Kolli Hills - A Total Recall
June 16, 2002 – Day 2 – The Day of Kongalai Amman
We got up on time, surprisingly of course, and we were ready by 08:00am. Our new friends were also ready by then and we started a little after 08:00am. We did not go directly to the temple as no one is sure of the way to reach there. We need to take some local guide if we have to reach the place. So we went to meet a person by the name Varadarajan. A very unassuming but interesting person he was. He knows quite a lot about most of the herbs in those hills and claims to be able to prepare medicine for any known ailment to human! Amazing and interesting as well. Even our new friends acknowledged the fact and they too have taken medicines from this village doctor. He does not charge anything specific for the medicines and he is not a commercial doctor. He takes whatever we give him. If one needs medicine, we will have to inform him well in advance as it is important that the medicines be prepared only during certain periods. It varies from herb to herb. Since I know nothing about these, I am not venturing into this subject any further.
When we reached his place, we were greeted warmly and given some short introduction about the way they do this practice and also about some common illness and the cures for those. I do not recall those at the moment as I was not too interested in that. We spent some time in his house (a small hut) and once he was ready, we took him along and left for the temple. He acted as our local guide. Still he too had to ask for directions once in a while as we proceeded along the forest route. Soon we were out of normal route and were driving in the terrain. After about 30 minutes of drive in the terrain we reached a small hamlet. From here we have to walk up to temple.
We inquired the local people on how to reach the temple. We were told that the temple is closed now and would not be open for the next one month or so. They do some rituals on the last day of the first Tamil Month, Chithirai. (The Tamil New Years starts in mid April. The first month of the Tamil Calendar is Chithirai which ends in mid May). It seems that once the temple is closed on the last day of the first month, it will then be opened only of the 4th month which is Aadi. That too the temple is open only on Mondays and Fridays. We asked them if we will be allowed to just visit the temple without having to open the temple for worship. We were relieved to know that it is not a problem and we were taken up to the temple by the caretaker of the temple.
We had to trek up about 300ft or so to reach the temple. Before starting the climb, I took a photograph of the temple. We were able to see the back of the temple from where we stood and took a photograph with the hotshot film camera we had. Just before reaching the temple, at a point, the caretaker stopped and asked us to remove our footwear. He also informed us if we had consumed alcohol or meat, in the morning, will have to stop there and proceed no further. Since we did not have anything in the morning, we decided to go up further leaving the footwear behind.
The temple was a small one with only a few square feet in area, but a very scenic and beautiful one. We were just taking in the place and the care taker informed us that we can pray, even though the temple is closed, and the Goddess is very powerful that our wishes will be granted. When I was looking around the temple, I saw the picture of the Goddess drawn outside, on the temple wall. The Goddess was depicted as sitting on a large banana leaf. Since the art looked very good, I inquired with the care taker about what stone was used to carve the Goddess. To my astonishment, he answered that it is not carved, but the Goddess actually came and sat there. Now I was questioning myself whether I am true believer or if I should ask for an explanation. I again told him, that I could see from the drawing that the Goddess is seated, but wanted to know what stone has been used to carve the actual architecture inside. He again clearly explained that the Goddess is not just a stone and is not carved. He said I have to believe that the Goddess actually came down and sat there.
Does he mean that she is still in flesh and blood? I do not know the answer for this till now. Even more intriguing was the ingredients used in worship of the Goddess. She is worshiped with "Black Banana and Black Paddy Grains". It is believed that the Goddess appears in the dream of the priest before the day of some festival and tells him where these plants grow. The priest will go there, collect them and bring back for offering. We tried our best to find out about this when we returned back to the Semmedu town, but no one had seen it before.We all wanted to visit the temple again when it would be open, but we have still not got an opportunity.
Forgetting about such an explanation and thinking that he is exaggerating (of course they go by beliefs) so I did not mind too much about that or did not think bad of him as I know about the beliefs of people here. I asked him if I can take a photograph of the temple. To this, he said that people who take photographs used to face minor problems and even some media people who wanted to film the temple did so but did not get a proper image in their output for some divine reason. So he suggested against taking a photograph, but also added that he would not stop me or feel bad if we photograph. I thought this was another exaggeration, but still not wanting to hurt their feeling we all decided to not photograph anything. I hid a smile and the fact that I have already taken a photograph from the starting point. Later I, in fact we all, regretted having done so. None of the photographs that we took using the film camera exists today. We did develop and print the photos, but somehow lost it without a trace! We have searched it everywhere, in all our houses, and it is just not there!!
Just opposite the temple was a string of mountains which made a beautiful formation and the flowering trees with cloudless blue sky in the backdrop made the place look like heaven. I could not resist taking the camera out, even though I did not have much of interest in photography then. It started only later. So I asked him if I can photograph on the other side. He just smiled and said it is my wish to decide and walked away. In a double mind I turned on my friend’s digital camera (a HP digital camera that has a 1 MP resolution with 8MB internal storage I guess – first time I ever saw a camera that did not use film!) and was seeing the scene through the view finder. I somehow found that the image I was seeing was dark in the viewfinder though the place was quite bright. I asked Ravi if anything is wrong, as we knew that it was not that dark when we took photos on the way. He too saw that and got stumped. There were no clouds or shade or tree anything that would make the picture dark, yet it was dark. We were still not able to understand the reason behind this incident, but we decided not to take any photos and turned the camera off.
After spending about 30 minutes, we decided to climb back down and were on our way back to the resort. We had lunch in a place called Semmedu which is just before our resorts and went back to the resort. Our friends from Salem were returning back on the same evening. So we spent the afternoon time chatting with them and roaming around the resort and the nearby places. We also went to the so called reception and asked the manager for places that we can visit the next day. Stay tuned for the adventures of Day 3