Siva Yogaswami's 1910 Pada Yatra to Katirkamam
As in centuries gone by, Katirkamam continues to exert its mystic magnetic pull, not only pious pilgrims but sages and saints too are lured. The venerated Siva Yogaswami was no exception to this.
It was in 1910 that Siva Yogaswami embarked on a pada yatra from Nallur Temple, the hallowed sanctuary of Murugan in the North, to the sacred shrine of Katirkama Murugan, situated in the furthest southeastern corner of Sri Lanka.
How come this mystic urge that filled Swami's being to motivate him to venture on this solitary sojourn, exposing him to the perils of the thick jungles, habited by wild animals and snakes, and the threat from hunger thirst and fatigue? The push must have come from his satguru sage Chellappa Swami.
Sacred Nallur, where Murugan's victorious Vel is enshrined, was the favorite haunt of Chellappa Swami. It was here that Yogaswami was initiated by his guru into the path of bliss, freeing him from the pangs of birth and death to life eternal. It was on the steps of this very theradi (steps leading to Murugan's chariot) that his guru bade him sit in continuous meditation for forty days.
On completing this severe tapas penance his guru ordered him to depart and fend for himself. Swami's feet propelled him in the eastern direction and he continued walking non-stop as if in a dream. It was only when he reached Elephant Pass that his body awareness returned, and he realised that he was walking towards Katirkamam. Filled with the divine urge to reach there, he walked along the costal belt skirting the eastern region, taking short rests in between and continued his march through Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Sitthandi, Tirukovil and Pottuvil.
In later years Swami used to recount his experiences in the jungles, the people of diverse creeds and habits he met and moved among freely, and would always stress the experience of oneness. Later he related an incident when a herd of wild buffaloes came charging at him in the thick jungles of Pottuvil. He remained still and gazed steadily straight into the eyes of its leader. The bull became tame and calm, turned and ran off with the herd following it.
From Pottuvil his yatra continued through the Vedda tract of Monaragala and Bibile. There a river in spate debarred him from proceeding further. He dug a shallow pit in the sand beside the riverbank and rested there, losing himself in contemplation.
Some Veddas arrived there by a catamaran contrived of bamboos on the third day. They awoke him up addressing him with great respect as upasakara mahattya. With all humility and love they fed him with food they cooked especially for him and rowed him across the river in their catamaran. From there, Swami proceeded through valleys and forests and reached the hallowed spot of Katirkamam, spent the nights mostly in meditation on the hill top of Kathiramalai in communion with Murugan, and the day time around the shrine and madams.
After a few days Swami left the sanctified soil of Katirkamam and traced his way back via Hambantota and Galle to Colombo. Spending a few days there, he returned through the hill country and reached Matale. This long and hazaduous pada yatra took Swami about six months, until he was thoroughly fatigued and fully covered with dust.
The benevolent God could no more could endure the plight of his devotee. Saravanmuthu Tilliambalam, a pious overseer stationed at Matale, had an extraordinary dream in which a celestial being appeared and said, "A devoted servitor of mine is returning from an arduous pada yatra from Katirkamam. He is thoroughly exhausted, hungry and clothed in rags. It is your duty to be hospitable to him. I do not want him to continue his journey on foot any more. Buy him a railway ticket back home to Jaffna."
The overseer was thrilled and overjoyed. Deeming it a great privilege, with his heart fluttering with faith and hope he rushed to the road waiting in anticipation. As seen in the dream vision, he identified the figure walking towards him. Worshipfully approaching the Swami he narrated his dream and invited him home. "If that be God's will, I accept your kind invitation," said Swami. The pada yatra so devotedly undertaken was accomplished by the will of his guru and God.
The pious host welcomed him home most lovingly, gave him a warm water bath, clothed him in a new verti and shawl, and fed him. After a day's rest, Swami left for Jaffna by train, the fare being paid by the overseer. The kith and kin of Swami were overwhelmed with joy on seeing him alive for, after he went missing for six long months they had taken him for dead and even performed his last rites.
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