains fresh. It is allowed to take bath in this pool, although i didnt take thinking that the pool water was stagnant. I could not be more wrong.

Third Day

We had dinner at the temple complex and from there continued on our journey to mantralaya. By the time we reached mantralaya it was 2:30 am in the morning and we somehow found a free mutt to accomodate our 100 strong crowd. After a short nap we were ready to go to mantralaya temple by 8:00 am. The temple complex is huge and was cleanliness personified and there was a huge crowd. We somehow managed to sneak into a vip entrance (benefits of going along with Vasu Mama) and i was promptly stopped just before the sanctum santorum. "Please remove your shirts and wear dhotis. No pants allowed". I frantically searched in my bag and thankfully came out with a towel using which i had darshan of the famous raghavendra jeeva samadhi in brindhavanam. We were even allowed to take aarthi inside the temple.

Mantralaya was always a place i wanted to go when i was in bangalore, but unfortunately i could not find the time. Now that aim fulfilled i thanked vasu mama for the oppurtunity and wanted to thank him more for the excellent lunch that followed. This time aviyal, potato, laddu, capsicum sambhar, rasam, sweet etc. Once our work in mantralaya got over we boarded the bus back to the long trip back home. The return trip was not wholly enjoyable with headache inducing vijayakanth movies blarring at from the inhouse bus dvd player.

Thankfully i got some break from the torture when we halted at a beautiful ramar temple for the night dinner. Its a pity i could not recollect the name of the place, but i am sure its starts with an "o" and ends with an "i' and is somewhere between mantralaya and chennai. After dinner (curd rice with kichadi) was served vasu mama asked us to felicitate the support staff which they thoroughly deserved, particularly for the excellent dishes they served every day. Then he gave a vote of thanks speech and asked us to undertake more such tours with him and gain the lord's blessings

As i sat there under the moon light on that beautiful ramar sannidhi i could not help but wonder about what made all these beautiful aged people undertake such physically demanding exercise of walking 25 kms in deep forests, climbing harsh rocks, navigating tricky terrain under blazing sun? These people with old age related problems, who will definitely crib when asked to climb down ten steps from their home to go to the next street to buy something, were the first ones to shot of a trek to the next nrusimha temple. Who is driving all this people, giving them strength, the will power, making them come back to ahobilam more than once? It is the Lord Nrusimha of course who is showering the true bhaktas with body strength and will power to come and seek his blessings. At this point of time when the trip was nearing its end i could not help but recollect vasu mama's opening remark about ahobilam on the zeroth day "Ahobilam is the most difficult of the 108 divya desams to go. It is only when nrusimha calls one can go there and successfully have darshan of all the nava nrusimhas. All the other divya desams are like going to next door neighbours house". That cannot be more true.

Aho Veeryam Aho Souryarn Aho Bahuparakramah
Naarasimham Param Daivam Ahobilam Aho Balam.



8 comments:

Usha said...

Great report. Well written, giving all the details. A must-read for anyone planning a trip to Ahobilam. We are planning to go this weekend and it sounds quite scary. But I trust Nrisimha will guide our footsteps and give us the strength that guides even much older people to make the trip.

Thanks a ton!

latha said...

ir,
Please provide Vasu Mama 's Address and Telephone nmbers.
Thanking you.
V.Sukhadev
9986351410
email: vedagarbhamsukhadev@yahoo.com

vedagiri said...

A very well written report. One felt like traveling along with you, to the famed temples. Thanks a lot !

a krishnan said...

i would like to have the contact phone numbers and address of sri Vasu mama for joining tour.i shall be very grateful if u can rush the same to my mail akrishnaan@gmail.com
Thank u &Regards

Sree said...

Hi, Thanks for your informative post. I am planning a trip to Ahobilam. Could you send Vasu mama's contact details to ag_sreedevi@yahoo.com
Thanks.

akshit said...

well written.your essay give me a family a good information.can you please tell me any available of pooja material?,any insects or animal found dangerous?is it is a tough journey for you?and finally is there is jwala
narasimar temple is hard to visit.
please send an email to to
a.ram825@gmail.com. thanks for your pleasure information

Conceptual Persistence said...

The Ramar temple Anand visited in the end is in Ontimitta. Its a very old Ramar temple 25 kms south of Cuddapah.

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