Ganesh, my host in Udupi, decided that the 7.30 am bus will be right for the day’s plan to visit Sringeri, a hill town in Chikmagalur district and the site of first monastery of Adi Shankara. At 7.15 am, with just a few minutes left to catch the bus, I and Uncle ji, Ganesh’s father, ran on the slippery mud road—unmindful of heavy rains—and reached on time to board the bus.
From Padubelle—where Ganesh’s home is located—there is no direct bus to Sringeri. In the incessant rains, we arrived at Shirva first, then boarded connecting buses at Belman, Karkala before finally reaching our destination. Someone from above probably thought I was not spiritual enough for Sringeri visit and therefore made it harder for me. In spite of the arduous bus transfers, my hair dripping with water felt feather-light—thanks to my new boy-haircut and I had never been so grateful for my over-sized palazzo pants. In four hours including the stops, we arrived at Sringeri bus stand.
The cheerfully colored gopura was the first that I noticed of Sringeri temple complex. Its bright colors—highly captivating—will make you forget the lapse of time. Within its complex are four shrines and across Tunga river is Sringeri Sharada Peetha.
Sringeri Sharada Peetha is a monastery established by Adi Shankara in the 8th century. There were many interesting sections. Visiting one after the other, I came in front of Sri Guru Nivas. All men entering this particular hall were asked to remove their shirt and follow a queue which I had no clue what for. Even so, I joined the others in the queue and went with the flow.
Along with us humans a few rock pigeons too entered the hall; they flew multiple times across the hall and found a place to rest at one of the pillar’s crevices. There were two policemen—one at the entrance and other at the exit—watching and managing the crowd dutifully. The hall had a stage and was large enough to seat a few hundreds. Men and women seated in the hall—apart from the ones standing in the queue—had their eyes religiously fixed on the stage, which at its center had beautifully decorated statues.
On the far right corner of the stage seated was 36th Acharya Jagadguru Shankaracharya—Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji. The orderly queue was for people to receive his blessings. As I inched forward, I was occupied with random thoughts—what he must have done to command the faith of so many people; what sacrifices he must have made to live up to his position; what his life would be like…When my turn came, I anxiously walked ahead, bowed in front of him imitating others, and moved away in less than a minute.
While circling the main temple, I saw two elephants—each with their mahouts—playfully waving their trunks, stepping back and forth. They were trained to touch a devotee’s head with its trunk after receiving some kind of a token. If the elephant did raise its trunk to extend this treatment to anyone who did not contribute, then the mahout would immediately place an iron road (curved in the end like a hook) on its trunk stopping it in mid-action. As though bored of repeating the action multiple times, the elephants were doing it mechanically. It must have got to them because, like naughty school kids playing pranks within the classroom not lending ear to the controlling teacher, these elephants found their source of entertainment. One of the elephants extended its trunk towards a woman devotee bowed in front of him and in one swirl plucked the flowers from her hair and chewed it to glory. Watching this, the other elephant too followed suit. Soon both were feeling men’s head for flowers. The Mahouts helplessly tried to restrain the elephants, but he could not. For the onlookers though, it became like a mini mela—people laughing and clapping at the sight of the elephants’ innocent playfulness.
Uncle ji patted on my shoulder and reminded me that it was time for lunch. We walked to the famous Bhojanashala—where all devotees are offered Bhojan (meal). The dining hall could seat thousands of people easily. Devotees and temple staff took turns starting from placing plates to serving food—first rice, followed by rasam, then sambar, and majjige (buttermilk). The taste of food was rich and delectable. I saw devotees in front of me relishing every morsel and drinking to the last sip of majjige from the plate. It felt content just to watch them.
We stayed for a an hour more at the temple and walked back to Sringeri bus stand. With a day full of surprises, trip to Sringeri became one of my favorite temple visits in southern India.