I was in the southernmost tip of India , at the confluence of three oceans – Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean in a coastal town called Kanyakumari. And the view from one of its fishing hamlets – Chinna Muttom is here for you to soak in along with the hues of the sunset . If you are here on a full moon day, you may be lucky to see the sun set and the moon rise around the same time .
To see more exciting skies around the world , visit Skywatch.
My column on a cult worshipping a mirror aka soul was published in The Hindu. Here is the story for those who missed it
The salts of the sea lure me as I can smell it from a distance. Here, in the confluence of three oceans, lies buried several myths, legends and stories. Kanyakumari has always been a mystery to me. Maybe it has something to do with the sea or the tale of the virgin goddess by the sea shore, but the town has never stopped fascinating me. Looking out of the window, I am lost in the many rotating windmills, dancing to the tune of the sea breeze, when I am interrupted by the laughter in the bus.
I join in the laughter as Sri Charanya , my travel companion shares her memories of Kanyakumari when she visited the coastal town as a twelve year old. “ You know I was told that I could see red , black and blue colours here , the red was the Indian Ocean, the blue being the Bay of Bengal and the black , the Arabian sea and I believed every word of it then , “ she says as echoes of laughter drown her story. Memories come flooding back as I remember my first visit here as a wide eyed twelve year old .
I am on a Naanjil Naadu tour organised by INTACH, travelling through small towns and villages around Nagercoil and Kanyakumari, visiting many temples, rock cut shrines, mosques, palaces and forts . While we alternate between facts and folk lore, we learn from a team of professors and historians accompanying us about the various dynasties that rule the region. I am of course fascinated by the many landscapes painted in front of me – natural, social , historical, political, spiritual , as I realize that what is today considered God’s own country has its origins right here in Naanjil Naadu, long before Kerala came into being.
We visit an ancient Chola temple dedicated to Shiva or Guhanathaeswaran temple as Dr V Vedachalam, Retired Senior Epigraphist from Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department explains the architecture and draws our attention to the inscriptions and various cults of Gods and Goddesses. It is really Gods own country. The temples in this region are built by various kings across different eras and each one of them has left his stamp behind. From the Ay rules, to early Pandyas to the Venad kings, the land is steeped in cults.
And I discover another 19thcentury cult right on the shores of a small fishing hamlet called Chinna Muttom .
While most of my travel companions are lost in the beauty around, a few of us walk down to a small shrine located on the rocky shores. A man in a turban is officiating as a priest as we gaze inside the sanctum and look at our hazy reflection with the sea forming our backdrop. There is no deity or idol – just a mirror which reflects and represents the soul or the Vishnu inside you. A small board in Tamil explains the philosophy about worshipping your body as the temple, with your mind at peace and devotion and purity in your soul. The belief rests in equality; hence the turban says the man where every devotee is a king. Even Vivekananda he claims was influenced by it. The underlying thought is that you keep your mind and thoughts pure and worship the God or soul inside you.
I later learn that the cult is referred to as Ayyavazhi founded by a revolutionary called Ayya Vaikundar , also believed by his followers as a reincarnation of Vishnu. However , speaking to Ahi Mohan, coordinator of the Nadar Family Welfare centre in Trivandrum, I learn that he was a 19th century social reformer , who was born in Kanyakumari district with a strong belief in equality of all people. He had built five main pathis, what we refer to as temples and the 200 year pathi at Chinna Muttom was called Muthapathi. The followers believe that a dip in the sea will sanctify them.
I stand and gaze at my hazy reflection in the mirror for a long time and realize that my mind is blank, bathed by the ocean and purged of all thoughts. Elsewhere in the haze of white foam and fury of the waves, I can see a distant form of Sri Charanya calling out my name, holding some wet sands in her hands. As she comes closer, we both laugh. In her hands are lumps of black and brownish soil in her hands and the colours seem to merge with the blue of the ocean.