It began when the phone rang.
It was a call from the ashram administration team informing me that I was going to be part of a group of ashramites accompanying Gurudev on a road trip across Tamil Nadu the next day.
I was excited and by the time I reached the reception area next morning with my bag, I was almost jumping with excitement. Everybody was in a similar upbeat mood. It felt just like a school picnic. But unlike school picnics, everything was ready and everybody was on time. This little anomaly was set right by one of the buses which arrived a good one hour late. But it did not dampen our spirits which soared even more when Gurudev arrived.
Our excitement transformed into grateful contentment when out of the two buses, He stepped into ours.
“Guruji hamare bus mein ho gaye.”
There was nervous excitement in the bus and we did not even realize when we left Bangalore behind and entered Tamil Nadu. Somebody put on old hindi songs on the music system and everybody was seen crooning.
Soon, we saw a huge crowd assembled on the road, some of them with placards. Our bus slowed down and Gurudev went and stood at the door. The bus kept moving slowly as he gave darshan to the assembled crowd. People were coming and offering flowers and he was giving them sweet boxes. You cannot but notice the intense devotion and longing with which people come to him for darshan.
We realized soon that people were waiting to catch a glimpse of him every few kilometers all the way to Thanjavur. We stopped at Dharmapuri, where a large group of volunteers were waiting with lunch for our whole troupe. If you spend time with Gurudev, you see that he doesn’t like sitting idle. And so, after finishing his lunch, Gurudev came to the hall where everybody was eating and served all the volunteers and devotees. This gesture left many wonderstruck and touched.
We resumed our journey and were surprisingly ahead of the schedule. Perhaps due to this reason coupled with the persuasiveness of the organizers at one of the darshan points, Gurudev took an unscheduled stop to visit Utamalai Shree Murugan temple a few kilometers away. We waited behind and used the time to swap buses. When Gurudev came back, he had a different set of co-passengers from the other bus, whose day had begun slowly but was just about to pick up. They had spent the first half of the day making a strategy to use their time with Gurudev effectively. We learnt later that they all took turns to sit with him a few minutes, have a word or two and get pictures clicked, something that did not strike us because we were too busy singing songs.
Anyway, by evening we reached Thiruchirapalli. The temple of Sri Ranganath Swamy or the Sri Rangam Temple, which we were visiting had a grand and imposing structure at the beginning, which we realized was just the entrance, even though it was big enough to be a whole temple. We moved in and within a few feet, were transported to a different time. The pillars, the walls, the smell of incense, the sound of ringing bells and aarti, the whole ambience of the place took us back a thousand years. Gurudev asked us to take a round and see the whole campus – it was huge, with numerous deities installed in different areas of the temple. One section also had the body of Sri Ramanujacharya which had been preserved for over 8 and a half centuries.
After having a sumptuous dinner of Tamil dosa, sambhar and idiappam, we proceeded to checkin to our hotel at around midnight.
Tomorrow’s a new day with new surprises…