Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Azhagarkoil Azhagu.

I had seen many centuries old Jain settlements and excavations in and around Madurai over map and net and while coming back from my Sabarimala pilgrimage, decided to visit one of them. My cousin also had pointed me to some Jain beds in this region and my uncle had visited few of them.
Madurai was menacingly hot, even during this "winter season" and I was becoming weary and tired as the day progressed. After searching on my mobile net, I decided to go to Uppadaipatti, some 20kms from Madurai city, a village in the Alagarkoil valley. Arapalayam was the bus stand where I got down. I had my semi morning ablutions(everything else except bathing, I mean :-)) in this water scarce city with much effort and my morning breakfast was pongal-vada combo, from a hotel nearby. I got a bus to Periyar city bus stand. Uppadaipatti seemed unknown for people including the conductors and drivers, but the nearby places Kidaripatti and Sunderrajan patti provided some clue as to which bus I should take. Most of them suggested me to get a bus to Alagarkoil. So I got into an Alagarkoil bus and asked the conductor for a ticket to Uppadaipatti. The conductor looked confused, but with the help of the fellow passengers decided to give a ticket to Sundarrajan patti. After a journey of about 20 mins or so, the fellow passenger told me that the next stop is Sunderrajan patti an asked me to get down. I got down there and asked few localites chit chatting in the bus stop about the Jain settlements an Uppadaipatti. They said there is another Sunderrajan patti after Alagarkoil towards Melur, near to Latha Madhavan college. They asked me to get a bus to Alagarkoil and from there another auto or bus to Kidaripatti. I waved them good bye and got a shared auto to Alagarkoil. From there I got a shared van to Kidaripatti. The driver warned me that the place which I mentioned was some 2kms walk from the stop and one needs to walk till there. After a 10 minute drive, I reached Kidaripatti. I could also see the Latha Madhavan Engineering college and the Alagarkoil hills in the back ground. The van driver asked me to go straight a road meandering towards the village. After a half an hour walk, I reached a village. An old lady was filling water from the public sintex tank. I asked her the way to the Jain temple. She asked me back, whether I wanted to go to Pancharakaranji. I nodded and she pointed me a way. Soon I was greeted by the local dogs all barking violently on seeing an alien. I began to walk without giving them a notice and reached a dead end, where ladies busy preparing food for lunch. One of them said I had came the opposite way and I need to go another way from the point where I met the old lady. Again trespassing the dogs territory once again and with the dogs barking more vigorously, I proceeded the opposite way. Another villager showed me a path leading through the woods towards the hill. Walked some 20 minutes and I found myself to be lost. There were paths all over, but I was feeling a bit scared as no body were to be seen around. After a few more steps, I found an electric fence and an Archeological Survey of India board stating it as a protected site. I sighed relief as I saw a flurry of steps up the hill.

Went up the hill but soon realised that I had lost my path once again. The scorching sun was making things even worse and was showing no pity on me. The hill had also became molten and the steep sides were again another matter of concern. I was about to return back declaring the mission as failed, when I saw a boy coming up the hill. He was holding a bag full of clothes.

Me: "Ithu thaana vazhi?"    Is this the way?

He: "Panjarakaranjikka?"  Is it to Pancharakaranji?

Me: "Aamaam"  Yes

He: Intha vazhi vaanga annay.    Come this way elder bro.

Me: Saringa  Yes boss

He: Neenga engerunthu varenga? Where are you coming from? 

Me: Sabarimalayilurunthu. Swantham ooru Kerala. From Sabarimala. Native is Kerala.

He: Oh, appadiya. Oh, is it.

Reached a spot where the hill was steep, but steps were cut on rock.

Me: Unga perenna thambi? What is your name young bro.

He: Azhagu.

Me: Naan Sridhar. I am Sridhar.

Azhagu was holding his bag in one hand, had no slippers but was swiftly moving through the steep patch like a Tahr.

Azhagu: Bhayappedaama summa vaanga annay.  Don't be afraid. Just come along elder bro.

He adviced as I was reluctantly trying to get down the rocky steps. I gathered courage and got down.

Me: Intha vazhi thaana thirumbi ponam? Do we need to come through this same path while coming back?

Az: Amaam. Yes

I got a bit nervous as getting down is always a problem for me in the steep hills. Anyways decided to continue.

Me: Neenga enga porenga?  Where are you going?

Az: Thuni thovakkanam. I need to wash my clothes.

Me: Appadiya. Oh is it.

Soon few more steps and we reached an imposing cave like structure, with a water body. The natural cave formation is of thousands of years old and I soon went and sat in the shade as I had got tired after the journey. Azhagu, meanwhile began to take out his clothes from his bag and started to put it in the water.

Me: Nee enna panray Azhagu?  What are you doing, Azhagu?

Az: School ile padikkiren. I am in school

Me: Appadiya, ethanaavathu class? Oh, is it. Which class?

Az: Pathaavathu. 10th class.

Me: Kolla Pareeksha ennakku? When is your final exam?

Az: Ini 2 maasathile. In two months from now.

Me: Appadinna Febrauary maathathileya? Oh that means in February?
Az: Aamaam.  Yes

He began to wash his clothes. He had bought a new Power Bar soap with him. Peeled the cover and started washing.

Az: Neenga intha idathukku eppadi vanthenga? How you came to this place?

Me: Ange bus irangi, Kidaripatti ilurunthu. Came in bus. From Kidaripatti

Az: Angirunthu nadanthu vanthengala? From there you walked?

Me: Aamaam. Kidaripatti - Uppadaipatti vazhi. Yes. via Kidaripatti - Uppadaipatti.

Az: Naan ange thaan irukken, Uppadaipatti. I am residing there, Uppadaipatti

Me: Appadiya. Naan antha vazhiaaka thaan vanthen. Oh is it. I came via those village.

Az: Paathirunthaal koode vanthirukkalaam. We could have came together, if we had seen each other there.

Me: :-)

Az: Itha paarukkava vanthenga? You came here to see this?

Me: Aamaam. Yes.

I could see the jain beds and frail scriptures in the cave, but couldnt see any temple as the site had said.

Me: Inge kovil ethaavathu irukkingala? Is there any temple in here?

Az: hmm, anthapakkam. Yes. That side.

I stood up and was about to check out, while he said:

Az: Ange chappal pottukka koodaathu. You should not put your chappals there.

Me: Sari. Okay.

Respecting his orders, I removed my chappals and went towards the other side of the cave. The feet burned as soon as I came out of the shade. I was wondering how Azhagu had came till here without chappals. I saw a Shiva Lingam carved and which had blackened with the burning of oil lamps. Few more Jain stone beds and inscriptions I could see along the cave. I took the photos in my mobile. The Jain cave had been made to a sort of Hindu temple now. I at times wonder, why this kolaveri over Babri Masjid, when I see places like this. Hindu religion like any other religion also was a parasite of the religion which existed.

Meanwhile our friend Azhagu had started to wash his clothes. After washing each of his clothes, he goes and put it under the

sun for drying.

Me: Neenga ella naalekkum inge varuvengala? Do you come everyday here?

Az: Aamaam. Yes.

Me: Appo school ulla naalakku? So when you have school?

Az: Varuven. I will come.

Me: School enkirukku? Where is your school?

Az: Ingirunthu 2 km. Melur pokum vazhiye. From here 2 kms, towards Melur.

Me: Eppidi povenge? How do you go?

Az: Bus varum. Neenga bus irangina idathil. Bus will come. Same place where you got down.

I found somebody had cooked in there and also could see bones, presumably that of chicken all around.

Me: Inge yaaraavathellaam varuvaangala? Do anyone come here?

Az: kudikkaravanga varuvaanga. People come here for getting drinking and making merry.

Az: Neenga enge porenga? Ingrunthu? Where are you going from here?
Me: Bangalore kku.Neenga Kerala/Bangalore vanthirukkengala? To Bangalore. Been there to Kerala or Bangalore?

Az: Naan ithu varekku intha oora vittu ponathille. I have never been out from this village.
That made sense to me now.

Azhagu had complete his washing now and was about to bathe. I looked at him and amazed on how simple he was and how dedicated he was into his affairs. Washing has always been a daunting task for my laziness, even after the invetion of washing machine, but here is a boy, perhaps half my age, coming up a hot hill everyday and washing it. I really felt ashamed of myself and my luxuries at this moment. After putting all clothes to dry, Azhagu started to bath. I was also unbathed but didnt wanted to take a dip in unknown waters.

The cave by itself was surely a relief from the scorching sun. Gentle breeze and presence of water made the temperature so cool. Sun decided to take a nap behind the clouds and I decided to do a bit more excavation. This time I found few more Jain

beds and also a carving of a Theerthankara along the sides of the cave. Clicked few more photos. I could also see frogs and fishes in the cave pool, which implied there is good bio diversity. But felt sorry for the vandalised scriptures and stone beds. Though it is a protected monument, doesn't seemed to be protected enough.

Me: Intha kulam vatti pokuma, venal kaalathile? Do the water in this pond get evaporated fully?

Az: hmm..

Me: Enge vara thanni varum, mazhai kaalathile. Till where water comes up?

Az: He pointed to a spot well over were I was sitting. "Ange vare"
 Till there.

Soon he had finished his bathing and went to the other side of the pool to get the soap cover, which had float to the other side. I was soon into a reclined position and the Sabarimala trip along with the day's proceedings were slowly showing up as sleep.

Azhagu bathing in the cave pool.

After 20 mins or so, I woke up to see the smiling face of Azhagu.

Az: Thoonki poyttengala Annay? You fell asleep?

Me: :-)

Me: Thuni onagiduthaa? Polaama? Did the clothes got dried up?

Az: Polaam. ok. fine.

Azhagu had already packed up all his clothes.

We started our journey down the hill. I had to just follow my young guide's path, without seeing how steep or deep the sides are. As said earlier, getting down the hill is always a phobia for me, thanks to my fear for heights. The return was swift anyways.

Az: Itha paarkava annay neenga vandhenga? Did you came here to see this cave?

Az: Neenga yen ottakku vanthenga? Why you came alone?

Me: Summa thaan. Just for fun.

Me: Soodu thaan thaanga mudiyale. Can't withstand the heat, but.

The path was slippery and I slipped once or twice as my feet got entangled in the twigs.

Az: Amaam.Paathu nadaanga. Seruppu pottu nadakkumbthu idaraamal pathukkungal. Yes. Walk carefully. Be not to slip with chappals.

Me: Ninga aanaal seruppu podaamale intha soodu kallile nadathengale? But you were walking without chappals in this heat.

Az: Namakku pazhaki pochanney. Dhinamum nadanthu nadanthu kaalu thenchu pochu. Got used to it. as we walk everyday.

Me: Amaam. Inge vere yaarellaam varuvaanga. Government ilurunthu varuvaangala? Who all have come in here? People from govt come?

Az: Varuvaanga. Aanaal kudikkathaan naraya varuvaanga. Yes, they come. But most people come for drinking and making merry.
Me: Appadiya? Oh is it?

Az: Maathathile onno rando naal naangalellaarum(Azhagu and his friends) inge vanthu kari samaichu saapputtu povom annay. Once in a month, we come 2-3 days and we prepare meat and eat, elder bro.

Me: Kozhi kari yaa, Aaadu kari ya? Chicken or Mutton?

Az: Kozhi annay. Chicken, elder bro.

That explained the bones in there.

Az: Annay 3 manikku Periyar pokum vandi irukku angirunthu. Athukku pinbu 4 manikku thaan. Elder bro, there is a bus at 3 pm to Periyar bus stand. After that bus is only at 4pm.

Me: Appadiya? Oh is it?

Az: Ille, Azhagar kovil poyi agirunthu polaam. or else go to Alagarkoil, from where you will get many buses.

Soon we reached the Uppadaipatti village. The dogs were murmuring but had stopped their barks. Azhagu showe me his house and asked me whether this was the way I came. I nodded and gave him a shake hand. Also I wished him good luck for his 10th exam.

People were gazing at both of us. I wanted to treat him with a tea or snacks, but couldnt find any nearby. Also I felt awkward doing that coming to his abode.

Walked back to the bus stop. Got a shared van which went till Azhagarkoil.

I was indeed tired after back to back hill climbing. Wanted to watch Thuppakki in Madurai, but as I couldn't see any theatres nearby and was totally weary, decided to stop my solitary adventures and head back to the crazy life of Bangalore. But Azhagu had imprinted into my mind with his simple, innocent and hard working life style.

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