Saturday, 25 February 2017

Meditation and the Goal

Upadesa Saara – verses 7,8,9&10

In the first six verses of Upadesa Saara Maharishi talked about Karma, Karma Yoga. Bhakthi and Upasana.  In the sixth verse Maharishi has said “Singing the Lord’s praise is better than kayika Puja, but better than that is loud chanting of japa, and superior to loud chanting is soft chanting of japa. However, best of all is silent, mental japa.” The silent mental Japa is a process of upasana which is meditation only.  Maharishi discusses about meditation in the next verse no.7 which reads as:
आज्यधारया स्त्रोतसा समम् | (Aajya dhaarayaa srotasaa samam)
सरलचिन्तनम् विरलतः परम् || (Sarala chintanam viralatah param)   
Meditation or continuous thoughts (or continuity of a single thought) which is like the flow of ghee (or oil) and of the flow of water in a river, is better than broken thoughts (that which is interrupted).

Meditation makes one completely focused onto an object. At that time, there remains no external object except the object on which meditation is being performed. This is called dhyanam as well and is  defined in Patanjali Yoga Sutra (3.2) as तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम् (tatra pratyayaikatanata dhyanam) i.e. “The repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus is called dhyanam”   For the  uninterrupted flow of thoughts in meditation two examples are quoted. One is the flow of ghee and other is the flow of water in a river. Flow of ghee stands for effort in achieving the flow and flow of river water for effortless ease in the flow of thoughts.  In both, whether with effort or without effort, Isvara Chintanam i.e. meditation on Ishta Devata and uninterrupted, continuous flow of thoughts are common. Initially effort is needed to guard against distractions, the natural tendency of mind. But with continuous practice and detachment from other distractions one can achieve this as Sri Krishna points out in Gita (6-35):  “O Arjuna, The mind is brought under control only through practice and detachment.”

After emphasising Iswara Dhyanam is superior to all other forms of worship, Maharishi  fine tunes it further by stating in the next verse (verse no.8) that Soham Dhyanam is superior to Dvaita Dhyanam
भेदभावनात्सोहमित्य्सौ | (Bheda bhaavanaath soham ithyasau)
भवनाभिदा पावनी मता || (Bhavana abhidha paavani mataa)
Meditation without feeling of duality, that is, meditating as ‘I am HE’, (which affirms identity of upasaka with the Lord) is superior to meditation with a feeling of duality which assumes a separation between the upasaka (devotee) and the Lord.

Iswara Upasana is classified here into two types, In the first one called Bhedha Bavana, the upasaka thinks of Iswara as different from himself and there is the duality of upasaka and Iswara and this is Dvaita Upasana. In the second one called Abedha upasana, upasaka looks upon Iswara as non-different from himself with the affirmation “I am HE” and invokes Iswara on himself, which is called Ahamgraha upasana. Ahamgraha upasana is Soham upasana. Soham is made up of two words Saha and aham i.e.He and I and together stands for He I am.  This upasana facilitates acquisition of Advaita Jnanam at a later date.  This Abedha upasana is done out of the knowledge “As Lord is everywhere He is also in me and that Lord I am meditating on” and not out of Advaita Jnanam “Aham Brahasmi”.  But as this upasana prepares one for Advaita Jnanam it is superior to Bedha upasana, marked by duality.

But this Abedha upasana can only take one to Savikalpa Samadhi where the distinction between meditator  and object of meditation is not erased and highest upasana is one that leads to Nirvikalpa Samadhi, where there is no division at all between the meditator and the object of meditation.  In verse no.9, Maharishi speaks about this highest upasana.
भावशून्यसद्भाव सुस्तितिः (Bhaava soonya sad bhaava susthithih)
भावनाबलाद् भाक्तिरुत्तमा ||  (Bhaavana bhalaath bhakthih uttama)

Upasana without any divisions, Nirvikalpa samadhi, when a person is totally absorbed in abheda chintanam, is achieved through practice alone & is the highest upasana.

Maharishi calls highest upasana as Uttama Bhakthi, which stands for Para Bhakthi.  Bhakthi is classified into two types. One is Apara Bhakthi where there is the differentiation between the devotee and Brahman or the object of devotion. But in Para Bhakthi, this differentiation vanishes and only pure Consciousness or the Self alone exists.  Maharishi calls this as ‘Bhava Soonya’.  But it is not real soonya but only apparent soonya as this is a thought-free state.  In deep sleep one does not have any thoughts nor is one aware of anything as mind and all sense organs are completely at rest and one is not conscious of anything including the fact one is sleeping or even the fact of his existence, It is as if there is a void in one’s awareness.  But Consciousness is awake and alert and that is why one is able to say after waking up that “I slept very well. I knew nothing”.  The Consciousness was awake and knew of the nothingness.  This void happened involuntarily in sleep. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi one enters the state voluntarily and there is only Pure Consciousness, which is pure Existence, which  Maharishi calls as ‘sad bhava’.  This is the state of Para Bhakthi, the highest state of Bhakthi where a person is completely and fully established in Brahman i.e. pure Consciousness. This is achieved when mind is totally under control and free of thoughts and this is achieved through practice. 

After discussing the Karma yoga and Bhakthi and Upasana yoga, Maharishi moves on to discuss Ashtanga yoga and Jnana yoga. But before moving on to them, he makes an observation which we can call the essence of Maharishi’s teachings in the next sloka, sloka no.10. 
हृस्थले मनः स्वस्थता क्रिया | (Hrit sthale manah swasthathaa kriya)
भक्तियोगबोधास्चा निस्चितम् ||
(Bhakthi yoga bhodaascha nishchitam)
Fixing the mind in the Heart (Source) is true Karma (action), Bhakti (devotion), Yoga (union) and Jnana (knowledge) (Yoga)

Maharishi emphasises in this verse that whatever path one adopts, the final destination is the non-dual state of Advaita.  There are four main yogas or paths that can take one to Liberation.  Maharishi has discussed two of them already; Karma Yoga (action), Bhakthi or Upasana Yoga (Bhakthi).  He will discuss the other two in subsequent verses; Ashtanga yoga or Raja yoga (yoga) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge).   But all these paths end in one action, Mano-nasa by merging mind in spiritual heart. The spiritual heart is not the physical heart that is in the left side of the body.  Of the spiritual heart Maharishi has stated “The physical organ is on the left; that is not denied. But the Heart of which I speak is nonphysical and is only on the right side. It is my experience –. it is the Source of ‘I AM’’, whence the sense of ‘I’ rises”  It is this merging of mind with the spiritual heart, when the mind becomes thought-free is called Mano-nasa, not the destruction of the mind.  It is this state where the mind is turned totally in ward towards the Self and this is the goal of all yogas.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Kadhirkamam and Kelaniya

Sri Lanka tour (Day 8&9)

After spending two nights at the hill-town, Nuwara Eliya, we left for Kadhirgama on the morning of 24th Jan, with a new driver.  Sirisiri, the first driver, had left for Colombo in view of the illness of a member of his family. The sky became clearer as we reached, Divirumpola, 15 kms from Nuwara Eliya. Here in a Buddhist monastery is a Hindu temple which houses the place where Sita Devi underwent Agni Pariksha, an incident to which I am not reconciled to in Ramayana. There is also a tableau under a Bodhi tree marking the spot where this Agni Pariksha took place.  There is also a statue of Hanuman baring his heart to reveal Sri Rama and Sita Devi  enshrined in his heart, carved out of a single block of wood. There are also number of statues of Buddha in a row as in any monastery.  After the visit to this temple we also visited a temple of Lord Muruga where like Kadhirkama, a painted screen takes the place of main shrine.

From here we went to Ravana falls. It is a thousand feet high waterfall which cascades as several falls. A cave uphill is also called Ravana Cave.  It is said Ravana hid Sita Devi in that cave after Sri Hanuman set fire to Sri Lanka before returning to Sri Rama after meeting Sita Devi in Asoka Vana and Sita devi used the pool formed down the falls for her bath during that time.  We didn’t go uphill and left the place after spending some time in the fall, which is a scenic spot and a big tourist attraction.

Our next stop ws at Kadhirkamam spelt here as Kataragama.  Before going to our hotel of stay we had a satisfactory lunch in the city.  The place of stay was Gregory safari Bungalow, a sister concern of Gregory Bungalow of Nuwara Eliya. In the afternoon after rest, we started for the famous Kadhirkamam temple. Rain also started as we got out of the van to go to the temple. So with umbrells open we entered the temple complex.  This temple is visited with devotion not only by the Tamils but also by the Buddhists and by local tribal Vedda people. In fact I saw a number of Sinhalese carrying offerings in the crowd as we were waiting for the doors to open, since it was evening Puja time and I got a doubt whether I am in the right place. Later I was told that lot of Sinhala Buddhists pray at this temple,  There is also a Buddhist temple in the complex and also a mosque, a rare confluence of the three faiths in the same complex.   There are also temples in a few other places associated with the name Katargama and also devotees undertake padayatra from Jaffna to this temple every year. The local legend attached to this temple is that Lord Muruga had taken an incarnation in South India by the name of Kataragama. His wife’s name was Tevayani, a Sri Lankan distortion of the name Deivayanai.   Kataragama had a quarrel with Tevayani and left her and came to the island of Sri Lanka. He went to the hill called Katirmalai, which was the abode of the tribe called the Veddas (hunters).  One day when he was out hunting, he saw the adopted daughter of the Vedda chief known as Valli. The rest of the story is the same as the romance of Valli and Subramanya, as is known in Tamilnadu.  For Buddhists it is a venerable shrine because Lord Buddha is supposed to have meditated here.  All the Hindu temples in the complex look more like small prayer halls with no Gopuram, carvings or statues. The one housing Lord Muruga is also no different, only it is bigger than others.  There is no idol here, only a screen, depicting Lord Muruga with His consorts and behind the screen there is a Yantra, it is said. The priests are from the Vetta tribe and Agama rituals are not observed.  Also a Buddhist priest is present during the Puja and the Puja has Buddhist orientation. Besides the main shrine for Lord Muruga, there are separate shrines for Lord Ganesa, Lord Bairavar and Devayani Amman among others. I slipped out of the main shrine mid-way through the Puja, which was not appealing to me and went round few other shrines armed with the umbrella, to return at the closing time of Puja.  It was dark and raining at the time Puja ended, and we all returned to the van quickly.

The next day was the final day of the tour.  We packed our bags and boarded the van for the final leg of tour to Kelaniya, which is near Colombo, before going to the airport for the midnight flight to Chennai. Even as we started, driver wanted to take the highway to Colombo.  As toll cost was not included in company’s budget, he wanted us to bear it.  We preferred to go through the towns seeing the sights rather than rush through the highway.  Even his false statement that Kelaniya temple will close at 6 pm and we will miss it if we do not take the highway did not make us change our resolve. It was good that we did not take the highway as the coastal way to Colombo was very scenic and beautiful.  Though we wanted to stop the van for photo shoots in a few places we didn’t ask for it, as driver was already upset he couldn’t prevail upon us to take the highway.   He had conveyed his displeasure to the company and they took a different line stating that we have to check in the airport five hours earlier and that is possible only if we take the highway and we reluctantly agreed to take the highway after lunch at company cost.  We stopped for lunch at another substandard restaurant in Galle. When we were remonstrating with the driver, a stranger we met there told us in Tamil about a nearby Indian Restaurant.  The driver became more upset on hearing about this and calling him names, he took us there. It was really good and we had a good lunch.  Then we took the highway to Colombo and reached Kelaniya late afternoon.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, as the Buddhist temple is called, is seven miles from Colombo. Buddhists believe that this temple has been hallowed by the visit of Lord Buddha.  For Hindus also it is an important one because this is believed to be the site of Vibhishana Pattabhisheka.  There is a mural here depicting Sri Lakshmana crowning Vibhishana as King of Lanka, in the absence of Sri Rama who had to rush to Ayodhya to save Bharatha from Agni Pravesa. In the Buddhist temple there is a beautiful figure of reclining Buddha besides beautiful paintings depicting important events in the life of Lord Buddha and nice sculptures. There are also murals depicting Lord Ganesha, Lord Vishnu, Lord Muruga among others and also statues of Bodhisattvas.  The original temple here also has been destroyed by the Portugese and present one is a rebuilt one.  There is also a Bodhi tree shrine here.

From here we went to Hotel Clarion Hub, Katunayake for our night dinner. After dinner we proceeded to Katunayake air-port for our wait to board the Spice Jet flight to Chennai that was to leave only at 2.30 AM. When we landed in Chennai we were too tired to wait for each other for a parting greeting and sped our way home to rest after a tiring day capping a nice, evenful tour.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Kandy and Nuwara Eliya

Sri Lanka tour (Days 5,6 &7)

On the morning of 20/1/17 we left Hotel Sea Lotus Park in Trincomalle for our next destination, Kandy. The initial iteneary given by Sri travels mentioned visits to Shankaridevi sakthi peetam and Balaji temple in Trincomalle area on our way to Kandy.  But the final iteneary given by NKAR travels did not mention Balaji temple. So the driver wanted to skip Balaji temple and some in the group wanted to visit the temple.  There was a big argument on this and finally the driver relented and took us to Laksmi Narayana temple and quietly skipped sakthipeetam which was noticed only later and we had to reconcile to the accomplished fact. 

Lakshmi Narayna temple is a big South Indian style temple 6 Kms from Trincomalle.  It is a recent construction of striking blue and sparkling gold with intricate carvings and colourful structures, that had its Kumbabhishekam in 2011 only. In the main shrine were Lord Vishnu and Devi Mahalakshmi and outside stood the idol of Garuda.  In the prakara and outside the shrine were the statues of the Lord in various manifestations including the one reclining on Adisesha.  That being a Saturday we were very happy to have darshan of Lord Vishnu and his consort in different manifestations in the morning. 

After offering prayers in the temple we again took the road to Kandy. We made a visit to the garment factory before lunch halt. We also stopped for a photo shoot at a wayside Buddhist temple with its imposing Buddah facing the road. After the late lunch, we stopped at Ranweli spice garden, Matale.  A guide accompanied us as we went round the garden, explaining the medicinal values of different plants. Sri Lanka is well known for its spices and herbs and this visit was quite an educative one.  After the customary whiff around the gift shop we were off to continue our way to Kandy. In Kandy we attended a cultural show after a brief visit to a Gem gallery.  Cultural show was a colourful one but as we reached the place late we could see it only partly. It was getting late by the time show ended but still we went to the temple of tooth which was a mistake.  It was Puja time and we could not see the main shrine in spite of our waiting for some time. We had to leave the place for the hotel for dinner and night-halt, after going round the minor shrines only.  When we reached the hotel we found we were allotted rooms in a sub-standard annexe euphemistically  called resort.  This led to exchange of angry words but there was no change in position.  To add to this the dinner was served in the annexe late at 9-30 pm only.  Fortunately the breakfast was in the main hotel next day and it was good like all the buffet breakfasts in the tour. One other saving grace in the miserable episode was the pleasant face put up by the manager, who was coolly repeating the same thing in spite of our angry protests. Our feelings ran differently when we saw a van of NKAR travels leaving the hotel with guests in the morning.  We felt such a change of accommodation is not uncommon to people who do not book with them directly and the manager accustomed to outbursts of temper in such cases was not perturbed.  So we were glad to leave the hotel for Nuwara Eliya that morning hoping such an experience will not recur again.  And we also did not insist on going to Murugan temple, which was in Sri Travels iteneary but not in that of NKAR Travels.

On the way we made a brief visit to a Buddhist temple on the way.  We also visited a tea factory where besides being taken round the factory we were also entertained to a free cup of tea. Nuwara Eliya is a city in the hill country of Sri Lanka and journey to it uphill was reminiscient of  road trip to Ooty in Tamilnadu. Waterfalls and tea gardens on the sides of the road, the sharp bends with ups and downs and the cool
climate made it a very enjoyable journey.  On the way we visited the Hanuman temple at Ramboda.  Ramboda is the area, where the forces of Sri Rama are supposed to have assembled in the fight against Ravana. This temple was built by the Chinmaya mission of Sri Lanka and dedicated to Sri Hanuman. The idol of Sri Hanuman is 16 ft. tall. The view from the temple outskirts is very fine.  Chinmaya Mission runs a canteen as well nearby and we had our lunch there.  After Colombo this was the next satisfactory lunch that we had. After lunch we retired to the hotel of stay, Gregory Bungalow and because of the rain we did not go anywhere, later.  This is the first day of the tour where we enjoyed afternoon rest and evening chat in the hotel hall. 

Since we were staying for two nights here there was no need to pack up next morning. Also there was a break from the rain. So we could go to Sita amman temple, about 9 kms from the city. The temple is built at the place where Sita Devi spent her days in Lanka after abduction by Ravana.  This is one of the few temples in Sri Lanka dedicated to Sita Devi.  This temple is adjacent to the stream used by Sita Devi for bath, while in captivity.  Near the stream is the idol of Sita Devi and Sri Hanuman. commemorating  Sri Hanuman’s meeting with the Devi with Sri Rama’s message and ring.  Near the stream are the foot-marks said to be that of Sri Hanuman. There are also idols of Sri Rama with Sita Devi and Sri Lakshmana here.  From here we went to Gayatri Peetam, temple for Gayatri Devi, in the city itself. Nearby is the Ashram of Gayatri Sithar who built the temple. After lunch we returned to the hotel as rains had started.  As the rains continued in the evening we skipped the visit to Botanical gardens resting indoors enjoying the cool comfort of the hotel hall.
Photos of Kandy and Trincomalle @


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Jaffna and Trincomalle

Sri Lanka tour (Day 3&4)

Next morning (19/1/17) after breakfast we left the hotel in Anuradhapura with our baggage for the next leg of the tour. The first halt on the way was at Madhu church, also called Shrine of our Lady of Madhu, in Mannar district.  It  is a Roman Catholic church with a history of 400 years. It is also said to be the place where Sri Hanuman landed when he came searching for the whereabouts of Sita Devi.  But now there is no inscription or image to commemorate this epic event.  This church is visited by Buddhists and Hindus as well from all over Sri Lanka because of the belief of miraculous healing powers associated with the statue of Mother Mary and of the special mud found here. During the civil war it had housed nearly thousand refugees and has been regarded as a “demilitarised zone” for some time.

From here we travelled to Mannar coast, the place of Ram Sethu, the bridge built by Sugriva’s army across the sea to invade Lanka. This coast had been used by Liberation Tigers to smuggle fuel and supplies from India and now a naval station is there and we could wander in the coast taking in its beauty without going to the tip which is the closest point to Rameswaram.   After a late lunch at a sub-standard place we made our way to Thiruketheeswaram temple, one of the five ancient temples of Lord Siva in the island.  This is an ancient temple where Kethu graha is said to have worshipped Lord Siva.  It is also a “padal petra sthalam” as this Lord is venerated by two great Nayanmars, Sambandar and Sundarar in their Thevaram hymns.  Portugese blinded by faith and greed for temple’s wealth destroyed this temple and only 400 years later rebuilding started and the present temple is the rebuilt one.  Again during civil war it was inaccessible to tourists as this area was under the control of Liberation Tigers.  Here men are required to remove their upper garments before entering the temple.  After offering worship at the temple we made our way to Jaffna along the causeway connecting Mannar with  Jaffna peninsula enjoying the panoramic view.  Our hotel of stay for night at Jaffna was Green Grass Hotel.

Next morning after breakfast, we started our usual routine of leaving for the next halt with baggage.  Our first stop on the way was famous temple of Lord Muruga at Nallur known as Nallur Kandaswamy temple. Nallur is only around 2 kms from Jaffna. Here Lord Muruga is worshipped as holy Vel in the main shrine. We were disappointed as we could have a glimpse only of the Vel in the brief wave of light as Deeparadhana. The temple has an imposing Raja Gopuram, South India style. It has also shrines for Lord Ganesa, Bairavar and for Lord Muruga as Dandayuthapani in the prakara,  Here also men must remove their upper garments before entering the temple.  The original temple here also had suffered destruction at the hands of Portugese and this is a later construction.

After worshipping at Nallur temple we made our way to Jaffna fort. It had been damaged heavily during civil war. It is situated near a lagoon which we explored before leaving the place.  We could also see a few war-damaged buildings on the way as we approached Elephant Pass where fierce battles between LTTE and Govt, forces had taken place; LTTE winning first time and taking possession of this key passage between Jaffna and northern main land. It was retaken by Govt, forces only after eight years after another bloody battle. Here there is a war memorial and also a memorial for a fallen soldier who single-handedly destroyed a tank laden with ammunition that was moving towards the army camp.   Here only one has to take a deviation for Mullivaikkal and to the house of Prabhakaran.  After spending some time in the memorials here, we proceeded to Kanniya hot wells after a late lunch like previous day. Kanniya hot water springs have also Ramayana connection as it is stated that here only Ravana performed last rites for his mother.  Even today many Hindus perform religious rites for their loved ones here.  The wells, seven in number are square in shape and not very deep.  People draw water from the wells in buckets and take bath.  Only Chennai Subramaniam and Narayanamoorthy took bath here.

We later went to the famous Thirukoneswaram temple.  The original temple had been destroyed by the Portugese as in the case of many other Hindu temples in Sri Lanka.  This has also Ramayana connections as Ravana and his mother used to offer worship to Lord Siva here. When his mother fell ill and couldn’t go to temple, Ravana wanted to move the temple to her place.  As he was going to do this Lord Siva caused his sword to be dropped which made a cleft in the rock and this can be seen even today and is called ‘Ravana Vettu’.  The temple is on a cliff that drops 400 ft. into the sea.  This temple is hailed as “Dakshina Kailas” as it lies on the same longitude as holy Mount Kailash. The temple also finds a reference in Vayu Purana, Skanda Purana and in Mahabharatha.  This is a “padal petra sthalam” as well, as Sambandar’s Thevaram hymn and Arunagirinathar’s Thiruppgazh make reference to this temple. Saint Arunagirinathar has visited this temple as well.  The place Thirukoneswaram is the birth-place of sage Patanjali, author of Yoga Sutras.  An imposing statue of Lord Siva greets you from a distance.  Near the entrance there is a beautifully painted relief of Lord Siva with Parvathi Devi, Lord Ganesa and Lord Muruga.  Besides the Moolasthanam with its shrines for Swayambu lingam and Mathumai Ammal (Uma Devi), there are also other shrines for Lord Ganesa, Lord Muruga with consorts, Lord Siva and Parvathi Devi and Bairavar besides other deities.  Down the cliff overlooking the Gokarn Bay, we can descend through steps to see the statues of Ravana and Sambandar.  Along the walls are painted a few scenes from Thiruvilayadal puranam.  The original temple had a thousand pillared hall, like temples in South India, which was destroyed along with the temple. This temple visit was one of the most satisfying visits of the tour. From here we went to the hotel in Trincomalle, Hotel Sea Lotus Park which was on the sea-shore, the beauty of which we could appreciate next day only, as we went exploring the surroundings before departure, after breakfast.


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Colombo and Anuradhapura

            Sri Lanka tour (Day 1&2)

We went on a 9 day tour of Sri Lanka organised by Sree Travels. The tour group consisted of four couples only including ourselves; three from Chennai and one from Thiruvarur. The other three couples were also vegetarians and had travelled widely in India and abroad and were all above 55.  They are Mr.Subramanian and Mrs. Hemalatha Subramanian from Jafferkhanpet, Chennai; Mr. Narayanamurthy and Mrs, Usha Rani from Arumbakkam, Chennai; and Mr. Subramanian and Mrs. Usha Subramanian from Thiruvarur. Now a brief word about these other members of the tour group.  Mr. & Mrs. Subramanian from Chennai are both retirees from Indian Overseas Bank and had spent all their working life in Chennai only.  But they made up for it by extensive pilgrimage tours in India and have also visited Singapore and China.  Mrs. Subramanian was an encyclopaedia of sthala puranam of temples in South India,  Mr. Subramaian of Thiruvarur was a marine engineer who retired early to engage in diamond business in Thiruvarur.  He had also travelled extensively taking his wife to the countries he had visited in service. His wife is the youngest member of the group at 58.  Mr. Narayanamoorthy is a retired top senior Bank executive who is now an ardent devotee of Papa Ramdas and regularly visits the Anandasram at Kanhangad with his wife.  His wife is a devoted grandmother who talked every morning and evening to her grand-children in Australia and India. When we came together for the mid-night Spice Jet flight to Colombo, we introduced ourselves with a brief resume of ourselves and the bonhomie and spirit of camaraderie started then prevailed throughout the tour making the tour an enjoyable and memorable experience making up for the few shortcomings in tour arrangements. We landed in Katunayake airport of Colombo at the ungodly hour of 1:40 AM and were met at airport by the driver cum tour guide Sirisiri, who could speak English. We were taken to a transit hotel at Katunayake, Clarion Hub. We rested and refreshed ourselves there and after breakfast, left with our baggage for a tour of Colombo.

The first stop was at the Pettah Floating Market complex on Beira lake, a tourist attraction with 92 stalls selling local produce and local handicraft.  After going round the markets we went to the nearby Buddhist and Murugan temples. After lunch we made our way to Independence square, where there is a memorial to commemorate liberation from British rule.  Besides the memorial hall there is also a nice park. From here we went to Galle Face Green which runs next to the Indian Ocean. On the waterfront is a nice walking strip flanked by stalls on one side, part of the way. We walked along the strip for a distance, relaxed and made our way back to the van to retire for the night to the hotel, Hotel Grand Oriental in Colombo. 

Next morning after breakfast, we started with our luggage to Anuradhapura, visiting on the way Munneswaram and Manavaari temples but not without a little drama. The itinerary that was given earlier featured both the temples while the final itinerary given by NKAR travels, Colombo through whom Sree Travels have made travel arrangements, did not mention Manavaari temple. The driver agreed to take us there only after some argument and a reference by him to office.  If we managed to prevail here we lost in another place that I will recount later. 

Both temples are connected with Sri Rama. Let us first see the legend behind Munneswaram temple. After killing Ravana, Sri Rama left for Ayodhya, in Pushpaka vimana.  He felt He was being followed by brahmathi dosha as Ravana was a Brahmin. When He was flying over this place He felt brahmathi dosha was not following Him.  He stopped the vimana and prayed to Lord Siva here for total relief from dosha and was advised to install four lingams and pray there to get rid of the dosha once for all. The four places are said to be Manavaari, Thirukoneswaram, Thiruketheeswaram, in Sri Lanka and Rameswaram in India. It is an ancient temple believed to be in existence from Ramayana times. The main shrine is that of Lord Siva and there are also shrines for Lord Ganesa and Devi Kali. After worshipping here we went to Manavaari temple, which has the first Linga installed by Sri Rama, to get rid of Brahmahathi dosha.  The Lord Himself is known here as Ramalinga Siva.

In late afternoon we reached Anuradhapura.  This city had been once the capital of Sri Lanka and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It has the branch of the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddah attained Nirvana, planted and preserved in a Vihara and this branch is revered as Sri Maha Bodhi. This branch was brought to Sri Lanka from India by the son of Indian Emperor Asoka.  As it was late evening we were lucky to see the evening Puja where ceremonial offerings are taken to shrine in a parade to the beat of drums.  The branch itself is well supported with golden pillars and well-guarded.  Before visiting Sri Maha Bodhi we had visited Mirisawetiya Dagaba, built by King Duttagamanu (161-137 BC).  The present one is a recently renovated one. After seeing the ceremonial parade of offerings at Sri Maha Bodhi we retired for the night to the Hotel, Hotel Happy Leonni in Anuradhapura.
Photos can be seen in following albums: